Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Warchief fight

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Impressions

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a hack and slash assassination type game along the lines of Assassin's Creed and the new Batman franchise.  I haven't played through an AC game since I labeled the first one "The best boring game I ever played" and dismissed the Batman games as completely overrated.  I'm not really all that interested in the Lord of the Rings movies and haven't read the books since they were assigned reading in high school.  So, why buy it?  100% of the reason I decided to give this a try is their new (and about to get used by every other game under the sun) nemesis system.

More after the jump

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Goodbye Diablo 3 Auction House aka How to screw up player motivation

There's the announcement everyone thought would never come.  My friends who are new-ish to Diablo 3 have said things like "people must be abusing the system" or "too many bot accounts making money off the Real Money Auction House."  The truth is in the announcement and I've been saying it all along.

it ultimately undermines Diablo's core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot.

The auction house is a cancer.  It creeps into your head every time you restart your game without finding anything of consequence.  It's there every time your freshly found legendary rolls lousy stats.  It's there every time you simply can't get something done the way you want to do it.

The basic dungeon crawler goes: Kill stuff, get new things from the stuff you killed, use these new things to kill even more stuff, repeat.

When you break that chain with a non core gameplay related means of upgrading your stuff it messes with your motivation.  My first thought is "what isn't dropping to make room for these other means of acquiring loot?"  That's quickly followed up with "I bet I'm not finding anything because of the auction house."  Eventually I get to the point where I am unsure I can ever upgrade any of my stuff my killing monsters (core gameplay) so I go to the auction house.  If I can't upgrade there either then why play the game at all?  The world is full of junk and I can't afford the stuff in the auction house.  What's the use?

Then I'll kill some boss mob somewhere and he'll drop nothing (hi, Butcher... you ass) and I'll sit back and go "I bet he isn't dropping anything because they have to balance the drops vs the auction house."

Even if it's not true... it's in my head.  I am all messed up and the core gameplay is unclear.  Am I supposed to be killing stuff or following Randy Pitchford on twitter?  Should I be spamming zombie bears or should I be refreshing the auction house?  It sounds like I'm exaggerating to make it sound worse, but I'm being 100% serious when I say there were many days in Diablo 3 where I'd just log in to screw with the auction house because I didn't believe it was possible to find any upgrades. Then, after a couple sessions like that I'd stop playing for a while because it would sink in that I can't do any better for myself by playing... that's why I'm in the auction house all night... what do I think I'm going to do when I get that upgrade off the auction house?

Borderlands 2 and SHiFT codes

This is a very similar problem to Diablo 3's auction house.  This is a way that's not only there, but encouraged, to replace killing things in the loot chain.  If you're unfamiliar, you can follow people like Gearbox Software's Randy Pitchford on twitter and he'll occasionally post what are known as SHiFT codes.  These codes give you keys.  These keys unlock a chest (in the center of town near the most used portal in the game) that drops gear.

So what is core gameplay in Borderlands 2?  You load a game, kill a boss, end the game, load it back up, kill the boss again.  Why?  Because unlike Diablo 3, legendary items (that are pretty damn awesome) only drop from specific bosses and random loot midgets.  It's hard to get the items that are recommended for high level play and even harder to get them with the proper affixes that make them truly powerful.  The fact that there's a box in the middle of Sanctuary where you can spend currency you earned by being on Facebook or Twitter and upgrade your stuff is such a punch in the guts that it makes me feel like this is going to be my last Gearbox software game for a long time.

That stupid chest right by the main teleporter and New-U station stares me in the face every time I log in and mocks me with the potential stuff that DOES NOT DROP because they want twitter followers and social media interaction so they had to build a non-shoot-assholes-in-the-face method to upgrade gear into their game.  Now, I've never used a key on that box, but I can't imagine that it will be full of junk.  They want that social media hotness!


So, it's been a few months and life goes on in the Diablo 3 world.  I still haven't logged back into Borderlands 2 but that might be because I've been enjoying so many other games so much recently.  Or, it could be because I've never even hit max level and have no interest in the "farming style" of the game yet they keep selling level cap increases...  I don't know.  I do have a negative feeling in my gut about Borderlands 2... but that might be because I'm the kind of player who is bothered by the "meta game" instead of just playing the actual game.  This only comes with games I absolutely love.  I really like Defiance... but I don't play it enough to care about any of the currencies or what I can get with shabloobie bucks or whatever the hell they are.  But, in Guild Wars 2 I'm bothered by the fact that bag space is held behind a pay wall so much that it makes me dislike the game.  Planetside 2 is one of my favorite games of the last decade yet I haven't logged into the game at all in months because I started to see the "core gameplay" as something I wasn't digging.  I enjoy the tactical land grab but the best way to play as defined by the motivator (xp/certs) is to dig in at one base and play team death match all night.

In the end, game developers and publishers need to sit down and realize how they are motivating players.   If people are moving away from PLAYING the game because there are better paths to in game rewards then there's something wrong.  The only exception to this is Defiance because its content is in tune with a TV show and the two play off each other.  They want you to play the game AND watch the show... and I'm somewhat okay with this because it's handled properly.  I'll go into that another time... EVERYONE ELSE... stop with the out of game solutions to in game motivation. 

