Tag Archives: NBI2014

On Things That Turn Into Other Things

Everyone has their preferred character archetypes. In D&D terms, everyone is familiar with the traditional Fighter, Mage, and Thief, so most games try to provide player characters with options along those lines. Other games expand a bit more, with a healer archetype (sometimes a variation of the mage) or an archer archetype (sometimes a variation of the thief). More classes are usually created by combining these in some way. The Barbarian is a combination of the swiftness and light armor of a thief with the power and strength of a fighter. My favorite archetype is a different sort of combination: the shape-shifter.

In a way, shape-shifting characters are usually a combination of the thief and mage archetypes in that they are (usually) magic-users with tools to adapt to a variety of different situations. More generally, it’s characterized by the ability to switch between archetypes. The stereotypical example is the Druid, which is usually given a variety of nature-based spells to heal or harm, and the ability to turn into animals when spells aren’t an appropriate solution. There are other characters that fit this archetype that aren’t the druid, like the lead character of the Breath of Fire series, who turns into a variety of dragons.

There is the lesser example of things with a single alternate form, like most depictions of werewolves. In games, this usually manifests as some sort of temporary power up or super mode (which I like a bit less), but it’s sometimes an alternate form with different strengths and weaknesses from the “base” form. League of Legends likes this model a lot, using it for Nidalee, Elise, and Jayce (sort of).

Balancing this character type has historically been difficult, and for good reason. If one person can duplicate the jobs of three or four at a moment’s notice, it risks eliminating the need for the more focused characters. The traditional tradeoff for this is usually decreased effectiveness at any one role, but this leaves the shape-shifter marginalized in any situation where a single task is valued. “Alternate form” types tend to fall into this trap especially often, where the strengths of one form do not sufficiently cover for its weaknesses, leading to use of only one. (Nidalee in League is perhaps the best example of this.)

Some games balance the ability to do everything by forcing a choice of role, and decreasing the effectiveness of other forms or roles. WoW is the best example here, but D&D Next seems to also use this approach. An alternate approach is limiting the ability to transform in some way. Breath of Fire 4 has both a transformation and a perpetuation cost, so you can’t stay a dragon forever. (I think BoF1 only had a transformation cost, but I haven’t played it in a while.) These have shown to be acceptable ways to balance the power level of this type of character, and I wish more games would use them rather than declaring it too difficult and leaving my favorite archetype out.


As a final note: It’s the final day to make donations for The Run, influencing what jobs two members of SDA will use when playing through FF5. I’m still working my way through as well.

On Launches

You would think that there would be some good solution by now for turning the servers on and letting people in to these online games. But time after time, games launch with troubles. All things considered, WildStar’s launch wasn’t really that bad, but it still creates a lot of frustration when everything doesn’t go smoothly.

First, they dramatically underestimated the number of players who would be interested in playing on a PVP server. As a result, all of the PVP servers at launch had queues, some of them several hours long. In addition, the number of English realms for EU was too low in general, so those also had long queues. More servers and free server transfers seem to have addressed the problem over the weekend, so it isn’t all bad.

Despite the complaints, it really isn’t all that bad. SWTOR had similar queue issues, but it’s a better illustration of a different problem. After launch, there were too many servers, leading to server merges and the general unhappiness that accompanies that. FF14 (Realm Reborn version) had numerous issues on launch, including not having queues (so you had to retry login until it worked) and during head start, having the instance servers (which were required for quest and character progression) frequently fail to work entirely. WildStar is at least ahead of both of these cases.

On the other end, ESO’s launch had fewer issues. Quest bugs were particularly bad during the first week, but at no point did I ever have trouble logging in to play. WoW’s original launch wasn’t great, but their expansion launches are pretty good at this point, even though the rush is usually at least the size of a typical MMO launch [citation needed]. TSW also managed to remain mostly functional (again with quest bugs) during its launch. I think the traditional servers are presenting scalability issues for games that use them, and something else (like TSW) might serve better in the long run.

Aggrochat and More

This week’s Aggrochat is out, and the usual cast is missing Rae, but joined by Tam. About halfway through we switch to discussing massive spoilers for Transistor, so I recommend stopping there if you haven’t finished it. (We don’t talk about anything else after.)

As an additional note, registration for the Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta is now live, and you should sign up for this wonderful charity event. Ongoing documentation of my pre-fiesta run is here, on YouTube. If you are in Alliance of Awesome, you should take a look, as there is an extra bit of charity money riding on your registration. (If you’re not, you should still register, and then consider poking into what AoA is doing in various games.)

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 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