Chasing a PVE MOBA

A Meaningless Term

League of Legends 2013-04-30 20-12-49-94 Yesterday I witnessed a conversation unfold that I have had a dozen times myself with various folks.  A friend of mine made the idle comment that they would really like to see a “PVE MOBA”, to which someone else predictably replied that you cannot have a “MOBA” without PVP.  The problem is that there is absolutely no clear definition of what exactly a “MOBA” is.  Additionally each player seems to refer to a slightly different set of mechanics when someone says “MOBA-like”.  So for some people it is all about the match based pvp action, and others it is all about the interesting class design.  If you simply dissect the term “MOBA” you get Multiplayer Online Battle Arena…  which in itself is another absolutely meaningless term.  Multiplayer Online is clear enough but the Battle Arena part is complete nonsense.  What are you battling and what sort of arena are you battling in?

For me personally the key elements of what make a MOBA intriguing have nothing to do with player versus player combat.  I like the different characters and their unique sets of abilities, and the way they interact with other characters and their abilities.  In fact I would be happy spending my time in lane killing creeps because I honestly enjoy doing that way more than engaging with other players.  When I play League of Legends I will almost always play against bots, and have long thought that it would make an interesting game to make it purely co-operative against interesting challenges.  The problem is if you say this.. you get the reaction above that it cannot be done… because MOBAs are PVP games dammit!  But what I am presenting is that folks are assigning a specific mindset to a term that is absolutely meaningless on its own merit.  Multiplayer Online Battle Arena can describe so many games and is likely why the term gets blurred so much to describe games that are absolutely nothing like the original Defense of the Ancients roots.

Keep the Interesting Bits

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 For me the interesting bits about what we generally refer to as a MOBA are the Character design that I have talked about before, and ultimately the payment model.  I like this concept of purchasing individual champions, and having a rotation of free champions to play to consistently keep testing the waters and trying to branch out.  The key part as well for me is the way that MOBA titles grow over time.  If you look at the evolution of League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, in both cases they are constantly releasing new content to satiate the appetites of players.  I think this has been key to the success, that every few weeks there is something new being introduced to the game to shake up players expectations.  League for example has over 120 different unique champions that they are doing a decent job of keeping balanced against each other, and Heroes is adding at least one champion a month it seems to catch up.  So I feel like the big success of this genre has been constant incremental evolution of the product.

This variety helps deal with the “special snowflake” syndrome that happens in MMO design.  Often times there is a demographic of players that wants to play a specific class in a manner that was not intended to be played.  Granted this happens to some extent in build system MMOs like league, but it is always clear that this is not necessarily a “supported” play style.  The champion system instead lets companies roll out lots of hyper focused characters that play to very specific niches.  So in this case what would be a “special snowflake” like the “melee hunter” would simply just be another champion they could build to fill that desire.  So instead the focus becomes on mastery of a specific set of abilities unique to that champion, rather than a much larger set of abilities as seen in most “talent tree” systems.  I feel like this is crucial in allowing someone to adapt to a brand new champion quickly, but at the same time feeling confident enough to branch out into things they have yet to try before.  There are game play modes like ARAM (All Random All Mid) that encourage this branching out because it forces players to play with a random champion.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

Diablo III 2013-08-21 20-12-09-60 So the quandary I am in is that I love the League of Legends lore and champion design, but don’t love the game itself.  I have long thought that it would be awesome to have a PVE centric version of League of Legends where you play the same champions with the same abilities in a Diablo like setting.  Instead of fighting in Summoner’s Rift against five other players in a battle to destroy the opposing teams nexus, it would be a co-operative experience as five players venture into a procedurally generated dungeon with a treasure at the end.  The idea is that each map would be harder than the previous until you reach a boss battle for the final treasure in the dungeon.  You could even keep the build mechanic in the form of at the beginning of each map level you could have the same merchant that exists just outside of your teams Nexus in the Rift.  After venturing a certain way into each map level he could travel to the next level, making it so that players could only buy new items at the beginning of each map.

For the hyper competitive players, you could still keep all manner of stats from number of monsters killed, their average difficulty rating, how fast it takes your team to clear a map, and of course how many times you have died during a specific encounter.  Personally I would go with a counter strike approach where each player gets a single life per map, making it progressively harder the more players that you have lost.  I would introduce the ability to purchase resurrection potions, but again that is an opportunity cost… since you have limited item inventory slots and limited gold to keep purchasing items with.  Similarly I would introduce a “lives” mechanic in the number of times your team can retry during a specific dungeon crawl sequence.  This would encourage the team to stick together and work on group tactics rather than going off on their own and risking getting overwhelmed.  The thing is… I would absolutely pay to play a game like that, and would probably rope my friends into playing it to.  The key impediment however is that folks seem to keep thinking that “MOBA” style mechanics cannot also apply to PVE game design.  Someone make this game happen…  I am looking at you Riot.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 2

Yesterday I kicked off my own versions of the Developer Appreciation Week with five companies and game teams that I greatly appreciate it.  It seems like we are starting to get some traction because yesterday MMOGames.com independent of my own intervention ran a piece of what we are doing.  I still hope to see more people join in the fun and talk about the development staff that they really appreciate it.  I play a lot of games… so I have a lot of love to go around.

