Endless Legend Needs More Hype

I’ve been seeing a little bit of hype for Endless Legend since it came out, but not very much. For a game with pretty strong reviews (stronger than the similarly timed and themed Civilization: Beyond Earth) and a previously successful game (Endless Space), it flew somewhat under the radar. That’s largely due to competition from the better known Civ franchise and Amplitude being a small studio.

It’s not based on the game. Endless Legend is awesome. And hey, it’s 50% off right now!

Yay, No Infinite City Spam

Lots of 4x games try to solve the infinite city spam problem in different ways. Endless Legend handles it by having cities control a “region” of the map.

The thick lines are the regional borders.

You can place a city in the region more or less wherever you want, but the region can only have one city. So you can’t just crowd out cities with more cities and make a general mess. I find this a much more elegant solution, especially combined with the other things they did:

  • Cities start off as a hex and it’s surrounding hexes, but you can build upgrades to grow the city and increase it’s size. Cities can become very big, and you get all the tile yield in the area of the city without needing workers to “work” it (workers are strictly additional to tile yields and assigned indepedently).
  • Each region can have a minor faction, who is already there. You can pacify them through conquest or diplomacy and then settle the area for bonuses. If you assimilate them into your empire you can get more bonuses and extra units to build. That sole city in the region becomes very important because you need it to get the minor faction and it’s bonuses.

The end result of all this is that you don’t need 50 cities to really control an area like you do in some other games, and the one city in each region is very important because of the need for regional control. It makes the cities feel really significant, as they should.

Tactical Combat? Yay!

Tactical combat interface
Tactical combat interface

Your armies move around the strategic map like in every other 4x. A big difference between Endless Legend and a game like Civ is that when armies encounter each other, the map expands into a tactical map. From here, you can arrange your troops in deployment, and then give orders for combat. Both sides give all orders for the round simultaneously, and then combat executes. If an order can’t execute (because the unit you wanted to attack is already dead, for example), units have some default orders they fall back on. You can also auto play this if you don’t want to do it yourself.

I like the addition a lot, as it makes combat more in depth while still making some kind of sense. Civ IV’s combat was more or less entirely about army composition as you’d just throw stacks at each other, and Civ V’s combat had a really weird scale with archers able to shoot clear across cities and units not being able to form coherent armies. This isn’t as sophisticated as say Age of Wonders III, but it’s enough to make combat more meaningful without making it the entirety of the game.

One other nice thing is that you can customize your units. There’s an editor in game to choose new equipment for units to make new ones before training them, which makes them more expensive and might require strategic resources. It reminds me of a game like Fallen Enchantress (or Galactic Civilization & Endless Space’s ship builder), and it’s a lot of fun to create your own custom armies.

Factions & Empires, There’s A Lot Going On

There are a wide variety of factions, and they play very differently. One of them can’t even declare war, for example. One can’t build new cities. The uniqueness of them really changes how you approach the game, and it’s a very welcome addition compared to the generally the same factions of Beyond Earth.

Then you’ve got city management, hero management, the ability to form empire plans on what you want to focus on for bonuses, lots of different ways to win, and so on. There is a lot going on in this game, so much that occasionally I find it takes me a while to take in everything the UI is trying to show me. In true Amplitude faction the UI is pretty good and conveys a lot of information relatively well. It’s just that with how many different things are happening at once in your empire, it can take some time to take it all in. There are still a few rough edges to polish off, however. One thing I noticed is that notifications can come up even while you can’t deal with them, such as getting a notification popup for a new minor faction while the tactical combat UI was also opening, so I couldn’t use the popup for anything. But it’s a minor issue.

Multiplayer Is Here, But Co-Op Isn’t

One thing the Civ games do better is coop play. Endless Legend supports multiplayer pretty well, but not for true coop play. The most you can do is play separately until getting alliance tech unlocked, then forming an alliance in game. There’s no allied victory though, so the game will tell one of you that you lost even if you both win.

If you compare that to the recent Civ games, which feature full team play from turn 1 along with allied victory, and it’s a deficiency. Endless Space had the same gap, and I’m not entirely sure why Amplitude doesn’t seem interested in it. Perhaps it’s just a budget issue, they are a much smaller studio after all.

All that said, Rhiss and I played Endless Space in coop and had fun despite missing those things. We’re going to play Endless Legend too, and I expect to have some fun with it.

It’s Awesome

Overall, this is a great game. For the cost during the sale it’s an incredible value, and I’d encourage every 4x fan to give it a try. It’s entirely possible we’re looking at the best 4x of 2014 in this not terribly well known game.

