Thursday, December 29, 2016


Hoot Owl Hoot is a kid's board game I played for the first time this holiday.  My three year old nephew can play, though his grasp of strategy is still questionable at best.  It is a good game for really young kids though, since strategy does play a serious role and it is a big step up from such trash as Candyland and Monopoly.

I have to give credit where credit is due.  The game is simple, cute, and actually has enough thinking that kids can grow into playing better.  The variable difficulty means they can go from trivial games to challenging ones.

The adults I played with were convinced the game was utterly trivial but I wasn't so sure.  Winning isn't hard, but finding the optimal move can be a challenge.  People didn't believe me, but then they mostly made terrible moves so it was clear there was a lot more to the game than they thought.  Sometimes people mistake complexity for challenge and I think this is one of those cases.

However, HOH has some problems.   The first one is that all cards are face up, leading to the alpha player problem.  One player (*cough* me *cough*) sees the correct move and tells other players what to do, which leaves them the unpalatable options of doing what I say or playing badly.  That is a poor situation.

The way the game is played is that each player has 3 cards in their hand, all of which are visible to all players.  This is fine for kids, but for adults who don't want the alpha player to make the game suck we need a better solution.  My idea was to have each player place one card face up, and after they play that card they can choose one other card to put in their face up slot.  This makes it impossible to alpha the table and means that players can try to figure out how to cooperate with one another.  Signalling seems tricky, but it should be possible to get better at it and have interesting choices.

The other problem is that each turn you play one card and draw one card.  If you draw a sun card, you must play the sun card on your next turn and you make no choices on your turn.  The sun card makes you progress towards losing, so it is just terrible.  It isn't fun to play a sun card and it sucks to draw one.  It is entirely possible to end up not being able to play for most of the game when you draw sun cards and that is a sad game indeed.  I would do things differently.  One option is just to play the sun card automatically when you draw it, rather than skipping your turn.  This does change play slightly though because you can plan many turns ahead, but for the kids version that doesn't matter.  It just means that everyone gets to play each turn and I like that a lot better.

For the  adult game where some cards are hidden this it is less of a big deal that you don't randomly skip turns sometimes.  However, if you really want randomness in turn order then you could simply have anyone who draws a sun play it immediately and then take yet another turn right after.  This throws off planning but doesn't cause specific people to end up not getting to play.

Somehow other people who play simple kids games just play them with the kids and then move on.  They don't analyze them and come up with alternate rulesets to extend them to other situations.  Other people are strange.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Moving on

A few years ago I joined a WOW raiding guild run by strangers.  It had been a long time since I raided with people who aren't my RL friends so I was a little bit unsure but it ended up being a good time.  I got along with the people pretty well and the game was fun.  It let me play WOW again in a way that worked for me.

During the current expansion I have been raiding with those same people but I think the end of that has come.  The real problem is timing because the guild raids from 8:30 to 11:30.  I need a bit of wind down time after a raid and that means I just can't get a reasonable night's sleep before my alarm goes at 7:30.  I have been doing a lot of napping during the day and was tired a lot for the past four months and that just isn't sustainable long run.

It is hard pulling the plug and running out on people.  I am one of the people who does the most damage in the guild so it feels like I am letting them down.  Even if that weren't true, there is a strong sense of loyalty that comes from playing with people for a long time.  At some point though loyalty must give way to logistics, and now is the time.

Timing isn't the only reason though.  This expansion is different from previous ones in that there is a huge amount of progress that you can get from running things outside of raids.  World quests, dungeons, even PVP reward really useful stuff.  People like me that can play during the day a lot are a *lot* more powerful than those that just log on for raids.  In previous expansions you could sometimes just raid and do little else and have that work - today that isn't true.  I mean, you CAN just raid, but your gear and artifact powers will be so much lower that your performance will be seriously compromised in comparison.

The guild I am in is a friends and family guild.  There are some people that aren't part of a RL web, but most are all linked outside the game.  This means you have a mix of people who play a lot and people who hardly play at all and everyone gets to raid.  In this expansion that means that some people are drastically behind and you can't do much to help them out.  Funnelling gear to them will only help a bit.

Those things together mean that performance in the guild varies wildly.  We are trying content that requires roughly 300k dps from each person, and we have only a handful of people who can make that benchmark.  Some are below 150k.  That isn't something we can make up, because the top end people can't do 500k to make up for those who are lower.

