Wednesday, October 11, 2017

First Impressions of NieR: Automata


An awful lot of video game conventions just make sense when your character is a robot.

I picked up NieR: Automata a couple of weeks ago, and have been steadily working my way through it. So far, it has been a delightful game, with some very interesting design decisions.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic setting where alien robots invaded Earth and drove the surviving humans to the moon. You play a female android, named 2B, who is working for the humans. It's mostly a straightforward console action game. The story line is very Japanese, which is somewhat hard to explain. If you watch anime, you'll recognize a lot of tropes. However, at the same time, it is also very weird.

Speaking of console games, the mouse and keyboard keybinds are next to impossible to play with. It's clearly a game designed for a console controller. After trying the game with mouse and keyboard, I promptly went out and bought an Xbox 360 controller. Given that the last console I owned was the NES (regular, not Super), this has been an interesting learning experience.[1]

Though the trailer above is in English, I'm playing with the Japanese voices and English subtitles. The English voices aren't as good, in my opinion. The only downside is that sometimes there will be a conversation while fighting, and it can be hard to catch the subtitles in that situation.

I started the game on Normal difficulty, but couldn't beat the first level, so I dropped down to Easy. Easy is interesting because your character has "auto-chips" which automatically control your character. However, you can enable and disable specific chips to customize your game. For example, I use automatic ranged fire from your pod and automatic evading, but manual melee attacks and manual weapon switching.

This whole theme of your character being an android and mechanics reflecting that is quite well done. For example, saving is literally your character uploading her current memory at a terminal. If you die, your memory is loaded into a new body at the terminal. You can find your old body and pick up all your gear.

Similarly, your characters "skills" are slots in memory. It's really nice system, and I'd like to talk more about it in a future post.

I really like the camera work as well. The game often seamlessly switches into a side-scroller or overhead view for specific sequences. It's quite well done. Character control is also very well done, and the game just feels smooth and easy to handle.

All in all, I'm really enjoying NieR: Automata, and I recommend it. It doesn't do anything too revolutionary, but it is a highly polished and fun experience.

1. As an aside, how do you console gamers handle the Left/Right Button and Trigger? Do you use your forefinger for both, or do you use your forefinger for the Button and middle finger for the Trigger? Neither feels quite right to me.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Ahead of the Curve: Kil'jaeden

My guild defeated Heroic Kil'jaeden last night. Our first attempt of the night was a 9% wipe, and then we were all over the map for a bit. But we did have another 4% wipe a few attempts before we got the kill.

We did end up wiping more on Fallen Avatar, but I think that fight just hits all our weaknesses more.

For Kil'jaeden, the fight overall is pretty good. It has a lot of mechanics, though, and you have to wonder if all those mechanics were really necessary. Perhaps it would have been a better fight if the dark phase had been skipped, but the last phase lasted longer. We never really had trouble with the dark phase. We either died in the phase before or after.

Not much more to say about the fight. Healing it is pretty normal. Deaths come from doing mechanics improperly, and failing mechanics usually ends in a total wipe. We did have several attempts with tank deaths to Felclaws. But I think those were more due to the tanks letting active mitigation drop at the wrong time.

Oh well, our goal of beating the raid before the next one comes out has been met. I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks of regular farming. (Well, let's hope the second kill goes smoothly!)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fallen Avatar of Sargeras Down!

Last night, my guild killed Fallen Avatar (Heroic), making us 8/9 for Tomb of Sargeras. Now we only have Kil'jaeden left. That's decent timing, and we should get him down before the next raid opens.

We actually had several close wipes on Fallen Avatar. 3% last week, and a 1% and 0% wipe this week. Sometimes my guild makes strategy over-complex. For example, here we were "sacrificing" people in the last phase to the Dark Marks, but that killed our DPS and we didn't have enough to push it over. For the kill attempt, we didn't try to sacrifice anyone, and just healed as much as possible.