Blizzard – World of Warcraft Team

WoWScrnShot_033115_220604 Last night was quite possibly my single best night in World of Warcraft raiding.  After some sluggish weeks we strolled into Blackrock Foundry and cleared seven normal bosses, then popped out and took down two heroic bosses… one of which was our first kill.  To make the night even more special we managed to one shot all of them.  After riding that high last night, it is impossible to do a developer appreciation week post without talking about Blizzard.  World of Warcraft has been the juggernaut in the room for so long that I can barely remember a time when they were not the clear market dominator.  While I have some disappointments about Warlords of Draenor, I feel like they are legitimately trying to turn the franchise around after what felt like years of neglect.  It feels very much like they have doubled down on this game, and at the end of the day I am still enjoying playing it with my friends.  For a ten year old game to still maintain relevancy is a pretty mighty feat, so my hat is off to the Blizzard staff who have supported it throughout the years and made it this experience that we judge all other MMOs against.  It has been the gold standard for good reason.  Even if World of Warcraft is not your game, you have to marvel at the level of polish that they deliver when they roll out a new expansion.

Bioware – Star Wars the Old Republic Team

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 Star Wars the Old Republic and I have somewhat of a checkered past to be honest.  I went into this game feeling like it was going to be the WoW Killer for myself and my friends, but ultimately we lasted the same three months that we normally do in this sort of game.  When they chose to go free to play, I was frustrated by how insanely restrictive the system ended up being.  All of this said… if you can some how push past all of the limited time loot boxes and free to play cludge…  there is a great game there at its core.  With the launch of SWTOR I tried something that I don’t normally do… I leveled as part of a dedicated duo with my friend Euron.  I played a Jedi Guardian and he a Jedi Consular, and we participated in each others stories.  The way those two tales interweave was something to behold, and while it felt a bit confining to always have to make sure you and your friend were on at exactly the same times…  it was a leveling experience unlike no other.  The thing that stands out about SWTOR is the story, and what ultimately killed the game for me was when I ran out of it.  Now I know I have several expansions that I can go back and experience and I keep thinking that one day I will do precisely that.  In the meantime I have fond memories of the time we were all obsessed with this game, and give massive props to the folks who built such engaging content… that we pulled some fourteen hours a day to get through it all.

Zenimax – The Elder Scrolls Online Team

eso 2014-07-14 21-46-45-167 Since Daggerfall I have been in love with the Elder Scrolls franchise.  Each time a new one comes out I end up devoting hundreds of hours to playing it, but all the while I keep thinking… this experience would be more enjoyable with my friends.  So when I found out that Elder Scrolls was in fact being made into an MMO I was completely over the moon about it.  I was lucky enough to be in the first round of alpha testing, so ultimately I participated in this game for over a year before launching it.  Unfortunately this was a bit of a double edged sword because I got to see some features that worked better in early versions of the game, as compared to later more minimalistic ones.  When you test a game that long it skews your vision of what the game actually is.  Elder Scrolls Online has some of the best story content I have experienced in any game, and there are a number of quest lines that stick out in my memory.  The whole concept of being able to continue into another faction after you have finished yours was inspired.  The problem is by the time I hit the Aldmeri content I had lost a lot of my steam, and our guild was suffering the traditional drop off in players.  Now that the game has shifted to buy to play however I am able to experience this game again and realize just how great it actually is.  A lot of the problems I had with it early on have been smoothed out, and the post 50 progression no longer feels quite so grindy.  I really appreciate the staff that has been plugging away quietly on making this game a better place to be, and I look forward to playing it more in the coming months.

Trion Worlds – Trove Team

trove 2014-10-16 22-40-54-21 Trove is this quirky world building game that blends MMO combat, MOBA style character design, and Minecraft style exploration and construction.  I was lucky enough to be including in the first round of alpha invites for trove, and it has been insane to watch this game evolve.  What I love the most is the way the developers have been meshed with the community since day one.  Instead of a traditional forum, they decided to open up the process with a reddit, in fact I think this is the first game I can ever recall doing that.  In those first days the community was so amazing, because it was so tight knit.  You would log in and get welcomed by people that might recognize your name from the Reddit, and there was rarely a time when a developer was not in game talking to players.  As the game has progressed the community has gotten larger, and the rigors of development have degraded this closeness a small bit, but it is still very much a game that draws its inspiration from the players.  While I don’t play it as much as I should, I have loved watching it evolve around me.  It feels like the sort of game you get when you throw a bunch of seven year olds in a room and tell them to solve a problem.  It is pure unbridled joy and imagination… and has been good for my jaded soul to see that a game like that can exist.

Riot Games – League of Legends Team

League of Legends 2013-08-15 20-37-32-38

League of Legends is 100% not my type of game.  In fact I might never have played it were it not at the suggestion of my friends.  Actually I rarely ever play this game other than when a bunch of friends want to do so.  That said the experience of playing with a team of friends is contagious.   There are a lot of aspects about this game that are problematic for me, a huge one being the still very toxic community.  That said I give the biggest credit I can possibly give to the character designers.  What League has in spades is the personality that seems to be lacking from so many other MMOs.  The characters in League of Legends have a life of their own, and they make you fall in love with them.  I have joked for some time, that this isn’t actually a game, but a modern sticker album… because I seem to largely collect characters and skins rather than actually play with them.  Each character is really a triumph of taking what are mostly remixed elements and making them feel fresh and new.  I tend to stick to the characters I know and love however like Darius, Graves, WuKong and Garen.  My favorite gameplay mode however will probably always be ARAM simply because no one expect you to know what you are doing, which is about perfect for me.

Crystal Madness

Permanent Exhaustion

Back in March my wife and I each purchased a fitbit, and since then it has rewired quite a few things in our daily routine.  Over the first few month we mostly focused on changing the way we walked, and picking up steps in places we could during our normal routine.  So instead of taking the elevator in the parking garage, I started walking the stairs… and have now changed that up to walking the ramps down for maximum steps.  In many ways the fitbit changes exercise into a game, and with it comes a whole slew of “achievements” being tracked by the fitbit dashboard.  While what it does is rather stupid…  it is just an always on pedometer, the fact that it is there and constantly reminding me that I need to be walking is where the real benefit comes in.

