Quitting Disgaea 5, Currency rates & game pre-purchases, Toddler Games, and Social Gaming without MMOs

Bit of a mismash of thoughts today, as 2016 gets going.

Originally, my plan for January was to keep going with Disgaea 5, and finish the post game. At this point, I’m convinced that isn’t going to happen. Why? There’s two reasons. The first is that I’m at the point in the post game where the grind level goes way up, just to make numbers bigger. With highly limited gaming time, grinding holds very little appeal over a game that offers a more well rounded experience (like Disgaea 5 did before getting this far into the post game). That resulted in it starting to feel like a slog rather than fun, and at this point I’m too old and too busy to play something that isn’t fun.

The other reason? I got Pillars of Eternity as a Christmas present.

It sunk it’s teeth into me and will not let go. Grinding out XP can’t compete with a whole new world to explore. I’m sure I’ll have more to say later as I get farther into it, but so far it’s a gem that I missed when it launched.

Countdown to XCOM 2 Day

The big difficulty Pillars of Eternity has for me is that I pretty much need to finish it before XCOM 2 is out. I loved XCOM: Enemy Within, and the way they’ve inverted things in XCOM 2 with you now being a resistence group willl really mix things up. I expect that to completely monopolize my single player gaming time once it’s out.

The biggest downside to XCOM 2 is price, and that’s a global game pricing issue. I’m in Canada, and unlike places like Australia, Canada tends to pay the US price in games. For the last few years that had been working out pretty well, even when Steam shifted recently to doing transactions in Canadian dollars (until a year or two ago, all transactions were in US dollars).

Then, the oil market tanked and the Canadian dollar tanked with it. Here’s a five year chart vs USD, from XE.com:

CAD vs USD 5 year
Oow pain.

As recently ago as the middle of 2014, $1 CAD was worth around $0.95 USD, which meant prices were more or less at parity. It went downhill fast from there, and games that were $50 became $60. Then $70. The fancy edition of XCOM 2 on Steam is pushing up towards $100, and it’s not getting any cheaper. This is a perverse incentive to pre-purchase, because the longer I wait to pay, the more expensive the game gets. Steam hasn’t adjusted their price again recently, but there is now talk of the dollar dropping below $0.70 USD, in which case they’d almost certainly have to.

This is also affecting things like imported food products, and, well, imported everything. Other people have it even worse, like Brazilian gamers, as they’re facing a steeper currency devaluation. It’s just one of those things that American gamers don’t have to think about, as games are priced in USD and stay the same price no matter what the US Dollar does. In other countries, gamers on a budget benefit from keeping an eye on future trends in foreign exchange rates.

Toddler Gaming

I have a two year old son. He obviously likes to play, but he doesn’t care for things like rules. This was most apparent when I showed him my new box of Formula D, which is a F1 racing board game.

He loves the board, because it’s a race track. He loves the pieces, which are race cars and dice. He has no interest in the rules whatsoever, as he plays his own version. His version is: roll the dice, cheer at the number you got, then do whatever you want. Also, if daddy’s winning, his car suddenly has super glue and can stop daddy’s car. Or crash it off the road. Or make it go sit on a boat in the Monaco harbour for a while.

Board games are pretty ideal to introduce him to gaming, because they’re physical and easy to manipulate. They also don’t care if you invent your own rules, which gives a version that he likes. The first thing he asked when he woke up today is if he could play race cars again. It was pretty awesome.

Social Gaming, sans MMO

I’m fairly sour on MMOs right now, for the reasons I’ve stated numerous times before. That leaves a bit of a gap because while I love my single player games, I also like gaming as a social experience.

I’ve been getting the social aspect a few other ways:

  1. Board Games. We have a board game cafe in town, which is a delightful way to go out for an evening and try a new game. You pay a cover, grab a game off their rather expansive shelf, and start playing. They also have food and drink available if you want it.
  2. Pen & Paper RPGs. I’m in a D&D game and a Pathfinder game, and when those are running it’s a highly social event.
  3. Artemis Starship Bridge Simulator. I bought a copy of Artemis and have most of the hardware needed to run it, so when people come over with laptops, we set it up and play. I have a game setup for this Saturday, and someone in town asked if they could play from their house. I turned them down, because the experience just isn’t the same when the Helmsman is somewhere else and talking over voice chat, as compared to everyone being in the same room.

The social aspect is pretty important to me for these games, as it’s something I can’t get elsewhere. MMOs used to fill that need as well, but as the developers have moved towards making everything single player and “random people you never talk to again” dungeon finder oriented, I just wasn’t getting what I wanted out of them.

Not to mention how expensive subscriptions are getting with the dollar’s decline, and how F2P games have a tendency of turning into exercises in “pay us to make this annoying nonsense go away” or flat out pay to win schemes.

Female Armor: When Character Design Fails Basic Consistency

I was interested in Devilian, before it came out. Then it came out, people’s reactions came out, and I was pretty much done immediately. What can I say? I don’t particularly need another “girls in bikini armor and heels are somehow equivalent to guys in heavy armor” game, because that makes no sense. If the designers are so lazy that they don’t want the most basic things to be coherent in their design, why should I waste time on it?

Lack of Coherence

Fundamentally, it’s totally incoherent world design. Are the enemies dangerous enough that armor is necessary, or not? Do you need to be mobile enough to be in actual footwear, because nobody goes into actual combat in heels? If you’re wearing armor, why does it have a random hole for your boobs making it totally ineffectual at it’s sole purpose?

This is one of the least skimpy outfits in the game by far, and that makes it even more absurd.

