Thursday, July 30, 2015

Gone Fishin'

It has been a month now that people in WOW have had access to the latest content so I figured I should review it.  My guild is 9/13 normal mode in Hellfire Citadel and so far I think it is well done.  There is a distinct progression ramp up throughout the zone both in loot quality and difficulty and that feels smooth and polished.  Most of the folks in my guild haven't got a lot of stuff they still need from normal mode except for tier pieces and trinkets.  There are a couple slots where people will get 5 more ilvls but it isn't much of a thing.  The fights are varied and interesting though and I am enjoying that.

The shipyard, the new addition to the garrison, on the other hand, isn't so great.  Blizzard succeeded in making it quite different from followers but much of that difference boils down to the shipyard being terrible.  Once you get the mandatory bits done to get your legendary ring it mostly becomes a huge time and resource hog, allowing you to spend huge amounts of resources to gain modest amounts of gold.  Unlike followers ships rarely have anything interesting to do and the great majority of missions are actually worse than nothing because your ships will often be destroyed if you fail.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with ships dying on missions in theory, this ends up meaning that after a disastrous failure you have to spend a lot of time rebuilding and training up new ships (and often they will end up sinking again before you get them trained fully up!) rather than doing something interesting.

The solution I have come up with is to mostly abandon combat.  My navy isn't about fighting enemy ships!  Instead of being all about war on the high seas I just outfitted the fleet with fishing nets and I send them on trivial training missions to gather fish instead.  There are missions that award lots of experience but those are dangerous, especially for ships set up to catch fish... instead I do the missions that are safe, have almost no reward, but allow my ships to trawl the seas for a flopping, slimy haul.

Somehow having all these sparkly missions with rewards that aren't worth getting feels wrong.  Something isn't entirely working here, and although normally I have suggestions for fixing the problems I really don't know what to say here.  Ships aren't especially fun, the stuff that is supposed to be exciting isn't worth doing, and all I do is send my ships out to train on target dummies.

It just isn't heroic.

Followers ended up being a real balance issue because they so trivially brought in huge sums of gold.  The game is going to need to get fixed in a big way when the next xpac launches to make sure that followers don't remain the main source of gold forever.  However, while they were around followers were fun and optimizing my army was a source of great entertainment.  For some reason followers going out and earning gold and gear is fun and ships going out fishing isn't.  Theme matters, it turns out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Get over here!

In Mortal Kombat the character Scorpion had an iconic line - "Get over here!"  He would utter it as he fired some kind of harpoon at his enemy, pulling them in and stunning them so he could deliver a devastating uppercut.  Everyone loves that!  In Heroes By Trade I wanted to have something similar for melee types to use to grab pesky ranged folks and get them into punching range.

The two classes that had this kind of ability were the Champion, a tanky brawler focused on defence, and the Channeler, a martial artist archetype.  Both had the ability to grab enemies at range and pull them in, with the Champion's abilities being more themed around taunting people to get them in and the Channeler being more obviously magical and just yanking them through the air.  In any case they used the Pull mechanic where a distant enemy was moved adjacent to them to receive a beating.

Here is an example:

Master of Melee - 13

No one can get away from you as you drag them mercilessly back into your weapon’s reach.

Gain 6 Focus.  Pull 1 creature within 6 spaces of you without a Hit Roll then attack it.

This caused some problems.  In fights it felt fine and people had a grand time with it.  Fleeing enemies were yoinked back into bashing range and the feel seemed great.  Later on though the characters were on a ship when a sailor fell overboard and our Channeler wanted to yank them back onto the ship using his ability.  I wasn't sure what to say because whether or not this works depends greatly on what exactly is going on.  Is the pull in some kind of mind control where the target walks of their own accord?  If so, why does it work on slimes or undead?  Also it ignores the speed of the target, so mind control seems unlikely.  If it works based on pulling people through the air with mystical forces then it seems like it should be able to save an overboard sailor easily.  But then shouldn't the player be able to yank keys off of a keyring 10 meters away?  Yank the keystone out of the arch that towers overhead?  Could they grab onto an immobile object and pull themselves to the object instead?

