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Micromanaging Your Economy

Micromanaging Your Economy

The recent blog entry on Crowfall talks about economics, specifically their monetary system. Pretty much every MMO/RPG uses some kind of in-game coin — often, many in game coins, which I really hate (especially event specific currency I’m talking to you RIFT).

Since Crowfall seems hell-bent on not doing anything the same way as anyone has ever done ever, their currency system is going to be…different. Like, you find raw ore and bang on it with a hammer and create coins. All currency is an inventory item, which means not only does it take up space, but when you die, people can take it from you.

Does this seem a little…overwrought to anyone else? On paper, having to mint your own cash sounds like an interesting mechanic, but to me it sounds like the designers are going way overboard to make their system different for difference’s sake. Keep in mind that this is just one system that players will need to contend with alongside many other systems, and if the designers opt to break down something as fundamental as currency into a player managed process, what else will they be looking to turn into an active task?


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Another Dimension

Another Dimension

Skylanders was big in my house. Disney Infinity was significantly less so. It was partly because we’d burned out on the spending on Skylanders, and partly because we’re not super-massive Disney fans.

When LEGO announced LEGO Dimensions, I thought it was pretty cool because who doesn’t love LEGO? People with no souls, that’s who. That you can build things (at least physically) to use in the game was a distracting bonus. But Dimensions is being made by Traveler’s Tales, who has been making all of the recent LEGO games, so not only do you get to play with the LEGO toys, but you get a never ending LEGO game in the vein that we all know and love.

I wasn’t sure if I’d buy into LEGO Dimensions because of the Skylander-Infinity parallel, but then I heard that there’d be a Simpsons set. And a Portal 2 set. And a Doctor Who set. So that kind of sealed that deal. Nothing will help usher in the collapse of the Universe like Homer Simpson with a portal gun in the TARDIS.

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The Derpingist

The Derpingist

I am a simple man when it comes to my video games. Not that I don’t like complex video games, a la Crusader Kings, but rather I tend to not put a lot of offline effort into learning about the games I play. When a game starts to demand homework, I feel that the point of why I am personally playing the game — relaxing enjoyment where I don’t have to research solutions on the Web — has been lost.

Of course, this has a tendency to bite me in the ass, as I learned last night when playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. Folks in guild chat were discussing outfitting, style, and the flight suits that you get in the in-game email with the starfighter expansion. For me, gear is something that I take when it comes: if I get gear from a drop or as a mission payout, and if it’s numbers are higher than what I currently have equipped, then I switch. Otherwise, I stand pat. I hadn’t really eyeballed the flight suits that I’d been given because, quite frankly, they’re fugly. One of them looks like something the 80’s vomited (complete with shoulder pads that would make the cast of Falcon Crest envious. Look it up, kids). The other looks like a disco ball.

But then I read about adaptive armor. Most of the current gear I had at the time wasn’t able to accept modification. For those not into SWTOR, some gear can sport up to four slots for armor, mods, augments, and dye. You’ll either get these elements from drops, as rewards, or you can buy them. One of the ways to buy them is by spending Commendations, which is a currency you can select often as an optional reward for mission completion. With the 12x XP boost, the Commendation reward has also been boosted, allowing you to farm these currencies at an accelerated rate.

So I took a closer look at those flight suits, and about what adaptive armor was all about. Turns out it’s a “shell” of armor which by itself is pretty crummy. The main advantage of adaptive armor is that it up-levels with you, and once you start adding mods, then the stats start reaching appropriate levels for whatever level the armor is supposed to be. If you have adaptive armor, then, you never need to change it; just the mods. Since mods themselves have level ranges, the conventional wisdom I was able to find suggests replacing these mods every few levels so the gear naturally levels with you.

This may be “no duh” among those who actually take time outside the game to read about it, but that’s never been my forte. Actually, it used to be, when I played Ultima Online and my friends and I would talk about it all day (at work). I was stupidly excited to learn this last night, however, because it literally doubled my armor rating on almost every piece of gear, and boosted my AIM and ENDURANCE stats (for the Trooper class) as well. I then went on to use the second flight suit for my Elara Dorne, and tricked it out in a similar fashion.

The only problem is with the appearance. I misunderstood (surprise!) how the outfitting worked: I thought it worked in reverse from how it actually did, so I initially dropped 16,000cr on putting the flight suit into the appearance slots. Ugh. When I understood how that system worked, I swapped the flight suit into the main equipment slots, and my actually attractive gear into into the appearance slots where appropriate. I saved some cash by not replacing all gear. Some of the flight suit stuff was either attractive or non-consequential in terms of appearance. But companions aren’t so lucky: they only look like what they’re wearing, which means Elara looks like a Las Vegas neon sign.

