Author Archives: Azuriel
There is a fascinating game design conundrum that I have encountered twice now, which can summed up by “Reroll.” This is not rerolling in the MMO sense – although it is arguably an issue with WoW’s Legion expansion vis-a-vis Legendaries – but rather in the sense of creating new accounts to take advantage (or mitigate damage) of random rewards. It is a conundrum with no good solutions, and it’s harder still to even imagine which solution is least bad.
The first time I encountered the Reroll dilemma was with the mobile app Puzzle & Dragons. After spending 20-30 minutes going through the tutorial, the game gives you one free pull on the Crack Machine, aka Gashapon, aka Lockbox, aka et cetera. This always results in a super rare (or higher) monster from a wide list of such, and represents pretty much the only guaranteed way to get one of these super monsters as a F2P player before the heat death of the universe.
(You can earn cash-like currency for future pulls on this same machine, but they aren’t guaranteed to be as rare a result as the first pull.)
The problems are many, and there is a deep gradient of bad for all of them. First, you could get a weak monster. While any rare monster is better than the starter monsters you normally get, it’s a fact that some of the pulls are absolutely abysmal in comparison to what you could have received.
Second, in the worst case scenario, you could get an okay monster. This is the worst case because… what do you do? Settle immediately? Reroll? If a result is terrible, the course is pretty clear. When it is technically alright, but not great, it’s hard to justify any particular decision.
Now, imagine you get “best” result: a super rare, super strong monster. Congratulations! Now you get to enjoy not using it for 20+ hours. Each monster has a point cost associated with it, and stronger ones cost more points. The only way to increase the team point limit is to level up your account, which requires getting XP, which requires going through dungeons and such.
The very first time I played Puzzles & Dragons, I got a middling result and just kept it, not knowing any better. While it was a middling monster, it had a lower point cost, which meant that I could use it right away. And I did so for many, many gameplay hours. When I realized my “mistake” later on, I decided to reroll for a better result. After a few dozen rerolls, I finally got a fantastic pull… that I couldn’t use until much later. I ended up quitting the game altogether before I even got to the point at which I could even field the monster.
The second time I encountered the Reroll dilemma was here recently, after installing Shadowverse. I might do a larger post on Shadowverse later, but the short version is that the game is Hearthstone: Anime Boob edition. The relevant point though is that after an extremely quick tutorial mission (which you can even skip), Shadowverse rewards you with almost 30+ free packs of cards.
I think you can see where this might be going.
None of the packs you receive are guaranteed to have any particular rarity. That said, opening all your free packs usually results in around 4-5 Legendary cards, but you can technically get as many as 6-10. Like any other CCG, some Legendaries are better than others, and of course even the good class-specific ones might be “wasted” if you don’t like that class’s mechanics. And thus… reroll.
The sad part in Shadowverse’s case is that there is both a Steam and mobile version of the game. Rerolling on mobile is easy in the sense that you just have to delete some app data and you’re good. On Steam? No rerolling, as your account is linked to a Steam ID. Had I done some research ahead of time, I would have discovered you can reroll a bunch of times on mobile first, and then link your mobile data to Steam and basically be good to go. Instead, I am stuck with my poor Steam results, unless I want to only play Shadowverse on mobile from now on. Or create new Steam accounts for just Shadowverse.
Or perhaps it is better this way, e.g. no rerolling. If I could reroll, I would. Perhaps the designers are simply saving me from myself. On the other hand, getting a bad result is kind of demoralizing. And unlike with Puzzle & Dragons, Shadowverse is ultimately a competitive game where having weaker cards is a real disadvantage.
I am not really sure what the design solution is here. Fundamentally, the problem arises from the intersection of free (random) stuff for new players and ease of new account generation. Tying accounts to more permanent things such as Steam IDs (ala Shadowverse) is perhaps one way with resolving the latter issue, but A) limiting mobile is harder, and B) it doesn’t address the simple fact that random rewards can radically impact your power in these games.
Simply removing the free stuff “resolves” the whole issue, but then you lose out on the “first hit of crack” lockbox effect and generally make the new player experience arguably worse with no catch-up mechanisms. Removing the random element might also “work,” but just changes the baseline and removes any sense of excitement.
So… yeah. dilemma.
