Saturday, September 22, 2012

Catch up mechanics in Starcraft: Part 1

Rohan mentioned about catch-up mechanics in his recent blog, and it kind of got me thinking about how you could use the same principle in Starcraft 2 as well.

This idea has previously been mentioned in a post in the Team Liquid forums, but it has been buried under a ton of newer posts. (I kinda have to go dig for it, but I do recall that the post is easily 2 years old.)

Let us first define a catch-up mechanic. A Catch-up mechanic is a game-play mechanic that allows a losing player to match a winning player's resources. This can either be done in 2 ways:

A.) Temporarily or permanently reducing the winning player's resources.
B.) Temporarily or permanently increasing the losing player's resources.

 The definition of resources are defined by the game genre itself. In the context of a Real-time Strategy game, this would be the credits that are used by the player to make an army, and the army that the player controls. In Starcraft, the resources would then be the player units, minerals and vespene gas.

Now, previously in Starcraft: Broodwar, there were various units that possessed abilties which would qualify as a Catch-up mechanic. Both methods were employed, and they were skilfully distributed between the 3 different races. I will elaborate further on what the various races possess.

The Terran race was characterized by it's mechanical forces. It was slow and steady, with relatively strong defensive capabilities compared to the other 2 races. In terms of catch up mechanics, the designers gave them abilities that allowed them to disable or debilitate strong units ( EMP, Irridate, Lockdown) and temporary measures that could bolster their own forces. For instance, Wraiths which were known as one of the weakest air units in Starcraft, had the ability to cloak, which gave them a slight edge against other air armies which did not possess detection. Science vessels could also use Defensive matrix to protect expensive units like Battlecruisers allowing them to absorb more damage.

The Protoss race was characterized by it's tough but expensive units. Generally, most protoss forces were relatively smaller compared to the cheap Terran and Zerg units. However they could take a relatively tough beating, and trade quite cost efficiently as well. Protoss forces were given abilities that would support their expensive units. They could bolster their forces with free units (through Mind control or Hallucinations) or remove entire sections of the opposing army via Stasis. They could even destroy large sections of an opposing army via Psionic storm. Carriers had also the ability to generate large amount of cheap flying units that would confuse the opposing army.

The Zerg race was characterized by it's moniker, "The Swarm". They could deploy large armies filled with cheap units. While the other races had strong AOE options, the zerg players had ways to bolster their own forces and debilitate their enemies. Plague could help easily wipe out armies, while dark swarm provided a cover that their units could use to get close to the ranged units of other 2 races.  Queens could use spawn broodlings to remove important land units and parasite expensive air units so that player would have constant intelligence on where his opponents most powerful units are.

All the various catch-up mechanics that I have listed above, helped made the game extremely entertaining to watch. Any player could come from an early setback to win the game in a convincing fashion by using some of the catch-up mechanics that I have listed. Without such mechanics, the game would be extremely boring, as a losing player will never be able to match a winning player once he has a resource advantage. Catch-up mechanics help make the playing field level and provide uncertainty about the eventual outcome of the game. I feel that such mechanics are important in multi-player games as they help make them more interesting. You always feel compelled to sit till the end to watch who would win the game because anything could happen. A good strategy play is made more thrilling by the fact that a player could overturn a setback, or he could avoid a cunning trap that was made by his opponent. I would say that such well-tuned catch-up mechanics in Starcraft helped to increase it's longevity, making it still one of the most popular games in Korea.

In my next post, I'll analyze Starcraft 2 and highlight the lack of such well defined catch-up mechanics.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Warrior levelling experience in WOW

I recently went back to WOW, in anticipation for Pet battles and the Mists of Pandaria expansion. It's been a real blast compared to TOR. My experience in TOR of late has been mostly pretty staid, I just log in normally to collect my slicing missions rewards and mail. It hasn't really gripped my attention as a whole despite the whole storyline MMO concept.

One of the few things that I really did not do in WOW was to level a warrior. With all said and done, I have at least played almost every class at some stage or the other. The Warrior and all it's 3 specs are the only classes that I have not tried at all to level properly. I did manage to play 2 warriors to level 20 in my trial account, but those were before the patch. Granted this probably means that my perception of warrior levelling is a bit colored but I did enjoy playing those characters of mine.

Before the patch, warriors could only gain rage via auto-attacking and taking damage. This meant that if you were playing a low level warrior tank, you almost always had a full rage bar. When you chose your specialization at level 10, you obtained a really hard hitting attack that could literally one shot equal level mobs. It was really glorious to hit your main attack, charge to the next mob and then use victory rush to kill it. I felt like the demon hunter in the diablo 3 trailer; "If they never stop coming, I will never stop killing". Low level tanking was a bit hard till you got thunderclap, and you did not have a starting attack like charge since you needed to use defensive stance for tanking.

Before the patch, if you were using Arms or Fury spec, it was also pretty glorious as well. This depended on using appropriate level gear, but I could still out do characters in 7 piece heirloom gear. The key was last hitting the mob in a pull, allowing me to use Victory rush on the next mob. Victory Rush used to hit for an astronomical amount on the low level warrior. It was not surprising to hit Victory rush, kill off one mob, only to use it to kill another mob in the pull.

