Precipitating Events

Sometimes it takes just a little poke to make you wake up and rethink the whole thing. This is a brief story of a rethink and then the poke.

I gave up all my mobile games. I deleted all of them. The real start of that was having added one of the many farming games, which was quite absorbing but quite a timesink. I deleted it after narrowly missing a minor goal and thinking of how much babysitting the game needed to reach goals. And then that it is legitimately “babysitting” instead of playing. And then Spellstone, the P2W CCG I had been playing, went extra P2W and made me wonder how much I was getting out of any games I had on my phone.

That P2W bridge too far was the Ice Tunnel Dungeon, specifically the Winter’s Crusher custom card made for it. The dungeons are PvE events with soft caps based on how much money you have spent. As you go higher, the enemy heroes get stronger abilities, and their decks tier up to fully upgraded premium cards. Premium cards are a separate set only available with the cash shop currency, and they are stronger than their base set equivalents and keep getting stronger through the usual power creep that keeps people spending money. But then the events have custom cards that are even stronger than those, with no real thought of balance because they will never be in player hands.

For folks who don’t know this game, let me give you a quick sketch. This is a fully upgraded base set (F2P) card. It has 7 attack, 16 hit points, potentially buffs itself to 11 attack, ignores 4 layers of shield, and vampirically heals up to 3 hit points per round. Winter’s Crusher has 4 attack, 48 hit points, adds 5 layers of shielding to itself and its allies, heals itself and its allies for 4 hit points per round, and weakens all opposing attackers by 5; due to the current battleground effect, it also self-heals for 12 hit points per round, even if frozen. It effectively counters 26 points of damage against itself and 14 against each ally, versus the attacking frog that can buff itself up to 11 attack. That is one card in the enemy deck.

Someone did that on purpose. There was probably a meeting, and it had to pass review from a half-dozen people. Loss of faith in the developers’ judgment? I quit the game so hard it deleted all the games off my phone.

: Zubon

Boom Beach I was just bored with after sitting at the soft cap for a couple of months.

Thousand-Dollar Decks

Spellstone is still my go-to online CCG, because I always seem to have one going. I have been playing long enough that I now have a top-thousand deck, and I am increasingly meeting the players who pay for the servers to stay up. I used to mentally refer to them as “hundred-dollar decks,” but looking at some of these top decks I run into, no, these are definitely thousand-dollar decks.

Spellstone always has a couple of premium card “boxes” running, and buying one out completely costs $300-$400, depending on how you buy your RMT currency. The reason to buy one out is to get 4 copies of each premium legendary, because you upgrade and combine them into one quad legendary. You can get 4-6 quads out of a full box, limited to 4 copies of the same legendary. I see decks that have three copies of the same quad premium legendary, meaning these folks had to buy out at least three boxes, and those are for recent cards so these folks are paying ~$1000 for that deck and will need to do so every two months or so to keep up with the P2W curve and shifting environment.

I know in principle that people spend this much on virtual card games, but I did not really get it until I saw the fight in the P2W ranks of the game. I should know this because I played Magic: the Gathering when it first came out, but it is still surprising to see, and I wonder about things like stolen credit cards.

twitter screenshot referring to the Magic the Gathering 'power nine' as part of an investment portfolio

: Zubon

Incentives, Peaks, Valleys

Events add new incentives to games, or sometimes they are just additions to existing rewards like double experience points or gold. For regular players, these are nice boosts, and more players log in for the increased rewards.

And then the weekend is over. The visiting friends are gone. You can run that dungeon again for half the reward without the holiday event buffs.

You are exactly where you were the day before the event, but it sure feels a bit lower.

: Zubon

The Room 2

I previously enjoyed The Room, so I picked up The Room 2 on the Steam Halloween sale. It is what you want from a sequel: more of the same but better. In this case, we are less confined to a puzzle box and instead get to see a variety of puzzle rooms (or is it the same room across several dimensions?). More puzzles, more steampunkish mechanical boxes that whirl, better graphics and art, creepy settings for Halloween. Recommended.

The biggest improvement from the original is the expanded scope. You get puzzle boxes, but you get a seance room, a laboratory, a fallen temple, and more. It’s good. The puzzles are mostly fun, and there is joy in watching it all come together, watching the completed device whir. The use of the eyepiece is significantly improved, with visual indicators that you might want to try it out rather than randomly needing to double-check everything, and the places where you need the eyepiece are more intuitive. The shifting camera does a good job of directing your attention towards the next step.

The flaws of the game remain the same, more or less the flaws of this type of game. Sometimes that shifting attention feels like a trail of breadcrumbs you are following, a very visual non-novel, particularly at the beginning when there are fewer moving pieces (less so by the final room). Sometimes the game operates on old school adventure game logic, i.e. arbitrariness that might have made sense to the designer. Why does putting X in Y make Z open? Why is there a fuse in there? Just keep playing the game, and the illogic is less severe and less common than in the previous game, although some of that might be having learned how the developers think after playing through the first game. The settings of the various rooms lack a unifying theme other than “A.S. was here,” but they are rather nice rooms with variations on “creepy.”

The puzzles are better, the settings are better, the graphics are better. If you liked The Room, you will like The Room 2. If you almost liked The Room, you will probably actually like The Room 2. The game is short, but it is longer than a movie, more interactive, and far cheaper, even before the Halloween sale.

: Zubon

Inelegant

I occasionally use the term “elegant” in reference to design, generally meaning that complexity arises from the interaction of a few simple systems. The Civ V Krepost is one of my favorite examples, one bonus on one building creates three effects that yield Russia.

