On Current Events, #3

This is going to be a short one, but some crazy stuff happened recently.

Fantasy Iron Chef

battle_chef_brigade
Battle Chef Brigade is a game that I heard about in January, and it was just pointed out to me yesterday that it’s on Kickstarter now. It’s from a studio that has already released a few mobile games, and I really like the concept here. The characters also look awesome, and the price for the game itself ($15) is right. I intend to keep an eye on how this one shapes up.

The Man Who Arranges the Blocks

tetris
This might be competition for the Battleship movie, but the company behind the Mortal Kombat movies is making a movie about Tetris. There’s no good way to talk about this without it sounding insane, especially since he refers to it as “a very big, epic sci-fi movie”. There’s nothing I can add here that hasn’t already been said by Penny Arcade (in a comic that’s 11 years old, even). Either way, it’s unlikely to be as good as this video:

October Approaches

It’s time for the AAA Blockbusters of the year to come out, along with pumpkin-flavored everything. I’d hoped that Destiny would have enough longevity to carry me through the temptation of picking up a lot of these, but that doesn’t appear to be the case (more on that later). As a result, there’s a very strong itch for a good co-op game this fall. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is on the way, but their marketing campaign is giving me a lot of pause. This is unfortunate, because Borderlands 2 is one of my most-played games on Steam, behind Skyrim and Dragon Age. Speaking of which, Dragon Age: Inquisition is another game to watch, since DA:Origins is one of my favorite games and DA:2 is… not. Even if the campaign isn’t great, it’s including a Mass Effect 3-like multiplayer mode, and that might be entertaining enough. There are many more things for the rest of the year; Civilization: Beyond Earth and Super Smash Bros 4 are the ones I’m most looking forward to.

On The Saddest Trailer

The title is warning enough, so here it is:


If you missed it at E3/Gamescom, this is Ori and the Blind Forest, a metroidvania (yeah, I know) game coming to PC and Xbox One at some point this year, and Xbox 360 at some point next year (and if patterns hold, everything under the sun probably 6 months later). The above trailer came out of TGS.

Ori Intro Screenshot
Tam described this as a game of “Infinite Sadness and Light” and that description seems to fit. The creators of this game said they were inspired by nostalgia for Super Metroid, and this shows in the gameplay. Ori seems to have a variety of movement abilities in game demos, including traditional things like double jumps and wall jumps, which are animated wonderfully. A unique ability seems to be the ability to use enemies, enemy projectiles, and other sources of energy to launch yourself in any direction. The projectile/enemy used is launched in the opposite direction, so this works for traversal and puzzle-solving.

Ori2
It’s been a while since a AAA metroidvania game was released, as Konami seems focused on doing other things with Castlevania and Nintendo doesn’t seem to want to touch Metroid for a while. I’m hoping this game from a largely non-traditional developer satisfies that itch. Valdis Story and Dust: An Elysian Tale, while good, can only go so far.

ori3

On Marching to Zanarkand

The original title of this post was going to be “On Nonsensical Titles”, but that would look silly if I ever end up writing about a Kingdom Hearts game in the future and the title is even worse.

Instead of leveling up in Destiny, I’ve been addicted to a rhythm game. (This is a thing that happens sometimes.) Theatrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is the re-release of the original Theatrythm Final Fantasy for the 3DS, including somewhat expanded game modes and all of the first game’s DLC and then some. It came up on the podcast when I discussed what I’d been playing, and it’s really eaten a lot of my gaming time over the past week.

The Basics

Ignoring the EMS stages because no one cares about those, Theatrythm is about using the stylus or buttons to tap along with directions that move from left to right across the screen. The two modes that matter are Field Music Stages and Battle Music Stages, BMS and FMS from here on out. FMS involve a single character moving across the screen, potentially finding treasure along the way, and getting a prize if they go far enough. If you miss a note, your character might fall and be replaced by the next character in your party, they’ll also take a little bit of damage. Finishing the song before you run out of health completes the stage.

Crystal Cave Intro
BMS have your entire party lined up on the right in traditional Final Fantasy fashion, as notes and enemies come in from the left. Hitting a note does damage to enemies according to the characters’ strength, missing a note causes your party to take damage. Successfully beating up monsters can earn treasure, and the song is passed if you reach the end before your HP runs out.

Under the Weight

The “Final Fantasy” Part

The framework is more than just for show. Characters level up, increase stats, and can equip abilities that improve their performance in the various stages. Examples include Paeon, which provides constant healing over time, Focus, which does additional damage after a certain number of held notes, or Trance, which triples magic power once your chain is high enough.

