On San Antonio

As you may or may not be aware, I spent this past weekend at PAX South, with Belghast and Rae. I had a really fun time, and it was my first time seeing both of them in person, despite talking to them over the internet for years. They’re both awesome, and it made for a really fun day to wander around with them on Saturday.

This was the first annual PAX South, so my only point of comparison is PAX East in previous years. Compared to that, this show was a little smaller, and quite a bit more relaxed. Very few of the bigger publishers came at all, and Nintendo was the only representative of the Big 3 (And even then, they were only there to show off their New 3DS). As a result, the biggest booths belonged to Twitch and a pair of companies I’d never heard of before: Motiga and Greybox. Sadly, Greybox’s booth was incredibly crowded the entire time and so I didn’t get to see much of their games (Grey Goo and Dreadnought). Here are my highlights from the show:

A Gigantic Success

Gigantic is my game of the show, despite having to overcome some major obstacles: I knew nothing about it going in, I generally don’t like competitive shooters (I did have a small bit of enjoyment with Tribes a while back), and I’m already invested in a particular MOBA (League of Legends). Knowing nothing about it other than it controlled with WASD, I was seated in a group where 8 people had played before, and only Rae and I had not. After someone else on our team picked the minotaur-looking thing I was initially going to play, I opted for the dragon, and this turned out to be a great choice. Playing was a lot of fun, and it wasn’t until after we finished that I learned that it was Angry Joe on the other side of the table.

It turns out Gigantic isn’t entirely a shooter or a MOBA, but it does take elements from both.I think I have a lot more to say about this one than I’m willing to put in a PAX blurb, so look for that in the near future.


This Feels Familiar

I’m not going to say Brawlhalla is Smash Brothers without Nintendo characters, but it would be hard to complete this paragraph without that statement. It’s a 2D Brawler in the Smash Bros. style with a few differences. For starters, the game revolves around the weapon system, where each character has a small selection of possible weapon pickups that they can get from picking up glowing swords scattered around the battlefield. Gnash, for example, can get either a hammer or a spear. Some characters have shared weapons, but they have a few unique moves with each. Another thing is that all of the characters have three jumps and Mega Man X-style wall sliding/jumping, so recovery is less emphasized and most KOs are going to be via a direct ejection. The primary thing it seems to have over Smash Bros is that it’s on the PC, so we’ll have to see if that’s enough.

Brawlhalla 1

More Strategic Than Pokémon

Moonrise is a game I find interesting, not only for the claims I heard from Jeff Strain at PAX, from whose words I took this section title. In all honestly Moonrise reminds me more of Jade Cocoon than Pokémon, given the limited set of elements and ability for your player character to actually fight. It departs from most creature battling games by being pseudo-real-time, with actions that take certain amounts of time to perform, ATB-style. This does open up the possibility of things like interrupts and forces you to make decisions faster, so we’ll see how it shakes out. It’s already out if you’re in Canada, Sweden, or Denmark and own an iPad. Hopefully it’ll come out elsewhere soon.


Mark of Shame Award

I just feel the need to say that as the closest major Dev, Gearbox should have shown up with something awesome, and they barely came at all. Everything they had to say was part of a mini-panel, and since the panels were in their specific rooms and not on the schedule it was hard to plan around them. Other than the panel, they didn’t have anything really on display. When I even asked about Battleborn, they just told me to look at the website.

The runner-up for this one is Riot Games. I can see why they wouldn’t bring their big booth, but their panel left a lot to be desired. They originally had a pair of panels scheduled for Saturday, one in the afternoon and one in the late evening, with no indication of what they were going to show. By Saturday, the afternoon panel was announced as one on Champion Design, and the late panel was cancelled. The afternoon panel consisted of Ghostcrawler asking four other Riot employees champion design questions, followed by a Q&A. The minimalism of this panel (especially compared to other things Riot’s done in the past) makes me wonder if whatever they had planned on showing just wasn’t ready. I guess we’ll never know.

And the Rest

Hive Jump was on display, and it looks like it’s shaping up to be awesome. I backed it when it was on kickstarter, so that’s always nice to see. Faded is running a kickstarter right now, and looks like it might be cool if they can get a few things worked out. I also played a game called Pixel with some interesting ideas, although I’m not sure if it’s my sort of game.

Overall I found far more good than bad at the show, so I hope that future incarnations of it are successful. With there being 3 options for PAX in this country now, it’s my hope that more people get a chance to experience it. I’m off to go play more Citizens of Earth, so until next time.

