Thursday, July 24, 2014

[Wolf Among Us] Quick Time Events

I've been playing through The Wolf Among Us now that the entire thing is out, and it's been a pretty good ride so far. The artwork/rendering is gorgeous, the story is engaging, and the episodes are the right length each for me so I can feel like I can stop and come back at my leisure. I'm about halfway through Chapter 4 so far, out of a total of 5 chapters.

The one thing that I can't say I care for is the Quick Time Events. Every time something action-y happens on screen, if you do or don't press the button that shows up, the sequence plays out a little different. Like in the screenshot below, if you successfully spam the 'Q' key fast enough, you'll win the tug-of-war over the axe with the Woodsman. If you fail, well, then you don't have an axe and now you're dodging it instead.


The idea seems to be to give you a little bit of a pacing break by tossing some interaction at you, as well as let you feel like you have some direction over the story. I haven't tried just ignoring the QTE entirely to see if you can get a game over, but for the most part failures haven't seemed to really prevent me from continuing on, which honestly is probably a good thing. Like in a game of D&D, failure shouldn't necessarily mean the end, but a different branch of the story.

However, the story doesn't seem to altar very significantly with any choices, either the macro choices about where to go next--where your ordering seems to change what clues you get, but in the end you still have the same series of events, just a slightly different order--or the micro-choices you get for failing or succeeding at the QTEs.

The QTEs feel jarring. I'm dug into a good visual novel and suddenly, bam, action game, requiring quick reflexes! Often I miss the first key entirely because I'm taken off guard. While a designer might count that as a win (because Bigby was also off guard, perhaps!), for me it's just annoying. In a game like Halo, a cinematic controlling the action for me is vexing, because the norm is having character agency for action sequences, whereas the visual novel department is closer to a Choose Your Own Adventure, where you make the occasional decision and you're piecing together a story. Your character agency is quite limited in that case, so having less agency in an action sequence feels like it would be fine.

This book is literally older than I am by about 3 years. And it was amazing at the time.
I love Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I really like the visual novel-style game--though one could argue that The Wolf Among Us is closer to a television show with the ability to choose your scene order rather than having any true choices, so it still falls short in terms of agency in comparison. I think there's definitely still an opening here for something a little closer to an actual Choose Your Own Adventure, with a proper branching story in the medium to big budget game area.

One way or another, though, the QTEs felt like they were tacked on because someone thought they didn't have enough gameplay in their game, and I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to do that. I think I'd actually enjoy the game more without them.

#GameDesign, #QuickTimeEvents

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm Tired of Saving the World

Lately I've been playing a lot of Atelier Escha & Logy. It's a JRPG in a long line of Alchemy-focused RPGs. The primary mechanic of the game is that you're an alchemist, so the item system is incredibly complex. You combine items in recipes, but you can substitute ingredients to achieve different effects. For example, maybe a recipe will call for something flammable. Early in the game, you may only have paper scraps. Later on, you might have exotic oils with much more interesting properties. If you've played FFXIV, it's not dissimilar to the crafting system there; just add a few more layers of complexity.

Logy and Escha. Note the 'g' in Logy is soft, so it sounds like "Low-gee"
Of course, as an alchemist, you're doing combat as you explore for ingredients, so it's not all just item creation and talking to your party members. But the interesting thing to me about this game is that it's billed by a lot of people as a slice-of-life game. You're not out there saving the world, you're doing your job as a government official alchemist in an R&D department, which includes exploring ruins to gather ingredients, making new items, and helping townsfolk out with your alchemy.

High/Epic Fantasy, such as Tolkien, Final Fantasy, the Tales series, Mass Effect, and so on are all about country, world, or universe threatening problems. It's easy to create tension in a story using that motif, and the hero's journey is an extremely old yet effective plot outline. Don't get me wrong, I love epic fantasy, but the same tropes do get tiring once in a while.

We have lots of slice-of-life comics, such as Questionable Content, Boy Meets Boy, and Something Positive, and sitcoms are a veritable treasure trove of slice-of-life television shows, but not so many slice-of-life story-based games, despite the popularity of the genre in other mediums.

In the Atelier series, while there are moments at the end where something bad happens and you have to save your town/friends anyhow, the grand majority of the game isn't about that, and I find it frankly refreshing. Now, it does help that I really enjoy the deep alchemy system, and combat is pretty well done too, but I don't really find myself missing that driving need to save all the things.

There are slice-of-life games such as Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, and Tomodachi Life, but for those the story has been rather anemic. The Rune Factory series probably has the strongest story of the ones I've played, but it still leans heavily on the hero's journey and save the town tropes, and if you're talking Animal Crossing, there's no real story being told. It's not like you're peering into the life of a farmer, or a surgeon, or an alchemist. You're in a community simulator, where you can make a story, but it's not really cohesive; it's interesting because you have emergent story, rather than a crafted one allowing you to be in someone else's shoes for a period of time.

Princess Elodie, learning about Military Strategy
Long Live the Queen is a good example of a slice-of-life game, where you play as the Princess Elodie, who's mother just died and you have a year until you ascend the throne. Every week, you decide what courses to take, and pass or fail skill checks along the way, hoping to avoid assassination and ascend the throne. A great little game with a view of what a Princess in a contested kingdom might be like.

So give me more peeks into people's day-to-day lives. What's the day-to-day life of a Wizard like? How about a game where you're a Teacher and you need to ensure your students are on the right track? Tell me in the comments below if you know of any other good slice-of-life games, because I'm tried of saving the world right now.

#GameDesign, #SliceOfLife

Friday, July 11, 2014

GaymerX: First Impressions and Comparisons to PAX's Diversity Lounge

Friday night in San Francisco, and I'm in my hotel room writing a blog post. I think at this point in my life I'm a little bit over traveling by myself. You'll see in a moment how that realization colours my perception of GaymerX.

