Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Horribly Negligent of Me

It's been a while since I've posted here. I went on a vacation, and since I mostly post from work I ended up not posting at all. Also, it's been kind of a tricky time in my personal life, and my gaming habits have probably reflected the increased stress.

So I've essentially given up on Eve Online at the moment. We got war decced for a few days and I pretty much just logged on, set my next skill, logged off. Then I couldn't seem to break that pattern. I dunno, it just seems like there's no expectation of changes in the long term. For the next few years, I'll be doing missions or looking for wormholes and combat sites in wormholes. In another month or so I could probably try to move into a wormhole. But for what? So much of my enjoyment of the game was in figuring things out. Working on spreadsheets for missile damage, planetary interaction, mining, industry. Now that I've done this, the actual gameplay just isn't that compelling. I still love exploration, but I have to admit that it all feels pointless. If I find a site in a wormhole and clear it, I'll get maybe 12-30m isk. So what? Spend an hour mining and get 4-5m isk. Do missions and get some isk and standing. Do pvp and lose isk and make enemies. What's the point? Eve is a game where doing stuff doesn't progress your character. You only get better by simply existing. In short, eve no longer is making me happy, so no more playing eve.

I've actually gotten somewhat captured by Assassin's Creed 2: Brotherhood. A very well executed game. It's like they took the parts of the AC2 that I loved most and extended them. The full sync concept rewards you for doing nifty things instead of just bashing your way through it, leading to a lot more stealth gameplay, assassinations from blending or hiding, etc, while making those damn races a lot less punishing. If you can't do the race fast enough, you don't have to do it over and over, you just don't get the full sync. Going after borgia towers feels like you're an actual assassin, instead of just some warrior running around to kill enemies. Rebuilding rome and shop quests make you actually care about money and finding treasures. Seeing a flag/feather in eagle vision marks it on your map, and later on you get maps of all locations, and can see how many are left to find in each district, instead of simply knowing you need 30 more feathers, somewhere in the world. Everything to do with the assassin recruits is simply awesome. The various guild records/ranks encourage you to do fun stuff and recognizes when you go out of your way to be awesome.

But there are two things that are somewhat worse than the last game, I'd say. First, the story is just weaker. The first game had a great revenge/survival thing going where you felt like part of an epic tale. This one doesn't, the opening sequence is great, but after that you just kinda run around the city making life better for you and worse for your enemies. That's fun, but it's not very epic. Secondly, the conspiracy/the truth doesn't at all hold my attention. The conspiracies seem less 'amg, look at this blatantly bizarre thing in this old painting' and more 'look how we doctored these photos to make them seem sinister'. Ah well. The game suffers from being the middle game. All the setup was in the first game, all the conclusions will be in Assassin's Creed Revelations. Amazing gameplay, bad context.

I've also been playing a lot of world of warcraft. Used to be I'd just log on to raid and repost auctions every couple of days. Now I'm on 3-4 hours a night, pvping and chasing achievements. That's right, I'm doing pvp! :o I'm amazed myself. But it's oddly fun to have a quick little match. It's also disturbingly easy to get honor gear quickly. I've been playing less than a week and already have 3.6k resilience. I'm also looking up random achievements and trying to get them. Jumping on trampolines, killing rares, gasping under rainbows, etc.

I'm sure part of the reason why my attitude towards wow has shifted is due to the latest round of nerfs to the raid content. In a single night we went from 2/7 heroic to 6/7 heroic. I don't know if we'll ever get heroic rag, so it's possible that we're simply done. And the next raid won't be for months. :o We already have attendance issues, I can't imagine the churn we'll get doing farm content over and over for months.

Last night I started playing a new game called Glitch. It's a non-combat mmo. :o I don't have a strong opinion of it yet, I need to play more. I really need to get a house or some sort of base of operations.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Finding a Book Recommender Site


In a bit more detail...

I've been using amazon's recommendation engine to find new authors to read, but they changed it, now it sucks. You used to be able to look up all the books you read, rate them, and then get recommendations based on your ratings. Now you can only rate books that you purchased at amazon. >.<  There's something called amazon betterizer (horrible name btw) but it just presents 6 books at a time chosen from god knows where and gives you a chance to 'like' them. So you keep getting spammed with best sellers from genre's you don't even read, and there's no 'hate' button to get rid of Twilight and books like Twilight, so the recommendations are terrible now.