On Repeatability

This is an expansion of some of my thoughts from the Podcast this past week, specifically regarding raiding in FFXIV. At this point I’m raiding one night a week, and would consider myself fairly casual, but the group I’m raiding with is awesome. After struggling with it for a few weeks, we cleared Turn 5 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut in mid-December. I’ve since cleared it 3 more times, twice with the same group and once with another group from our server. Some spoilers for the fight follow, so if you want to go into it blind, you should stop reading. (Also, don’t go into it blind. It’s a long fight with lots of moving parts, there’s plenty to learn even if you know what to expect.)

Because Reasons

One of the things that distinguishes our raid group from many others is our continued tendency to ask why certain elements of strategies exist. When learning Turn 2, we experimented with killing different nodes to see what the options for clearing to ADS actually are. Killing a node removes that ability from ADS, but adds a buff. Rot passing is required (if you’re doing the fight traditionally) because killing the Quarantine Node (which grants ADS the Allagan Rot ability) grants an overwhelming haste buff which makes the fight unhealable. As a result of this asking why, we’ve gained a pretty good understanding of a decent number of mechanics in Turn 5.

There are an amazing number of mechanics that instantly kill you in this one, which is probably a part of why it takes so much to learn. The following things will kill you with no save if not handled properly:

  • Conflagration (Phase 2)
  • The wall of the arena (All phases, most relevant in Phase 3)
  • Twintania’s big attack (end of Phase 3)
  • Twister (Phase 4)
  • Dreadknight (Phase 4)
  • Hatch (Phase 5)

The only randomness in almost all of these is who is targeted, and almost all strategies aim to reduce or eliminate the effect of random chance in this. Regardless of who gets conflag, they always move to the same place. The “Divebomb dance” if done correctly allows everyone to dodge no matter who is targeted. (It has the added benefit of allowing people who don’t dodge well to not get flung into the wall.) You can’t tell who Twisters pick, so everyone moves. The threat of the dreadknight is reduced if no one (except the tank) is near the middle. Hatch can be completely eliminated as a threat if the off-tank takes every one in the final neurolink.

Perfect Practice

As a direct result of this, the ability for the fight to screw you via RNG is fairly low, and I’ve observed this for most of the fights I’ve done so far. Fights can be practiced, mistakes can be identified, and eventually, victory can be achieved. Even things that seem like they could be random (Titan jails 2 people) aren’t as random as they look (Titan always jails a healer and a DPS) and can be planned for. Some mistakes are more forgiving than in certain other games because all healers (and also summoners) can raise during battle.

At the same time, the required amount of personal responsibility for all players is far higher than many other games. Part of this is the 8-person group size for “hard” content, which means the loss of even one player means you just lost ~25% of the group’s DPS and might not make a DPS check because of it. Some fights (Titan, Leviathan, I’m looking at you) don’t allow for the element of recovery I mentioned earlier, because once you’re knocked off of the platform, you’re dead until the next attempt. I feel like these mostly balance each other out; random personal responsibility feels unfair (See: Teron Gorefiend in WoW’s Black Temple), but it doesn’t feel quite so bad here. Because fights really do play out the same way almost every time, it’s possible to reliably get farther with each attempt, and that’s something I didn’t feel like was always true in my previous raiding experience. Maybe my group really is just that awesome.

On Tank Training

As those of you who pay attention on Twitter may have noted, I’ve been having some issues with the state of tanks in low-level instances in Fina Fantasy 14 lately. While I level my complaints directly at Riot Blade (and Gladiators in particular) that’s not really the core of the issue. MMOs are bad at teaching you how to play them, and for a role like a tank, that’s A Problem. Rather than continue to berate anonymous Gladiators for not knowing better, I’d just like to clear up a few things. While this post focuses on Gladiators/Paladins, some of it is also applicable to Marauders/Warriors as well. For a few reasons (*cough*) marauders tend not to have the same problems at low levels.

Maintaining Threat

While I’m not going to claim that it’s always easy (it’s not), tanking in FF14 isn’t terribly complicated. Your job in any given pull is to keep all of the enemies attacking you until all of them are dead, and also doing the best you can to keep yourself alive while doing this.The second part could be its own post, so I’ll stick to explaining the first. FF14, like many other MMOs at this point, uses a threat system (usually referred to in-game as “enmity”) to determine what enemies attack (most of the time). Tanks have abilities that are very good at generating threat, and using these liberally is one of the keys to being successful. To track you you’re doing, the party list and the enemy list both have different ways to display your current threat.

