Modifying the Rotation: A Rant

You’ve probably noticed for the past year or so I’ve been doing a weekly round up of what it is that I’m playing. If you’ve paid attention, you’ll know that the only constant is that the list of games I’m playing during any given week is always changing. If I pick up a new game (even if it’s just new to me) I’m usually trying that out or perhaps trying to complete it. If I haven’t picked up anything new, I’m working through the backlog or just settling on playing session-based games that can still eat up plenty of time. Sometimes I’ll be playing MMOs, sometimes I can’t be bothered. As such, I have definitely avoided pigeonholing this blog into one niche because my finicky nature doesn’t allow for one topic to be discussed at any given time. Some weeks there is plenty of news or new things to talk about as far as what I’ve been occupying my time with, other weeks I’m reaching for things to write about. Either way, this is a favorite hobby of mine, so even when I have to reach a little, I still enjoy writing and sharing my experiences, finding bits of information or free game leads to share, or rattling off my opinions on whatever topic comes to mind.

You’ll know by now that my steady rotation of games usually includes one or more MOBAs, Hearthstone, an MMO or two, and whatever single player games I’m working on. I’m here to tell you today about one of the games that I’ve been playing religiously all year getting put on the back burner, and another that I’ve played here and there that has come to the forefront of the rotation. The games in question are Awesomenauts and Diablo III. I avoided talking about the former in my State of the Game post yesterday, because it is the one that is getting put on the shelf, and I mentioned what I’ve been doing in D3 briefly. Let’s get into the particulars as to why these changes are occurring, shall we?

My history with Awesomenauts starts way back in 2012 when it released. It was actually free with a Plus membership on Playstation on release day, and I picked it up not even realizing it was a MOBA. I was hooked almost instantly, but I didn’t really get heavily involved in playing it until I took it to my friend’s house and hooked him as well. After he bought a copy, we played together nearly every day. I played through all of the prestige levels and worked my way up the leaderboards into the top 1000 of all players on the console. I was proud of the accomplishment and all, but found out about how the Steam version of the game was getting further support, while the console version was left behind. Many new characters were added, balance tweaks and fixes were implemented, even new maps and game modes were supported on the PC. It was this fact that pushed me to buy a copy on Steam, and though the console version got love on the newest generation of consoles, I don’t own a new gen console so it made sense to just get the game on Steam.

I was happy with that for nearly this entire year. I purchased the game + the Starstorm expansion and have enjoyed all of the new features plus the regular patches that change/add new things. I’ve even enjoyed doing the prestige levels again despite the fact that they take far longer to do on the PC, and I’ve adjusted to the leaderboard that gets wiped every couple of months. Everything was fine until recently, where I became disillusioned with the game. There is a major problem with the game’s network mechanics that causes an undue amount of stress for me. See, I’m a very competitive person, particularly when it comes to PvP oriented games, and having a leaderboard gives incentive to get better at the game. I didn’t have a problem in past seasons where I seemed to fall on the appropriate place on the leaderboard and would slowly work my way up. This season that started at the beginning of the month changed my perspective ever so slightly. At the end of the last season, I was ranked in the 3000 range out of 150k people who had played games during the duration. I felt pretty good with that, as it was the best I had done on the PC version of the game. I figured with the amount of time I have been playing lately, that this season would start and I’d just continue to work my way up. That was exactly the case for the first few days, I ended up placing within the top 1000 players (901 specifically) after having played a dozen or so games. I attributed this to the fact that there have only been 30k players who have placed on the board so far, and figured I might drop a bit when more people played, but was happy with my placement. That was the highest I would place though, as the real issues were about to rear their ugly head.

