Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Three steps to becoming a successful raid leader

We just accidentally a WoW guild...

While me and Yaruno's EVE adventures were on a bit of a pause because the corp that was supposed to recruit us was in the middle of war, we and a couple of friends started drifting towards more serious WoW ideas. In the end Ten Man Progress was brought back to life. I've written a bit about my WoW history earlier. This time Yaruno was the primus motor so he took the mantle of papa bear, the Guild Master.

Okay, done with the news flash, and on to business!

Now's the time to get your raiding hat back on for Mists of Pandaria. People will ding 90 during the week, and next week raids will open. Are you prepared to lead your flock of elves, green/blueskins and pandas to face the challenges ahead? Maybe you're at the steering wheel of a brand new guild and need a few pointers? Read on!

Why are we killing all these pandas?

Being a successful raid leader is mostly about figuring out answers to a multitude of questions of "why?". And of course these questions have to start way before you step your furry paws through that instance portal. The first and foremost is of course, why are we going there? Why are we doing this?

You better hope most of the group has very similar answers to this question. To make it more complicated, many probably aren't able to answer thruthfully if you just ask them directly. By not thruthfully, I don't mean they'd simply lie, they just haven't ever needed to think about it seriously. In the long run every person's motives will bubble up though, and those who feel the least at home will hopefully realize to move to different hunting grounds. Otherwise they might start generating drama, and that's not good for raid success.

Why do we need to kill the Kobold on Timmy's head again?

Ok, let's say you've now gotten yourself a team of raiding clones who like doing exactly what you like too. What next? Tell them to dps this, then move in pairs to the green triangles on ground, then heal the offtank and then finally click to loot? Sounds good!

What about when your microphone dies during the fight? Or when a person makes a mistake, one that might not even be noticed? Here's the next why: Not only should you understand why the tactics tell to do stuff, you should make sure every member in the raid understand those same things. Then, if any piece of the puzzle falls, everyone can start repairing the engine themselves, without needing to get new orders from the raid leader.

Why are they raiding with five paladins?

Simple 'dance away from shit on the ground' fights mostly just require good execution of the fight specific gimmicks. More chaotic encounters require some extra work though. The first published tactics might have worked for those groups, but your raid might fail and fail again following the same ideas.

This is where knowing your raid force inside out comes into play. For example, if your dps team is very good, you might be able to try to shorten some parts of the fight by going full burn. This is especially true in ten man raids where groups often face the question of whether to go with 2 or 3 healers. Hence the last why comes from knowing why certain tactics work for certain types of groups, and seeing if your group fits that description. Otherwise you need to find another kind of solution.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

7 Wonders beats Citadels

I'm gonna start toboldifying up the blog by writing about boardgames, and one boardgame in particular this time. A friend of mine had talked about this game 7 Wonders for a while. How it seemed like a great game, and how he'll probably buy it sometime. Well, I found myself in a game shop with another friend, itching to buy something, and I decided I'd get it first! Turns out, he hadn't been talking about the game in vain, it is actually a great game. If you like board games, 7 Wonders a great buy.

So, what's so special about the game that it deserves all this praise? According to a Sid Meier quote, "A game is a series of meaningful decisions." It is completely baffling how many board games get at least some of these qualities completely wrong. Whether it be the meaningful, decisions or even the series part. 7 Wonders happens to excel at each of these facets.

The game is very simple to learn if you've ever drafted MtG or some other TCG. You start with a hand of cards, pick one, and hand the rest to the player next to you. The same way, you receive your hand of cards for the next turn from the opposite direction. Pick a card again, and keep going until everyone runs out of cards. Then replenish the supply of cards and repeat.

In a game of 7 Wonders, when you pick a card, you have a choice of either playing it to the field, set it aside in order to upgrade your nation's wonder, or discard it to gain three coins. To be able to build the card on your tableau or for your wonder, you need to pay its resource cost by already having certain resources on the field. The first available resources don't cost anything so that's how everyone usually begins.

The game consists of three ages with six rounds, with simple combat phase between ages. Each round you play a card and ship the rest right or left on alternate ages. If you didn't quite have enough resources to build certain card, you can buy some from your neighbours, so the turns where you don't have a proper play are quite rare, and can easily be avoided with experience.

The turn structure is really the key to fulfilling each of the quote's three criteria — series, meaningful and decision. Since decisions about which card to play are made at the same time, you seldom need to wait bored for five minutes for someone to make up his mind. This makes for a very good flow or pace of the game, and a friend of mine who often loses attention while others think long on their turns liked the quick turn-around of cards.

There is a maximum number of 18 cards that anyone can play during the game. The cards' purposes are varying enough, and there aren't too many of them, so each card counts. The difference between having for example three and four science cards has a visible effect on your final Victory Point value, since for scoring the number of each science symbol you have collected is raised to the second power.