First, the enemy list tracks your threat status on all enemies, with green for low threat, yellow for medium, orange for high, flashing orange for a last chance warning, and red for when something has enough threat to attack you (aggro). (These are also all different shapes so they can be differentiated even with color blindness.) Tanks should strive to keep this as red as possible. The party list tracks who in your party has the most threat on your current target. Because the enemy list unfortunately doesn’t have a color for “about to lose aggro”, this is the only real way to see when someone else is getting dangerously high on threat. it can be helpful (especially if you have a Summoner or Black Mage in your party) to tab between enemies and see if any of them are doing unfortunate things.

party list enemy list

Why Riot Blade is a Trap

For Gladiators, the abilities that do bonus threat are (in the order you get them) Savage Blade, Flash, Shield Lob, Rage of Halone, and Circle of Scorn. That last one only comes in at 50 and isn’t really relevant to this discussion. The problem lies between the levels of 12 and 26, where you have access to Riot Blade but not Rage of Halone. This means that for damage, the ideal combo is Fast Blade->Riot Blade, and out in the world this is perfectly fine. However, Riot Blade wasn’t on that list I mentioned earlier, so in dungeons you’ll lose threat to the classes that do more damage than you (which is to say all of them) if you use that combo exclusively. Fast Blade->Savage Blade amplifies the bonus threat on savage Blade, and keeps things where they should be: attacking you. Riot Blade does have a use, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Riot Blade

Provoke and You

Provoke is a Gladiator ability earned at Level 22, and currently holds the spot of “most required cross-class skill in the game” for Warriors. (If you are playing a Warrior and you do not have this skill cross-classed, get those extra few levels of Gladiator right now.) It’s the game’s only true taunt, so it’s essential for tank swaps, and it can be helpful when you lose aggro on a particular enemy. However, Provoke works by giving you threat equal to whoever the current highest threat person is, plus one point. This means that unless you immediately take some other threat-causing action, you’ll lose the target immediately. It also means that if you pull with provoke, you have exactly one point of threat and any action taken by anyone else will pull off of you. Shield Lob does have bonus threat attached, and should be used for pulling whenever possible.*

*There are edge cases where provoke’s longer range allows it to be useful for pulling, usually to grab a patrolling enemy.


Savior of the Universe

Flash is essential for Gladiator tanking. It does no damage, but a lot of threat to all enemies near you; I guess they don’t like light shining in their eyes or something. The range is just barely longer than melee range, so don’t use it expecting to hit enemies halfway across the room (and if you use it running in you’ll probably hit nothing). Flash is your only tool to build threat on multiple enemies simultaneously between when you get it at level 8 and when you get Circle of Scorn at level 50. Even if you use high-threat attacks on your primary target, not using Flash will result in everything else running to murder your healer as soon as they heal you once. Using it once is frequently not enough, either. How many times you should use it and how frequently varies depending on your personal gear, how many enemies there are, how long they’re likely to live, and if anyone in your party is using AOE attacks (attacks that hit multiple targets). Belghast’s recommendation from today’s post is generally a good one: Pull with Shield Lob, Flash twice once things are near you, and Savage Blade combo until dead.

Since Flash does eat a decent chunk of your MP bar, the only acceptable use of Riot Blade in dungeons is to earn back the MP to use Flash more. It can be useful, particularly if you have DPS that are level synced from 50, to tank by spamming just Flash until you are out of MP and using the Riot Blade combo only when you can’t use Flash.


Adventurer in Need

There are some additional nuances, but what’s here is enough to carry you through until you hit 50, provided you also remember not to stand in glowing red things. I hope this helps beginning Gladiators; If you are one of them and you’re in the low-level queue, I thank you for making the queue shorter for the rest of us.

On Playing With Your Favorites, Part 2

Knowing the details about all of the hidden stats in Pokémon is enough to get your foot in the door, but to do well you have to do a bit more than that. Understanding the state of the meta is important, and it’s one of the few things that Nintendo can’t streamline. Team construction is therefore one of the most important parts of the game.

Mind Reading, 101

Building a successful team usually starts with a goal. The ultimate goal is to reduce the HP of your opponent’s pokémon to zero while keeping them from doing the same to you, but how this is accomplished varies. A lot of people have a particular pokémon that they want to force through, and some interesting teams have been formed from oddball choices here. Since the introduction of Mega Evolution, many people build their team on allowing their chosen mega to beat their opponent. Se Jun Park’s Worlds Team was an example of this; it focused on getting Mega Gyarados strong, and disrupting its counters. Other teams have more tricky goals.