Over the last month we have been walking on a nightly basis, and within the last week and a half this has morphed not only into walking to augment our total steps… but to trying every night to “ding”.  My wife is not a gamer really, but she has picked up my MMO analogy when it comes to the fitbit.  For us dinging is getting to our target steps of 10,000 per night, and this is fitting since the little band goes nuts when you reach your target goal.  While trying to hit 10,000 is cool…  my new goal is trying to hit 70,000 weekly steps and getting the achievement associated with it.  Why do I care?  Well it has been looming there for months… and it was a thing I never thought I would actually be able to hit.

More than anything this whole experience has been a lesson in proving me wrong.  I’m fat, and I will likely always be fat.  At 6’4” I carry my 350 lbs more better than some… but I am still very much a fat man, and I am mostly okay with that.  More than anything I want to be a more “fit” fat and have more stamina and endurance… and I have already come so damned far already.  Granted right now I am somewhat living in a state of permanent exhaustion as I try and do this exercise thing each night and also do my evening gaming.  Right now we are walking a little over 2 miles per night, and doing what we call our “triple loop” where we weave a course through our neighborhood and the next one over.  The course is designed so it never takes us past our house, that way we are not tempted to call it and stop.  Right now I need to have walked between 6500 and 7000 steps to be able to hit 10-11k during my evening walk.  With it being a rainy and otherwise sedentary weekend… we might have to start walking a “quint loop”, but by god I will hit my 70,000 steps this week.

Crystal Madness

WildStar64 2014-06-06 06-04-48-273 I had all intents of streaming last night, but for whatever reason it never quite happened.  I spent a good deal of the evening running down the last few things I needed to do to complete Deredune, and what I was doing… while enjoyable for me seemed like it would be extremely boring to watch.  As the evening wore on, more people joined me in the channel… and I simply never alt tabbed to fire up OBS.  Wildstar is latching onto me with a vengence, and in ways I am surprised.  You can go through my pre-launch posts… and I struggled hard to figure out a way to get into this game.  I wanted so bad to like it, because at face value it seemed like a game I would love… or at the very least the me from five years ago would have loved.  Overall it intrigued me enough to play it at launch, especially since I would be bringing with me a chunk of the Alliance of Awesome community.

Now that I have spent a good deal of time playing it… I am completely enthralled.  The thing is I am not sure exactly why.  Guild Wars 2 is one of those games that I have tried to dissect just why I don’t enjoy it, and no matter what I try and do there… the game felt largely pointless.  Wildstar feels like it took so many of the good elements of GW2 but presented them in a way that I actually care about them.  Problem is I am not sure if I can explain why.  For starters there is something psychologically enjoyable about challenges.  You can be wandering around and loot an item… and then all the sudden you on the clock and every fiber of your being is poured into completely whatever this task happens to be.  Sure you can ignore them, and start them manually from the challenges section of your quest log…  however there is something special about just stumbling onto one naturally.

The game has a depth that I have not seen since Everquest 2, and that really shocked me.  There are layers within layers within layers of nuance going on here.  Right now it seems to have every feature that I ever wanted in a game.  While it doesn’t have a “chronomage” style self mentoring system, you can apparently drop your level down to your party members at any time.  In fact so many of the things in the game seem to be there to help you group with your friends.  The only real thing that the game fails at is in still continuing to divide players into red and blue teams.  That said I can for the most part deal with this, since they have account based friends and I can at the very least talk to my friends on the other side of the faction wall.  I have reached a point where I am pretty sure already that this is my new “WoW”, and had I not already purchased Warlords of Draenor… I would seriously consider skipping this expansion.

The picture above is pretty cool because it is from my skyplot.  One of the nifty things is that while you are out in the world, you are constantly collecting things for your house.  A special kind of item that you can find is a “PreFab Kit” and these allow you to build new sections of your skyplot.  While wandering around I managed to find a green quality one that essentially added a crazy jumping puzzle to my house.  So the fact that it is a jumping puzzle in itself is cool… but it basically added a daily quest to my house.  If you can make it to the top of the puzzle in 1 minute 10 seconds you can get a prize, which is similar to the prizes you normally get from challenges.  I’ve managed to pick up a handful of housing items from doing this, including a really cool spiral tree.  If you are on Evindra/Dominion let me know and I will neighbor you so you can have access to do the puzzle.

League Beginner Night

League of Legends 2014-06-05 22-00-53-703 I feel like maybe this week the title of our weekly League of Legends night might be a bit of a misnomer.  We had several folks, but not quite enough to do two matches at the same time.  So as a result we alternated swapping folks in and doing 5 man vs Bots games to let folks get adjusted to new champions.  Oakstout joins us this week and it turns out that while he signed up for a beginner night… he owns a whole slew of champions and has like 130 wins under his belt or something like that.  So I would hardly call him a beginner, in fact I am far more beginnerly than he was.  That said it was still an awesomely fun time and we hung out and joked while playing the game.  I played a total of three games, the first of which I tried out the champion Gangplank that was free this week.  I have to say I dig him quite a bit, and if he goes on sale again soonish I might pick him up.

The second round I played Aatrox, which I still absolutely love for his pure survival.  During this battle Oak was playing one of my all time favorite champions WuKong… but the combination meant we got to bully our lane severely.  Our double jumps meant we could engage quickly and shred the enemy bots quickly before returning to farming or taking down turrets.  I have decided though that I really need to pick up the Justicar Skin since I don’t really care much for Aatrox’s default appearance.  Finally I closed out the night by playing a game as Woad King Darius… which we have all agreed is the “most belghast skin ever”.  It was a great time, and if you are looking to ease your way into League of Legends, then I highly suggest you participate next week.  At some point I figure we will even start to play real people.

