On Class Balance

Thanks to a few interesting experiences, I’m incredibly gun-shy about choosing classes in games now. Class balance is one of those things that will never make everyone happy, but still needs to be handled with utmost care to keep people from feeling useless. I’ve had a surprising amount of “feeling useless” in recent games, and I’m concerned that it’ll happen again when I pick classes in new games.

Use the force

My personal experience with this began in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I figured I’d play a Vanguard Trooper since I liked tanking, but I ended up being drawn to the Commando’s giant gun. I actually ended up as a healer in this game, because I enjoyed it, and it seemed rather effective in content up to the level cap. Unfortunately, the raid content demonstrated how wrong I was. The command lacked a good method of healing more than one target at a time, and this was its doom for “hard” content. There were several experiences where The healing team was Commando + Scoundrel or (heaven forbid) Commando + Commando where the run was going to become way more difficult just because we didn’t have a Sage. Sages had a ground-targeted dome of mass healing that trivialized certain encounters. Then, the first major balance patch came out and made commandos even worse in raiding, because they were “too good” in PVP. This heralded my exit from the game.

It was fun while it lasted.
It was fun while it lasted.

It’s a secret to everyone

A few months later, The Secret World caught my attention with its “unique” (read: ripped from Guild Wars) ability system. The Ability Wheel encouraged heavy investment into 2-3 weapon types, and I went with Fists (mostly claw and knuckle-type weapons) and Chaos (Green short-range magic), working my way into the Executioner deck. Again, this worked great up to the level cap, and even through elite instances, putting out more damage than any other options available to me. However, the Gatekeeper and Nightmare instances made it completely clear that the endgame was either go ranged or go home. While it’s technically possible to have all abilities at once, My character’s entire development up to that point was spent in things that turned out to not be viable in high-level content. Our group’s healer made similarly incorrect choices unknowingly, and that killed the game for us.

Hundreds of possibilities, 4 right answers.
Hundreds of possibilities, 4 right answers.

Written in the stars

I’m really hoping that my future endeavors turn out better than my past ones. I’m looking into WildStar, hoping that the class I pick doesn’t end up useless at whatever I decide to do with it. Finding this out at the level cap is absolutely crushing, and doubly so if it turns out nothing is being done about it. Final Fantasy 14 was almost like this, but they took steps to correct perceived and actual imbalances in their first major patch. WoW gets a lot of criticism for homogenizing classes, but they haven’t had any situations where a class or spec is completely non-viable (in PVE) since Burning Crusade. I’m really getting tired of making the wrong choice unknowingly, so I’d appreciate it if they would just mark them on the character creation screen next time.

On Planning()

Transistor came out a week ago, and it is Awesome. There are many reasons why it’s Awesome, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t talk about the story, or much about the music. Instead, I’m going to talk about the combat system.


Transistor’s combat system has two parts, an active phase and a planning phase. On the surface, the real-time combat resembles combat in Bastion, but it quickly gets far too hectic to handle in real-time with a basic set of abilities. When it gets to be too much to handle, you can enter Turn() mode, which allows you to stop time and queue up a series of actions to execute near-instantaneously. After doing so, you can’t use most abilities or stop time again for a little while, which is referred to as “Turn() recovery”.

What I used for the endgame, roughly.
What I used for the endgame, roughly.


The various abilities you can use in combat are referred to as Functions. These can be equipped in three ways: Active, Passive, or Upgrade. Active slots are pretty simple, they let you use a given ability in combat. You always have 4 of these. Passive slots are also pretty simple, Functions slotted there provide some sort of passive bonus in combat. You acquire these as you level up, capping at 4. The third type of slot is the most interesting. Upgrade slots are attached to active slots, and modify the ability in some way. You start with one upgrade slot for each active slot, and can get more as you level. Usually a function will have related uses in all three slots. Bounce() is an attack that chains to multiple targets, as an upgrade it can cause other attacks to chain to multiple targets, and as a passive it will give you a shield that causes enemy attacks to bounce off.