That last one is what kills me. If your world design is such that armor is a thing, then why is armor that can’t actually function at its purpose a thing? She’d be better off wearing something lighter so she can be more agile and maybe avoid the one hit kill that’s aiming straight at her chest. The one on the left whose armor has random cutouts on the back has the same problem.

Turns out she didn’t have magic female adamantium skin.

“Boob plate” drives me nuts. If you don’t want to be armored, that’s fine. Lots of games forego armor in the character design entirely, and if you do it consistently, at least it makes sense in your world. Dragon Quest for example uses “orbs” for defense, which they explain away as a technology that gives the protection of armor without the bulk, so people can wear whatever they want. Sure, whatever. It works for everyone in the world, so it makes sense in that world.

Boob plate doesn’t do that. It’s the designers saying “the enemies are dangerous so you need protection, but female chests are impervous to heavy weapon fire if they’re sexy enough and are thus exempt.” That’s lazy and terribly incoherent design, and it blows immersion out of the water.

It doesn’t even have to be armor, either…

Supposedly, both of these people are dressed for combat.

It’s The Inconsistency

Now, I don’t actually have a problem with sexy outfits. But they have to make some kind of sense. In a world like Dragon Quest where armor isn’t actually a thing because defense comes from something else? This is much less of a problem, and you see that when multiple characters aren’t particularly wearing combat attire (see: Jessica). Luceus and Aurora wear a breastplate out of style more than anything else.

You see the same thing in Disgaea games, where this stuff is driven by magic, and so both Red Magnus and Seraphina don’t need protective clothing because they’re demonic Overlords and loaded up with magical power.

Most of Disgaea 5’s main Overlords. Armor, and shirts, optional.

Characters in Disgaea who are shown in full armor are doing it because of how it looks. Armor Knights for example wouldn’t look right without armor, because it’s literally the name of the class. Demon General Bloodis is fully armored, but Demon Emperor Void Dark wears what is effectively a trench coat, and he’s the stronger of the two. The armor is style only in this universe.

Final Fantasy XIV is another good example of where things are done well. There’s some really nice outfits, including the skimpy stuff like bathing suits, but they’re similarly skimpy for everyone. When you’re in combat gear for a given class, there doesn’t tend to be massive divergence between the male and female versions. There’s no case where a male Dark Knight gets full jet black head-to-toe death armor, and a female Dark Knight in identical armor gets bikini plate.

Consistency beats full realism

You won’t achieve full realism in most games, and that’s fine. The character design also has to look appealing, and that often won’t happen with what armor actually looks like (helmets especially).

Helmets are optional for main characters

That’s an issue with being able to be expressive and letting the player get into it. Helmets are in the way in that case. You even see that in military movies, where the heroes in Top Gun (and Star Wars) wear helmets that show their faces and eyes, while the villains have hidden faces behind their helmets.

That doesn’t bother me, but lack of consistency and outright absurdity does. Like, say, this.

Surprisingly, they’re not kidding a lot of the time.

False Choices Are Worse Than No Choices

Sometimes, listening to players is bad. Players will constantly say that they value choice. They like choices. They want more choices. This mentality drives me nuts, because…

Lots Of Choices Are False

I’m playing in a D&D 3.5 campaign right now, and we just hit level 2. The normal rules for HP work like this: each class has a die representing it’s HP (called a Hit Dice). At level up, you roll that, and gain that much HP. Because this sucks horrifically for unlucky people and can make characters unplayable, a very popular house rule (and the actual rule in organized play like Pathfinder Society) is to use a fixed number like a percentage. A popular number in my circle of friends is 75%, because we don’t like super lethal games.

When I was DM, I just used 75%, period. In the game I’m in, the DM is giving us a choice of rolling (with reroll on a 1) or 75%. Everyone loves choice, right?

It's a trap!
Admiral Ackbar knows what I’m going to say.

I did a bit of math, and you’re 98% likely to do better with 75% than you are with rolling. For a Cleric, you’re 52% likely to wind up with at least 19 HP more with 75% than you are with rolling. There is a choice here, but it isn’t what it seems. The choice is actually between “do you want to have lots of HP” and “not that”. It’s a choice between doing the correct thing and the wrong thing. The choice being offered is a trap that will lure in players who don’t know better. Nobody who does know better will make that choice.

This is the kind of choice that is really a false choice and shouldn’t exist at all. Offering up bad choices in the name of “more choice” makes no sense. If I offer you a cheeseburger or a turd sandwich for dinner, do you really feel better that I didn’t just go ahead and only offer cheeseburgers?

Talent Trees Are So Guilty

Big, complex talent trees are another thing players like. They’re another thing that tends to suck in a lot of games. If you played earlier versions of WoW, you’d remember the large trees with lots of talents and points to spend. You could come up with all kinds of builds, and in the easy solo game they’d all work fine. Trouble with that? Sooner or later, the easy solo game ends.

Once you hit the difficult content, most of those build combinations suck. There’s talents that are required to play effectively, and those aren’t really a choice at all. It was pretty common to see builds that spent 47/51 points on mandatory things, and then gave you 4 points to spend on whatever you wanted because they didn’t matter. The actual choice there? 4 out of 51 points. The other ones are only a choice between doing the best you can, or doing less than the best you can and forcing the rest of your group to carry you.

Rift was also notorious for this. It featured an extensive talent system, with tons of build options. Again, most of them sucked. Only the system was so complicated in Rift that doing the right thing was much harder, and it was really easy to make a build that sucked. I literally doubled my DPS in five minutes by changing builds to one I found online. That’s a 100% effectiveness boost in game due to spending under 5 minutes on Google.