Awesomenauts uses a peer to peer matchmaking system. This means that the games aren’t hosted on servers provided by the developer, but rather the games are hosted on individual’s computers. This wouldn’t be an issue if the game didn’t have a leaderboard, but because it does there are windows for error that can affect your rating. Basically, if the person who is hosting the game leaves for some reason (voluntary leave, system crash, network error, etc) and for some reason the migration doesn’t complete, you are dropped from the game. This can affect your rating, if the system decides that you “left” the game. Also, if the person hosting the game is far away from you, ping becomes an issue. If the game kept you playing people within a certain radius of you, this wouldn’t be a problem, but I have had games where I was playing with people in different parts of the world, and the different pings affect gameplay. Warping is common, and this creates a disadvantage for players when you need to aim skill shots or dodge attacks. Both of these factors can contribute to losses (or frustration to the point of quitting the game) which causes your rating to go down. Couple that with the fact that though the matchmaking system is supposed to put you in games with people of a similar skill level, but rarely does, your rating can take hits left and right. Simply put, in one day I dropped from that 901 rank on the leaderboard to the 3000 range again, after only losing a handful of matches, all of which had the above issues. How that could ever be considered fair I won’t know. I understand that creating a perfect system is hard, but I rarely have the same issues in a game like LoL. I don’t see warping, I do see disconnects, but there isn’t a leaderboard when you aren’t playing ranked matches, so it’s not as imperative. Basically when you are depending on a network to work and for people to understand the game and know how to play it, having a leaderboard ends up being a de-motivator. Without that factor (or perhaps if I didn’t care) I wouldn’t be upset. I would just play the game and leave whenever it was a laggy mess. I wouldn’t care. But when I’m trying to be one of the better players of the game, I don’t want to play when these issues drag me down. So Awesomenauts is going to collect some dust for a while, until I can get over being pissed off about it.

That brings me to the next part of the discussion. I’ve basically already replaced Awesomenauts with another game I’ve had for a long time but haven’t devoted much time to in recent months: Diablo III. I picked up the game early this year around the time the 2.0 loot patch came in and played through the original game. I had pre-ordered Reaper of Souls and played through that once it released as well. At that point I didn’t really do much else. A few months back I played it for a while with Doone and Eri, and Eri turned me on to the hardcore mode, which adds the challenge of not being able to die, as death is permanent. A couple of months ago they added in the Seasons, and I also have a character created in that mode, but I hadn’t played since then. Talking about it recently on the podcast got me thinking about it, and I decided it was time to give it a go again, as I’m not really playing an MMO or RPG otherwise, and I always like to have one of those on hand for when I get in the mood. Apologies if this is all repetitive but I’m just going over it all in my mind as I write.

The funny part is that when I originally beat the game and even after I beat Act V of RoS, I had told myself that I was basically done with the game. Just like with the MMOs I have played recently, I just get bored of that repetitive content that many developers call the end game. I’ve had discussions about this in many formats, and I find that if I have to grind the same dungeon/raid/faction/whatever over and over again to get better gear or to further develop my character I’m not usually down for it. I have been in the past, but we grow and change over the years, and having done that sort of thing in more MMOs/RPGs than I can count, I find myself getting bored with it faster and faster. Basically I haven’t reached the end game in an MMO in years, because I usually get bored with the journey, or knowing that the end will be the same as every game before it. I usually have more patience with single player games though, but most are designed to end once you’ve completed the main story, so that’s probably why the repetition grind doesn’t kick in. D3 isn’t traditional in that sense though. Yes, the game does end when you complete the story, but it is designed to be able to play the story over and over again, and still improve your character that way. In that sense, it feels very much like an MMO, having to grind the same content over and over. RoS changed the formula though, and now that I’ve spent quite a bit of time with it, I find that it’s one of the better end game experiences that I’ve had in a long time. I actually can see where this form of end game could be transferred over to MMOs, and would help combat that repetitive nature while still providing progression. Before you say something about how D3 is a Blizzard product and how WoW might have something similar, stop. They aren’t the same. At all. Let me tell you why.

WoW, like all other themepark MMOs, has the standard MMO endgame. Reach the level cap, do dungeons or raids or PvP to get gear, wait for a new expansion and do it all over again. WoW actually lacks in having skill trees or an alternate way to advance your character outside of gear, so once you hit the level cap, you are purely grinding for better gear. Other games that follow the formula but have alternate advancement are the Everquests and Rift, and probably others that I don’t know enough about. This is why I could play EQ for so long, because even after hitting the level cap I had alternate advancement points to earn to place in trees to further customize my character, on top of the gear grind. Only having the gear grind is somewhat limiting in my opinion. Anyway, back to D3. In Diablo, they’ve created the adventure mode, where you are still going to the same locations that you saw in the original story line, but you can instantly warp to various areas without having to follow the normal linear progression, along with giving different quests that stray from the original story. These are all randomly generated and each time you go out to complete some bounties, they will be different, and in different areas of the game. Complete these, get gear. It’s not always what you need/want, but you will be rewarded randomly and it all has some sort of use. Later, doing the Nephalim Rifts, you get full on dungeons that are completely randomly generated, with random enemies, random bosses, and differing loot tables. When things get too easy you can up the difficulty on the fly, and each difficulty provides better rewards. This would compare to normal/heroic/challenge dungeons in WoW, minus the random factors. I think the key element here is randomness, and that’s something that keeps a repetitive grind from feeling repetitive. I think this could translate to MMOs in many interesting ways, they’d just have to be careful in how they do it. Do you agree/disagree? Let me know in the comments.