Of course that doesn't mean people are doing it wrong.  Everyone should play the way they want and have the fun they want!  But when the differences in performance are that stark it takes away from the fun for me.  I want to raid content that really pushes me, but in the current situation I massively outgear anything I am raiding by the time we beat it and I barely even need the gear from the bosses we down.  It just doesn't feel right.  Looking at our progression kills and realizing that their drop list doesn't matter to me is disheartening.

If the timing of raids was perfect I would be fine with the disparity in performance.  But that struggle with feeling like I am on the wrong content adds to the difficulty I have with times and together it means it is time for me to move on to find a guild that raids a bit earlier and a bit more aggressively.  I have a good candidate so far, so here's hoping it works out.

Moving time.  No regrets about the past, but I need a new place to live.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Go forth and conquer in my name!

I have been doing a bunch of pet battles in WOW this past week.  I wonder how this system got implemented in the first place, because a fantasy game where you run around and slay monsters for treasure doesn't instantly make you think of a turn based tactical game where you pit your squirrels, war robots, and baby dragons against your opponent's wolves, walking pumpkins, and zombies.

And yet pet battles made it into the game, and I think a lot of people are using that part of WOW.  For me it is a fun way to pass the time because it is an entertaining puzzle to solve without the normal click pressure that WOW entails.  My hands hurt if I play too hard or too long so the 1 click every ten seconds speed of pet battles is perfect as a way to rest.  The depth of the puzzle is quite large too, as there are hundreds of pets of ten types, with each pet having six different abilities to select from.  The abilities have types as well as a huge variety of effects, and when you combine the type bonuses and penalties with the effects the combinations boggle the mind.

However, pet battles are a lot like the rest of WOW in that you have to pour a ton of time into the game before the actual tactics portion begins.  Slaughtering low level pets in the wild is trivial, but you have to do that for awhile to get yourself going, in the same way that levelling up your character in WOW is boring but you have to do it in order to play the endgame.

It doesn't speak well of the genre that I characterize the levelling up process as boring and a chore, but that is where it is at these days.  I think Blizzard, and maybe the whole community, needs to figure out some way for this to be better.  Back in the beginning when the game was harder levelling up was actually a lot of fun for me, but the new systems where you just follow the quest trail and every monster is trivial just isn't gripping.

Pet battles are the same way.  You could just take a group of level 1 pets and level them up together against random monsters but honestly that game isn't much fun.  It is just a brainless grind.  Instead of doing that I wait until pet battle bonus week and then do all kinds of tricks to powerlevel pets like crazy.  (Plump Turkey to sleep level 25 enemies, rotate in level 1 pet, and then run WoD pet masters with 2 tanks and a pet to be carried.)

When I actually have a max level stable of pets though the game is quite enjoyable.  Lots of puzzles to figure out and things to test.  Unfortunately I usually end up looking for a particular ability on a particular pet type and then I realize that the pet I need is level 1, or that I don't have it yet.  So off I go to find that pet and level it up.

It is a bit hard to say that this is all bad.  I mean, finding interesting pets has led me to running old dungeons and raids and exploring much of the world that I had otherwise ignored.  That is actually pretty entertaining in itself and I am enjoying having reasons to revisit places long ignored.

However, I think that the model of tons of trivial content that people want to skip gating the good stuff isn't really ideal.  Rather than making levelling up easy but boring, I would opt for making it hard but interesting.  If Blizzard feels the need to increase experience gain so that you have to kill less stuff to gain levels but killing it is much harder I would happily sign up, even if it made levelling slower.

I want to do things that push me, and I don't mind gated content, but far better a gate I have to think about or practice on than one that just takes a long time to swing open.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The sweetest of spots

Blizzard is making a ton of adjustments to numbers in WOW in their upcoming patch.  Mostly I agree with their direction, though I admit I do question how they got some things so wrong in the first place.  Legendary items have been a real point of contention for the whole expansion so far, most especially because there has been such a monstrous difference in power level between them.

Some Legendaries were really godawful.  For example, Prydaz was a Legendary neck common to all classes and it was horrific.  It granted 15% of your health as a shield if you didn't take damage for 5 seconds.  On many fights this would never happen, and it usually meant that the shield happened at the worst possible time.  Best case this item is 2% of a healer's output, worse case it is nothing.