I decided I needed a better recommendation site, and I'm amazed at how long it took to find a good one. My first try was Shelfari, which is actually associated with amazon. Pretty standard interface, search for a title or author, click to add it to your shelf, with an option to mark it as one of your favorites. I added a hundred or so, and asked for recommendations. There were none. Ah well, maybe they only do it every few days. Checked back a week later, still no recommendations. Utter disappointment. Then I started to figure it out, this site doesn't pay attention to what books you read or add to your library or rate. You do this to let your friends know what you read! And you invite friends to put up their libraries, too. Then the site just shows what books your friends are reading that you haven't yet. Terrible. >.< I want netflix style personalized recommendations.

The next site I tried was What Should I Read Next. This site has a really crap interface, I have to say. It reminds me of a test project I did back in high school when I was learning how to do sql. But at least it gives you recommendations. You search for a book, click on it, and it gives you other books that you might like. You can add them all to a big list and find books that are... I'm not sure. I check a bunch of books I like, tell it to find me more. Some of the results I recognize. Some of them I have no idea why they show up. Cookbooks and manga. I suppose somebody who likes one of my books must like this manga series. I was able to mark a few as books I didn't want to read. So how do I search for stuff based on the ones I like and the ones I don't like? If I check the rows of books I marked as don't like, will it find books recommended for liking those, or exclude books that are similar to them, or what? This site fails because I simply can't figure out what's going on. Do I want to build a big 'dislike' list, or will that skew my results? Not to mention that the results list is exactly what it sounds like, just a list of titles and authors, no indication what genre or even if it's an actual book, let alone a nice synopsis and cover art. Fuck it, I'm going somewhere else. A higher quality site.

In a search for a site that doesn't look so terribad, I stumbled over Library Thing. But then I realized it was no good. First of all, it boasts that it can connect you to people who read what you do. I'm not looking for a social networking site, or a book club, or whatever. I'm looking for good books to read. Reading a bit more, I found out that it's a pay site. >.< For a service that's clearly being offered for free on several other sites. I left this one quickly, not wanting to pay for something that would turn out to be another friend connect site like shelfari.

Was getting very frustrated at how difficult it was to discover something that seemed so simple, and cursing at the whole social networking thing invading my book recommendations, when I found GoodReads. This site does it right. First of all, it asks you to rate some books and then displays a list of genre's. No more cookbooks, I can just go straight to the section I'm interested in. Then it shows a big page full of book covers, with mouse-over synopsis and details, and under each cover a 1-5 star rating. Finally! No more of these stupid 'likes', I can actually rate things. What I found most impressive was how when I rated something highly, a 4-5, it would insert a new row one down into the grid of books, 'people who liked <title> often like:' these other books. What impressed the hell out of me was that after clicking the first book I found that I'd read, and following the chain of new rows, by the 5th 'You might also like' it had already found two of my favorite books! XD

Continuing with goodreads, I rated a couple hundred books, marked a few as 'I intend to read this but can't rate it now', and asked for personalized recommendations. The recommendations while I was rating were really nifty, but they were global. Of everyone who likes this book, those people also tend to like these other books. Now I wanted something more personalized. Given my ratings of these 200 books, they predict how I'll rate these other books, and then give the top 50. Ran into my first roadblock with the site, it was only giving me recommendations based off my 'I want to read this' row, but the recommendation page told me what to do, saying I needed to select my favorite genre's and then it would recommend based on those genre's. Don't think that's all very necessary, but whatever! Did that, went to the recommendations page again. Got a message that it was building recommendations for me, and will be done in two minutes. Ok. Came back a bit later, and it was exactly what I wanted! Recommended books, with a couple that I'd already read but forgot to rate in the top 10.

So now I've got a great new recommendations site, and a list to take over to XD

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Other blogs

Interesting posts for this morning.

Troll racials are overpowered talks about challenge with a focus on how it's reasonable for players to expect a game to present challenging content to them, rather than having to go out and find/make it. Especially when the game isn't advertised as a sandbox. Fair enough! 

