Thursday, October 23, 2014

Learning Content

Spinks has a interesting post up about learning content in MMOs:

I feel increasingly that random group content in MMOs is an anti-learning environment. If people zone in with someone who is learning the fight, they’re likely to be disappointed because it will take longer. They don’t want to take ‘the hit’ of being part of someone else’s learning experience.
This reminds me of one of the biggest differences between Japanese and North American culture in FFXIV. FFXIV has two forms of organizing group content with strangers:
  1. Duty Finder - This is the random group finder. You sign up, and the game matches you with other people in the queue.
  2. Party Finder - The leader lists her party, desired instance, and requirements. Other people apply to join. The leader can approve or disapprove of applicants.
My understanding is that in Japan, players use the Party Finder to form "learning parties". After they learn the fight, they use the Duty Finder to do the fight quickly with other experienced players.

In North America, it's the other way around. Party Finder is the province of experienced players, who usually require a applicant to have previously completed the instance. If you're new to a fight, you generally have watch videos and then sign up for Duty Finder and try and learn the fight on the fly. Too many new players in a given Duty Finder group generally leads to an unsuccessful run. Difficult fights (Titan HM before the patches) can be very hard to successfully complete in Duty Finder.

The Japanese system seems like a better experience to me. Expectations are clearly laid out in both cases. However, it suffers from two flaws. First, it is vulnerable to "cheaters". Someone who doesn't care about social opprobrium can just sign up as a newbie to Duty Finder and hope to be carried. 

Second, it requires that people be willing to form those "learning parties". I have seen NA players try to form learning parties. Their parties never fill, and just sit half-empty in the finder for hours. My personal theory is that the Japanese approach to schooling, with formal study groups and cram schools at an early age, makes this approach a lot more natural for Japanese players.

There are ways the NA devs could forcibly shift players towards the Japanese model. For example, suppose that you had to previously complete the instance before you could sign up for it in the random group finder. That would mean that you absolutely had to use the Party Finder system for your first kill.

I am not sure if such a requirement would fly with NA players. It might work. For example, running learning parties would be an astonishing recruiting tool for established guilds. If the easy path wasn't there, maybe individuals would step and start learning parties, and thus form stronger and better networks.

But on the other hand, maybe it won't work. Maybe we want to be anonymous and not bear any responsibility towards other people. If we end up with more failed groups, so be it. We can always just try the instance again, and get a new group of people. Maybe if this was a requirement, people would just quit or roll alts when they hit that point.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dreamfall: Chapters?

The latest entry in The Longest Journey saga, Dreamfall: Chapters, was released yesterday.

I have mixed feelings about this. I absolutely loved The Longest Journey. It's on my Top 10 Games list, maybe even Top 5. But my reaction to the sequel Dreamfall was ... shall we say, strong?

So I'm really on the fence about picking this up. Not to mention that I still have a couple of other single player games I really should finish. And a Seasonal Wizard in Diablo 3 to get to 70.

Have any of you picked up Dreamfall: Chapters yet?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Women In Computer Science

This NPR story, When Women Stopped Coding, has been making the rounds in tech circles.  Its main thrust can be summed up with the following graph:


The given explanation by NPR is cultural. As they see it, computers started being marketed towards boys, driving the girls out. This is the pretty standard explanation whenever someone discusses the disparity between the sexes in computer science.

However, the data they use for the graph is essentially "percent of a percent". As you know, I loathe this type of data. So I went to see what the raw data from the National Science Foundation says:


In my view, the raw data tells a different, and perhaps more interesting, story.

Essentially, the story of computer science for both men and women is that there were two bubbles. One around the year 1980, and the other around the year 2000.[1] Which maps to what happened historically. Although women are always less represented, both curves follow somewhat similar shapes. The major difference though, is what happens around the peak of the bubble.

First, in the two or three years right before the peak, a lot more men jump into the program than women. More women enroll, but there are even more men who look to join in. Women seem a little less inclined to flock to the newly "hot" programs.

Second, and more importantly, the bust right after the peak absolutely devastates female participation in computer science. The first time, in the 1980s, female degrees drop to less than half of their high point, while male enrollment only falls by 30%. The second time is even more destructive for women. All the gains from the boom are wiped out, and female participation falls back to the steady steady before the boom. Male participation drops, but again, it doesn't drop all the way back down.

My interpretation of the data is that less women participate in computer science not because of cultural reasons, but because of economic ones. My hypothesis would be that more women avoid industries that are perceived to be "unstable", or have significant economic downturns, even if the industry is lucrative during boom times.

To be fair, that's a reasonably sensible position. I was in university when the last tech bubble burst, and it was a terrible time to hunt for work. I can only imagine what a high school student is thinking when they see the obliteration of large tech companies like Nortel on the news.

