My People

I am not much of a con-goer, but there is something special about arriving at Gen Con and seeing my people. Most of you are on the other side of your monitors, and I game with fairly few people in person, whereas Gen Con has 50,000 nerds. I appreciate enthusiasm, and there are few more enthusiastic than nerds.

I have decided that I am more excited about outfits than costumes. Some people are dressed up as characters, but you have more who look just a bit unusual, because this is the sort of place that embraces that. Fox ears? Celebrated, not mocked. Steampunk hat with goggles attached? Many, and more as people visit vendors that sell them. Any kind of hat? Yes. Real life has too few grand hats. This is a place where you see more corsets and kilts than usual, some people wearing both. Lots of hair outside the normal human spectrum, lots of little details and accessories. I know some people who might cosplay at work, but coming from a differently professional environment, you see few people visibly out about nerd interests.

I played two new gamer games, which I will review at greater depth later. Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents and Blood Rage are both Kickstarted strategy games with multiple paths to victory. There are broad similarities despite the very different themes, as the former has you developing technology to build projects across America while the latter has you upgrading vikings to pillage villages across Midgard. Both have more variation than randomness.

More new games to try today, I am sure. That is a big point of Gen Con for the group I’m hanging with here: spend the day seeing new things and harvest a few, spend the night playing the best of the harvest.

: Zubon

Shifting Balance

Playing Town of Salem in Chaos (any/all) has felt pointless since the last update, but I don’t know if that is the effect of the new scrolls or just a run of bad luck. The new scrolls let you pay for better odds of getting a particular role. Here is what I am seeing this weekend:

  • fewer Town in any/all. I have not counted in games where I am not Town, but my four games as a townie today have had 6, 6, 6, and 5 Town. That is out of 15, and Town’s odds drop towards zero when Town is less than half the population. I have won as a 3-person town, but you’d be a fool to bet that way. You do not play any/all to play Town; you get all the Town roles and more consistently in the normal game, so you play any/all to see the neutral and Mafia roles that do not come up in the normal game. So this is where you play using the new scrolls.
  • 2+ Town suicide immediately. Seeing 5 suicides per game has been common. Maybe the game’s connection has gone to heck, but I’m guessing those are people who did not get their scroll role or were otherwise playing for all the reasons noted in the previous point.
  • Combine the two above and see that it becomes increasingly rational to immediately suicide as Town. The instant you get a green role, you suspect your odds are horrible due to low average Town population, then to drop again due to high suicide rates. You could stick around in your 2- to 4-person Town and hope for luck, or you can see which way the wind is blowing and bail.

Of course, this could just be absurd luck this weekend. But if the scrolls let you raise the odds of getting non-Town roles, they pretty much finish killing any/all.

: Zubon

ETA: I’ve also been disconnected twice this weekend after ~0 before that. If servers are in trouble with post-update downloads, that could speak to some of the suicide problem. I’ve also had an invisible game where cosmetics never loaded.

[GW2] Storm and Salt – What the Tempest Brings

We’re halfway through the elite specializations for the launch classes of Guild Wars 2. The reaper (necromancer), chronomancer (mesmer), and dragonhunter (guardian) were announced in a 3-week block a bit ago. This week owes hype to the tempest, the elementalist elite specialization for the Heart of Thorns expansion.

Off-Handed Additive

There seem to be two design documents for creating the elite specializations. If the class gets a two-handed weapon along with the 5 new skills that brings, then the core mechanic of the class gets replaced. Reaper gets the new reaper shroud, and dragonhunter gets 3 new virtues. If the class gets an off-hand weapon with only 2 skills, then the core mechanic gains an additive effect. Chronomancer gets a fifth shatter ability. I am really interested to see what happens with a main hand replacement.

The new tempest, which has an off-hand warhorn, follows this design. They can swap attunements like normal, and in doing so actually gain 8 new weapon skills from the warhorn. Additively, they can also overload their attunements by channeling the attunement for about 3-5 seconds. While the overload is occurring things are happening, and then there is a payoff.

For example, Overload Fire has the tempest making an “infernal tornado” that continuously damages and burns enemies while granting allies might. Completing the channel leaves the tornado at the tempest’s current location for a time. Overload Water provides regeneration and condition cleansing, and then provides a big heal.