One thing is that WoW has very very fixed progression. Pretty much every patch they level the playing field through new quested, heroic dungeon, and valor point gear. Current content is about how quickly you can learn the gimmicks for 14 encounters. Almost everyone can learn the first one or two. Almost no one will learn all 14, at least not for months. So there's your challenge, how far along that spectrum you are. It's so narrow! WoW is a huge, huge world with thousands of enemies, quests, achievements, and other activities, but the challenge in the game is only 7 enemies in one spot on the map. >.<

Tobold says there will never be stress-free healing, and I can't help but agree, for exactly the reasons he talks about. I've definitely been in exactly the situation he's talking about, as I've mentioned in earlier posts. I'd love to see a game where there is no healing. Everyone manages their own survival. Instead of being a healer, I'd love to be like, a bard, buffing my group, debuffing the enemy, clearing bad debuffs from my group. Instead of 'I keep you alive' it'd be 'I make you strong and make your enemies weak and vulnerable'.

Gevlon is lamenting the failure of his no-voice-chat project, and apparently only now discovering that success at a raid encounter has little to do with your actual output, and is more just about practicing the encounter until you learn the execution, or what he calls the gimmick or the dance. So he's just going to focus on pvp. Lawls. 

Here, the biggest issue I see with not having voice chat. Gevlon assumes that better raiders will simply execute better at everything they do. But that's not how it works. We all have limited attention, limits to how much we can keep track of at once. Certainly a good player is _capable_ of tracking boss ability cooldowns, enrage/frenzy timers, phase transitions, standing in fire, maintaining his rotation, and maxing his survivability. But the more things he needs to focus on, the less attention he can spend on any one of those. If someone is calling out lava waves, then I don't need to keep track of when the next lava wave is, and can focus more on my healing. With voice chat, a great player performs even better.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interesting jobs article

Here's a post about jobs that I found interesting.

The guy is basically saying that we should use technology to establish a sort of baseline quality of life with free food and housing, and then nobody would have to work except to buy entertainment and luxuries.

Biggest issue I see is that food and housing have to come from somewhere, even if it's the guy who maintains the robots that do the actual farming, or the engineer who developed the system in the first place, or the people who pay taxes so the government can do it. By saying that you have a right to free food and housing, you're basically demanding that someone else work for you without you doing anything to compensate him. You can pass the forced labor around, saying that the guy serving you is getting paid by a government who collects taxes, forcing the taxed to work for no compensation 15-30% of the time, but in the end it comes down to you getting something for nothing so someone else has to do something and get nothing. That's immoral, an injustice.

The function of society is to protect the autonomy of individuals. That means you have a right to not be hurt by others, to not be aggressed upon, to not be cheated or scammed from broken contracts, to not be coerced, to not be enslaved or held. These are negative rights, protective rights. Rights that keep others from making your life worse when you haven't done anything to merit it. As for positive rights, the right to be given free food, free healthcare, free housing, the right to free cable and internet, the right to your own yacht and personal butler, you don't deserve jack shit. Taking anything from someone who earned to give it to someone who did not is simply theft.

So how can we make it work? You can't get something for nothing, but people don't want to work and produce anything to trade for that 'something'. The only thing they can trade away is some of their autonomy. I can easily imagine some sort of system where there were 10-20 manors or houses that people could declare themselves for, and be subservient to, in exchange for health, food, and housing. Shrug, a back step towards monarchy, perhaps.

In the end, there are people who add a lot to society and end up becoming very wealthy, and there are people who mostly have to be supported by society and they live in poverty. We've chosen to deal with this by forcibly stealing from the wealthy and giving to the poor. An immoral, unjust choice, I would say. If you want a fair system, you need to give something to the wealthy that they would view of equal value to what is taken from them.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Terraria's spawn design

Lately I've been getting back into Terraria. I'd already played it when it was first released on steam, got hellstone armor, made herb farms, etc. So I started all over again, new character, new world! Such a fun game.

Something in the game that I think is really nifty is that it all seems to be driven by the grass. :o Or if there's no grass, by what type of rock is on the screen. In areas with normal grass, you get slimes. In areas with jungle grass, you get jungle music and hornets. In areas with corrupted grass, you get corruption music and eaters of the dead. The nifty part of it is that it's the grass/rock that drives the areas, not the areas that cause the grass. I could easily imagine a design where you have a jungle area and when plants grow in the jungle they're most likely to be jungle plants. But instead, plants just grow, and where the jungle grass grows is what defines the jungle area. That's awesome. If I want to, I can make my own jungle area, by laying down a lot of mud and planting jungle grass.

