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Winning for Losing

Way back before I got distracted with Crowfall news, Rohan had an interesting few posts exploring the challenges of structured PvP vs transient PvP. Namely, how do you solve the “3rd/4th faction” problem of people migrating to the winning side in structured PvP? The clear answer involves incentives to stay on the losing/outnumbered side, but the implementation is tricky.

Or is it?

I consider one of the gold standards of loss incentives to be Titanfall’s Extraction phase. At the end of each match – be it CTF, Death Match, etc – there is a no-respawn phase in which the losing team tries to make it to a waiting drop ship. If all losing members make it, the entire team receives a significant bonus (less than a win, but not by much). The winning team will of course try and kill the stragglers, but they can also destroy the drop ship and get bonus points. While it is still possible to queue into a complete blowout match in which the other team practically insta-kills the drop ship, most battles end with the drop ship taking off. Not only do the extra points for an Extraction soften the blow of losing perhaps a close match, the psychological reward for “escaping” is immense.

You lost, but you didn’t lose. And, yes, there is a difference.

This might seem weird to say, but I actually enjoy hopeless defenses in many games. Whenever I play used to play PlanetSide 2, for example, I looked for the bases under attack by near-overwhelming odds. From my perspective, such bases present A) easy opportunity for kills in the chaos, B) no expectation for success, C) small chance for epic comeback. Being spawn-camped by tank spam is miserable, but anything less can be great low-pressure fun.

The same sentiment existed even in WoW PvP for me. Being farmed at the Graveyard in WSG is enough to make one ragequit. Dial it back a few notches though, and I found it immensely entertaining simply being annoying, e.g. by tanking DPS as a healer, taking potshots and then forcing someone to chase me for two minutes, and so on. My team might lose, but I still won. Some of my favorite PvP memories was on my Rogue, when I ran around Sapping everyone into diminishing returns and watching their futile attempts at unstealthing me.

All of the above examples (except for PS2) are from transient PvP rather than structured PvP. Still, I think you can achieve a similar incentive structure using the same principals. For example, if a certain team is way behind or outnumbered, start giving them an alternative currency (call it Honor or whatever), or even a bonus to the normal PvP currency. In this way, winning becomes much less of a zero-sum game, and offers an “out” for those players who would, strictly speaking, be better off defecting to the winning side. Plus it would attract goofballs such as myself to hopeless defenses, thereby making the match more entertaining for everyone involved.

Daybreak Outlook Dim

In the long-term, it’s possible the “restructuring” going on at SOE Daybreak could result in a better game company. In the short-term though? Jesus Christ:

Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson (Director of Development for the EverQuest brand, @DaveGeorgeson)
Jeff Butler (Creative Director for the EverQuest brand, @JButlerDaybreak)
Linda “Brasse” Carlson (Community Manager, @Brasse)
Akil “Lyndro” Hooper (Everquest II developer, @akilh)
Aaron “Gnobrin” Bisnett (Weapon and Armor designer for 12 years, @Gnobrin)
Douglas “Endymion” VanDerveer (Everquest II game designer, @douglastweets)
Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske (Community Relations Project Manager, @Ashlanne)
Eric “Felgon” Smith (Associate Producer for EverQuest Next and Landmark, @F4Felgon)
Steve “Moorgard” Danuser (Lead Content Designer and Head of Story, @Moorgard)
Tiffany “Amnerys” Spence (Social Media, @JustTiffy)
Kyle “Hats” Manchester (Community Manager, @Hats)
Racheal “Afista” McKenny ( Everquest II community Manager, @Afista)
Noah Watkins (Graphic designer, @noahwatkins)
Kelduum Revaan (Programmer for H1Z1, @Kelduum)
Katharine Anderson (Build master for PlanetSide 2, @katharinelilly)
Xander Clauss (Base designer for PlanetSide 2, @XanderClauss)
Taylor Dowell (Systems designer for PlanetSide 2, @Tayradactyl)
David Carey (Systems designer for PlanetSide 2, @dcarey7761)
Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske (Community Relations Project Manager, @Ashlanne)
Michael “Xelgad” Ganz (Systems designer for EQII, @Xelgad)
Jeffrey Bard (Everquest II development)
Possibly all contracted employees – Not confirmed
(source1, source2, source3)

A more structured data post can be found here.