After the patch, you could use charge in any stance. You also gained rage by using your main specialization attack. This made rage generation a bit smoother for Arms and Fury, but it made rage generation for Protection a bit slower. You obtain skills a bit slower than before I feel, with some crucial skills to the various specs out of reach in the low twenties. Protection in general suffers from this compared to the other specs. Revenge is an important ability in Protection's priority list as it helps make Protection's rage generation smoother. This will allow the player to use more abilities. Currently as it stands now Protection has little more to do than to hit shield slam, hope that it does a critical so you generate more rage, and pop shield block when you hit 60 rage. There's not even enough rage to use sunder armor or devastate.  While it does make you nigh unkillable on boss fights, it is pretty boring to only have to press 2 buttons.

Arms and Fury are still extremely fun to play however. If anything, the attacks seem to do more damage than before. Victory rush however has been seriously neutered, so you can't really use the last hit mob strategy to boost your damage per second up. Execute being available at a really low level however makes up for that. In my starting zone gear, I did about 400 damage for every execute. Bear in mind that in the starting zones, mobs were around 200-300 health only. It was really fun to see the big numbers fly up, but sad to realize that perhaps 3/4 of the damage was not used at all for calculation since the mob was already dead by then.

Overall, I like the new changes to the warrior levelling experience. I do wish that I could have thunderclap a bit earlier than level 20 though, since it made levelling as a tank via the dungeon finder a chore. Thankfully most of the guys in the dungeons then were using hierlooms so I didn't have to worry so much. It was extremely irritating to not be able to keep the entire pack of mobs attention on me however.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For Shame Jay Wilson, for Shame!

I'm guessing most of you have at least read the apology letter that Jay Wilson wrote on the battlenet blog. If not here's the link. 

Personally, I was quite appalled to hear about the entire matter. Not to mention I actually had to go to Kotaku itself to get the news (The Horrors! I had to go Kotaku!). I guess the main reason why I was so disturbed by the whole matter was that he was actually slagging the original creator of the Diablo series? The one person who actually helped create the franchise that gave him his current career.

Not only that, in the hearts of everybody who works in the Game industry, is the soul of a gamer. We're all the same people. Sure we might be competitive about what we make, but that doesn't stop us from appreciating the games themselves. I was part of the team that made AC: Revelations. That didn't stop me from gushing about Gears of War and Batman Arkham Asylum to the other guys in the studios as well even though they were competing games.

Dave Brevik just gave his honest opinion about Diablo 3 himself and I honestly felt that it was a very fair opinion. He had a different ideal about how the game was suppose to have been made and there are certainly some parts of Diablo 3 that I won't mind changing as well. (Unlike a certain 'impartial' writer I know). Jay wilson has certainly over-reacted over the matter.

Dear Mr. Wilson, I'm sorry but I think that you have done more damage to the entire Diablo franchise than what Nathan Grayson has done. There is certainly some history behind the entire diablo series. Why else would have so many of the original team left after Diablo 2 to make Hellgate: London, or any of the other hack and slash games out there? It's still not nice to hang your dirty laundry out for everyone to see.

While I certainly appreciate your apology and the fact that it was done so quickly as well since you have realize the folly of your mistake, the esteem that I held you with has dropped a little. It does make me wonder whether the Blizzard of today has still kept it's heart from the days when it was still known the small company 'Silicon and Synapse'.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nathan Grayson's ineptitude...

I'm pretty sure everybody has at least gotten the warning from Blizzard about the Battlenet being hacked. If anything, it does at least show that Blizzard is actually pretty on the ball with regards to their security. within 5 days an announcement was made, measures were taken. Furthermore unlike Sony, at least they did not save important credit card/account info in plaintext form. Blizzard has released a FAQ as well with regards to questions regarding the hacking of their servers. I feel that this at least shows that they are pretty open with regards to this attempted account theft.

However... Rock Paper Shotgun's Nathan Grayson actually disagrees otherwise....

Look dude, if anything we know about the whole problem with the always online deal. We get it already, but seriously, do you really need to take out that tired old soapbox to stand on everytime Blizzard does something wrong? Where were your comments when Steam got hacked?

Clearly there are risks involved in a always connected network system. Perhaps if instead of writing extremely biased and flawed reviews you could perhaps read up a bit on security measures being taken in today's Information technology industry? I can't even believe that the BBC actually quoted your article in theirs when it's pretty damn clear that you've got an axe to grind.

Biased, terribly Biased. Really, I have no idea how you actually got a contributor position in the various gaming magazines, Online or in Print. If it wasn't for the fact that Rock Paper Shotgun features cool indie games sometimes I would have long removed it from my RSS feed. Truly an inept writer that does not deserve to even do reviews on games.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

M.A Stackpole hired to do a new WOW novel

Getting my favorite author to write a novel set in one of my favorite Universe?? I feel like Christmas has come early for me this year!

Between this piece of news, Khol Drake writing again, and Emprahsque stories done by Someone else on the /tg/ forums, I'm overdosing on Sheer awesomeness!