I'd love to see that approach more commonly used in other games. You don't have to define the world, you just sort of let it become. Like I've been playing fallout new vegas. There's a random house in the first town. Some game designer when through that house, carefully placing all the items in it, crafting the house to provide exactly the experience they want, laying out all the trash items so they make sense. There's much to say about that approach that's good. It does give you a crafted world, that probably is more immersive. But what a huge cost, to spend all this time on a random house that many players won't even bother to enter! And because it is such a cost, there's only like 3 houses in the whole town. So the town population has to be like 12 people total. Which is boring. And what's in each house for my playthrough is the same that everyone else got in their playthroughs. Go to goodsprings house 1 to get a 9mm pistol on the third shelf to right of the door.

What if a developer never had to actually go into a house? Suppose we say a house is either wealthy, normal, or poor, and then associate it with one of say 10 factions. Every house needs to have a food place, a sleeping place, and a bathroom. So you've got 4 walls. Roll a random number based on the house's wealth to find out if each wall will expand into another room, where each expand eats into the overall wealth rating, repeat until you have your house size. Now divide your food/sleep/bath requirements into however many rooms were generated, perhaps with some modifier to make them avoid overlapping when possible. Adjust the size of each room for the number of functions it's covering. Now place objects against each wall of each room, where we're choosing randomly from among all those objects in that wealth band, room function, and faction. So a bedroom has like a 90% chance to spawn a bed if there isn't one already, then an even chance to spawn some number of desks, tables, chests, wardrobes, etc. A food room has a very high chance of spawning a fridge, then an oven, then a dining set, then a counter, etc. Now for each spawned object, fill that object with random items that total up to the wealth rating of the house. A table gains a set of plates and silverware. A shelf gains books or some random items. All that.

Now, instead of an game designer needing to place 5k objects in perhaps 300 houses, the game designer can say he wants 10 low wealth, NCR houses, 15 medium wealth scavenger houses, etc, place them in the world and not only will they all fill themselves, but it'll be different on each playthrough. You'll actually want to explore and find interesting stuff. As long as you have enough art assets and a decently complex room generator/filler, you could easily have 10-20k houses with hundreds of thousands of objects.

Maybe there are other issues besides development time that I'm not seeing. Perhaps storing all that info would be crazy, but I could imagine a house's contents not generating until you actually step into that house. Ah well. :o

Noob suggestions to make eve more fun

I've been playing Eve Online for a couple months now, so I'm totally qualified to judge where it's bad and what can be done to fix it. So this I will do!

Things I'd like to see in Eve:

- PvE combat situations that are more focused on damage prevention than tanking. Pretty much every mission I do is me vs 20 other ships. Getting hit by all of them while I slowly dps down their numbers is the rule for the game. What if instead there were missions where you fight one or two big, evenly matched ships? Then you might actually care about electronic warfare. If I'm getting hit by 20 targets, it makes no sense to sacrifice shields or dps to make one of those 20 miss you half the time. If you're up against one or two targets, reducing the effectiveness of a single target by half can be huge. I want e-war in pve.

- Randomness in mining. Right now, you've got rocks, you have your lasers, you know the mineral prices, and so you can predict with almost certainty exactly how much you'll make if you keep mining for 3-4 hours. That's boring. What if when a laser completed you had a chance to get in addition to the normal ore, a chunk of compressed/dense ore. Or a small amount of some other type of asteroid. Or a random rare gem or something. Make the chance very low, so that when it happens you'll go 'Woot! Proc'ed a gem!', but high enough that you can expect a few per hour. Random events, random drops, in repetitive activities helps hold the attention, and gives you a surge of happiness. When I'm doing combat sites, I think 'Will the named guy drop a rare item I can sell for a lot?', 'Will this wreck salvage into a nanoribbon?' I have an anticipation, hope, reward cycle going. I want there to be a similar cycle for mining.

- Large non-pvp construction projects in high sec. Right now, anything big is just about making ships for pvp. Super caps for your alliance to use against another alliance. That's boring. I want huge non-combat projects. Ring worlds, dyson spheres, orbital elevators, huge things. What about a 6-8 months long competing projects to build solar arrays in each of the 4 empire faction's territories? You'd get some sort of rechargeable module, say a 2-3% increase in cap recharge/shield recharge/boost amount/repair amount/tracking speed/missile explosion velocity/ship velocity, and it only works if you take it to the array every 3-4 days and recharge it. It just seems silly that we're all in space, and all we do is build things to shoot at each other, rather than something grand.