Does that seem right, to you? Who makes the choice *not* to do that if they know better? Why would a game developer want me to get better at the game by copying what I see in Google instead of by playing the game?

The whole thing against “cookie cutter” builds is a misguided reaction to this very problem. Players love choice, but players also hate it when someone who doesn’t want to deal with all that choice can get an optimized build really easily. But that isn’t the fault of anyone except the people demanding more choice, because lots of people just want to play the game effectively without dealing with trying to optimize 50 talent points. There’s even more players who don’t have the game knowledge or math skills to have any chance of coming up with a good build on their own. For those players, the cookie cutter builds are actively helping the developers by giving those players the means to actually function in the game halfway effectively. Those players would likely just quit otherwise after finding the game frustrating.

Players also hate it when there are optimal builds at all, with the idea that everything should be equal. That’s an ideal that almost never happens in reality because the more options you have, the more difficult it is to make them all line up equally.  Against a given raid boss, one option will be better than the others. If the boss difficulty is high enough that being optimized matters, one or two builds will fit it. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Give Me Fewer Choices, But Make Them Good

Sid Meier said that “a good game is a series of interesting choices”. He was right. I wish more developers would heed his lesson. Many of the choices we’re given are not interesting. They’re a choice between a right and wrong answer, where the only people making the wrong choice either don’t know it’s the wrong choice, or don’t care if they’re sabotaging themselves or their team. This is why simplified talent trees (like what WoW did) are often the right way to go no matter how players react online. When most of the choices are just cruft and not really an interesting choice, you’re better off cutting them out entirely and only leaving the real choices. It’s easier to develop, easier to balance, and easier to understand for the players.

If the players don’t know what’s good for them? That’s fine. It’s the developers getting paid to make the game, and their livelihood on the line with it. They need to know better.

Dragon Quest Heroes – Someone Backstab Him Already!

Been playing Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below lately. I really like it. Dragon Quest Games don’t shy away from tropes, and this one is no different. But man, so many silly things are happening in the plot that wouldn’t happen if the main characters were old scoundrels instead of heroic teenagers.  That’s not to take anything away from it, because they know how tropey it is and really delight in it. Still, though…

Spoilers for the plot of Dragon Quest Heroes below.


Umm, Guys? It’s Over There

Healix – totally not wearing anything relevant to the plot

For much of the game, my intrepid band of heroes has been searching for the Circle of Light. It’s the counterpoint to the Circle of Night, and is the thing that will help them save the world and you’ve heard all this a million times before… Anyway, they don’t know where it is.

In a totally unrelated situation, they have a friendly Healslime named Healix, who wears a thing that his dad gave him which is supposedly a super important treasure that just happens to resemble a golden circlet.  At the start of the game, Healix is friends with Aurora and Luceus (the teenage main characters). Some crazy black magic wave hits, and every single monster in the area suddenly turns evil, except Healix. Okay, maybe he just got lucky.



Where oh where could it be? We have no idea, we’re just the main characters

Later in the game, Velasco (the bad guy) has our heroes trapped. Healix charges at him, and Velasco reacts when he sees what Healix is wearing as if he recognizes it and is afriad. Healix can’t get to him because he’s in a sacred spot that only the Children of Light and Night may enter, which Healix is not. Velasco then laughs it off, claiming it’s absurd to think a Healslime would posses the Circle of Light. Okay, maybe it’s a replica or something.

After this, Healix gets depressed that his treasure is apparently nothing important, and runs off. Our heroes go to ask the Goddess for help, and lose track of where Healix is. The Goddess tells them flat out that the Circle of Light can be found in the Shrine of Scales.

In the Shrine of Scales, they don’t find the Circle of Light, and the guardian there has no idea what they’re talking about. They do find Healix there. I find it hard to come up with any plausible reason they couldn’t put this together, since the freaking Goddess told them where it was (unless I’m wrong, I haven’t finished the game yet). But hey, that’s what you get when you have teenagers in charge of everything. They’re now heading off to stop the big bad, still without the Circle of Light. Luckily, no doubt they’ll figure it out at the last minute. Speaking of the big bad…


He’s Distracted, Someone Backstab Him Already!

If I was trying to stop this guy, I wouldn’t worry about fighting fair

The villain is named Velasco, who is a robed wizard with a mustache and a Spanish (so my wife says, I thought French) accent. First of all, it’s a delight how varied the accents are in this game. It actually sounds like people are from different places, rather than everyone sounding American.

Secondly, Velasco is competent. He is always one step ahead. He has an army and doesn’t care about it’s well being. He knows far more about what’s going on than the heroes do, and constantly reveals just enough to lead them to where he wants them to go. He’s a smart villain.

Oh, and he loves to monologue. Which to the teenage heroes, is really annoying as they stand, listen, and then throw back retorts.

At one point, this is happening while Velasco and Luceus (the male in blue in an earlier screenshot) are fighting, and Velasco is using his staff to parry Luceus’ sword in a dramatic pose. Aurora (the girl in red) is behind Velasco. She mostly watches. At this point, I was screaming at my TV for her to put brains before heroism, and just stab him in the back while he’s distracted. Instead, she let him monologue, summon a boss monster, then escape to put the final plan for the world’s ruin into motion.

You know, I get that the hero wants to have a dramatic final showdown between good and evil and all… but maybe if the fate of the world hangs in the balance due to this guy who has been beating you the entire game, and you get the chance to end it by fighting dirty, you should take it?