On the other hand we have good Legendaries that boost output directly.  The most absurd of these gave up to a 20% damage bonus, which is completely out of line.  The ones I could have gotten as a ret paladin were more like 7%, which is really powerful, but not quite as absurd.  Those numbers are simply too big.  Getting garbage Legendaries and being 15% behind other people means you are practically losing an entire tier of power.  Also if you have a single item doing 20%, what possible utility item could keep up?  Are you going to give someone 100% bonus movement speed?  Invulnerability?  These are the kinds of benefits you would need to toss around to compete, and they would obviously destroy encounters.

The new standard seems to be Legendaries that do 4-5% bonus damage.  This is still powerful, but since Blizzard is intent on offering a variety of Legendaries that do this much damage nearly everyone will be able to have something good to use.  Both of the damage boosting Legendaries for ret paladins are being nerfed such that they are in this range, which doesn't affect me since I had neither of them.  I think 5% is a reasonable target.  It is big enough that you notice it in your dps numbers, relevant enough to mix up your rotation for, but you could offer utility that is a reasonable choice against it.  For example, I have boots that give me 16% movement speed.  That is a lot, and although it will rarely be worth it from a raw damage perspective, it will make dodging bad stuff a lot easier and that has value.  If I were running towards my target for 20% of the fight it would even be as much of a damage boost as a raw damage item.

There is a real balancing act here.  You want damage dealing Legendaries to be noticeable.  If they are 1% boosts then the benefit will be lost in normal variation and it won't be enough to actually impact the way people play.  At 20% they are mandatory and if you don't have them you are worthless for challenging content.  5% is the right point where you can see the difference, get excited about it, but not be a whole new character.

I suspect everyone is still going to be all about the damage Legendaries rather than utility.  However, the newest numbers on the utility items seem reasonable - the Prydaz example I mentioned earlier now heals for about 8% of a healer's output regardless of raid conditions.  That is good enough that you would really notice it, and you might even get your whole raid to wear them, drop a healer, and end up ahead.  I am not at all convinced people will do this, but since it actually seems like it might have advantages people shouldn't be too disappointed in defensive options like this.

On my last Xavius and Cenarius heroic kills if I had used the new Prydaz it would have prevented fully half of the damage I took during the fights.  That is serious healing and should not be ignored.  Of course people will ignore it because they want to dominate damage meters, but it *shouldn't* be ignored.

Blizzard is currently aiming for a sweet spot that I approve of.  Whether they will hit it with all the items is another question entirely.  At least they have a plan though, and it seems reasonably consistent, so that is a good start.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Won't that demon ever die?

There is talk about that Diablo 4 is in the works.  It might even be true!  While that likely means that launch day for such a project is about five years out, it is not too soon to start having opinions on what exactly Blizzard should do to make D4 a success.  Thankfully I have many opinions, and I am not too shy to share them.

I think the simplest approach is to take D2 and D3 and talk about which parts of each game worked.  I played a metric fuckton of D2 and a fair bit of D3 so I think I know what I am talking about here, particularly since I am not married to either game.  I thought D3 made some major missteps but had some things going for it, and obviously D2 was made a billion years ago and much of its shine is nostalgic in nature rather than objective.

The critical thing that D2 had going for it was exploration and story.  That is, the lack of a cohesive storyline and the ability of the player to wander this way and that while getting terribly lost was a huge plus.  There were things in D2 that you had to do, whether it be as simple as killing the boss of Act1 before going to Act2, or as complicated as building the flail in Act3 by clearing out a variety of huge dungeons.  The key thing though is that tons of the game was optional.  Don't like a boss?  You can probably skip em.  Quest not interesting or have terrible rewards?  Don't bother!  Want to kill Mephisto 60 times an hour?  Be my guest!

That freedom to do whatever the hell you want is *amazing*.  Random maps and quests you can ignore are the absolute basics.  D3 did the opposite of this and it SUCKED.  Every quest was mandatory, you had to do everything in order, you never made a damn choice at any point, and this led not to adventure but to tedium.

Let me also say that Blizzard needs to take the trope of a villain's face appearing on your screen to mock you when you complete objectives and burn it with fire.  It takes any sense of mystery away, ruins the feeling of sneaking up on the enemy, and makes a mockery of immersion.  It serves no mechanical purpose and feels like a punch to the gut.

The world needs to be *open*.  Fuck the script.  Just have a few gateway points that I have to get through somehow and then let me figure out how to get there.  Have a tower in the middle of nowhere that had a basement five levels deep.  At the bottom there can be a boss that drops a rune!  A useful reward, but one I can skip if I so choose.  Also add in caves that the locals need you to clear out, and have them grant you a reward when you do.