Definitions are as much about what is excluded as what is included, and our friend Wilhelm has effectively pointed to the opposite of elegance:

Paradox games are deep… as in fall in, founder, and quickly drown levels of deep. There are always lots of moving parts that influence each other that you have to keep track of so that the initial experience for all of there games seems to be getting totally lost in a morass of details thrown at you in rapid succession that quickly leads to overload, exiting the game, and rarely, if ever, returning to it.

This also highlights a reason why elegance in design is desirable. Elegance yields “easy to learn, hard to master.” Inelegance yield confusion and “eh, I’ll get back to it” … and not getting back to it. I never finished the tutorial for Banished because the first one involved multiple actions that each went several layers deep in menus, with little explanation of why would want to do those but a clear implication that these were basic actions that would frequently be necessary. User-oriented design: good interfaces naturally guide you to the action you want to take.

: Zubon

Are Your Eyes Part of a Botnet Attack?

No, not yet, but let’s pair two stories:

  1. The Internet of Things participates in DDoS attachs
  2. Let’s add more things to the Internet of Things

The idea of the Internet of Things is to let all the dumb things in your house talk to each other, thereby collectively creating a smart world. (If that sounds dumb, remember that all the cells in your body are individually dumb, thereby collectively creating you.) Lots of devices now have some degree of connectivity, like DVRs, security cameras, thermostats you can control via app, keyless locks, or your garage door opener. Now think for a moment: when was the last time you changed the password on those? If you have one of those fancy, programmable toasters that makes a picture on bread, do you even know how to access security on it? Maybe they do not even build security into a toaster.

I remember mocking a headline about hackers “using your blender against you,” because the worst case scenario of a hacked blender seems like a lousy smoothie. So far, the apparent worst case scenario is contributing to a DDoS attack. If we now have millions of insecure, dumb devices online, and many of them can make some online requests, you can now flood anything with requests from millions of vectors. And those devices will continue to be vulnerable until they are out of service. Do you even know how many connections you have to the Internet of Things? If you know every device, can you access its firmware and update its security settings?

Adding in that second article: and now we have proof of concept for letting non-powered devices contribute to the Internet of Things using signals already in the air. “The goal is having billions of disposable devices start communicating,” he says, adding to the millions of insecure devices already doing so. The example in the article is contact lenses, hence my headline.

If we are not building security into the Internet of Things, we are building a world where you could attack a computer literally just by looking at it.

: Zubon

Unrelatedly, did you know that you can damage computers by shouting at them? Sound waves are physical vibrations, and computers can be very sensitive.

Osmos

I was not expecting a game this philosophically fraught.

  • Every moment you are not getting stronger, your problems are out there growing and your competitors are eating your lunch.
  • This does not even demand competitors. Things just run into each other, and gradually everything grows beyond your capacity unless you are continually expanding your capacity.
  • Paths that were safe when you started can become fatal long before you arrive. Prey can become predators while you are chasing them.
  • If you knew everything and could do the math, you could theoretically plot out everything that was going to happen. But you do not have enough knowledge and time. You must make decisions now based on a very incomplete view.
  • Often the energy it takes to acquire something is more than it is worth.
  • If two things never touch, it matters little whether they were a blink away or a mile.
  • Your path is sometimes dominated by outside forces you cannot safely escape.
  • You will often want to start over with a better starting point, somewhere it seems less like you are surrounded by stronger forces blindly oblivious to how they can crush you in their paths. Alas, that was never an option.
  • It looks soothing and simple, and each part may be. When you get deeper into it, you realize that everything is difficult and complicated because there are so many moving parts, so few of which are to your advantage at any given time.
  • If you are big enough, you can wait for others to come to you.
  • If you are not big enough, you need to act now before something bigger rolls over you.
  • Sometimes acting now is what weakens you for those bigger things.
  • Tiny moves now can have large, unforeseen consequences in the surprisingly near future.
  • If you really want to grow, you need to go after the biggest goal you can achieve.
  • Finesse is elegant and efficient.
  • But sometimes the right answer is brute force.

The most impactful part of this is how it requires neither mind nor volition. One path of the game involves competing organisms, but mostly it is a mass of blindly moving objects, and yet your problems grow faster than you do unless you find the right path.

The simple mechanic of “bigger things absorb smaller things” yields a puzzle game with predator and prey, mazes, and planetary motion. That is elegance in design.

: Zubon

But seriously, the planetary motion (“force”) levels are kind of a bear unless you can eyeball Hohmann transfers. It seems a popular recommendation to do those levels last, if at all, and to have lots of patience with overlapping orbits.

PokeCoins

The Financial Times reports that Japan’s Financial Services Agency is considering how to treat PokéCoins, which by extension would affect other RMT currencies. It is not the case that Japan is considering making PokéCoins an official currency or anything like that, despite how I expect to see this reported elsewhere.

The issue the FSA is studying is whether PokeCoins and other virtual currencies that can be purchased in-game with actual cash should be legally classified as a prepayment system, and therefore come under the jurisdiction of Japan’s recently updated Payment Services Act.

I know almost nothing about Japanese finance law, but that would presumably mean treating the RMT currencies like pre-paid gift cards, your Steam wallet, etc. I do not know how that would affect the fact that most F2P games also give away small amounts of RMT currency. I do not know how that would create liability in terms of data losses and game changes that negatively affect your RMT currency. It explicitly could mean more paperwork for games with RMT currencies and possibly depositing real cash in a Japanese bank to cover some of the outstanding virtual currency, the way that a store might need to show deposits to cover pre-payments that might be withdrawn.

: Zubon

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.