A lot of XP
Every song has a “feature zone”, which does something special depending on how well you do in it. In FMS, this summons a chocobo to let you go faster, with the color depending on how many perfects you got. In BMS, this calles one of the series’ standard summons (Or Knights of the Round) if you don’t miss any notes, or a chocobo (which does very little damage) if you do.

Ifrit summoning
In addition, one of the primary modes of play involves going on “quests”, which give you a map of (initially hidden) songs to choose from which form a path to a boss at the end. Finishing one can get you a lot of experience and potentially rare items (crystal shards, used to unlock characters, are the most common reward). After completing a quest, you can attach its associated map to your profile, and anyone you play against in multiplayer can also do the exact same quest.

Quest Clear!

Nostalgia Overload

The songs in this game are from the entire series, including spinoffs. Without any DLC, Curtain Call has 221 songs taken from all 14 main series games and most of the spinoffs, including Crisis Core, Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, Type-0, Mystic Quest, both Dissidia games, and Advent Children. Most of the songs you would expect are included (except Liberi Fatali for some unknown reason), leaning heavily on battle themes (Yes, Fallen Angel from FF14 is in). There is some DLC for songs not included in the initial release (The game’s been out in Japan for a while) like FF5’s Ancient Library theme.

Dead Dunes All-critical

Overall, this is my Game of the Month for September. The original was good, and the changes to this version make it better in nearly every way. More songs, more characters, more modes, and more control options. If you like rhythm games and Final Fantasy, you should give this a look. If you like rhythm games and don’t like Final Fantasy, you should still give it a look, because the music is awesome.

On The [insert noun here]

Arrrr. Now that that’s out of the way…

Destiny is an interesting, and somewhat divisive game. I’ve been playing it a bit, and I’ve been having fun, but apparently not everyone is. It’s not perfect, but I will say that I haven’t had this much fun with a 70s Metacritic game in a long time.

Valid Complaints

Destiny’s story is kind of terrible. There’s a lot of backstory in the grimoire, but you can’t access the grimoire in any way while in-game. Until you get to Venus (more than halfway through the story missions) there simply isn’t much in the way of story at all presented in the missions. There’s also this very annoying tendency to name everything “The [insert noun here]”. The Traveler, The Speaker, The Stranger, and The Queen are all examples. (The grimoire is especially unhelpful in this case, as it also uses these names. Proper nouns have so far been exclusively used for enemies.) I feel like Isey has an appropriate take on the story as presented.

destiny robots
Gun variety has been a bit lacking, although since they reserved special effects for level 20 exotic gear and I’m not yet level 20, it’s a bit understandable. But since exotics are so rare, it might not be excusable. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to either halo or borderlands here, but the former had things like the needler and the plasma pistol and the latter had more interesting weapons than I can count. Destiny doesn’t have this, and in fact the only “non-standard” weapon type it presents is the Fusion rifle.

Why I’m Playing Anyway

Despite the things I just said, and the collective rant in the podcast last week, I’m playing the game, and it’s very fun. The animations for precision kills are satisfying. The super abilities are incredibly fun to use (Even the not very flashy Sunsinger Warlock one). Progression is always enough to hold interest for a while, and that can certainly be found here (even your weapons level up).


Last but certainly not least, playing with other people is a blast. the game’s overarching story isn’t great, but the story of the random things I did with Kodra while wandering the moon is more compelling. It’s not a perfect game, but I do think it’s a great one.

On Role Balance, Continued

I said that the DPS classes in Final Fantasy 14 could use a post to themselves, so here goes. The DPS classes are divided mostly into melee, casters, and Bard, which is a special case for a number of reasons. Interestingly, this role is often referred to as DD (damage dealer) as a holdover from Final Fantasy 11.

Melee

The options for melee in FF14 are Dragoon and Monk, and I’ll just get this out of the way now. Dragoons have a terrible reputation for dying a lot. (Even the developers made fun of this.) Both classes require moving for positional attacks directed at either the flank or the rear of their target, and the target circles are fairly helpful in helping you figure out where each of these starts. Monks generally have to move more for optimal DPS, but are penalized less for not moving. Dragoons lose entire combos without access to the flank or rear of enemies. Monks have a fair bit of ramp-up time (which can be mitigated somewhat with their level 50 ability, Perfect Balance) that dragoons do not. Dragoons tend to do larger single hits, monks don’t have anything with a potency higher than 190. In return, monks hit very quickly, getting up to 15% increased attack speed and 27% increased damage once they’ve been fighting for long enough. Dragoons have more off-GCD abilities, with a lot of cooldowns and their signature Jump ability.