Basically we all kinds of questions and no answers.  I don't want this ability to have such huge swaths of power outside of combat.  Giving one class insane climbing, levitating, and ranged grabbing power is quite beyond what I was aiming at.  Also it would make that ability absolutely mandatory for everyone because of the outrageous utility it brought, to say nothing of combat applications.

So I came up with a new wording that I think preserves the functionality I want without causing so many hassles with trying to figure out what it does.

Master of Melee - 13

No one can get away from you as you relentlessly drag them back into combat, exactly where you want them.

Gain 6 Focus.  Take a Move, then make an attack.  If you hit, Move back to where you were and Drag the enemy with you.

The idea now is that you rush up to the enemy, grab them, and haul them back.  This works a lot better because it is very similar in terms of what happens in combat but it is abundantly clear what powers the character possesses.  You are a big tough badass who can grab people and drag them around by the ear when you want.  Great!  Still fun, but now very clear in terms of applications outside of brawling.

This is partly an issue of trying to figure out what exactly physical based characters do with their powers.  When a wizard blasts people with ice it is straightforward to understand.  Fireballs have relatively comprehensible limitations.  However, when people are using martial arts magic that doesn't use forces we can understand it becomes a lot trickier to define the limits of their powers.  Movies have it much easier in this regard because they have no need to figure out what character's actual limits are - they can just have them do what the story calls for.  Movie characters aren't going to try to solve problems in ways that the writers aren't ready for!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Amp it up

Patch 2.3 is coming for Diablo 3 and it looks to be a hilarious increase in player power.  The main thing that will accomplish this is Kanai's Cube, which allows players to destroy legendary items to place their powers in the Cube.  They can then select 1 weapon power, 1 armour power, and 1 jewellery power to permanently augment their character.

So, for example, I could take my darts based witch doctor and add in Starmetal Kukri (~60% damage boost), Convection of Elements (40% damage boost), and Mask of Jeram (~80% damage boost), all of which multiply for a whopping 300% damage boost.

I can probably find more awesome things to do that are even better, but this gives you a vague sense of the magnitude of this buff.  The huge thing it does is vastly increase the number of permutations available to characters, especially those using big sets.  Being able to sneak in a single item in any of those formerly locked set slots is monstrously powerful.  I suspect that Witch Doctors will actually benefit more than anyone because they were so dependent on two insanely overpowered weapons and a bunch of build defining helms that adding in one more each of those is far more utility than any other class gets.

Generally I think this is a great change.  Part of the way these games always end up playing out is gradual power creep and that is just part for the course - you do this so that new records can be set and so that bug fixes or nerfs don't eventually leave some records unbreakable.  Even if it weren't part of the unavoidable power creep I would enjoy this change greatly as it opens up a ton of new and interesting options for play.

There are lots of other things too, like new items and new set benefits.  I may play my current Darts based Witch Doctor for awhile, but the new Helltooth set looks completely bonkers and I will definitely want to try that out.  I suspect Blizzard is going to stick with their plan that the huge sets are totally brutal and you have to be using one to be remotely effective, but at least now we have a lot more ways to work around those limitations with the new Cube.

I haven't played much D3 in a long time but I am pretty sure I will give it a spin when this patch drops so I can test out all the new shinies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Over time WOW dungeons have changed greatly.  In the beginning dungeons were often brutal mazes, designed for people to wander in and fight for hours without really knowing where they were going.  When entering a dungeon with a particular goal in mind you definitely needed an experienced leader to make sure you went the right way and in some cases like Blackrock Depths even people who had been there a dozen times wouldn't know it all.  Recently I saw a complaint about current dungeons that sums up the changes to WOW dungeons nicely:

The real trouble with designing dungeons like the bottom one here is that while it is great for those hunting for lore or exploring for fun it is a disaster for those looking to do one particular thing.  It requires a knowledgeable guide, getting to any particular event is going to require a ton of random killing of monsters, and even if you know where to go there is no guarantee your companions will have any interest in doing the same things you do.