For those not in the know, GaymerX bills itself as "the gaming event for LGBTQ gamers and allies. All are welcome as we celebrate queer representation in gaming, meet new people, and of course, play awesome games together!" After checking out the Diversity Lounge of PAX East, I fond myself wanting a juxtaposition of a truly welcoming safe gaming space to what the Penny Arcade folks had put together.

Day 0

My convention experience started a day earlier than many others, having a VIP badge--nothing too crazy, just a more expensive badge to get into the pre-party. Communication on registration was an issue, as a reminder email told us to show up at 5 PM on Thursday, while the website said 6 PM. In actuality, registration didn't start until 7 PM. I'm unsure as to why that was, but the discrepancy ruined my plans to return to my hotel room before the party to drop off my bag and stuff.

GaymerX Badge Get!
However, logistical issues aside, the VIP party was pretty nice. Held outside in a greenhouse-like plastic tent, they had open bars for the first couple hours, good music, and a Mario Kart 8 station. Thankfully the alcohol helped me power through my own awkward to meet new folks, from a storyboard artist to marketing directors. I even ended up hanging out with Jackson Palmer, the creator of Dogecoin--a cryptocurrency not unlike Bitcoin--who was visiting the convention to perform a talk on cryptocurrency and microtransactions for tipping streamers. Such currency, so wow. Pretty cool to meet someone and be able to talk shop and programming, so to speak.

I rather wish I had brought business cards for either my blog or my game company. The networking opportunities were pretty sweet.

One of the coolest things about the VIP party, and frankly a recurring theme throughout the event, is just how diverse the crowd was. Pictures are generally verboten unless you ask first, so I don't really have any visual examples; however, when compared to PAX, there were a lot more ladies, and folks comfortable dressing the way they'd like to dress. Genderqueer folk not conforming to either primary gender stereotype; gay guys from the gym bunnies in tank tops to the neckbearded engineers (represent, yo); femme and butch lesbians; and just so many people who honestly defy labels. I realize I'm really not doing the crowd justice, to be perfectly frank. The crowd was extremely eclectic and it was fantastic.

Jackson Palmer and Josh Mohland of Dogecoin fame

Day 1

Officially Day 1 of GaymerX began on Friday, and I admit I ended up sleeping in rather than going to the opening ceremonies. I don't think I've ever gone to the opening ceremonies for PAX either, to be honest. Opening ceremonies tend to be pomp and circumstance, and I rather like my sleep.

I arrived at about 1 PM to the hotel where the convention was being hosted. I had a panel I wanted to be at an hour later, so I wandered the halls. The convention takes place across three floors of the hotel, though the middle floor was largely set aside for things like registration and rooms for organizers, so really it was on two floors.

There was a few sections to play some games the Cards Against Humanity folks liked, with each game having a clear placard talking briefly about it. There was a section for OUYA games, of which I played some duck game where you all spawn on a small level, pick up weapons and try to be the last duck standing. Frankly, the game was extremely confusing at first, but I picked up on it eventually. Wasn't really fun, though. Honestly I thought the OUYA was dead, so a whole room dedicated to games on the platform was interesting. Wasn't particularly impressed by any of them offhand, though.

There was a Pokémon Gym area that had trivia contests and battle tournaments. I didn't check it out, on my list for later, but it was neat. There also was a board game room and a card game room, but the rooms only had 3 or 4 tables each, and were much too small for the populace interested in playing games. Future conventions should probably set aside more space for those.

At the end of the floor, a small expo hall awaited. Some super cool vendors in there, including a couple comic book stores; someone who made keychains/necklaces out of recycled comics; another person selling layered shadow boxes of gaming motifs like Pokémon, Zelda, and Portal; one person who was selling a board game she had created, called Dungeon Escape, which looked neat.

There also was a table dedicated to the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to providing crisis and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth across the country. Below you'll find a picture taken where I dressed as a globe-trotting Latina jewel thief (other options included an elf hero, an Italian plumber, a speedy hedgehog, or an animal trainer) with a message for kids who are having difficulties:


You can also see about 1/3rd of the expo hall behind me.

That brings me to my next point: I had seen the grand majority of non-temporal events. Mind you, I could have interacted more with some of the game stations, but I did have extensive chats at four of the expo hall booths. But at only about 2000 participants, and only really two floors of the convention center, I question how I will fill up 3 full days with content by myself. I think I would have benefited greatly bringing a friend to this event, whereas at PAX, it's so massive I can easily fill up 3 days and be left wanting for more. Or I just need to get a LOT more outgoing than I am normally.

But on the other hand, there are a fair number of things like panels that are at specific times, and the two panels that I saw on Friday were really quite good. I'll be doing separate write-ups for those at a later time, but to whet the appetite, one was about Gaming and Intersectionality, the other about Designing Inclusive Video Games. Really, really great panels!

GaymerX and the PAX Diversity Lounge

So far I've been having fun. The atmosphere is great. So much more hopeful, open, and free than even the diversity lounge at PAX East was. While the Diversity Lounge was a decent start, seeing how happy everyone was just to be at GaymerX and be themselves was incredibly refreshing.

For some folks, this is the only venue they can really be themselves at. I don't think that people really understand the crushing loneliness that is living in the closet and having to hide who you really are for your own safety, and seeing that erased even for a couple days in a safe space such as GaymerX has been very awesome, and I think it's finally given me the perspective to articulate what bothers me about the Diversity Lounge.

The PAX Diversity Lounge is built to educate the general populace, not primarily as a safe space for minorities (despite the description). Now, it can be a safer space than the rest of the convention, but arguably, the whole of PAX should be a safe space for folks; however, I don't think it will ever be anything like what GaymerX has been able to offer folks, not until the general populace accepts people for who they are rather than expecting folks to fit into neat gender/sexuality stereotypes and roles.

I think education is incredibly important, and the Diversity Lounge provided that functionality pretty well in my opinion. But it's a lot like when you see feminists decry people for engaging them for clarification/education: sometimes you just can't. Sometimes you just need the problem to be fixed, and sometimes you're too tired/scared/angry to be the person to educate others. Sometimes, you just need a safe space where you can decompress and not have to worry about the consequences of those things. GaymerX provides that in spades, and it's wonderful.