- Fewer troubles setting up player owned structures. You shouldn't have to invest 2-3 billion just to have a place to run your own research projects. The costs of setting up your own base are set around it being a nullsec base for a large corp or alliance, doing moon mining or rare ore refining or whatever. There should be cheaper alternatives for small group, solo players, who don't get the benefit of moon goo, but also don't have to pay that high a cost for setup.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Having fun

So apparently the latest thing in the blogging circles is to talk about what makes games fun. As a happiness-oriented gamer, this is right up my alley!

The main problem is that fun is so subjective. What's fun for some people is not at all fun for others. This means that a game can never 'get it right' in terms of fun, it can only appeal to larger or smaller audiences. I suppose I could talk about what I personally find fun.

First of all, I think people aren't being very precise when they talk about wanting to have fun. Fun is basically enjoying doing something. Unless coerced, everything we do is something that we want to do, that we've chosen as the best thing to do. We're always doing what we want. Fun is when 'what we want to do' aligns with an elevated mood over a duration.

I would divide the mechanism by which a game provides an elevated mood into 4 distinct aspects.

The first aspect is escapism. In the absence of any immediate joys or troubles, our lives still have a baseline level of happiness. A major part of choosing to play a game is to discard your real world baseline happiness for the game's baseline happiness. Being able to dissociate from the stress and troubles of relationship drama, paying bills, meeting expectations, managing a career, all that. Instead you can be an elf or a hobbit or a superhero or a spaceship captain. And these personas have their own troubles, true, but playing the game lets you somewhat easily overcome those troubles. It's very seductive to play as someone who has their shit together better than you yourself do. The more you immerse yourself in the game, the closer you can approach your avatars baseline. For really happy people, that can actually be a problem. :o People who are already happy need other aspects to keep them gaming. For everyone else, immersion can create stability.

The second aspect is about fulfilling real needs, and is often in direct conflict with the first aspect. We all have real world wants and needs, and not having these filled causes a loss of mood. One can play a game specifically to try to fill a need, and thus remove that loss of mood. If you feel stuck in a dead end job, a game with easily measured progression can add a sense of advancement. If you are shy, talking to people on an MMO can fill social needs. Competitive games can create a sense of victory that very few people experience in real life. Pornographic games provide fantasy and relief of sexual needs. Building games creates a sense of adding permanence to the world when in reality we're all transient. People searching for this aspect of fun don't want to escape into their games, they want to use the game to affect how they are in real life, to improve their real life baseline improve.

The third aspect of fun is about activity. This is where simply doing an action improves your mood. This is where there is the greatest difference among what people find fun. Some people quite simply become happier when jogging. I personally become desolate and certain that I'm about to die when jogging. :o Some people find the act of organizing and spreadsheeting fun. Some find that working on puzzles is fun. Some people enjoy making other people angry. Some people enjoy going really really fast. Some people enjoy being scared. Some people enjoy resource management. This is not about accomplishing anything, it's about when the action itself gives you a sort of high or rush.

The final aspect is about rewards and punishments. Its when an event occurs that causes a sudden shift in your mood, negative or positive. Solving the puzzle, killing an enemy, winning the battle, reaching the next level, finding epic loot, getting a high score. Getting killed, being yelled at, being cheated, losing your place, losing an accomplishment, having your time wasted, getting frustrated. All of these and more, the things we pursue, the sudden surge of joy and triumph, the sudden failure and giving in to despair. These produce surges in mood, that slowly revert to the normal. They have magnitude and duration, but the duration is generally short. A new boss kill followed by victory sex and a lap around the house makes for a hugely elevated mood, but only for perhaps a day or two.

This is the part where I talk about everything that's wrong in the gaming world and how to fix it. Except that doesn't really work. Again, it's all about audience. Everyone has their own balance of which aspects of fun they prefer. Some people are all about escapism, others are all about rewards. A game doesn't have a 'correct' choice, it can merely focus on different aspects and see what audience it attracts.

FWIW, my own opinion is that modern MMO's and WoW in particular are spending too much time focusing on providing ever higher rewards, the fourth aspect of fun, creating great surges of happiness now and then, but quickly reverting to a fairly low baseline happiness. The devs are chasing what players say makes them happy, instead of what makes them not unhappy. I'd like to see a lot more focus on the third aspect, providing lots of different activities that people can enjoy simply playing, without needing a shiny at the end to justify it. I'd like to see more work to prevent negative surges than to provide positive surges.

But I've long since realized I'm an outlier in almost everything, so I can't claim that following my advice would be more profitable, only that it would likely be more fun for me and people like me. :o