The fundamental conflict is that optimizers will be in a dungeon to do one thing.  Explorers will be there to do any number of things.  If those groups are in a complex mazelike dungeon they will drive each other crazy - either the optimizers will have to take a slow, meandering route to get where they want (or might not even get to where they want at all!) or the explorers will only get to see a single path to the final boss.  There is no way to keep everyone happy.  In a simple dungeon the explorers get to see all the things and the optimizers get to rush to the goal as fast as possible - the optimal paths for both groups are the same.

That, I think, is how Blizzard arrived at their current design.  They really want people to be able to play with random strangers and have a good time and the only way to do that is to make sure that all the major groups of players are going to want to take the same path.  Doing so requires that the path choices be nonexistent though, which certainly cuts down on some of the fun of the thing.  They can't really make both kinds of dungeons though, as we know what happens then:  Everyone goes to the fastest, simplest, quickest route to rewards and runs it over and over while complaining that the big, complex dungeon is too annoying.  All the dungeons have to have vaguely similar complexity or only the trivial ones will be used, and if they all have similar complexity then they all need to be simple or the casual players will just give up on them.

I don't think Blizzard employees actually feel like the linear dungeons are the best possible or most fun design.  Hell, I bet they wish they could design outrageous mazes like Blackrock Depths.  That would be so much fun!  However, the players have made it clear that the designs of old will not do.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Basing the ball

Hobo and I were talking today about sports and how they could be made better for watching.  Having played baseball a lot while I was a kid I have thoughts on that sport in particular.  Baseball suffers from being very slow and having a tremendous amount of standing around while the pitcher and batter have a little duel.  I have never found that interesting because you can't usually tell what the pitcher or batter is thinking and any strategy that comes out of a situation like that is hidden from the viewer.  It is just a bore.

However, when I was young I played a variant of baseball called 3 pitch.  The idea is that the batting team supplies the pitcher and the defending team has someone on the mound to catch the ball should it go there.  There are a maximum of 3 pitches after which the batter is automatically out but because the pitcher is trying to give the batter a good throw that isn't much of an impediment.  The reason I like this so much is it pushes the game outside of an invisible duel that is obfuscated to the viewer into a series of fast action with lots of movement and excitement.

With nearly every pitch being good the ball gets into play the great majority of the time.  There is no reason for the pitcher and batter to screw around between pitches either so things move at a fast clip.  This translates the meat of the game into something the audience can see and that is bound to make things more entertaining to view.  I would be so much more interested in watching a major league baseball game if it was a 3 pitch game, and I suspect most other people would agree if they weren't already inured to the current system.

There would of course need to be some changes to avoid endless home runs, like making the ball a lot softer so it wouldn't fly so hard or so fast, but that isn't especially difficult to sort out.

The best thing about this is it would get kids' baseball leagues to want to imitate the big leagues and we could get away from a sport where kids spend most of their time standing around and then striking out because the pitcher is bigger and older and much more skilled than they are.  We want the kids to run around and do a bunch of stuff and having them get a nice easy pitch up the middle is exactly the way to do that.  It also means that you don't just put the little kids in the outfield where nothing happens, because people are going to whack the ball out there regularly!  Everyone gets a much greater chance to play and interact with the ball and that can't help but be better exercise and more fun.

It won't ever happen of course, because there is too much invested in the current system.  People would accuse it of being watered down and terrible... but it would be better to watch, better to learn, and probably fantastic for the health of baseball for the future.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

World Integration

I have gotten a bunch of feedback on Heroes By Trade that suggests that people want a more comprehensive background and history system.  I think the game has plenty of strategy and build options to keep things interesting in combat but I struggled to add a lot of backstory mechanics because I simply didn't know what world the characters would be adventuring in.  You can't provide a consistent system for figuring out who the characters are indebted to and who might try to send an assassin after them if you don't know who is influential in the first place!

