Thursday, March 12, 2015

This Liebster Thing

I was "tagged" for this evil chain letter by the horrid Talarian at Gamer By Design.  I've actually been stewing over some stuff for the past few weeks and trying to figure out what I wanted to write (and what I'd be better off not writing).  So let's break the slump with this, shall we?

Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of this principle called "keeping it brief" or something like that.  So strap yourselves in!

1. What is your favourite game mechanic?

I think I'd have to say "persistent area modifiers."

By this I mean combat where the environment or things in the environment play a large role, whether it's due to the shape/features of the area or things that happen during combat.  In a lot of games, the combat "arena" for a boss fight might as well be infinitely large because ultimately it hardly matters where you are in it.  Every spot is basically the same as any other, except for the relative position of you and the enemies.  And this isn't referring to generic "cover" in a shooter (unless there's something like the boss/enemies destroying the cover so you have to plan out good paths to utilize as much of it as possible).  Talking about cases where the initial environment matters a lot or the boss fight winds up shaping it which is what I'm referring to.

Some examples?

Ganondorf from Ocarina of Time.  He destroys sections of the platform you're fighting on which can lead to making it harder to get to him and needing to remember where is safe to run.

Gyorg from Majora's Mask.  You're relatively safe on the platform (land), but he's in the water (his element).  You ultimately do need to enter the water to damage him (though you can stun him from land to help) but there's a dichotomy there that's interesting.

To mention (quite a few) WoW examples...

Darkmaster Gandling in Scholomance, where you get teleported to different rooms, have to fight your way out, and then get back to the boss.

Big Bad Wolf.  Getting chased by a boss is one thing.  Getting chased by a boss in very close quarters is another (a larger room would mean you could just flat out run away easily versus having to go in circles with speed boosts).

Prince Malchezaar.  Infernals block off sections of the battlefield.  Oh, and you still need to run away from the boss when Enfeebled.  Better be paying attention to where the current Infernals are or you'll run into one at 1 HP!

Lady Vashj.  Need to get the tainted cores that spawn to the tossing them because you can't move while holding one, plus the sporebats filling up the room with poison at the end.

Illidan.  Have to keep the Flames within their tether (while dealing with flames they leave behind) while the tanks and raid need to avoid the fire lines from Illidan himself.

Nefarian: skeletons (and people) need to stay outside of the Shadowflame and their positioning in phase 1 is extremely important to start phase 3 properly.  Oh, and Nefarian is still tail whipping and breathing while that's going on which denies even more room.

Ragnaros: people need to avoid the Living Meteors in limited space and handle those properly with the Breath of Frost combined with the Dreadflame filling up the room at end.

Elegon: need to disable the six conduits at the proper times, in vs out nature of the center energy field.

Lei Shen: need to handle the various quadrant abilities, split for intermission phases, figure out what abilities to have active at the end and thus what space can be used, etc.

Siegecrafter: obviously the conveyer belts which then determine what happens on the main platform, positioning of fire/sawblades, dealing with those and the magnet.

Hans and Frans: moving correctly for smart stampers, avoiding the fire sheets/stampers during those phases.

Blackhand: hiding behind debris piles, going up onto the balcony, slag bombs/smash craters in final phase.

Obviously skipping a lot (including basically all of Vanilla and WotLK as I wasn't really raiding in Vanilla and wasn't playing during WotLK), just naming a few.

One example in my projects, such as Siege of the Heavens, would be the Vrock lord who you need to have charge into a pillar or wall, which means not only positioning him in the right direction but also close enough to an obstacle to collide with it.

In general, they often provoke a sense of impending doom ("Whew, we managed to live...but we're running out of space here!") or a feeling of cleverness ("Ha! Used that boss's stuff against him!").

Runner up would probably be mechanics that instantly kill you if you mess up.

2. Is there a character did you think would be cool when announced or first encountered, but in practice turned out terrible? Who? Why? 

I don't think so?

If we're talking about movie/TV characters, I don't really form opinions of characters ahead of time, I'm pretty much just evaluating whether the movie/show looks interesting enough to watch.  No real expectations in terms of characters.

If we mean story/personality wise for video game characters...see above.