#GaymerX, #FirstImpression

Monday, July 7, 2014

[WoW Beta] UBRS 5-Man Dungeon as Holy Paladin

This weekend I rolled up a level 100 premade on one of the PvP Warlords of Draenor Beta servers and dove into the LFD tool to take a look at both the new healing model, as well as one of the new dungeons. After getting my keybinds and mouseover macros all fixed up, LFD popped, and it put me in Upper Blackrock Spire (UBRS).

(Note: After running this, I ran with some heroic raider folks with myself as DPS, and everything died literally twice as fast. The healer also had 0 problems healing the tank who was also a bear. Apparently my LFD group was pretty awful overall, both tank and DPS, so take the following with that in mind. The notes are largely intact from the LFD run).

Note that for this run, Blizzard scaled our gear down to ilvl 600 and character level to 100. Also, spoilers in the video and in the dungeon text below, duh.



Healing

First I'm going to talk about the new healing model for a bit, and how it felt in general. From a high level, it felt very much like playing Cataclysm again, except mana regen was a bit more generous than it was in Cata. Usually people died because the damage outpaced my throughput or they did something stupid, not because I went OOM. Granted, there were a couple fights where I was OOM, or pretty close to it, but overall it felt a lot more fun.

I'll talk about it a bit more in the context of fights, but there were some fights where DPS sat at about 20% of their total health for a good 30 seconds and survived, even with outgoing AoE damage. If they were judicious about staying out of the bad, then they'd survive a lot longer. At the end of a fight, when you're on running on fumes, the DPS' ability to avoid the bad is basically the decider on when they live or die. Which frankly, I like.

Tank healing as a Holy Paladin was a bit rough, however. I was running Eternal Flame, Clemency, Divine Purpose, Holy Prism, Saved by the Light as my talent loadout. I'll consider trying Beacon of Insight on my next run, but a 30% health bubble up to once a minute can be HUGE in this new healing model.

For the most part, tank damage taken was higher than my throughput just spamming Holy Light. The bear tank's health was 320k, and my Holy Light would do about 14k in raw healing (plus another 20% bubble for mastery), so we're talking each heal filling up about 4.4% of the tank's health bar, and another 0.9% bubble.

However, with our small heal gone, Holy Light does interact with Beacon of Light to generate Holy Power, so I found my Holy Power generation to be a fair bit higher than on live. Once I had that figured out (because without my UI, the holy power meter is so far away), healing became a lot easier. In fact, it was pretty easy to get all five of us have 30 second Eternal Flames rolling, which meant the tank was getting about 3k health every 2 seconds (50% Beacon of Light transfer, 500 from each DPS, 750 from me, 1000 on the tank proper), which helped immensely. It also helped slowly fill those DPS health bars up.

But even so, tank damage was pretty harsh; my single target throughput felt really, really weak. Clemency and freely using Hand of Sacrifice (glyphed, of course) was a requirement, otherwise there'd have been a lot more tank deaths. I also chose Divine Purpose after running Holy Avenger for a while. Given how quickly we can build Holy Power, Holy Avenger didn't feel quite as powerful as it used to.

Similar to the beginning of MoP, Divine Purpose is an excellent mana saving talent, which may be why some fights I didn't run as OOM as I could have. This may change as we get more stats as the expansion progresses. Also, I feel like the Divine Purpose proc should be bumped to 10 seconds instead of 8, since the consuming spells now have a cast time, so you effectively have 1.5 seconds less to use it. The proc power aura that pops is also translucent now, which actually makes it harder for me to notice it. I'd rather it be solid again.

I did find I had to use Flash of Light quite a bit, often spamming it three or four times in a row to get the tank into safer (i.e: 50% health) territory. It's good, because on live I don't think I ever use that spell. Might mean the Glyph of Flash of Light may be more useful this expansion.

While I missed having lots of throughput cooldowns--because I rarely stack my cooldowns on live using them separately over time to handle smaller scenarios--I have to say having everything rolled up into Avenging Wrath makes me feel like a minor deity. That cooldown is about the only time I can actually fill health bars back up to full, and it happens in relatively short order. I have to say, it feels really fun pressing that button just because of how much more potent my healing becomes with it. It's like popping a Healing Tide Totem today. Health bars just bam, go up.

Overall, healing was fun. A lot more fun than it is on live. Mediocre tanks can't chain pull and expect healers to get them through it, but mana isn't so bad that you need to sit down between pulls every time. DPS are in control of their own destiny, and if they're good at staying out of the bad, can comfortably sit at 50% health for quite some time. If they're excellent, even 20% to 30% for a little while is okay. Melee still suck your mana like nobody's business though. Some design factors never change.

It rarely felt like I needed to panic, and the couple times I did, that's what Lay on Hands or Avenging Wrath is for. I don't miss my small auto-attack heal at all, and I don't miss Divine Plea, either for that matter. I do miss Hand of Salvation because the number of times someone pulled aggro...while that wasn't instant-death like it would be today, it was a huge drain on my mana.

On the other hand, the food given to use by default generates mana soooooooooooooooooooooooo slowly. It takes like a full minute to regenerate my mana pool on it. That was awful.

Upper Blackrock Spire (UBRS)

Our comp was a Holy Paladin (me), a Bear Tank, a Warlock, Death Knight, and Hunter for DPS. I have no idea what specs the DPS were. The group was gathered via the LFD tool. For Blizzard's benefit, my experience is 14/14N and some Heroic raiding attempts. The other players were not very good at either DPS, nor staying out of the bad. The tank did not seem to be using much self-healing, either.

In the initial pulls, some of the trash packs were a little close to each other. There's a distinct case early on in the linked video at like 4 minutes where a trash pack comes out of no where and aggros on me for healing too much. Not sure why, but double pulls were pretty common throughout the dungeon as a whole.