13th Age has a nice feature here, in that they don't describe much about the world at all but instead simply have a group of powerful figures that dominate world politics.  The Diabolist, the Crusader, the Dwarven King, the Priestess, etc. are the people the system talks about.  Characters don't have any more specific background than that though, so if you want to be rich or affiliated with the merchant bank of Lor'Dai or have a baron after your head the game has nothing concrete for you.  The idea of a few specific people who dominate the world is cool and provides some serious structure for world building.

Another example that I don't know if I can follow but which is useful is World of Darkness.  That game is set in the modern day so there are backgrounds for being really rich, for political power, for having minions, friends, or an influential mentor.  However, the game is specifically supposed to take place in a particular city so it isn't easy for characters to get away from their pasts.  In Heroes By Trade the world is a pseudo medieval magical setting so if everyone decides to get on a boat and head to another land there is nothing stopping them thematically or mechanically but it would mean that most of their background would suddenly vanish or be irrelevant.  People can hop on a plane and find you anywhere in the modern world but that sort of thing isn't going to work the same way under the Heroes By Trade world assumptions.

I came up with a bunch of ideas to help people build backgrounds, like spending points on wealth, contacts, friends, and experience and letting them take enemies, issues, and problems to counterbalance that.  Problem is, if I build that into the system then a lot of it won't make sense or come into play at all if the group decides to be a roving band of thrill seekers travelling far and wide.  Your friendship with the local blacksmith's guild and the fact that the sheriff wants to find any reason to string you up is irrelevant when you are three weeks travel away past the Swamp Of Doom.

To make a background system that stays relevant I need to tightly control the world.  I would have to make up a lot of the stuff that influences the lives of the characters and mechanically ensure its continuing importance.  That is possible, but such control really pins the GM into a corner in terms of storytelling, and means that repeat stories feel quite odd.  Every story having exactly the same set of powerful people or precisely equivalent factions just feels wrong.  When I make a new campaign in a new world it is wild and woolly and very idiosyncratic.  No way would I be interested in a system that required my campaign to conform to specific constraints the way 13 Age does.

Which I guess means that the very simple system I currently have in place where characters pick a couple of Assets and a couple of Problems and then work with the GM to define those things is really about my style.  I like characters having some hooks, both good and bad, and I am happy to work those into whatever story or setting I have going.  What I don't want is a system that manhandles their social connections and history into some fixed structure that doesn't mesh with the world I built.

So I guess what I am concluding is that I built the game I want to play, and although I can probably do some useful stuff to improve the current background structure it is the structure I intended to build... so many I should just accept that and go with it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

I just wanna fly

I just want to fly.

And soon, I will be able to.  For the entirety of this expansion so far the new content in WOW has been ground only but shortly (probably this coming tuesday) flight will be available again.

The debate as to whether or not flying should be available has been contentious and full of tremendous anger and vitriol on both sides.  I tend to take a middle path between the people screaming that Blizzard ought to let them fly because not doing so is removing options and that is evil, and those that think that flying just ruins everything and makes players rush past the fun.

I think that navigating the world on the ground is a good idea for a long time.  There is definitely a satisfaction that comes with exploring and finding ways to get to difficult spots.  The world feels more deep, more frightening, more immersive when you have to hack your way through it while bound by gravity.

But eventually that does get old, and flying makes you feel so powerful, so free.  Blizzard is requiring a lot for flying, and I think it is appropriately done.  You have to do all the major quest chains, explore all the areas, level up some new factions, and find all kinds of treasures.  Once you have done this you have definitely paid your dues in terms of navigating the world and doing the stuff and I think it is a fine thing to then be able to fly.

To my mind this hybrid solution of flying being available only after you have really had the ground experience is the best one.

I just want to fly.

But I am glad to have had the non flying stuff too, as that was fun, and it will make the ascent to the wild blue yonder all the sweeter.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


My design for Heroes By Trade currently includes class perks as a primary way of differentiating people from one another.  Each class has three perks and characters must choose one to define their combat strategy.  For example, Marauders have the following three choices:

Wolverine’s Frenzy:  When you damage an opponent and the damage die is an even number you deal 1d6 extra damage and gain +3 Vigour for the rest of the encounter.  

