How population affects the world

| Sunday, April 20, 2014
Some quests are better with an empty world. The lone hero who saves everyone quests in particular work best when there isn't someone else also around saving the world. Waiting in line just gets to be ridiculous. "Excuse me, sir, but could you hurry things up a bit? I also need to destroy this threat to the world." Kills and spawns can get silly too when you've destroyed the threat to the world, only to have it pop back up again and fight you while you're riffling through its pockets. This gets doubly bad when the next guy in line to save the world has to wait because you've gone and tagged the threat to the world. It's not as if shared kills solve this, as then we end up with a handful of Lone Saviors of the World teaming up to repeatedly kill the threat.

On the other hand, if things are too empty, then quests can get to be too hard. Many quests with elites are of this sort. Many of those are gone. This can still end up looking silly, because the quests were clearly designed for multiple players involved and went from being a significant accomplishment to being lame. I'm looking at you, Jintha'Alor. On a side note, not only was that place tricky to run at level, but it's also the worst Archaeology spot in the history of ever. Quests for mass killing are simultaneously well- and poorly-suited to a high population. On one hand, if those rats/orcs/rarcs are such a problem, then it makes sense that there would be a ton of people hired to kill them. It makes it feel a bit more like a war/magically oversized pest control when you have a dozen people busily killing them. Yet this depends a great deal on the spawn rate: if they come back quickly, then all is good. But, if the respawn is slow, then you have a bunch of guys standing around drinking coffee and yet, none of them claim to be supervising or on break.

Population variance can take a turn for the comical, utterly ruining the quest, but creating an equally-great situation, if only you can see it from the right perspective. For example, Westfall is meant to begin with an investigation into a murder. This should mean the lone player carefully questioning various vagrants, possibly bribing them, a feature that I believe all quests should have. In practice, it means racing people for the opportunity to punch a homeless person. Perhaps not what the developers intended, but it works just as well. And the ragamuffins have a field day.

Finally got a pandaren off of Turtleland

| Monday, April 14, 2014
Their quests made me angry. I'd make a monk, because frankly, a non-pandaren monk and non-monk pandaren just don't make sense to me. Then I'd play the monk for a bit. Then I'd get bored by the wonderful mix of "you are the greatest person ever" and "you must learn humility" and go play something fun.

I finally decided to go for it. I'm on my new server, so I have no shortage of character slots. I struggled through it all, until finally, I got in a balloon and talked to a turtle. This confused me for a couple of reasons. First, it was a bit out of nowhere. "Our turtle island is dying" didn't seem to come up much. There was some issue with the little element guys, but that struck me as being their own version of Cataclysm aftermath. Second, why had no one talked to him in so long? Surely a little check up would make sense. Maybe some small talk. Or big, slow talk. Perhaps ask permission to mine the copper nodes.

Then I went to a forest and suddenly... the trailer made sense. This was the strange island that the Alliance and Horde washed up on. Of course I then was wondering what ever happened to Turtle Island. Did it just go on its merry way and ignore all the problems in Pandaria? Did it get lost? Maybe I missed a bit of quest dialog somewhere along the line.

I greatly enjoyed getting to Stormwind and talking to Varian. He sold the Alliance very well, as what appeared to be an Azerothian NATO (an attack on one is an attack on all). The brawl, or the aftermath, was perfectly done.

It did leave me wondering through, is Pandaren society screwed? From the sound of it, there are a lot of Pandaren who are leaving to join the Horde or Alliance. Clearly joining one faction or the other, or being totally neutral, strike me as safer situations. In the former, there are allies to back them up. In the latter, each side has an interest in avoiding a conflict, since that could force them into the other faction. Being mostly neutral but losing new recruits to the factions surely must be causing some terrible societal divisions. When no one is joining anyone, then opinions about the factions don't matter too much. But what about when someone's offspring, siblings, or parents, want to leave to join a faction? Just the notion that they can leave, that they can abandon all they knew, can shake a society. Now make where to go not just a matter of choice, but of division, and things get messy. Even without outside manipulations, there would be those who want to promote or disparage a particular faction, and those people surely will not get along well. It isn't yet a civil war, but what is to suggest that it will not be?

Perhaps that's a good sign, when I'm left with more questions and caring what happens afterward.

Flying

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Falling cow
Flying crow
Waving at the fel cannon below
Flak clouds
Demons surround
Totally worth it, still

Flying high with angry tall women
Making our way to Ulduar
Circling a temple
Drake hopping battle
I remember Titans
In the mountains

Break the tree line and flying is worth it
Notice the tree lines and you're not so sure
Ironforge airport
Wallclimb exploit
Dance with dancing trolls
Until a Cataclysmic hole
And is it worth it anymore?