MMOs and Levels – A Poor Combination

Yesterday, Belghast was taking about “Blizzard Bux”, and happened to make a comment about mentoring systems. That prompted a comment from me about how mentoring is just a band-aid over the real problem – level ups. The discussion then got going with Rowan chiming in with a few points, then wondering how much demand there is for a level-free MMO.

I don’t know how much demand there would be for something so different than what people are used to, but I do know why the level system is bad.

Most Games End

Levels as a progression mechanic are extremely frequent in games, and in most games I like them. They work great in tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons), single player RPGs (Final Fantasy and a million others), and even some multiplayer ones (Diablo 3’s Paragon Levels don’t really interfere with playing with friends but do offer extra progression). They also work in MMOs… for a while.

What most of these games have in common is that they have an end. D&D campaigns typically end, but epic levels exist for people who want to keep playing past the normal level cap. Single Player RPGs sometimes offer open world or side things to do, but they also all end.

That’s the key thing with these games. Level progression keeps going for the duration of the entire game, and then the game is over. The expectation is that you’ll either start a new playthrough, or go play something else at some point. Games have typically been designed without the goal of making you play the same progression cycle forever, and it’s that environment that levels were designed for and where they work.

MMO’s Don’t End

The problem with MMOs is that they don’t end. Once you reach the level cap, you get to the “endgame”. At this point, levels are gone. So long as you’re doing current content, levels might as well not exist. They do nothing. Progression becomes based on something else, which is typically gear. An awful lot of players spend most of their time at the level cap, where levels don’t do anything whatsoever because there aren’t any.

This creates all kinds of problems:

  1. If you’re a player who was playing for the levelling journey, the game just ended. Endgame is a very, very different game in most MMOs (like WoW).
  2. By outlevelling old content, it’s been rendered trivially easy and both not rewarding and mind numbingly boring to do.
  3. You can’t play with friends who are playing more slowly because you’ll outlevel them and the game just doesn’t work well in that circumstance.
  4. Your friends can’t play with you if they join a game late, because they’re miles behind.

The original comment that started this discussion was about mentoring systems, which some games add to let you lower your level to try and correct #3. Wildstar also lets you scale down to dungeon level to correct #2, but it’s far from a perfect fix. Sure I can become level 15 again to do a dungeon, but I don’t go back to level 15 skills only, and I have ones I don’t have. Thus my Engineer tank had a far easier time doing the level 15 content as a scaled down level 30 than as an actual level 15, due to the game not giving me my real tanking skill set until after level 20.

Mentoring systems are a nice band-aid to try and cope with a problem, but wouldn’t it be better to just not have the problem in the first place?

As for #4, Blizzard tried to correct that by introducing an auto-level boost to 90 with Warlords of Draenor, so you can get to the new content faster. That just totally obsoletes all the old content and illustrates my point perfectly – if levels are really a good idea in a MMO, why did they have to resort to letting you skip almost all of them?


I understand that some levels can be useful, as a way introduce people to skills gradually and let people learn how to play without being overwhelmed. They also let you grow in the world, to a point. What I’d like to see is a much flatter leveling curve, and to throw out the idea that an expansion requires more levels. If the point of the game is largely what you’re doing at the end game anyway, don’t waste people’s time by making them get a bunch more levels to reach the new normal, and splitting up friends from playing with each other by putting a level wall in the way.

Keep in mind that endgame is already based around level-less progression. There is no reason why the rest of the game can’t be made the same way. As an added bonus, since gear is all based on stat formulae, it’s much easier to scale down for content than removing levels is.

You can also simply learn skills in another way entirely, such as given by gear as you do things, which Belghast mentioned in today’s follow up post (looks like we were writing at the same time!).

WoW even did something different with Death Knights – starting them at level 50 and handing out talents & skills from quests, rather than making people replay those 50 levels. There are quite a lot of ways to skin this cat, I’d just like to see developers acknowledge that a system designed for campaigns & storylines that have a defined end isn’t suited to a genre that is meant to not end, and work to come up with better things. Band-aid fixes really don’t solve the problem.

A Realm Revisited – Dipping My Toe in Final Fantasy XIV Again

I know a lot of people who have lots of nice things to say about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Lots of people. It’s almost certainly the MMO that gets the most positive buzz from people I know, with WoW coming in second (and Wildstar third, largely because Rhiss loves it to death and I like a lot about it too). That kind of feedback was pushing against the forces keeping me from playing it, including time, Rhiss’ willingness to try it out, my money already being in another MMO… and my previous experience with Final Fantasy XIV.