#Wildstar #LeagueOfLegends #LoL

Faffless Wednesday

Banging Doors

Well it happened again last night, I was woken up by one of our cats banging on the closet door.  The problem is after I finally got her crackhead self settled down and up into bed with us…  I once again was completely wide awake.  Problem is this time it was at 12:45 when it started, so there I lay in bed at 1 am completely unable to get back to sleep.  So I sat there for a bit, finally deciding to get up and go upstairs and play something for awhile to hopefully tire myself back out again.  The game of choice was Defiance, but I will go into that more later.  I managed to get to a state where I thought I might sleep around 2 am, but the rest of the night was extremely fitful.

According to fitbit I was awake 9 times during the night.  I have no clue what is going on with me that my body keeps thinking I am fully awake at any point I wake up.  I have always struggled with sleep, and as a result cannot nap for fear of not being able to sleep that night.  This whole waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep thing that has plagued me the last two nights is brand new however.  Right now this morning I feel mostly normal, albeit a little sluggish… I just fear for what this will mean as the day wears on.  Yesterday was rough since I had been up since 3:45, especially about 2 pm or so it became torture to try and do anything productive.  I might have to start resorting to taking a sleep aid, but I hate how groggy they make me feel in the morning.

Faffless Wednesday

eso 2014-05-29 06-28-44-860 Last night for whatever reason we simply did not have a good turnout for our normal “faff about” in Elder Scrolls Online event.  It could be that people were just busy, or it could be that the Wildstar servers were up for some reason yesterday and folks are anxious for the head start coming Friday.  In any case there were just three of us that showed up with the purpose of doing the event, so we decided that it was really too few to do a dungeon, and too few to really do anything meaningful in Cyrodil.  As a result we just kinda piddled around doing our own thing and chatting back and forth.  PK and Delevax joined the rest of us on mumble and we hung out while playing.  I have not really as much time to play Elder Scrolls Online that I would have liked.

Lately my weekends have been scattered with little landmines of not being able to play anything, and then last weekend the amazing single player games Transistor and Wolfenstein: New Order got my devoted attention.  At this point I think I am about two hours away from finishing Wolf, and transistor was a punch in the gut…  but a very good one.  I had been looking forward to Wednesday because I knew I would devote myself to playing nothing but Elder Scrolls Online, even if the “event” didn’t happen.  I have to say I love the veteran content, and more importantly I love that mobs are once again difficult.  There were always a couple of types of encounters that were painful for me…  I am looking at you Harvesters…  but for the most part I had reached a place where I could steam roll in entire packs of mobs.  There were several late game public dungeons that I solo’d my way through, so my skill level with the game had reached a point where it was simply greater than the challenge.

Veteran content reset that equilibrium.  I literally can get my ass kicked by a mudcrab if I happen upon a pack of three, and even in the case of two at a time I have to use Green Blood to heal myself while dealing with the second one.  I like that the game instantly became a challenge again the moment I completed the storyline.  The result is that while I do the Aldmeri Dominion content, the game feels fresh to me since I am having to relearn how to manage tough encounters.  Last night I finished up Kenarthi’s Roost and moved on into Auridon.  Since this is the content I have done the least, I am really enjoying winding my way through elfland.  I’ve decided that I really like the Bosmer…  I was talking last night with Euron that they remind me quite a bit of the Witch Elves from Warhammer Fantasy.  As much as I want to dislike her, I have to admit that Queen Ayrenn is pretty awesome as well.

Figuring out Defiance

Defiance 2014-05-29 06-30-42-873 I wrote yesterday mornings blog post at about 4 am, and then proceeded to faff about in Defiance for the next hour until 5:30 when the alarm normally goes off.  During that time I think I finally figured out how to enjoy the game.  There was always something I liked about it, but the experience just felt lacking in some way.  Like I didn’t quite grasp how the questing system worked or how the world exploration worked.  The first change I made is that I started playing the game with the Xbox 360 controller.  While it controls competently with the keyboard and mouse, everything feels like it just works better with the controller.  I guess this is the side effect when you develop a game for consoles, but I am slowly getting used to playing an FPS with a controller.  I find the lack of focused aiming to be far less of a detriment that I thought it would be.

Secondly I had a major epiphany while playing as I stumbled across and Arkfall.  I started treating this game like it was Rift, in that so many times in Rift I just spend my time ping ponging from tear to tear closing the Rifts.  Doing this so far has been worth a ton of experience and my Ego rank is slowly climbing.  Additionally you seem to get some really good rewards for doing it, and I am starting to bump into other players as well which makes the experience overall more enjoyable.  I always felt like the thing that was lacking was that I didn’t really have anyone to play the game with.  I am hoping as this game transitions from “buy the box” to “free to play” that folks will start filtering back in.  It might just be the recent time spent playing and FPS, but I am enjoying the game quite a bit.  Therein lies the problem however…  I simply have too damned many games to play.

League Beginner Night

Tonight I’m Playing League of Legends.  Once upon a time in House Stalwart we did these league beginner nights, when we coaxed new players to League of Legends onto mumble and did some vs bots or custom 5v5 gameplay.  The purpose was to ease folks into the game and let them soak up some of the knowledge of a few of our more veteran players.  When the Alliance of Awesome folks started talking about League, I figured it was a good time to try and resurrect this concept.  So tonight I will be playing some league and hanging out on mumble with folks while doing it.  I am just hoping to get in some practice playing Braum, but if not I will probably default back to Wukong, Garen or Darius.  I would actually love to play some Varus since I have yet to do so since picking up the PAX skin.  If you are interest in joining up check out the Anook event, the goal is to start around 9 PM CST to make it doable for the West Coasters.  There are technically only a couple of people signed up, but I know we will have a lot more just from word of mouth.