The minor traits grant protection and swiftness when overloading an attunement. Minor traits are default for the elite specialization. If the elementalist gets interrupted from overloading, the attunement goes on complete cooldown.

Why Wouldn’t I?

The big question for both mesmers and elementalists at this time seem to be “why wouldn’t I just want this seemingly additive elite specialization?” One commentator I saw said something to the effect that the most well-rounded class (elementalist) was now even more well rounded. Wouldn’t every mesmer want a fifth shatter?

In the case of the tempest’s minor traits, I feel the case is slightly better for not slotting the elite specialization. The minor traits all deal with the new tempest core mechanic of overloading an attunement. This is different from the chronomancer’s two top minor traits which just add straight on to the core mechanic of shatter and movement.

In the case of the tempest, a player is using a whole specialization line to say “I am going to overload”. If they don’t, it’s a wasted specialization line. I have a feeling given the current state of PvE, elementalists are going to become the AoE overlords. I would be so pleasantly surprised if the AI in Guild Wars 2 was able to watch for these extreme channels and respond accordingly. More than likely I feel the “risk” of an elementalist overloading in PvE is going to be minimal. PvP will be a whole different ballgame with people saving interrupts for the overload, and WvW will be somewhere in the middle with the more chaotic frays.

The Dark Salt

The most surprising community response to the tempest was from the necromancer community. The necromancers are the scholar profession that gets the most spite and the least amount of groupability. An easy comparison to make is that elementalists are the well-rounded golden children while necromancers live in that shadow.

I am hugely excited about the reaper, but it already appeared to receive some nerfs when its main condition, chill, was adjusted last big patch. That diminished a lot of the hope that necromancers had in the reaper becoming something people wanted to group with.

Then one of the easily top-three professions, the elementalist, a very well-rounded, enjoyable to group with in any gamemode profession, basically just gets more. Nothing crazy. Maybe a bit more risky in some instances, but mostly on paper it just seems better.

Then the Points of Interest stream occurred, and every necromancer was just watching through salty tears. Want a Well of Darkness that moves with you and damages enemies? Want to shout and harm enemies with no cast time? Tempest, yo. Well that’s okay, reapers are masters of chill right? Nope, tempest can “cheese freeze” with aplomb with, again, a shout with no cast time.

I am actually getting sick of the necro salt that’s been going on in the community. I sign on my necro main, and I have great fun playing it. I wish that was all that was needed. Why is there such a divide between how ArenaNet apparently sees necro’s power and viability and the community’s?

Back to the Front Line

Anyway.

Tempest is clearly going to be a front line monster. It has to get in there, and I’ve found playing against elementalists, they are very good at getting in and out. They feel way better at creating that frontline havoc than say a thief since elementalists are running by with 8+ boons on it. The “celestial” feel of their shouts being offensive and defensive, and their jack-of-all-trades mastery really surges upward with the tempest. If every ele in Heart of Thorns wasn’t running around as a tempest standing toe-to-toe with the Heart of Maguuma denizens I would be really surprised.

–Ravious

Town of Salem Referrals

Town of Salem added a referrer bonus system. It’s not a big one, but if you’ve become interested and try out the game, tell ’em Zubon sent you?

Other things in the update: new Forger mafia role, new chaos mode with lots of colors and killing roles, new cosmetics. Not sold yet on the new, unnecessarily long role selection animation.

: Zubon

Deceptive Honesty

Honesty can be an amazing tactic in Town of Salem. No one sees it coming. Almost every time I have gotten lynched as Jester, I told people I was Jester. “Surely no one would admit to that, he’s just trying to avoid getting lynched!”

When people expect lies, truth is a great way to trick them. That works well with people playing one level of recursion below you. The problem is people playing two levels below: they don’t know enough to be bluffed or double-bluffed. This leads to the common and exciting dynamic, “is this person playing dumb or actually stupid?”

: Zubon

Metaphors for Gaming, Metaphors for Life

Plugging in a USB drive the right way on the first try feels like an accomplishment. There are only two ways to do it, but it feels like I am scoring below 50%.