So anyway, I’ve been plugging away with my Wizard and Hardcore Monk. My Monk is nearing level 40, and I upped the difficulty already because it was simply too easy on normal. I won’t go into his gear or any of that because it’s not end game stuff so it’s not that interesting. However, I am at the end game with my Wizard and have earned a few more paragon levels, which give you that feeling of upping your power without depending solely on gear. I like that, and I like the fact that they aren’t limited, so you can theoretically always increase your passive powers. I’ve also been doing bounties and rifts, and have been researching gear sets and other things to do in the end game. Apparently there’s a place called Whimsyvale (kind of like the cow level from D2) that requires a recipe and other stuff to get access to, but it’s something unique to do. Gear sets are also something that can be worked towards, along with legendary gems and other things that come from Greater Rifts. I have yet to get that far along, but feel that I have some goals to work towards. I moved my difficulty up to Master and seem to be handling it well enough so I think I might actually be ready to try Torment. I also messed around with dyes and transmog stuff, so I have a gear that looks like a full set even if it isn’t. Having tons of achievements to do also gives me more motivation to do things I might not normally care about. I know many of these factors are already in current MMOs, and/or could be added in easily, but for some reason they just feel better in D3 to me. Maybe I’m just weird. I know I’m not getting involved in any MMOs until I can get my hands on H1Z1 though, so this is going to be my MMO-lite for the time being. Anyway, I’ll finish up this word wall with a couple new shots of my main characters, and call it a day. Thanks for reading!

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Wizard with winter dye and ascended transmog

 

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My mid-game hardcore Monk (no dyes or transmogs)

 

#rant #diablo3 #awesomenauts

My Problem with the Current State of MMOs

I’m sure you all will remember the post I wrote at the beginning of this month that riled up quite a few people. I was the self-proclaimed asshole who enjoys PvP, the occasional gank that could be construed as griefing, and could find the humor in things others could not. I’m not going to reopen that can of worms, as I have made my points known, and had further discussion on this blog and others where we could all come to a compromise of sorts, or at least agree to disagree.

There was a completely different post planned for today, but I couldn’t help but put that one on the back burner after having participated in some commentary on Eri’s blog; I have new things to talk about instead. First, a little history (which some of you probably already know about me, but just for clarity).

I played MMOs heavily from the early to late 2000s. Most of my time was spent in Norrath, where a different type of MMO player was born and a different culture was cultivated. The unwashed masses joined in on the MMO scene once World of Warcraft released, and a new type of culture developed — the entire industry changed due to the juggernaut that is WoW. We have to give credit where credit is due, but maybe not in the way that you think.

I can acknowledge that WoW became king due a variety of circumstances, but mostly because it brought MMOs to the mainstream. The polish and accessibility are both lauded as reasons for its success. I have played the game, despite saying I never would back in the early days of its existence, but I never played it for long. To me, it was too samey, and all MMOs that have released since 2004 have all been samey as well,  which we all know is due to the money grabbing that other companies have gone for, rather than trying to do new things. It seems that as of late, the only big-budget company that is still working towards something new that might revolutionize the industry again is SOE. On smaller levels (mostly with crowd-funded backing) some indie companies that have a bit of (developer) name recognition are trying new ideas, but any and all of those games that might come to fruition are still being worked on, so time will tell if they do something vastly different or not.

When I was playing EQ2, quite often I would come across a player who came from WoW, and said that EQ2 was the superior game, not only graphically, but in depth and play-style variety. They’d also talk about the toxicity of WoW’s playerbase, saying they were “all a bunch of kids,” and things of that nature. I washed my hands of the subject, vowing I wouldn’t play the game, as I felt my game of choice was superior. I’m sure everyone playing WoW felt the same about their game. It was a sign of the times. But people grow and change, and most of us have come to a point where we don’t raid, because we don’t have the time, or because we thought it would be great if there was something else to do (we’ve also become more migratory). Don’t get me wrong, I remember being a raider and wanting everyone to do things “right” and if they did things “wrong” we’d kick them from our groups. I’m sure you all have heard stories similar to these. That doesn’t make it the right way to go about doing things. Developers shouldn’t be pigeonholing everyone into doing that samey content all the time, where there is only one right way to do things, and only one end game. Unfortunately, the massive success that is WoW has forced the entire industry to conform to these ideals, and I’m pretty sick of it.