#ESO #ElderScrollsOnline #Defiance #LeagueofLegends #LoL

FF5 Draft: White Mage Hell

Today I am swapping things up a bit with my Steampowered Sunday post.  Originally the goal of this column was to force myself to play some games that were sitting in my steam backlog… which is huge.  However over time this has mutated a bit into “bel plays a game and reviews it”.  Today we are going to see some further mutation of this as I write about some madness that I allowed myself to get involved with along with my Aggrochat podcast co-hosts Kodra and Ashgar as well as occasional fill-in host Tam.  For some time Ashgar has participated in the Four Job Fiesta charity event that now helps out the Child’s Play charity.  The goal of this is to play through the epic game Final Fantasy 5 using a fixed set of jobs.

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-18 11-06-24-150 For those not familiar with Final Fantasy 5, it was a 16 bit era title that allowed you to choose what classes a fixed set of 4 characters would be by assigning them jobs.  While in the job they gained abilities that could then carry over into other jobs.  This became a min-maxers dream as you could make some extremely broken combinations.  As a result for years players have done various wierd combinations of this game for fun, and the Four Job Fiesta capitalized on this and turned it into a grand charity event.  For awhile Ash has wanted to do an internal draft of this game, where four of us get together and draft out a viable party made of of the different available jobs.  As a result each player has to make some compromises to determine what they want to go after first.

To facilitate this Ash decided to set up a card deck game using the amazing Google hangout app Roll 20.  He laid out the various sprites for the characters in rows representing the Wind Crystal, Water Crystal, Fire Crystal and Earth Crystal… adding the Freelancer as an optional job for the Earth Crystal given that specific one only has four options.  So again for those not as deeply familiar with the title as it seems to be among our little circle of mumble users…  the setup looks something like this.

The Job Options

Wind Crystal

  • Knight
  • Monk
  • Thief
  • Black Mage
  • White Mage
  • Blue Mage

Water Crystal

  • Red Mage
  • Time Mage
  • Summoner
  • Beserker
  • Mystic Knight
  • Mime

Fire Crystal

  • Beastmaster
  • Geomancer
  • Ninja
  • Ranger
  • Bard

Earth Crystal

  • Dragoon
  • Dancer
  • Samurai
  • Chemist
  • Freelancer

The Draft

The rules of the game that we are playing under is that each player must always have one of a given job, and from the moment you get your crystals… every character must have a job.  There are alternate rulesets where you can play with freelancer until you get all four jobs available, but we are playing with the more pure ruleset.  This as always means that some of the parties will have a much easier time than others.  Whoever gets stuck with Thief and White Mage will be struggling, since both of them have issues early game, and whoever has the Black Mage will have a supremely easy time rolling over everything in their way.  We opted to go with a draft order that minimized the advantage of being first, and the disadvantage of being last… that looks a little something like this.

ABCD | DCBA | BDAC | CADB

We decided to roll a 20 sided die in the Roll20 addon to get started and pick the order.  Ashgar using his dice hacking abilities rolled an 18, Tam rolled an 8, Kodra rolled a 5… and I rolled a very lowly and painful 2.  Meaning that in the above scenario Player A would be Ashgar, B would be Tam, C would be Kodra and I got stuck bringing up the rear with D.  However due to the order of the draft I feel like maybe I had a slight advantage.  Of course the Black Mage was gone by the time it got around to me, but I still had plenty of really good things to pick from, considering in this draft I got to make 2 picks back to back.   When all was said and done our party compositions looked like this.

Belghast – White Mage, Mystic Knight, Ranger, Samurai

Ashgar – Blue Mage, Summoner, Beastmaster, Dancer

Kodra – Black Mage, Red Mage, Bard, Chemist

Tam – Thief, Time Mage, Ninja, Dragoon

This surprisingly left the Knight completely untouched, which is an extremely good early game starter.  Not unsurprisingly no one picked the Berserker or Mime, or the Geomancer.  However I think we were all somewhat shocked that no one at all picked up the Freelancer, which ultimately ends up being one of the best options since they can be super customized.  I think overall each of us had a plan in the works, namely mine involved using Ranger to feed my Samurai.  Ash seems to like Blue Mage and Beastmaster which are super fiddly combinations… but he is methodical enough to make them work amazingly.  Kodra of course went for the power combo of Black Mage/Red Mage which will mean he has an extremely easy play through.  Tam went with a super focused build of being able to feed the Ninja and Dragoon, but will have the roughest start of all of us… since you cannot get thieves a weapon in the first town.

Reality Setting In

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-17 20-29-04-556 It was really during the first “post job” boss encounter that the reality of my choices set in.  I wanted to go for a very melee party, which meant I needed some extremely strong healing.  There is no stronger healer in Final Fantasy 5 than the White Mage, so it seemed like a no brainer pick.  However I did not really “grok” the reality of trying to play through with ONLY white mages up through the water crystal.  Karlaboss aka the fight above is the moment it really set in what I had laid out in front of me, as I slowly dinked away at 650 hp… 10 damage at a time.  Granted there was no way in hell he was going to kill me… but the entire process is just slow and tedious.

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-17 22-28-47-597 I made it through to the ship graveyard where finally I could start to grind away at the mobs.  My white mage party is uniquely suited for combating the undead, since this flavor of FF allows for you to case cure on the undead which becomes an offensive spell.  I made an early mistake in that I tried to podcast while playing this game, and wound up running out of mana and dying horribly.  However I reloaded from an earlier save state after we finished the podcast and continued on the journey.  I opted to grind my way to 10 on the undead hoping that would give me enough of a buffer to get through the next few fights before I finally get the water crystal and can make a party full of mystic knights.  Granted I will still have to keep one player a white mage, but that should work just fine given I will still need some healing.