I have been playing Clash Royale for much longer than I ever really expected to. In fact, near as I can tell, it’s been almost a year. Pretty good for an ostensibly F2P game… that I’ve probably dropped $30 into over that time period.
As Syncaine points outpoints out, Supercell has come a long way in fixing what were some unquestionably amateurish mistakes in the engagement department. The initial rollout of Tournaments, for example, were a total disaster – hundreds of thousands of people spam-clicking on the refresh button to try and sneak into one of the 50-player tournaments, which required other players to pay to host them. Like, what?
Tournaments are now a totally legit game path akin to Hearthstone (or any number of other games’) Arena matches where you pay a nominal gem fee and fight other people at your win count. Twelve wins (max rewards) or three losses and you’re out. Supercell has further expanded tournaments to help introduce new cards too, forcing people to have decks using said new card, but granting access to 100% of all cards, including Legendaries, inside the tournament. So not only do you have the ability to playtest the new cards, but more casual players can even play around with the Legendaries that might not ever see.
As always, the first hit of crack tournament is free to everyone.
However, I am finding Supercell’s other attempt at engagement incentives to be less thought-through. Specifically, they introduced Clan Chests, which is basically a chest that gets stuffed with more free goodies the more Crowns that your clan racks up before the deadline. Crowns are basically tower kills, and everyone earns them by playing ladder games.
[Note: Crowns aren’t consumed. Each one gained will fill all Crown meters.]
On the one hand, it’s a good incentive for social engagement. Since a 10/10 chest grants guaranteed epics and thousands of gold, everyone wants the maximum award. Said maximum requires 1600 Crowns in about 3 days, which comes out to be around 32 Crowns per member in a 50-member clan. Since Crown chests are opened after 10 Crowns collected and reset on a daily basis, the general idea is that it will take just a few extra games more than normal, assuming that you are unlocking the Crown chest on the daily anyway.
On the other hand… it really weeds out the casuals. Anyone can see any clan member’s contribution to the Clan Chest. The clan I’m in has already stated that any member with less than 30 Crowns during the Clan Chest will be kicked. Which is fine, whatever, I’m not in a family clan or anything. But it bears mentioning that getting even 10+ a day to unlock the normal Crown Chest results in more (winning) games than you have spots for chests.
Effectively, not only does opening the Clan Chest require one to “waste” chests (or pay Supercell money to open them faster), it arguably “wastes” surplus Crown Chest Crowns too. It ends up being a flurry of obligatory activity just to stay in the same spot.
Worst of all, though, is how the system pretty much perverts the upper brackets. There are 10 brackets currently, with the top starting at 3000 trophies. Each bracket makes the chests you earn contain more stuff, so there is no particular incentive to tank your trophies to a lower bracket. That said, there is zero difference between 3000 and 4000 trophies (where I am), and all Crowns are worth the same for the Clan Chest. Ergo, the optimal play would be to fill up my chest slots (which happens really quickly), and then tank my trophies by intentionally losing until I get less advanced opponents, then start 3-Crowning them with overleveled troops.
I haven’t gone full asshole yet – usually tanking down to 3500 trophies is enough – but I have absolutely encountered people with maxed troops nowhere near where they should be on ladder, just to cheese the system. And it’s pretty clear that the overachievers in my clan who are racking up 100+ Crowns within the 3-day period are not doing so at their “proper” place on ladder.
I mean, I kinda get it, from Supercell’s side. There is an elegance for all Crowns being equal. And then there’s… err… uh… hrm. Actually, I can’t imagine why else Supercell isn’t fixing this issue by perhaps making top-bracket Crowns count for more. Or giving people above 3000 any reason to care what occurs beyond that number. So what if high-ranked clans get to complete the Clan Chest faster than anyone else? Those last troop upgrades take forever and a day already.
The only reason I can think of is perhaps Supercell needs high-ranked players to be playing more to make the matchmaker work better at the upper end, but that’s not really what’s happening here anyway. The smart players are giving free wins to dozens of people on the way down in order to 3-star newer players on the way back up. This does not make for compelling gameplay for anyone.
Supercell has proven to be pretty nimble when it comes to changes, and have also demonstrated the ability to eat crow over incredibly obvious bad ideas (e.g. the lack of an emote squelch), so I’m hoping that they change this system at some point. As it is, it just creates all the wrong incentives for all the wrong people.