The other problem, I think, is that we aren't very predictable in positioning. Like for Fallen Avatar Phase 1, I would imagine that people should try and stand in a given spot, and move in similar ways to the last attempt. But it seems like every attempt the movement of players is different from the last attempt, forcing everyone to adjust on the fly.

But then again, I've always liked assigned positioning and choreographed movement. The problem, of course, is that if you have to deviate a lot from the choreography, than you might as well not bother.

Still, I think that predictable player movement is an underrated element for normal/heroic raid groups. Mythic groups often move predictably naturally, and so rarely call it out as something to work on.

Still, a dead boss is a dead boss. On to Kil'jaeden!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ready Player One

This post contains spoilers for Ready Player One.

Ready Player One is an interesting novel. It's been described as "Willy Wonka meets The Matrix". For a novel which focuses on our nerd/gaming subculture, I had a surprising number of philosophical issues with it.

It's set in a near future quasi-dystopia, where Earth is ruined. However a genius, Halliday, created a virtual reality system which everyone uses. When Halliday died, he leaves his fortune and control of the virtual world as a treasure hunt. Halliday was fixated on the 1980s, so all the clues revolve around popular United States culture from that time period.

It's essentially a Grail Quest story, as the hero, Wade Watts, faces successive trials in his quest for the treasure. The villain is the standard over-the-top evil corporation.

Part of my antipathy is that I don't have much respect for 1980s popular culture. It's decent enough, I suppose, but the idea of a generation committing it to memory is rather horrifying to me.

Ernest Cline is obviously liberal, and this has an odd habit of bleeding through in unexpected ways. For example, though most of the book is online using avatars, when the good guys meet up, it turns out they meet all the standard diversity checkmarks. Although it did amuse me that you could tell this written before 2015, as there are no transgender characters, the current cause du jour.  Especially as it would be really easy to fit one in, what with the difference between avatar and person.

The attitude towards government and corporations is weird. Corporations are so powerful that slavery or indentured servitude has come back. However, government is powerful enough that medical privacy laws are absolutely inviolate. Perhaps it was just the necessary positions needed for the plot, but I found it jarring.

The tech in the story is also odd. It often feels more like magic than anything else. It features avatar perma-death, which is unusual. Personally, I think Cline over-values cleverness and discounts brute force, which makes the tech feel a bit off to me. Simple brute force is very powerful when the computer is fast enough.

All this is pretty minor, and more amusing than anything else. The real problem, though, is that Cline misses the point of Grail Quest stories, and it ends up making Wade's quest feel arbitrary and hollow.

In a traditional Grail Quest, the hero's virtues are tested by the trials. Virtues like kindness, resolve, and courage. The quest in this book does not test any of those. Certainly Wade displays some of those characteristics during his adventure. Especially in the middle section, when he finally does something worthy of being a hero. But this feels kind of coincidental to the trials, and not required. If you look at Willy Wonka, for example, Charlie wins because he is a good kid, and resists the temptations of the trials.

Instead, the trials pretty much test Wade's knowledge of 1980s trivia and ability to play videogames. I was really hoping that the final trial would require Wade breaking with Halliday's obsessions, demonstrating independence of thought, the student surpassing the master. Instead it was yet another videogame.

Even the deus ex machina aren't quite right. There are two points in the story where Wade is saved or successful because of arbitrary objects in his possession. The first he just mentions that he bought it a few months ago when it comes time to use it, and the second he got because he decided to get the max score in a random video game he finds while searching for a clue. Now, Grail quests have deus ex machina objects, but they're sort of earned. For example, the hero will save a fox from a trap early in the story, but later when the hero is captured by bandits, the fox will reappear and chew through the ropes binding him. The hero's virtue leads to an unexpected payoff. But Wade demonstrates no virtue in getting these objects which save him.

Since the trials evolve entirely around trivia and videogame skill, it is very arbitrary as to how fast each side solves clues. There's no reason that the evil company takes so long to solve the last clue, while the heroes remember it from an old song almost instantly, other than the plot demands it.