Flying serpents are ugly and hard to land
The end.

All of these things are not like the others

| Saturday, April 5, 2014
Mr. Child had a fascinating post the other day about the so-called Match 3 style of games. He had some good points, but as they say "journalism is the first draft of history", which is of course not actually applicable here except to the extent that I need to have at least one famous quotation in every post. If you think you haven't seen them, that's because I'm attempting to make what I already say famous, thereby retroactively fixing my posts and allowing me to graduate from junior high. I've been running off a fake degree this entire time, despite having never mastered algebra, European History (section two: 1472-1532), or overuse of homophobic epithets to avoid having them aimed at me.

Anyway, the point I was trying to get at is that Match 3 games are misnamed, since, while the basic gameplay is directed at matching three, that's essentially like saying that World of Warcraft is about autoattack. Sure, it's there, and it was a 95% accurate description of a vanilla paladin (the other 5% was unspeakable things done between judgement cooldowns), but it's also simplistic and missing all the nuance. They really should be called Match 5, so as to correctly convey that matching three is, at best, a set up for fives, and at worst a level of noobishness that makes you unworthy to even own a phone that is clearly smarter than you. (did you know that AMD processors are physically incapable of running Match 3 games?)

In addition, he entirely failed to address the concept of not-Match 3. Consider the game Set. Some of you might know it as the game that is banned. Others might remember when an adult insisted that it have turns, which only makes it worse. If it's real-time then getting none means you're maybe just slightly slower. As turns, if you can't get the totally obvious one that everyone else can see is right there, it means you are stupid, and I hated you for it. Seriously, it's so obvious, how can you have been staring at these for this long and not gotten it? I've already figured out the next three sets and I can't even see the next cards.

In this game there is a sort of matching of three cards. They can be all about the same, such as three cards with three unshaded diamonds of different colors. Or, they can be more different, such as one, two, and three, but one is shaded, another is unshaded, and another is filled in entirely. It can even blow your mind with different colors, shading, and numbers. Like, woah.

Why does a Match 3 not break the mold and add this "all of these things are not like the others"? Obviously in a set of three this is going to be trivial,but that would be a boon to casuals who can't figure out how to keep their board going, and instead whine about "getting screwed by the RNG" rather than being prepared. This gives them a little less to whine about, but the score value can be low, so they aren't competing with their superiors. With so many available colors, this allows for highly-perceptive players to get extremely long matches, further differentiating them from their freakish color-blind inferiors.

Allowing non-matched matches, far from dumbing down the game, is in fact a brilliant way to appease the idiotic masses who 'financially' support games while giving a more complex game to the good players who truly support it with their enthusiasm and disdain for others.

The Joy of Anticipation, Heightened by Preparation

| Thursday, April 3, 2014
As a student, and then unemployed person, I had a lot of time for gaming. I also had a lot of flexibility with my time. I could play pretty much any game at any time. Paradoxically, this would periodically cause me to become very bored. I could do too much and in the midst of trying to decide what to do would give up.

It also meant that, as much as I thought about gaming in general and my experiences in particular, I didn't think much about goals. Since I had so much time I tended to start a game and do... something. Maybe a random? Or conquer a city? It was a sort of aimless wandering. That's an activity well-suited to something like Skyrim, but not for a strategy game or reward-driven MMO (unless you're indifferent to the rewards, which I was not).

Now that I can't play whenever I want I find myself thinking about gaming in a much different manner. It is less generic philosophical rambling and thinking about how awesome I am, and more planning. It's not as if I have particularly limited gaming time. I am still single (ladies...) and my job is a nice 40 hours a week. But it's something that, at any given moment, I am not just not doing, but cannot do. That adds an element of anticipation. The Germans have a word for this, but I'm in a good mood and don't want to sound angry.

Yet the anticipation isn't merely "I will get to play this game". It's about my goals in the game. What do I want to do long-term? What can I do to move toward that? What are smart short-term actions? Are there short-term problems to deal with? In the abstract I suppose this sounds rather boring, like I'm planning an Action Strategy for Leveraging Strengths in Mental-Positive Recreational Activities. In practice it means thinking a about gaming and how cool it is and how cool it would be to accomplish this or that.