As you might imagine, morale in the /r/EQNext, /r/H1Z1, and /r/Planetside subreddits are at an all-time low. There is a thread up by David Carey (former PS2 dev) asking people to not hate on Columbus Nova, and the arguments presented make sense in a lot of ways. On the other hand, for PlanetSide 2 specifically, it’s not entirely clear that there is another “base designer” on staff to, you know, build more bases. So what we see currently might be all we ever get. Which is… not exactly encouraging. To say nothing about the future of H1Z1 or EQN especially, assurances be damned.

H1Z1 Pre-Alpha Early Release

So after a rather extraordinarily long amount of time, it appears as though the F2P SOE PlanetZombieSide MMO might actually be released on 1/15/15. On Steam Early Access. For the low, low price of $20, or an indeterminate amount of money if you want to alpha-test the super-secret special modes.

I am poking fun at the EA payment model – ahem, Early Access – but honestly I am not nearly as miffed as Keen. I too remember the days when game companies would ration out alpha/beta access for free… and I remember that same access commanding tremendous cash values on eBay. $100+ beta Gmail invites, anyone? So it makes perfect sense to me that a game company would see that situation and decide to cut out the middleman. They get prepaid game development, and you get a Kickstarter you can actually sorta play.

What I am infinitely more concerned about is the state of H1Z1 generally. The topics have not really changed since the last time I talked about it (“4-6 weeks away” back in April 2014…), but these days I am almost cringing at the PlanetSide 2 engine usage. Don’t get me wrong, Ps2 can certainly look really awesome. It also ends up looking extremely angular with a poor sense of physicality, collision, and ephemeral bodies. All of that is perfectly acceptable in a sci-fi FPS (especially one with 100s of people in close-quarters), but have you seen these H1Z1 streams? The outdoors look okay with the trees and hills and such, but indoors? It’s… too modular.

Perhaps these are the sorts of things that get papered over with better textures in beta or whatever, but the Ps2 vibe is weirding me out. That and the fact that it’s difficult to go back to manikin-on-a-pole style character interaction after the more grab-y Dead Island/State of Decay/etc style. I suppose the current system is more conducive to MMO design, but it’s tough to go back.

On Clones

Let’s talk about Overwatch for a second.

A lot of the Overwatch reactions that I have been reading on blogs basically revolves around the “TF2 clone” observation. And it’s true: Overwatch does kinda sorta maybe look like TF2 when you squint at it. But I get the feeling from many of the posts that “being a clone” is somehow being considered a value judgment against the game.

Which is a little weird considering WoW was a clone of EQ, LoL was a clone of DotA, and so on. In other words, being a clone of something has very little to do with the merit of the final product. Unless the gameplay was directly cut and paste from the source material, it’s entirely possible for one or two (or more) key tweaks to change the overall feeling of a game. And if you don’t believe that, you haven’t been playing MMOs for very long.

As for myself, I remain mostly ambivalent towards Overwatch. I have played a grand total of about an hour of TF2, which was long enough for me to realize I have little interest in diving into seven years of accumulated competitive minutia; learning the maps, the weapons, the classes, and strategies of each while playing against hardened veterans isn’t exactly my idea of fun. Even if it were a total TF2 clone, Overwatch acts as a rather convenient “reset” of sorts that levels the playing field between vets and newbs, at least for a time. So in that sense, I am interested in playing it and seeing if it’s fun.

At the same time, my experience with Titanfall is giving me pause about the 6v6 format. I have long stated that Titanfall is an amazing game, but the smaller team size means a lot of pressure is put on the skill level of your best and worst players. In other words, a big fish on the enemy team can crowd out the pond. Which is the way things are “suppose to be,” but I’m not particularly inclined to play games in which I spend the majority of the time on the respawn screen. I much prefer larger games like Battlefield and PlanetSide in that gaming gods can rule some minor fiefdom (typically the air game) while everyone else is pounding the ground and having fun.

I don’t necessarily need to win to have fun playing something, but do 6v6 maps give the necessary space to have fun? Typically not, in my experience. We’ll see.

The Littlest Things

In the midst of a bout of gaming ennui, I find myself coming back time and again to PlanetSide 2. The game has some serious structural issues – to say that it’s still in Beta is somewhat less of a joke these days – and there is every indication that a sustainable population might not be there for too much longer. I created characters of each faction back when you were unable to have multiple factions on the same server, but a series of server merges have resulted in all three being on the same one (out of two) NA server.

In fact, going by that website, Ps2 has gone from 28 servers worldwide down to… 5. My routine when booting up the game is to filter the four continent maps by Ally Activity, and only choose to play if one continent has more than three hexes with at least 24+ friendly player activity. It is… not guaranteed, even during EST prime time.

