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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Making a Raid 101

There are many MMO's out that feature an endgame activity known as Raiding. The idea is generally that Raiding and it Dungeon associates will serve as the endgame for PvE encounters. Raiding is suppose to be where your story leads to or finishes in a given expansion. Since Raiding is tied directly to the story progression of a game it inherently features the most influential and powerful characters a game will have to offer. This means for the players to accept the story of the game these characters must present believablilty in their strength to be in the situation they are in. If it only took a hard poke to kill Arthas players would stop caring about killing him. This is why raiding kills drop down significantly on older content. If it is way to trivialized it breaks the game. Generally this requires expansion level trivialization to break older content. So in general people need to believe what they are participating in should defeat the enemy they are raiding(unless its Prince Kael). To this end raiding features larger numbers of players to accomodate immersion then most experiences players take place in.

So now we come to the part of designing the raid. This is where the Holy Trinity of gaming comes in. Damage Reduction, Damage Healing and Damage Dealing. Incredible variations of these three elements is what makes up both the Boss fights and the players who participate in the raid. These three elements are presented to the players at a certain level of challenge to make the game fun. The most note worthy thing about all Raiding I have encountered is that the skill requirement of each element of the Raid is fixed for each encounter. The players however are tossed at the encounter rather randomly in that for example the same tank may not mitigate the same amount of damage as he would in the same encounter due to mistakes or even RNG. Since mistakes impact the player level contribution of the three elements of raiding there is then the input of player skill in determining raiding success. It is also note worthy that to fail in any element of the raid will cause the party to be defeated. In a previous post I broke skill down into its components. These were a goal, knowledge, execution and adjustments to knowledge. Raiding is therefore the goal to which you must have the knowledge of the encounter mechanically, be able to react to using the knowledge of the encounter and be able to make adjustments based on the dynamic qualities of a raiding party. This is usually how raiding plays out in a very simplified way.

Since trivialization of content is often a measure of skill relative to the fixed elements of an encounter we can assume that for the encounter to be immersive and therefor fun the raid must offer a skill level suited to the players in the raid. Since these skill levels are not constant in non-exclusive groups encounters that don't offer variable skill levels within themselves will cause continued failure when skill is capped. It is also easy to assume that only exclusive groups will be able to handle high skilled content. Randomized grouping prevents high skilled content from being possible.

To make a raid what you are trying to do is hit players below their skill if they were first to attempt it and then by the process of them reaching their skill cap for the encounter overcome it. Simply if they overcome it immediately they won't have fun, nor would you be able to keep up content production in all likelihood. If they can't overcome the encounter they will eventually stop having fun as failing completely sucks. By hitting that sweet spot of difficulty people become better at the encounter and complete it over a longer period of time while having a blast. The core of this is that if you expect to be bringing in a random of selection of skilled players you need a more varied option of skill components of the encounter to facilitate the players brought. That is how you make a great raid.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Why SWTOR is Losing Subscriptions

So TOR's latest report saw the game drop from 1.7M to 1.3M. A nice drop of almost a quarter of their subs. Why is the most expensive game ever at launch seemingly faltering?

There are many reasons why SWTOR is having trouble. Firstly there are a plethora of available MMO's in the themepark genre that it has to compete with. This makes it more important to be able to hold onto your current subscribers then even to simply attract new ones. If players can finish your game they will move on because there are alot of options out there.

So obviously where SWTOR is faltering is in holding subs instead of generating new ones. What keeps people subbed is simply having fun combined with a nexus of agreements between various people that make you feel obligated to play.