This particular one got me thinking about Avatar: The Last Airbender again. Letting people monologue and transform is such a trope in games and animation that we just go with it, to the point that when Azula didn’t go with it and fried Aang midway through his powerup sequence, it was a shocking moment. It also proves that Azula is a much smarter teenager than the heroes are here.

This Silliness Is In Good Fun

Fortunately, I don’t find this stuff detracts from the game, for me. It’s been quite a lot of fun, and the story having these silly things in it is kind of part of its charm.I’m not sure someone who didn’t grow up on JRPGs and anime where these tropes are so widespread would feel the same way, but when it’s not taken super seriously I find it works.

Indeed, the biggest worry I have about this game is that not a lot of people seem to be playing it. They’re making a sequel in Japan with multiplayer, and I hope we get it, but that requires people to buy the first one here in North America. Multiplayer would be great in this because you have 4 heroes on the map already, so it’d just let two of them be player controlled instead of one.

Level Ups – Some I like, Some I hate

Captain Codfish on Twitter was lamenting how he’s not getting too far in the fun department in Wildstar, for a few reasons. During that conversation, the issue of levels came up again, with this in particular:

I feel you, brother… I’m getting very sick of games that make you do a drawn out levelling process, especially if it just ends at some point and becomes meaningless. But, not all levelling systems bother me. Let’s look at the ones I like and why, first.

Dungeons & Dragons – Each Level Matters

At a certain level, I can bring a pet Dire Bear to the fight on my side. What have you got, puny fighter?

I love D&D, and I both play and Dungeon Master. The levels in D&D? No problem. The big thing is that each level matters. They take a while to get. There is a very real chance in the campaigns I play of dying while trying to get them (and death is a much bigger deal, especially at low level where it can mean a new character entirely). There isn’t that many of them. They bring often dramatic changes in your character.

Most importantly? They don’t practically stop. Oh sure, they do stop (except in revisions where they don’t, epic levels, and so on). But the vast majority of D&D campaigns don’t get to the level cap, which means for practical purposes you don’t run out of levels. You never reach a point where levels cease being a mechanic that matters to the game, so they work just fine.

Disgaea – Absurdity In Levelling

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Disgaea and it’s sequels.

Read those stats. Be prepared to do a lot of levelling if you intend on challenging the Tyrant Overlord.

In Disgaea, levelling is so common that individual levels don’t matter. It’s not a big deal when you advance from 10 to 11 like it is in D&D. But that doesn’t make levelling itself unimportant. Disgaea is just about excess in levelling. You can level up to 9999. You can then reincarnate back to level 1, but keep some of the stats you had before, so that the next time you get to 9999, you’re stronger.

You can then go into your items, and level those up to (and beyond) 100. Inside the second best in slot item in the game, on floor 100 of that item, is an Item God, who carries the best in slot item in the game for you to try and steal. You better have one very good Thief around to pull that off!

You can also level up your characters in some of them in the Character World, build loyalty between characters, boost affinities, level up the item shops to have better stuff… well, you see where this is going.

The key similarity is that like D&D, levels never stop mattering. You are always leveling something. You never reach a point where the mechanic goes away. Which brings me to…

Your Average Themepark MMO – Stop It!

The Captain was talking about Wildstar, but this applies to a ton of MMORPGs. They follow a pattern that I’ve complained about before:

  1. The leveling part, in which you are doing quests to gain levels, learn skills, get talent points, and so on. Often there’s a story component to those quests. These days, they’re usually done mostly or entirely solo, and in some games they will even enforce that on certain quests.
  2. The endgame part, where you no longer have levels to gain. The game at this point often becomes about raiding or other group content, and since everything is the same level (which never changes), the entire mechanic of leveling now serves absolutely no purpose to the functioning of the game.

This is the worst kind of leveling. It’s main purpose is to act as a gatekeeper between people who want to raid, and the raiding part of the game. What is the point of that? League of Legends doesn’t make you play a solo questing game for 300 hours before you’re allowed to play the real game, right? It’s MMOs alone that do this, and it seems at this point like it’s mostly because people expect it more than because it still makes any kind of sense. You wind up with people like Liore, who want to raid in FFXIV but just don’t have the time to catch up through all the levels (and story in FFXIV) to get to that part.

Diablo 3 has the same problem, where the 1-70 part of the game has absolutely  no meaning anymore for veteran players. Guides exist entirely devoted to how to get it over with as fast as possible in a new season, and people are doing it in a handful of hours. Why? Nobody cares anymore. It’s trivially easy, it’s been done before, and it’s just a barrier between players and the real season game… which is the gear hunt and Greater Rift progression at 70. I hate the start of a new season precisely because I have to waste time getting back to 70 so that I can do the stuff that’s actually relevant.

In both the MMOs and Diablo 3, a serious player will spend the overwhelming majority of their time at the level cap. Like, 75% and up majority. In WoW, I was level capped for approaching 90% of my play time, and it wasn’t 99% only because I had a lot of alts. If you spend almost the entirety of the game where the mechanic does absolutely nothing, it’s not meaningful to the game design anymore.

This system isn’t adding anything, at this point. It’s number progression for the sake of number progression… only Disgaea does that a thousand times better.

On Pre-Orders And How They Still Suck

I’d like to give Wildstar another go, but with the server chaos ongoing and the frustration other people are having, I don’t see the point. Sitting around waiting isn’t really what I want to do with limited gaming time. The concern, though, is that my interest will run out before stability happens. Disgaea 5 is coming out soon, and Rock Band 4 will arrive not long after that. Stars Beyond Reach is in beta, as well, from quirky strategy game developer Arcen. There’s a lot going on. By time Wildstar is playable, I may not care a whole lot anymore, and I’m worried that I’m not alone.