White Mage Hell

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-17 23-03-44-311 The boss at the end of the ship graveyard was a complete pushover.  Generally speaking this is a pretty rough time for most parties considering she starts out living and turns undead a few rounds into the fight.  The undead version has the nasty added issue of poisoning players each time she hits them.  This quickly gets out of control for most parties, however with an army of white mages I just pushed forward nuking the hell out of her with cure.  It took two rounds of this after she turned undead to finish her off.  I calmly cured the poison and moved on. However as easy as this fight was, the next one turned out to be absolutely brutal.

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-17 23-30-16-066

As I climbed the north mountain to get to the wounded dragon Hiryuu, I started to question if I should have ground higher than ten in the ship graveyard.  I simply could not do crap against the mobs on the mountain, other than simply out survive them.  Additionally the flail that I picked up, and is now my saving grace… seems to miss quite a lot.  Instead of fighting I opted to run away from almost all of the fights leading up to Magissa.  I knew this encounter would take a truly insane amount of time.  She has 650 hp and as you can see from the above shot I was only whittling away around 12 hp per attack.  This was a sheer battle of willpower to keep moving forward at a snails pace.

VisualBoyAdvanceM 2014-05-17 23-37-20-000 When she summoned her pet Forza, I ignored him completely, realizing that there was no way at all I could keep up with fighting him and Magissa and the regeneration spell she casts on him.  Instead I opted to cast protect on my entire party, and used one of my white mages to heal folks up while the others slowly dinked away at Magissa until she fell.  Finally I turned my attention to Forza and focused all of the attacks on him.  Even doing this the “right” way, it still took about thirty minutes to push my way through the encounter with my army of “horrible monks”.  I was completely drained after that fight, and it was getting close to midnight so I stopped playing and streaming.  At some point today I will pick up where I left off.  You can watch the entire thing on my twitch stream, or you can check out the videos that I have uploaded to YouTube embedded below.  Additionally Kodra is streaming his play through so check out his channel as well.

 

AggroChat Episode 6

This week we have myself, Kodra and Ashgar for Aggrochat.  Rae was unavailable because honestly I feel like she was probably asleep.  She spent the day hanging out at the local Renaissance Faire with her brother and our good friend Dallian that appears on last weeks Aggrochat.  This week we had a bunch of things to talk about, or at least things that Kodra especially was excited to discuss.  The first of these was the new champion in League of Legends… Braum.  Next we talked about the Hex vs Wizards of the Coast lawsuit and what it means for the game and TCGs in general.  We also get on this long drawn out discussion of Kickstarter Fatigue and what it means for the kickstarters that are still coming out, and whether or not that is still a viable means of funding a project.  Like always we get lost on lots of rabbit trails between all of this points.

#AggroChat #FF5 #FinalFantasy5 #FourJobFiesta #SteamPoweredSunday

2013 Retrospective

Grand Experiment in Review

2012 was an extremely horrible year for me and at least professionally I would rank it as quite possibly the worst year I have ever had.  I would put it as worse than the year I was out of work for six months after the dotcom crash.  On September 11th 2012 my company suffered what they thought was a network attack, that only later the security guy pulled his head out of his ass and realized it was a regularly scheduled security scan… that he himself authorized.  The results of this was a massive overreaction that caused me and my team to spend the rest of the year and a good chunk of the beginning of this year rebuilding damned near everything that touched the web.  Why did we have to do this?  Because they quite literally pulled the servers out of the racks and sent them to the FBI, leaving us next to nothing to work off of.

So next to that year, this year has seemed like an absolute dream.  However it has been more than that for me.  2013 has been a year of personal growth and exploring new things.  In April when I finally pulled my head above water after the “faux” security incident, I really wanted to make a break back into blogging.  I fell off of the planet shortly after the security event and simply could not bring myself to write about anything.  Coming back I devised what I called a “grand experiment”, namely to blog each and every day even if I didn’t think I had much to write about.  At this point there are 237 posts categorized as “The Grand Experiment”, and without fail I have blogged every day even when it was a struggle to do so.

Has the experiment worked?  Well functionally yes I have managed to blog every day, but more importantly has it provided an interesting stream of content?  Quite honestly I don’t know.  Most of the time I feel like I am a little kid writing to a make believe audience.  When I talk to someone who mentions something I have written… I am always shocked.  I feel like no one actually reads my stuff, that I am mostly just writing it for my own benefit.  People seem to enjoy what I write, and I have a regular stream of readers… but I will never have the type of audience that the bigger bloggers have.  I am just too rough around the edges for that sort of thing.  For the most part I am happy with the results of a year of blogging and my long-term goal is to make it at least one full year of posts without pause.  That of course will be up April 26th of 2014, which seems like it is far in the future right now.  However I don’t see myself losing steam at any point soon.

A Healthier Me

Another big change in my life over the course of 2013 is that I am considerably lighter.  In March my wife and I began to shift the way we relate to food.  I say it in terms like that because really we have completely changed our relationship to food as a whole.  To say we went on a diet doesn’t really encompass the level of change.  Diets are about the short term, but we wanted to make permanent and long-term changes in the way we ate.  Namely we focused on trying to find a new and sustainable way to live.  At this point I am 70 lbs smaller and have hit a bit of a plateau over the last month.  However the fact that I survived both Thanksgiving and Christmas without breaking that plateau makes me happy enough.

