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.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Play Diary #7

Final Fantasy XIV

The latest seasonal event, Moonfire Faire, has started. It was short and sweet, and really just an excuse for everyone to congregate on a beach in swimwear.

I figured out how to hide my weapons so I could make a cosmetic gear set. I've been playing for years, and never realized the button next to Hide Hat hid your weapons! For some reason, I thought it was just sheath/unsheath weapons.

Otherwise, my Red Mage is up to level 67. The end is almost in sight. One interesting aspect of playing DPS is that commendations are treasured because they're rare. Especially if you manage to get multiple commendations in a single instance.

World of Warcraft

We got our second kill on H-Mistress, and then got our first kill on H-Sisters. Then we wiped a fair bit on H-Desolate Host. We don't have the transition to the last phase quite right yet.

Hopefully we will get it this week. However, I think the summer vacation bug will hit in August, and we'll be treading water until September. That's normal though, and hopefully we won't regress.


Still chugging along. The difficulty is beginning to ramp up. I've won all my matches up to this point, but I think my first loss will come soon. Apparently the game continues on even if you lose a match, just like a regular sports game. It will be interesting to see how that is handled.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

An Accidental Game of Competitive Lucioball

 Overwatch's latest event, the Summer Games, started today. I don't play Overwatch a lot, but I logged in today while eating dinner to open the free lootbox. (Sadly, I didn't get anything interesting.) After that, I started clicking around to see the new skins and other elements.

I accidentally clicked on Competitive Lucioball in the Arcade, and Overwatch managed to sign me for a match within seconds! Normally matchmaking takes up to a minute, so I'm not sure if Blizz has made major improvements with the matchmaker or if I was just lucky (unlucky?).

I hurriedly tried to figure out how to play Lucio, praying that I at least would not score any own goals. Luckily my teammates were able to carry me, and we actually won!

I'm kind of surprised Blizzard made a competitive version of Lucioball. It is kind of fun, and it is a level playing field. At the very least, no one can complain about your choice of character. Still, it's pretty unusual to get a competitive ladder for an event side-game which won't be around for very long.