So why am I still playing at all? It’s a good question, and the only real explanation is this: the Phoenix Launcher.

My “main” character was initially a member of the Vanu faction, which is based around laser/plasma weapons. Each faction has access to “empire-specific” weapons that have no real analog amongst the others. Technically all non-NS weapons are unique, but the difference between the LMG that has more ammo vs the less-ammo-but-higher-damage vs the middling one without bullet drop is not all that great. The empire-specific weapons are a whole other ballgame though.

The difference between the empire-specific rocket launchers is perhaps the greatest in the game. The Vanu have a charge-up laser launcher that has basically zero travel time. The TR have a lock-on rocket launcher that fires five rockets in a row. And the NC? The Phoenix Launcher, which fires a camera-guided and steerable rocket.

I have “quit” PlanetSide 2 several times already, for a number of reasons. But lately I keep coming back for the Phoenix Launcher because it is about the most fun I have had in a FPS… at least in a while. Which is bizarre because only the Heavy Assault class can use the weapon, and it is not as though I spend all my time playing just that class. It’s like the mere possibility of my being able to steer a rocket up over cover and around the cliff the enemy tank is hiding behind is enough to get the juices flowing. I’ll repair the base turrets as an Engineer and play Medic to forward a base assault just to set up the opportunity later to ride some rockets around.

In the abstract, I clearly enjoy the base gameplay too. And that’s true. But without the Phoenix Launcher, that would not have been enough for me to justify my continued play.

I cannot quite decide if that is sad, or precisely the way things should be.


Ever come back from an extended videogame break – be it vacation, work project, family thing, etc – and just have no interest in anything whatsoever? Or perhaps more paradoxically, have so many conflicting interests that you end up spending your entire free time with procrastinating activities? I have just blown a solid three hours that could have been more productively used progressing through any number of games. Instead, I’m talking to you guys and playing Dungeon Keeper. You know, that almost universally reviled app from the studio that no longer exists?

I’m actually kinda a big deal in that game. The highest ELO bracket is 3200 and I’m 3500+. I don’t actually know where that puts me rank-wise, especially because the designers were dumb and allowed people to farm rank at super-low levels for several months, but at least I’m legit.

I don't know why either.

I don’t know why either.

In any case, this post was not an elaborate ploy to humble-brag about my Dungeon Keeper prowess. Rather, how do you guys bootstrap yourself out of a post-break gaming slump?

I logged into Planetside 2 for long enough to remember why I hate-love that game (fun gunplay followed by 10+ minutes of camping empty bases) and my Wildstar log-in didn’t last much longer because, hey, Medics still feel terrible. Do you pick a game at random and just plow forward? Do you have an old standby? Or do you just give in to the ennui and take a nap or whatever?

TitanSide PlanetFall

After gorging myself on Titanfall for the past few days, I just wanted to re-affirm my impressions from earlier.

This = Very Fun

This = Very Fun

Essentially, Titanfall is the quintessential wirehead game: an absolute orgy of sensory experiences surrounding a hungry engine of time destruction. Respawns take less than five seconds. Time-to-Kill is better measured in mouse clicks. The game is so frantic and fast-paced that the 90 seconds inbetween matches feels like an eternity. This is the sort of game where nobody would have time to type “GOGOGO” if there were even a chat interface in-game, which there isn’t. There’s one in the lobby, but it’s sole function seems to be pre-game prognosticating (“Lame, they have two G6 players. GG”) and post-game trash talking/ragequits. There is also voice chat, but it too seems superfluous – what sort of coordination is possible or even necessary when your foes could be cloaked and across the map in 15 seconds or less?

I have never owned a Call of Duty or Medal of Honor game, so this could all be old news for some of you. I cut my teeth on Counter-Strike and Halo and Battlefield 2 which, at least back in the day, seemed to take a bit longer.

This = Less Fun

This = Less Fun

What is somewhat sad is my motivation for playing the game. Essentially, I’m playing it as a PlanetSide 2 substitute. They aren’t really comparable games at all, but sometimes you just want to shoot people in the face, sci-fi style. PlanetSide 2 was failing on the “people to shoot” front, and there is every indication that it’s eternal beta is catching up with it. Specifically, either it’s hemorrhaging players or hemorrhaging paying customers (or both). Anything less than a 24v24 hex is a waste of time, and even the few freebie kills from the spawn room of hopeless defenses is losing its luster.