Now we get to the part where I compare 7 Wonders to another game with a strong drafting inspiration, Citadels.This game replaces the role selection turn order familiar from games such as Agricola and Puerto Rico with drafting the roles, so you don't actually know who took what, and some random roles will be excluded from a round completely. Now, this is the part that on the surface sounds excellent for a player who'd enjoy some drafting action. Citadels is a pure card game, and the rest of the components are a deck of cards that represent different types of city blocks you can build.

Most of the roles you can draft have an affinity for certain colour of city blocks, usually gaining more coins based on controlling their favoured type. The city blocks have a cost, and in the end they produce victory points equal to their cost. The game ends when a limit of 8 city blocks have been built by one player.

The minor let down of the game is that the city blocks themselves don't actually do anything but gain VPs, except purple ones, which have some minor special abilities that for example let you discard a card for an extra coin or the other way around. Basically the game consists of the role cards you draft, and a huge pile of characterless VP markers, whee!

The larger let down are the role cards. Most of them only interact with anything by giving you money for certain colour of cards on your tableau. This is all nice and dandy, since buying more of those cards is the purpose of the game afterall! Then there are Assassin, Thief and Magician. Their turns are played first each round, in respective order. At the beginning of Assassin's turn, he names another role who skips his turn for this round completely. Very thematic, I agree. The Thief names a role, and steals all money from his target when his turn comes. Magician on the other hand names a player, and immediately switches hands with him.

You don't need to be a genius to see how each of these effects can more or less equal "you don't get to do anything this round". There are often three of them flying each round, so the game in my eyes devolves to RPS/Yomi game of trying to figure out what the others took so you actually get to play your turn. With skilled players, this calculation takes some time. I haven't played the game many times, but I'd wager a guess that the player who dodges the crowd-control effects the best is usually the winner. Of course, doing that routinely requires skill, but if I was after testing such skill I'd rather be playing poker with real money on the line.

The final kick in the nuts is that when you heroically read your opponents right and get to actually play your turn, you simply place a card from your hand to the table, gaining some VPs. Selecting which card to play from your hand is almost always a no-brainer, and even if there is a choice, it's dwarfed in comparison to the brutal kill or get killed atmosphere of the role draft.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

EVE career begins

Disappointment in Diablo III left a gaping hole in my gaming activities. Now I've picked up something to fill the void, EVE online. You probably won't gain much from this post unless you're somewhat familiar with the game to begin with. If you don't know the game, google it, watch some youtube reviews or such and continue reading after!

I got a buddy program extended trial from a random guy on a forum, found that I like the game and started converting my friends. Yaruno had played the game a bit last year, so he wasn't very hard to convince to resub. A1win and my cousin Kirn fell in surprisingly easily too.

The guy who buddied me and Yaruno in has been very helpful, providing us with full PLEXes when we actiavated our accounts, and threw in Drakes + some spending cash and lots fo good advice on top of that. He calls us A long term investment.

So far we've mostly been grinding through missions towards level 4 to be able to gain some easy money on demand, except A1win who has started a small Planetary Interaction operation. That means harvesting and refining resources on the surface of a planet - a whole minigame of it's own. In the spirit of Xzibit jokes he called it a Transport Tycoon inside Transport Tycoon.

The mission running has already started to repeat itself, luckily that should drive us towards the many other possibilities the sandbox game world offers. We'll see what kind of further EVE careers seem interesting, but that still needs some exploration and experiencing to decide.

Friday, July 6, 2012

MF gear swapping problem

Which is your favourite pokemon?

There was this poll for gauging people's solutions to the "MF gear swapping problem" at Diablofans. Apparently it's some of the options Blizzard considers for this matter. Now let me make sure that I really do think it's a problem, having to carry around another gear set and clickclickclickclickclickclickclick it on every time I'm about to kill something meaningful is a really dumb way to ensure efficiency. But many of the options in this poll offer equally dumb solutions.

Let's start with number one. This is only a solution for people who's normal gear set would put them at or close enough to the arbitrary cap that switching wouldn't be worth it. Next please!

Option two would actually be so much worse than current situation. Now you'd only swap when you're about to kill something. With this system in place you'd be tempted to switch to MF set whenever you're running about or idling in town. You'd gimp yourself a little while fighting trash in order to raise that MF average a little bit. Who on earth came up with this idea?

Option three suggests using average or lowest MF from the last three minutes. The average one runs into the same problems as second option above, but lowest MF from three minutes would be an OK way to do it.

Fourth option suggests nulling your MF completely for three minutes after swapping gear. Way to bring the big guns to a knife fight? Not that you'd be equipping new gear every time you start a game but this solution would be completely overblown.

