Good Decisions, Good Outcomes

We have discussed repeatedly over the past year that fun games let you make meaningful choices. David Henderson comments on a recent, high-profile football game and the distinction between decisions and outcomes.

Usually, the best strategic choice is the one with the highest expected value (probability of outcome times value of outcome). People frequently look at solely the outcome and then attribute it to the decision, whether or not the outcome was a likely result of that decision. Winning the lottery is a good outcome for you, but playing the lottery is almost never a good decision because the cost of a ticket is more than (odds of winning) times (value from winning); depending on how you estimate taxes, inflation, and the chance of splitting the prize, the Powerball even-odds point is around $1 billion.

I have mixed feelings about games where you make good decisions and lose. This is not the case of single-player games scripted to be perverse, where what looks like the right choice is a trap or all choices are traps. I am thinking of multiplayer games that are anything less than 100% strategy with all information known in advance. We want some unknowns, and making decisions in the face of unknowns means occasionally things come down against you. When the odds are 50-50 and you lose a coin flip, yeah, that happens all the time. When you win unless you lose 5 coin flips in a row, that still happens 3% of the time. I like to think of myself as comfortable with probability and true randomness, but having a 97% chance to win and still losing through no fault of your own is really frustrating. It is absolutely necessary that players lose 3% of 97% chances, but it is still really frustrating.

It is frustrating on another level when people celebrate those 3%s as great victories, rather than blind luck. Don’t get me wrong, if you are in a position where your only chance to win is five coin flips in a row and playing conservatively guarantees a safe loss, take that chance. High variance solutions can be your friend, and even if you lose that game (as you most likely will), it was still the right decision. But if you started with equal odds and fell into a situation where you needed five-in-a-row to win, you probably made some bad decisions along the way. And if you are that guy who immediately set up a five-in-a-row situation to win immediately or quit immediately, you are what is wrong with online gaming.

Celebrate your victories, but also celebrate good decisions, whether or not they lead to victory in that particular case.

: Zubon

It’s a different sort of unsatisfying if the game comes down to a coin flip.

[GW2] Let Me Stress This: Amazing!

I was able to putz around in the Guild Wars 2 beta stress test yesterday. I think Jeromai’s comments all around, I can just echo (or see my comment there as well). It was a fun, very well polished slice. All it tells us, I feel is general direction of the upcoming PvE. It’s a good direction for sure, but not wholly indicative of the final result.

There was one truly amazing thing. It blew my mind. Bleed stacks over 25. 

Now since my main for years was a condimancer, who has recently switched to a powermancer to play around with daggers, I am ecstatic. I love conditions. I love the ensured death from DoTs (damage-over-time). ArenaNet design lead Jon Peters writes that what we saw was a first [public] test of  ArenaNet working on condition caps. I am ecstatic that this may be another feature for Heart of Thorns, or possibly before!

But, that’s not what was amazing. Continue reading [GW2] Let Me Stress This: Amazing!

Perspective

I sometimes find it helpful to make explicit the “imaginary” in front of something from a game when speaking aloud. “I’m upset because the imaginary zombie bit my imaginary warrior.” “Curses, someone else was willing to pay more imaginary gold for that imaginary sword on the imaginary auction house than I was!”

Your loved ones are sometimes worried that you forget that whole “it’s just a game” thing when the game affects you emotionally. And let’s be honest, sometimes you can use the reminder. This will reassure them that you are aware that you are reacting to an imaginary wizard’s struggles with an imaginary rock monster.

Although some people will be even more worried when you acknowledge that things are imaginary but still react to them.

: Zubon

[GW2] Have We Been Beta’d?

I’ve been working on one of the rare collection achievements as a long-term goal waiting for Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns. It is a “hardcore” goal requiring a lot of commitment, and if you don’t want to go insane, a lot of community support. Luckily there’s all of that in my wheelhouse, which I will write about later this week.

Anyway, I started pondering ArenaNet’s greater plan. We had years of Living World updates with new systems, new zones, and a general polishing of the entire core. Now we have an expansion coming. Everybody, facetiously, wanted an expansion. That was the Guild Wars 1 way. That’s what most MMO’s do. We aren’t paying a subscription for this constant update nonsense so give us a huge content drop we can buy.

Perhaps, I pondered, whilst sifting through hundreds of handfuls of sand… Perhaps, ArenaNet was not ready for an expansion. Continue reading [GW2] Have We Been Beta’d?

Sky Saga First [Alpha] Impressions

I would never have known about Sky Saga if it wasn’t for the rage-induced community support group that the Windborne game’s Steam forums had become. Sky Saga was suggested by one player as an ointment to the afterglow of the production-stilled Windborne. I checked out Sky Saga’s website. Someone on Twitter also mentioned to me it was guided, similar to HQM Minecraft or Windborne’s quests.