In the first trash pulls, some things, like the slow "arcane explosions" were pretty obvious to get out of, but there was some strange red circles that expanded slowly that I had no idea why they were doing what they were. When I ran as DPS, I figured out they were coming from banners. I still don't know what the banners do, but if SoO taught me anything, it's that Banners and Totems are the greatest threat to Azeroth since Deathwing and must be taken out immediately.

Oremaster Gor'asha
 

(Fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2EyYri7tDw#t=444)

We went into this fight blind, with the exception of the tank, who knew most of the dungeon. Boss sits on top of a pedestal, and summons weird spike things that have an aura around them. Until after the fight completed, I had no idea what those spikes were (since the spikes didn't clear up when the boss died). Apparently they push you away from the spike itself; they're a repulsion aura.

The boss himself summoned flying sawblades on the tank (Blade of Steel, not the hockey Nintendo game). He also cast the occasional AoE called Shrapnel Nova which hit the party for a good 25% of their total health.

At about 75%, 50%, and 25% of his health, he'd activate these lightning conduits around the room and AoE the raid until people deactivated them. The raid warning made it obvious, which was good.

We one shot this encounter. The mechanics were mostly obvious, damage wasn't terribly high (and none of it was avoidable with the exception of deactivating the lightning conduits fast enough), so easily healable. I ended the fight with about 25% of my mana pool remaining.

Note the monster label says Orebender, but the quest text says Oremaster.

Kyrak


(Fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2EyYri7tDw#t=753)

Heeeeee, it's Maloriak v2.0! He comes with a bunch of adds, one of which is CC'able. Two Drakonid Monstrosities, which perform a long line of fire on the ground occasionally (Eruption), and a Black Iron Emissary, who I have no idea what he did.

We wiped the first time because the DPS didn't focus the adds. There was a lot of tank damage going out because of boss plus two adds (since we CC'd the Emissary). Instead, the DPS got the boss down to 50% first, at which point he started putting green pools of crap on the ground, so having to dodge those AND dodge the Eruptions with a single instant heal (Holy Shock) made healing pretty much impossible.

Our second attempt, the DPS actually followed the age-old adage of Adds > Boss, and we downed him pretty handily. The tank damage was definitely front loaded, though with all of the green crap on the ground the AoE damage ramped considerably at the end of the fight. In fact, it was extremely unforgiving healing-wise at the end; DPS needed to move FAST or the healer would never keep up with the outgoing damage. In fact, our Warlock died, and the other four of us were about 30% each at the end.

I ended that fight again with 40% of my remaining mana.

Trash Intermission

A slight aside, the Black Iron Veterans are absolutely hilarious. Their shield slam launches you across the room. Watching our Hunter get nailed and fly waaaaay far away had me rollicking in laughter. It was hands down the most hilarious thing I had seen all dungeon. (Look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2EyYri7tDw#t=1224)

Trash in general was tuned pretty high. Each trash pull had a serious chance of tank death, so there wasn't much downtime. Also, the fact that Beacon of Light still heals around corners was helpful on the trash pulls.

I don't know if our DPS as a whole was a bit low, if the mob health was tuned a bit high, or what, but trash pulls took forever to take down. In the next boss fight, it also showed.

Blackrock Stadium


(Fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2EyYri7tDw#t=1692)

Gauntlet fight! You have 3 waves, but it's not really obvious when one wave ends, though it is obvious when each wave begins, as you have stragglers show up over time. Adds come in from both an end of the arena, and above, making it pretty difficult for the tank to pick everything up. I ended up doing a fair bit of heal tanking.

However, coming out of the three waves and directly into the boss fight proper, I was already OOM before we started, which basically doomed our attempt to failure from the start. The drake's breath weapon is super nasty, not only doing a lot of damage, but puts a stacking debuff on the people hit that increases fire damage taken by 100% per stack. Stand in that for like 2 ticks and you're pretty well dead.

After we wiped, we got back, and thankfully we didn't need to do the entire gauntlet a second time; we could just face the drake and Commander Tharbek himself immediately.

He seemed to have a number of abilities. One was an axe he threw that caused a bleed. Another puts a circle of slime on the ground. He also hits the tank relatively hard.

He summons spinning axes like Nazgrim's Ravager, but they're on fire, making them extremely high visibility, rather than Nazgrim's Ravager which is really hard to see because it's a grey weapon on a brown background. However, they move in what seems to be gentle arcs around the room, making them really hard to track. There were cases where I thought I would be get but it arced around me, and other cases where it snuck up behind me and I just couldn't get away because it was travelling in the same arc as I was moving, which was extremely annoying. It felt like there wasn't an obvious movement pattern. They are super pretty though. They seemed to be summoned on a cadence, or at % health, not sure, but there was four of them at one point since they don't despawn, and in that tiny room pretty much impossible to avoid.

At about 25% health, like Nazgrim, he summons reinforcements, and you get a bunch of adds. (Note: apparently it's not actually health based, our DPS were just REALLY slow at taking him down. The "enrage" of adds is timer-based). We ended up burning the boss down because frankly we were all nearly dead. However, once the boss died, the adds and axes disappeared. We basically sat at 20% health each for the final 15 seconds of the boss fight, and I had about 20% of my mana remaining, noting that we didn't start this fight from the gauntlet.

Trash Intermission and Son of the Beast

The next trash is where I'd expect to get the Leeroy Jenkins achieve. There's a bunch of whelp cages, and some of the adds (Drake-keepers) will run off to release the whelps. If you slow them/stun them, you can prevent it from occurring, but if you don't, you get overwhelmed quickly. We ended up having to pull into the previous room to prevent that from occurring once we wiped to the trash once. It was pretty crazy.

There's a bonus boss off to the left called Son of the Beast. It's a core hound, and he charges people, knocks them back a fair distance, and leaves a trail of fire which does damage, and leaves a DoT. He also performs a physical (non-dispelable) fear, quite often, which was annoying. In fact, most of the trash in this area chain-fears. Otherwise the boss is quite straight-forward and healing is pretty light. Nothing really crazy.