It was a bad stick of RAM.
In retrospect, a kinda “duh” moment. I mean, I had never before knew that bad RAM could make your PC just hard shutdown and (presumably) burn a graphics card. At the same time, I did get Furmark and a CPU tester to run for 15+ minutes using my 560ti card without a crash for a while there, with all temps being normal. Plus, I replaced the PSU and the PC booted up (before crashing later). All that was really left was a RAM issue.
I declined the $30 labor costs to install new RAM, but went ahead and spent $60ish to get the Microcenter guys to remove my liquid cooler on the CPU and install a mid-line fan. I’m a parsimonious miser for most things, but even I have my limits – possibly squirting liquid coolant all over my machine or having to disassemble my own rig to prevent that, is one of the lines.
As mentioned though, the 970 card is definitely still dead. I just submitted an RMA request and we’ll see what they say. It’s within the 2-year warranty period, but I’m a “worst-case scenario” kind of guy when it comes to corporations. I’m guessing this will be a 2-3 week process, at best.
In the meantime… well, WoW works perfectly fine with the 560ti. And isn’t crashing anymore. Which has allowed me to convert all but 100k or so of my in-game gold into $180 Blizzard credit.
So yeah. There’s that.
I haven’t been able to play games this week, for reasons unrelated to the move.
The issue started when I booted up WoW. I was able to play for about 5-10 minutes – enough time to try purchasing more WoW Tokens – but then the game froze for a moment, recovered, then after another 5 minutes my PC just reset. Immediately afterwards, I heard the fans on my GTX 970 turn on full blast but there was no monitor signal. About a minute later, the PC sounds like it is functioning okay, but again, no monitor signal. I reboot and the PC turns on fine.
“Weird,” I think. Turn on WoW again, and the PC resets again after 5 minutes. Again, the 970 fans kick into high gear. This time though, resetting the PC does not bring the monitor back up.
I moved the 970 card to another slot, I used a different DVI port, I unplug the PC from my UPS to plug directly into the wall outlet, and so on. Plugging the monitor cable directly into the motherboard slot, e.g. the integrated graphics card, works however. I eventually dig out my old 560ti card, and that also works. Okay, great. Maybe the 970 card died?
I run Furmark to stress the 560ti card to reproduce the error. Temps stabilize around 70c. I ran a CPU stress, and they are within acceptable limits as well. Boot up WoW, play for another 10 minutes, and hard reset yet again. “Okay, not playing WoW, gotcha.” I turn the PC back on, start filling out a RMA request for the 970 card, and my PC hard resets while inside a browser. As of today, the monitor will display nothing no matter what card or slot the cord is plugged in.
Now, the primary culprit is currently suspected to be the PSU. According to a coworker, the 12V “bridge” which powers graphics cards often goes out first. I ended up inadvertently ordering two PSUs – one was 500W, which is not likely enough to power the rig, but Amazon wouldn’t let me cancel the order – and they should be arriving soon. I’ll have to cross my fingers regarding the GTX 970 card still being functional. It is technically within the 2-year warranty/RMA period, but I’m expecting some potential pushback should the card be fried when there were PSU issues afoot.
Of course, it might be something else entirely. Maybe the motherboard.
I don’t consider myself to be particularly tech savvy as much as software savvy. Replacing the PSU is going to be the most complicated PC-related task I have completed since I installed the GTX 970 card in the first place. Prior to that, the most complicated task was installing a new SSD. It is not so much the physical actions that worry me, but rather than possibility (and repercussions) of failure. “Oops, I bricked the $300 video card.”
In any case, we’ll see how it goes. I dive into the case Thursday night.
Edit: I spent a little over 2 hours last night replacing the PSU. GTX 970 card still is not working. Moved the entire computer to a different outlet, same deal. Swapped in the 560ti card and everything booted up fine. Then I went for the test: logging into WoW. About 10 minutes in, power shutdown. Plugged monitor into integrated video slot, left the machine idle for a bit. Power cut off again.
At this point, I am at a loss. The rig is old – I bought it around 5 years ago or so – but I no longer have any idea what could be wrong. I’m going to try and take it to a Microcenter near me for diagnosis this weekend. Depending on the verdict… I dunno. Maybe I “cut” losses and go back to gaming laptop like I did in my computer prior to this one. Maybe I try to save what I got.
