Thursday, September 01, 2016

Eve Online F2P or Unlimited Trial

Eve Online announced a F2P or unlimited trial variant. Basically, you can make a character with a restricted number of skillpoints and skills and play for free. To get a full character, you have to be a subscriber.

It's an interesting choice for Eve. The biggest advantage is that it gives the new player a long time to truly come to grips with the game. Eve is infamous for its learning curve, and now there's no time pressure on learning how to play.

The interesting side will be seeing how the current Eve players abuse this mechanic. At certain levels, Eve is often a numbers game, and now each side can field arbitrarily large numbers. For example, instead of scouting multiple systems in a patrol with a single ship, you could instead station one character per system, and log onto each character in turn.

If I remember correctly, Eve did crack down on multi-boxing, so maybe that will mitigate the effect.

Another concern is that Eve often boasts that a new player can become "useful", even to the major powers, within a few days. But if that new player is useful, surely a couple hundred alpha accounts is even more useful. But if you nerf the usefulness of the alpha accounts, are you not also nerfing the usefulness of the new player?

WoW has an unlimited trial, where you're limited to level 20. But no one cares about level 20s. They're pretty much useless in the greater scheme of things. So there's no need to worry about players (other than gold-sellers) making tons of level 20s.

Will low level characters in Eve become more useless, thus diminishing that selling point?

Edit: Here's another way of putting the issue. I think there are two options:

1. Infinite low level characters
2. Useful low level characters.

I think that these need to be mutually exclusive to be balanced. If you have infinite amounts of useful low level characters, the game is going to break. That means I expect Eve Online to eventually choose Option #1 over Option #2.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

WotC's Solution to Intentional Draws and Concessions

Back in March we discussed the problem of intentional draws and concessions in Magic: the Gathering. Today, Wizards of the Coast unveiled their solution for professional Magic tournaments. It's pretty hardcore.

Click to enlarge

The Top 8 is turned into a single-elimination gauntlet, where higher seeds get to skip matches and start closer to the end.  T5-T8 need to win 4 matches, T3-T4 need to win 3 matches, and T1-T2 only need to win 2 matches.

Now, you want to get as high a seed as possible in the Swiss portion of the event as it greatly impacts your chance of winning.  It certainly aims directly at intentional draws and concessions.

In retrospect, I'm kind of amused at how timid my suggestion was. I suggested giving the higher seeds a single game in-hand, and thought that might be excessive. WotC blew right past my limits.

There are some other interesting administrative factors in this setup. The same number of matches are played [1], but there are four rounds instead of three. However a maximum of two games per round are played. Thus if you broadcasting the event, you only need to cover two games, rather than four in the first round of the traditional style. Similarly, it also means that you only need 2 judge teams to cover the finals, making it more likely that nothing will be missed rules-wise.

All in all, I'm impressed that Wizards is trying something this radical. We'll have to see how well it works in practice.

1. Technically, this mathematically obvious. 8 players, single-elimination, thus 7 players have to lose a match, no matter how you arrange the rounds. It's a old elementary school math puzzle. Given X players, how many matches do you have play to determine a winner? The answer is always X - 1.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Stat Templates for Leveling Dungeons

In Patch 7.0 Blizzard introduced stat templates for PvP. In B\battlegrounds now, you don't get stats from your gear. Instead your gear stats are overridden by a stat template. All characters of a given specialization share the same template. Your gear level does increase the amount of stats given by the template, but by a much lower amount than in PvE.

These stat templates apply to low-level PvP. I've been leveling a rogue without heirlooms and dabbling in some PvP. In my mind, these stat templates are amazing. Low level PvP is actually fun again. You don't get one-shot by characters decked out in heirloom gear. In my mind, whatever the impact at max level, the stat templates have rejuvenated low level PvP.

Then I did a low level dungeon. It was pretty terrible. The other characters were decked in heirlooms, so they just zerged the entire thing. Bosses died in less than 30 seconds. There was no skill or strategy, or any sense of group play.

The problem is that leveling dungeons need to be balanced such that a group of new players in quest gear can complete them. But if one or more heirloom characters are present, that balance goes out the window.

I think stat templates for leveling dungeons would be a great idea. Everyone would be reduced down to an even playing field. Dungeons would be a proper group experience once more. I rather doubt anyone will sheep anything, but maybe it could happen.