Ragewing


(Fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2EyYri7tDw#t=3036)

We did not go into this fight blind, as the tank explained it, but holy cow, what the hell. His explanation still didn't quite prepare me for what occurred. While we did one shot it, it was pretty close.

First of all, you end up fighting a protodrake on a bridge, and not a very big bridge at that. The fight is two phases which repeat, then a third phase at the end

Phase 1 he's flying up against the bridge, and nails the tank pretty hard, drops pools of fire on the ground, and picks either left or right side of the bridge and performs a nasty fire breath sweep which does about 50% of your health in damage and disorients you. You need to be in the center of the bridge, or you'll never avoid it.

Phase 2 he flies away and starts bombarding the bridge with fireballs. While you can technically avoid them, it was extremely difficult to do so. I think I just ended up healing through it. A large group of whelps also shows up, which you need to hande.

After a set of P1, P2, P1, P2, you enter P3 (dunno if it's timed or health based), the protodrake lands on the bridge and starts mauling your tank with a stacking bleed DoT. You still need to handle pools of fire below you, but it's a race to basically kill him before he kills your tank.

Pretty frantic fight, healing-wise. I also noticed that pets don't seem to have AoE damage reduction anymore, or it's not enough. The Warlock and Hunter pets kept dying pretty quickly as far as I could tell, which is annoying. (Note: Confirmed. I ran as a mage later and my Water Elemental died so many times during the dungeon he may as well have not been there :( ).

Warlord Zaela


(Fights Start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2EyYri7tDw#t=3585)

(Kill Pull: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2EyYri7tDw#t=5040)

First of all, none of us had seen her before, so we looked in the dungeon journal to see what she did. It tells you about her knockback attack, but then it tells the tank to put their back against a wall. What wall, Blizzard?

The fight is basically three phases and takes place on a relatively small arena suspended above a pit of lava. If you get knocked off, game over.

In phase 1, the tank needs to position her so that his back is to at least 60% of the arena so he can land on the platform when he gets knocked back. She also can do a whirlwind attack where she picks a random person and chases them, doing AoE damage as she moves. It's not a lot of AoE damage, mind you, so I found it easier for the tank at least to just sit there if he's the one targeted so he can make sure he's positioned correctly. It only did about 9k damage a tick on me (but I am in plate with a shield). She has an axe throw that does so little damage that I didn't even register as it happening until I watched footage after the fact.

At 50% health, she leaves the arena and summons a bunch of adds. On top of the adds, protodrakes show up on either the front, or the "right" of the arena (if you're looking out from the entrance) and perform a conal fire attack that does a fair bit of damage (20k a tick). You need to be watching for the drakes and moving ahead of time. Since it is a conal attack, you'll want to be closer to the drakes rather than further as less of the arena is hit there. It's really hard to dodge the fire well away from the drakes.

Once the adds are dead, phase 3 is just a combo of phase 1 and the protodrakes from phase 2. So don't get knocked off if you're the tank, dodge the whirlwind, and dodge the fire. Sounds simple, but it's a lot of damage going out and you can get behind quite easily if your party isn't careful.

We took about 30 minutes to kill Zaela (5 pulls, I think?), but I ended the fight with about 15% of my total mana.

Do note there is a bug where the protodrakes continue to show up and breathe fire all over the platform despite Zaela being dead.

Overall

It was a fun dungeon. Some of the trash was a bit grueling, especially between Kyrak, Blackrock Stadium, and Ragewing, but as one of my stream watchers put it, it gave it that authenticate UBRS marathon feel. Without wipes the run would've taken about 45 minutes. With wipes, about an hour and a half. Still feels a little bit long, however, but that could also be due to the health tuning/dps tuning.

Difficulty-wise with the group I had, it's on par with early Cataclysm heroic 5-mans, or a little bit easier. The mechanics aren't quite as unforgiving as say, Stonecore was, but healing this dungeon was a pretty similar experience to healing Heroic Grim Batol that first week of Cataclysm, but with more mana, which given that was the Normal 100 version of the dungeon might be tuned a bit high. I felt like an ilvl of 600 was probably a little low for the dungeon overall, and I imagine we'll have a higher ilvl when we first hit 100, but I could be wrong.

I'm loving the new healing model. It does feel like they took the lessons they learned in MoP and Cata and applied them. It'll be interesting to see how this works when it gets tweaked a bit and goes live, and how healing throughput/mana regen scales. As I said earlier, my issue was almost always throughput and other players, not mana as long as I didn't spam Holy Radiance/Flash of Light.

When I ran later as DPS with a heroic raid-capable premade group, the dungeon and mechanics were trivial. I wasn't healing, but our healer was never below 50% mana, and rarely below 80%, and the Druid tank needed very little healing in general. My Enhancement Shaman also was capable of 46k Healing Surge crits with 5 Maelstrom Weapon stacks, so that was fun to basically be able to heal myself and have the healer ignore me mostly; that may need a little tuning still. So the skill gulf between awful but still completable, and fantastic is huge. I think that's pretty par for the course in WoW in general, but it's interesting to note just how hard this dungeon feels with middling to poor players, and it's a normal dungeon. The Heroic version must be nuts. I'm actually hoping it is!

#WarlordsOfDraenor, #Beta, #Healing

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Let Loose The Moose

One of my fellow raiders noticed in Skyrim that the moose antlers are on backwards, which is silly. The whole point of the antlers is for locking with other moose when they charge. When the antlers are backwards, all of that surface area is not useful, or worse, in a prime place to add more torque to the moose’s neck.

This is a Skyrim moose:


This is a real moose:
 

But of course, the Skyrim community has a mod to fix the moose antlers. Seriously. A mod just to fix the antlers. Six hundred and ten people have downloaded this mod. Seriously, the power of modding communities is simultaneously insane and impressive.
This is what happens when Canadians chat after the raid.




#Moose, #Skyrim

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Day 46: The Final Day

My funemployment period is finally at an end after 46 days, and I'm off to do cool things in the indie game scene. I'll be one of three programmers on a little game known as Eon Altar, done by Flying Helmet Games. I've chatted about this game in the past, and I'm really excited to be on board as a developer. Note, if you're a UI dev or a level designer with experience in Unity, and live in the Vancouver, BC area, feel free to apply here.