The suggestion to try Sky Saga was enough to sign up for the “alpha”, which is fairly open. The servers are open right now for a limited time, and I was able to play around over the weekend to get a feel for the game. Continue reading Sky Saga First [Alpha] Impressions

Bandwidth

In recent months players have been submitting an average of one million questions a day to Trivia Crack’s “Question Factory,” a section within the app, says its 29-year-old founder and chief executive, Maximo Cavazzani. Since each submission must get a positive rating from at least 100 fellow players to make the cut, only about 1,500 new questions are being added to the game each day.
“Can an App Be Too Successful” by Sarah Needleman, Wall Street Journal

I played Ingress for a while last year. I am still getting responses about portals accepted or rejected, and I have at least 50 more in their queue. Back then, the Ingress web site said portals were accepted or rejected in 4-6 weeks (not months); right now it says that due to the backlog they have suspended the achievement related to submitting portals (and also quietly removed a turnaround time).

I have wondered if the time delay is an intentional strategy to reduce exploits. If the average player quits before their submitted portals go live, there is less incentive to submit dodgy “couch portals” (portal you can reach from home/work).

: Zubon

[RR] Werewolf the Forsaken 2e Impressions

I was a weird kid with tabletop roleplaying games (RPG’s) growing up. I played RPG’s with my friends, yes. The weird part was that I did not own a core book until high school (Changeling 2e was my first, but we’ll talk about that later this year). Every RPG I played was kind of cobbled together with no base rules system. I didn’t have enough money to buy a corebook, or rather I never saved up enough. The cheaper and shinier supplement books I did accumulate.

The most supplements I bought for a game line whose corebook I only owned last year was Werewolf the Apocalypse, which is a game about tribal werewolf superheroes fighting with spirit allies against Captain Planet-style enemies of the earth. Ridiculous, 90’s, and over-the-top fun for a game that’s way more fantasy than modern. “When will you Rage?” was the tagline. This system was near and dear to my heart, despite my weirdness, and I bought many supplements.

White Wolf recreated Werewolf in the new World of Darkness line as Werewolf the Forsaken (WtF). No longer did you play world roaming heroes. Now it was all about defending territory and surviving against all odds. The best description I heard for the game was you were playing a hated prison security guard trying to keep all the spirit and werewolf inmates in-line while the townies thought you were a destitute human. It was a good game, but it lacked the feeling of purpose. Entropy and erosion seemed like dominating themes instead of success. Continue reading [RR] Werewolf the Forsaken 2e Impressions

Matchmaking is Hard

At SynCaine’s suggestion, I have been playing Boom Beach. Because most of the guild started playing about the same time, most of us hit the same wall at the same point: the PvP system in the game discourages playing. It is a variant on the problem seen with Marvel Puzzle Quest.

PvP opponents are matched via “victory points.” Victory points are acquired by clearing NPC bases and by successfully attacking in PvP; victory points are lost by being unsuccessfully defending in PvP and for having uncleared NPC or PvP bases on your map. You get more bases on your map (to clear or leave uncleared) by expanding your map. PvP is used to raid other bases for resources; one successful attack, and you clear the base off your map and take some resources. Sometimes clearing an NPC base will award an extra victory point.

Your goal in gaming the system would be to be the highest level player at your victory point level. I intentionally avoided expanding my map for a while to avoid the temptation to clear more enemy bases. For a little while, I was clearing every base and advancing quickly, which is to say I was flying face-first at a wall that matched me against a PvP base 17 levels higher than me. Clearing bases is good for getting small amounts of resources, but when you start getting raided five times per day, your resource situation becomes a bit more perilous. Of course, if everyone games the system, we are back to the same problem just with fewer resources in play.

So for the past week or two, most of the Boom Beach guild has been slowing down. Leave NPC bases on your map when they pop up, avoid PvP, fail at PvP defense and watch your victory point total get knocked back down to “reasonable opponents” level. The daily reward includes an incentive to have more victory points and you want stronger opponents because they’ll have more resources, but the gain per victory point seems small and stronger opponents are only good if they are strong but not stronger than you.

And now back to gaming matchmaking systems in F2P games. It is legitimately difficult to design a good matchmaking system, particularly in an environment with free (and large scale) entry and exit.

: Zubon

Card City Nights

Card City Nights is frequently entertaining but I am not sure I would go so far as “good.” It is an interesting take on collectible card games with simple mechanics and an emphasis on strategic placement of cards. The difficulty is “trivially easy” until the beyond-Psychonauts difficulty spike for the end of the game. I played the PC version, which is an unusually good iWhatever port, a technical gem amidst the many sloppy ports.
Continue reading Card City Nights

[GW2] Desert Borderlands

At Rezzed, the game convention of London, ArenaNet just had a presentation (recorded Twitch link) regarding the Desert Borderlands map. This new map will replace the current Borderlands maps, and then some kind of schedule / rotation will be determined. In usual form the Dulfy Corp provides an excellent swath of notes on the very informative presentation.

There are three “corners” to the map: earth, fire, and wind. Each with a corresponding keep. It seems like in usual form the keep is the golden prize for each of the three teams, but the Desert Borderlands seems to more strongly emphasize that the Keep is resting on a pyramid of support.  Continue reading [GW2] Desert Borderlands