Category Archives: City of Heroes/Villains

Short Term, Long Term, Transitions

City of Heroes needed to implement “enhancement diversification,” a massive nerf in which marginal diversity was achieved by taking away the strongest options, for the long term health of the game. It was a good balance decision, but when the transition happened, it really hurt to log in and see your damage halved.

Guild Wars 2 is making good changes in the big April 15 update. The wardrobe is more or less exactly what I have asked for, the new traits are a good thing, the new sPvP build interface is more streamlined, unified WvW ranks make WvW much more alt-friendly, and let’s give ArenaNet the benefit of the doubt that all the other changes like runes and sigils are similarly good.

In the short term, you need to rebuild every character several times. Your PvE traits were reset, your sigils and runes may have changed, your sPvP build and traits were reset, your WvW ranks were reset, your… I was excited about learning the new options for a character then found it extremely discouraging to need to address three sets of options for each of eight classes, both new options and changes to old options, and then changes to old content.

In a way, this is a breaking point for players. If the newness excites you, this is probably the game for you, have a great time. If you look at re-learning the game as a huge slog, this might be a good time to explore 2014′s new MMO offerings. Or go outside.

: Zubon

Also, at the moment I’m kind of bitter that there are now 10 options for dailies including sPvP, rather than about a dozen plus sPvP.

[GW2] Transitory Content

Saylah inspires me:

I’m baffled by what they’ve done and not done with GW2. Am I really in the minority in wanting them to add more persistent content and new zones similar to the campaigns in GW1??? Can’t they do both?

As much as we love having frequent updates, building churn into the content has not been healthy for quality, community, or game-building.
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Please, ponder with me the borders of hidden and emergent complexity.

By “emergent,” I mean “arising from interaction.” You can create incredibly complex designs with Legos, but the Legos themselves are simple. The complexity arises from the many ways you can arrange the simple pieces. There are, however, Legos that are cut into specific shapes for particular uses or that integrate unusual components like motors. Those have some inherent complexity.

In gaming, emergent complexity is generally a good thing. It is the source of the meta-game, and it is often what we mean by “easy to learn, hard to master.” The parts are simple, the whole is complex.

By “hidden,” I mean that the parts look simple but are themselves complex units. Continue reading

Unrealized CoH Dreams: Origins

City of Heroes did great things with scaling that other games are still struggling to adapt, but its character origins were a vestigial feature that never panned out. The early designs made origins important, but that did not translate to the final game.

City of Heroes used “origin” where another game might use “race,” just as it had “archetypes” instead of “classes.” Continue reading

Pareto Superior Testing

Our testers can veto releases at work, but we have an allied tradition that half a loaf is better than none. We may not get everything we want from an update, but if it makes some things better and no things worse, we go live. We can add the rest in a future update.

A gaming example comes from GW2 crafting. At launch, crafting could use items only from your character’s inventory. Soon after, you could craft from the vault but discovery was still inventory only. Now both check character inventory and the entire vault.

This is easier in my work than in gaming because our users are not competing with each other. If we can implement new functionality for one interface but need another month to accommodate the rest of our users, bonus for the users with the easy update. If your FPS added rocket launchers for PC players but needed another month to add it to the Mac client, forums would explode, especially if PC and Mac players were on the same servers. You can see this in games that are gradually rebalancing one class at a time rather than all at once. The relative values of classes are having large swings each month. LotRO had “the month of the [class],” TF2 had class-specific updates, and other games have similarly revamped single classes. See also City of Heroes gradually adding heroes’ passive archetype abilities over time, so there were months in which only half the classes had them.

Sometimes half a loaf is worse than none. Beyond the cases where it distorts your competitive balance, a function that only half-works can make some things worse and no things better. Adding something that only works for a known half of the users is inconsistent but reliable, which can be okay; adding something that works for everyone a seemingly random half of the time is inconsistent and unreliable, which is bad. The new functionality must work as expected, even if only under additional assumptions, and those assumptions must not cause other problems. Half a loaf is better than a whole loaf with gravel scattered through it.

: Zubon

Chris Carter, Joss Whedon, Google, and NCsoft

[Warning: there are some TV Tropes links in here.]

I have confessed to contributing to self-fulfilling prophecies: if you do not commit to something/one because s/he/it may not be around for long, s/he/it probably will not be around for long. So how do you invest yourself in something when the producers have a left a wake of unfinished and canceled projects?

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Loot Bonuses: Bad Multiplayer Mechanic

Socializing costs and privatizing benefits is a lousy combination.

Many games allow you to increase your difficulty and your reward. This could be explicit in the form of a difficulty dial tied to rewards, but it is more often an opportunity cost. For example, you might equip an item that improves your loot, but doing so forgoes equipping an item that improves your damage. The fight is marginally harder and your rewards are marginally better. Kingdom of Loathing is an example of a game that does both: there are ways to increase monster level, and you can also equip items that have +monster level instead of (or in addition to) stat bonuses.

Kingdom of Loathing is also a single-player game. City of Heroes similarly gives you tools to adjust mission difficulty, and it gives the same difficulty increase and reward increase to everyone.

Multiplayer games that allow individuals to equip +loot items allow those individuals to increase their rewards at a cost of increased difficulty to everyone on the team. Alice is a tank using best-in-slot gear for damage resistance while Bob is a healer using best-in-slot gear for improved loot drops; Alice is working harder and incurring more repair costs for Bob’s benefits. Alice’s only way to avoid players like Bob is to stick with known companions or be That Guy and demand to see your equipment before letting you into the group. If everyone or no one is wearing +loot gear, the situation is fair and both risks and rewards are shared. Allowing individuals to unilaterally increase group difficulty for personal benefit is a solid example of anti-social design. Continue reading

To-Hit Rolls

To-hit rolls are an RPG mechanic inherited from pen-and-paper systems. They represent an obvious intuition (attacks can miss) and use a binomial mechanic with a random chance. Many non-RPG computer games use a different mechanic: did the sword, shot, spell, or whatever hit the target?

One of the City of Heroes developers remarked that, had he to do it over again, he would not have included a to-hit roll or an accuracy stat. Every attack would hit unless some defense caused it to miss, and then you would have an indicator of why you missed. Continue reading

Blast from the Past: Tome of Knowledge and Sets

I am still waiting for games to pick up this idea from 2009. Achievement systems have proliferated, tracking all kinds of things, but most games want to give you cosmetic items instead of unlocks. One specific item in that last post has been addressed by many games: a mount tab instead of making you carry mounts around. City of Heroes has always rewarded players by unlocking costume pieces, and Borderlands 2 lets you find/win/buy customization options.

With the upswing in F2P, however, life moves in the opposite direction. Storage space and cosmetic customization are ways they make money, so of course they charge you per item per change in appearance.

: Zubon