You can also see how you and other people use functions here.
You can also see how you and other people use functions here.


The really interesting thing is figuring out how all of this goes together. Functions require different amounts of memory to set, and there is a memory limit which usually means you can’t fill every slot, so making the most of what you can set is important. Since you start the game with Crash() and Breach(), it usually doesn’t take long to figure out that targets disrupted by Crash() take bonus damage. If you combine these, you get a long-range attack that stuns enemies and causes them to take bonus damage. With a bit of creativity (and once you get more functions down the line) this can quickly get ridiculous. One of my personal favorites is combining Void() with Get(). Normally Get() draws enemies to you, but in combination with Void() it draws enemies into the weakening field.

This can quickly get ridiculous.
This can quickly get ridiculous.


All of this comes together for a combat system that has interesting elements of tactics and strategy. In a sense, it’s reminiscent of the Mega Man Battle Network series in this way. Mastery of the combat system requires being able to build a set of useful abilities, and then knowing how to execute your strategy in combat, both in and out of Turn(). The game eventually provides a sandbox (almost literally) for experimentation, and it reveals parts of the back story when you use functions in different slots to further encourage trying different things. It’s one of the many wonderful parts of the awesomeness that is Transistor.

On Current Events #2

It’s time for another post on multiple, short topics. Let’s get it going.

Amplitude Kickstarter

amplitude tracks
This is in its final day, and looks like it might make it if it gets enough attention. They did a live stream yesterday to boost support, and it seems to have done the job, but it still needs more. The Remix Mode in the original Amplitude was a very “modern” idea in a game that’s now 11 years old, and I’d love to see what awesome things come out of the new one should they get a chance to make it.

Final Fantasy 5 Draft

my party
As Bel mentioned, I may have organized a bit of fun before the Job Fiesta starts for real. I’m gradually working my way through the first segment of the game (I’m behind Bel a bit and Kodra a lot). I’m chronicling my progress on YouTube here. Blue Mage is probably my favorite class in the game, because you can do some pretty degenerate things with it (none of which I’ve done yet). I’ve recorded everything so far, but I think I’m going to start cutting out travel and grinding.

WildStar Ops Week

chua-creatorIf you really want to get a WildStar fix in, the servers will be up at random times between now and head start. I recommend checking their Twitter for information on when this is happening. If you’re more like myself and don’t care much about getting an hour or two of play in, this can still be useful. WildStar lets you save your character appearance in base-64. Keeping this saved in a document somewhere can help you get the appearance you want without spending a lot of time in the character creator on launch day, so take advantage of the opportunity while it’s open. This goes double if name reservation didn’t work out for you, or you want an early name that isn’t the one you reserved.

On WildStar

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so conflicted about a new MMO as I have about WildStar. My general feeling about it is that it’s a game I want to like more than I do.

On one hand, there are a lot of things about it that I like. I’ve mentioned it in a comment on Tales of the Aggronaut, but the Chua are the best small race since the Gibberlings in Allods Online. The animations for them are awesome, and their “mad scientist” aesthetic appeals to me. I tend to play big races in games (most of my WoW characters are Draenei or Tauren), so this is a bit of a departure from the norm for me.chua

Animations for just about everything are awesome. Emotes are cool, and most of the abilities are well-done (medic abilities are a bit lacking in “impact”). The fact that it has double jump is great (every game should have double jump) and the animations for it are nice across multiple races. The paths are the concept that originally drew me to the game, and their execution ranges from “passable” to “excellent”.

In general, I like the “telegraph” system, because it makes combat more interesting than “stand here and hit buttons until someone is dead”. The entire genre seems to be moving in this direction, and it’s a change I’m in favor of. FF14 had similar red marks on the ground, and even WoW gets into it with some of the enemies on Timeless Isle. This requirement for additional movement and aimed attacks exposes a bit of a problem with WildStar, however.