Oh, and I think Diablo 3 could have kept the auction house seeing as they also announced seasonal ladders with Reaper of Souls.  I'm seriously tapping my fingers for that expantion to launch... but anyways... I need to go kill some stuff and loot some things... so follow me on twitter @T6SROF (c wut i did thar?)

The best game of Oregon Trail you'll ever play... aka The Banner Saga

I finished my first play through of The Banner Saga late last night.  The more I think about how I want to approach this post the more I just want to talk about the story.  Not because it's good (it is) but because it's most of what you'll take away from the experience.  This isn't one of those art piece "interactive stories" that have been popping up much more often in recent years.  It's a strategy game.  It's also not just a strategy game because the story is dynamic based on the decisions you make... making it something more along the lines of a choose your own adventure story.  The setting of the game is a journey.  The destination changes from time to time, but it's basically Oregon Trail.  You start at one end with an army, some "clansmen" and supplies and head out to where you've got to be enjoying one strange adventure after another on the way.

The reason I am having trouble putting my thoughts on paper about The Banner Saga is because I feel like this game COULD have been more enjoyable if the developers had a bigger budget.  Once you get through the first half hour of the game you've seen all the animations you'll see.  The people you chat with will have a twitchy eye or tap on their shields, but they are just a looping 5 second animation on the screen as you read all the dialogue yourself.  I make this complaint only out of love.  The voice acting that IS in the game is stellar.  The combination of the 70s retro cartoon graphics and the voice actors they used really is something special.  The only problem is you don't hear them much outside of the first half hour of this 10 hour play through.  I also have to back peddle even MORE because I believe the story is so good it stands up on its own without NEEDING voice actors or animations.  In fact, I'd probably skip most of the dialogue if it was being spoken instead of displayed in text.

Basically, I loved the little cut scene in the beginning and I wanted a lot more of that.

The combat is fun and mostly straight forward but it did take me a little time to figure out exactly what's going on.  You move your fighters around on what amounts to a chess board and take turns trying to whittle down each others armor and strength.  Each fighter has its own special ability and passive ability along with their own distribution of stats.  It's boiled down to the most basic and it really does feel good to have a plan come together.

The traveling and all the little side stories throughout your journey are what really take this game to the next level.  Do you trust the guys who just so happen to be going in your direction and invite them to come along?  Or, do you kill them where they stand because you can't be too cautious?  Maybe you just keep going about your business and see what happens?  In the end, this game does moral decision making right.  This isn't the Bioshock style of "Press A to snap this little girl's neck or Press B to save her."  Sometimes it's the difference between glancing or saying nothing that changes everything.  The story is so well woven that I honestly couldn't tell you why I ended up where I did.  All I know is it makes me want to start all over again and see what else is out there.

With that being said... let's go over some quick pros and cons and wrap this up:

  • Story.  
  • Art Style
  • Easy to pick up yet difficult to master turn based combat
  • Moral decision making done right
  • No "Quick save" making every decision count
  • Animations and voice acting taper off too early
  • Holy WTF loose ends when I finished my play through without any hint to there being a way to find out.
  •  Only one profile can be played.  You can either resume or restart (sorry PC sharers)
  • No "Quick save" making every decision count


If you enjoyed Oregon Trail or you like turn based "chess like" strategy games... OR you just love a good, well written story you need to get on steam right now and pick yourself up a copy of The Banner Saga.  It's an amazing experience that you should not miss.

Monday, September 02, 2013

UPDATED: Match Making Kills Communities? Yes and no... MMORPG edition

When I talked about match making killing communities I felt very strongly that removing the match making tool would improve the way people interact.  I still do to a degree, but there's a much better way to look at the situation that I had not thought of until I read a bunch of related and absolutely unrelated arguments about this or that and realized that the tool is never the problem.  You may be realizing why I attached the photo of this handsome gentlemen to this post.  His shirt is a joke, but it's a decent way to put a bow on the argument that tools aren't intrinsically good or evil... it's the use of the tools.  Now, don't get all real world on me here, this is leading to more game talk... this isn't the blog for gun control discussion.

Anyways, The tool that matches us up with compatible teammates/opponents isn't evil.  It doesn't kill communities on its own, but it does allow for social interaction to become redundant if the game isn't designed properly.  What this means is that the match maker should help those with limited time or social contacts but should be a supplement to the game, not the game.  

How many times have you heard people talk about League of Legends or DOTA2 and say "I don't like the community.  I only play with friends."?  THAT'S THE IDEA!  You are supposed to be making friends through the solo queue and eventually have a group of people you enjoy spending time with to play games with when you're online!  People have become so reliant on match finders and queues that they have no idea what they are supposed to do when they end up in a game with people.  It's like putting two people in a room together and they both take out their phones and start checking facebook instead of talking to one another.