We're doing a lot of iterating and prototyping, so while the large vision you see on the website and in the videos is still largely intact, especially around bringing your friends together in one place, gameplay and what not is certainly evolving.


And iteration early on is crucial. You want to fail fast and fail hard with your designs and prototypes, and iterate quickly to find what's fun and what isn't. The longer you wait, the more expensive design changes become. Expect to see blog posts about my developer experiences, and perhaps even some of what we're designing as we go along!

For my funemployment, I've been playing a bunch of games on and off: WoW; Dragon Age 2; Pokémon X; Final Fantasy X HD; Pocket Farm; Hearthstone; and the WoW Beta (you can find my Twitch.TV stream here, and look to my Twitter for when I'm streaming).

Upcoming this month, along with my new job, are a trip to the GaymerX convention in San Francisco July 11th through the 13th, as well as an online Pokémon tournament sadly in the same time period. It'll be a bit of a busy weekend!

#Personal, #EonAltar

Friday, June 27, 2014

Pokémon Geneticist: Making Tournament Ready Eevee From Scratch

Next month GameFreak is hosting an online tournament called "Eevee Friendly" for Pokémon X and Y, which is basically a tournament around a single Pokémon and it's 8 possible evolutions. Way back when at the beginning of my blog, I was working on breeding an entire set of near-perfect Eevee, so I figured this would be a good time to finally try out the online tournament scene.

All Eevee, all the time.
My Eevee army is complete; I have six different types, decked out with crafted move sets, stats, and natures (personalities). Given the effort, I figured I'd deconstruct the steps to both have everything I need in one spot, and to give folks an idea of what really goes on to get tournament-ready critters.

Step 1: Understanding the Lexicon

One of the first things you need to do is basically understand what we're aiming for, and to do that requires some basic groundwork.

All Pokémon have six stats:
  • HP
    • The total amount of damage your critter can suffer before they faint ("die").
  • Attack (Atk)
    • Moves that use Attack to help determine damage have a red and yellow star beside them.
  • Defense (Def)
    • Reduces the damage you take from moves that use the Attack stat.
  • Special Attack (SpA)
    • Moves that use Special Attack to help determine damage have a blue and purple set of circles beside them.
  • Special Defense (SpD)
    • Reduces the damage you take from moves that use the Special Attack stat.
  • Speed (Spe)
    • Determines who goes first in a given round. In case of ties, order is assigned randomly.
These stats are determined by combination of a Pokémon's base stats, Individual Values (IVs), Effort Values (EVs), nature, and level.

The base stats are identical for all Pokémon of a given species, and have the most influence over the final stats. For example, all Pikachu have 55 base Attack, and 90 base Speed. At level 100, a Pikachu with no EVs, IVs, or nature would have 115 Attack and 185 Speed ([2 x Base] x Level / 100 + 5). HP ends up being a little bit more, with ([2 x Base + 100] x Level / 100 + 10).

For the most part, just note that the higher the base stats are, the better. If you want something that is speedy and crushes your opponents with Earthquake, finding a Pokémon with a high base Speed and Attack is probably a good start.

Individual Values (IVs) are something I talked a lot about last time. These are basically the "genetics" that create variation in your Pokémon. They're generated at the point where you encounter the Pokémon (either in the wild, or in egg form), and are immutable. There is an IV for each stat: HP, Attack, Defense, and so on. Each IV can range from 0 to 31, and at Level 100, will add that amount to the stat.

So a Pikachu with a 15 Speed IV will have 200 Speed at Level 100 (185 from the base stat, 15 from the IV). Ideally, you want 31 is as many useful IVs as possible. I say useful because not every Pokémon uses every stat, usually in the case of Physical versus Special attackers.

Effort Values (EVs) are the nurture portion of nurture versus nature. They're basically XP for specific stats. Whenever you defeat another Pokémon, they're worth some amount of EVs. For example, if your Pikachu were to defeat a Charmander, Pikachu would get 1 Speed EV.

A Pokémon can have a maximum of 252 EVs in a single stat, and a total of 510 EVs across all stats. This makes choosing which stats you want to boost important, because you have a very finite number to apply. At Level 100, your stats will be increased by 1/4th of the EVs for that stat.

So our Pikachu with a 15 Speed IV, and 90 base Speed, if we trained him to have 200 Speed EVs, he would have 250 Speed total: 185 from the base stat, 15 from the Speed IV, and 50 from the 200 Speed IVs.


In Pokémon X and Y you can see your EVs via the Super Training window. The middle dark chunk is your IVs (and nature, I think), and the outer yellow portion of the graph is your EVs. The bar on the right is how close to your maximum of 510 EVs you are.

Finally, a Pokémon's Nature can also change the spread of a Pokémon's final stats. Some natures have no effect, others will reduce one stat by 10% and increase another by 10%.

All told, your Pokémon's final stat allocation is as follows:

With thanks to Bulbapedia for the graphic.
IVs, EVs, and Nature are all under your control as a player. Basically, the higher the better for IVs and EVs, and find a nature that makes what you want to focus on go higher, and lower a stat you don't care about.

Step 2: Choose your Pokémon

Simple, which Pokémon do you want to use? When you're picking for a larger team, you want to make sure you have things like type coverage (you don't want a team where most of your critters are susceptible to say, fire attacks), and different roles for different critters. If you have nothing but Special Attack sweepers (a critter who does little but makes super-powerful attacks once it's been set up with stat boosts), you're going to get creamed by someone with one or two Special Defense walls (a critter who has really high defenses/HP and often has moves to support those defenses).

For the Eevee Friendly tournament, thankfully, my choices are limited to nine: Eevee and the eight evolutions. With each Pokémon having only a single type, and some having type counters, but not others, it makes thinking about the metagame interesting., but far more finite than the game as a whole. For myself, I ended up choosing a tank (Vaporeon), a staller (Umbreon), three sweepers (Flareon, Espeon, and Jolteon), and a baton passer (Leafeon).