My wife on the other hand continues to lose at a steady pace and is now down roughly 60 lbs.  At some point I need to get super serious again, as I have become lax of late.  However the current weight seems to be a place I can comfortable stay without any real intervention.  I have reached my goal and it is time for me in this new year to refocus myself and set a new one.  I will never be a small man, I come from a long line of really big people.  I am however happy enough being able to say I am a “smaller” man.  The thing I was not expecting to be honest were the health benefits.  As a whole I am far healthier than I was a year ago, and the primary benefit is that my Asthma that I have struggled with my entire life… and have even been hospitalized for… is really a mere nuisance these days.  I can go months on a single inhailer, and that is not a thing I have ever been able to do in my life.

Professional Growth

In the last year I have grown more into the role of the manager of my group.  I have learned to delegate more, which is something I have always struggled with in my life.  I was good at accepting assignments, but never very good at passing them on to my troops, instead trying to take them all on myself.  My team is pretty amazing and I would be lost without them.  I guess in some small way I have learned to have more faith in them, and trust that they will do as much diligence with an assignment as I would have.  As a result I have shifted more into the architect role for my group and part-time project manager and full-time traffic cop.  Making sure all of the assignments are going to the right places and all seeing at least some progress.

We usually have 50-60 active projects for a team of three people.  So it involves lots of juggling.  Various forces in my company want me to move up into a permanent management position.  However I simply do not want to distances myself from the “real work” enough to take them.  Additionally right now I am responsible for three extremely highly functional people, and I don’t think I  could cope with being put over less functional people that I would some how have to whip into shape.  I am not really great with confrontations, and as a result I think I would flounder.  Either that or it would be similar to me as a raid leader, and I would turn into a real asshole.  For the time being I think I am happy with where I am and what I am doing.

I Wrote A Novel

One of the things I have always wanted to do in my life was to write a novel.  I made several false attempts at various times over the years but never could seem to push myself to do it.  This November I joined the NaNoWriMo event, and over the course of the month knocked out my first novel.  I have no idea if it is actually any good, because honestly I have not even read it since finishing it up.  I plan in the new year to tear it asunder as I edit it, and fix any issues.  However regardless if it completely sucks, I have accomplished a goal.  I managed to write a novel, and that is a thing most people can’t say about themselves.  I didn’t do it to get famous, or be published, I did it mostly just to prove to myself that I could.

The weird thing about it is, November seems like a lifetime ago.  The whole concept of writing 1500 words per night was just absolutely draining.  My entire life revolved around that novel for those thirty days, which is honestly longer than I have stuck with anything like that in my life.  More than anything I feel like it was a venue of personal growth.  I did a thing I never thought I could, and I did so in a methodical way in which it felt like success was assured from the moment I started.  Sure I faltered a few times along the way, and there were a few days I didn’t write a blessed thing.  However I kept moving forward towards the eventual 50,000 word count goal and I achieved it.  I think more than anything I am proud of this accomplishment from 2013.

A Year of Gaming

This is a gaming blog afterall, so during 2013 I played a lot of games.  I played way more games than I can ever manage to remember, but I will try and run down a few of the big ones.  The list of major titles is as follows.

Oddly enough I am beginning this new year not entirely differently than I began the last year.  January 2013 I was still involved in the launch of Mists of Pandaria, and it was not until April that I really began to distance myself from that game entirely.  World of Warcraft and I have this love/hate relationship.  I get frustrated with it so much, because it seems that they always seem to take the most short sighted solutions to problems, and there are so many games that there that do various things it does…. so much better.  However as a total package I feel like the game is unbeatable.  It offers the most good things in one package.  The realization for me however after my 2+ years of absence from being serious about the game is that it is not about the game at all.  World of Warcraft is about the people playing it, and I had missed the ragtag group of people known as House Stalwart immensely.

The game I probably played the most often during the year however was Rift.  I want to love rift so badly, the promise of the game is really great.  The problem is it just lacks something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It is a technically superior game in every aspect, but it is like it lacks a cohesive narrative that makes me care about the world every single day.  The dragons were a thing I thought I  could get behind.  But now that we have systematically killed each of them off, I cannot say in a single sentence what the world of Rift is.  I think that might be the problem, there is no one clear narrative to the game.  You cannot say “this game is” and have even half of the people agree on it.  I still play it occasionally and there is still an incarnation of House Stalwart there that Psynister and Fynralyl are keeping alive.  I thank them so much for being there, but I just can’t seem to care about the game right now.  I am sure at some point I will again.

Final Fantasy was another major force for the year.  This was a game I never intended to like because really I feel like me and Japanese RPGs had a messy divorce quite some time ago.  I had a group of friends actively wanting to play it, so against my better judgment I went along for the ride.  What I found however was a really well crafted narrative and dungeon experience.  If I could have kept experiencing new bits of immersive content, I would have likely stuck around.  However once you reached the end of the game, it was exactly that…  the end.  All paths lead to massive amount of grinding, and for whatever reason… while I can stomach grinding all day long in World of Warcraft… I could not stomach the particular FFXIV brand of grinding.  Namely I blame this on the overall lack of meaninful drops in the game.  If I have a chance of getting something cool while killing mobes, no matter how remote the chance… it feels exciting to me each time I open a loot window.  There was nothing that could drop from mobs in the world that I would ever care about.  Additionally gearing up to get to a point where we could raid, was just not a bridge I was willing to cross.

Games for 2014

There has been a game I have been in super secret closed door testing since February.  I cannot name the game by name, but I have to say I am still extremely excited about it even after most of a year testing it.  I have watched the game grow from something that felt polished to something that really is amazingly rich and polished.  I don’t think I will quit WoW this time for another game, because I have set down some pretty solid roots there again.  However I know I will also be playing this game, at the very least two to three nights a week.  It is probably the least wow-like game I have played in a long while, and because of that I feel like there is room in my heart for both games to have a unique space.

