Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unintended Consequences of Anti-Toxicity Systems

Jeff Kaplan made an excellent post on the Overwatch forums about matchmaking. It's definitely worth the read. The most interesting part, however, was this section:
For example, we recently realized that “Avoid this player” was wreaking havoc on matchmaking. One of the best Widowmaker players in the world complained to us about long queue times. We looked into it and found that hundreds of other players had avoided him (he’s a nice guy – they avoided him because they did not want to play against him, not because of misbehavior). The end result was that it took him an extremely long time to find a match. The worst part was, by the time he finally got a match, he had been waiting so long that the system had “opened up” to lower skill players. Now one of the best Widowmaker players was facing off against players at a lower skill level. As a result, we’ve disabled the Avoid system (the UI will go away in an upcoming patch). The system was designed with the best intent. But the results were pretty disastrous.
Essentially, players took a system meant to avoid toxic players, and instead chose to avoid players who were simply more skilled.

Another issue with this system is that it didn't have a cost. I think time and again, games have shown that when an action does not have a cost associated with it, people will abuse it. Think vote kicks from MMOs. Then the action gets removed or hedged with excessive restrictions, such that it becomes fairly useless.

Imagine if avoiding a player cost 50 credits (the currency for the cosmetic items). The amount of people who abuse this system would drop drastically. But if there was a cost, everyone would complain that they had to pay "real" money to avoid the people harassing them. Yet the end result is that we lose the avoid ability entirely.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Low Level Notes from the PTR

I took a poke around the public test realm this weekend. Trying to avoid spoilers, I didn't do anything major. I made a few low-level characters and took them through the first few levels. Here are some observations:

  • Classes now start with a specialization. Paladins start as Retribution, Druids start as Feral (and start the game in Cat form, no less), Hunters start as Beastmaster, etc. I think the other specializations unlock at level 10. Overall, I think this is a good idea. There's no forgetting to specialize, and no "generic" abilities which are only used in first 10 levels. You also don't get two abilities that don't synergize, because they are meant for different specializations.
  • Judgment has a new animation. You throw a golden hammer at the enemy, and the hammer returns to you. It also sometimes chains to a nearby enemy, but I can't tell if that's intentional or a bug.
  • I think the Hammer of Justice animation changed. A giant hammer drops from the sky on the enemy's head. I don't really like it. I miss the simplicity of the current spinning rising uppercut animation.
  • The default nameplates have changed. They're cleaner, and enemy health is represented as a thin red line, instead of a fatter bar. There's also small health/mana/resource bars in the center of your screen under your character. These bars only appear in combat, and fade out otherwise. I really like these new nameplates.
  • The quest helper minimap graphic has changed. It's now this transparent outline instead of a shaded area.
  • There's a nice animated flair on the XP bar when you get a large amount of XP. It's snazzy.
  • The initial class quests that send you to your trainer are gone. I guess it makes sense since the abilities have all changed. Still, it makes me a little sad. I liked that little nod to your class right at the start, with the notes expounding the philosophy of the class.
  • Armor starts as the max armor type. Paladins get plate, hunters get mail, etc. The item still looks the same as previous, like mail or leather. This is a bit weird with mail armor that looks like leather (those night elf shorts you always get), but plate that looks like mail looks decent enough.
  • Otherwise quests appear to be all the same as live. For low levels, it looks like only mechanics changes.
I didn't poke around a great deal, but these are some smaller impressions of what you can expect in Legion at low levels.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Which Players Should Be Mentors?

It's nice that FFXIV decided to mark all the jackasses in Duty Finder. They're the ones with a crown beside the name.

For those of you who don't play FFXIV, the crown denotes a "Mentor", a high-level player who is supposed to help new players. However, in my experience, people marked as Mentors are equally likely to be the people who are unpleasant in groups.

There's no denying that the Mentors are qualified players. FFXIV has quite high requirements. You need to have at least three classes at max level, a tank, healer and a damage dealer. You also have to have done a thousand dungeons, which is a crazy amount. As a result, Mentors are the top slice of people in the game.

However, I'm not sure if they are the best players to advise new players. Being edge players, they have a tendency to use and expect edge strategies. Giving too specific and complex advice instead of ensuring mastery of the basics.

Also, and this may be a skewed perspective, they also seem to be most impatient, especially on older content which is trivial for them.

In some respects, I think the people below the edge tier would make better mentors for new players. They would still be decent at the game, but would be closer to the new player experience, and better able to give advice from that perspective.

To put it into a WoW perspective, currently you need to be a Mythic raider to be a Mentor. It might be better if the Heroic raiders were Mentors, and Mythic raiders expressly prohibited from being Mentors to new players.

It's kind of like a university, where professors give high level lectures, but graduate students are the teaching assistants and help students with problems. A lot of time a professor is too far away from the student experience to really see the issue.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Heavensward Story Finale

The latest installment of FFXIV's main storyline came out today in Patch 3.3. This was the finale to the main expansion storyline involving Ishgard.