Tanks often can take a lot of damage and still dish some out. Stallers inflict various conditions that do damage over time, then try to hold out for a period of time while those conditions do their job. Baton passers refer to a specific in-game move, where you set up some positive status conditions then "baton pass" to switch to another Pokémon, who would inherit those positive conditions.

Step 3: Determine IVs, Natures, Abilities, and Move Sets

Once you've determined who you want to bring, you'll want to figure out what you're aiming for. As an ongoing example, I'll use my Espeon.

Espeon are often used as Special Sweepers, and that's my primary aim here. Since Espeon won't be using the Attack stat, the IV for Attack can be zero for all I care, but I want 31s in all the other stats--note that getting a 6 perfect IV Pokémon is extremely unlikely, whereas 5 is totally doable in a couple hours. I also want to emphasize the Speed stat at the expense of the Attack stat to make it more likely that I will go first in a round, so I want an Espeon with a Timid nature.

Pokémon abilities are a special attribute which usually have positive effects in battle. Espeon can have one of two abilities: Synchronize, or the hidden ability Magic Bounce. Hidden abilities cannot just happen. You need to have caught a Pokémon with the hidden ability and pass it down via breeding. Since I didn't do that, I ended up with Synchronize, which causes any status ailments inflicted on Espeon to also be inflicted on Espeon's opponent, which isn't too shabby. Since that's the default, nothing extra for me to do here.

Finally, the move set. As a sweeper, I want to make sure I have a bunch of special attacks in different types to ensure the maximum number of types that I can inflict double damage on. Since I decided against cross-breeding moves from other Pokémon, there was nothing else to do here but select moves from Espeon's levelling list and/or technical machine list--TMs are items which can teach moves to Pokémon. Not all Pokémon can learn all moves.

For Espeon, I selected:
  • Psychic
    • A powerful Psychic-type special attack.
    • Since Espeon is a Psychic-type Pokémon, it gets a 50% boost in power on this move.
    • Learned from levelling.
  • Dazzling Gleam
    • A powerful Fairy-type special attack.
    • Useful against Dark-types such as Umbreon.
    • Learned from TM.
  • Grass Knot
    • A moderately powerful Grass-type special attack.
    • Useful against Water-types such as Vaporeon.
    • Learned from TM.
  • Reflect
    • Reduces damage from incoming physical attacks for 5 turns.
    • Leafeon and Flareon are both strong physical attackers, and the Eevee line tends to have better SpD than Def.
    • Learned from TM.
Step 4: Get Your Pokémon, and Start Breeding

To breed more Eevee, you need to have an Eevee first. Since all Pokémon from the Friend Safari start with at least 2 IVs maxed out at random, I started with Eevee from there. Catch a whole bunch, then go to the Kiloude City Pokémon Center and talk to the guy on the right-hand side of the screen.

When he checks out your Pokémon, he'll say, "Incidentally, I would say its greatest potential lies in its <best stat>." He'll also append other stats if the IVs are equally as good. For all Eevee from the Friend Safari, he should say at least two stats and end with, "Stats like those... They simply can't be beat!" If he doesn't end with that sentence, you don't have any IVs at 31. I lucked out and got a couple 3s.


A neat trick for keeping track of which IVs are 31 is to mark them on the Pokémon status screen. In the screenshot above, you'll see 6 symbols outlined in pink. When you touch one of those symbols with the stylus, it darkens, and when you touch it again, it reverts to light. A standard way of marking IVs is to darken any symbols corresponding to a stat, starting from the left: HP, Atk, Def, SpA, SpD, Spe. These markings stay with the Pokémon, even when traded. I've gotten a few from Wonder Trade that were already marked up, because Wonder Trade is a great way to get rid of your failures. If you get lucky and get a 4 IV Pokémon, I suggest squirreling it away for future breeding.

You'll also want to make sure you have at least one Eevee with the nature you want, or it'll be a pain to fix it later when you're relegated to chance.

Once you've gotten an Eevee with decent IVs (2 or 3), and another Eevee with the nature you want (and also preferably decent IVs), you need to give the Eevee who's nature you want an Everstone. This ensures that the offspring will have that nature, removing luck from the process.

For the other Eevee, you'll want to give it a Destiny Knot. Normally in the breeding process, 3 IVs are chosen at random, then pulled from a random parent to be given to the offspring. For example, the system could pick Attack, Defense, and Speed, and choose the mother's Attack, the father's Defense, and the father's Speed. The other 3 IVs would be completely random between 0 and 31. With the Destiny Knot, the system picks 5 IVs from the parents, and only randomizes 1, making it easier to get 5 perfect IVs down the line (which is why getting 6 is such a pain).

So once you have those set up, drop them off at the daycare to get them to make babies. Wander around for a bit, checking with the man in front of the daycare every couple hundred steps (note steps, not time). Eventually he'll have an egg for you! Rinse and repeat until you have 5 eggs.


Fly to Lumiose City and go to the tower. You'll note that the screen rotates in a circle automatically if you just hold to the right or left. Get on your bike, shove a dime under the thumbstick to get it to stay to the right, and let the game go. Eventually, your eggs will start hatching. When one hatches, just spam the B button until the dialogs all go away, and let it run again until all 5 eggs have hatched.

You can speed up the hatching process by using the Hatching O-Power, and/or have another Pokémon on you with the ability Flame Body, which halves the number of steps it takes to hatch eggs. For me, I have a Talonflame with the ability, because it can also fly me to the other cities, meaning fewer Pokémon to switch in and out of my party for the process. It's also native to the game, and easily found.

Once your eggs hatch, take them to Kiloude City's IV checker, and figure out which Eevee are better than your current ones. If any of them are actually better (more perfect IVs, and/or more desirable perfect IVs), replace the current parents with the better ones, and repeat until you have your 5 IV Pokémon with the correct nature, remembering to move the Everstone and Destiny Knot the appropriate Pokémon.