[1] You choose your program roughly four years before you get your degree.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Proactive vs Reactive Stories

This post contains entirely predictable spoilers for the Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor stories in The Old Republic.

In both the Sith Inquisitor and Sith Warrior stories in TOR, there comes a point where your master betrays you. You survive the betrayal and ultimately defeat your master. This seems like a very traditional part of being Sith.

Except that's not quite how the Sith tradition goes. The apprentice is the one who betrays her master, not the other way around.

In the class stories, the betrayal is flipped. This is because the game cannot force the player to take action, to betray her master first. If you're playing Light Side, you might choose to be loyal. If the master forces you to take an unpalatable action, you might do it anyways if you are Dark Side.

Well, obviously the game could just not give you a choice. At point X, you betray your master, and that's that. But most players would be greatly unhappy with that.

Can a story-based game push the player into taking proactive actions? Or is the player always reacting?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Republic Makeb Thoughts

It's almost time for a new expansion in The Old Republic, so I've finally finished the Makeb story line on a Republic character. I completed it on my Jedi Knight (Sentinel).

The new GSI buff stations that boost your gear level make Makeb much easier. I once accidentally logged out in the middle of a mission far away from a station, and when I logged back in I did not have the buff. The rest of the mission was much harder. I had to switch from a dps companion to a healing companion to finish it.

It's pretty clear that the Republic story line should be done first. It comes earlier, and a lot of the mysteries are cleared up when you go through the Empire story line. The Republic story is also a lot more straightforward than the Imperial story, being a regular rescue mission. Albeit a rescue mission for an entire planet.

The only hard fight was the final battle, and that was mainly because I kept getting one-shot right at the start of the fight. Once I figured out that I had to start the attack from a different location, it went smoothly. Of course, this probably more due to the GSI buff than any skill on my part.

I would rate the Republic story lower than the Imperial story. The Imperial story was a bit stronger, the NPCs (especially Katha Niar) were more interesting, and the conclusion was stronger. Plus Darth Marr is just awesome.

I think the villains for both stories were a bit weak. For one thing, they didn't really have any personal contact with your character until the very end.

Overall, Makeb was an "okay" story. Nothing really amazing, but nothing really wrong either.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

FFXIV Expansion Announced

FFXIV announced it's new expansion, Heavensward, today.



I really like how FFXIV embraces its killer mechanic, class changing on the same character, in its trailers. Apparently that warrior started as an archer in 1.0, then switched to warrior at the end of 1.0 and start of 2.0, and now is going for dragoon.

Dollar for dollar, I think FFXIV is the best value in the MMO market today (at least for themeparks). Every 3-4 months they drop a substantial content patch.

In fact, there's one patch (2.4) scheduled for the next few weeks, and maybe even another patch (2.5) before the expansion. 2.4 has a new raid instance, multiple new dungeons, and even a new class and job (Thief and Ninja). And most importantly, more Inspector Hildebrand!

Although, this patch did produce a lot of teasing for dragoons (melee dps lancer type class, the elite warriors of Ishgard in the lore, and with a reputation for dying in fights):
Why hasn't Ishgard won the war against the dragons?  
It's because all those dragoons spend 1000 years wiping. Don't worry guys, we'll kill the dragons for you. 
{Raise}{Do you need it?}

Friday, October 17, 2014

Abilities Per GCD in FFXIV

The discussion in the previous post brought to mind how FFXIV handles abilities and GCDs, which is slightly different from the norm.


GCDs in FFXIV are longer than other games, 2.5s instead of the standard 1-1.5 seconds. However, FFXIV expects every class to hit a button each GCD in their main rotation.

For classes with instant attacks, like melee classes, this usually means that the actual attack takes up a slice of that GCD, and gives the player a small amount of time to move their character. This is important, because melee characters need to move between the back and flank of the target during the rotation.

However, classes in FFXIV also have a set of off-GCD abilities. Because of the way animations work, you can effectively use one off-GCD ability per GCD.

So each GCD can have a max of two abilities. You're guaranteed to press at least one, the main rotation ability, but only some GCDs will have the second ability used.

You could model this with two GCDs (though I suppose they technically aren't "global" anymore). Some abilities trigger GCD 1, others trigger GCD 2. There are no empty GCDs in track 1, but there are some in track 2.

I think this method is pretty good. You get into the rhythm of your main rotation, each ability coming 2.5s after the last. But there's lots of empty space to throw in cooldowns and specials. As well, you can't trigger all your cooldowns at once, but have to space them out. The biggest downside is that classes can seem very slow at early levels, where you only have track 1 abilities.

On the whole though, I do like FFXIV's approach to GCDs. I especially like the longer GCDs. It slows the game down a bit, makes it a touch more forgiving. I have never been a fan of the way Haste speeds up the game by messing with the GCD.