So, let's look at MMOs and how they've changed thanks to the Dungeon Finders.  EverQuest is a great example of a game where you were on your own to build groups.  If you were known as a good tank and a good person you'd get groups with other people who respected your abilities/personality.  Great, right?  Well, as a good tank with a decent personality and long friends list I'd still end up sitting around in the /lfg lists trying to form/be invited to a group.  This would sometimes go on for hours.  I distinctly remember trying to find groups for 3+ hours only to end up having the group break up 10 minutes after reaching our destination.  Sucks.... a lot.  

Two days ago I updated my Rift client for the first time in probably a year.  All of my skill trees were reset due to changes that were made since I last was on so I had to rebuild my healer tree.  I threw a ton of points into the Warden tree and queued up for a dungeon.  A minute or two later I was dropped in with 4 other guys and we were off.  I didn't even have time to buff myself before we were fighting the first wave of enemies.  I was getting decent xp and was moving quickly from place to place as the rest of the group was at the new level cap while I was still at the old one (60 and 50 respectively).  Nobody was taking damage so my heals were pointless.  I had all my skill bars messed up but it didn't matter because gear and xp were flying.


The idea behind dungeon finders is to allow for people with limited time or friends the ability to do group based activities and get good group xp/gear.  It came from developers who wanted nothing more than to pack the game world with fun.  They wanted to remove the frustration of sitting in town spamming "/ooc 50 warrior LFG" for hours and replace it with a rewarding experience on a small time budget.  While they were at it, they also removed the frustrating time sinks like retrieving your corpse after a death, getting buffs from other players, and all sorts of other things people were always complaining about.  Great, right?  Well...

Time for another movie character!  This time, it's The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded.  In case you don't remember, he talks about previous iterations of The Matrix where they gave everyone a perfect world and they rejected it.  The simulation failed because people didn't get the suffering and hardships they expected from the world and couldn't live in absolute happiness all the time.

See where I'm going with this?   People look back fondly on their time in games pre-match making.  They tell stories of corpse runs and long dangerous journeys that ended up a failure.  They laugh about the time they lost a level and ended up having to play naked for a day while they got back to the required level of their gear.  BUT... they won't go back to it because people are wired to do what is the most fun and avoid suffering.

This has to do with community? 

Yes.  Be patient.


So, this guy spends his whole time online breaking down exactly what the maximum amount of xp per hour is possible and it turns out that it's running dungeons back to back to back with a strong group.  He fires up his twitch stream and shows off how him and his friends can make 100x the reward that you can by doing dungeon after dungeon.  You then log in and do the same thing to a similar result.  Eventually, everyone is aware that doing dungeons is the absolute best way to get xp and want to do nothing but the best for themselves while they are online.  Great.  Now we all know exactly how not to "waste" time while we're grinding.  People start requesting more and more of this "optimal" content and the company delivers.  When you get online you press a button and are dropped into a queue.  It doesn't matter where you are in the world, you'll just be dropped right in on the action...

With a group of strangers.  If things go well you may ask if they'd like to restart the dungeon, but for the most part you'll be re-queuing because it's easier than talking to people.  Your character is still just standing in town waiting for the next group to pop.

Meanwhile, there is this whole world around  you that you learned to avoid via min/maxers figuring out what's best...

But... what if the min/maxers found that your time was better spent out in the wild farming mobs in a high level zone rather than doing dungeons?  That would make it so you'd have to form a group, travel to a spot, interact with other people, and work together for an extended period of time.  That sounds a whole lot like social interaction doesn't it?  Isn't that how you make friends?  Get to know people?  Build a reputation?  Yes!

So, are the dungeon finders the problem or is the open world the problem?  

The dungeon finder is a tool and by definition cannot be "evil" on its own.  This particular tool's use is destructive only because it's the best option in the game across multiple titles.  Tera?  WoW?  Rift?  Yeah... do dungeons if you want to make the most of your time.  Zones are no longer built for groups.  They are soloable experiences for people who don't feel like grouping with others.  With how little people get to know each other in match made groups there are more and more people who would rather just solo because "the community is bad" which puts more and more pressure on the devs to make the world easier and more solo friendly.  This pushes more group oriented people into dungeons which give a distorted view of communities.  So, over time, this cycle leads to people who could be the best of friends not even saying hello to one another because there's no reason to.  Add in that these match made groups are pulled from multiple servers and everything that is being thrown at you is another valid reason to never interact with anyone EVER.

Dungeon finders have their place, but they are out of balance right now.  They also don't typically give you the options you'd need in order to make the most of the situation.  Let's say I'm a tank and I have a healer friend and a dps friend but we would like to meet someone who plays a strong crowd control role.  We should be able to go into a dungeon finder looking for a crowd control player from OUR OWN SERVER so we can basically have "try outs" for a new friend.  I've never seen the option to only draw from your home server.  

Dungeon finders could also be adjusted to help with general LFG stuff as well.  Why can't I say what I'm doing and where and have the game find the missing piece to my group?  It would be really nice to be able to use the dungeon finder like that as well.  "Warrior, Cleric, and Monk farming RSS looking for DPS/CC" into the finder and in pops a shaman and rogue!  I'd even be okay with allowing group members to teleport to the group leader or the zone line to make it easier to meet up.