When in combat, you have to hold right-click at almost all times in order to ensure your attacks are properly aimed, and you remain mobile. Two addons aimed at fixing this exist, and do a decent job at it, but it’s still an odd state of affairs. The precursor to these (called Deadlock) was actually developed by one of the game’s UI designers, and I can’t help but feel like some sort of mouse-look mode (like Neverwinter or ESO) should have been built-in.

My big issue with the game it that it bores me to tears in the early levels. I keep hearing that it gets better, and that if you just wait for level randint(12,20) it gets a lot better, but I haven’t had the dedication to make it that far in any beta event I’ve been in. Other recent games (FF14, ESO) provide some sort of motive for moving forward in the story quest, and I just feel it’s lacking in WildStar.

There are some other minor problems. Going to a WoW-like faction and server split makes playing with people you know more difficult than it should be. I like the Chua a lot, but some of my friends don’t like the mustache-twirling evil Dominion faction they’re in. Agreeing on a server is also one of those launch-day headaches, and it’s extremely difficult to get multiple different groups to roll on the same server.

I did pre-order the game, so I’ll give it its initial month, but I don’t know if I’ll play it long-term. I’m still playing ESO, and I haven’t personally seen the promise of the later levels of WildStar, so it’ll have to be fantastic to grab me. So far, it just hasn’t been.

On Competition

I’m not much for traditional PVP. I play a bit of League of Legends, and I’ve messed around in Cyrodiil in ESO a bit, but it’s not really my thing. I don’t take particular pleasure in the experience of facing off against someone, knowing directly that it’s a zero-sum game; someone must win, and someone must lose. I especially don’t like it in situations that are massively one-sided, like most gank situations in Open-World PVP. There’s little sense of accomplishment in winning such a fight, and it sucks to be on the receiving end. In a sense this is why I tolerate League more than other “PVP games”, because match-ups are relatively even, at least at the outset.

But this isn’t to say that I don’t like competing against other people. I’m a sucker for leaderboards and time trials. My very first real post ended in a challenge (which as far as I can tell no one’s taken me up on). I put up a relatively competitive score for Pixel Purge as part of the Indie Game Gala for the Newbie Blogger Initiative. Someone doubled it, but I’m pretty happy with second place. I’m pretty excited about the Trials in ESO because they have leaderboards, although I realize I am not likely to be hardcore enough to appear anywhere near them. I’m not even at veteran levels yet.

I really appreciate this form of competition more than others for a few reasons. First, you can usually try again immediately. There’s a sense of progression in constantly improving your score/time. There’s a feeling of accomplishment for actually passing someone else. And when someone else passes you, there’s incentive to give it another shot and beat their score. I know World of Warcraft attempted to get this sort of thing going with Challenge Modes for dungeons, but it fell pretty flat. I’m not sure how to get people more interested, but making it part of “normal” progression helps, because at least people are trying it and making some sort of entry.

I’m not saying that other forms of PVP are bad. Battlegrounds and the like can be enjoyable if well done, and their general popularity reflects it. However, I think things like this should be considered more often.


It’s Sunday, so there’s a new Aggrochat available (or there will be soon, if you’re here early enough). We spend a bit of time talking about League (and why Braum is awesome), Hex (and why lawsuits suck), FF5 (and why I’m insane), and crowdfunding (and why I think early access isn’t living up to expectations). Also, hear me be wrong about when the Wildstar Beta ends (it’s actually tonight at 23:59 Pacific). Check it out here.

On the Four Job Fiesta

I mentioned this in my post last week, but the Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta is coming up in a few weeks. This has been a somewhat major social event for me for the past few years, so I want to share a bit more about it.