SQUEEEEEEE! Michael A Stackpole is writing a WOW novel! SQUEEEEEEEE!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Controls experienced by players and how it pertains to good games.

This post was actually inspired while thinking about Diablo 3 while I was hanging the clothes today. I've been busy working lately as a fry boy at a local snack shop. If you don't know what a fry boy is, it's not something to do with fishes let me tell you. I'm basically standing in front of the deep fryer for about 10 hours to cook deep fried snacks. It's a nice part time job I guess? Though the smell of fried food is so ingrained in my skin now that when I walk on the street, little kids ask their parents to buy McDonald cause they caught a whiff of me.

That said, onto the topic of the post. If you have been following recent game reviews of the latest games, it would probably have likely occured to you that quite a few of the triple a games this year have not received as a good a score as you think it would. For instance, ME3 had a terrible storyline conclusion that marred an otherwise good game. Diablo 3 was plagued by the infamous error 37 and latency issues. Other than those issues, there were comments made about gameplay and skills involved. A good example would be the face roll Tracer missile spam of Bounty hunters in TOR.

Personally I feel that the common thread between all of them is that players do not experience any control over these events. If a player cannot experience any control over these events, it severely mars their player experience. When I push a button to move in a game, i will be pretty pissed if it's not responsive at all.

This is pretty much the issue with Diablo 3 and the Fans Hatred for always online games. In Diablo 2, you didn't encounter much lag if you had a good enough computer to support the game. For the Case of Diablo 3, it's not so much the computer as it is the server connection to your home. This is something that is out of the players control. As such, when a character dies dued to lag, it often causes more frustration than normal cause it was out of the player control.

You could apply the same thing to the Mass effect 3 ending as well. The ending was totally out of the player control. It was just choosing between screwed 1 factor, or being screwed by a 3 factors. Players couldn't choose any other choices other than those being presented.

In my opinion, a good game will allow players to have responsive controls over their character responses. Players want to feel responsible for their own actions when they play a game. That's probably the same reason why table top RPGs still have such a large following still despite the numerous alternatives on the computer. A good DM will allow his players to have appropriate responses to their actions, and Players will feel responsible for their own character actions. 

I guess that's why TSW is such a hit with people as well, cause controls are pretty smooth. If anything can be learnt from this years releases, it's that players want to be responsible for their actions in a game and to have responsive controls that they can use.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Anatomy of a Bug: uncleared resource nodes in SWTOR

I've been playing a lot of The Old republic lately. Well, enough such that I actually have filled out all my character slots on Dalborra Server XD

Given the extensive playtime, I've noticed several bugs actually in the game. Some of these bugs are not that game breaking. Where Game breaking refers to the disruption of the gaming experience of the player. There are several that totally ruin the entire game though, and it's bad enough to make people tear their hair out in frustration.

Perhaps the simplest and most common bug is the uncleared resource node. While gathering resources in SWTOR, players will often come upon a node that will show up  on their minimap, will flash into a light blue colour when you hover a cursor over it, but will not be able to interact with the node itself.

What has happened to the resource node is that it has not been harvested properly. There are many possible reasons for that. One is that the player ran out of range of his companion while the companion was harvesting the node. Or the player could have been disrupted by combat while in the process of harvesting. The end result is the same, only the player who actually tapped the node, may go back to harvest the resource from the node. While the solution to the bug seems simple, there are actually further complications to it.

One is that while the node has been tapped, it does not despawn after an appropriate time duration. I have personally seen the a slicing node that spawns outside the coruscant cantina not despawned for 2 days. The node only returned to it's original configuration after a server reset. Now while this doesn't seem to be a major problem at a first look, it could be problematic if say a griefer wanted to take advantage of it.

Suppose that a particular malevolent player decides to tap every single Scavenging node in say Ilum. He taps the node, but does not take the contents in the resource node. Since the node does not despawned till a full server reset, the nodes will be unavailable to the entire player base. This could cause a sudden jump in prices of level 6 metals and level 6 metal compounds since the supply of the metals has suddenly decreased.

Now suppose that there was an organized gang of players who decided to restrict the entire level 6 metals market by tapping every single node on Corellia, Ilum, Voss and Belsavis. Such an action will possibly crash the entire market for metals, or drive the prices through the roof. While a hypothetical scenario, it could well be possible in the hands of an organized raid of players.

Furthermore, tapped resource nodes will also clutter the terrain in the game. This would put a minor strain on the server architecture as well since the servers need to remember that a node exists at such a co-ordinate with such a value of resource in it. Perhaps the game is built in such a way such that if a particular world has 'X' number of resource nodes at a given time, the server will not spawn anymore nodes.  Then it won't cause that much of a strain, but it will exaggerate the previous issue, since it makes the tapping of resource nodes easier.

A really simple solution to this problem is to actually just put a despawn timer/trigger on the resource node itself. If nobody comes to harvest the node, let the node despawn in a set amount of time instead of continuing to exist in  the game. WOW actually has something similar in place already. Mining nodes that have been tapped but not harvested fully will despawn after about 10mins or so. Something similar could actually be done for TOR.

Next time on Anatomy of a bug: Invisible walls that spring up from nowhere!