Why is the open world so important?  Because that's where you set up shop and hang out for an hour or two getting to know people instead of plowing scripted content over and over where everyone knows exactly what's going to happen.  I made way more friends chain pulling in Wall of Slaughter as a bard than I ever did healing dungeons in Tera.  The open world gives you a chance to put a spotlight on your personal skill and show what you bring to the table.  Are you the type of healer who never goes OOM?  Are you a tank who never loses aggro?  Are you so fast with your crowd control that we never have to deal with more than one mob at a time?  Can you pull fast enough to always have a mob at camp?  Are you DPSing so hard that mobs are melting without ever pulling aggro off the tank?  These are all things you never really get a feel for in dungeons... and even if you do, those guys will be replaced with new ones when you queue back up anyways.

You also get a feel for who likes what you like as well.  If I meet people who are grouping together in my favorite zone and it's their favorite zone as well then we have something in common and can learn to make the most of our time there.  If you like to plow around a zone and find a group that also likes to plow instead of pull then that's great!  It's just a way more social environment than static dungeon encounters.  

I hear more and more complaints about "communities" and lack of social interaction than anything else these days.  People want to get to know one another and form new groups of friends.  What's more common is for old groups of friends to migrate from game to game without adding anyone new into the mix.  Is that what Massively Multiplayer is all about anymore?

The bottom line is the more games get streamlined the less we need one another.  This can be fixed by adjusting the rewards available from different activities.  These are just games.  The worlds can be completely changed if the motivation is there.  It's time we start pushing for compelling open world experiences that reward us better than taking part in disposable groups.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Average +1: What we expect from our friends

When you are grouped up with random people to play a game you get a certain level of quality.  When you invite someone to a game, you expect that quality +1.  This higher set of expectations can create a really frustrating situation for everyone involved... but there's good news!  It can be avoided!

Check your mic  

This should be pretty self explanatory, but there are some steps you need to go through to not be a pain in the ass.
  • Identify an easy to use echo service (TeamSpeak has it in the settings pannel and Skype has an echo call contact on your contacts list)
  • Wear your headset or place your mic how it will be when you're gaming.  Don't set it perfectly... as if that's how it will end up... put it where it will actually end up when you're playing.
  • Talk LOUDLY into the echo service.  Now, talk really quietly as if you're trying to speak without waking people up in the same room.  Set your outbound volume to not blow out people's ears when you're excited while still letting us hear you clearly when you're calm.
  • UNDERSTAND THIS: Your nose and mouth both breath.  Air comes in and out both of those places.  Headsets have a tendency to stroll up near the ol' sniffer and make you sound like a gross mouth breather.  Stand alone mics tend to be super sensitive to air.  If you breath into your mic we're all going to be sour.  Nothing is worse than a mouth breather in voice coms.
    • IN ORDER TO AVOID SOUNDING LIKE A MOUTH BREATHER WHEN YOU HAVE ALL YOUR CHROMOSOMES... blow air like a dumbass all around while echo testing.  If you can snort out your nose and puff air out your mouth without it being picked up then it won't pick up you breathing normally.
  • If someone says your mic is FUBAR... IT IS!  Don't go "Who?  Me?" because at the moment it got so bad that someone said something, the last they want to hear back is "How could this be?"  Even if you've gone through all these steps, don't hesitate to fix it even when it ain't broke.
Know your audience

Some people want to be entertained both on mic and in game with silliness and jocularity.  Other people want to be a srs bsns all the time.  Most people are in the middle and have norms and expectations that they will make clear if you give them the opportunity.  Most people (even Jay) don't want to be a tremendous douche to you, so if you're not living up to the cultural norms of the group you're playing with, they will drop hints... TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY.  "Hey, is your mic on?" Probably means "Feel free to talk more."  "We get it" probably means "Talk less."  And there are plenty of places for hints and suggestions throughout your time online.  We all enjoy a good personality when it's warranted, but sometimes we all need to either tone it down or bring it up to match our audience.

If you're new to the group, spell out what you bring to the table

If we're playing team games of StarCraft 2 together, let me know what you're planning to do so we can work together.  If you can only 6 pool as Zerg, lay that out before I go Nexus First.  If you can't play a certain way or have philosophical or skill based limitations, SAY SO.  AKA, let me in on what is in your head because my skills at reading minds aren't up to par. 

If we're playing League of Legends and we're trying to figure out who is going to play what role and there's only one role you can play, get that out front so we know how to pick around you.  It's not a big deal if we know, but if you can only go jungle and someone else has already picked a jungler, don't just quietly go mid with a free week champ that you've never played before... SAY SOMETHING.  

Don't expect everyone else to read your mind

The difference between random teammates and pre-made teammates is that we are allegedly working together which should give us an edge.  If you take away that advantage by treating the group like strangers then why not just kick you out of the group and find someone who gives us that "strategy edge?"  Working together on the fly with various different people is an art and it's not easy.  It makes it no easier if you keep the plan to yourself.

Do what you do best  

If your best race in StarCraft is Zerg... play Zerg first!  If your best champ is Ezreal... play him first!  Don't expect people to know you're typically better "but".  Nobody wants "buts" when they are inviting you to a game.  You need to establish that you are average +1 before you start trying out riskier strategies.  If you are not going to be better than the average then why would you be invited?  This doesn't only mean skill.  This means effort, communication, personality, etc.  If you're not that great, the least you can do is try your best to work with your team.  Sometimes that's more important than anything else.  Just be that average +1 somehow and you'll be a welcomed member of the group.

