Saturday, 28 July 2012

In 2 Days I'll be 25 years and 2 days old

Not long before everything starts to sag!

Friday, 27 July 2012

FLASHBACK - [GW] Atomisation: Building with Raw Materials

Today's Flashback comes from in the not too distant past (January 2012). I went a little technical, I must have been having one of those days where it's so cold that parts of your brain freeze up and you start hallucinating. I'm not the only one who has those days, right?

If you atomise (i.e. split it up into its smallest parts) any skill system you can see it is essentially comprised of the following raw materials:

An effect (or a number of effects). These could be damage, healing, reduced movement speed, increased attack speed or other fancy things such as teleporting the player etc. The effect can vary in three respects: magnitude, condition and duration.

A cost. Usually energy/mana/magicka. It is the resource you deplete when you use the skill.

Limiting factors. These are cast time, recharge time and other fancier things like requiring skill chaining or environmental factors.

Part of the job of balancing a skill is finding an equilibrium between these three elements; and making sure that for each point of energy/adrenaline you spend (when factoring in the limiting factors) you gain the same amount of effect for every skill in the game.

E.g. if one skill costs 10 energy and does 100 damage with a 1 second cast time and 5 second recharge, and another skill costs 20 energy and does 150 damage with the same limiting factors you could say that the two skills are not balanced, because for each energy point you spend on the first skill you get 10 damage, but for each point spent on the second skill you only get 7.5 damage.

Part of what makes balancing MMOs so difficult is that you have to factor in all these elements in relation to each other both within the skill itself and in relation to every other skill in the game (this is particularly true with GW1, considering the secondary profession system gives you access to every skill in the game) and also take into account how the effect of the skill interacts with other skills available to the player. Anyway, I’m getting way off topic, for my views on balancing head here: CLICKY!

Back to my point; learning the relative weights of each of these elements can help you look at a skill and assess its worth. You can come to an axe attack which does 100 damage and know that it is garbage because of its 20 energy cost. Or look at a fireball spell which causes 50 damage for only 5 energy and know that it is essentially useless because of its 45 second recharge. On the flip-side, you could spot that a skill which does 35 damage and know that it is the dogs-bollocks because of its 1 second recharge time and ¼ second cast time.

Effective team builders are able to do this process of weighing up a skill’s worth in the context of the bar itself, in relation to every other bar in their team’s build and also in relation to the enemies they are likely to face when they step into the combat zone. The vast majority of you do these kind of mental gymnastics almost every time you log into the game, it probably comes naturally and you don’t even realise you’re doing it.

It becomes more impressive when you use it in the field: it’s more than just reacting to a gunshot in Call of Duty or deftly taking the ball around a keeper in FIFA. It is lightning-fast mental arithmetic on a grand scale; if an Iboga casts Conjure Phantasm on your Elementalist and you see that he is struggling to stay alive, you quickly calculate the advantages and disadvantages of using the mechanics and tools set in front of you. If you use your hex removal (15e, 1s cast, 15s recharge) it will remove the threat initially, but the Iboga will likely recast his hexes pretty quickly and you will have spent 15 energy and be back to square 1 without a hex removal, so that’s out of the question. You could throw Healing Breeze on him and hope to counteract the hex, but you know that you would just stem the tide (because you can see by how fast his bar is dropping that your regeneration will only neutralise the degeneration on your ally and not heal him). You decide on straight out healing and cast Orison of Healing on him to bring his health back up – this gives you a buffer, and will counter both the degeneration and the base damage he is likely receiving from other sources.

In the split second which you made this decision you calculated the relative weights of each of the skills on your bar in relation to the context of the situation and in relation to the relative weights of the skills on the opponents bar.

And they say playing video games rots your brain.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

[GW2] How Vistas Feed my Need for 'Screed

With the latest Beta ArenaNet have released a new feature "Vista". A vista is a spot on the map where the player can look out and appreciate all the hard work which ANet have put into making the game so goddamn freaking beautiful.

Think of Vistas as the stereotypical rap video of Guild Wars 2 - ANet are shaking their scenic blizzle in yo' face, saying "Yo Logan Thackerizzo, check my beast landscape skillz yo. Word". I was never street.

But the really nice thing about them is that they're usually in hard-to-reach spots - on top of buildings or after relatively complicated jumping puzzles. Clambering up vast buildings takes me right back to Damascus, Venice and Rome - and makes me hunger for the next AC installment. I've enjoyed scrabbling up the sloped cubes of Rata Sum and the twisted trees of The Grove. Had to shelve the YouTube series till release when I'm going to cover the final few cities and then LA.

I would go far as to say that the Vistas, along with the Jumping Puzzles, are fast becoming my favourite thing to do in the game.