I also wanted to write a blog post about the new release, but right now it’d mostly be about the instability and downtime. Kicking Carbine while they’re down on that is helpful to nobody whatsoever, so I’ll just wish them luck instead.

Deus Ex Pre-Orders

I’m excited for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I was NOT excited for their absurd and now cancelled pre-order scheme.

Square-Enix really missed the mark here, for a couple of reasons. The biggest one for me wasn’t the tier 5 release date thing (although that’s also foolish), it was making people choose rewards. They have two rewards a tier, which means both things are being made. Why are you only giving me one of them when I’m giving you money blindly this far out? Who in marketing thought this was a good idea?

This type of pre-order unlock scheme has existed for other games, and didn’t generate this kind of anger. The main difference is that there wasn’t any options. XCOM: Enemy Unknown did it, and it went just fine. Their rewards included things like a free copy of Civilization V, and they never made you choose between rewards. If it was unlocked, you got it.

Giving people choices can backfire horribly if it makes people feel like they’re missing out or being ripped off. Sometimes, it’s better to just dictate the rewards and let people enjoy the bonus stuff they’re getting for being willing to give you money up front before knowing if the game is any good or not.

IMO, this was less bad than per-store absurdity like…

Rock Band 4 Pre-Orders are BS

In terms of terrible preorder promotions, Rock Band 4 has it nailed. Most stores are offering a 30 song pack for preordering. Amazon is offering four other songs. PSN is offering ten different songs on the digital version. Xbox Live is offering twelve different songs from PSN for the same thing, which is pretty goofy because a digital version on Xbox One won’t even work without either new instruments or a physical adapter you still have to go out and buy.

This is entirely ridiculous. First of all, I should not need a table of data to figure out where to buy a game from. Secondly, are these “exclusive” songs going to be available for purchase elsewhere, or did they just lock 26 songs up forever based only on how you bought the game? I can’t even buy the Xbox version even if I wanted to because doing so would wipe out all the songs I purchased on PS3 (which carry over to the PS4). Telling me that because I was a previous customer I’m not allowed to buy a Weird Al song is fucking bullshit. I’m hoping Harmonix isn’t that stupid and this stuff will all go into the store for everyone else, but I’ve been proven wrong before.

The only difference between this and Deus Ex is that I know what marketing is thinking in this case: $$$. Amazon and the others are paying for these special promotional bonuses. Best Buy isn’t, for example, and doesn’t have one (although they did have a sale going). Brad Wardell of Stardock has talked about it in the past, and how the business behind it works. The retailers want something extra to pitch so they get more sales, which matters quite a lot when you have over $200 instrument bundles sitting in inventory to sell. But still, it’s extremely player hostile.

Pre-Orders Are For Suckers (except maybe on Steam)

Assassin's Creed Unity Face Bug
Face rendering is planned in a future DLC

This all comes around to the general problem with pre-orders: they’re for suckers. They are a relic of the days of retail distribution, where stores needed some idea of how many copies to stock, andfor niche games there was a very real risk of running out due to limited print runs. These problems don’t exist in a digital distribution world. In today’s world, they are just a bad idea. A game is never more expensive and buggier than when it first comes out.

For players, you buy it sight unseen in the hope that it lives up to the billing. That’s a crap shoot, even with known franchises. People learned that the hard way from Assassins Creed: Unity, and Batman: Arkham Knight. AAA studios do not need (and don’t even get) your money before the game is released. If it’s worth buying as a pre-order, it’ll still be worth buying two weeks after launch when it’s clear if it lived up to the hype or not.

Pre-order bonuses are meant to counteract that. They’re to entice you with little things in order to get your money before you can find out that the game is a broken mess. Marketing loves them because they work with the hype machine and help insulate against a botched release.

Gamers should not play along.

Although there is a bit of an exception on Steam now, as it’s refund policy allows you to get a refund on a pre-order after release within the standard 14 day/2 hour played limits. That is a huge equalizer in this situation, and I’d be a lot more comfortable doing it on Steam than I would on another platform with that policy in place.

As it stands, I’ll probably be a sucker and pre-order XCOM 2. It’s hard not to be a sucker for one of my favorite games, especially with the refund policy offering some protection.

I Love This Game… Why Am I Not Playing It?

My gaming for the last month and a half is a tale of pre and post vacation (with vacation itself being limited to only Clash of Clans on my iPad). The main victim has been FFXIV. But… why?

Pre-Vacation: All FFXIV

Before I left on vacation, I was playing tons of FFXIV. I was questing out in the expansion areas on Black Mage, working on a Paladin, gearing up to start levelling my White Mage, and so on. Everything was great. I was having fun and was accomplishing what I wanted. No complaints at all.

Post-Vacation: All Diablo 3, no FFXIV

Since I got back, I’ve logged into FFXIV twice. That’s twice, in over three weeks. What happened?

Well, season 4 started in Diablo with a new set and possible build i wanted to try. So I did that a lot. But even when I wasn’t doing that, I still didn’t play FFXIV. Like last night, I finished up in Diablo and instead of playing FFXIV, I went to do the dishes.

Yes, the dishes. Now, the dishes did need doing, but it was prime game time for me and I chose to do the dishes instead. After the dishes, we watched some Sailor Moon Crystal instead of playing FFXIV.