Heirlooms are fine for solo-play. They can be overpowered in the world. But when playing with others, I think it's more important to provide a fun, balanced, and reasonably challenging experience. Heirlooms will still give the character more XP and a high ilevel, but at least with stat templates the disparity and zerg would be greatly diminished.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Adding a Time Component to Ranking Systems

Overwatch has added competitive play and a ranking system. The ranking system is a 0 to 100 scale, centered on 50. If you win matches you gain in rank, if you lose matches, you lose rank. As is pretty standard, the magnitude of the gain or loss depends on the rank of your opponents.

For the most part this system is pretty serviceable, but it has its quirks. For one thing, it's zero-sum: the ranking gained matches the ranking lost. Then Blizzard decided that if someone left a game in-progress, hitting the remaining members with the full loss would be too punishing, so the loss is greatly reduced. But since its zero-sum, the winning team gets a very small gain. Which is arguably fair, as there's nothing great about winning when you're up a person. However, this has led to people quitting when they are losing, to "punish" the winning team.

There are other issues. In general, your rank settles down after a while and does not really change, leading to a feeling of stagnation.

I think it would be interesting to add a time component to these ranking systems. The current system for Magic: the Gathering does something similar.  Here's my idea:

Let's start with the existing rank, R.

Then let's add the concept of a Time-Adjusted rank, T = nkR + nm, where n is the number of days since the start of the season, and k and m are constants.

What this does is cause the ranking curve to go higher and wider as time goes on. Let's say that on Day 1, the ranking system goes from 0 to 100. On Day 10, the Time-Adjusted ranks would range from 10 to 1010. (The constants adjust how the curve changes.)

However, the rank the player sees does not automatically increase each day.

The final piece we need is a Display rank, D. This is the number that players see, and are ranked by. The Display rank only changes when the player plays a game.  The Display rank increases, targeting the Time-Adjusted rank. The Display rank doesn't need to jump directly to the Time-Adjusted rank, it might do so in stages. Cap the amount gained per match, only jump halfway to the target, etc.

The big advantage of the Display rank is that it is decoupled from the real rank. It does not have to be zero-sum. Indeed, it does not have to decrease at all. You can set up so it always increases (or stays flat).

To go back to our earlier example, on Day 1 Jane plays a bit and has a real, time-adjusted, and display rank of 50. She then doesn't play for a week or so. On Day 10, her real rank is still 50, her time-adjusted rank is now 510, but her display rank is 50.  She plays a game and loses. Her real rank drops to 49, her time-adjusted rank is now 500. But her display rank increases from 50 to 150 (increase in display rank is capped at 100 points for a loss). As she continues playing, her display rank continues to increase, win or lose.

Such a system keeps the forward momentum going. You are always moving forward. The better players move forward faster and higher, but even the worse players see movement. The system also encourages players to keep playing steadily. You can't achieve a high rank early and then stop playing.

Since display rank is not zero-sum, you can do things like penalize leavers 10 points, without modifying the other players' increases.

There are a few negatives, of course. It's harder to compare players' skill, as a lower display rank might just mean that you haven't played in a while. And you do have to play steadily, especially near the end of a season. Playing the first two months and skipping the last month is worse than skipping the first month and playing the last two months.

Overall, though, I think a time-adjusted ranking system is better as a whole, and focuses people on playing the game rather than gaming the ranking system.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Clunky New Retribution Rotation

The new Retribution paladin is getting lambasted on the forums, and rightfully so. The new rotation is extraordinarily clunky. It just feels bad and frustrating to play. I imagine that it most players will just end up using an add-on to tell them which button to press.

Here's my analysis of the new rotation, and why it just doesn't work. There are four main pieces to the rotation:
  • Blade of Justice - 10.5s cooldown, +2 holy power
  • Crusader Strike - 4.5s cooldown, +1 holy power, 2 charges
  • Judgment - 12s cooldown, +20% damage to holy power spenders for 8s
  • Templar's Verdict - costs 3 holy power
To the previous paradigm of generating and spending holy power, Legion adds this concept of a Judgment "window". You want to Judge and then squeeze as many Templar's Verdicts in those eight seconds as you can. The Ret paladin mastery emphasizes this as well, increasing the damage done by spenders in that window.

The first problem is that there are simply too many levels to Ret now. You have to track your cooldowns, your total holy power, and the Judgment window.

The second problem is that the cooldowns for Blade of Justice and Judgment are slightly off. Judgment is 8 GCDs, and Blade of Justice is 7 GCDs. So they never quite line up, and are always changing position in the rotation relative to each other. This makes it impossible to really get into a rhythm.

The third problem is that Judgment changes its traditional position in the rotation. Ever since Vanilla, paladins open the fight with Judgment. It's the only ranged ability as well. But now you want to delay judgment until 5 holy power has been generated. It's not really an issue on long fights, but it's very annoying to have to hold off on the ranged ability when going to attack something new.

