Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chromie's Companion Tank Mechanic

In the new Chromie scenario, you have the option to make your companion Chromie a tank or a healer. The tank mechanic is particularly neat, and should be stolen by every game which uses a companion.

As a tank, Chromie loses 2% of her health every second, until she hits 50% health. But when her health is above 50%, she gains a significant scaling damage bonus. At 100% health, she dishes out crazy damage.

As a healer, this mechanic is quite fun.  Normally in games with companions, you spend most of your time acting as a poor man's dps, occasionally throwing a heal on your companion. And it generally has to be this way. If normal mobs hit the companion hard enough to require significant healing, dps characters would not be able to cope.

But with Chromie, a healer can spend most of her time healing, and this is optimal gameplay for her, as the loss of the player's dps is more than made up for by the boosted companion dps.

If you're dps, you get a tank, but one which starts with half health, pushing you to kill things faster. Though I imagine dps players would still prefer to use a healing companion or another dps companion.

I think this mechanic would be an excellent match for a game like The Old Republic in particular, where companions are an essential part of solo gameplay.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda Review

This post contains spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

A good ending forgives a lot of sins. Mass Effect: Andromeda has a solid ending. It also has a lot of sins.

I finally finished Andromeda last night. I think it might be easiest to review it in bullet-point form:

Good
  • The ending of Andromeda is quite good. It feels like someone listed everything which was wrong with ME3's ending, and systematically went about writing the opposite. As a result, the ending is very fulfilling. All the allies you made appear and help, validating all your choices in the game. Though you still have your 2 squadmates, all your other squad members show up to help in the final fight. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, and Andromeda goes out on a high note.
  • Andromeda has one really good decision to make. On Kadara, there are two rival criminal organisations seeking control of the planet. You have to side with one of them. The two groups are very different, and it's not obvious which is the better choice. I've seen some interesting debates as to which choice is better. Additionally, Andromeda used the "quick-time event" to make the choice, forcing you to make the choice with time pressure. Ordinarily, I'm not a big fan of the quick time events, but here it worked perfectly.
  • The combat is fun and works well. There are lots of different builds and play styles.
  • If you like Krogan, there's lots of interactions with them. Drack, a squadmate, is pretty awesome. The krogan colony is pretty funny, and provides a much needed dose of humour. (Apparently, some krogans LARP, playing Krantt: the Ragening. There's also a new father support group, where they have sing-alongs and demolition explosion demonstrations.)
  • The six companion loyalty missions are very well designed, and actually fairly interesting, with a wide variety of styles. 
Mixed

  • The story and writing is decent. It's not particularly good, but it's not particularly bad either. In fact, in some ways it's unfortunate this is a Mass Effect game. If it had been an entirely new franchise, I would have said it was a promising start, and hopefully would get better in the sequel.
  • The open world and driving around in the Nomad is reasonably fun.
Bad
  • Your crew, aside from Drack, are not very interesting. Honestly, they're kind of annoying. After thinking about it for a bit, I've come to the conclusion that this is because they're teenagers. Oh, they're theoretically adults, with adult histories. But they act like teenagers in a television show. Everything is overly dramatic and histrionic. I wanted to space half of them by the end.
  • The game has a set of quest objectives called Tasks, which are an utter waste of time, and really just serve as filler. Collect 10 rocks, etc. Some tasks have objectives which randomly appear in enemy camps. I strongly recommend that you simply ignore all the tasks you get, and just focus on the main quests.
  • The software quality is not quite there. The animations and cutscenes have mostly been patched up to reasonable quality by now, but quests can still be fragile and buggy.
  • The game lacks the "grace notes" of the original trilogy. Elements like the elcor, hanar, and volus, which weren't really part of the story, but enhanced the world.
  • The new races introduced, the Angara and Kett, are uninteresting.
  • The entire scanner mechanic is overused, and really slows the game down.
Conclusions

Looking at these notes, I don't think I've touched my main issue with the game. It feels like the new studio was given the Mass Effect franchise, and they felt like they had to do "more" to live up to the name. Add more open-world content and bring back driving a vehicle. Add a scanner. Add all these tasks. Add NPC strike teams. But in the end, they spread themselves too thin. Pretty much every element of the game, save maybe combat, is a step below the original trilogy.