Take advice.  Give advice.  Ask for advice.

Part of working together is lifting each other up.  If someone is hinting at something you could be doing to help the team, take that advice and be open minded.  Online gaming is not the most open minded place when it comes to things like "I have a better idea how to do what you're trying to do."  It's hard to give advice un-prompted.  If you're having a particularly hard game, ask if anyone has any ideas.  If they give you BS like "play better" then maybe you're not in the right group of people... but challenge that.  "I'm being serious, I'm having real trouble laning vs Teemo, is there something I can do to win this lane?"  Most jerks have only one jerk bullet in their jerk chamber and use it as a defense mechanism just in case your question was meant to bait them into a trap.  If you can shake off the jerk bullet and get real advice then you're in a better place in the game or at least within the group.

If you see something that could be improved, let them know, but understand that they may not take it well if you don't phrase it properly... or if they don't know you well enough.  This can be tricky and every situation is different, but when you find a group you like and have proven you're average +1 you can build good relationships by navigating the "I know you're frustrated but try THIS..." scenarios.  

When someone offers advice... even if it's a between the lines type hint, follow it if you can.  Effort is appreciated and being an open minded teammate is awesome.  If someone hints that the bottom lane could use more ganks, try to gank bottom lane.  Acknowledge that you have received the information and tell them what you're going to do to fix it.  


If your mic works properly, you are communicating with your group, your team work is outstanding and you do what you do best then you'll be a welcomed member of the team.  I'm not just talking about playing with me and my friends... this is for everyone you meet online.  I dare you to find someone who doesn't care that you're always huffing and puffing into your mic.  Everyone hates that even if it's just a little bit.

When you DON'T live up to the Average +1 standard it's more frustrating than having a lousy random person on the team because the expectations are higher.  On top of that, you're sticking around.  Now, we all have to learn how to work around whatever it is you're doing poorly.  Is it that your mic is garbage and we've been trying to tell you all night to do something about it?  Is it that you keep trying outlandish stuff and we're losing close games together (making it hard to not blame you)?  Are you not keeping up with the culture of the group?  Are you giving non stop play by play when everyone wants voice coms clear for important information?  Are you being silent when people are asking what's up?  

The average +1 standard isn't much to live up to.  There are so many ways you can be more fun to have around than a random, but it's up to you to make sure you have the right mind set and equipment to get the job done.  So, fix that mic, get your game face on, and let's go kick some ass.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Climbing The Ladder in League of Legends [SPOILERS: Don't]

League of Legends makes me think more than most games I play.  Not that StarCraft, Dark Souls, Mount and Blade, or Guild Wars 2 are simple games.  It's the social aspect of League of Legends that makes me really sit back and think deeply on what is going on.  Today it hit me when I was reading my 10,000th "I'm trying to climb the ladder" post that I need to talk about why these ladders exist and why you think they exist.

Match making is there to give everyone fun and challenging games.  They don't want to put the best player in the world vs the worst player in the world.  That's not the most satisfying match up for either of them.  The good player isn't tested and the weak player has no chance.

We always want to know where we stand.  That's something that's almost 100% universal.  This means if there's a scoring system that ranks people so they are matched with similar players those people are going to want to see the score.  When two people who compete in the same game each have ratings they are going to want to compare ratings to see who's better.  

Just look at StarCraft 2.  When people see that I play StarCraft 2 what's the first question they ask me?  "What league are you in?"  They want to know who they are talking to before they say another word so they don't look silly by saying something stupid to a Grand Master or ask advice of a Bronze League player.  It's just human nature.

So, we want to play against people who will challenge us while also not being unbeatable.  We also want to know where we (and everyone else) stand.  To this end, games like StarCraft and League of Legends group brackets of skill ratings together and call them "leagues."  These leagues are a way for you to quickly and easily tell where people stand, are percentage based in case of ratings inflation, and are simple to remember. Great right? That means you get what you wanted.


The first problem that's especially important to keep in mind with League of Legends is that every variable introduced in the match makes your own personal rating less meaningful.  To start with, it's not 1v1.  The other 9 players are all variables... so are the 100+ champions, the endless variety of item builds, and even connectivity plays a part.  If a chess player can get a rating within 5% of what his actual skill level is... you'd be lucky if it's within 25% on League of Legends.  

This should NOT be discouraging, it's just part of the way this works and until there's a better way to rank people, this is the best you're going to get... and it's pretty damn good if you ask me.  I've played about 1,300 normal games of 5v5 on summoner's rift.  I'm something like 10 games below .500.  How much closer to a 50% chance of victory could I ever expect in a game with so many variables?

So, let's say I go into ranked games from now on.  I get put into Bronze V (the lowest league) and I'm .500 win/loss there.  Am in in "elo hell?"  Should I be disappointed?  Should I blame other people for my bad place in the ladder?  No.  

Here's why.