To be honest there are so many ways for fun to occur or be incurred that it's almost in vain to try and pinpoint where the fun needs to be or is where it currently is fun. Personal preference being so skewed that without actually doing a component study of the game's features would be functionally useless. I will however note one key thing that does reduce fun in general and I believe are present in SWTOR.  Repetition decreases fun. For me tab and click combat is featured in so many MMO's that bringing nothing fundamentally different here means that combat is very similar to other games. Personally I think if you are bored with WoW's combat and jump into TOR you will also be bored with it combat wise. Where I would look to improve combat would be through a complete overhaul of the entire system baseing it on your crew for all PvE encounters. They wouldn't be a glorified pet but intead be a team you run in groups of four. They would operate using various preset commands similar to Bioware's Dragon Age games. It certainly would make operations seem like huge battles with 20 man teams each featuring 60 companions. Also it would allow for expanded solo gameplay of various difficulty since companions can perform the role of tank and such for various healer player types. Introducing dynamic gameplay that people are unfamiliar with usually generates lots of player activity.

The second thing SWTOR needs to work on is making players obligated to each other. The leveling game in TOR does not feature the forming of agreements between players easily. For me this is something that MMO's of late have messed up. WoW is successful because of agreements between it's players that keep them playing. Many other things have made WoW a success mainly being first to do alot of things ease of use wise. If you want a look at another game that has quite possibly the most unintuitive UI out there that is successful is Eve Online. It is solely based on players wanting to control regions of space and the incredible amount of connections between it's players that makes people so obligated to a goal. Personally I think mainstream games should be looking at integrating ideas in social media such as facebook and twitter into their guild interface. Cross server friending and out of server preformed grouping should also be integrated to help mitigate the effects of LFG on agreements. I also believe TOR should adopt Rift's free server transfers to help accomodate this. How Legacy would work with this I have no idea. Perhaps even Legacy should be removed to allow the feature. Perhaps reworked to allow the effects of your alts to change eachother's story.

Finally produce more content period. Produce Pod Racing and PvP space combat. These are alternatives to BG style combat that many people are getting very use to. Make a server vs server planet that features large numbers of players. Top grade story with choices needs to be streamlined with the removal of alot of the pointless side questing while producing the character stories that are top notch. Have custom Droid battles for players. Planet events to break up the staticness of the enitre game would be nice.

To be short, people are leaving because in general it isn't fun enough, they are running out of content and they have very few player based reasons to keep playing. They need to get a game plan and dump alot of money into redesign.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Responsibility versus Skill

Earlier today Tobold wrote a post outlining why he believed Damage Dealers have less responsibility then their Tank and Healer counterparts. He goes on to outline this is because they have it easier and that shifting more of the responsibility onto the Dps would help to alleviate what he says is a ongoing Tank and Healer shortage. He then goes on to claim that a lack of feedback of damage output and damage taken causes the responsibility to be split allowing for a more enjoyable raiding experiences as he believes this removes focus from a single player being responsible for the wipes. The core of this idea is that all members of a raid team should shoulder the same responsibility and that in doing so would make for a better typical raid model.

When we talk about responsibility we are talking about being accountable. It is about who will shoulder the cause of the result. Typically in a raid most of the responsibility falls to the Raid Leader. This is simply because the raid leader dictates the strategy and who will be brought along as part of the team. If however we toss aside the idea of leadership and enter a PuG scenario we then view the players and their respective classes through the eyes of responsibility. We will assume for this post that the goals of the group are entirely the same and expect to destroy a certain boss without anyone dying. We will also assume that they play near the same skill level unless told otherwise. In the majority of situations I have encountered the Tank and Healer do shoulder more responsibility then the Dps. This is not to say Dps do not shoulder any responsibility but that when they fail in their responsibility it is not a significant as when a Healer or Tank does. The biggest reason why Dps are not as responsible for a wipe is that when Dps fail they fail at the end of the encounter. Healer and Tank wipes occur shortly after their failures. It is not uncommon for a Dps to die quickly but have the raid go on significantly longer. When the tank dies or healing stops the wipe happens within 30 seconds for most cases. The other main thing about Tanking and Healing is that inconsistency in mitigation or healing output will cause an immediate wipe where Dps inconsistencies often only prolong the fight.

