Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I finished Shadow of Mordor and have been enjoying the DRC as a dessert. The Arkham-style combat with better stealth (I should probably play Assassin’s Creed if it is like this) is just great. There is not a lot of variety in saying it, but I remarked many times, “The gameplay is so good.” It ranges nicely from stalking lone orcs to pit-fighting against dozens, with side dishes of giant monsters, packs of scavengers, and “try using this move!” side missions.

The central story is good. At a couple of points, when you see the obvious stand-ins for characters in The Lord of the Rings, I am torn between being annoyed at the Theoden expy and liking the idea of demonstrating that this is something Saruman does, not a one-time trick with Theoden. The side missions are also good, although the missions to free captive slaves are more or less the same. I briefly resented having weapon-based missions that tried to make me use one particular trick, but it made me get better at the game and I found myself much more effective when I used everything instead of just my favorite tricks.

The difficulty is low, although that is part of how I approached the game. Starting out binging on open world content is a lot like level grinding, so I was stronger than expected for most of the game. The structure of the game also fit quite nicely with how I wanted to play it, rewarding stealth and mobility more than “kick in the door.” Branding came at the perfect time for me, because I was tired of killing enemies only to have them keep respawning; making them permanently yours effectively gave me a progress bar as I took over most of the map. After a very easy Lord of the Hunt DLC, I am finding the Bright Lord DLC somewhat more challenging, as [spoiler] is not as tricked out as Talion.

This has been one of the best games I have played this year, if not the best. Strongly recommended. And oh look, the holiday Steam sales are on their way. Go for the Game of the Year pack.

: Zubon

Sharing, Spoiling, and Scavenger Hunts

Discovery-based fun became harder to design with the internet. Many designers are still working with concepts that made sense in their youth but not in an online world.

Pre-internet, in many games the discovery of hidden things played well as a social game of shared information. Take the Cult of the Vault challenges in the Borderlands games or any similar “find these things hidden in out of the way places” setup. It takes a special kind of obsessive player to catch ’em all because the symbols could be any size, on any surface, half-obstructed, down a dead end you have no reason to visit, etc. It makes a lot more sense to think of this as something you do with your group of friends, and you trade locations or hints on where to find them. On an internet forum, you might do that, pooling information to see who has found what where. That is a great social process. The output of that process is a complete spoiler list, which then eliminates the social game of shared information. That is an undesirable but natural outcome of releasing that sort of game into the internet, where we have become very good at coordinating this sort of information-gathering.

If you are fortunate, you can find a site with tiers of spoilers. Click A for vague hints of where to look, B for narrow ranges and more explicit hints, and C for screenshots or videos. If you are really fortunate, you are playing when many others are playing and can just ask for the right level of spoiler, “am I on the right path here?” And if your gaming friends are local rather than online, you can get back to that social process, perhaps mutated because at least one person in the group will have looked at the full spoiler list.

And so it goes for any hidden but compilable information. If you are on the forefront, with the early adopters and first researchers, you can still participate in that social information game. You can be one of those people compiling information that will eventually be part of a spoiler list, because it is exciting to share where you saw X or how you figured out the formula for Y. But that window is narrow, because if it is happening publicly it can only happen once unless you are part of another group that is going through the same process while explicitly avoiding others’ spoilers.

This may not be a horrible thing. If content locusts are descending on a game and moving on, and you are playing games years after the fact, having the spoilers available to consult is better than nothing after having missed the social game. You need other players to have the social game, and most video games do not sustain populations that way (or the population center moves on to another part of the game so much that it might as well be another game). It is a bit of shame that is happens in days or hours.

If I may reminisce, I remember the early days where complete information was not available. We approached Asheron’s Call’s spell research as if we could create a new spell using the spell components the way you might mix something in a chemistry set, only later realizing that there were fixed spells with fixed formulas (and finding the formula pattern was the shared information project). In the early days of Magic the Gathering, there were rumors of cards because no one know exactly what was in the sets. I usually like my games to have known, fixed parameters, but there is beauty in the unknown.

: Zubon

Kill Ten Orcs

I have been playing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (I know), and I am finding the gameplay rather satisfying. It uses the same base mechanics as the Batman: Arkham * series, which is good. It is, however, more than a little bloodier. Batman does not kill anyone; Talion puts his sword through every skull he can. That dude’s gotta have some serious upper body strength, the way he’s moving steel in and out of bone.