Final Fantasy V was originally released in Japan in 1992, and did not receive an official English translation until Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation in 1999. (It didn’t receive a good English translation until it released for the Game Boy Advance in 2006.) Like FF3 before it and FF Tactics after it, FF5 allows characters to acquire and switch between several different jobs with unique abilities. These include classics like Black Mage, Thief, and Knight, but also new ones like Blue Mage and Samurai. The incredibly varied nature of the class system means that playthroughs can be very different each time, but certain combinations are almost game-breakingly powerful. Seeking to make the game a bit more challenging, the idea for the Job Fiesta was born.FJF

The Beginning

The Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta got its public start on NeoGAF, in 2009. According to RevenantKioku (RK), it grew out of a small group drafting classes, and expanded into random selections when more people expressed interest. The basic rules are that you can only use the jobs assigned to you, and you must use all of the jobs assigned to you (in any combination, before you are required to have one of each about 1/3 of the way through the game). The first year, 48 people participated and 15 finished. It continued for a year (the first year I participated), and participation went up significantly. This time, there were 125 players and 24 victors.

Breaking Out

In 2011, things got a bit bigger. Registration was done via Twitter rather than the forum (allowing for some automation and wider participation), and the event became a fundraiser for Child’s Play. 484 people registered, and 122 of them finished, raising a total of $2000. The fiesta expanded again in 2012 and 2013, raising $7455 for Child’s Play last year, expanding the options available to players each time. I don’t know what the new options are for 2014, the only hint so far is this image:2014-hint

Luck of the Draw

The fun part of playing through this way is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. Obviously some combinations are easier than others. Some single classes are capable of carrying the game on their own, like Black Mage or Samurai. Others really rely on a combination, like Red Mage (needs another caster) or Blue Mage (needs Confuse/Control from another class). It can also point out some classes that are traditionally ignored, but can be extremely powerful, like Bard and Dancer.


Almost any combination of classes can finish the game, and the community is supportive if you get stuck. I strongly encourage joining this event if you like old-school Final Fantasy, even if you haven’t played FF5 before.

On Archeage

I find ArcheAge interesting, but it’s hard to talk about it without mentioning the current buy-in price. I’m not opposed to Founder’s Packs in general, but $150 for access right now seems outrageous. I understand asking for “the price of a game” as an entry fee, as Landmark did, but the price of three games is pushing it. It doesn’t help that the lowest price point is at the “price of a game” level. Random bonuses don’t mean much without context, so it’s hard to put a value on the other included things.

That said, there are things that attract me to it. I’m a systems person, and the class structure seems like it has some potential for experimentation. I don’t yet know the full details of how it works, but the ability to mix and match wildly different skill sets to “define” a class could be great, or it could be awful. Rift tried something similar, but it resulted in so many redundant abilities that the concept fell a bit flat. Rift also had a macro system that encouraged one-button class setups (and too many abilities to get by without macroing things), causing me to lose interest long before I reached endgame.

The PVP aspect of the game turns me off a bit. I’m all for opt-in PVP, but random ganking and griefing aren’t my cup of tea. From what I’ve heard, the justice system that’s supposed to cut down on this only encourages it, because there are crime-related factions and titles. I don’t know if it’s too late for Trion to do anything about it. Some MMOs have had some systems changes when coming over from Korea to give them broader appeal, and I could see this as one of the first things to get adjusted.

All told, I’m not sure what future ArcheAge and I have together, if any. My experience in import MMOs so far has been “pretty, but grindy and uninteresting”. They’re going to have to show me a lot to overcome this initial prejudice.

One more thing: Aggrochat for the week is out, and available here.

Current Events #1

Since I’m not going to be around to partake in the podcast this weekend, I’ll use this as an opportunity to comment on current things. Let’s get rolling!

Amplitude Kickstarter

The best rhythm game on the PS2 is getting an HD remake/sequel for the PS3/PS4 if it can hit a rather lofty goal here on Kickstarter. This was an incredibly fun experience in solo, local multi, and online multiplayer, and I really want this to succeed. That said, I dunno how well a PS-exclusive kickstarter for a niche genre will do, even coming from the company responsible for the original (and Guitar Hero, and Rock Band, and Dance Central).amplitude

Pokémon Announcement

Nintendo announced two new Pokémon games today: “Omega Ruby” and “Alpha Sapphire”. Presumably these are remakes of, or at least related to, the original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire that originally released for the Game Boy Advance twelve years ago. There’s not much info to go on here, but I hope they address some things wrong with these games the first time around. Team Magma had it right: Hoenn has entirely too much water. An eternity encountering Tentacool doesn’t make for an interesting game.