Ultimately though, Ready Player One says that Wade Watts was worthy of being the Philosopher God-King of the virtual universe because he could recite Monty Python and the Holy Grail by heart, and play a perfect game of Pac-Man. You'll forgive me if I don't think that is enough.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Play Diary #8

World of Warcraft

Heroic Desolate Host and Heroic Mistress fell to us this week. It was kind of funny, because the raid leads were so sure that Heroic Mistress would be a pushover, but we kept wiping on her. It's just one of those fights that you can screw up in many small ways. But once you learn it and get used to it, it should be fairly straightforward.

I also finished my Demon Hunter's class mount. It was a pretty good quest line.

It's somewhat interesting that WoW made the same mistake that SWTOR did. By splitting up the content by class, there's lots to do for an alt, but for a single character the content looks sparse. If you compare 7.1 to 7.2, the 7.1 content (Suramar City insurrection) feels so much meatier, even though there's probably the same amount of content in Broken Isles, just spread among the different classes.

Final Fantasy XIV

I hit max level with my Red Mage. I've started doing roulettes and gearing up. So far the wait isn't too bad. All the groups have been wall-to-wall pulls. Red Mage AoE is a little boring, but whatever. Boss fights are still fun. It's kind of interesting to see all the mechanics I ignored when tanking.

I'm debating if I should start leveling another class, or just gear this one up fully. I doubt I'll do EX primals or Omega Savage, but I could go through Omega Normal. I've never actually finished the older 8-man raids, either.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

High Skill Gameplay Versus Low Skill Gameplay

Another day, another forum/reddit post about the state of max level gameplay in FFXIV, this time focusing on healers. My current theory on why FFXIV is experiencing unhappiness is because the "high skill gameplay" does not match "low skill gameplay".

To see what I mean, let's look at WoW. In WoW a mythic healer plays much like a normal healer, only better. They both cast the same spells, but the mythic healer gets in more casts and triages better. The mythic healer probably makes better use of cooldowns. The normal healer's goal is to slowly refine her gameplay to match the mythic healer.

In contrast, in FFXIV, high skill gameplay and low skill gameplay is very different. If you're in a low skill group, you want to have the tank in tank stance and focus on threat moves. The healer heals more than she damages.

In contrast, high skill gameplay often has the tank in DPS stance, and using DPS stats. The healers are often dealing damage as well, with one estimate of a healer casting 3 damage spells for every healing spell.

I think a game has trouble when you're in the middle, when you're not sure if you should be using the low skill or high skill tactics.  You go low skill when the rest of the group is high skill, and they get upset for you wasting their time. You go high skill when the rest of the group is low skill, and you end up wiping.

In contrast, in WoW, how you should play is fairly straightforward. You tank, heal or dps to the best of your abilities. You don't need to significantly adjust how you play.

Another game which has issues with the low skill/high skill dichotomy is Overwatch. Certain heroes are much stronger and weaker at different levels of the game. Widowmaker and other snipers become a lot better when people can aim. Meanwhile, Torb and Bastion are much more potent against low skill players who have trouble dealing with them. But the "meta" is defined by the high skill players, and that can cause issues in low skill gameplay.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

WoW Analyzer

I came across an excellent site for analyzing your performance: WoW Analyzer.

It's super easy to use and really slick.  You just link a Warcraft Logs parse, and it gives you a genuine breakdown of things you can improve upon.

For example, apparently I double Holy Shock a lot when Divine Purpose procs, causing me to waste Infusion of Light procs. I really should go Holy Shock - Flash of Light - Holy Shock. That was genuinely useful information, provided in an excellent format.

Suggestions for one of my Desolate Host wipes

Seriously, this site is an amazing example of web app design!

The only problem is that not all specs are supported. It's mainly healer specs right now. Hopefully it will be able to attract more contributors and support more specs.