Dragoons tend to have high physical defense (only tanks have better) and low magic defense (literally the worst in the game), leading to them taking extra damage if/when they get hit by boss AOE, which is almost always magic. Jump does apparently provide some untargetable time now (I don’t have lancer leveled and can’t test this), but it locks you in place for the duration of its animation, and can lead to eating boss attacks if used at unfortunate times. Monks have a different problem, in that if their rotation is interrupted for long enough, they lose their buffs and have to start from scratch. Perfect Balance every 3 minutes is not enough to mitigate this every time.

Either way, having a melee in the group gives everyone a strength bonus (meaning more threat for the tanks) and more importantly, access to a single-target limit break. Braver, Bladedance, or Final Heaven (depending on limit level) are incredibly useful in group content. This is kind of a balancing lever in itself, because as long as melee are the only ones with these attacks, melee will never be obsolete.

Casters

The choices here are Black Mage and Summoner. Summoner is a dot-based pet class, black mage is more direct damage with a fairly unique MP management mechanic. Both classes have a bit of defensive utility, with Eye for an Eye from summoners (which is cross-classable) and Apocatastasis from black mages (which is not). Summoners are the only non-healing class that can raise during battle. Summoners excel in AOE situations since they can apply a large portion of their single-target damage to as many as 4 things at once. Black mages excel when burst is called for, because Flare is one of the hardest hitting abilities in the entire game (and with some tricks it can be cast three times in a row).

Both of these classes are limited in the amount of DPS they can do while moving. Virtually all black mage spells used for DPS require you to stand still while casting. Summoners are a bit better off since their dots and pet can be going even if the caster has to move, but they still can’t re-apply most of their dots while moving. As far as the DPS produced by each class I don’t know which is actually better. Summoner DPS is incredibly difficult to parse, as it involves 3 dots, a week filler spell, a ground-targeted damage field, various pet abilities, and one very large hit. It’s hard to get a feel for if the damage you’re doing is good, and I think that drives a lot of players away from the class.

These classes also have a damaging limit break. The caster limit break is Skyshard/Starstorm/Meteor and it does significantly less damage than the melee one, but it’s a ground-targeted AOE. Most fights that don’t call for the melee limit break use this instead.

The Oddball

Bards are unique. They are currently the only dex-based class, and have unique benefits and drawbacks. Bards have various “song” options that drain the bard’s own MP for a group buff, either TP regen, MP regen, or lowered enemy resistances; these effects are entirely unique to that class. In addition, they’re a full DPS class in their own right and can do their full damage while moving. They’re also the best source of the silence effect.

The drawback for this is that they don’t have a damage dealing limit break, instead sharing their pool of limit breaks with the healing classes. It takes a bit of awareness to play this job well, since leaving one of the songs (other than Foe Requiem) running longer than you need to means you’re doing less damage than you should be.

This post kind of got away from me. I find it incredibly nice that systems in FF14 promote class diversity, and make all of the classes useful in some way. It creates sort of the reverse problem, where too many of any one thing is bad. The generally small group size (8 for “serious” content) also mitigates class stacking, but makes fitting all of the puzzle pieces in much harder. It’s a nice breath of fresh air from things I’m used to seeing where if you could, everyone in a raid would be one of two classes.

On Role Balance

Class design is always an interesting topic for me, and Bel’s post about Final Fantasy 14 classes yesterday sparked a bit of discussion. Final Fantasy 14 has 8 classes which promote into 9 jobs, all focused on either tanking, healing, or DPS. Ideally, every class option would be equal for every role, but this is impossible without giving every class the exact same abilities. Let’s take a look at some of these.

Tanking

The one I’m most familiar with by far, the two tank jobs in FFXIV are Warrior and Paladin. Both classes wear the heaviest armor and have a number of skills that grant bonus threat.Eventually (Level 30 for warriors, Level 40 for Paladins) they get a stance that increases their survivability, decreases their damage done, and increases threat generation. The differing way in which this is accomplished has led to some perceived imbalance in the classes, and at launch (a year ago) this was actually true. Warriors had more health, but not enough damage reduction (leading to the “healing sponge” complaint that Druids faced in WoW). In addition, they had nothing that matched up to the invincibility that Paladins have as their level 50 class ability. This has been tweaked, and Warriors are just as good now, but the perception still remains that Paladins are good for MT and Warriors for OT. (Interestingly, if you’re optimizing for damage, the ideal situation is the other way around.)

