Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Coming up next...

There is a lot of speculation about what sorts of things Blizzard will do next in Diablo 3.  They regularly talk about PVP as a thing they want to do but it is pretty clear that is a long term goal that may never materialize.  I tried a little bit of random PVP in the arena and it was hilarious, bloody, and over in two seconds at most.  While I am sure we both could have built ourselves for toughness instead of being glass cannon PVE builds it is fairly easy to imagine a Witch Doctor build with the full Jade Harvester set that does 20,000% weapon damage in the first ~2 seconds of the fight while being invincible.  (Spirit Walk/Haunt/Soul Harvest).  This would do ten times as much damage as my character can take, and I am built reasonably tough.  So I really don't see PVP as anything more than a silly sideline like it is right now.

What is interesting is that they are wanting to create more challenges for people and they intend to do so with Ladder Seasons and Tiered Rifts.  I love the idea of ladder seasons where people can play in a fresh new environment to compete to be the first to various benchmarks in the game but they plan to put special gear in the ladder that you can't get outside it.  I don't want to play new characters myself - I want to play my main, and not being able to get the gear for him would be irritating.  Restarting has its own appeal but more than anything I just want to get better on the one toon and I tried making alts to optimally farm gear for my main in D3 at launch and I *don't* want to do it again.

The solution I would use is to have special gear for ladder seasons and when that season ends and all the characters are integrated into the general pool make the gear that dropped in that ladder now drop for everyone and make up a new set of special gear for the next ladder season.  This would mean that ladder players have an interesting advantage in that they get first crack at new stuff and new seasons will see new innovation but if you really want to maximize your character you can just wait and eventually everything will be available to you.  This would mean that Blizzard would need to design an awful lot of new gear all the time but I think that is a great thing and would keep people interested and character designs shifting.  I like that.

I had an idea for a new thing to do which was a rift that essentially was a To The Death sort of thing.  You would appear in a random area with mobs constantly spawning that got harder and harder and the more you killed the better your rewards.  However, if you ever die or leave the area you cannot return.  The idea would be to really offer a reward for being powerful and never dying.  The Tiered Rift thing seems to be their version of that - you get tokens for completing rifts and then you can cash in those tokens to do harder and harder rifts with bigger rewards.  It seems like they want to reward both clear speed and ability to kill really tough things.  This could work out great, depending on the implementation.

Obviously they also just need to add more things to the game.  There are an awful lot of unfortunate legendary items out there that aren't very interesting and I think they would do well to put a bit of effort in to make they cool.  A lot of the really neat effects require quite a bit of work but some would be incredibly easy - if Hammer Jammers started with 1000 vitality I would actually have to consider wearing them instead of instantly vendoring them and this sort of change is very easy to implement technically.

Still having tons of fun though, and very much a fan of loot 2.0.  The AH will not be missed.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The trouble with smarts

Two nights ago my Heroes By Trade group faced a very difficult fight.  We were in a strange city filled with all kinds of demons / demigods / eldritch powers from an ancient time who had been sealed away by the gods.  We decided to enter a building and found a statue there.  Being extremely random we decided to break the head off of the statue and doing so caused rather a large number of monsters to charge out at us.  The GM assumed we would run and by the numbers I am pretty sure we should have.  There were too many enemies for us to defeat and if they had played intelligently we would have died.

Well, all the other characters would have died.  My character, being nearly invincible, might have been able to get away or even win in the long run.  This is a separate issue that I need to address.

However, the monsters were not at all intelligent in their tactics and insisted on standing there beating on the target in full plate armour carrying a shield even though it was obvious that their efforts were in vain.  It is true that the tank was also the healer and normally Kill The Healer is an excellent strategy but in this case the best strategy was Kill The Squishy Ones and then deal with the healer once everyone else is dead.  Had the enemies displayed even modest tactics and swarmed the people who were the threats we would have been quite easily crushed.

I don't know how I feel about this.  It is certainly possible that the enemies were in fact mostly mindless thugs since they were insectoid monstrosities shaped like people in plate armour - who knows what they were thinking, if at all.  They simply attacked the nearest thing and that might be all they were capable of.  The other possibility is that the GM didn't want to just kill us all and decided to play the monsters stupid.  He was pretty obviously expecting us to run but he didn't count on my playing my character Po right to the hilt - she is pretty much certain of her own invincibility and until that proves false she basically won't run from anything.  If the other characters had been willing to run I perhaps would have followed but they all seemed to be waiting for someone else to do something and nobody stepped up to be that first person to flee.