If we mean mechanically speaking for video games...I'm still not sure?  Part of the problem is I rarely pay attention to "Coming up!" stuff.  The only game in recent memory where I had any kind of expectations built up prior to it being released might be Overwatch when I saw it at Blizzcon, I suppose.  And when I tried Widowmaker out I recall being disappointed that her "assault rifle mode" was so weak.  But she's also meant to generally be a sniper or use things like her mines/vision so I didn't think she was suddenly terrible, just far weaker at closer quarters than it "appeared" she would be.  The trailer technically only has her "sniping" at the very start of the battle for a few seconds, during most of it she seems be holding her own in pitched combat.

3. If your entire life turned out to be a simulation or part of a video game, would it change your outlook on life? How?

Absolutely.  I mean, for starters, the whole idea of "Leaving the world a better place" or "Helping raise the next generation" or anything similar becomes completely meaningless.  Either there is no next generation or anything you might do can/will be overwritten if the player/designer feels like it.  Even the past is irrelevant since there's no way for you to know that actually happened.  Could easily have happened in a different manner (but that was then changed by the player/designer) or not happened at all (and you were just data to make you think it did).  That doesn't mean morality is suddenly meaningless, as presumably each AI in the video game/simulation is a rational actor, but it does mean that a lot of long term stuff is meaningless.

I suppose "how" it would change my outlook on life is that I'd start spending my time seeing if I can "escape" the simulation while still trying to avoid "dying" in the simulation.  Can I get my personality/memories/etc uploaded to the "real" world?  Can others?  Is there any more information we can learn about the simulation/game and how long it will run?  Etc.

Saying such a thing would open up a can of worms would be an incredible understatement and this post is already long enough overall, so I'll stop there for now.

4. What is your favourite colour?

I'm always torn between red and blue.  Blue being calm, control, and beautiful snowy landscapes while red is power, pride, and perfect summer days.  Ice is cool, Fire is cool (sort of), Water is bleh.

5. If you were an astronaut and going to space for 6 months, what personal item would you bring with you?

I'm assuming I can bring stuff like pictures of family in a wallet or digitally on a phone/computer, so probably my saxophone?  Can picture looking down at Earth and playing some tunes (I'm assuming any added moisture to the air would either be insignificant and/or easily dealt with by the equipment).

It's only a minor hobby, I'm certainly not amazing, and I admit I'm having trouble coming up with other stuff that I'd actually want to bring to space.

6. Which of the Seven Deadly Sins is your favourite?

Pride.  To quote the bible...

"Pride. It is the most insidious of sha. It is good until it is bad. And then it is more dangerous than all the others combined."

Er...that should be "sins," not "sha."  Must have been a typo.

7. Is there a moment in your life where you felt you were finally "in the future"? What precipitated it?

I switched from a cell phone that flipped open and had an extendable antenna to a Blackberry.

Another moment would be switching from the Blackberry to an Android.  At this point the idea of NOT being able to access the internet and look stuff up on a phone seems weird.

8. Cliffhangers, good technique, or annoying technique? Why?

I think they're fine as long as I'm thinking "Yeah, that seems to be a logical point to take a break in the story" -- meaning that trying to resolve the revelation/disaster would take too much time in the current work.

That said, I think the "The hero is hanging onto the edge of the cliff, will he survive?  Find out next time!" stuff is nonsense.

9. Has there been a game mechanic that enraged you or felt supremely unfair? What was it and why?

Damage type resistances/immunity.

Now,  don't get me wrong.  I loved playing Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow and Silver/Gold/Crystal.  Y'know, back when we had 150 (and then 250) Pokemon and not 750 or whatever the count is up to now.  And our Pokemon fought one-on-one, not this "team battle" nonsense.  And we threw rocks at kids to get them off our durn lawns.  And...what was I saying again?

The whole premise of Pokemon, though, was that you needed to build a balanced team that could take on all comers and each member of the team was usually suited to countering specific enemy types.  For example, my Typhlosion (a pure Fire type Pokemon) counted Grass/Bug/Steel/Ice with Flamethrower.  He also countered Water/Flying with Thunderpunch.  He also countered Fire/Electric/Poison/Rock with Earthquake.  He still did full damage with a very, very strong Flamethrower to Normal/Fighting/Psychic/Ghost/Dark.  Only thing he was very weak against was Dragon.

Maybe that wasn't the best example...

The point, though, is that you collected a team of six different Pokemon that covered all your bases (like Fire/Water/Electric/Flying/Psychic/Dark) and specific Pokemon would take out specific threats (Fire takes out Grass/Bug/Steel, Water takes out Fire/Ground/Rock, etc).  But your Pyschic Pokemon didn't care if he wound up being useless for a section of the game that featured Dark Pokemon.  And since you were only fighting one on one at a time, it's not like your Pyschic Pokemon was involved in any of those fights, period, the game wasn't balanced around it.