Make the game HUGE.  Have a town where the locals tell you where to go, and have a road you can follow.  Of course the road is infested with monsters, but that is the fun part!  But if you wander off the road, oh my, there should be forests with twisted trees and swamps and caves and monsters and everything.  HUGE.  Full of random stuff!  I want to run off into the wilderness murdering everything I see and discovering weird little nooks and crannies and bizarre dungeons.  Like Skyrim, but Diablo style.

This sounds like D2 is just the thing.  But I don't want difficulty to work like D2.  Running through three difficulty levels was ass.  Getting to endgame and then running just one zone over and over was also ass.  D3 had a great innovation in giving you more things to do after you have beaten the story and gotten to endgame grinding mode.  Scattering rewards throughout the world for players to hunt down is a great way to keep the world and the story relevant - sort of like world quests do for World of Warcraft right now.  Blizzard would probably want to keep people from spamming single events over and over so I think they might want to do something like they did in D3 to get people to do multiple things.  Perhaps ramping up rewards from events after each event is completed would do the trick, or giving rewards for doing many events in a single zone.

The numbers on abilities and gear need to be considered with care.  First, abilities need to be tuned so that they are all useful as you level through the game.  Second, gear needs to improve you, but not make you twice as tough and do twenty times as much damage as happens these days in D3.  People testing the game should actually be levelling through the game with every ability to figure out which ones are worthless so they can be made relevant.  Not every ability needs to be great, but there needs to be a big selection of top tier ones so that players have a range of reasonably optimal choices.

No damn trading.  Trading sucks.  The game should be about mowing down hordes of monsters, not fleecing noobs.  You want to fleece people?  Play poker.

There should be complexity in gearing.  Lots of gear types.  Lots of things like gems, runes, sockets, enchantments.  Huge numbers of ways to augment your character through gearing.  Path of Exile has some examples, but there are plenty of others.

Fast paced combat needs to be there.  D2 combat was, for many builds, super repetitive and boring.  D3 is often slicker and feels better.  Having a single button that you use for every situation and every monster is not great, and D2 often had that problem.

Levelling needs to be closer to D2.  The power increase from 90 to 99 wasn't much, but the time and prestige were immense.  Let's get back to that, rather than paragon level grinding.

Let me summarize:

Huge world.
Minimal plot, most quests can be ignored.
Many random events with rewards, mostly optional.
Variety of useful tasks at endgame.
Fast paced combat.
No trading.
Many ways to incrementally improve items.
Complex gearing at endgame.

There is your ticket to infinity dollars Blizzard.  Do with it what you will.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Blizzard is doing some really weird things to stat in WOW.  There are two problems they seem focused on.  One is that secondary stats (crit, haste, mastery, versatility) are in some cases being better than primary stats (strength, intelligence, dexterity).  The other issue is that the value of various secondary stats fluctuates wildly, and some specs basically only care about one stat because it is so good for them.

The solutions Blizzard is looking at are interesting, and to my mind, flawed.  Their plan is to reduce the effectiveness of secondary stats.  For example, crit is going to require 400 points to get 1% crit chance, whereas currently it requires 350.  This will certainly mean that people are less excited about secondary stats because they just don't do as much.  It will also overall nerf classes that have particular benefits from a specific stat.  For me as a Ret paladin this is irrelevant, as all stats are fairly similar, except mastery which is bad.

But wait!  Blizzard doesn't want to nerf people overall, so they are going to increase the amounts of primary stats on items to keep player power constant.  We will hit harder, but won't crit as much or go as fast.

This is, however, just a bandaid solution that will wear out fairly quickly.

See, it used to be that all the stats on an item scaled up at the same rate.  Gaining 15 item levels meant that all the stats on an item went up 15%.  But this had problems because people kept doing things like getting near 100% crit, and that was bad and messy.  Primary stats still scale like this, but secondary stats scale pretty close to linearly.  That means you can start at 25% crit and have your crit talents feel useful, but not end the expansion with 100% crit where nothing makes any sense.

The problem is that this won't work in the long run.

Imagine two tiers of content from now.  We will probably have gear 50 ilvls higher, which means that primary stats will be 60% higher than current.  However, secondary stats on gear will only be up enough to push us from 25% crit to 35% crit.  That means that even if primary stats are the best now, they will improve by 8%, while secondary stats improve by 60%.  This will put us back in exactly the same spot.