And by the way, can I just reiterate how asinine faction-specific game experiences can be? I chose VS more than a year ago and have almost all of my unlocks and such spent on that character. There is not a single moment in which I have not regret that choice. I have infinite more fun on my TR and NC alts based solely on their faction-specific missile launchers. Infinite! About the only redeeming factor for VS is the Lasher (which is garbage 98% of the time) and the fact that the Scythe fighter jet thing doesn’t have bars across the cockpit windows. That’s it. A single TR or NC dude with a rocket launcher is a threat; a single VS dude with a missile launcher is a threat 10 minutes from now.

I brought up the Titanfall vs PlanetSide 2 comparison for another reason: I’m realizing the inherent imbalance of level-based unlocks. In Ps2, you are given a menu to select upgrades from. In Titanfall, you unlock things at certain levels, or occasionally based on achievements. I recently unlocked Satchel charges, for example, and it is better than grenades by a factor of a little over 9000. Most upgrades are technically sidegrades-with-downsides, but usually you’ll find that you can more than compensate for the trade-off. What you can’t really compensate for is that your guns or whatever can/will be weaker than those who played longer.

In any case, the one thing Titanfall absolutely must fix (and soon) is it’s utterly repulsive and/or non-existent matchmaking system. There is a “beta” version out there for Attrition and Hardpoint modes, but I cannot begin to imagine what that is supposed to mean in any context. Is it really that difficult to not have matches like this:

This = Rage Quit Worthy

This = Rage Quit Worthy

Those special symbols are sorta like the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer tags, e.g. it denotes a player who hit level 50 and reset their progress to level 1. After “Generation 2″ it also requires you to earn 4-5 special achievements in order to unlock the, ahem, next generation. It’s not fucking titan science to, you know, spread those guys around. Hell, I don’t even care if the G5 player is a skill-less noob somehow (pretty difficult to imagine), it’s just goddamn demoralizing heading into a 6v6 match of any kind looking down that sort of barrel. Give us the G5 and G2 and let them keep the G4 and G3. Bam! Balance! What’s worse is that you’re stuck in the same lobby of people from match to match unless you specifically leave, which tends to cement the winning teams harder and harder.

Anyway: Titanfall. Shooty-shooty, explosions, instant-kill jump kicks, wall-running. I spacebar through the 5-second kill cams so I can perma-sprint into the adrenalin high faster.


John Smedley, the president of SOE, did a Reddit AMA a little while ago and dropped some bombs.

If you could relaunch a shutdown title which one would you pick and what would you do differently this time?

SWG. I would do everything differently.

SWG PLAYERS – OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it… you can come home now. (source)

Here are some more snippets:

His response to the closing of Free Realms was rather depressing:

1) Are you planning on adding more family-friendly options? First there was Toontown Online, then there was Free Realms, and CWA. Is there another youth-oriented game planned?

1) No. No more kids games. Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game. Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot. (source)

There was another question/answer that I felt was rather interesting, concerning card games:

Will Legends of Norrath also be sunsetted in the near future?

no. Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level. (source)

The whole WoW-clone phenomenon is well established, but I still find it interesting seeing it take place in real-time.

Factoids from Smed

In the midst of phat beats the Smedster was laying down yesterday, there were a few random facts I didn’t want to let slip through the cracks.

In practice, our primary job is making fun games. That always comes first. PS2 was a $25M investment. (source)

It is pretty rare that we get to see how much a game costs directly from a knowledgeable source.

Player Studio items – let me make this simple. We excluded them because we didn’t like the idea of giving away someone else’s item. The player who made it would get no revenue in that case because it’s a free item. We are considering just eating the cost of this. Either way we are likely going to allow Player Studio items. (source)

In case you were wondering about the “eating the cost” comment for Player Studio items. Here is a bigger drop though:

We’re in the middle of developing Everquest Next Landmark (on schedule right now for end of this month). We rebooted the game 3 times. It was a massive delay and it hurt us financially. But it was the right thing to do for us, and for the industry. Most importantly you all are going to get to play something we’re very proud of and we think is a whole lot of fun. (source)

Emphasis added. So… the weird sort of “marketing” surrounding EQN:L is starting to make sense. Namely, SOE didn’t know what the hell they were doing either. That’s almost comforting. But a little scary too, considering it appears as though SOE is going to be leaning on EQN:L for financial stability.

We’ll have to see how it plays out, but for my part, I am liable to start my SOE subscription back up once I can start playing EQN:L given how I’ll likely be getting PlanetSide 2 bonuses as well.

October Surprise(s)

October is shaping up to be a busy month.