I thought it was an excellent and satisfying ending. The story was concluded well. The final boss fight was intense, and very well done. There were a number of callbacks to earlier parts of the story. FFXIV also spent a fair bit of time on the denouement/epilogue, winding down the story nicely.

This is actually an area where a lot of MMOs and videogames fall down. The climax comes right at the end of the game with a final boss fight, and then the games ends, maybe with an NPC congratulating you. I really like FFXIV's approach of taking its time to wind down, showing consequences and outcomes for the major NPCs.

All in all, Heavensward was an excellent expansion and storyline. I've mentioned this before, but it's ironic that it took a Japanese game to give us a classical story about knights and dragons.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Favorite Overwatch Heroes

Like everyone else, I've been playing a fair amount of Overwatch over the last week. I'm level 15, and I've only gotten one Legendary skin so far. However, it happened to be the one skin I actually wanted: Devil Mercy. So Lady Luck has smiled on me.

Devil Mercy skin
Heroes never die ... for a price!
Inspired by Syl's post at MMO Gypsy, I'm going steal her format and list my favorite heroes so far.

A) Heroes I feel confident playing

1. Mercy - highest playtime so far
2. Lucio - preferred for pushing the payload
3. Reaper - the one hero I can kill people with
4. Torbjorn - turrets have good aim

B) Heroes I’d like to get better at

5. Reinhardt
6. Winston
7. Junkrat
8. McCree
9. Bastion

C) Heroes that feel awkward

10. Symmetra
11. Roadhog
12. D.Va
13. Zarya
14. Soldier 76

D) Heroes I haven’t really touched

15. Mei
16. Widowmaker
17. Genji
18. Zenyatta
19. Hanzo
20. Pharah
21. Tracer

The biggest issue so far is that I don't really have a tank character that I understand and can play decently. I can put up Reinhardt's shield and walk to the objective. And sometimes Winston works well, but sometimes I just continuously die.

Otherwise, since I'm willing to heal, I don't get much of a chance to play offensive characters, especially the snipers.

So far Overwatch has been a lot of fun. The matchmaking seems to be working well. I have a good mix of wins and losses, and there have been many close and exciting games.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

FFXIV's Murder Mystery Event

This post contains  major spoilers for the latest Gold Saucer event in FFXIV.

Apparently feeling that there wasn't enough seasonal holidays, especially in early summer, FFXIV added a new event centering around the Gold Saucer. The Gold Saucer is a casino with a lot of non-combat mini-games. Things like chocobo racing, Triple Triad card games and some arcade-style games.

The new event was a murder mystery. A customer was mysteriously poisoned. You had to search out clues and then create a theory of how the murder took place over several dialogue choices. It was an interesting try at creating a different type of content.

The biggest problem was the solution to the murder mystery. It turns out that the entire thing was staged, like a play that you attend. This does have some advantages. Since it's just a play, there's nothing wrong with getting the solution incorrect. There's just a bit of acting, and you get a chance to try again. You can replay the event and see the other endings if you accuse different people.

But I felt kind of cheated. Because it was staged, the solution was a bit contrived, and didn't feel natural. I think it would have been a far better experience if it had been a real murder you have to solve.

However, I have no idea how the game would handle getting the wrong solution in that case. Would an NPC simply point out the flaws in your theory until you came up with the correct theory? Would there be several possible theories so that whatever you came up worked? Neither of these two choices sound ideal to me.

In some respects, content is easier to create if you can assume that the players will be successful, if not on the first try, than at least eventually. But if there's the chance of permanent failure, it becomes very tricky for an MMO without saves.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Legendary Ring and Draenor Flying

Yesterday, in an unexpected coincidence, I managed to finish both my goals for Warlords of Draenor. I got my legendary ring, [Etheralus, the Eternal Reward]. I also finished [Draenor Pathfinder], unlocking flying mounts in Draenor.

I was a little surprised at the getting the ring. I was 31/33 for the tomes, but only had two bosses left for the week. But somehow Lady Luck decided in my favor, and a tome dropped for both bosses. I fully expected to be left with 32/33 and have to wait for next week.

As for the Pathfinder achievement, it was mostly a matter of finishing rep with the Order of the Awakened and finding enough rare monsters for the quest items. I still don't like the "blue bar" areas in WoD, but they're tolerable if you make or join a group in the LFG section.

There's still a lot of weird behavior in those posted groups that I don't understand. For example, I'd make a group. People would join and leave ten seconds later. For every person who joined and stuck around to work on the area, at least three people would join and leave. I don't know what they were looking for, as I was pretty explicit about what the group was for.

Now I'm not sure what to do with WoW. There are a couple quests to clean up, but I'm pretty much done until the pre-expansion stuff starts happening. I am leveling a mage, who's up to 45, so maybe I'll focus on that.