I am not the sort of person that worries about the party all dying when I am a character.  I have more characters buried in my brain and I can be ready to start something new and fun next week, no problem!  I tend to be very wary of causing them as the GM though.  I guess for me I wouldn't mind at all if our refusal to run got us all killed because it would set the stage for a much more tense and terror filled campaign next time.  There is nothing like knowing that the GM will massacre you if you insist on being foolish and brave to keep you on your toes!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Enemies and magic

One of the core things I aim for in building an RPG is rapid combat.  It should be easy for the GM to select opponents and set up a combat.  It should be easy to figure out what you can do and what happens when you do a particular thing.  It should also be difficult to figure out which of the things you can do is the optimal thing.  The latest DnD blog post talks a bit about their ideas for making monsters and opponents and seems poised to provide an enormous list of different ways to approach it.  GMs will be able to build characters from scratch, build enemy characters on monster templates, and customize their own monsters.

I remember the old days of monster creation in 3rd ed. and I do not remember those days fondly.  Building a high level opponent required hours of effort to construct their feat trees, stats, and gear even if you weren't building a caster... and let us not talk about how great it was to put three hours into an NPCs spell selection to have them die on the first round without even getting to get one of those ever so carefully chosen spells off.  Dragons were awful too because they always had immense spell lists that should be complete just in case but which pretty much never came up in the end because why use spells when you have a breath weapon?

Next seems to be trying to find some kind of middle ground between the laborious precision of 3rd and the lack of feel that 4th suffered from.  After all, we all want the GM to be able to build monsters quickly and know how tough a given fight will be but we also don't want the treadmill feeling where no difference is apparent upon gaining levels that plagued 4th.  When every gain of +1 the players achieve is instantly matched by a +1 on the part of the monsters you just don't *feel* like anything is happening.  Right now there is no way to know how well they will succeed as it is just hype and hope and anyone can put together a good elevator pitch for a system.  The proof is in the numbers.

However, one thing they still suffer from is a bizarre casting system.  Spell slots make no sense and I can't figure out what kind of lore they are drawing from or feel they are trying to achieve.  Making a spellcaster enemy is still going to require a huge spell list and tedious bookkeeping to track their slots remaining.  Fundamentally I just don't understand how they arrived at this Vancian / spell point chimera.  I recognize that they were trying desperately to find some sort of compromise between the new players and the grognards but I think they really should have come up with something new and better instead of just sewing on parts from discarded systems until they stopped from exhaustion and called it complete.

Magic and its mechanics are a huge part of a system's core and smashing it together like this is not the right choice.  The old Vancian system is a relic, a random bit of stuff left over from a previous era.  Perhaps the 4th model didn't grab people but the solution is to build something new and great not to simply serve up the same old disaster with a new and confusing twist.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gear me up

I have been working on the Best In Slot list for my Witch Doctor in Diablo 3.  I am actually remarkably close to it now as I am only missing the weapon - and what a weapon it is.  (Starmetal Kukri)  Because every piece has a ton of random rolls there will always be room for improvement but the improvements are going to be pretty minimal at this point.  One thing I really like about the gearing in the D3 expansion is that the lists of optimal gear are really mixed up.  Different items have such interesting and variable abilities and when that is combined with the randomness of loot due to limited trading there are a million and one different builds and setups.

One extreme outlier is the Ring Of Royal Grandeur.  RoRG has a secondary ability that makes you count as if you have one more of every set you have equipped as long as you have at least two of that set.  For example, I can wear two pieces of the Aughild's set and get the bonus for having three pieces.  This would be a great ability even if it only applied to a single set but it applies to all sets and as such this ring is Best In Slot for everybody.  I am currently using it to complete three different sets and the list of things this ring is doing for me is completely hilarious.

15% reduced damage from elites
15% more damage to elites    (Aughild's 3p)
Immune Molten, Desecrator, Plagued    (Blackthorne's 4p)
Gain 8 permanent dorks that are a brutal beating    (Zunimassa's 4p)

Any one of those things would be an excellent and sought after bonus, all of them together is bonkers.