Even if Blizzard's changes manage to cement primary stats as 50% better than secondary stats right now, they definitely won't stay that way.

Personally I think that making secondary inferior just isn't worth the upheaval that these changes will create.  I can see that they thought primaries would be better - if you look at gems and enchants and such you can clearly see that the ones gated behind ingredients or high skill level are the primary stats.  The fact that they thought I would pay tons of money for a 200 str gem but I actually use a 150 haste gem because it is better is unintuitive, but not really a gamebreaking problem.  The difference between the two is miniscule, on the order of .1%, so it doesn't really matter much which players go for.  It feels weird that the system works this way, but when you make big sweeping changes you ought to have a pretty good reason for it and I don't think their reasoning justifies the alterations, especially because it won't even last the expansion before the problem reasserts itself.

Now the changes that they are making to even out the value of some stats do make sense to me.  Obviously based on spec and talents stats should shift in value, but they shouldn't be three times as valuable as one another, that is too much.  Making some changes to fix those extreme inequalities is a good idea, to my mind.  Individual specs should not say "Oh, I would never use an item without crit.  Doesn't matter what other stuff it has, only crit matters."  That is too much.  (Fire mages!)  If crit is 50% better than mastery, that is all well and good, and you will hunt down crit gear.  But if you find a much higher level item you will still put it on, which is pretty much what we want.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Getting the numbers right

Blizzard is doing a bunch of talent tuning in the next patch for WOW, 7.1.5.  I have been looking at the ret paladin changes and so far I am impressed with them.  There were some real problems with ret paladin choices up to this point but Blizzard seems intent on fixing them.

The obvious example of this is the first talent tier.  Currently the choices are

1.  Final Verdict:  20% bonus to my best single target attack, and 10% bonus to my best AOE attack.

2.  Execution Sentence:  A new single target attack that has a cooldown but does a lot of damage.

3.  Consecration:  A new AOE attack that has a cooldown but does a small amount of damage.

The problem with these talents was not the theme or base design, since they are completely fine that way.  The problem was the numbers.  It was almost as though the designers forgot that adding in new spells comes at a huge cost.  If I want to cast a new spell I have to make room for it in my rotation, and that means losing out on damage on my other spells.

Both Execution Sentence and Consecration were fine spells to have, but if you actually looked carefully at what you would have to skip casting to get them in they suddenly looked really terrible.  ES does 350k on a 20 second cooldown, but you have to skip a 275k attack to cast it.  Consecration does 100k on a 10 second cooldown, but you have to skip a 70k attack to cast it.  Final Verdict though, it just does 55k every five seconds no matter what.  All the talents have similar damage benefits, but the two that grant new spells have a punishing cost that doesn't seem to be accounted for at all.

It wasn't like there was a choice.  Both of the new spells simply weren't good enough to ever make the cut.  If you managed to sneak them in without any cost at all they would have been fantastic, but since my rotation is already really full that is just a pipe dream.

The telling point is this:  There was *no* situation in which Execution Sentence or Consecration was right.  None.  It is completely fine to have niche talents, but when you can't come up with a situation in which you would take a talent it needs to be changed.

Blizzard noticed that nobody was ever taking Execution Sentence and Consecration and changed them.  Execution Sentence is getting a 55% buff and Consecration is getting a 100% buff in the upcoming patch, and now we have a real choice!  Raiders tend to focus almost exclusively on single target damage and for those people Execution Sentence will be the superior choice.  Only by a small amount, but it will be the best.  Consecration will be the best for heavy AOE.  Both will be usable outside their niche, but won't be great.  Final Verdict will straddle the two, being second place in pretty much all situations but having the benefit of not needing to think about an additional spell.

That last point is real.  Simpler rotations and less thinking about cooldowns, areas, etc. makes you play better.  It gives you more brain cycles to work with for the rest of the game.  Anyone struggling with information overload will be well advised to take the passive talent, and that is fine.  It is no problem to have passive talents that players can take if they don't want to think as much.  The goal is to have real choices that change based on circumstance, and Blizzard has achieved this with the current build.

That isn't to say the patch is perfect now.  There are still issues, mostly with my level 100 talent row that has one automatic choice, one inferior choice, and one joke.  However, Blizzard is clearly moving in the right direction and making good choices so I have real hope that they will get things sorted out by the time the patch launches.