All I can say for the moment is that I feel lost. Everyone has a thing that keeps them centered when the rest of life gets weird. Sometimes it’s a person, sometimes it’s a game, sometimes it’s a phone. Mine is a functioning computer. Or perhaps a personalized virtual space, if I want to be more specific. I don’t have that for the moment, and it sucks.
Blizzard finally did it. You can turn WoW Tokens into Battle.net Balance:
I actually resubbed to WoW (using a token) just for the ability to quickly capitalize on the process. I say “quickly” for two reasons. First, because I almost couldn’t believe that Blizzard went with a $15 per token rate. Considering that 30 days of game time is already $15, there isn’t actually any reason not to just convert them all straight away.
The second reason is because the gold price of these tokens would skyrocket. And they have:
In fact, there were no tokens available for purchase last night; I kept getting an error message each time I tried. Which makes sense, considering that all of the goblins of the world finally have an outlet for their millions of gold. Blizzard has enough fingers in genre pies these days to cover most of the bases – DotA, ARPG, MMO, FPS, CCG, etc – so there is probably something for everyone.
Luckily (or unluckily depending on when you bought some), the price has since dropped down. Not all the way back down, but nearly 30k gold. The fun part of that graph from WoWtoken.info is how it exposes Blizzard’s pricing algorithm. As demand skyrocketed, the price of a token never exceeded +3.04% per hour. Conversely, as more tokens entered the market, the price never decreased faster than -2.98% per hour. At least, that’s what the graph shows.
As for me, my $120+ balance is likely to be spent transferring characters from the dead server of Auchindoun-US over to the high-pop server my “main” is on. At current rates, I could move… four. Out of ten. Considering that it costs Blizzard nothing to do this automated process, they are essentially capitalizing on the removal of future financial obligations (e.g. game time) for free.
Hmm. Perhaps I shall wait until another one of those 50% off sales on character transfers…
Tyler over at MMOBro makes the case for “getting over” lockboxes in games. I found the post interesting for several reasons, which I will get into in a bit. However, I do want to point out in the beginning that I agree with the premise: lockboxes aren’t going anywhere.
Even though they should. Specifically, into the garbage bin of bad game design.
One of the first of Tyler’s points is that lockboxes don’t literally destroy games. To which I would reply: not directly. Was the first iteration of Diablo 3 unplayable? Nope. Plenty of people were able to play the game just fine… for given amounts of fine.
From my perspective, the game was essentially broken in half. ARPGs in general (and especially Diablo) revolve around killing crowds of bad guys and hoping for good loot to drop, and the dopamine feedback loop simply didn’t exist when you could straight-up buy way better gear from the in-game AH. I was killing monsters hoping to get gold to buy better gear, rather than having any illusion that a monster might drop gear for me.
Perhaps even more problematic in Diablo 3’s case were the endgame difficulties. Since players could shop around and directly buy the best possible gear from a million other players’ drops, the endgame was balanced around Resistances and other stats that would be all but impossible to get within your own game sans AH. In other words, since you could buy good gear, the game designers had to create challenges that required that gear for it to be worthwhile, thereby creating cash-required progression.
Now, you might say that Diablo 3’s system wasn’t technically lockboxes at all. Semantics, I say. The point is that if you can buy power for cash, the player incentives in the game change, as do developers’ ultimate design goals.
But what about non-power purchases? Tyler starts out in the post by saying:
It can be a little irritating to see some gorgeous mount or awesome costume that you’ll never get unless you dump a small fortune into gambling boxes, but how much impact is that having on your moment to moment gameplay, really?
Later on, however, he gets to this part:
I also don’t think we should give up the fight to keep direct purchases part of MMO business models. Something I find frustrating about SW:TOR’s lock[box] obsession is not so much the boxes themselves, but the fact that almost nothing good ever gets added to the cash shop for direct sale.
That is precisely why this business model is so pernicious. As Tyler notes, there are plenty of MMOs out there which have survived just fine almost entirely on the backs of their lockbox revenue. Tyler was making that point in context of refuting lockboxes as short-term cash grabs, but the fact that they are in fact long-term revenue streams is more damning, IMO.