Yes, I played the first version, in that farce of an open beta they had where they were actively not inviting feedback (so not really a beta at all). That game had without doubt the worst UI of any MMO I’d played, and was full of mistakes that were either amateur hour level, or showed a total disregard for anything the industry had done since WoW came into existence. It was also crash prone, the patcher didn’t work properly, performance sucked, etc, etc…

Nevertheless, eventually the positive feedback on the new release won out, and since I’m not in Wildstar right now, I figured I’d try the free trial. This blog post is on that.

My character talking to an NPC
A few years? Four, by my count

The Return – Shades Of The Original

I didn’t start off impressed.

First of all, I couldn’t get the free trial on my real email address because I had played that open beta for the previous release, back in 2010. I mean, seriously? Alright, I’ll use another email on a fake account. Installation went fine. First launch, I changed data centers to the one Rhiss had also created an experimental character on, and the game crashed.

Second time worked. So I started making a character. I got stuff like this:

ffxiv starting attributes

If it’s telling me the starting attributes for my race selection, I assume they matter in some way. Unfortunately, the game isn’t telling me what those things are. I can decipher four of them easily because they’re fairly standard ones that any tabletop RPG player would know (not that it’s good UX design to assume that knowledge), but what in the world are MND and PIE? One of those is food.

They could have just spelled these things out, and it would have been clearer, but alright. It’s a trial character, these things probably don’t matter a lot.

Then I got to pick a deity. Neat! That came with this:

ffxiv elemental attributes

Did they not learn anything from the UI problems last time around? What in the world are symbols, and what do those numbers do? I have absolutely no idea, to the point that I’m not sure why they are even showing them to me. Is this something for experienced players creating a second character? There’s nothing available on screen to tell me what I’m looking at. Sigh. Oh well, again, it probably doesn’t matter on a trial character.

Final step is picking a world. Rhiss made a test one on Diabolis yesterday, so I tried to do that, and this happened:

ffxiv realm select

I can’t make one on that server because it’s not allowed right now. It was allowed yesterday. So we already can’t play together and we’re just starting. This is really not the start I had in mind. Oh well, I’ll sort that out tomorrow, so I go in…

Damn, This Is Gorgeous!

When I get in, there’s an intro sequence. It’s longer than I’d like before I can do anything, but the dialog and interactions are doing a good job of making me feel like a person in the world and not the chosen one, so I approve. I do a couple of initial tutorial quests, then other people appear, and I see this:

ffxiv nice dress

Wow. Even on my three year old computer, this game is awesome looking. Performance is really good for me. It somehow both has much higher detail than Wildstar AND better framerates. The town looks great, the people looks great, the world looks great… Running around town trying to find things was a joy because everything is so easy on the eyes. That’ll probably fade in time, but wow.

I ran around doing some town fetch quests, then got sent outside to do some stuff. Most of the in game UI annoyances from the original release are gone, and I’m having a relatively painless time figuring out how to do things.  Out for some early combat I noticed that the pacing feels slow and deliberate, especially compared to the chaotic frenzy that Wildstar can turn into. I didn’t mind it, because it feels kind of like WoW and I enjoyed that for years. Plus I’m playing a Conjuror, so I can run around healing other people in the area for fun. One of them was fighting two things at once and I think I helped them out, they threw me a bow afterwards. It’s the little things.

The sound was also pretty good, with little touches like when combat kicked off and such. I ran into a FATE and that played like a rift from Rift. Cool, I liked that system a lot.

It’s Early, So We’ll See

These are pretty early impressions, considering I’m level four and haven’t really done anything. Overall I enjoyed it more than Rhiss did, especially when I was enjoying the world and not dealing with wonky stuff like the character creation issues. It sucks that we can’t group right now, and that it’d take a while to fix that once we find a server we can both get on because of how long the intro area is, but still.

I hope to be able to put more time into it and see how some other things work before the trial runs out. Given that I want to play again, so far the trial did it’s job of selling the game. What a vast improvement from the first time.

Gaming and Community – It’s a very bloggy holiday season!

It’s kind of ironic that a blog about gaming and community is late due to a communication snafu on my part, but here we are. Apologies to everyone, and especially Syl, because I really hate being late. This is me, when I’m late:

Crazy Twilight Sparkle

You can imagine how I felt when I realized I was today, and instead of having done it I was at work and couldn’t. I highly appreciate Syl’s patience. The blogging community sure is great!

Bloggy Xmas Title

I’ve been gaming for pretty much as long as I can remember, which is a very long time. How long? My first console was an Atari 2600. I played Colecovision, Tandy, and all the fun stuff from the past. I remember games on tape. I don’t miss that.

Back then, the community was a bunch of isolated community. Gaming was localized to an area, and the gamers tended to know each other because there simply wasn’t many people to game with yet. The adults didn’t take it seriously for the most part, it was a “kids thing”. That persisted through high school, although the size of the community grew with BBSes, the Internet, and a table in school dedicated to Battletech and Magic: The Gathering.

