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.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

SWTOR's Dark vs Light Event

The Old Republic is running a Dark vs Light event. Naturally, this event has produced a lot of angst in the community.

Companion rewards for the event
The basic event is clearly modeled after Diablo 3's Seasons. You start a new character and level it up over the course of the event. There are different tiers you work through, which roughly correspond to the sections of the game. Tier 1 is up to level 25, Tier 2 is up to 50 and requires the three low-level story-heavy flashpoints, etc.

The D3 Season model is a good one. It encourages you to try a different character and focus on that character for a period of time. Instead of just having "max-level" as a goal, it breaks it up into sub-goals which are achievable, and which guide you through all the content.

If this had been the entirety of the event, I think it would have been received positively by the community. But Bioware had to include a top level "Legendary" tier which requires you to level all 8 classes, and do most of the content in the game.

The Legendary tier is quite clearly aimed at the super-hardcore, a challenge for them. But I think the bulk of the community took it badly. For one thing, most people don't have 8 character slots free, requiring them to buy more. As well, if you only have to level one character, you can choose a story which you haven't done yet, or would like to try a different path through. This choice would be different for each player.

In many ways, this is a case of addition through subtraction. If Bioware had simply cut the top tier entirely, this event would be far more appealing. As well, they could repeat it next year, and people could try a different story. For example, in D3, I do one class a season. This season was Witch Doctor, last season was Barbarian. Next season will probably be Demon Hunter.

The lesson here is that you don't always have to challenge the hardcore. For time-limited events in particular, perhaps it's better to have an event that the majority of players complete, rather than one where only a few players get to the end.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unintended Consequences of Anti-Toxicity Systems

Jeff Kaplan made an excellent post on the Overwatch forums about matchmaking. It's definitely worth the read. The most interesting part, however, was this section:
For example, we recently realized that “Avoid this player” was wreaking havoc on matchmaking. One of the best Widowmaker players in the world complained to us about long queue times. We looked into it and found that hundreds of other players had avoided him (he’s a nice guy – they avoided him because they did not want to play against him, not because of misbehavior). The end result was that it took him an extremely long time to find a match. The worst part was, by the time he finally got a match, he had been waiting so long that the system had “opened up” to lower skill players. Now one of the best Widowmaker players was facing off against players at a lower skill level. As a result, we’ve disabled the Avoid system (the UI will go away in an upcoming patch). The system was designed with the best intent. But the results were pretty disastrous.
Essentially, players took a system meant to avoid toxic players, and instead chose to avoid players who were simply more skilled.

Another issue with this system is that it didn't have a cost. I think time and again, games have shown that when an action does not have a cost associated with it, people will abuse it. Think vote kicks from MMOs. Then the action gets removed or hedged with excessive restrictions, such that it becomes fairly useless.

Imagine if avoiding a player cost 50 credits (the currency for the cosmetic items). The amount of people who abuse this system would drop drastically. But if there was a cost, everyone would complain that they had to pay "real" money to avoid the people harassing them. Yet the end result is that we lose the avoid ability entirely.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Low Level Notes from the PTR

I took a poke around the public test realm this weekend. Trying to avoid spoilers, I didn't do anything major. I made a few low-level characters and took them through the first few levels. Here are some observations:

  • Classes now start with a specialization. Paladins start as Retribution, Druids start as Feral (and start the game in Cat form, no less), Hunters start as Beastmaster, etc. I think the other specializations unlock at level 10. Overall, I think this is a good idea. There's no forgetting to specialize, and no "generic" abilities which are only used in first 10 levels. You also don't get two abilities that don't synergize, because they are meant for different specializations.
  • Judgment has a new animation. You throw a golden hammer at the enemy, and the hammer returns to you. It also sometimes chains to a nearby enemy, but I can't tell if that's intentional or a bug.
  • I think the Hammer of Justice animation changed. A giant hammer drops from the sky on the enemy's head. I don't really like it. I miss the simplicity of the current spinning rising uppercut animation.
  • The default nameplates have changed. They're cleaner, and enemy health is represented as a thin red line, instead of a fatter bar. There's also small health/mana/resource bars in the center of your screen under your character. These bars only appear in combat, and fade out otherwise. I really like these new nameplates.
  • The quest helper minimap graphic has changed. It's now this transparent outline instead of a shaded area.
  • There's a nice animated flair on the XP bar when you get a large amount of XP. It's snazzy.
  • The initial class quests that send you to your trainer are gone. I guess it makes sense since the abilities have all changed. Still, it makes me a little sad. I liked that little nod to your class right at the start, with the notes expounding the philosophy of the class.
  • Armor starts as the max armor type. Paladins get plate, hunters get mail, etc. The item still looks the same as previous, like mail or leather. This is a bit weird with mail armor that looks like leather (those night elf shorts you always get), but plate that looks like mail looks decent enough.
  • Otherwise quests appear to be all the same as live. For low levels, it looks like only mechanics changes.
I didn't poke around a great deal, but these are some smaller impressions of what you can expect in Legion at low levels.