Being away from MMOs for a few years allowed me to remember why I love single player stories and gave me the time to cultivate a love for the MOBA genre. I still felt that itch for an MMO-sized experience though, and have made a few forays into different games this year. I started by going back to the tried and true (EQ2), tried the new hotness (Wildstar and ArcheAge betas), filtered through some titles I had missed in my absence from the genre (Rift, SWTOR, Tera) and even took a little tour of some of the new stuff in WoW (mostly to play with some fellow bloggers).  I picked up Guild Wars 2 somewhere along the line and decided to get more into that recently. Having tried so many in the past few months, I can honestly say that it’s not too difficult to get through part of the game and realize they are all the same. Nuances might be different; some try action-oriented combat, some don’t rely on the trinity, some allow you to grind out XP your way, but they all suffer from being the same type of experience when it comes down to it. Player choice is an illusion. There is optimal and sub optimal. This is the problem with the current crop of MMOs. There are no meaningful choices to make. I want a game where I can play the exact style I want to play in, and don’t have to conform to a preconceived notion that there is a “right” way to build my character, to progress through the game, to have fun. Yet there is a portion of any player base that will tell you exactly that: you’re doing it wrong.

In that post that I wrote, or perhaps it was during discussion on my podcast about PvP, or maybe even in the comments on blogs elsewhere, it was suggested that there are primarily PvE players that are just as much of assholes as the ganksters are in PvP. Equivalents, if you will. The reason why someone might not want to play a particular game, because they found it overwhelmingly populated by people who think their way of playing the game is the only way. Sadly enough, some development teams enforce these attitudes with their design choices. I believe Blizzard is one of those companies, and as such I am back in that camp I was in so long ago. I have no desire to play their game, to give them more money to develop with. As a matter of fact, I feel as if I am in that state of mind that I was when I quit the genre almost 4 years ago. There isn’t a game out right now that really compels me to play it. That puts its hooks into me like games of the past. That won’t let me let it go. I keep wanting to give the genre a chance, and I keep feeling let down, long before I ever reach the game’s cap. Even if I did manage to get to that cap, I probably would be bored of the same old bullshit they call an endgame. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, yet all I seem to read is how each person is playing whatever game, or dancing between games, and somehow finding doing the same, repetitive bullshit fun.

Yes, I know that sounds funny coming from a MOBA player, seeing as how each game of LoL could be seen as doing the same thing over and over, but the human confrontation that I have gone on and on about is what compels me to keep logging in. Each game feels different. Each victory is as sweet as the next, because I was playing against a whole new set of people, and matching my skills and wits against them. Oh what’s that? You beat heroic Garrosh whatever the fuck raid? Yeah, it will be exactly the same next time you do it too, and you still won’t get that item drop you really want. It might be different if you have different people not using the “correct” item and talent builds though, cause you might fail as those choices were suboptimal. That elitist attitude turns me off from a game more than anything. But this is just my opinion, and what do I know? Any and all points will be refuted by the fanboys of any game. Semantics I say.

Ok, I think I’ve gotten that off of my chest. Sorry for the rant folks, I had just commented on Eri’s post about what WoW character to play and was basically told that any and all of my opinions were incorrect, so I thought I would give a longer retort. In general, MMOs need to impress before I’m going to bother with them anymore, outside of very casual play (if at all). I’ll leave it at that.

#gamedesign #mmos #rant

PvP Uncensored

This post might send some people into a fit. Just a warning. I’m done with the sugar coating. I was inspired by this post and commentary therein.

The debate that never ends is still ongoing. Being pro-PvP means that I’m always in the minority. The latest smattering of posts is now taking aim at my behavior in real life and my character as a person based on enjoying PvP. I’m going to go on record here that yeah, I’m an asshole. I enjoy ganking people. I enjoy having more skill in combat. I enjoy “feeding on the tears of carebears.” That isn’t to say that I go out of my way to grief people, but if the opportunity arises to take out some of the opposing faction/team/guild/whatever, you bet your ass I’m going to take part. And I’ll probably spew all manner of foul language at the screen while I’m doing it.