In a lot of respects, I think they would have done better to cut all these extra features and focus on polishing the main story and animations. If the player does everything, tries to 100% the game, it's too long. It would be better as a shorter and more focused game.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is not a bad game. It's just not a great one. And Andromeda has the misfortune to be a sequel to a set of truly great games.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Alternate Legendary Scheme

I'm generally happy with Legendaries this expansion. I only have 3, but they're good enough. I also don't play at a level where they really matter, so having or not having the Best-in-Slot ones isn't super important to me.

However, I think for a lot of people who are more hardcore, the Legendary system didn't really work. In particular, I don't think the concept of tailoring your build to match your Legendaries really took off.

Perhaps the problem was that the Legendaries weren't strong enough. For example, if you look at Diablo 3, set bonuses are pretty insane. If you're wearing a set which buffs an ability, that buff is on the order of a 1000% or more. I don't think such a system--where getting a Legendary forced you to build your character around it--would really fly in WoW.

I think a system that fits WoW better would be something with a little bit of randomness, but also add in control and effort.

I would suggest a scheme where the Legendary drop rate was about one per week, but the item level started at 800 or so. The player could use Obliterum to upgrade the Legendary to the item level cap.

This scheme would get the dedicated player all Legendaries reasonably quickly, but they would have to devote time or money into upgrading the Legendaries they want to use. Using Obliterum as the upgrade material would also help out crafters, giving them incentive and a market for their wares.

Friday, April 28, 2017

WoW Videos: Holding Out for a Healer



I've always liked Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero. This variant is quite well done. The video is by Kruithne. The main vocalist is Sharm, and the chorus is Letomi.

And the subject matter is certainly very appropriate. ;)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Success is the Hardest Thing to Argue Against

Lately, my guild has taken up a tactic which I find distasteful, but is leading to success. So far it's been used sparingly, but because it is successful, the leadership's aversion to the tactic is eroding. I fear we'll start resorting to it earlier and earlier in the next tier.

Basically, on a difficult boss, when we're fairly close to a first kill but are having trouble closing out that last 10%, the raid lead will start asking the lowest DPS people to step out. Because normal and heroic raids scale now, the average DPS of the raid increases while the mobs get weaker.  We got our first kills of Heroic Botanist and Heroic Gul'dan this way.

I don't approve of this tactic. To me, a raid team is a team, and you win or lose with that team as a whole. I'm perfectly fine with having minimum requirements to join the team, but once you're in, you're in.

If we didn't use this tactic, we would progress a little slower, true. Maybe we would have killed Botanist and Gul'dan a week later. But we have plenty of time.

I also think we're using this tactic as a shortcut instead of tightening up our strategy and positioning. We aren't a Mythic guild, and thus our basic handling of mechanics is not as good as it could be.

But it's really hard to argue with success. The raid leadership will point out that they only do this when it's "necessary", after we've already wiped for a couple days and no one objects in raid. But no one really want to be the person holding back the group, either. And it's hard to say that yes, we should spend one or two extra weeks wiping when we could be progressing and working on new bosses.

But because it's successful, we're reaching for it earlier and earlier. I think we wiped on Botanist twice as much as we wiped on Gul'dan. How much will our tolerance erode in Tomb of Sargeras? One night of wiping? As soon as we have a 20% wipe?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Your Name Review

There are minor spoilers for Your Name in the post, and there may be larger spoilers in the comments.



I saw Your Name (Kimi No Nawa) on the weekend. It's about a boy in Tokyo, Taki, and a girl in the countryside, Mitsuha, who start dreaming that they are the other person, even though they are complete strangers.