I Have No Idea Why

The kicker is that I don’t really understand what happened. FFXIV didn’t suddenly start to suck in those two weeks. I still really like it. I still on a rational level want to play it. Somehow, that doesn’t translate into actually playing it when I sit down at game time. It’s like while I was on vacation, something just switched into a mode where there’s nothing left I can get out of the game, which is usually a death sentence for me playing it.

That happens with games that feature lots of grinding, like Disgaea. I like the Disgaea series, during the story part. Inevitably the post game gets to a point where you unlock the grinding map in Cave of Ordeals (or something similar depending on the game), and run it ten thousand times to get your characters up to stupid high levels. That part? Once I unlock the ability to do it… I’m done. Actually doing the grinding is repulsive to me, because there’s no challenge. There’s nothing new to learn, no skill to master, no thought required. It’s mindless repetition, which as I’ve mentioned before (in why I don’t get the appeal of Marvel Heroes) is the kind of thing that my day job exists to automate out of existence. It’s also why I’m reaching the end of my Diablo 3 time for this season, as I’ve reached that point where it’s now run Tormet 8-10 repetitively to get better versions of gear, to make the numbers bigger. The fun part is done, and so I’m largely done too.

But that doesn’t apply to FFXIV. I was nowhere near the end game, let alone being grinded out on it. I have lots of story left, and I find the story interesting. I’m seriously puzzled by what happened to my desire to play it.

Pathfinder Online Never Had A Chance

Between my vacation and Diablo III’s 2.3 patch invigorating the game, I’ve lost my momentum in FFXIV. I want to login… then I don’t because something more interesting comes up. Hopefully I can turn that around soon, because I want to get back into it. But damn, 2.3 is an amazing patch from an amazing expansion. Considering where Diablo III was originally, Reaper of Souls might be the single greatest expansion ever made. It completely turned the game around.

Pathfinder Online Layoffs and Possible Shutdown

The news today is Pathfinder Online’s layoffs. First of all, my condolences to everyone who lost their job. That’s terrible and I wish it on nobody (except Stephen Harper, but he’s got a MP pension for life so he’ll be fine).  Most of the dev team is gone, with just the leads remaining to try and get the next two patches out. No new features are in development unless they can get more funding, which means dealing with a publisher and likely selling the company to said publisher. The server is still up for this month, due to subscription money, but that’s the only reason the lights are still on.

If it looks grim, that’s because it is. The MMO market is extremely tough right now. The game appears to be nowhere near finished. It doesn’t have a ton of buzz, or a top tier IP to lean on (Pathfinder is a great pen & paper RPG, but it doesn’t bring mainstream eyeballs). It’s a sandboxy PvP game, which the market is flooded with right now, and also which doesn’t draw mainstream eyeballs. Not a lot of publishers are big on getting into the market right now.

It’s going to be tough to pull out of this and put a game out.

But Really, It’s Not Pathfinder…

Pathfinder Online’s biggest problem, though, is that it bears little resemblance to Pathfinder. I could never understand what they were going for in using that IP. Looking at their webpage, lets take a look at the bullet point feature list:

  • A Fantasy Sandbox

Well, yes. This fits. Pathfinder (and it’s direct ancestor D&D 3.5) are definitely fantasy sandboxes. Of course, the tabletop version only really has the limits imposed by the Dungeon Master, and an MMO can’t possibly hope to be that good of a sandbox, but this makes sense. I would have loved to see a smaller scale party game with a DM role, though. (Kind of like what Shadow Realms was pitched as.) That said, this is in theme with Pathfinder.

  • Open World PvP

… Well, okay. PvP does exist in Pathfinder. It’s hardly the focus, though. Virtually all published campaign material, most of what happens in Pathfinder Society, and the vast majority of custom campaigns aren’t based on PvP. The core game is built around a group working together at least on some level. Players do sabotage each other and are often trying to further their own ends, but games that go into outright open PvP rarely last very long because the game just doesn’t work that way. Once I kill your character, you probably need a new one since I’m not going to pay to resurrect you. The new one has no reason to hate my character unless you’re metagaming.

In fact, I might just animate your corpse and then stick you in a portable hole to make it virtually impossible for anyone else to resurrect you. Standard MMO open world PvP doesn’t capture what actually goes on when real PvP happens in Pathfinder, it’s a totally different animal. Death in a tabletop game often has major consequences, and can easily require a new character be created if it’s a PvP death (PvE deaths are different, you are more likely to have a party that wants to resurrect you if you died as part of the team). In a MMO? Often times death is largely meaningless, and even if it does mean something, having it mean “you have to make a new character” will chase off your players real fast.

  • A Player Driven Economy

Wait, what? The “economy” in Pathfinder is largely inherited from D&D, and it makes very little sense as a true simulation. Once again, there is next to no published material in which players are playing farmers. I actually did run a campaign where players ran an item shop, but they also went out adventuring to get inventory for it (profit margins are excellent when you don’t pay anything to create stuff!)

Gathering isn’t a thing in Pathfinder. When you want to make stuff, you use gold to buy the materials. For some of the crafting feats (like scroll making), gathering would be basically impossible even if you wanted to do it, as you’d actually need a supply chain and production workers to create the materials.  Then, there’s this:

With the exception of some beginner gear and some consumables and vanity items from the cash shop, every item in the game will be crafted by player characters.