Once you have a goal, it’s important to consider obstacles to that goal, which is where the mind reading comes in. It’s impossible to completely predict everything that your opponents might bring, but it’s helpful to have an idea of what you might face. Nugget Bridge is one of the best ways to do this, as they like to keep track of usage statistics across major tournaments. The Pokémon Company also helps a bit, as they track a top 12 on the website and report on the moves and abilities of every pokémon on the ladder. Trying to bring an answer to everything at once is futile, but in broad classes it’s possible to make good preparations.

Mind Reading, 102

Once you have a team, and you’re relatively confident, you still have to actually play the game. One thing that requires adjusting is that (especially in singles) players switch pokémon fairly often, where the in-game trainers essentially never do. To go along with this, being aware of when your opponent is likely to switch and what they might switch to is essential, and learning to predict well is what makes the really good players great. There’s a very strong element of mindgames here. For example, Se Jun’s Pachirisu had Follow Me, a move that forces all opposing pokémon to choose it for attacks. But even the psychology of that is important:

Pachirisu is very good against Electric-types due to Volt Absorb, especially in the later stages of a game. Therefore, it dissuades my opponent from using those attacks in the first place, so I don’t actually have to use Follow Me very often. As such, I can use Nuzzle and Super Fang very often, which makes Pachirisu amazing in doubles.

Prediction is also required when switching. If you have your opponent in a very obvious bad matchup, you might want to think about what they might switch to in order to get out of it, and act accordingly. But if you out-predict yourself and they don’t switch, you might lose out on a potential KO on the thing you’re facing in the first place. It’s vital to balance options like this against each other. In a way, it’s a bit like fighting games, only turn-based.

Class Dismissed

That’s enough on this topic, I think. Now that you have enough knowledge to hurt yourself, I recommend heading over to Nugget Bridge if you want to know more, or get into this sort of thing yourself. My Friend Code is 4897-6120-6518, but don’t count on me for any battles at the moment. Regardless, feel free to add me (and let me know if you do). Good luck in your battles to come!

On Au Ra

The new race for Final Fantasy 14 has finally been announced. I’m personally choosing to treat this as FF14’s personal birthday gift to me, even though the timing is a bit off. The phrase “Don’t stop pretending you’re a dragon” (from the PS4 Conference abridged) has gotten a lot of use within our circle, and now FF14 is giving me another way to pretend.

au ra

Missing Something

I was torn on what race to initially play when we started playing FF14. I really liked the Galka in FF11, and my legacy character in FF14 was a Roegadyn. I initially passed on Roegadyn because male Miqo’te were added in 2.0, and unlike Galka, Roegadyn do not have tails. Turns out that’s important to me, as I used a Fantasia to change to Roegadyn last year, and changed back when I felt that I just liked my character less that way. I tend to like the big races however (I played mostly Tauren and Draenei in WoW) and as the second-shortest race Miqo’te are certainly not that.

Roegadyn Ash
One of the very few shots of Ash as a Roegadyn

Scales & Claws

The Au Ra appear to be almost exactly what I wanted. They’re dragon-people, with horns and tails and claws and scales, but with a basically human facial structure. That last part is probably important because of how much FF14 likes to use and abuse the fact that your character is a silent protagonist; it allows the player characters to remain expressive in recognizable ways. I’ve always taken a liking to the less-human race options in most games, because being a human is boring. The nature of the Final Fantasy 14 world means that actual non-humans aren’t likely to be an option soon or ever, but I’ll take what I can get. In addition to the horns and tails, Au Ra are a bit unusual in that they display more sexual dimorphism than the current races. I’m not sure this was entirely necessary (Female Roegadyn seem to be fairly well received), but I guess it might be a bit late to take back Yugiri’s appearance.


I find it somewhat interesting that character re-customization is just cheap enough that it’s a semi-common occurrence, but not cheap enough that people do it all the time. Also, after being subscribed for a month, you get one free Fantasia (which lets you change everything about your character except the name). Any additional ones are $10, with a bulk discount if you feel you really need that sort of thing. This is reasonable to me, and priced competitively with other games. (For reference, changes like this in WoW cost $15 if you don’t change races and $25 if you do, but a name change is included. Square charges an additional $10 for that, which is the same as a rename by itself costs in WoW.) When Heavensward comes out there are likely to be screenshots of Ash the Au Ra, and I’m looking forward to it.