Match making is there to give everyone fun and challenging games.

Ranking up into the Challenger Tier isn't the same as saving the princess in Mario Bros.  It isn't a required milestone to say you've had the full experience.  There's no beating the game.  To that end, there is no reason you should feel defeated if you are not in one of the top leagues.  By definition, half of the players are below average.  That doesn't mean they we can't have great, exciting, fun games.  In fact, I'd say you have more "freedom" to have fun in lower leagues where some experimentation and risk taking would either A. go unnoticed or B. be encouraged.  

I see ranking up as a punishment.  It's the match making system saying "Hey, you are winning too much and we need you to lose more to get back to 50/50 win loss."  If it was up to me, I'd put way less weight on wins and way more weight on losses.  I'd rather slowly move upwards slowly and win more games against people I'm better than instead of instantly being matched with better players if I win 2 or 3 in a row.  If I win 5 of 6 GREAT!  It just doesn't happen often.  If me and 3 friends queue up together we will win the first game or two of the night and then go on a losing streak only to rebound and win a few later on.  Why?  Because we get matched with better players for a while and then get knocked back down.  My skill doesn't rapidly change... why should my match making rank?  I enjoy being competitive in every match, but I'd be okay with being the above average sized fish for a while longer.

I just wish more people would realize that their rank isn't a punishment and that ranking up isn't the goal.  Haven't you ever heard an interview with a coach where they go, "Coach, your team looks like you can win it all" and he replies "we are just going to focus on the next game.  We need to win one game at a time."?  If your goal is to play well in this game and win than that's all you have to do.  You can't win 100 games in a row in this game.  You can only win one.  In fact, you can't even do that.  All you can do is play your role well and win your battles.  The better you get at doing that (both winning your battles and recognizing that you can't make other players win theirs) the more games you will win and the better your rank will be.  If you can forgive a bad play from someone else or recognize a really good play from the enemy you'll be level headed and have a much better shot at victory.

Screw it... I'm in elo hell and can't win cause this troll triss is 0-3...

See, isn't it so much easier to just be a blame game playing, no responsibility having, no self evaluating, piece of garbage?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

6 Reasons People are Dicks on League of Legends

"Make sure you give me credit.  I want credit.  Say 'This post wouldn't have been possible without my wife.  Literally.'" -Megan (my wife)

I had to put that there because I've been trying to write this post for almost a month and haven't figured out how to structure it.  I talked it through with my editor wife and she was like "list all the reasons with explanations."  It's not my normal format, but this makes way more sense.  Thank you, Megan!  I love you!

  • Anonymity and an Audience
Any time you add those two A's together you end up with people losing their minds.  This isn't specific to League of Legends, but it has to be mentioned.  It's even worse when you add goals and responsibility for results into the mix.  Nobody plays to lose.  Nobody is planning on dying.  Being mean to strangers because they aren't winning is a really good way to come across as a dick.  You had a bad player.  Now you have a bad player who's embarrassed at BEST and actively throwing the game at worst.  Sure, you're not going to get a delicious knuckle sandwich for calling that dude names, but his inability to strangle you via CAT5 cable is not a good reason to treat him like an animal.

  • Poor Self Evaluation (I would be in X league if Y league wasn't full of trolls)
There are well over 100 champs, 10 players per game, and 10 roles that need to be filled by this random group of 10.  I am bad at math, but if you think about how many different combinations of teams there can be it should start to become clear how different each game can be.  Because of that blur of variables it's difficult to have an objective way to evaluate your own play.  Because it's so difficult, people tend to focus on the easy thing... kills to deaths.  Okay, you've killed the other mid lane champ 3 times in the first 3 minutes... great... now how are you using that advantage to secure the game?  Did you gank the top or bottom lane to help them secure the tower?  Did you focus the right target in a team fight to reduce their threat or did you blow up their 0-10-0 support because it would pad your numbers?  As the 0-10 support champion I can tell you nothing is more dangerous than a player with a decent score.  I win more games by running away from team fights while they scramble to get that fat kill score than I do supporting.  This one "objective" stat doesn't tell the story, yet you'll hear endless tales of the 30-1-0 champ losing a game because of everyone else.  Ever think that with those numbers you should have been able to turn the tide of all three lanes?  No?  Well it's time to get back to that mirror and start looking into it.  If you can't, and you're going to blame your teams, then you're just a dick.

  • Free to Play = No Barriers to Entry
Low barriers to entry mean that people have far less to lose.  There's nothing stopping someone from signing up with a different email unless they are the one person in the developed world who doesn't know of a free email host.  Someone who's angry, has nothing to lose, and doesn't fear any repercussions is going to take the anonymity and audience factor and run with it.  These are the 0-1-0 leavers at low level who just can't be bothered to deal with it.  Oh, so you're telling me I shouldn't have died so early?  Bye!

Because the game is free, it's also available world wide.  People with 1k pings living in sod huts speaking languages that involve clicks and pops are probably not going to have a firm grasp on what is and is not rude in their 2nd language.  I know from a million years of Spanish classes that I can barely ask where the bathroom is... I can't imagine having to explain in Spanish that someone made a mistake that could have been avoided without coming across as rude.  Add in that curse words are the first words you learn in a new language and you end up with a powder keg of angry people with very few non violent means of verbal resolution.  