Lockboxes are long-term revenue streams because designers devote significant time to adding more stuff in them at direct expense to the rest of the game. Which makes perfect, rational sense. Under a traditional Buy-2-Play model, you get more money by making a better game. Under anything else, you get more of that game-adjacent thing, which NEVER improves the gameplay experience itself. Because it is never a part of the actual game.
Later, game designers get this defense:
And let’s stop demonizing developers for adding lockboxes to games. […] They’re just trying to turn a profit and earn a living, like everyone else in our capitalist society.
I mean… that kind of justifies anything, right? Mylan was just trying to turn a profit with the EpiPen hike in this capitalist society, Martin Shkreli was just trying to turn a profit with that AIDS drug gouge, and so on. Nothing nefarious about that; it’s all just business. “Business” being defined here as consequence-free personal enrichment and erosion of all consumer surplus, of course.
As I mentioned at the beginning, lockboxes aren’t going anywhere in spite of their abhorrent, exploitative, design-destroying influences, precisely because they work. And to be clear, lockboxes work the same way that cigarettes “work,” with similar (metaphorical) long-term effects. Lockboxes never, in any way, ADD anything of value to the game design itself; all of those cool mounts and skins could have been added for achievements, as rewards for skill, at the end of a long quest chain, or anywhere at all that reinforces the core gameplay loop.
At best, lockboxes funds game development in a roundabout way. Which sort of begs the question as to why these designers don’t just go full Konami and get into the Pachinko business to which they clearly aspire. Or, you know, perhaps make a product worth purchasing on its own merits.
Closed on a house today. First-time meatspace homeowner.
Posts will continue as they more or less have been for the past month or so, e.g. kinda slowly. With all the heavy lifting out of the way though, all that’s left is the… heavy lifting.
Just kidding, I hired movers.
Short version: survival… underwater.
You know, it’s easy sometimes to get jaded with videogames. Go around the block a few times and it will feel like you have seen it all. Same mechanics, different textures. Then, something manages to catch you by surprise. Subnautica is precisely that something.
The premise of Subnautica is that you are a survivor of a spaceship crash on what appears to be a complete waterworld. Your lifeboat contains a Replicator, a Medical Replicator, a locker, and a damaged short-range communicator. Good luck.
I played version 42313 (Dec-16), and already the game looks goddamn amazing. More importantly, the game feels amazing. This is important because you will be swimming underwater 99.99% of the time. Initially, you are slow and clumsy, and have to stick to the safety of the shallows to find scrap metal to turn into Titanium. Over time, you can craft some swim gear, extra oxygen tanks, and eventually vehicles to travel with greater style.
The surprising part of this game, to me, was how… new everything felt, mechanics-wise. In Minecraft, Ark, Rust, 7 Days to Die, and countless other games, the beginning is always the same: look around, punch trees, collect rocks, build a fortress of doom. I spent the first 15 minutes of Subnautica in that same mindset, and filled my inventory with anything I could grab by left-clicking. Which ended up being a whole lot of relatively useless Acid Mushrooms that, while they can be made into batteries later, did nothing in the survival department right now.
That was when I realized that I needed to let go of what I knew before. Subnautica is its own game.
There is no better example of this than the Subnautica take on weapons. Basically, you have a survival knife. That you have to craft first. As far as I am aware, that is it. Stalkers and Sand Sharks and other carnivores have little issue taking a bite out of your scuba suit, so there is absolutely a sense of danger in the game, above and beyond the mundane (yet omnipresent) risk of drowning. Poking one with the knife will get them to retreat for a while, but this is a game where discretion is pretty much the only part of valor. Which, again, is completely refreshing.
I’m not entirely sure how much of the “game” game is implemented yet, but I am impressed by what I see thus far. I just hit what I imagine to be the mid-game: constructing underwater bases. This allows me to craft where the resources are, instead of having to swim back to my lifeboat each time. The crafting isn’t terribly complex, but yet still feels involved considering your limited inventory, which is limited further by extra oxygen tanks (which take up 4 cells). At the moment, I am trying to nail down additional debris fields so I can scan technology to build better vehicles/base structures.
Overall, Subnautica feels like… a breath of fresh air.
Yeah, I went there. And you should too.
Short version: Survival Horror, with more of an emphasis on Survival.