Friday, 13 July 2012

[GW2] The Movement of Gems

A couple of days ago a few of us were having a chat about the Gem Store system. I hadn’t quite grasped (and I’m still not sure I do 100%) how it will all work, but thanks to a little twitteducation I learned that whenever you’re buying your gems from the Black Lion Trading Company (hereby referred to as “The House”) you’re buying gems which a player has previously sold to The House at some point. This isn’t a closed system, as players have the ability to buy gems from ArenaNet for real-world money, and gems are then destroyed when they are traded for items in the gem store (though that is up for debate).

Here is the process, as I understand it (the black arrows indicate the movement of gems):
Theoretically, there are only ever a finite number of gems in the in-game system: moving between the players and The House (this finite number would increase/decrease depending upon whether process A or D is stronger). The price of the gems, for both purchase and sale, could either be based upon the theoretical number of gems currently in the hands of the House (ie, the more gems in the coffers, the lower the price for purchase and visa versa) OR it could be based upon the number of gem/gold interactions which have occurred between players and The House within a certain period. The latter of which is more likely, as it would not require The House to keep a long-term track on the number of gems in their “coffers”.

ArenaNet, of course, have an infinite number of gems – otherwise they would run out and we wouldn’t be able to buy from them.

EDIT (18/07/12): Made this edit to take into account Greibach's suggestions, and considering this post is getting linked to in a few places (thanks Tash!) I thought it best to show the other theories.

In the comments below Greibach has suggested a slightly altered model for the Gem system. I guess we won’t have to wait too long to find out how it actually works (and the only real difference is whether the gem prices are determined by the players or by some 3rd party process) – we’ll be able to play with the gem store on Friday evening and confirm one way or the other. See below for a quick mock-up of Greibach’s model:

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Flashback: [ES5] Must've had some Bad Grain or Something

Another of my Flashback series - here's a post from way back in November last year. Skyrim was fresh and now, and there was nought for a boy to do other than intentionally cause the merciless slaughter of poultry.

If you cast frenzy on a chicken he will attack you for no damage and, as long as they didn't see you cast the spell, the locals will fly to your aid and pummel the poor bird to death with whatever they can find.

It's a funny ol' game.


Must have had some REALLY bad grain!

Monday, 9 July 2012

[FIFA12] The Great Handicap Debate

Before I start this post, I have to state a couple of things. I’m a little biased, though I like the FIFA series, I generally regard EA to be a shady corporation whose main concern is squeezing money out of their players.

Am I slow? NO!
One of the most controversial subjects in the FIFA community is that of Scripting/Momentum/Handicap (for the purposes of brevity, I’ll call it handicap in this post – though I’m aware that scripting and momentum refer to slightly different issues). Handicap is described as the feeling of sluggishness, poor ball control and general bad luck that some players with a high-rated team experience when they face a player which has a low-rated team. This only seems to happen when they face a team which is substantially lower rated than theirs, hence why it is referred to as “handicap” – almost as if the game is compensating for their opponent’s poorer players.

This is a big issue, because people work hard to buy the highest rated players on the game – and if these players aren’t performing how the card game says they should, simply because of the rating of their opponent, then that means that the people who bought the players are getting ripped off.

I fall firmly on the side of the fence which believes that handicap does exist. I certainly feel like I’ve experienced the feeling of general malaise which surrounds your players when facing an inferior team – when every wayward touch seems to fall to the opposing player, every centre back (with 70 pace) utterly outpaces your striker (with 90+ pace), and their players seem to move with lightning pace and effortlessly perfect touch.
My opinions, however, are beside the point. The main issue is the lack of substantial empirical evidence. There is no end of posts on the forums stating one way or the other, and now we’ve got one of the content designers who has kindly agreed to address all the questions posed by players on the subject – the result of which has been a resounding “no, these issues do not exist in the game”. As I stated above, my opinions on EA’s general untrustworthiness has already been addressed, so I’m not sure how much I believe Mr McHardy’s words – but I applaud the guys for at least giving it a go.

Am I fast? NO!
The Proposal

What we need to happen is for someone to take the reins, get in game and try it out. Take a highly rated gold team, stick a very low-rated bronze bench on and play a whole bunch of games – recording every one (50 or so should be enough – each game starting with full fitness and full morale, and the exact same players). Then repeat the process with a gold bench. With the bronze bench, the player will come up against teams which are lower-rated than them, with the gold bench they should face teams which are of a comparable level.

With this experiment we aren’t looking for whether the tester wins or loses – because that is based on the skill of the tester themselves (and a good player should be able to overcome a handicap anyway). We are just looking to see if the players on the tester’s team run faster or have a better touch etc when they are facing the lower or the higher rated team.

Over 50 games of each type, we should be able to pull out a good number of comparable situations – ie, instances of the RW running down the wing, the STR getting in behind the defence and trying out outrun the CBs, the CB jumping up to compete in the air with a STR – we will then be able to see whether the tester's player physically performs better against a lower or a higher rated team. We would literally be able to time how quickly Walcott covers the distance between the halfway line and the touchline in each situation - and compare the two situations.

Until we can actually show one way or the other, I don't see how we can properly prove that the concept of handicap does or doesn't exist.


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