I need to start paying more attention to the missions. I have been enjoying the open world aspects of it a lot: wander around, sneak up on uruks, gather herbs, maybe find a little boss mission. Most satisfying boss missions? When the captain is vulnerable to ranged attacks. Get in the right position, one fully charged headshot, assassination complete, gg.

: Zubon

[GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 1

The Heart of Thorns expansion brought with it four new open world PvE maps. Each map has a “meta”, a map-wide goal, much like the core Dry Top and Silverwastes. Overall, there is good and bad. I hope that ArenaNet takes the time to smooth out the rougher issues, and I hope they learn from what works.

To just jump in, the overall issue I have is the player knowledge requirement of when a map starts. I have to remember that the Auric Basin boss occurs on the odd hour. I think Verdant Brink resets half an hour earlier with night then occurring an hour and twenty minutes later. No idea about Tangled Depths, which is not fun, and Dragon’s Stand does its own thing.

It was easy enough to learn one map, Dry Top, which reset on the hour, every hour. Silverwastes, like the new Dragon’s Stand, was map dependent; although, the latter is timed. Now there are a bunch of new maps with varied start times, and I feel that there needs to be something in-game, such as the map UI, that tells players the timed status of the map. Then armed with that knowledge, and knowledge of how long I can play, I can make pretty good decisions on what I want to do. Anyway, off to each map… Continue reading [GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 1

Humble Monthly

The Humble Bundle folks are trying something new, a monthly subscription service. So you pre-pay for games without knowing which games. That sounds bad.

Spending $150/year on games I don’t know and probably won’t play seems like a bad investment. In the early days of Humble Bundle, I bought quite a few out of a mix of supporting the charity of the week and the indie developer of the week. Years later, my Steam catalog is bloated, and I have liked a small percentage of the games. Over time, the Humble offerings have expanded in various directions, and they more or less feel like a perpetual Steam yard sale on indie games through a different store front.

If I had more trust in their curating, this would probably be a great deal. If you buy almost every Humble Bundle, this is for you. If you maybe see a few games you like every few Bundles, bad. And I’m not especially sold on LootCrate-style deals where you pay someone to go buy things for you, but then I have rather niche tastes for my major interests.

: Zubon

Soliciting Entitlement

I am totally on board for scolding people for an exaggerated sense of entitlement, but many gaming companies are literally asking for it. MMOs have long solicited player participation in development, from requesting suggestions to testing implementation. In a Web 2.0 world, more developers started inviting players to participate. “Make your voice heard!” Games being Kickstarted frequently offer beta board access as a reward so that you the customer can help guide the development of the game.

I have seen good, implemented solutions come from the suggestions board, and I have seen games that really do have player-influenced or even -driven development. I have also seen a lot of companies decide that is good PR, set up a suggestions board, and maybe harvest a few ideas but mostly just do what they were going to do anyway and maybe point to a thread and say, “because you demanded it!” It is so much marketing BS, just as we recognize that people are not really “testing” the game in that open beta. Some suggestions may have merit, and maybe you have a new idea, but the designers are not waiting with bated breath for the next epiphany from the armchair designers.

I have trouble saying that the players have an unfair expectation that they should be listened to when the company says they are listening. Using the two senses of “expectation” from that link: as a realistic assessment of what the company is likely to do, one should not place high odds on the company being guided by your suggestions; as a normative assessment that people should follow through on their promises, one is completely fair in thinking that a company that says it is listening should listen. If you say you are listening to create customer buy-in, then do not particularly listen, you totally deserve it when those customers react badly to the realization.

If a company never claimed to be listening, you can maybe argue that it would be better if they did, but you do not get to claim a sense of personal betrayal.

