Hook, Line

Tomorrow is one of the internet’s favorite holidays. I recall my first year in Asheron’s Call, when a fansite mentioned a bug granting a Darktide (FFA PvP server) character a GM flag that effectively gave him godmode. Last year, some friend sites were part of a small conspiracy that was re-blogged at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal after they made up a controversy that was “too good to check” before publishing. Curse that 24/7 news cycle. One hopes that a combination of caution and the new paywall will prevent embarrassment this year.

Read safely this Friday. Consider the comments on this post open for linking your favorite jokes and pranks of the year. Unfortunately, Poe’s Law applies generally: no matter how absurd your joke, we can find apparently sincere examples that are worse. Exaggeration is hard these days.

: Zubon

[Rift] Chloroformed

Usually I play a healer (World of Warcraft priest) or healer utility (Lord of the Rings Online captain). With Rift I decided that I was going the ranged DPS role. I played around with a Pyromancer/Chloromancer build in beta, but I found that I really liked the Stormcaller soul for live. For soloability and excellent energy management, I added on a helping of Elementalist (pet included). A little late at level 3o, I finally decided to really start messing around with builds. I decided that since I love supporting, I was going to create a Chloromancer build for use in group content where a healer was needed.

I dutifully switched roles (saved Rift builds in game), dumped all my points in to Chloromancer with the excess in to Warlock, and stood back. My skill bars were just awash in green. It was easy to pare the few Warlock skills away, many of which were long term buffs, but I was just bombarded with way too much information. I felt like I had just been dumped in to a cockpit of an airplane, and then I was told “go.”

Continue reading [Rift] Chloroformed

[Rift] Take Me to the River

The first major patch for Rift is happening today. While there have been many patches from minor balance issues to hot fixes in Rift’s first month after launch, this is the first patch that deserves a whole tenth of a version. The 1.1 Update is bringing plenty of heavier balance changes, a lot of other tweaks, a new raid, and an event. Of course this first patch is well timed for players sitting on the fence subscription-wise, but Trion Worlds has told PCGamer that they intend to be “the most nimble and dynamic MMO developer in the AAA market.”

I am excited about the whole patch, especially the changes to the mage class, which is my main, but I am most excited about the Endless Court event. This event is gamewide. Every zone (except the tutorial areas) will be affected as an onslaught of Death plane invaders attack Telara. This is a true invasion as each zone erupts with rifts and footholds, which of course start sending out invading groups to attack any area left unscathed. Like the current zone wide events, player activity will be considered when the system is about to drop the Endless Court event. The big difference is that with normal zone wide invasions if all the zone’s wardstones fall, the event fails. With the start of the Endless Court event, the zone has already lost, and players have to fight to reclaim their world.

This is what excites me about Rift. The dungeons, class system, raids, and PvP (and I guess quests) are all nice, but it is their dynamic events that are really making me a fan of their game. It has taken some time to unlearn much of my conditioning caused by MMOs of the past, but now I am reveling in the chaos, dynamics, and camaraderie that these dynamic events bring. I want more of this. I want planar nukes dropping on capital cities. I want more complex events that chain to bring a greater story to life. I want to feel like I am building up Telara and breaking down the invading planes. The update is taking the game one step closer to this dream. For now, I am looking forward to a world bathed in Death tonight.


When Cheese Fails

On the non-MMO online gaming front, one of my friends is all about competitive StarCraft 2, to the degree of having his favorite commentators when he is watching replays. He recently introduced me to a StarCraft 2 replay comedy series, When Cheese Fails 101.

Cheese” is a technical term in StarCraft, referring to an early, all-out offense that will secure either victory or failure in a few minutes. Successful cheese wipes out the enemy or so cripples his/her early economy that the rest of the game is clean-up. When cheese fails, the attacker’s economy is crippled, having thrown all his/her resources at an early attack instead of long-term investment.

When Cheese Fails is a series about games in which … yeah. We all love to see lamers lose, but the better games have something special. Sometimes the cheeser fails to execute or follow-through. Sometimes the other player engages in masterful micromanagement that counters the early rush at very low cost. And some of them have such great surprises that I will not spoil it by even suggesting (although you may use spoilers in the comments). The true hilarity may not be fully apparent until the commentary after the game.

I recommend Episode 8 as one of their better games. Come for the cheese, stay for the pleasant Canadian accents.

: Zubon

MMO Love to Japan

The world is supporting the crisis in Japan, but that support doesn’t just end with individuals and governments. Game companies are stepping up too. Valve is trying to get gamers to buck up by buying Japanese-themed Team Fortress 2 hats (all proceeds after tax to Red Cross). Two MMO companies are taking another route.

NCSoft has donated over 6,000,000 USD directly to Japan, which overshadowed every other Korean corporation donation at the time it was made (including Samsung and LG). It even outshadowed Japanese corporations donations like Nintendo and Sony. Now it is likely that Japanese corporations are “donating” with paid-time off and other ways to help employees and their communities, but it does put a point on NCSoft’s significant generosity.

US-based Trion Worlds with the shiny-new MMO Rift is taking a more personal route. They are finding their Japanese customers and giving them a free month of play. It’s not necessarily as humanitarian as donating money to aid, but it adds yet another showing that Trion Worlds values its customers. I have recently been a little critical of the mid-level zones and fuzzy edges of the dynamic content engine, yet as I noted in my last Rift post, they are keeping me a happy customer.