Final Fantasy Five Four Job Fiesta

Not exactly current, as registrations are still almost a month away, but it has a blog here, a twitter here, and a subreddit here. The Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta is an event in which people agree to play through FF5 (the best Final Fantasy) under the constraint that you can only use 4 jobs out of the 20 normally granted to you over the course of the game. It started as a fun thing on a forum in 2009, and spread beyond the forum to become a fundraiser in 2011. Last year it raised $7,475 for Child’s Play. I encourage you to register and play this year even if you’ve never played FF5 before, especially since the release of the android/iOS versions makes getting a copy much easier.YHEJu3_C7HpHiCBI


On 弾幕

Once upon a time, there was a game called Overkill. It was a vertical-scrolling shooter for DOS, and it’s the first (non-educational) game I can remember owning and playing. It’s now freeware, so you can download it right here, and it started me on a journey to discovering other games in the genre. Overkill actually isn’t anything special as far as shooters go. Tyrian is from the same era, and most people I’ve talked to consider it a better game. I can’t adjust to either one now, as they feel a bit slow and outdated.

Humble beginnings
Humble beginnings

Fast forward a few years, to when I got my first video game console, a Playstation, and with it, G-Darius. I didn’t know it at the time, but G-Darius is the last in a series of shooters in which you fight giant fish. Despite a sometimes annoying power up system, this is the game that introduced me to what would become my favorite part about shooters: cool bosses. Despite the “fish” theme, they did really creative things with it, like a boss that goes through dimensional portals to attack you, and a boss based on a sea angel. After this, I discovered some of the things I missed on the super Nintendo via the power of emulators. This was my first exposure to things like Gradius and R-type. I later got pretty good at Gradius V. I was never actually any good at G-Darius.

Seriously, most of the bosses are fish.

Fast forward a few more years, and we hit a game called Ikaruga. This one’s on Steam, if you want to experience it for yourself. This rather unique game was my introduction to “Bullet Hell” shooters, and pretty much brings us into the present day (or at least the point of this post). In the last two podcasts, I’ve mentioned a bullet hell game of some sort as something I’ve been playing recently. The Touhou games, while fun, are only available as Japanese imports and are somewhat inaccessible to beginners. Danmaku Unlimited 2 is $5 on Steam, and can serve as an introduction to the genre. It’s quite good, has an awesome soundtrack, and Bel played it for Steampowered Sunday a week ago (on my recommendation).

Hard difficulty is hard.

There’s a bit of a recent resurgence, but games in this genre have gotten rarer as time goes by. I suspect part of this is because as the games attempt to cater toward fans of the genre, they become increasingly difficult to get into for people who aren’t fans of the genre. Hopefully Ikaruga coming to Steam is a sign that there’s interest, and we’ll see more soon.

A final note in closing: I’d like to think I’m pretty good, but I’m sure that since this is the internet, someone can do better. I’ll be waiting.

Hello world!

I suppose some kind of introduction goes here. Given my skill set, the default title seems appropriate.

I’m Ashgar, a name which isn’t original, but I’ve been using it for long enough that no one’s likely to take issue. I’m a programmer, a gamer, and now apparently a blogger. Among certain people, I’ve earned a reputation for knowing everything, but I can assure you this is false. There are plenty of things I don’t know, but I’m working on fixing that. My gaming history doesn’t go as far back as some, the first game I can remember owning and playing is Overkill. My MMO history is much shorter, as I entered the genre with World of Warcraft around the time Burning Crusade came out.

There’s a bit more to me than my background and history, but I think that wraps it up for an introductory post. I don’t know what brand of content is going to follow, but I’ll try to keep it interesting. Or at least educational.