Not only is RoRG insane for endgame gear compositions but it is off the rails for gearing up too.  I only own three Zunimassa's pieces right now and the four piece bonus is ludicrous.  RoRG also lets you muck with slots like crazy because you can decide which slots of a set to use.  For example, I have a crazy good hat and RoRG lets me get my set bonus without putting a drastically inferior set piece into the hat slot.  RoRG gives you incredible power when gearing up, amazing flexibility, and is undoubtedly the best item in the game.

The weird thing about RoRG is how you go about getting it.  Most items in the game you simply have to kill monsters and hope, though some you can gamble for.  RoRG is found by completing a particular series of quests (full act 1 bounty runs, in particular) and then hoping that the 2% chance of a drop comes home.  Some people get lucky of course, as Spots managed to get a full five copies of RoRG, one for each finger, before I got my first one.  I was somewhat unlucky as it took me about ~170 tries to get my 2% to work but of course that isn't particularly outrageous though it is incredibly frustrating watching other people get them quickly and effortlessly.

After a couple of days of runs I was starting to get pretty tired of opening ten boxes every forty minutes and getting nothing from them.  When randomly killing dudes it is a very different feeling because you have no idea what exactly you are farming for but when there is a singular item you want to find it feels terrible to grind away at that item for a long time and fail.

Overall I think it is pretty cool that there are a bunch of items only available from specific sources and there are all kinds of crazy things to farm.  This feels like a fantastic, wonderful loot system.  Maybe it is fine to have a single item that everyone should wear but I don't like it personally - having items that are amazing is all good, but I think they shouldn't be amazing for *everyone* but rather should be amazing for some people and not others.  Still, the loot in the D3 expansion is so well done in general that I cannot possibly fault the whole.  This fussing about RoRG is just the perfectionist in me nitpicking.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The long game

A little while ago I learned the game Six from Val.  It is a game where both players play six sided pieces on a table and try to form specific shapes to win while blocking their opponents shapes.  The closest game I can think of to it is Pente, though I am sure there are others.  Ahead of time they told me that they really wanted a challenge because most people just weren't able to play it very well.  We played through the first game and when we got to the endgame where I announced I had won.  Not that winning would be quick, mind you, but I had a hard lock that would certainly mean Val would lose in the long run.  I had planned ahead quite some time to figure out an endgame position that would leave me certain to win.

Val, true to form, got their competitive spirit in action and proceeded to take me down 6 games to 4 over the next little while.  I just wasn't very good at figuring out how to build and avoid the proper shapes in the early game and kept losing because I was setting up an endgame position instead.  Practice at the game is huge and Val is better than me at setting up winning shapes throughout most of the game but I am better at seeing where the endgame will be.

It is kind of funny because this illustrates my approach to games in nearly all ways.  Wait, prepare, and set up to be invincible eventually.  I consistently end RPGs with my bags full of potions and more materials than I could ever use because I never want to spend them when I could just level up and save them for later.  Of course later never comes and they rot, unused.  In RPGs that is actually a fine strategy because levelling up more means I get better, which is the point, but in games like Magic or Six refusing to be the beatdown is just not sensible.

My first love in Magic was always permission decks.  I always would search a new set for ways to prevent, stall, delay, gain advantage, and eventually crush my opponent when all hope of their victory was lost.  There were times when I went for the throat (Red/Green fattyburn is pretty good against pure burn decks and Necro I hear) but it was never my first instinct.  I am sure there are people out there that always attack, always try to win right now, always put the opponent on the back foot, but I am not those people.

Defend, counter, don't lose.  Eventually winning takes care of itself.  This is my way.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lounge day

A note, for those who reside in southern Ontario.  Lounge Day is this Friday at the Comfy Lounge in the MC building on the University of Waterloo campus from 12:00 noon to 12:00 midnight.  Gamers of all sorts will be playing games and remembering how we used to be young and in school and without wailing small people.  You are all welcome to join us and play games whether or not you actually attended Waterloo back in the day.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blowing up the world

This last gaming session the group was faced with a dilemma.  We are currently camped outside of an ancient city with a perfect obsidian wall around it that is 40 feet tall.  There are people guarding the city who claim the wall was put there by ancient gods to keep a terrible evil locked away inside.  The people want to recruit us to join their ranks to fight against said evil and other nasty things in the world.  But we just want to find out what exactly lies on the other side of that wall!