Right from the start, I just have to say that the Forest is one of the most visually impressive games I have played, and it’s still in Alpha. Specifically, I played Alpha version 0.52
The game starts with you on an airplane with your son. The plane crashes on an island, you see a dude in red paint and loincloth take your son away, and… action. Loot some airplane food for sustenance, grab the emergency hand axe from the body of a flight attendant, and you are in the middle of the forest. Good luck.
While The Forest initially plays out like your standard Survival game, it diverges in interesting ways. For example, most Survival games limit the amount of items you can pick up either by weight, or fitting into grid, or something like that. In this game, you are limited by type. For example, you can only carry 8 sticks… but can also carry 8 rocks, 20+ arrows, a half dozen medicinal herbs, four melee weapons, a few bombs, a bunch of animal skins, and so on.
The other interesting bit comes in the form of logs. Logs are the basic building component for pretty much any structure, but they are much too large to carry around in your inventory. So… you carry them on your shoulders, one at a time. You can craft a “Log Sled” pretty easily, which allows you to store and easily move up to 8 logs, but the physicality of it all adds an unexpectedly potent bit of immersion.
Also, dude must be ripped and/or a lumberjack.
The main hostile force in the game are the cannibals. While I have not spent a whole lot of time testing things, the cannibals are absolutely not the sort of mindless enemy that traditional Survival games utilize. Sometimes they rush at you and attack. Sometimes they rush forward and stop when you don’t make some move to retaliate or run away. Sometimes they just get on their knees and worship you a bit.
As time goes on – and as you destroy the forest around you building tree houses – the cannibals get more hostile. And that’s when you start building traps, walls, and stocking up on armor made of lizard skin and leaves. Or perhaps you chop the cannibal corpses into pieces, and construct a burning effigy to establish your dominance.
It was around hour 10 when I descended into a cannibal cave, confident I had enough supplies and arrows to face what was down there. That’s when I saw it, while I was dangling off the end of 50 feet of rope:
That’s enough Forest for me, for now. I’ll… yeah, I’ll wait for Beta. Or release.
Or the heat death of the universe.
Since that last screenshot is too dark, here is what the creature looks like via an in-game photograph:
Can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be two women fused together, or three. Probably three.
Okay, now I’m (probably) done with 7 Days to Die.
The one thing I really wanted to do was try and succeed at a randomly generated world. Which is kinda weird, since I’m not exactly a huge fan of procedural entertainment for its own sake. The issue in the absence of randomness is that… it’s not random – you know exactly where everything is. The specific loot might vary from seed to seed, but you’ll always know where the police station is, where there might be a gas station, ect.
Of course, random maps often end up like this nonsense:
I almost abandoned my attempt within the first 30 or so minutes, simply because of how annoying it is starting back over. In my prior save, I already had crossbows, iron sledgehammers, and nearly all gun recipes. The real meat of survival games happens in that inbetween time where you are desperately scavenging for supplies while establishing a base. So while it’s fun stepping foot into zombie town for the first time, loot possibilities endless, it’s also highly annoying trying to break down doors with a stone axe. Oh, a gun safe? I’ll just break the lock… ah, right, Stone Age.
I kept at it though, and before I knew it, I had an impenetrable zombie base. Actually, I knew exactly when I had such a base, because I recognized the weird structure that lays atop a “hidden” bunker, and also knew that zombies can’t dig anymore, so the game was effectively over. I mean, there was still the very real chance at death due to zombie dogs, which I encountered several times while venturing about. But as far as Horde Night goes? I could effectively just go AFK while browsing Reddit while it occurred in the background.
Later, I created a zombie cage with bars and spikes such that I could shoot/stab through the bars and even loot while the zombies couldn’t do much. I have yet to encounter the Screamer or Cop Zombie types, so perhaps increasing the difficulty could engender some additional feeling of danger.
Alternatively, I might be effectively done. Which is fine, considering I have been obsessively playing it for the last two weeks and have racked up nearly 60 hours at this point. Not bad for a game in Alpha. Indeed, the next update is supposed to have a Behemoth zombie that will topple structures with ease. Unless they let zombies aim at the ground though, bunkers will still be an I-WIN button.
In any case, I highly recommend this game.
I might also recommend waiting until at least Beta to get the most enjoyment out of it. But hey, if you catch it at $5 or $10, it’s worth the money if you think you might like zombie Minecraft.