For example, I am currently trying to take over the world as Russia (little Novgorod is all grown up). In the abstract that means killing everyone. In particular, it means that at some point I need to directly confront France, Britain, and Castille in a sustained and successful conflict. Before I can do that I need to have an adequate military and economic base. Those mean developing technologies and acquiring land. The land means other wars, wars which I must carefully manage so as to avoid getting pulled into another world war that cripples my country. At an even greater level of detail, this meant trying to grab more land in Asia to connect my mainland with the areas I took from China, since otherwise they are considered very distance colonies and have been producing no income at all for at least a hundred years (I didn't know that this was the reason). And of course I'm always trying to shed war exhaustion, a task made more difficult by my extraordinarily bad reputation (due to the Asian land grab).

During breaks I can think about my empire, what weaknesses it has, what strengths it has, what opportunities are available. Then I can get home and set my grand plan into motion. Sometimes it is promptly ruined by an opportunistic enemy, such as when France attacked my European front with about three times my local army, while I was already deep in a huge Asian war (note to self: refusal of military access does not count as casus belli).

This isn't even an isolated example. In Skyrim I fund myself back into it and having a lot of fun after wondering which skill to make legendary (an ironic name, considering it resets the skill to 15 and strips the points). Then I came home and did that, spending the points from destruction to get more two-handed skills. I did a switch from caster to melee, if you were wondering what that was about.

Now, what to do next?

How to be a Scammer

| Sunday, March 30, 2014
Step one: Advertise to sell something.
Step two: Sell it.

I had some extra heavy junkboxes sitting around for a few years. Since they're a box, they can't go in the AH, so it's a matter of finding someone online that wants them. If you do find someone who wants them and can take many COD over time, it can be a nice boring few hundred gold an hour, depending on what price you get.

Again, I advertised at my usual 25g. Someone offered 20g, which I took. I traded them over and then cringed as I saw it, "so and so looted empty poison vial."

I'd been in the habit of unlocking all my boxes. I could, and did, get a Teebu's Blazing Longsword out of one, so it was a good habit. As long as I kept auto-loot off I could safely and quickly unlock and check them before mailing them off for turning in.

At first I thought he'd mistakenly opened it. Then another opened. I was off to do my pet battles, so I dropped group. Then he whispered me, saying that it is rude to scam people. I asked, "what scam?" Surely someone wouldn't be so stupid as to use a level 60 box as a way to loot gold for the achievement. Surely someone would know what they're buying. And if they don't, they can see that it is their own fault.

The last time something even remotely like this happened involved someone buying a sword for transmog, only for them to realize they couldn't actually use it. They told me this, in an "oops, I screwed up" kind of way. I offered to buy it back, since it's not as if it was damaged just by being traded. They kept it, maybe for an alt. No accusations of scamming.

I'd have even kept the same policy. If he'd said "these aren't what I thought they are", then I'd have bought back the unopened ones. Of course that's unprofitable, but I can see myself mistakenly buying something that is almost what I wanted and I'd rather play in a game, and live in a world, where people offer an undo button. And maybe a world where people don't immediately assume it's a scam when they make a mistake.

Alternative Incentives for Returning Players

| Saturday, March 29, 2014
Giving someone a reward is easy, but does it actually make any difference? I've analyzed all my data on new and returning characters in the top ten MMOs and found no effect. Note: I have absolutely no data. Since the traditional approach does not appear to be working, here are some alternatives.

Here's what changed
There are patch notes and maybe spell tips, but do those help? Of course not. If they did, then players would be all up ins that game.

Instead, give a narrative of what happened. Say which awesome abilities are gone, admit that the new ones aren't as good, and give a general idea of how the class is completely unrecognizable. To go along with this, check the most recent play time of more than ten minutes (that is just confused stumbling, like a drunk man with no light poles), and then say how things are different relative to then. Is your melee class now a spell caster? Does your spell caster use strength for some reason?

Bag Organizer
"What's all this shit in my bags?" Not only does the player not remember putting this stuff in there (reverse-hackers?), they have no idea if it is any good. You come back with three empty slots and end up rage-quitting immediately, or at best, spend two hours figuring it out, only to quit because your first new impression is that the game is a miserable mess of bag management.

To help, give returning players an automated analysis of the contents of their bags. What is the median sell price over the past month? Is this piece of gear better than something you'll get from the new content that drew you back in?

Here's how bad you are
Last time I played I was hot stuff. I was awesome and did cool stuff. Now I'm not sure what's going on. Rather than surprise players by leaving them to get horribly stomped in PvP and perhaps PvE as well, just bluntly inform them that on a scale of one to ten, their gear is now a zero. Then show them some options on fixing that, such as "go to noob island of free epics to get up to two" or "die a lot in absurdly unbalanced PvP to get to a four".