Prayers and thoughts continue to go to the island gaming nation. Also, one can never have too many hats.


Wiping By Design

I have many disagreements with the dominant theory of raid design, one of which is gear-based alternative advancement that divides content into tiers based on arbitrary numbers rather that create fake difficulty. Whether or not you like synchronized dancing online, you should see something perverse in a system where everyone might perform all the steps perfectly but still fail the dance because they have not spent enough hours grinding gearscore.

The math on this gets interesting when the target gearscore is above what is possible as you start a new tier. This is one way to spread content over time. The first time you visit a new tier, let’s say that your gear plus tactics plus random rolls give you a 20% chance to beat the boss; the other 80% of the time, your tank is not geared enough to take back-to-back crits, your DPS does not down the boss before a lag spike leaves someone in a pit of fire, etc. An 80% chance of failure sounds pretty bad, but many players seem willing and able to accept it, especially given that you can try more than once per night, and you have a (1-0.8^5=) 67% chance to win before you wipe 5 times.

That sounds pretty standard for raiders. You wipe a few times, but you down the boss. As you practice and improve your gear, you wipe less, and then you get that boss on farm status. You might be performing exactly the same dance steps, but your gearscore is higher, so you no longer are facing a 4-to-1 odds for exactly the same sequence of button presses.

This strikes me as perverse and unsatisfying for the same reason that Desktop Dungeons did. You might have been a few percent more on-the-ball that time you won, but more likely the dice just fell slightly on your side of the margin of error. You get the illusion that you did it, yay team, but you are just grinding finite probabilities (or, when your gearscore is higher, grinding near certainties).

On the other hand, all my respect to those who overcome massive gaps in gearscore to succeed through perfect execution. The folks who are consistently getting server firsts a month before most people can beat phase 1 are not just hitting 5% chances consistently.

: Zubon

Why we DING! – Part 1: A Short History

The kobold sniffed the air. Did it smell an intruder, its small brain wondered, but before it could begin to process this information, glowing green vines appeared at its feet. With a howl it took off after the elf already running off into the distance. As it chased the speeding elf, its feet hampered by the snaring vines, the elf tossed swarms of stinging bees and smoldering embers at it. Finally, the kobold could take no more and fell over, lifeless. A short distance away, the elf happily told his friends “Ding!”

These days, every level in every MMORPG is a celebration. This celebration began in the days of EQ, when leveling up truly was an epic situation. Unleveling, the “Gnid”, was also frequent in these days, but I’ll talk of that in part 2. Because you took so long to level, anywhere from several days to weeks, a level was a major event. People would shout to the zone their happiness, and you’d get some cheers and jeers back. It didn’t matter, because you finally leveled! The sound that this leveling made was iconic. I used to have it as my new mail sound. (I was really into EQ though – I had the “quest completed” tone as my computer shut down sound at work.) The sound was your only notification that something glorious had happened, and thus leveling became known as “dinging”.
Continue reading Why we DING! – Part 1: A Short History

[Rift] Middling Wardstones and Zones

I headed away from Scarlet Gorge finally in a bittersweet decision. I really had wanted to defeat the zone boss, Urthura, who is spawned when one faction controls all the ancient wardstones in the zone. The Guardians did get to the point where all the ancient wardstones were controlled, and we even saw the Urthura spawn text flash across the middle of our screens. And then… nothing. She apparently poked her head up but then went back to sleep, or she figured the failed death invasion event detritus could have Scarlet Gorge, or we lost a wardstone, or something. Hopefully, next time I visit Scarlet Gorge I can kill her.

Still, I am thankful to go. Scarlet Gorge seems like an experiment gone wrong. The zone extends along a river that flows North to South, and in comparison to the other square-ish zones, Scarlet Gorge is a thin rectangle. Each faction holds an opposing end of the long rectangle. Traversing the zone is a pain as both the river and the road are full of mobs in many areas. The few zone events that we were able to win had the boss of course spawning on the Defiant side, which forced a long run across dangerous territory if I wanted to participate. Ironically, it was usually the Guardian wardstones that kept the event from failing.

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Entering Moria Again

When last we saw my Warden, she was hitting the mid-40s. I ran most of the quests one conveniently could in all the zones I listed. I never found groups for the Angmar instances, but I did solo the rest of Volume 1.

That puts you at 55, with no skirmishes, instances, or grinding. That is your measure of how much 45-50 content there is in LotRO: it lasts you until 55. The 30 seconds I spent in Moria were to drop off Book 1 of Volume II (unlock legendary items, so I could start earning IXP).

Also on the “with no grinding” note, I finished my legendary trait pages at level 53. You can start finding those pages at level 39, so that is how long it took with no effort devoted to farming. I can only imagine how horrible those pages were in the very beginning when only one type of monster dropped each set of four. That grew to humanoids in two zones (half of each book in each), then humanoids in four zones (half of each book in each pair), and I am told that any humanoid in Moria could drop any page if I still needed them.

If I wanted to, I could skip Moria entirely by running/riding the entire length and starting on Lothlorien reputation. But that would be silly.

: Zubon