It is also important to remember when designing a raid that not only do some not want to shoulder responsibility. Some are not able to. This is because one of the common responsibilities of the player is skillful play. Being skilled is complex and often players reach a state where they are unable to become more skilled at a particular task. If you plan to design a raid that all your players will enjoy you have to have players attempting to play within their maximum capabilities.

So far I have sited my belief that there is more responsibility on the Tank and Healers then the Dps. I have also said that I believe that some people are unable to shoulder the same responsibility and furthermore that some simply do not want to. What I would like to now point out is to remember that Skillful play between the different roles have more of an effect on the shouldering of responsibility. This does not mean that playing a certain class requires more skill then another and so on. It simply means that playing skillful for certain classes will have more of an effect then others.

Friday, 10 February 2012

What is Skill?

What is skill? The obvious definition of this is the degree to which you accomplish a goal compared to others or to how you perceive the intended result. There are for example a skilled way to eat a sandwich and well a non-skilled way to eat one usually resulting in a messy situation. For the purpose of this post I will attempt to break skill down into its components to allow us to understand it better.

I will be starting with the primary components of skill. These primary components are
the perception of a goal,knowledge, execution and adjustments. First when discussing someone’s skill at a task we must first perceive what they are trying to accomplish. In my first example the goal to which is being described is eating a sandwich without making a mess. To understand the skill of someone you first have to maintain that you are talking about the same/very similar goals. The second component is knowledge to how to accomplish that goal. We can surely say someone is a more skilled sandwich eater who knows to hold the sandwich breads parallel with the ground to prevent the insides of said sandwich from falling out(as opposed to holding it vertically). It is important however to remember that knowledge can be lost to your memory and that retention of knowledge is just as important as ever knowing it. The third component is the execution of said goal.  We now understand we are trying to pick up a sandwich without causing a mess and plan to pick it up parallel to the ground before moving it towards our mouth. It is at this point we enter into the details of actually getting it into our mouth. How we describe execution is with strength/speed and accuracy/balance. Execution however has physical limitations on what we are capable at the time of attempting our goal. Knowledge is how we overcome these limitations to a degree. The person who at this point jabs their hand into the sandwich when they try to pick it up is clearly an example of low execution skill(and possibly ALS). As is also the guy who squishes the sandwich as he picks it up.

At this point we are now at probably the most important point in any of the components of skill. This is adjustments. This component however is different then the others. While they refer to your actual skill of accomplishing your goal, being able to adjust is dealing with your potential to increase your skill. It is the process by which we gain our knowledge and is done retroactively or is a precursor to the attempt of accomplishing the goal. If for example two people eat a sandwich without making a mess 95% of the time we can see that if one of these people is more open to realizing that he could use a napkin then the other person it is more likely that he will become more skilled at not making a mess while eating a sandwich. 

When we extend this to MMOs we can see where other peoples shortcomings often are. Many people who raid know what to do just aren't able to do it. It also works both ways. Plenty of people are able to Raid just don't know how to do it. There are also people who never seem to learn to play better. This can either be an adjustments problem or a knowledge problem. The easiest way to tell is simply to tell them how to do it. The guy who has an adjustment skill problem will do better when you tell him what to do. The guy with a knowledge skill problem is hopelessly lost. The guy with an execution problem needs time to work their adjustments. As for the guy with a weird perception of their goal. You should avoid them at all costs.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

World of Tanks General Strategies: Tank Destroyers

World of Tanks is an game based off of detection, camouflage, penetration parameters, damage and line of sight to make for a compelling game. This particular post will be dealing with one particular type of tank, the Tank Destroyer.