Have these guys played Pathfinder? This very rarely happens. Crafting feats are expensive and time consuming. High level items are very rarely made by players, because a Greater Rod of Metamagic Quicken would take 170 days of game time to craft. You know of many campaigns that expect their adventurers to have 170 days of downtime? It’s not the common scenario for players to craft much of anything, let alone high end items, let alone all of them. In fact, it runs counter to the system design: encounters are designed with certain amounts of loot, including items. There’s a whole section about it in the Pathfinder rules (in D&D 3.5, a significant part of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is on how to do this, as well). You’re going to find or buy the majority of your items, and players are not expected to be both mighty heroes and top tier blacksmiths. You can do it, but it’s so cumbersome that it’s rarely done.

The economy that exists in Pathfinder is there to work for the game. That is, outfitting adventurers is a significant part of the world economy, and lots of NPCs make a living doing it. The idea that players should actually be doing this instead is so far afield form the table top game that I have no idea where it’s coming from. This is someone wanting to make an open world sandbox MMO rather than a Pathfinder game.

The core problem here? This is not Pathfinder. This is an open world PvP sandbox MMO that happens to have the Pathfinder name. It’s not going to attract many people interested in Pathfinder, because the game is so far afield of what Pathfinder is about. It also won’t attract many other people based on the name, because Pathfinder as a brand doesn’t have tons of appeal outside of it’s playerbase. This project was in deep trouble right from the outset, as a result.

Plus, the Finances Were Crazy

As Moonrise just taught us, maybe trying to fund a game development project by taking a F2P game and selling early access for $15 isn’t an awesome idea. But… Pathfinder Online is even worse. This is a subscription MMO… in what amounts to early access.

That is not a typo. They were charging a subscription for a game that is nowhere near done. Is it any wonder it didn’t get much traction? This quote from the address says it all:

Q: Any thoughts about lowering the monthly price?

A: Every time we have lowered the price on Pathfinder Online in the past nine months, we have kept the same number of folks playing the game but brought in less money.  At a time when we are entirely reliant on the revenue from subscriptions to keep the game live on the server and employ our core team, decreasing the monthly price is not an option.

Lowering the sub price didn’t change the numbers. That says a lot, to me. If you followed the development of this, they tried to drum up interest, but the subscription (and the buying the game price they also had until July) were huge barriers. The pitch they were trying to sell to people was to buy the game, pay a subscription, and play it in a pre-release state? In a world full of F2P games and large budget, highly polished subscription games, why did anybody think that sales pitch was going to work? It didn’t even have a trial version until June.

Also, this:

We have always known that we would need a certain amount of money to make Pathfinder Online a reality.  Some delays in getting the game to market coupled with some anticipated funding falling through have left us about 75% short of the money we need to finish the game and bring it to Open Enrollment.

In more straightforward terms, they started the game without nearly enough money to finish it. Attempts to find the money didn’t work out, so they are 75% short of getting to “open enrollment”, which in their FAQ states that they think it’s ready for an actual release.

It Never Had A Chance

Launching MMOs in todays market is hard. ESO, Wildstar, the Secret World, and many other games have learned that the hard way. Pathfinder Online caters to only a part of the market (the PvP sandbox part), and that part has a ton of other games being made for it right now. It had extremely high barriers to entry that kept people from being interested. It has an IP that really doesn’t fit the game they are making and doesn’t really help bring people in.

Line all that up at the same time, and I don’t see how this game ever had a real chance at success. It’s too bad… but Pathfinder is at it’s best when you’re at a table (real or virtual) with friends, and a Dungeon Master who can create a more interactive sandbox than any MMO could ever hope to.

That was my favorite thing about being a DM: I create this wonderful intricate sandbox… then let the players loose in it to see what happens. Half the time I had no idea what they were going to do and had to make stuff up on the fly. It’s the wonderful chaos of shared storytelling.


Pet Based Healing Terrifies Me

One of my goals for FFXIV was to get Arcanist to 30, which gives me all the Disciples of Magic classes >= 30. That means I can ditch all the sub-30 DoM gear from my bags, which frees up all kinds of space. I just did that yesterday. I then went ahead and unlocked Summoner and Scholar, because why not?

Summoner I understand. It’s a pet/DoT DPS class. Scholar? Scholar terrifies me.


Scholar. That pet fairy? More healing spells than I have.
Scholar. That pet fairy? More healing spells than I have.

Scholar is a pet based healer. That is, the two pets you can summon now become faeries, and they have healing/support abilities. In fact, at level 30, my healing fairy has more healing power than I do. I only have two healing spells: a single target heal, and a single target heal that puts up a shield. My pet has more abilities. I’m sure this will flesh out later, but it sent me into a fit of terror.

Healing, to me, is all about triage and decision making. I only have so much MP and can only output so much healing at once. Figuring out where and how to direct it is the heart of what you’re doing. I really don’t trust a pet AI enough to offload some of that to it, nor do I want the extra work of babysitting a pet (both in terms of healing targets and in positioning to avoid bad things). There’s more than enough going on already without that extra work.

Fear And Confusion

As anybody in free company chat last night can attest, I didn’t know how to react to this. I started asking all kinds of questions. The idea of actually trying to use this to heal terrified me, especially when I have the warm, fuzzy blanket of White Mage to fall back to. That’s a healing class I understand. The idea of a pet based healing class is so far out of my comfort zone that I recoiled in abject fear from it.

Fairy healing spell bar
Fairy healing spell bar
Scholar healing level 30 spell bar
Scholar healing level 30 spell bar

Is that fear justified? Probably not. I’ve been healed by lots of Scholars (and their pets) in my time as a Black Mage, and aside from noticing some mechanical differences, they always got the job done. But, understanding that at the rational level doesn’t make the fear go away. It’s still there today, when I think “maybe I should try that Scholar”, my immediate reaction is “maybe I should start leveling a tank instead”.