Your guild master was arrested for selling meth
Who hasn't come back to a disbanded guild? Or as GM of a guild that is inexplicably flagged as "kill on sight" due to some misdeeds in your absence? Give returning players some idea of what happened, whether that was a mass transfer, a mass quit because of the same expansion that made you leave, or the Rapture (nope, you're not in).

The Ancient
It's a title to indicate "I wasn't always this awful, give me a moment and I'll show you how good I can be. Or at least I will spend the entire run telling you how good I used to be, because let's face it, the years away due to a brief 'misunderstanding' the a mob boss did not make me a better gamer.

The End-Game Transition

| Thursday, March 20, 2014
Anyone who complains about an end-game transition is being stupid.

Part One: Inevitability

In any game with any sort of progress you're going to have a tendency toward an end-game. Either all measured progress stops or it changes in form. This is not necessarily by the design of the developers.

Consider a game such as Banished or Don't Starve. The initial game is a struggle to not die horribly. You try to get sustained heat or light and food. This means chopping trees, foraging, hunting, and hitting rocks. Eventually you've chopped so many trees, foraged and hunted, and hit so many rocks that you're not likely to die a horrible death at any given moment. You've stabilized your situation. Your people have shelter, they make enough babies that enough will grow up to make babies to sustain the baby-making cycle, and you generate enough surplus food that even if the houses are filled with babies you won't suffer from baby-induced starvation. Alternatively, you have enough trees and grass around to keep catching rabbits, your rock-based structures are set up, and you have enough non-renewable materials to last a very long time.

Now you're in the end-game. In a game that doesn't have one, but it does anyway.

Unless you do something actively stupid, such as switching all your farmers to the quarry, or going in caves naked with no torches, you're unlikely to die any time soon. With the basics taken care of you can focus even more on exploration and expansion. Now you can build another Market Economic Zone branching off from your original Capital Economic Zone, and eventually fill the entire map with housing and farms, altering their design to ensure the maximum number of non-starving people. The survival game has become a spreadsheet-based optimization game.

Part Two: Your Counter-Argument to Part One is Stupid

Part Three: By Which I Mean, Adding New Problems Isn't a Good Solution

Banished could figure out new problems to throw at you. Maybe you think you're such hot shit for having stone houses and locally-sourced plum brandy from a sustainable orchard. Well what about when the developer patches in alcoholism and makes the dead rise up and eat all your peppers? Now you have to divert your precious iron supply to swords rather than tools and your physician has to do something other than wait around for dirty nomads with their weird foreigner diseases. Bam, challenge returned! In a totally artificial and annoying manner.

At least for me, and my opinion is the best one, these sorts of games are about the struggle toward that stable point. You figure out the immediate crises (food), deal with those, work on the near-term problems (housing), figure those out, and amidst all of that work toward dealing with long-term issues such as not running out of tools next year. With that generally worked out, you create some guarantees for the future, such as a trading post, so that you can supplement your theoretically-limited supply of stone, iron, and coal, with pepper trades. Now you can survive forever. That's kinda neat.

If the game then added in a new type of problem, then I'd probably just get mad at it. I just built this town hall and now you're telling me I need to beautify the streets or get voted out? I'm the incorporeal dictator!

The game could add a decay mechanic, but how are you going to tune it? If the decay uses resources that can be unlimited, such as trees or rabbit corpses, then it's essentially just another long-term sustainability mechanic. I'll set up a few more traps and declare victory.

If the decay uses resources that aren't unlimited, then the game is essentially saying "this game is about survival and I am going to kill you, guaranteed." I don't mind the inevitability of death in a game, but can I at least go out with a bang rather than a whimper? Surely it is more fun to see that the end is coming and bravely stand against the onslaught of violent death than to mine the last rock and know that the next baby born will die shivering in the cold. Maybe that's just human nature, to want to face something that we can punch, such as Russians, rather than resource depletion.

Part Four: I Stop Writing Soon

A truly pure survival game sounds stupid to me. Survival is a limited thing. It is either a pointless struggle against the inevitable or a pointless struggle. I like it when a game has survival that can be overcome, and when it is, something can be built. In Banished I didn't just survive a winter, I also built a town that can survive many winters. Perhaps that is also a bit of human nature: while animals survive, humans build and develop. Even if the rules of the universe still call for survival, it is no longer at the front of our minds because we've built to insulate ourselves from it, with markets, laws, and literal insulation.

So I say to you, if you think "the end-game transition" is both bad and preventable, then you, sir or madam or other old-timey polite moniker for your identity, are an opponent of all human progress, and probably alien progress as well.
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