Pack Tactics:  Add 1d8 to your damage when you have advantage on the Hit Roll OR against a target threatened by one of your allies.

Cave Bear’s Rage:  When an enemy damages you, you deal 1d10 extra damage for 1 round.

These perks all change the way you want to play and what sorts of decisions you will make.  I like that generally and I think the perks do their thing just fine.  However, there aren't any decisions to make as characters level up and the perks are kind of limited in how complicated they can be.  I want to be sure that first time players aren't overwhelmed by perk mechanics so simplicity is crucial.  On the other hand if I had room for more complex mechanics my creative space would be a lot bigger.

Thinking about these things I came up with an idea for expanding perks.  My thought is that each time a character reaches a level divisible by 8 they can either take a new perk or upgrade an old one.  The upgrades should be roughly equal in power to the basic perks but because they are locked away until higher levels I am much more willing to do wild and wacky stuff.  I can up with a bunch of examples to see how it would work.  Here is one of them:

No Escape 

Rank 1:  You no longer take disadvantage when making a Hit Roll against a target with Cover or Concealment.  You gain a +1 bonus to Hit Rolls.

Rank 2:  Increase bonus to Hit Rolls to +3.

Rank 3:  You deal 1d10 extra damage when you have Cover or Concealment from the target.

Rank 4:  When you attack you can measure line of sight as though you were standing in any space that is adjacent to you.

That fourth rank is crazy!  Shoot around walls!  I wouldn't want to put that in as an ability for starting characters as it requires you to understand line of sight and is really only good when you can abuse that but for someone who is near max level it isn't out of line at all.

There are some issues to doing this.  It will increase character power ramp up so I will have to account for that in designing opponents and figuring out encounter strength mechanisms.  However, I think it will give people some interesting things to look forward to when they do get more powerful and having these additional choices will make for more variety in character design.  Right now the upgrades are all designed to be equal in power but I could potentially make them way stronger and more exciting at the top levels to give players really amazing abilities.  Taking a different perk instead of an upgrade would never be the right choice though, so that set of options would be cut off.  For now I am mostly set of building these expanded perks as being equal in power to each of the basic choices and going from there.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Tobold made a post today about how Blizzard could go about fixing the queue times for dps in WOW.  His idea is that in a 25 man raid instead of having 5 healers, 2 tanks, and 18 dps there could be 23 dps, 1 healer, and 1 tank.  This is a nice theory and all but it ignores the fundamental problem - people are willing to wait 30 minutes to queue as dps.  That means that if you do things to incentivize people playing tanks and healers or make less tanks and healers necessary you will still see people signing up to dps with a 30 minute queue.  There isn't much you can do when a big chunk of the population would rather wait 30 mins than tank.  You can perhaps increase the number of raids that go out, which is nice, but you won't change the queue time.

This solution also has the problem that it makes absolutely no sense.  Without tanks swaps or multiple tank roles tanking has to be dead simple... and boring.  With only one healer who presumably takes a number of spells to get a single person from nearly dead to full nothing can do any significant damage.  If the whole raid lost half their health, the healer probably wouldn't be able to heal it up during the course of the entire fight!  A single healer is so ineffectual that you might as well not even have one and just let the dps who stand in fire for minutes at a time die.  In order for the current model of the game to work at all there must be multiple healers and multiple tanks and I can't see how completely redoing the entire game design just to alter the ratios in Looking For Raid is sensible.

If somehow we could have 1/3 tanks, 1/3 healers, and 1/3 dps it would be better.  Then if a single tank or healer is totally useless it doesn't matter and you just keep on going anyway.  The pressure isn't there anymore.  Unfortunately that is terrible raid design so the players would try to get around it and run more dps, and the spec spread in the game wouldn't support it anyway.

People want to dps and they especially want the lack of responsibility that doing so entails.  They are willing to wait 30 minutes in line to do that.  There isn't a whole lot we can do to fix the problem.  It is much like building a new freeway to provide better access into a city - traffic just increases to choke the new road as much as the old ones because if traffic improves, more people drive and any gains are lost.

The dps queue is 30 minutes and that is just the way it is going to be.