In a campaign where you can trust all the NPCs that aren't attacking you the choice would be easy.  We should join the group of paladin types who is trying to protect everyone and take the next step on our quest.  However, we are adventuring in a world where people act much like real people and it is not at all clear to us that the story we are being told is true.  After all, the city has been shut for thousands of years.  Does anybody really know what is inside after all this time?  Is the story we are being fed true at all?  Maybe just beyond those walls lies adventure, treasure, and monsters to be slain for massive gain of experience!

There is the distinct possibility that should we decide to ignore the defenders of the forbidden city and scale those walls that we will end up dead, or being responsible for freeing a terrible darkness into the world.  The first one isn't very interesting but if it happens I will roll with it; you rolls the dice and you takes your chances.  The second possibility, while it would be devastating for my character, sounds pretty fun to me.  So now our mission is expanded from 'establish good trading relations with some folks' to 'save the world from a horrible fate that we brought upon it'?  Sounds like a great adventure to me!

I hope the GM is ready for us to do something colossally stupid.  I know that when I run adventures if the PCs really do something crazy I let it happen and the world simply adjusts - sometimes they decide to resurrect an ancient demigod intent on sacrificing hordes of people to bring back the old gods, and that is fun.  I mean, if the world just dies because a couple of lunatics climb over a wall to see what is there then I guess that world is probably screwed anyway because eventually somebody is going to climb that wall to see what is on the other side.

Time to do something dumb, I think!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Who is the best?

In a game like Diablo 3 that eventually becomes all about farming up materials and gear the question inevitably arises:  Who is the best farmer?  The trick to getting a proper answer to the question ends up mired in the details of how classes play and what exactly farming entails.  Right now the reward structure of D3 is such that the best way to farm is to find a difficulty level that allows you to mulch mobs effortlessly and only dial it up once you can easily smash the next difficulty level up.  There simply isn't any benefit to playing on higher difficulty levels aside from variety and challenge because each difficulty level increases drops of legendary gear about 15% over the previous level but increases monster health and damage by 50%

Clearly if the monsters are threatening your character in any significant way or if they are taking a long time to burn down it is going to be far more efficient to play on an easier difficulty setting.  This warps the question of which class is best substantially because the metric is no longer about being able to beat really serious challenges.  It is very useful to stop worrying about defenses once you can handily survive in your chosen difficulty and focus solely on blowing up monsters more quickly and moving more rapidly across the map.  What all of this boils down to is that ranged classes are very much favoured over melee classes because they can more easily mow down enemies without having to actually walk around very much.  Every moment walking towards enemies is a moment not spent blasting them to bits.

My class and spec of choice is a pet focused build at the moment.  The great thing about this build is that my pets fill the screen with blockers and tie up enemies and they deal an unbelievable amount of damage.  When a boss gets surrounded by my pets they start taking ~4000% damage a second, which is going to be somewhere between 4 and 8 times the sustained damage other people put out.  The trouble is that my pets are very stupid and spend a lot of time wandering around, getting caught on terrain features, and being in each other's way.  If I was fighting enemies for a very long time and they all had time to get set up and stop being idiots I would be absolutely brutal, no question.  The trouble is that when the optimal playing style is to blow up enemies in 1-3 seconds a lot of the time my pets don't even get into position to take a swing before the enemies are dead.

It appears to me that the best possible character for farming is going to be either a wizard or a demon hunter.  Both of them are ranged and can melt enemies effectively without running around and they both have great up front damage builds with powerful long range capability.  Whether or not these classes continue to hold up if the measurement becomes more focused around beating really hard challenges on the highest difficulty is unclear to me.  I know for a certainty that when the enemies hit hard enough and last long enough that kiting becomes necessary that it will be amazing to have super tough blockers to stand around and get punched.  It seems likely that as the game gets more difficult the glass cannons with high burst become less and less effective.

This isn't to say that farming capability is necessarily the best measure of a character of course.  Given that beating the game is incredibly easy if all you want to do is finish the plot I don't know that there is any real cohesive endgame at all.  Much like D2 there is only endless progression, farming to get better and better stuff just to show it off to everyone.  Perhaps that is the key - make beating the game fairly straightforward for the casual players and then make a big playground for all the hardcore folks and let them define their own rules.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On being a Witch Doctor and gearing up

The Diablo 3 expansion has really improved the overall experience of the game, particularly when it comes to farming speed and gearing up.  It used to be that gear scaled exponentially due to how everything multiplies together and the difference between someone with weak gear and someone with top end gear was utterly absurd.  I remember looking at my character at one point after doing quite a lot of farming and seeing 23k Damage and figuring that the best players in the world must have maybe 50k, or even 100k.  It turns out the actual answer was more like 450k.  That is, I was doing 5% of their damage and finding half of the stuff they were per kill due to me having low Magic Find.