It was a popular movie in Japan, and is in a two-week run in some North American cinemas. There was a full theatre when I went to see it. Though I do live in Vancouver, which has a large East Asian population. Amusingly, I was the only non-white, non-East Asian person there.

The movie was quite good, with interesting and engaging characters. In particular, I thought it was "well-balanced". Some comedy, some drama, some romance, some moderate action, a touch of scifi/fantasy, a bit of Japanese religious mythology, and even an explosion.

One of the problems I have with modern western movies is that they seem to have lost that sense of balance, and often tend to extremes. An action move is 90% action with very little characterization. Romantic movies are intensely romantic. Indie movies tend to be very quirky and not very normal.

Your Name is also relatively short, clocking in at 1h 45m. Again, this is quite good, as it packs a lot in that short time frame.

Your Name is not a perfect movie, though the anime community hypes it up a lot. In particular, if plot holes bother you, there is one major plot hole, though it's not strictly a plot hole. On reflection, it's extremely unlikely the characters did not do or realize X. Kind of like characters not calling the police when they have a cellphone and in a situation which warrants it. But if you just let that go, or attribute it to the "magic dream" blinding them to it, it's more than good enough.

I recommend Your Name, especially if you can catch it in theatres. You may only have a week to do so, however.

Friday, March 24, 2017

First Impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda


Despite my feelings about the ME3 ending, I picked up Mass Effect: Andromeda last night. Here are my initial impressions from about an hour of play.

Facial Animations

I usually don't pay attention to internet complaints about graphics. To my non-artistic eyes, pretty much every modern game looks good.

However, the facial animations in ME:A are horrifically bad. Lips move, but the entire rest of the face has been botox-ed into immobility. My current head-canon is that it's a side-effect of the cryogenic sleep process, and everyone's face has simply not thawed yet. It looks really terrible, and is extraordinarily distracting.

I'm playing with the default Sara Ryder, and her eyes have pupils which are not centred correctly. It looks like she constantly has her eyes half-rolled up.

The biggest problem, though, is that's there's a clear mismatch between the quality of the head model, and the quality of the animations. This actually makes the problem worse. Maybe if the models hadn't been aiming for "realistic" so hard, the animations wouldn't stand out so much.

ME:A graphics spiked in quality the moment the characters put on their helmets.

Now, that being said, perhaps you get used to it. It wasn't nearly as distracting at the end of my play session.

Story

The story is just starting up. It's interesting how they leave everything from the original series somewhat ambiguous. In some ways, it's like the story is set in Mass Effect universe, but ignores the plot of the Mass Effect games.

So far, the writing is okay. It's not good, but it's not bad either. It kind of reminds me of a author with potential writing her first novel. It could get a lot better, but it might not either.

One interesting thing Bioware has done in conversation this time around is to categorise responses as either emotional, logical, casual, or professional. It's a very explicit way for you to define your character, especially as not all choices have all options. Sometimes you have to decide between emotional or logical. But other times, you might have logical versus professional. My tentative feelings on this system are positive, as it provides a nice framework for choices.

As a side-effect, options which are purely informative are also labelled, so you can go through all those without accidentally making a true choice.

Combat

Now we get to the outstanding part of the game so far. The combat is excellent so far. Powers work well. The shooter mechanics are crisp and nice.

I'm probably going Tech/Arms, and the tech powers are interesting, and combo nicely with each other. There's a lot of powers and skill trees for RPG enthusiasts to enjoy.

Combat feels good in this game, and that's a major positive for the game.

Conclusions

When you think about it, the facial animations are probably disproportionately distracting. But I can guarantee you that it's the first thing you notice when you start playing the game. The story is very generic at the moment, but hopefully the writers hit their stride and pick it up as the game goes on. But the combat mechanics are quite fun and well done.