  • Pro streams set unrealistic expectations (aka Poor Teammate Evaluation)
With the easy access to professional players' games via TwitchTV it's very easy to start to expect the players in your games to play the same way.  Just because Pro01 can jungle Shen doesn't mean that SomeDude01 can do the same.  These streamers are so good that they make the game look easy.  The stream also doesn't have a way to let you know what they are looking at, where they are focused, what they are thinking, how they are judging the game, etc also known as all the finer points.  All it does it show you mechanics done right.  If you are too blind to see the difference between your play and pro play then you're also too blind to see that the guys in your games aren't going to play like pros.  If you expect WCG level play out of a guy who plays 3 games a week it's YOU who looks silly.

Also, most pros play a role exclusively.  If you are a top lane player you play top lane.  You know how every champ you could pick would behave against most other champs that could be picked for top lane.  You practice everything all the time that could possibly affect your game.  The people who surround these pros who are streaming typically are one to two role people who have a laser-like focus on what they are doing.  These guys all know each other too, so they are picking to their personal strengths and weaknesses.  It's not just a random group of 5 guys who have never played together ever playing together for the first time.  Their games are as different to our games as they could possibly be.  Expecting your support Blitzcrank to land grabs like DoubleLift is insanity.  Being a dick to your Blitzcrank because he doesn't land them like DoubleLift is just you being a dick.  You wouldn't expect the receiver for your flag football team to run patterns like Randy Moss... why should your Blitz play like a pro?  And again, you had a "bad" Blitz.  Now you have a "bad" Blitz that's angry.  You've gained nothing.

  • League of Legends is just a dumbed down DotA
If you truly believe this you aren't paying attention.  DotA is its own game with its own strengths and weaknesses.  If this statement was true then someone who has played DotA long enough to get most of the mechanics down would steamroll their way through the ladder on League of Legends.  It just doesn't work that way.  It's like saying that being good at Counter Strike makes you great at Call of Duty.  It's just not the case.  Apples vs Oranges.  The problem with this mentality is that it hurts your ability to take what's going on seriously because you don't believe that it's possible for people to screw up something this easy.  Not respecting the difficulty of League of Legends means you also fall into the "Poor Self Evaluation" category.

  • League of Legends grew faster than Riot Games could handle giving rise to the "go ahead and report me, they won't do anything" generation of players
This has been "remedied" with the Tribunal giving players the ability to help sort through all the reports, but the damage was done.  People who have been playing since Pre-Tribunal have seen what it means to have no accountability for your actions.  It set the bar low for behavior and kept it there.  Once a culture has been established it's near impossible to change.  The fact that people are used to berating each other and being berated has created this hair thin barrier between calmly playing and vein pulsing rage that can be triggered by anything.  "Hey, I think you should help out bottom lane instead." is just as able to freak someone out as "you suck and I hope you die" because everyone is on the defensive ALL the time.  

If you put it all together, not knowing if you're doing well or not, having no idea what to expect of your teammates, knowing that a single mistake will lead to you being bad mouthed by at least one other player who knows there's nothing you can do but take it, and you get this tense, bullshit situation where nobody feels comfortable to ask questions, get help, give advice, or talk strategy with one another.

I had this conversation with a player who was from Asia... and I know this because most of his text was little white blocks unless he switched to English letters:

Him:  OMG quinn ur cs
Me: It's my first time playing Quinn.  Sorry.  I'm trying.
Him: ur lvl30 though...
Me: Okay, I'm a bad player and first time Quinn... is that enough for you to give advice or leave me alone?
Him: ur bad.
Me: Yes. I just said that.  What do you want me to do?

and here it comes... the actual advice after wading through that sea of bile and wasting all that time typing.

Him: Just stay bottom and keep last hitting.  Don't worry about team fights until you have your IE.
Me: You got it.

How hard would it have been for it to go like this:

Him: Quinn, you really need more CS.  Don't team fight until you have your IE.  You're way behind.
Me: You're right.  I'll stay bottom and just keep farming until I have my IE built.

End scene.

Both have the same result, but only because I'm aware of how the community behaves and I don't let that kind of stuff get to me [okay, that's not true, I was mad... but I wanted to win so I wanted advice].  If I wasn't trying really hard to play the nice guy I would have just told him to take it deep and we would have spent the rest of the round fighting back and forth until one of us or both of us threw the round.  

Can you see why it's important to be nice to each other?  Knowledge is viral.  Teach one guy something new and he'll teach it to 4 others who teach it to 4 others and eventually someone in that chain will do the right thing for you in the future without you even knowing it.  Behavior is viral as well.  Treat your team like human beings and they may not do the same, but at least you will prove that there is at least one decent human being playing League of Legends.  All it takes is a little hope to move the average.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Guild Wars at Max Level

I have been at max level on my warrior for a couple weeks and have been trying to settle in and get involved in more things before I formed an opinion.  I'm still "settling in" and haven't really found all that much to be super excited about.  I saved all my karma from level 1 and bought myself 3 pieces of exotic gear from an event.  That's just about the best I'll ever see in those 3 slots.  I have my eye on a helmet that costs 20 gold... so I'm saving towards that.  I found a great sword with max stats already, but I don't have "best in slot" weapons of other types.  I'll be hunting for this piece or that piece for a while, but I can see a road that leads to the best stuff in the game and it's not very far from where I am.