The new gearing model is hugely better for a few reasons.  Firstly the powerful stats that strongly affect damage and toughness are restricted to four per item and items regularly have four powerful stats.  Secondly with the new ability to change one of the stats to a new one it is drastically easier to get a really good item.  The perfect item with everything maximized and an item that is reasonably easy to attain simply aren't that different anymore, so it is fairly quick and easy to get a character geared up to be able to play on the fifth difficulty setting where the good drops are all available and then gearing up suddenly gets a lot slower.

This much flatter gear model seems excellent to me.  It gives a very reasonable way for a new player to play along with friends who are veterans and still feel relevant.  There is still plenty of progression beyond that point but the upgrades are generally much smaller and extremely random because they are based on finding legendary items with crazy bonuses that are both cool and very unpredictable.  I think Blizzard has done a great job at setting a baseline that everyone can get to without worrying much about luck and making sure that people running that baseline have a solid experience.

So far I have found three different Witch Doctor builds that I like and they require very different gearing strategies.  One is a traditional nuker with a couple pets as blockers and this is by far my current favourite.  I am tough and do plenty of damage.  (Vampire bats, Spirit Barrage - Manitou, 2x pets, and cooldowns)  One real sour note is that the other build I was leaning towards doesn't work because Witch Doctor pets are bugged and don't benefit from Critical Damage.  This ends up halving their damage and so a pets and dots focused build is inferior at the moment.

However, there is a completely nutty build that tries to push cooldown reduction to the maximum in order to maintain nearly 100% uptime of four amazing cooldowns and in a group situation it looks to be completely insane.  It should be able to keep half the enemies mind controlled all the time, keep all enemies taking 20% more damage, boost allies to have 20% more attack speed and 30% more damage, and be amazingly tough as well as supplying 12 blockers to keep enemies tied up.  I wouldn't even have an attack spell on my bar with this build so it would need friends around to be useful but I would certainly be a popular sort of person.

The best metric to my mind is that I am constantly thinking of new approaches I should be taking and new builds that particular drops will make work.  If a game is keeping me up at night thinking about optimization something has to be going right.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I don't think shopping is much fun.  In the real world it is tedious and repetitive, not to mention loud and crowded and annoying if attempted in physical buildings instead of online.  I don't like it much in games either and I don't think I am alone in this.  Recently the DnD Next blog talked about the new systems they are putting in place for characters shopping for gear in Next.  They are planning on having a hybrid system where characters can either shop for things individually or just buy gear packages from a short list.  It all just seems ridiculous and really shows how much the focus is on old school dungeon crawls.  In those mazes full of deadly traps and magical teleporters characters needed a ten foot pole, chalk, a bell, fifty feet of rope, a grappling hook, and pints of lantern oil.  When the door to the place randomly seals and you need to spend ten sessions underground it is critical to know exactly how long your lantern can hold out, after all!

What makes me shake my head is the idea that this is how people play.  I can't imagine that groups regularly spend their time clearing out these insane labyrinths and actually make use of all of this junk, much less think that obsessively recording the cost of these simple things is worthwhile.  I always loved how the game apparently was built around the players hauling mountains of copper pieces out of dungeons and keeping track of each of them as they were used to purchase candles while also assuming that the characters regularly dealt with amounts of money in the millions of copper.  Do normal people obsessively track the number of pennies in their pockets or the change jar at home?  Why would anyone think they want to do that in a game?  I have actually seen people talk about how new players don't know all the tricks for optimizing a characters's inventory against the standard sort of challenges that come up and this mindset just leaves me boggled.

When fantasy games are built around the premise that the characters are powerful and important it just doesn't seem reasonable to also assume the players will want to count utterly trivial sums of money to keep track of their purchases.  It isn't as if this is even defensible from a realism standpoint as the costs of things in game books do not reflect historical reality at all.  It seems to me that barring some kind of game where the characters are and remain dirt poor (and where the players want to roleplay being desperately broke...) the only sensible approach is to just let people acquire whatever they want in terms of mundane, simple gear.  You want a rope?  Fine, whatever.  Write down what you carry with you, forget about the price, and ignore the list of gear tailored to professional dungeon delvers because those don't make the *slightest* bit of sense.