In the mid levels, there’s some actual imbalance. Paladins don’t get their tank stance until level 40, whereas everyone else gets a massive stat boost (and usually some important ability) on hitting 30, making the levels from 30-40 extremely rough in terms of holding aggro. (Survival is less of an issue, as Paladins have better cooldowns than warriors at this stage.) Nowhere is this more clear than in Brayflox’s Longstop, a level 32 dungeon; this is the first instance most people do with their newly acquired jobs as it’s required for the story. Healing this dungeon is generally harder with a Paladin tank than a Warrior tank, but not insurmountably so.

Healing

The two healing classes are Scholar and White Mage, and unlike the tanks these have been pretty balanced since the game relaunched. The White Mage is more traditional, with a toolbox consisting pretty much entirely of direct heals, with a long-cast-time shield spell (used before combat more than anything else) and a decent heal-over-time. The Scholar has a pet fairy that helps heal, and an assortment of shielding and damage reducing spells (They can also cross-class the White Mage’s shield spell). Because so much of their healing is preventative, I feel like people notice less when they’re doing a good job.

Not helping is that the class that Scholars promote from (Arcanist) is not a healer, so if you take that path you can’t queue as a healer until you get your job crystal. As such, Scholars sometimes reach Brayflox and have no experience healing in a group, which is compounded by the issue I outlined earlier with tank variation. It’s further compounded by the last boss making use of stacking poison, and Scholars not having a dispel until level 40.

The Longest of Stops

The instance I’ve mentioned twice in this post, Brayflox’s Longstop, is run by a lot of players more than once because of all of the nice things that drop out of there. There’s a set for physical DPS, a set for mages of all kinds, and a set for tanks, all with unique graphics, along with a full set of class-specific rings which are fairly nice. Since dungeons are also used to level now, it’s a fair bet that most players will also hit it many times during the 30s as they work their way up to Stone Vigil(the next required dungeon in the story) even if they don’t need any gear from there. While the game is fairly balanced at max level in regards to the above roles, it’s anything but balanced here. I have to wonder if the impressions left from doing this instance color impressions at the cap more than they probably should. I’ve seen both White Mages and Scholars carry groups on their back in the 8-man content. I’ve seen both Warriors and Paladins pull off incredible feats of survival (and I’ve personally done it a lot more as a Warrior than a Paladin). It’s a bit unfortunate to see one of these classes get the shaft in most rundowns.

There’s an additional issue of DPS balance, but that’s an issue that deserves its own full post.

On Random Number Generation, Continued

One of the things I like about d20 systems is that doing math relating to a d20 is really easy. There’s a 5% chance to roll any given number, so probability calculations can be done quickly without having to get out a calculator. That said, D&D does have a fair bit of math for which a calculator can be helpful. Usually I resort to anydice for complicated math, because I believe in making informed decisions. The most obvious thing here is the Advantage/Disadvantage system 5e adds.

More Like “This Advantage”

Advantage and disadvantage were among the first new mechanics revealed in playtesting for what was once called D&D Next. If you’re unaware, having advantage (or disadvantage) on a d20 roll allows you to roll two d20s and take the highest (or lowest) result. Mathematically, how many pluses or minuses this works out to depends on what number you needed to hit; it’s exactly equal to +5 or -5 if you’re looking at a target number of 11, decreasing as you need rolls that are farther from “average”.

advantage graph
The nature of this bonus makes sense if you stop and think about it. If you only need a low number, then your already high chances of success aren’t increased much by rolling a second die. If you need an extremely high number, your chances of success still aren’t very large. The system math keeps things mostly in the middle, so estimating it as +/-5 works in most cases.

Let Justice Be Done

I looked at it when examining fighter features, but paladins also get to pick a fighting style (but from a reduced list consisting of Defense, Protection, Dueling, and Great Weapon Fighting). It turns out that Paladins don’t value these equally, as great weapon fighting would appear to apply to smite damage, making it way out of line.


Normally, GW Fighting is an average boost of 1.33 damage per hit normally, but if you start adding smite damage this changes, getting better and better as you roll more dice. Jury’s still out on whether or not this works, so check with your DM. (Speaking of checking with your DM, it turns out the dueling style is intended to apply to sword and board. Point them at this if they say otherwise, but remember rule 0.)