: Zubon

Bleak Blaughust Game Dump

It’s a weird thing: the mind. Throughout summer, the household was in a nice routine. At the end of July it was like a flip switched. School was only two weeks away, but suddenly both the kids and Mrs. Ravious wanted school to start. Stress piled on, and instead of viewing Blaugust as a fun challenge it became an obstacle. I knew that I might get the first five under my belt, and then I would spectacularly fail. So I followed Homer’s advice and took most of August off. Refresh the juices. Continue reading Bleak Blaughust Game Dump

MMO Questions

A while back, I put together the following set of questions for MMO developers. But when was the last MMO release that might have interested you enough to ask them? Still, for reference, things I want to know if you want me to play your new MMO:

  • What standard MMO elements are you using that will appeal to current MMO players?
  • What changes are you making to the standard MMO formula that will draw players from their current games?
  • What unique features will your game offer that are not available anywhere else?
  • How can I customize my character, at creation and over time?
  • What is your intended increment of gameplay? What can I do if I can log in for:
    • 15 minutes?
    • 2 hours?
    • 10 hours?
  • I have gained ten levels. How does my play experience differ other than going from “10 damage per attack against 50hp goblins” to “100 damage per attack against 500hp goblins”?
  • I have been playing for six months and my friend wants to start playing. How soon can we play together without my creating an alt? How do your systems support this?
  • I have been playing for six months. What goals am I pursuing? What am I doing that I could not do at the end of my first month?
  • What will happen:
    • in my first hour that will make me want to buy the game?
    • in my first month that will make me want to subscribe?
    • in my first year that will make me want to stay that long?/li>

: Zubon

Errors and Lies

Playing dumb is a viable strategy. In multi-player competitive games, players tend to coordinate against whoever is in the lead. If you look like you are stumbling while you move into a better position, you will be ready to strike while your opponents are looking elsewhere. This can become difficult in iterative games; my tabletop group knows me to be too good a strategist to buy too much of this, but they seem not to have caught on that I will complain about crummy randomization both when I get horrible luck and when I want to distract attention from how well I am doing.

In Town of Salem, I am rarely sure of who is an idiot and who is engaging in obfuscating stupidity. A standard villain strategy is to run out the clock by preventing useful discussion, because a town that cannot coordinate information cannot find the mafia. Idiot chatterboxes are more likely to be villains, but this is a F2P online game, so you have lots of idiot chatterboxes and trolls. Is this person sabotaging discussion or just legitimately useless?

Say some information gets through that. Then the town starts puzzling out how to deal with it. Few players know exactly how all the roles and rules work. If you know, you might mis-apply those rules in this circumstance. If you know, you might lie about how those rules apply if the truth would get you killed. Then you have incomplete or wrong information, because other players are taking secret actions and may not mention that your logic is valid but your premises are false. Sometimes players will guess the right answer despite having invalid logic, which is aesthetically displeasing, although sometimes players do have a valid deduction but are presenting an unsound argument intentionally because telling the real reasons would get them killed. And then the original “information” might not be true, due to error or lies.

Most people know at least one Raymond Smullyan puzzle of the format “one always tells the truth and one always lies.” More advanced puzzles introduce the complication that people can be wrong, so you have insane liars who always say true things because they believe false things. It is often unclear whether you are winning/losing by your own merits or are the beneficiary/victim of outrageous fortune.

: Zubon

Scaling

I played a Trapsin in Diablo II. It was a fun class that turned the game into action tower defense. Drop traps, throw my pitiful attacks at the enemy, and kite them around traps until they fell down. I was particularly fond of the the exploding corpse trap and the cow level. Explosion damage scaled based on the enemy’s hit points, and cows were big tanks. Killing the first one took a while, then they fell like dominoes as high-damage corpses converted cows into more high-damage corpses.

This scaled nicely based on enemy hit points but not on group size. Enemy hit points scaled up with group size, but the trap’s damage was scaled on the enemy’s base hit points, not its scaled hit points. That is, the trap that was devastating on a solo map did less and less as the team size grew, because enemy hit points increased but trap damage did not. (Granted, neither did any other damage source, but there is a large difference between falling dominoes that take out a whole group and “kite, 1 dies and damages several, kite more, 1 dies and damages several, kite more…”)

With no allies, I could solo the map easily by knocking over dominoes. Every additional ally made me relatively weaker. One direct damage specialist was nice for knocking over the first cow, but past that, the game incentivized me to be alone with my exploding corpses.

There were definitely situations for which grouping was a better option, but it sapped my favorite activity in-game.

: Zubon