I understand the root of where this is coming from. I really cut my teeth at MMO healing in WoW, doing progression raiding. For quite a while I was a raid guild’s healing leader. I had a huge toolbox and all the freedom and control to deploy it however I wanted. Thus, success and failure (or for the group, life and death) was on me. Losing some of that control of the outcome to a pet AI sets off all kinds of negative reactions.


This really comes down to control, which is why pet classes in other contexts don’t bother me. I’ve often summoned a Unicorn in D&D and used it as a healing pet, but due to how D&D works, I’m still functionally in control of it. DPS pets are okay, because they don’t need the same kind of babysitting to do damage (target changes are less frequent and it’s less likely to kill someone if I let the AI handle it).

Taking healing control away from me and giving it to a pet just… ugh, no. I can’t even form a coherent thought because of how much it rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe one day I’ll work up the ability to overcome this and give the class a fair try. For now though…

White Mage Robes are like a warm fuzzy blanket
White Mage Robes are like a warm fuzzy blanket.

I just don’t “get” Marvel Heroes

One thing I really like about FFXIV is that it doesn’t obsolete old content the way WoW does. WoW players know what I’m talking about: there’s reams of old raids and dungeons from past expansions that are just empty wastelands now, because there’s no point in doing them. If you do, stat inflation makes everyone so powerful that mechanics hardly matter at all.

I just finished the Crystal Tower raids in FFXIV last night, and it was great to see people still doing it. We still died if we ignored mechanics or do them badly. Was it easier than when it was new? Absolutely. But the game both gives incentives to do older content, and thanks to level synching back down makes it so it’s not totally trivial. It’s a great system.

Marvel Heroes – I don’t “get” the appeal

Before anybody says it – I’m not saying it’s a bad game. Lots of people I know like it. I just for the life of me don’t understand why.

I’m a software developer, and part of my day job is taking things that employees are doing that don’t require anything but repetition, and automating them. That’s how I feel when I’m playing Marvel Heroes. The game is so mind numbingly easy that I didn’t require thought when I played it. In fact, I could automate everything I was doing with this pseudocode:

while (enemiesAlive) {

CastSpell(mana > 0 ? ChainLightning : FreeLightning);


For those who don’t read code, that simply says this: while there’s enemies alive, cast chain lightning if I have mana, or the free lightning spell if I don’t.

I spent 5.7 hours (according to Steam) in Marvel Heroes, and that was pretty much all I did, playing as Storm. Either I used the lightning that cost mana, or the one that didn’t (because I had no mana). Nothing particularly required thought, or paying attention. I spent a bunch of that time actually watching TV while playing. If the game allowed mods that can cast spells, I could automate my combat actions with a couple lines of code. Day job me sees that as a problem in need of fixing, not something fun to do in my spare time.

I’m told the difficulty goes up later, and Rhiss offered to level my character for me to that point so I’d give it another try… but almost 6 hours is quite a lot of time when I’m bored. If a game can’t get my interest by then, what’s the point?

People who do get it

Given the game’s popularity, obviously quite a lot of people do enjoy it. I asked some of them why, and I got several responses. The one I saw the most often is that it was fun precisely because it didn’t require any thought. There’s no stress. You can unwind playing it. One person said that specifically. Some people also like repetition and grinding for stuff, like Rhiss with the endgame of Disgaea (which is massive grinding for huge numbers).

I also assume it gets harder later and that people can find a challenge with some of the later content, for those that like such a thing. Plus, it has a zillion things to collect. Heroes, skills, more currencies than I can count, etc. If you have reasons that I missed, feel free to add them in comments. 🙂

I don’t get those reasons either

The reason that stood out to me was the appeal of a no stress, easy game. I don’t get that either. To me, games are finished once I feel that I’ve got the whole thing figured out and can beat it at will. That’s how Disgaea games all end for me. I get set up for the endgame grind with all the specialists and such ready to go, and the maps unlocked… and I’m done. I did the part that’s interesting to me, know I can do the rest, and thus there’s no reason to actually do it. It’s not a story game in the endgame, so unlike say Final Fantasy IX, I’m not going to keep playing just for the amazing finale. I do love story games though, which is part of the appeal of FFXIV.

Clicker Heroes
Clicker Heroes – featuring ever bigger numbers

As for getting bigger numbers and more stuff… I have Clicker Heroes for that. That’s a silly game in which you buy heroes, who kill monsters, to get you loot. You use the loot buy/upgrade more heroes to kill more monsters and get more loot. The wrinkle is that the heroes kill stuff. The game runs while you’re playing it, and while it’s closed or your computer is off. Thus, I get to buy the upgrades and figure out the best place to spend money for maximum DPS, without the actual effort of tedious grinding.

For the people I know who like the grinding part, they find this idea totally absurd. And I understand why, but I find it pretty enjoyable. It’s got the thought part and none of the grinding, which suits me perfectly. When I’m done, I go do something else and the grinding happens on its own.

In the end both things are just numbers going up, but with this one I’m freed up to go be challenged by something like XCOM or the upcoming Anno game.

Fundamentally, the friends in question and I just want different things out of games. As it turns out, Marvel Heroes provides what they want and just doesn’t provide it to me. I can look at it dispassionately and see that it’s well put together and does a lot of things that I could like, but it just doesn’t work for me.

For those that it does? Great! Have fun!