In other related news, I finally hit 150 on my Armstech, which allowed me to pick up the housing and Galactic Conquest crafting skills. I was aiming for the Industrial and General prefab MKI recipes, but picked up the others as well. I don’t have any interest, nor is our guild large enough to worry about, the Galactic Conquest elements, but I did want to be able to make the Industrial Prefabs and eventually the General Prefabs. I then spent the rest of the night collecting the Tier 3 Researched Components needed to make these Industrial Prefabs. By the end of the night, I was only able to make three. Thankfully, most recipes only require one Prefab, but I don’t have the ability to create the Synth Prefabs, which means I’ll need to turn to guildmates, or level a Synth profession on my young Jedi to make up the difference (which will take some time to do).

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That Dwarven Bastard

That Dwarven Bastard

When we last left out heroes, everyone was asleep. Not entirely true; the bard had been knocked unconscious by an over-adrenalized bassoon player when she took to the stage in her kobold costume, the monk had eaten himself into a food coma, the fighter was looking after the bard, and the party was surprised to find out that their druid — who hadn’t boarded the ship with them — had been swimming along side in river dolphin form this whole time.

The ranger had received a sealed note emblazoned with the letter “G”, and had assumed it was for the fighter (whose name is Gina, by the way), so he had slid it under her door before heading off to bed.

On the third morning, the bard awoke with a headache, and everyone else stumbled out of their rooms to find a dreary Sword Coast morning, with rain clouds hovering over their destination. All of the passengers were sending the luggage off in the care of the stewards, and were saying their goodbyes.

The fighter read her note:

“Gina, I am sorry about the rude re-introduction brought about by my parents. PLEASE meet me in the engine room at noon. I must see you again before we disembark  -R”

Happy that she had time for breakfast, the fighter spent the next four hours (apparently) eating until she found her way to the engine room.

Ruret was there, waiting for her, and was very pleased that she had decided to show up. However, he had bad news: he and his family were on this ship because they were headed to his politically arranged marriage further down the Sword Coast.

Saddened by this, the fighter opted to change her alignment from Neutral Good to full-on 100% Chaotic Evil, and contemplated blowing up the ship. Luckily it pulled into port before she could gather the required components.

Baldur’s Gate

Baldur’s Gate is a town in the grasp of teamsters. Because the streets of the city are narrow and the cobblestones are slick when it rains (which it does, a lot), it’s dangerous to move carts and pack animals through the city proper. That being the case, all commerce ends at the gates, and goods are either sold off and comparable goods re-purchased at another gate, or the teamsters union is hired to move goods through the city from one gate to wagons waiting at another.

The party had received word that they should look up a man named Selebon, who operates a supply business outside the north wall in a district called Blackgate. Selebon’s establishment was bustling, as it is close to the caravan staging area for points north.

The bard approached Selebon with inquiries about work, and he directed them to a tavern down the street and around the corner where such business was conducted.

Upon arriving, the party found a “job fair” type atmosphere: merchants or their representatives were holding down tables or wandering the floor while mercenaries of all stripes bounced around making inquiries. The first table that the party approached was handled by the bard, and the merchant there was less than impressed with her sales pitch. The second table was taken by the ranger, who made an aggressive show of force, but was told by the potential employer that he wasn’t looking for a whole party.

Out of nowhere, a gnome appeared, standing on the stool next to the ranger. “Whatcha’ lookin’ for?” he asked. When he heard they were a party of five, looking for security work, the gnome told them that he was hired to recruit security for a young elvish woman who was taking two carts of ancient hardwood to Waterdeep (which happened to be in the direction they needed to go). The price was struck at 50gp each, and they were given a staging area to report to in the morning.

On their way to find an inn closer to the staging area, the ranger stopped short when he recognized a face in the crowd outside of Selebon’s shop. This individual was conversing with an unseen figure being borne around in a palanquin, with shades drawn. After some time, the palanquin moved away to the north at speed, and the recognized face began working with others who were loading some carriages and collecting goods from Selebon’s shop.

The face recognized, of course, was that of a dragon cultist that the ranger remembered from Greenest.

There was some debate about how to ensure that they didn’t lose track of the cultists, and in the end the bard constructed a clockwork rat that hid itself among the cultist’s provisions. At any rate, there was only one major road north, and the journey to Waterdeep — assuming the cultists were heading there any not deviating from the main road — would take two months at a decent traveling speed. There would be plenty of time to formulate a more solid plan.

*   *   *

This week, the party was back to full strength! It’s always a challenge to weave a lapsed player back into the narrative, but thankfully this group is prone to bouts of silliness, so it wasn’t a big deal that the druid suddenly appeared as if he had always been there.