So... what do you work towards?

The answer that I've been getting from people is to get different gear sets with different stats to use at different times.  Basically, build a pvp set, a tanky set, a burst dps set, a condition damage set, etc.  That's one road.  Another is to work on legendary weapons which take a lot of gold and time.  They don't have better stats than the stuff I have already (but ArenaNet is working on changing that) so there's no reason to rush to get a legendary unless you just want it for looks. 

Then there's WvWvW.  This is a game mode similar to Planetside 2 where you are fighting for control of structures and areas around the map.  In theory, this is a great place to enjoy all the hard work you've put in on your character, but I haven't found it to be as much fun as I had hoped.  So far, I've only been on a few times where I could put in more than a half hour before going back to clearing maps.  It's very dependent on having "commanders" on the map who can herd people together and make use of the the population.  Commanders are marked with an icon on the map for everyone in a large radius.  This allows for people like me who come straggling into the fight to have an idea of where the fight actualy is. 

So, now we're at the fight, but what can I do as a melee class without any decent escapes or deception skills?  Well... I can sit back and shoot my bow at people... or run in and get obliterated.  Those are my only options thus far in WvWvW.  When you start seeing fights with over a hundred people on each side there is simply no quarter for someone at the point of contact.  There are endless red circles everywhere that all mean damage, but will also confuse, disable, and DoT you to pieces.  I can pick off a straggler here and there, but the fighting is for the ranged classes.  I'm still not good enough at PvP to know how to take down another class 1v1 and in WvWvW... also, you use your regular PvE gear, so it's almost impossible to know if you'll be evenly matched 1v1.  On top of THAT, there's the fact that fighting vs a great sword wielding warrior could be the easiest possible fight.  I haven't quite figured out hammers and don't like giving away the few hits I get from bows, so it's bow/great sword for me... right to the grave unless my side has a numbers advantage. 

So, I feel helpless in WvWvW.  Firstly, because I don't know what I'm doing well enough to direct groups of people to things we could actually accomplish (like I would in Planetside 2).  Secondly, because my class is ill equiped for this type of combat.  That means I'm at the mercy of the commanders who are on at the time 100%.  If people aren't motivated and working towards goals then I'm back out in PvE.

Next, there's sPvP.  This mode is hilarous because it puts you at max level with PvP specific gear, so even if you are level 1 you are on exactly even footing with everyone else.  If this was what you wanted to do in Guild Wars 2 then there's no reason to ever level at all.  I find it fun, but it feels somewhat... odd?  Why level at all if this is "end game?"  I find that I enjoy sPvP more as a ranger than a warrior, so I've been taking my mid 20s ranger in place of my max level warrior. 

sPvP is actually a lot of fun, but it's hard to consider it the "end game" of Guild Wars 2.  It's more of a "side game" seeing as you progress independently from your PvE play.  Still worth doing... but if it doesn't matter if you've ever played your champion... how could it be "end game"?

World dragons are fun, but they aren't raid bosses.  They are fun experiences with decent loot, but they are no substitute for a true raid.  I don't know that I'd ever be able to raid like I used to on EverQuest again, but the lack of a similar experience here leaves level 80 life feeling a bit more empty.  Then again, I don't really know how raiding works without tank/healer/dps.  I would imagine it could be quite fun if ArenaNet figured it out, but I'm not sure raiding is what they want us to do.

The Six Sided Ring of Fire (the guild) has not qualified for any guild events/challenges yet, but we're working towards it (slowly... our low numbers mean we earn influence slowly).  These should be fun for us to do together very soon, but I have no experience with them yet, so I can't really speak to their quality.  I know I'm really looking forard to leveling up the guild (as it's the first guild I've ever created), but I don't know how far we'll be able to go until our numbers go up.

So... what do are you to do at level 80?

There is a message here.  It's just hard to see because everything you've done up to playing Guild Wars has left a haze of personal experience covering your eyes.  You are supposed to enjoy the game play for what it is.  That's it.  ArenaNet has given you a game that's fun to play early with very little "grind" to to keep you occupied.  There are fun events to take part in all over the world... in just about every corner of every map there's something challenging to do.   Even the level adjustment based on zone should have lit this bulb over my head.  ArenaNet wants you to see everything, do everything, miss a lot, go back to see it again, see new things when you pass from zone to zone, play with your friends, and enjoy your time in game.  It's not about the gear, the grind, or any of the other time sinks that other games have put in.  You are here to enjoy how you interact with the world regardless of gear, level, etc.

It's so simple it's crazy... just play to have fun.  No subscription fee, no real benefit to grinding out hours and hours on one character... just a well designed game that's fun and easy to play with your friends.

Podcast S01E05: Recent Events (IdrA is out of EG, Penny Arcade has a kickstarter, Diablo 3 gold exploit)