On Random Number Generation

Blaugust is over, but that doesn’t mean my posting is going to stop. I’m aiming for Tuesday/Thursday, with maybe an extra post on the weekends at times. This week is a bit weird due to Labor Day.

This past Monday was the first D&D session with the new group, starting with being captured by a very powerful wizard and then escaping from the bandits and trapped dungeon she left to guard us. The party is now headed to Watchwall for various reasons, united primarily in the goal of figuring out why we were captured in the first place.

My virtual dice primarily failed me: I did not manage to hit anything with my Paladin’s giant stick at any point and rolled a 2 on survival (a skill I’m allegedly proficient in) in trying to figure out where we’d been taken. My track record with physical dice isn’t much better, I still remember rolling a 9 on a 6d6 Flame Strike. There were some successes: I rolled max damage on dragon breath and a very high persuade roll, earning us a break in the fighting until someone else put a dagger in the back of the person we were attempting to get information out of. (Even as a Paladin, you can’t save everyone.)

Like the Mountains of Illinois

D&D 5 is very flat, and the difference between being good at something and not good at it is not very large, especially at low levels. Previously (in 3.5) full ranks in a skill meant level+3, or +4 at level 1, going all the way up to +23 at level 20 (but probably much higher than that from synergies and magic) which meant that some skills had unusual rules interactions at high levels, and the difference between trained and untrained was impossible to overcome on any dice roll. By contrast, proficiency bonus is +2 at level 1 and only goes up to +6 at level 17, which means that even an untrained character can make certain rolls (albeit with a flat 30% lower chance of success). Rogues and bards can get double proficiency to certain rolls, so they can get up to +12, but they’re intended to have outlandish values on skill rolls as part of their class design.

In general, I like this approach, but I can see how some people would not. It does lead to a lot of chance inherent in most actions, as it’s next to impossible to have anything be a “sure thing” (although you can get close in some special cases). The trade-off for this is that untrained actions have an actual chance of success without rolling 20. (As a side note, this edition doesn’t give 20 or 1 special effects on skill checks or saves. They’re just numbers.) The highest suggested DC for anything in the player’s handbook is 30 for tasks that are “nearly impossible”. A non-bard/rogue with a 20 in the relevant stat at level 17 or higher would only hit such a target number when rolling 19 or better, so that description is fairly accurate.

I was going to discuss how I use anydice to sort out numeric things, but I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Maybe I’ll get to that next week.

On Definitions

There’s been a rash of stupidity in the gaming field lately. I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t weigh in on it in some way, especially when we agreed to avoid talking about it in last week’s podcast. When I answered the questionnaire from “Cannot be Tamed” I glossed over the question about whether or not I considered myself a gamer. It’s time to expand on it a bit.

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes, but that doesn’t say anything useful about me.

Words Have Meanings

I’m an incredibly literal person. To me, the word “gamer” denotes “someone who plays games regularly”, kind of like biker, or moviegoer. Given the giant segment of the population that it applies to now, I’d say that attempting to apply any qualities to this label is a lost cause. I suspect that as my generation grows older, this segment will continue to grow. I’m sure that almost any descriptor you can think of, you can find a “gamer” that it would apply to. As of late, this includes assholes, nice people, women, men, students, people who play MMOs 12 hours a day, and people who play Candy Crush on their way to work. “Gamer” isn’t meaningless, but its value as a label is questionable.

With that out of the way, it’s completely stupid some of the things people have been doing in the name of this label. Regardless of what your personal opinions may be, it’s never okay to embark on a campaign of harassment against someone who doesn’t share your opinions.

#IStandWithGanondorf

I don’t always agree with the things he says, but I’m with Jim sterling on this one. Even ignoring that you should be a decent human being to other people, it’s not a bad thing for the medium if games are made to appeal to a larger audience than “18-25 year old white male”. The industry’s treatment of women and minorities is usually pretty terrible, and AAA games will probably have to get over that to appeal to a wider audience. This is really irrelevant to the issue, though.

I guess I’m annoyed that a thing I like is now associated with terrible behavior. It’s really not the first time, but it’s not going to stop me. “Gamer” covers half of the people in this country, and I know they aren’t all dicks. I’ll be over here playing games like usual. Destiny’s out in a few days, after all.

-Ashgar

P.S. Have I mentioned that attaching “-gate” to things is supremely stupid? Watergate got that name from the actual name of the location it took place. Not everything needs to be “something-gate”.

P.P.S. If someone wants to place me in the SJW camp for this post, can I please be a druid? Warriors are so boring.