Part of the problem is when it takes three tries. I try to plug in the drive, flip it over, try to plug in the drive, and flip it back over. I had it right the first time, I was just a couple millimeters off where I needed to be.

Other times I realize that is not a USB slot.

: Zubon

Bad, Exciting Changes: Weekend Events

In one of my favorite analogue RPG’s, Nobilis, there is a heaven and hell. Heaven is a place of stark, clean beauty. Rarely are souls allowed in heaven because most are not banally pure. Hell is a place of dirt and passion. Everybody is allowed! It’s the Jackson Pollock blender of creation. Of course, the dilemma in the game is which is better.

It’s a bit waxing, in a poetic and philosophical sense, to bring this high ideal to the living document of MMO’s and online games, but the pale reflection appeared to gleam a bit more this weekend. Would you rather have cold, perfect beauty or dynamic imperfection? Continue reading Bad, Exciting Changes: Weekend Events

Leavers and Balance

For Chaos games, assuming leavers are random (not quite true), game balance should not be affected. The effect is the same as have a game with fewer players. Even if the roles are unique, there is no practical difference between a role that was not picked and a role that suicides. It feels different, but the odds are the same. Similarly, if you held a raffle and randomly picked some losers before picking a winner, it would feel like those people were cheated, but picking WINNER, LOSER, LOSER gives the same odds as LOSER, LOSER, WINNER, or picking 3 and then picking which of those 3 is WINNER.

Quitting in Chaos games looks pretty close to random. I have seen just about every role quit, from Mayor to Werewolf. Some people hate town, some people hate neutrals, or they hate particular roles like Medium or Disguiser. The only real worry is snowballing suicides, say if one Mafia quits so another quits so… The same can happen when Town loses a few important unique roles early.

But still, you’re a jerk if you force 14 people who signed up for a 15-player game to play a 14-player game. 1 isn’t a big deal, but it feels like it is rarely 1, so those 3 jerks just forced a 12-player game on everyone else.

In the standard game, leavers are less innocuous, and therefore more problematic. Every role is random in all/any. Roles are added in a particular order in the standard game, so a planned 12-player game is not just a 15-player game with 3 random roles removed. Also the roles are almost entirely fixed, so one missing role gives a lot more information than it would in Chaos.

: Zubon

Leavers and F2P

Playing Town of Salem, I am constantly annoyed by suicides, i.e. people quitting the game. They don’t like their role, they started without time, they anything — I’m alt-tabbed and typing this now from a game that has had 4/15 people quit so far. It adds quite a bit to the randomness when one team suddenly loses several members, which can snowball. No one cares if a neutral benign role leaves, but everyone is cheated of a decent game when one side is hamstrung. I’ve seen other perversities like a 3-arsonist game where they would have won pretty handily had not one of the arsonists quit on day 1. Even worse is when an important, unique role is AFK; I have had two games with AFK mafiosos so the Mafia just could not do anything. And then town is hamstrung when people quit after dying, given that town can have a rezzing role.

But Town of Salem is also free to play. I want there to be some disincentive to ruin the game for others, but what are you going to do, ban a F2P account that someone can re-create in a minute or two? Ooh, you wiped out their cosmetics. That is hardly a speed bump for the sort of jerk who doesn’t care about ruining others’ fun, to say nothing of the actively griefing troll. I am interested in ranked play, where those players tend to fall out as they cannot rise in the ranks, but ELO is broken and most of the roles do not appear in ranked play.

Having real costs in a game is a useful thing just because it imposes costs. If there is no cost for bad behavior, you are free to impose costs on others.

: Zubon

[GW2] Stronghold Pacing

This last weekend’s beta event was quite fun and relaxing compared to the last couple 2 hour sprints in Guild Wars 2. I made a revenant just to toss things around, but I did not want to learn to play without a DPS legend (believed to be this week’s Shiro) and leveling up. It is very hard for me to grasp builds when they are just given to me wholesale.

What I did enjoy was Stronghold. I have been pretty much sold on that PvP gameplay type, and Mrs. Ravious is fanatic about it. The latest changes made it all the better. I was pretty surprised at how turning a couple knobs could really get it closer to the pacing and engagement it should be. Continue reading [GW2] Stronghold Pacing