Dropping all or some of your NV buff would be an interesting way to nerf gear swapping, but it's inelegant as hell. For skills it almost feels sensible, but for gear, just out of place. If you happen to be one of the few people who actually find an upgrade while roaming the game, you shouldn't be punished for equipping it for use right then and there!

The last two, user options, aren't really solutions to the problem, just learning to live with it, or making the life with it a little bit smoother.

I'd prefer if they erred on the harsher side of the options here. You almost never find actual upgrades while playing. In addition NV forces you to stay in the same game for prolonged periods of time, so the times you will start a new game with an upgrade in stash are quite rare. So whatever downside becomes associated with that, it won't affect people that often.

Dropping NV stack by one would probably be enough do the trick. Losing one guaranteed rare per elite kill is way worse than the gain of some MF. This solution wouldn't impose a future penalty for playing around in town until you actually go out and start killing. And it wouldn't encourage some creative gear juggling between elite kills. Let's see what they settle on.

Whatever they happen to do about it, what concerns me most is a blue stating that they'd find a way to compensate for the MF players lose for nerfing gear swapping. So they can randomly swing drops rates with the ilevel consolidation change, but fixing what they consider a broken mechanic must be compensated for? I'd wager a guess that less than 1% of players change to MF gear for elite kills. Who cares if few of them get angry for losing a bit of MF here and there?

In other news, I'm becoming quite bored with the game. And it's finally proper summer here in Finland! Expect less blog updates, at least until 1.1 hopefully stirs the waters a bit.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ten paragraphs about 1.0.3

The greatest thing about 1.0.3 is that I don't need to run away from every single little Fallen like it's the End of Days. Rather I can tank a few blows from white monsters in Act 3, and only get concerned when some of the hard hitters join the party.

Another matter I'm very happy about is that I got to actually see areas other than 5 stack of NV & Siegebreaker of Act 3. Second act was very refreshing. I only got one level 63 rare while clearing about 2/3 of the story. After checking forums it seems others had the same experience, and it wouldn't have been any better in Act 3.

Apparently before patch the drop chance for ilevel 63 stuff in Act 3 was about 20%, while now it's 8% (4% in A2 and 2% in A1). So while it became harder to die, the drop rates for further content were nerfed more than just shifting some of the drops to earlier acts. I guess that's because there are more people playing the earlier acts, so the rate of items entering the economy might stay about the same. Some guy was crying that they're basically re-allocating some of the wealth to people who weren't riding the first wave into Inferno. I can't say I see anything wrong with that, with the broken builds, reselling vendor rings etc. having produced fortune enough while it lasted. Of course what was fortune back then has changed drastically due to inflation :)

The massive increase to repair bills is a great move. Due to the above item, farming Acts 1 and 2 aren't bad options, and that should help people die less. And if they still die, it'll help keep inflation little lower.

Overall the nerf to drop rates in later acts also works to diminish the number of great items entering the system in the long run. This causes the market to saturate slower, with smaller number of godly items going around.

To leave market stuff behind and go back to Wizarding and skills, I tried some builds other than Blizzard/Hydra. They did ok damage, but I felt the loss of control was still too much of a bother. Blizzard is simply awesome for keeping monsters where I want them.

Melee build with Meteor/Deep Cuts/Critical Mass/Crystal Skin and Frost Nova was awesome, but I lack a good fast weapon with Life on Hit for that to work well on elites. Should probably be my next purchase. The build feels more synergistic than anything the "ranged" spells are capable of. I suppose that's because with melee builds monsters naturally stack next to you, so everything hits multiple targets, which makes many kinds of procs more powerful. This build, with Wormhole, should ultimately be a strong contender due to Critical Mass allowing you to 5x Teleport away after just a few strikes.

They still didn't fix the IAS bug on legendary items. If someone is still unaware of this, armor pieces that read Increases Attack Speed by X% don't actually make you hit faster. That modifier is reserved for weapons only. You need an armor piece with Attack Speed Increased by X% instead. Thus my Inna's Glory is rotting in RMAH, in hopes of someone who doesn't know better buying it. Hopefully 1.0.4 comes next week to finally redeem this issue. But oh well, I need to sell the pants anyway since they don't have any Intellect.

The global IAS nerf didn't affect me much, I didnt' have many IAS pieces because I'm relatively poor. I should play more to fix that, but it probably takes patch 1.1 and skill rebalancing to make the game appealing enough to allocate some serious time for proper farming.

This last item doesn't really relate to Diablo 1.0.3 but I'm growing quite interested in Torchlight 2. Not because I think it will be a better game than Diablo 3, but because it offers developer tools. Developer tools that we could potentially use to show how a proper endgame should be done to games like these!