But if you look at many RPGs, you often see problems.

First, you get situations often doesn't even give you the tools you need.  For example, in Dragon Age, the spell Inferno is a massive Fire AoE that does 10 damage + 10% of your spellpower every second. have the spell Tempest which is a massive Electrical AoE that does 5 damage + 5% of your spellpower every second. have the spell Blizzard which does 5 + 5% of your spellpower every second.


Similar thing with the cone attacks.  While sometimes you have things like Cold spells slowing/freezing enemies, they're less vulnerable to this stuff on higher difficulties and it's the tougher enemies which are usually the problem anyway.  Which means Fire spells are basically just better in nearly every situation.

Anyone want to take a guess what element the most (and usually toughest) enemies are immune to?  Yeah, it's Fire.  This would be like Pokemon making Flamethrower do 120 damage while Thunderbolt and Ice Beam did 60 damage or something (both Thunderbolt and Ice Beam have a chance to Paralyze and Freeze their targets respectively, but it's generally irrelevant).

Second, you can often wind up in situations where one or more party members are completely (or effectively) useless.  In Dragon Age 2, a lot of enemies are immune to one or more damage types on the hardest difficulty.  For example, near the start of the game one quest involves fighting some thugs.  They are completely immune to Fire damage for some reason.  If you're playing a warrior or rogue, then your sister (a mage) is with you.  She has a staff that deals elemental damage (and so far you've had zero chance to get a different staff).  Would ANYONE like to guess what elemental damage her staff does?

Yeah, you guessed it, it does Fire damage.  Which those thugs are immune to.
Despite that, this usually isn't the end of the world in single player stuff -- but it really sucks in multiplayer.  People don't like feeling like they might as well AFK for a part of the game because they can't contribute.  Vast difference between some people getting some time to shine or a moment of glory and having a chunk of the group feel like saying "Well, I'm going to go read a book, let me know once I can actually start contributing again."

And some of you might be thinking "Well, then those people should have been more well rounded!"  See first point.  Often the game doesn't give you the options to do that (either because it doesn't have the tools necessary or because you haven't reached the point in the game where you can have all those options). just doesn't provide meaningful gameplay.  I mean, I can understand the appeal of the following: "Hero, the dragon will scorch you alive without protection!  You must gather these mystical reagents so we can craft you an amulet that will help protect you from his fiery breath!"  It gives you a sense that the dragon is a badass and you need to prepare in order to fight it.

But then what happens in the future (assume you've managed to acquire another amulet that protects you from electrical damage)?

"Hero, the fiery demon threatens our village!  Good thing you can wear that amulet to protect you from fire damage!"

"Hero, the storm giant threatens our castle!  Good thing you can wear that amulet to protect you from electric damage!"

"Hero, the pyromancer wants to burn this forest down!  Good thing you can wear that amulet to protect you from fire damage!"

"Hero, the blue dragon captured the princess!  Good thing you can wear that amulet to protect you from electric damage!"

"Hero, a fire elemental is loose in the wizard's tower!  Good thing you can wear that amulet to protect you from fire damage!"

"Hero, that cleric of the Thunder God wants to sacrifice those captives!  Good thing you can wear that amulet to protect you from electric damage!"

I mean, we're just switching back and forth between two damn amulets here.  Our gameplay is exactly the same.

It gets even worse when you have to get an entire set of equipment to protect against a specific damage type.  Again, you're just switching back and forth between items that don't actually affect your gameplay at all.  In some cases getting the sets initially and figuring that might be interesting...but switching back and forth 50 times is just...boring and dull.

The same goes for DEALING damage to enemies.  If you have spells that are the same thing except with different damage types then it's literally just the difference between hitting buttons one and two instead of buttons three and four.  They can't interact meaningfully because you have so many buttons for all the damage types already -- simply too many buttons to deal with effectively.

And then consider the reverse.  Say the buttons do interact meaningfully and the damage types have different playstyles.  For example, a mage in WoW with the specs of Arcane (limited movement and mana management), Fire (lots of crits and fiery DoT effects!), and Frost (water elemental pet and freeze/chill spell interaction).  You think "Wow, I really like the theme of Fire's playstyle" and then you run into Ragnaros (huge fire elemental for anyone not aware).  Well, tough luck for you, better go learn how to play another spec that you don't enjoy as much.