The Ruret subplot took a rather disappointing turn, but the bad blood between the two families is really strong, so there wasn’t a lot of leeway here. It has been decades since Gina and Ruret last saw one another, and it made sense that during that time Ruret’s parents would be looking to cement a formidable and profitable alliance for themselves with another noble family, and political marriages are still a good way to do that. Gina didn’t seem overly upset about it; not sure if she’s serious about changing alignment, but if so, and if because of this, she might want to consider changing her background to match.

Reading ahead, I was a bit taken back by the fact that the trip to Waterdeep was going to take about two months. That’s a lot of filler content opportunities — which the module addresses — and although we’re not going to play that out in real time, it still seemed like a lot of time to spend “doing stuff” on the road.

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Real Games Have Curves

Real Games Have Curves

Games are hard. It’s part of their allure. We like to have a feeling of accomplishment in our games through learning and application. What I think we generally don’t like is to be beaten about the head the moment we set foot in the door. Not only is it humiliating, but it’s also discouraging when we don’t feel that we’re given the chance to get our feet wet without having to drown ourselves first.

The usual method is to introduce the player to just a little bit, maybe through a tutorial. Then, as they move through the game, add more mechanics until the player reaches the point where the system has shown them all the mechanics that the she needs to know. It’s at that point where the player transitions from the learning phase to the practical phase.

Some games are better than others at doing this. I personally think the mother of all accessibility is Blizzard, because their M.O. is to take an established genre and streamline it so that it’s stupidly easy to get into. They’re also really good at hand-holding until the player is ready to stop learning and start applying that knowledge.

There’s nothing wrong with making a game new player friendly when it comes to mechanics. Games are Big Business, after all, and the phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” is a tried and true design passed down through the ages. But for that to apply, a game has to be easy to learn (or easy to get into), and then difficult to master, once the player understands the mechanics.

Which is why I’m sad when there are games that don’t seem to focus on the shepherding of new players through to the point where they’ll feel comfortable without the training wheels. Some of this is mechanical, like if a game doesn’t provide a decent tutorial, or a way to practice with or without other players. A lot of it falls on community management as well. We know that there are people out there who will take advantage of a situation for their own gain, whenever a situation presents itself. In games which fail to prepare new players to mingle with veteran players, or which don’t provide safeguards that allow new players to ease into the community, there’ll always be those players who beat on the new players, just because they can. I know that there are a lot of games out there that I’d love to play, but which I don’t feel provide the right style of environment that makes me want to keep playing, assuming I can get started at all. In most cases, it’s no big deal, but there are a few that make me sad because I’d really like to play.

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My New Test For Blogging

My New Test For Blogging

I’ll try and keep this short: I get a lot of ideas for posts over the course of the day. Some of them are pretty involved, but some are just thoughts that I’d like to write down and/or get people to comment on.

I’ve got a weekly schedule, three days a week, released at 10AM. I’ve been hesitant to throw in these smaller twig-posts for two reasons:

  1. I don’t want to overload people with multiple posts per day, partly because it ends up being spam, and partly because I’m afraid it might dilute the reliability of my three day 10 AM schedule in people’s eyes.
  2. I don’t want to include Tuesday and Thursday in my usual rotation because I feel I regularly have enough content for three days, but not enough for five. Plus, a lot of these posts (like this one!) aren’t feature-length.

So in talking with Pete of Dragonchasers fame, I stream-of-consciousness’d an idea that goes a little something like this:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posts will remain scheduled for 10 AM. These will invariably be the “featured posts”: the over-wrought, long-form posts people love. They’ll be under the FEATURED category, and I’ve enabled the rotating billboard at the top to display FEATURED posts.
  • Other posts will be categorized as appropriate, and can show up whenever. They’ll be presented in your RSS reader, but I’m looking to get feedback if multiple posts per day, with no set schedule or warning, is going to be annoying if they’re being advertised through social media.

Other ideas are to take up a side-bucket like Anook where I can post these one-offs, but I’m keeping that as a last resort option. Blogging here on an independent platform allows for the greatest reach with the fewest barriers to distribution, which makes it the best option.

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Playing Catch-Up

Playing Catch-Up

Last week was school vacation week, so the family and I were AFK (oddly enough, I was the only one without a laptop, armed only with my phone and my 3DS). Stuff happened during that time that seemed tailor made for blogging, so in the absence of anything else I want to talk about today, let’s set the time machine to one week ago to find a dead horse to beat.

Paid Mods And Crowd Control

I’m old, and I remember the days when modding was something people hacked into games, long before it was officially a cottage industry of hyper-interested creatives working to extend the games they loved beyond normal lifespans.

Valve (aka Vader) and Bethesda (aka Palpatine) launched the idea of allowing mod users to charge for their mods. It went over as well as could be expected: People tried putting price tags on their mods, there were some contentious issues of “ownership”, and the population revolted. Valve offered a mea culpa and rolled it back.