Even Holy's combat rotation is better, simple as it is. There the Judgment window improves Holy Shock and Crusader Strike. So you Judge as you run towards the mob, Shock, and CS as you get into melee range. It works intuitively and smoothly. (Also, you get to use Consecrate as a regular part of the rotation, which is always fun.)

I gather Blizzard is enamored of the Judgment window, seeing as it's also the new Mastery. My suggestion would be to smooth out the cooldowns by increasing the Blade of Justice cooldown to 12s (increasing the damage done to compensate). The heart of the Retribution rotation would become Judgement - Spender - Blade of Justice. That common piece would anchor the rotation, giving it a regular rhythm that you always return to.

This simplifies the cooldown level, and allows the Ret paladin to focus on Holy Power and using spenders in the Judgment window.

The new Retribution rotation reminds me of one of the Jedi Sentinel rotations in SWTOR. It had the same concept of cooldowns, generating and spending resources, and a damage window. But it simplified the cooldown and resource levels, allowing the player to focus on the damage window.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Legion Beta Impressions

I got into the Legion Beta last Friday. I was debating trying it, because I don't really want to be spoiled. But in the end, I rolled a blood elf priest and gave it a whirl. Some thoughts:

  • The level 100 boost and initial sequence is really nice. You start out in a tutorial that goes through your basic spells one by one, and you use them on enemies. Priests start as Discipline, so the tutorial went through Shadow Word: Pain, Penance, Smite, Psychic Scream, Power Word: Shield, and Plea. It's really well done.
  • I do wonder if they are going to end up making new tutorials for every expansion.
  • Regarding spoilers, they come fast and furious. Legion starts off with a scenario, and crazy stuff happens. It's good to see Blizzard putting the main story back into the game, and having important events happen in-game, rather than in a novel or other tie-in.
  • After the scenario, the next part that happens is the Artifact Weapon questline. It's a pretty fun quest that sends you to different parts of the world and ends in a nice scenario that makes use of class abilities. For example, as a Discipline Priest, I had to kill things, heal things, use Levitate and even take control of an enemy with Dominate Mind.
  • After you get your weapon, you're introduced to the Class Hall. It's really nice to see a space with just other people of your same class. It feels like an exclusive club, and much better than an empty garrison. It's also nice to see all these NPCs of your class.
  • After that starts Legion questing proper. You get a choice of 4 zones to start with. I guess this is their new scaling technology so that it doesn't matter what level you are. I started one, but then decided I didn't want to spoil the experience any more, and so stopped.
  • It feels like Blizzard put in a lot of work to avoid bottle-necks at Legion launch. You start off in an instanced scenario. Then the Artifact Weapon quest scatters specializations to different parts of the world. Finally, four starting zones scatter everyone further. I guess we'll see if it works.
  • I did also try the Demon Hunter initial experience. It's quite good. It puts a different spin on what happens when players did the Black Temple back in TBC. The demon hunter class feels pretty good. With a dash, double jump, and a glide ability, it also feels very mobile.
I think I'm actually going to uninstall the beta and wait for Legion to launch. Initial impressions are very good, though.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

AoE Damage is Hurting Trinity MMOs

I have a sinking feeling that dungeon gameplay in FFXIV is making the same mistakes that WoW did. There is increasing pressure for the tank to just run and grab everything, and the DPS proceeds to AoE everything down in the name of efficiency.

A random picture of AoE from Google Images
WoW has gone super crazy with this, especially with leveling dungeons. There's no strategy, no interesting gameplay. Just spam AoE.  But FFXIV is trending in the same direction, especially in the higher levels.

I've had dps and healers run ahead and pull packs back to me. It's really annoying, but the growing community consensus is that the tank should be getting as many packs as they can.

I think the major problem is that AoE is too good relative to single-target damage. AoE is generally better at 3 or more mobs, and that's the size of an average pack. So simply pulling two packs at a time is a complete win.

AoE also obsoletes tactics like Crowd Control. No point in sheeping something, it's going to get broken in the first few seconds. As well, tank AoE threat has to keep up to match DPS, and that in turn has made tanking very easy, and has removed a lot of the tank gameplay that Vanilla WoW or older MMO structures.

AoE should be significantly reduced in effectiveness, such that it only becomes viable at the 8-10 creature mark. Single-target gameplay should be the norm, except in situations which specifically call for AoE. Single-target trinity gameplay is far more interesting and fun than AoE gameplay, and so AoE damage should be kept under strict control.