Now, you could even make an argument along the lines of "It's good to force spec switching like that so that players are forced to experience the different playstyles and get variety."  But I've *never* heard anyone make that argument.  Rather, they claim something along the lines of "Duh, the giant fire elemental being fought in the Molten Core of the world by mages, paladins, and warlocks HAS to be immune to fire or it just doesn't make any sense!"

Yeah.  There's a reason WoW moved away from this stuff.

The funny thing is that it actually works well on a managing level -- stuff like this makes complete sense in games likes Lords of Magic, HoMM3, Starcraft/Warcraft series (where you have different units with different attack and armor types), etc.  Army composition and bringing the appropriate units to counter the enemy is one of the major parts of the game (sound similar to Pokemon?).  But *being* one of those units that might be completely useless at times...that's the part that sucks.

Sitting stuff out because you can't contribute while others do all the work is simply not fun in a video game.  And the main goal is most of these games is to have fun.

10. Tortoise, or the Hare?

Tortoise.  For anything truly difficult, patience, planning, and learning is superior to gusto, arrogance, and initial ability.  And on a personal level I've been burned too many times in the past by unduly relying on my own ability and improvisation to get me through things.


At this point I think I'm supposed to "tag" more people and have 10 questions of my own.  And I'd love to, but the law has been laid down upon me:

So I guess I gotta do two.  With tagging and a set of questions in the second one.


  1. Boom! Got there first!

    Fun answers! I liked the one about not liking elemental resistances in particular. I agree with you in that it works when you're effectively a commander and you're figuring out which of your Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock (RIP Leonard Nimoy) you need to deploy to be the most effective, and that when you only have, well, just you, it sucks because you could be completely hosed.

    I also find it interesting that everyone who answered the simulation question assumed the simulation was malleable. What if it wasn't? You were a simulation, but it's just set to run forever, with no outside interference? Is it any different from the "real world" at that point?

    Finally, I'm super excited to try my hand at the Blackhand fight. I'm with you on the environment making it interesting. The idea that we need to use the siege machines/piles of debris to block attacks is quite clever in my mind. Blackhand looks extremely well-crafted as a fight overall.


    1. We can bring Nimoy back! We just need a Genesis device! RIP : /

      Regarding the elemental stuff, I wonder how much of it stems from things like D&D existing prior to video games. I mean, the Wizard with two Fireballs prepared is still screwed versus those Fire Elementals, but even if you essentially have to sit the fight out you can still talk/joke/meaningfully interact with the other people in the game. Lot easier to say "Lol, guess I'm sitting this one out. Going to grab a beer from the kitchen -- anyone else want something while I'm there?" And you often hear stuff like "The DM got annoyed by Bob launching Fireballs at suddenly we were facing imps immune to fire. Hah! Should have seen the look on Bob's face!"

      Regarding the simulation, if someone(s) set it up to run, then how could we ever be sure they wouldn't choose to stop it at some point? Or what if there was a power outage? Or the facility the computers were at had a natural disaster or was attacked? Etc. And how do we know that it isn't set to erase everyone's memories periodically and "reset" stuff? Like "Okay, we'll do 10 test runs from 2000 BCE to 2050 CE and see how things differ from trial to trial." I mean, yeah, you could argue that advanced aliens from another dimension created our universe and have been letting it run as a simulation for billions of years, but if we wound out that was true then presumably that would change things, right? Would want to try to figure out how to contact them/avoid being destroyed by them if they viewed us as a potential threat.

      Blackhand is well-crafted, yes, especially with how you change from hiding between stationary debris piles to behind moving siege engines to nowhere to hide. I think one of the biggest problems is a lack of "oomph" to Impaling Throw -- it's BLACKHAND with his signature HUGE TWO HANDED MACE and he's made of LAVA AND STUFF...and he throws a dagger at you? It's just not very visually impressive. It's one of the reasons that purely "warrior" bosses often suffer from being more bland.

  2. Well that was a good read. Like if I'd known that it would have taken me that long to read it I wouldn't have pulled your page up whilst I was waiting for WoW to load, I should have taken it to the bathroom errr... I mean, I should have taken it to umm... the queue at the bank to read. It was certainly long enough to have made a boring queue short. And I don't think you should apologise for the length or breadth of your post (and you did give fair warning at the start), I think that it was kinda cool to get that small glimpse into your brain, that you give us glimpses of anyway with your engaging blog posts.

    1. Well thank you, that's kind of you to say!