View Range
The first and most important thing about playing a TD is knowing that you are a long range hidden attacker. Remaining hidden is purely about reducing the enemy's view range. This is achieved by three different things. The first thing affecting view range is obstructing obstacles between you and your enemy. Bushes and trees that have not been knocked down will reduce the range at which you can be spotted. The second thing is Tank activity. If your tank is driving hard it is easier to spot then if it is sitting still. In addition firing a shot will significantly increase how far you can be viewed by. The third thing reducing your enemy's view range is the camouflage skill of your crew. This can only be trained by a 100% crew. The other half of the equation is increasing your view range. This is achieved through buying modules that increase your view range by a certain % or by increasing the % of the commander of your tank. It is strongly reccomended that you at least buy the 75% crew training before moving up a tier as tank destroyers are handicapped with a bad crew.

Advanced Playing
One note worthy point is that rotating your tank is considered moving while rotating your turret is not. This means that TD's able to rotate their gun are generally better at staying hidden then their fixed turret counterparts. Tank destroyers are also very accurate tanks so be sure to aim for their tracks should an enemy be trying to close in on you. In addition always keep and eye on the number of enemy artillery up, their primary job is killing TDs and Heavy Tanks. Should an enemy tank detect you and begin firing you need to quickly access you ability to escape vs kill the enemy first. TDs have decent frontal armor and can usually take a high explosive shell to the front just don't let them hit you in the sides or back with a high explosive shell or you're done. In addition once the enemy has been killed it is advised to quickly change positions as artillery will soon be aiming for you.

Guns and Ammo
TDs guns come in two varieties. These two varieties cater to either high damage or high penetration. High damage guns are used for TDs that aim to take out quickly advancing scouts and for flanking enemy mediums or other TDs. High Damage guns are not meant for being fired at frontal armor or heavy tanks however can still provide usefulness against heavies when using high explosive rounds to damage their tracks allowing allies to finish them off. High penetration guns are designed for putting a round through the frontal armor of enemy medium tanks and the flanks of enemy heavy tanks. Golds rounds are always the best if you have them but for standard AP rounds and HE rounds you use them depending on the situation. Generally use AP rounds when encountering mediums and heavy tanks or TDs that will likely be facing you. HE rounds are used for dealing damage to modules such as tracks and one shotting things it can penetrate, meaning Arty, TD flanks and Light Tanks.

In general TDs require careful planning and paying close attention to where everyone else is and where then enemy is going. Relocating to a place where you can stay hidden and keep your advantage over them is the key to victory. My personal best is 9 kills in one match with a Marder 2. Have fun beating my score.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Labels and Other Such Wonderful Things

So after screwing around with blogger for a while trying to figure out a way to link tagged posts at the top of my blog, I went with the Text Gadget. It allows me to add the label associated link into an easy clickable link on my home page which is pretty handy.

This post will also serve as sort of a starting point for the subjects I wish to be easy clickable tags by labeling this post under the headings of future subjects.

These subjects will be MMO's, Books, Movies, Philosophy, Business, Horse Racing and Scheduled Maintenance. While providing me with plenty of things to blog about it will also give me some direction with what I want to say and should eventually lead to recurring posts on specific subject matter on specific days. 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Defining Hardcore and Casual

Many people who play MMO's tend to describe the way they play as either being Casual or Hardcore. The unfortunate part of people defining themselves under such terms is that it is inherently vague. Am I Casual when I log on three times a week to raid for a couple of hours and mange to clear a raid or does logging on five times a week for a couple of hours and not clearing a raid make me casual. Like I said before Casual and Hardcore is a vague description where you hope the person you are talking to believes the same underlying description of Casual and Hardcore.

For the purposes of this blog I will try to avoid labeling tasks and/or people as Hardcore or Casual. How I differentiate tasks and/or people will be through firstly skill and secondly time dedication. When I talk about skill I am usually referring to % of people who attempt something that are able to complete it.

For example the Raiders who got the first Heroic Lich King kill are both highly skilled and dedicate alot of time. Where as the guy's who got the 500th Heroic Lich King kill are highly skilled and less dedicated time wise as the first kill.

In short when on this blog try not to label tasks as being Hardcore or Casual oriented. There is a grey area in between that is better labeled through skill requirement and time. Try to stick to those.