Creative people regularly get the shaft when it comes to earning money from their trade. I think we’ve all seen reports of artists of all kinds who have their work used without permission or even attribution — and certainly without remuneration. It’s often like artists need to have a legal attack-dog on retainer before they can even think of producing content if they’re doing it for reasons beyond “because they love doing it”.

That’s the thing about mods: they started out as thing that brought us to this point because “people loved doing it”. I’m certainly not one to deny people trying to make a living, or to get some recompense from their hard work, but modding (to me, at least) has been about doing something you love doing for the sake of doing it. At the most, modders accepted “donations” because why not? Those who can, do. Those who cannot are not denied the work that was made to be seen and had and used.

Valve and Bethesda wanted another revenue stream, and since modding has been making a come-back and was an otherwise untapped potential, it made sense that it might be a good place to harvest some dollars. The 40/35/25 Bethesda/Valve/person who did all the work split shows where Valve and Bethesda believed the credit should be due. It was never about paying modders;  Valve and Bethesda just couldn’t find a way to sell it at 50/50/0 and expect it to even have a chance on the street.

Some folks will say that creatives should be paid 100% of the time. OK, sure, but we’ve reached this point on the back of that not being historically the case. Why now? “Because they could” is the only option I can think of. What’s worse is that while many would argue that modders should be able to charge for their work, I think it’s putting too much credit into the hands of people who potentially have zero baselines for what their work is worth beyond a thumbs up on their mod’s official page. Got a UI enhancement? How much is that worth? $0.99? $5.99? $29.99? How is the value calculated? Based on man-hours to produce, or based on popularity of the previously-free mod? And like home-made porn, just because you can doesn’t mean you should, which is not something the General Internet is good at recognizing. When the option to charge is on the table, there’s no good reason not to charge something. 

Although capitalism says that the market will shake out the crap, I think the community does this just fine without there being money involved. In fact, ask any App Store and it’ll tell you that allowing people to charge for stuff is not going to stop crap from showing up; it’ll just be crap that people have the balls to ask for payment on, and you’ll be surprised how many people happen to have those kinds of balls.

eSports Is A Thing Because Gaming Is A Thing

The world is no longer a place where people can assert that being a geek is something to be ashamed of. For the past three years running, geek-based properties have destroyed box offices. Sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes have been hot properties in movies, books, and TV. It’s not uncommon for adults to have conversations at work about zombies or high-fantasy kingdoms, and kids are being strongly advised to read novels about young wizards and teenage archers who have to fight for their lives.

I grew up during a time when this was not so. Back then, Colin Cowherd’s now-anachronistic comments regarding ESPN’s decision to air the Heroes of the Storm championship were de rigeur. And in another parallel that should surprise no one who’s up to date with their stereotypes, those insults came from the same kind of people.

That’s why I can’t really get overly upset about this particular situation this time around. Cowherd is fulfilling his role as a sport-obsessed jock who’s picking on “helpless nerds” as if it’s the 1980s all over again. That his choice of phrasing seems tailored to generate controversy among a community who have a very thin skin to any insult from outside of it’s own ranks (especially when set to a “jocks versus nerds” soundtrack) makes the whole situation reek of attention-whoring. Yes, the irony is not lost on me that posts like this are exactly the results Cowherd’s rant were crafted to conceive.

I’m OK with that because I think that the world at large understands that no amount of sarcasm or bro-fisting bravado changes the fact that this is not the 1980s, and the world at-large is increasingly finding a wealth of excitement and entertainment that geeks have been privy to for decades. Simply put, Cowherd is trying to sound all tough-guy, but he’s ultimately out of touch with anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. Bold move, Cotton.

I am also OK with the idea of “eSports”, and I think that die-hard sports fans should be as well. Look at it this way: there’s no one sport. Every sport is played more or less differently, but there are common threads in that sports are competitive, are played by two or more teams or individuals, and that the “goal” is to best the other competitor by reaching the goal first, or to accumulate the most points before time runs out. This is why people consider golf as a sport; it really has nothing to do with physicality at all. It’s all about the competition. People seem really hung up on the idea that something needs to have people moving at high speeds, hitting harder, or throwing faster for something to be a sport; I say that those are just one facet of what a “sport” really is.

In an ironic twist, the similarities between those who bemoan the dilution of “sports” by broadcasting chess matches and spelling bees on channels normally reserved for football and basketball has eerie similarities to some of the arguments that gamers get into over what is and what isn’t a game — like mobile versus consoles versus PCs. We all think alike in many ways, it seems, and I’d be willing to bet that even if Colin Cowherd doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, a lot of his listeners do. I wonder how many of those listeners, then, realize that 30 years ago, they’d be considered geeks for bring into what they’re into today.

EDIT: Mr. Cowherd might want to check out #4 on this post, and realize that he’s not as secure in his segregation as he thinks he is.

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