Author Archives: Zubon

[LoL] Efficient Communication

League of Legends has a simple vocabulary for praise and abuse. “That” before something means “is very good or inherently overpowered.” “This” before something means “is very bad or inherently useless.” You’re in the middle of a game and don’t have time to type a lot of invective, but the most important thing in the world is making sure other people know you are better than them at online games, so you can quickly insult your teammates with “this cait” to make sure everyone knows that your team is only losing because Caitlyn is not performing up to your expectations. Make sure to put it in all chat so the other team can share your scorn for your teammates. Alternately, if “this cait” is on the other team, this will let them know that their team is bad and they should feel bad. Because that is the kind of community the game still supports, even after things have improved.

This also technically gets around using profanity and verbal abuse, although Tribunal reviewers (and most other players) will recognize that people who use a lot of “this cait” will also throw out streams of profanity and racial slurs.

“that cait” is usually reserved for opponents, rather than praising teammates, again to emphasize that losing is not your fault. Ashe, of course, gets it more frequently on either team because of the meme.

: Zubon

Quote Mine

Eric at Elder Game is just winning all over the place in a post that covers a variety of balance topics. Two sample quotes:

I haven’t played much in years, but as far as I can tell, post Cataclysm, [WoW's] balancing plan has been to say “fuck solo balance, we’ll just make it insanely easy for all the classes, and then nobody will care enough to complain.” Which… is a valid approach for certain audiences. [Like me! -Sandra]

One of my rules of thumb is that an MMO shouldn’t balance gameplay via tedium. By that, I mean a designer shouldn’t say “Well you could become overpowered by doing X, but you’d have to do X for 500 hours, and who’s going to do that?” MMO players, that’s who. Because of the competitive environment, a lot of them will do whatever it takes, and they’ll curse your name for “making” them do it, all at the same time.

He goes on to explain how playing fetch will be used as a balance technique.

The second quote was an explicit part of balancing the original Magic: The Gathering. The developers balanced the game assuming a relatively small card environment. “This card is powerful, but it is rare, so that won’t be a problem unless people start buying thousands of cards. In which case, our game is a huge success, so no problem.”

: Zubon

Prime Grind

Continuing further in Prime World: Defenders has answered some questions.

Yes, the rarer towers are unambiguously better than the basic ones. Early on, my mostly upgraded wooden tower was boring but practical. As a great lover of DoTs, my fully upgraded poison tower is awesome yet practical, but the better towers are generally of the rarer rarities, and they can be upgraded further from there. I am told that the dragon tower is especially excellent for the mid-game, but I have yet to find that card, instead finding multiple sun and lightning towers (crushing individuals and groups, respectively).

Yes, the later levels are balanced around a resource grind. You must complete side missions to collect and upgrade cards, or else your numbers are not big enough to complete the main maps. There is a daily login prize for some reason (currently disabled by bug), so you could theoretically just wait instead of grinding, and you will be ready for those later maps sometime in 2015.

This game reinforces the critical importance of threshold values. An attack that does 50% of an enemy’s hit points is worth about as much as an attack that does 90%. Not exactly, because you can mix heavy hitters with fast or AE attacks, but there is a huge difference between 99% and 100%. This is where the better towers and upgrades become critical.

Oddly, the game has some anti-farming code. I found the 4th boss trivially easy and repeated it to see how quick I could complete that map. The 4th boss is now worth 0 silver and 0 xp. You are supposed to farm, but you are supposed to farm the random missions. I have reached the point where I need to farm the easier random missions to beat the harder random missions to farm rarer cards to beat the main missions.

Hmm, maybe I just need that much farm for beating it cleanly. I am caught in the circle of farming. Back to the regular mission chain! [Update: nope, needed a little more farming. On tower defense, the margin between "can't beat it at all" and "can beat it 100% perfectly" is small.]

: Zubon

Prime World: Defenders

I am about half-way through the campaign of Prime World: Defenders. It is tower defense with collectible card game elements, which sounds like a game designed for me. Tycho at Penny Arcade has similar gaming tastes, so his recommendation convinced me to pre-order before a really good sale. And hey, pre-ordering gives you a little sale plus some little bonuses.

If you like tower defense, you will like Prime World Defenders. It has minimal mazing elements, mostly choosing which towers to build and (slightly) upgrade along fixed paths. Enemies and towers have the standard mix of air/ground, fast/slow, groups & splash, stealth, healing, etc. You have spells (1 until you buy talents) and no hero unit; this is not action tower defense like Orcs Must Die! or Dungeon Defenders. You can buy talents to improve overall effectiveness.

The collectible card mechanics are the non-standard element. It operates at three levels. First, towers and spells are cards. You get the basic cards as you progress, and there are rarer cards to be found. Having found relatively few, I do not have an indication that rarer towers are absolutely better, but they can be upgraded further. Upgrades are the second level: you can recycle cards to level up other cards, and artifact cards have no purpose except to recycle for larger values. Evolution is the third level: you can recycle duplicates to level up a card in a slightly different way, which unlocks the ability to upgrade the tower on a map. Towers therefore have two level counters: towers can become permanently stronger, and then within each map you can pay to make each a level 2 or 3 tower.