That doesn’t mean I’m unhinged or imbalanced in real life. I just spent the last week taking care of my sick father, and my elderly aunt who needs constant care throughout the day. If I was as sick and twisted as the anti-PvP portray us, I’d have left them to die, right? Or stolen their stuff and taken off. Something to that effect, right? Just like an example I read where ganking a level 5 character in an MMO is the equivalent of smacking up a child and taking their lunch money. Are you for real? Get the fuck out of here with that shit.

At the end of the day, a virtual character in a virtual world is still nothing but a bunch of pixels on a screen, and though a real live person is controlling said mass of pixels, if they are so incapable of separating their emotional stability from their avatar, I don’t think its me with the problem. I think they might need to re-evaluate why they play games in the first place. I have absolutely no emotional attachment to avatars in games. I may play them for hours, but in the end it’s just a game and it’s not a big deal if they die a time or two in a play session. It’s not as if the game deletes your character on death (though a hardcore MMO like that would be awesome). Get over yourselves.

I equate PvP in video games to playing sports with the boys. We hate each other on the court/field/whatever. We talk shit, call each other names, get into each others’ heads to try and throw off each others’ game. These are societal norms. I guess being a nerd and a gamer means you don’t approve of those “jock tendencies” but I have been a part of both worlds my whole life, so I can see the similarities. Sports are PvP, but in the physical realm. The acceptance of eSports as a “real thing” must mean my analogy isn’t too far off, right? But at the end of the game, you walk away from it and you’re still friends. You aren’t emotionally scarred by the things your friends said to you on the court.

Here’s some PvP anecdotes where things have gone both ways for me:

In Hearthstone I had a Mage try and “be a jerk” by wasting a Pyroblast on my minion instead of out right killing me (I know it wasn’t a mistake as the arrow pointed to me for a few seconds, then moved to my minion, and a smug “well played” followed). I didn’t have enough on the table to finish them (they were down to 1 health) but I got a taunt minion out. They then played a couple of heal minions and ended turn. I top decked a soulfire and with minions won the game. I relished the fact that I killed someone who was trying to gloat and drag out what they thought was a win, maybe even hoping that I would surrender. (This is how you turn that gloating mentality against itself.)

In League of Legends, I have had several games lately where my team has had a commanding lead and rather than quickly end the game, I’ve enjoyed waiting for the enemy team to respawn just to kill them all over again rinse/repeat. I’ve also had it happen to me that way, and ended up turning the game around because they waited too long and the inbalance of power swung the other way, or vice versa. (An example of me being the gloating type, but it has bitten me in the ass as well.)

In MMOs, I have been griefed. That motivated me to do whatever it took to get more powerful in order to get my revenge. If that meant calling for help from my guild, so be it. If that meant shouting in the zone until some random person handed down a can of whup ass, so be it. If that meant I powered my way through the levels and got some better gear, so be it. In the end I didn’t cry about being griefed, I didn’t write lengthy blog posts about how there has to be a better way and waaaaaaaaa I want a PvE server! I just powered through it.

Is it just me or does it seem like 90% of all the people talking about PvP are the ones who don’t even play PvP in MMOs or other games? Why are you even wasting the time complaining about it when you already avoid it? It makes no sense to me.

I’ve used this example before, I’ll use it again. I dislike harvesting and tradeskilling. I have managed to do some of it; really in every MMO I’ve played I tried it out. But for the most part I don’t care for it and avoid it altogether. I’m not wasting my time talking about how tradeskills need to be eliminated. I’m not calling for bans for tradeskills, or a server that has no economy/tradeskilling, am I? No. That’s your game, you enjoy it, cool. It’s not for me so I skip it, and that’s fully my right, just as it is your right to avoid PvP. But why comment on all these other posts, equate PvP to bullying and say that Gankers are lesser people? Do you gain something from that? All I hear are a bunch of butthurt carebears crying about their feelings, and now attacking the character of people like me for enjoying a particular ruleset. That seems more like griefing and bullying than anything I’ve ever done to someone in a game.

I know this post will probably result in me being flamed, but I needed to vent. Have at it, y’all.

#PvPsideup #gankers #nosugarcoating #carebears #flamewars