Hearthstone is going to have its first (and only) beta wipe coinciding with a large rebalancing patch. And apparently more opt-in beta waves. Which is an important distinction from open beta, which this will not be. The good news is that there isn’t going to be any further beta wipes, so progression for those that are in the beta is going to be permanent thereafter.

The “rebalancing” is of most interest to me (of course), as Blizzard is going to have a thread a needle made out of graphene. I have talked about some of the imbalanced cards before, but the most salient point is that the devs do not have the same access to the balance “knobs” as they do in, say, WoW or Diablo 3. Hypothetically, making the Pint-Sized Summoner go from costing 2 mana to 3, for example, is an enormous balancing change that has wide-ranging repercussions on how (and if) the card is played at all. I would personally change the Pint-Sized Summoner to be a 1/1 or maybe a 1/2; the former makes it a dead draw against Mage and Rogue decks, but honestly, I don’t feel like an Arena game should revolve around whether you have a turn-2 removal spell in your opening hand. Maybe they could change it to be only 1 mana off the cost of creatures and leave the rest alone?

Speaking of digital card games, Hex will be beginning its Alpha testing on October 8th. To be honest, even with the weekly Kickstarter updates, I sorta forgot about the fact that I pledged $85 (!) to this game nearly 5 months ago. And even more honestly, Hearthstone kinda sucked all the oxygen out of the CCG room. For however lame its been to go 0-3 or my most recent 3-3 record in the Hearthstone Arena, at least I could choose to pay $0 for those games; going back to $6 drafts will be rough. The Alpha test will give everyone 4 copies of all PvP cards, so at least I won’t have to decide whether to “waste” all my Kickstarter packs before the game comes out (which hopefully dilute the skill pool a bit).

Although I have not been playing it regularly, PlanetSide 2 is due for a huge optimization patch on October 23rd. I’m not actually all that excited about it, even though the devs are supposedly touting a ~30% gain in frame rates across all types of computer configurations. Why? First of all, this optimization work is at the expense of everything else. Changes to the Infiltrator class? Pushed back. New air weapons pushed back. New continent pushed back. And so on.

A fire was clearly lit under someone’s ass about poor performance, but with players leaving in droves, I’m not sure that chasing after the ones that left over computer issues is a winning proposition. And that leads me to reason number two: it’s all really a cynical ploy to get the game ready for the PlayStation 4. “Cynical” as in they only bothered caring about performance nearly a year after release, and only when the opportunity to cash in on a new market presented itself.

I’m a little bitter, if you can’t tell. Every time I get the bug to go play some more of PS2, I hit Instant Action and am sent to some deserted facility that changed hands an hour ago. And when I do happen to find some action, it inevitably dies down quickly and I’m left staring at the 5, 10, 15 minute capture timer. “Open world” and “emergent gameplay” is nice and all, but when I end up playing longer on my phone waiting for something to happen in the main game, something has gone horribly wrong. Ain’t nobody got time to wait around empty bases.

Luckily for me, and rather unfortunately for Sony, Battlefield 4 comes out October 29th.

I am not really all that certain I will be purchasing it on Day 1, although I had a blast playing Battlefield 3 for the six or so months that I was doing so. Looking back in my archives, I didn’t really talk about my experiences with it all that much. Basically, I see it as PlanetSide 2 without the waiting. While BF3 is technically more similar to Call of Duty than a sort of “open world” like PS2, the reality is that all PS2 brings to the table (or my table, anyway) is the ability to hop into a vehicle or airplane without having to wait/steal it from someone else. Every single other thing is better in BF3 – the shooting, the graphics, the action, the tactics, the depth. Again, technically, PS2 can have deeper strategy via Outfits and the like, but to the average player in the average game session, BF3 can’t be beat.

I haven’t really been following the Battlefield 4 news all that closely, but I find it interesting that the new game modes are being heavily skewed towards Call of Duty. Not that CoD invented any of them, of course, but I am more referring to that sort of play-style. Domination, Defuse, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, and Rush are all CoDish to me. Conquest is still there in all its glory though, and Obliteration sounds somewhat interesting with its hot potato gameplay. But sometimes I just feel like shooting people in the face, you know? So that’s probably okay. Plus, technically every game mode will be available in all 10 maps, so it is not as though you’re stuck in the same handful of maps for every Conquest game.

Also coming in October: Terraria‘s 1.2 Patch, Don’t Starve‘s final two content patches (October 1st and presumably the final one 3 weeks later), and I guess GTA Online.

Regarding the latter, I am, of course, holding out for the PC release.