This advancement is both good and bad. To me, in terms of quality of play, it is on balance bad. It makes balance difficult, because the same difficulty does not work for fully upgraded towers and fresh-from-the-pack cards. My one fully upgraded tower minces enemies, and I cannot imagine how devastating a fully upgraded rare tower must be (unless that balance went badly in another direction and it is not worth finding and upgrading them). It is hard to get a satisfying challenge under these circumstances; you do not know if you have good strategy or just good numbers. Difficulty is so far aimed low, so you can complete the levels despite poor strategy or low numbers, and you can go back later to complete them with no leakage and/or either achievement. I like that this also allows you to play around a bit more instead of looking for the One Strategy that meets highly tuned difficulty.

If that is good grind for you, you will love this. There is procedurally generated content so you can get some variety in map layout and enemy composition, and you could spent weeks collecting and upgrading towers. If you would prefer to skip leveling and have all the content tuned for the level cap, Defense Grid will probably be more to your liking.

: Zubon

[LoL] Tribunal

I have started reviewing cases for the League of Legends tribunal. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. One case was decided in literally the first two words of the chat log. On other games, I want a replay or to see the text before or after the game itself.

Is there just something about Master Yi? A disproportionate number of people I see reported play Yi. It is like he is a lightning rod for foul-mouthed jerks and trolls.

: Zubon

[LoL] A Twist of Fate

I’m not much one for cinematics, but this is a nice close-up view of some League of Legends champions. On the gripping hand, it does not really show off what League of Legends is about. It is mostly one-on-one fights, which shows off the champions well, but it involves neither laning nor team fights. If you really want to show a League of Legends cinematic you need to put together a five-on-five fight around a tower with both minion waves hitting it.

I imagine that one good minute of that takes more time than this entire video.

: Zubon

[LoL] Level-Setting or Randomization?

I have been playing a lot of ARAM. My win rate recently is in the 50% range, but it’s streaky: 2-4 in a row either way, rarely win-lose-win-lose. I’m not sure if I have reached my appropriate level with hidden ELO or whether ARAM is just so random that each game is more or less a coin flip of who gets good team composition, who gets utter rubbish players, whose team is randomly the perfect counter to the other…

On the other hand, I seem to have gotten above the point where half the matches are 4 vs 5 because someone AFKs/disconnects. And I am starting to appreciate queue dodges because of that: I would rather have someone reset the whole game than make it an uneven waste of time.

: Zubon


I have been enjoying the new mode in League of Legends. “All random all middle” is even more frantic fun than Dominion, although almost all strategy is gone in favor of tactics.

  • You can reroll your champion every few games, so it is not fully random. This is especially a good thing for people who bought packs like the one when League of Legends launched. Have seven champions you’ve never played because they were not really your style? Rerolls minimize that punishment.
  • But then you get the chance to try new things. Ryze? More fun than I remembered from the time or two I played him, although see below for why his spells aren’t the best for ARAM.
  • The most important thing about ARAM is that team fights start NOW, often before minions spawn. When the whole game is team fights, the values of various abilities and champions change.
  • AE is obviously far more valuable.
  • Skill shots are also far more valuable. You do not need much skill to toss a skillshot into a crowd and hope for the best. Even given that, skill shots are even more valuable than you think because the enemies are boxed in one lane. You don’t need to spray and pray to appreciate having a shooting alley.
  • Juking is less valuable, with far fewer options, although the people who can pull it off are impressive.
  • Support wins games, above and beyond what you are used to. Healers are fabulous with no healing fountain. Soraka and Sona are great support combined with offensive powerhouses in ARAM.
  • Alistar is similarly amazing, enough to merit his own bullet point. Tank with AE heal and CC, plus the R of “soak all the damage”? I have only seen a team with Alistar lose once.
  • Team composition is very important. Four melees? You’re probably dead already. Opposing team is the MMO contingent of tank, healer, and three DPS? Yep, that’s bad. Because team composition is mostly random, the game can be randomly unwinnable before you even start. This is an intrinsic hazard of randomness, but still generally unfun.
  • It is still hard to find 10 people who can stay connected and play a video game for 10-20 minutes. While I have had a good streak today, I have had days where half my games were 4 vs. 5. This is not a satisfying way to win or to lose, and if there is any punishment for quitting once you see the previous bullet point, it is not visible to the people who must suffer through it.
  • Remember, the most important thing in the game is to make sure everyone knows it is not your fault that your team lost. Everyone else was bad, you had lag, the opposing champs are OP, and team comp sucked gg lol noobs

: Zubon

The F2P In-Game Economy

If you are spending $0 on a game, and the economy is working great for the company and the players who are paying money, but your favored currency is not retaining value well, that means the economy is working. “Working” applies both in the sense of in-game supply and demand (there is WAY more supply of the free currency than of the paid currency, and people with low time value are more prevalent than people with low money value) and the game’s business model. A business model that rewards “not paying” as much as or more than “paying” will not be a business model for long.

Just because you do not like something does not mean it is not working.

: Zubon