Today? I don’t think gaming as a community works.

Gaming Is A World

Today, gaming is more like a world. It’s pervasive. Thanks to the original kid gamers growing up and sticking with it, to mobile spreading it everywhere, these days virtually everyone is a gamer. If “D&D is satanism” was the start of a culture war, that war is over. We won. We won so completely that the majority are now with us, even if they don’t use the “gamer” label.

What was the result of that? Gamers mostly argue amongst themselves now. (See: GamerGate.) The interesting thing about that to me is that the same thing happened in the Brony community, at a much faster speed. In the first year of it’s existence, we were mostly figuring out what we were about, and defending ourselves from the outside world going “WTF?” The sense of community in that period was real and strong, because nothing strengthens a community like a common cause and the feeling of an outside force attacking you. Then the world got used to us, and the outside pressure vanished. Come season 3, there was a lot more infighting than in the past, simply because without the outside pressure forcing everyone to band together, the different community groups inside the greater Brony world became less willing to put up with the stuff they didn’t like about the other communities. This covered a bunch of issues, with one of the biggest ones being over what to do about adult fanfiction (known as “clop”), and how that community could coexist with the community who saw it as something to enjoy with their kids and thus a space where such things were intolerable. That’s not one community, that’s two communities trying to peacefully coexist in the same world.

Which is what the gamer world really is – a lot of communities that get along with varying degrees of success. The bad thing is that we get ugly fights that really serve no purpose. The good news is that it’s exactly what happens when anything goes mainstream. There’s nothing particularly wrong with “gamers” just because of that stuff. It’s what humans do when a bunch of communities are all interacting.

Those Communities Are Awesome

If you find the communities that suit your interests, they are awesome. They’re all people out to have fun, or beat a challenge, or unite to kill a raid boss, or win a tournament. They write detailed walkthroughs to help others get through games. They play games and record it to show others how the game works (then get lampooned on South Park). They drop out of the air to lend a hand because they see you got attacked by a bunch of Murloc adds and are in trouble. They hang around a Q&A site answering questions about obscure D&D variant rules. And yes, they even forgive you for a late blog post. 😉

Most of them are open and accepting of pretty much anybody who shares the same interests and fits the culture. If one group doesn’t suit you, there is almost certainly another one that does. This is a hobby that came of age in the Internet era and thrives on sharing, even when the community is for a single player game. Playing alone doesn’t mean you’re actually alone when you’re a gamer. If you have something to share, you have an outlet. If you want to see the creativity of others, you have places to look. If you want to lend a hand to those in need, gamers have spawned some incredible charity efforts. I’m looking at you, Humble Bundle. When that happens, gaming as a community reaches out to the real world community, and it’s awesome.

My Own Gamer Community

If I look around my life, I see an awful lot that I owe to the gaming communities:

  • I met my wife at a LARP, which itself is a pretty funny story of me both saving the town and being entirely oblivious.
  • I met my best friend in World of Warcraft, on Argent Dawn, in a tavern in Stormwind City. A decade later and we’ve reached the point where we play together more often than alone, and coop is a major selling feature on any game.
  • Seemingly half my friends are either met during games, or joined in games and became closer. I run a D&D campaign at my house, and that includes friends, friends of friends (who are now friends), and a coworker (who is now a friend). It’s amazing how all those different groups come together over dice at the table, united in a common cause of trying to foil whatever plot I want to inflict on them this week. We’re over two years and still going.
  • At the library games day or a convention, people who don’t know each other and have nothing else in common all get together to play new games and learn from each other. I love participating in those, especially when kids are welcome and I can help them discover games they like.

With all that it’s given me, I’m pretty proud to be a member of some part of the gamer community.

Quick reply to a CBC opinion piece

Yesterday, CBC posted an opinion piece about New Brunswick’s political narrative, and had the author on air to talk about it. I found the piece was pretty weak, making claims that weren’t supported by what was happening on the ground. So I wrote a reply that was read on air.

Today, I happened to need a copy to link to. So, here’s what I wrote:

Hi Terry,

To be honest, I’m not sure what election you and your guest are talking about. The one I saw had five vibrant options with a wide range of positions on the issues, including shale development. Of the three parties against development, voters chose the one with the weakest position, a moratorium, instead of the ones offering stronger positions like an outright ban.

That doesn’t support the hypothesis that voters are strongly against it and industry lobbying is forcing it to happen anyway. Nor do the polls support that. There were many issues in play in the election. Voters made their choice, and it seems to me that democracy worked as intended.

There are certainly problems, but the idea that voters are disenfranchised because they got exactly what they voted for stretches credibility an awful lot.