Past that I am really not certain what 2014 will hold.  I know that I am not really interested enough to purchase a PS4 or an XBox One, so I think I will be exiting the console mainstream once again.  I am mostly a PC gamer to be honest, and since my gameloft has been taken over by my wife I am okay with not having access to the consoles.  More than anything I am looking forward to the various stores beginning to liquidate their stocks of PS3 and XBox 360 games, so I can pick up the titles I always wanted to play but didn’t have the desire to pay for.  Additionally there are still a lot of things on the DS/3DS that I want to play, and I am looking forward to picking up the newest Zelda game.  I am sure there will be a number of surprises along the way, games that catch my fancy enough to deserve lots of blog posts.

I hope that 2014 will be as positive force in my life as 2013 has been.  Additionally I hope each and every one of you out there can say the same.  My friend @AlternativeChat has declared 2014 the “Year of Faff”, and I am down with this notion.  I think we all need to learn how to faff about in the game worlds we are in, because stopping and smelling the roses is the only real way I know to break the cycle of burnout.  I have tried my best to embrace this concept, and hope to continue to do so in the year to come.  More than anything, I feel like I am sick of jumping games every three months, and I get the sense that the gaming world as a whole is somewhat sick of that as well.  I hope we can each embrace our own faff, whatever that might mean.

Social Justice

Happy Holidays?

Yesterday was a mixed bag, I am not going to get into the awkwardness that was Christmas with my family.  I should have taken a picture of the gallon jug of holy water that my grandmother for some reason seems to think she needs, however I did not as it would have been too obvious.  Suffice to say it was fine while it was just my parents and grandmother, but once people started showing up the fight or flight instinct kicked in and I had to get out of there.  We stayed long enough to be socially acceptable, or at least long enough to see everyone and then got back on the road.  I really don’t deal with large groups of people in confined spaces very well.

When I finally got home that night I went back to my LFR madness.  I really would have thought that the holidays would have made people better natured, but instead it seemed like only the worst people were running dungeons.  I guess it makes sense, as most of the “good” people probably have families and such that they would rather be spending time with.  The highlight of the evening, as far as horrible goes came when my Downfall group finally got to Garrosh.  We had a few people drop like usual, and one of the warriors  that joined in immediately started moaning that he had waited in queue for an hour and missed the entire dungeon.

Instead of doing the right thing, and just dropping group and taking the deserter debuff…  he proceeded to pull Garrosh while we were still getting prepared screaming “For Mother Russia”.  Obviously his ploy was to get us to kick him which doesn’t cause the debuff to happen.  He was running across the screen just about to aggro him again when the kick happened saving the day.  The problem is…  there needs to be a better way of managing this.  The systems in place don’t give us a way to flag this guy letting other people know that he will likely screw their group over if things don’t go his way.

Social Justice

TribunalCase League of Legends has had in the past the most notoriously toxic community in online gaming.  As a result they knew that this was ultimately hurting their product and keeping players from participating on a deep level with it.  Instead of sitting back and saying “pugs will be pugs” they took matters into their own hands and tried to devise a way of dealing with this.  As a result they created two systems that work hand in hand.  The honor system allows players to provide “endorsements” that are positive, such as Teamwork, Friendly, Knowledgeable, and at the same time provide a venue for reporting bad behavior.  When a player has received enough negative reports they go into another system called the Tribunal.

One of the problems with social reporting is that there is a sea of false positives and downright minor infractions that clog the customer support staff.  As a result the Tribunal system is innovative in that it brings each case before a jury of “peers” aka other players who have signed up to be willing to sit on these peer based juries.  You can view all of the results on the public Tribunal page if you are logged into your league account.  The image on the right side is an example of a tribunal ruling.  Of course warnings for language should apply as it states exactly what the player said during the match to warrant being reported.

Be Proactive Blizzard

These systems really do seem to work out in the wild, in fact with the big 2.1 patch in Final Fantasy XIV Squaresoft introduced a very similar endorsement system with some big rewards that can be gained through this positive behavior.  In the past there were unofficial systems on the servers that permanently labeled disruptive players as pariahs from the social circles.  There was a time where you could look at the guild a player was in and have a fair shot at gauging whether or not the player would be a positive influence on your group.  Additionally just talking to a player for a moment before inviting them to fill a group gave you a good idea of their future behavior.  When Blizzard introduced systems to automate these processes it completely removed the element of social ramifications, and such the “greater internet fuckwad theory” came true.

When it is perceived that there are no consequences for bad actions… players tend to behave worse.  Sure there are awesome people out there that are awesome all the time regardless of who is looking… but that is quite simply not the majority of people.  These systems work to bring a tally of someone’s misdeeds to bear each time they step into a group.  The guy who wiped the LFR because he didn’t want to be there… would bring with him a black mark from each and every player that flagged him for doing what he did.  I feel like blizzard does an excellent job of policing and banning players who are actively exploiting the game. 

However it is quite literally against their best interest to ban players who are paying them a monthly subscription.  Each time they ban one of these players they lose his money, and over time it adds up.  What systems like the tribunal do is introduce a neutral third party, the player.  The tribunal works because no only does it hold players accountable for their actions, but it also holds the players who are making these decisions accountable.  Every decision that is made, and the players who participated in making it is posted publicly for the world to see.  Since this relies on the players justice is usually far more swift than waiting for customer service to sift through their backlog of cases and deal with it.  It is my hopes that with the rollout of Warlords of Draenor, they will investigate a system like this, and hopefully make it applicable to ALL battle.net games..