Do note that in the process, you're more likely to get what you want if you choose Pokémon with perfect IVs in the stats you want, and garbage in the stat you don't want. It's easier to get perfect IVs for all but Attack if you breed a Pokémon with HP, Def, SpA, and Spe (often denoted 31/x/31/31/x/31) and a Pokémon with HP, SpA, SpD, Spe (31/x/x/31/31/31). Note on both Attack is garbage, and the other garbage stats are covered by the other parent. You're quite likely to get a perfect 5 IV but garbage Attack Pokémon with this setup. Shouldn't take more than 10 - 15 eggs unless you get really unlucky.

Also note that if you get other 4 or 5 IV Pokémon, squirrel them away for other breeding projects. For my Eevee breeding team, since I needed 6 of them of different natures and IVs, I saved a whole whack of them. It made further Eevee breeding a snap.

Step 5: EV Training

Once you have your 5 IV Pokémon with the correct nature (in my case, a 31/x/31/31/31/31 Timid Eevee), you'll want to start EV training immediately, because every time you knock out a Pokémon, you get EVs. To prevent getting EVs in stats where you don't want them, you'll want to make sure you only knock out Pokémon who give you the EVs you want until you're maxed out and can't gain anymore.

Since my Espeon is a special sweeper, I want a lot of speed, and special attack. So I'll aim for 252 Speed EVs, 252 Special Attack EVs, and have the 4 left over in HP for the extra 1 HP at Level 100.

With Super Training, you can play minigames to increase your Pokémon's EVs, which is a fun way to pass some time. But the fastest way to train EVs is to get some items from the Battle Maison, and then go find Hordes.

For 16 Battle Points (BP), you can buy a Power Item: Weight, Bracer, Belt, Lens, Band, Anklet. Holding a Power item gives your Pokémon 4 extra EVs in a specific stat (HP, Atk, Def, SpA, SpD, and Spe respectively) every time it knocks out a Pokémon. So that Charmander from before which gives 1 Speed EV? If your Pokémon were wearing a Power Bracer, it would get the 1 Speed EV and 4 Attack EVs. Or it could wear the Power Anklet, and get a total of 5 Speed EVs!

The next thing you want is for your Pokémon to catch a virus. That's right, a virus. The Pokérus is a benign virus that can randomly occur on Pokémon, but the odds are quite small. If you do manage to get infected, it's a cause for celebration! Having the Pokérus, or having been cured of it (which occurs naturally after 24 hours in your party) doubles the EVs that you get. So those 5 Speed EVs? If your Pokémon had the Pokérus, you'd get a whopping 10 Speed EVs instead!


If you do a lot of Wonder Trading, chances are you may have gotten a Pokémon with Pokérus, as kind souls give them out to help other trainers. Honestly, it's the most likely place to get it unless you know someone who'll give it to you. Once you have a Pokémon with the virus, just have them in your party next to uninfected Pokémon and have a couple battles. Eventually, the virus will spread to adjacent Pokémon. You can keep the virus indefinitely if you put the critter in your PC, and then whenever you need a Pokémon to catch the Pokérus, bring them out, and run a couple of battles. Note neither the infected or infectee need to participate in the battle.

You'll also need the Exp Share item, and it should be turned on. This allows experience earned by your Pokémon to be shared among others who are in your party, but did not participate. This also includes EVs. Note that while Experience is halved, EVs are not: the full value transfers.

Finally, you'll want a Pokémon with the Sweet Scent move. When this move is used in the field, either in a cave or in the grass, if you can encounter a horde, you will (unless it's raining). Since hordes are usually five of the same Pokémon, they're extremely efficient at earning EVs.

If we were to run into a horde of 5 Charmander, and our EV training Pokémon is in our party but not battling, holding a Power Anklet, and the Exp Share is turned on, we'd expect 50 EVs from a single battle! Given that we want 252 in a single stat, that's 6 battles and we're finished for that stat. Pretty damn quick. Bring another Pokémon with a move that will hit all enemies, like Surf, and you're good to go.

The most efficient routes for grinding EVs are as follows:
  • HP - Route 5
    • Gulpin give 1 HP EV a piece. Run from other hordes.
  • Attack - Route 19
    • Weepinbell and Arbok both give 2 Atk EV each.
  • Defense - Terminus Cave
    • Durant give 2 Def EV, Geodude and Aron give 1 Def EV.
  • Special Attack - Frost Cavern
    • Vanillite and Smoochum give 1 SpA EV.
  • Special Defense - Reflection Cave
    • Mime Jr. give 1 SpD EV each.
  • Speed - Route 15
    • Murkrow give 1 Spe EV a piece.
If it's raining in an area, check the link above for alternate areas.

For my Espeon, I needed a Power Anklet (for speed) and went to Route 15 for a while, then a Power Lens (for special attack) and went to the Frost Cavern for a while. For the 4 HP EVs I just donned a Power Weight and knocked out another horde of Vanillite since I couldn't gain anymore SpA EVs (and could only get the HP EVs).

Step 6: Round Out Move Set, Level, and Evolve

The final step is to round out the move set by either levelling and/or using TMs. Since I didn't carry over any moves I wanted from breeding, everything for my Espeon was levelling (Psychic), or TMs. I just used the TMs, and evolved Espeon and levelled him up until I had Psychic. Then my move set was complete. Since the tournament reduces your level to 30, anything above that was wasted effort (unless needed to learn a move).

And bam, rinse and repeat for all my Eevee. All in all, it took probably a good 12 - 15 hours or so to get the entire team tournament ready. Since I was using only one base Pokémon (Eevee), step 4 took a LOT less time in aggregate compared to breeding 6 disparate Pokémon. It also helped I had a lot of the items and helper Pokémon required (mostly through playing the story, thankfully). But all-in-all, despite the crazy lengthy process, it wasn't terribly complicated.

The tournament starts July 11th and ends July 14th, so we'll find out how well I do. Here's hoping I do okay!

#Pokemon, #Guide