Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tanking Changes Reset on Test

In the recent State-of-the-Game letter from EQ2 publisher Bruce Ferguson, he announced that the tanking changes slated for LU 51 would be postponed, and the changes on the test servers would be rolled back.

The information in the letter was very broad and unspecific, so I've been snooping around a bit to find out more about what went wrong. The goals of the change, as I understood them, were things that I thought were a good direction.

First, I spent some time combing through the forums on EQ2Flames. Not enough time to really get what the issues are, but enough to see that players were quite upset with the proposed changes, and that unhappiness seemed to be centered around the reduction of DPS that the changes would wreak on fighters.

I had a chance to catch up with Chuman, a Guardian and MT of Lineage, also a former member of Shards of Glory, a great tank and a great friend. I asked him about the changes to tanking and the problems perceived. It was a great conversation and I attempt to reproduce it here. It's dramatized, and from memory, but I hope it doesn't distort Chuman's points.

Me: What's with the postponed changes to LU51? I take it players on test weren't happy with the changes?

Chuman: That's right, Tolly.

Me: How so? Are they unhappy with the DPS reduction?

Chuman: Well, what's important in a tank, what do you look for?

Me: They control the fight, they keep aggro.

Chuman: That's right, but what else do you look for? What makes someone a really great tank?

Me: They communicate well. They know the encounters. They set a good pace. They can adapt to a changing situation. As a mezzer, I like to group with a tank that can tell me what they need mezzed and what they want to just tank, and we can adapt on the fly.

Chuman: Yes, and anything else? What gives a tank that last distinction that puts them over the top.

Me: Well, DPS is the last thing they should be thinking about. What's important is winning, not who parses the most.

Chuman: Exactly. DPS is the last thing that a tank should worry about, which is what makes it a mark of distinction among good tanks.

Chuman: The changes cut tank DPS roughly in half. So whereas before, in a raid situation a good tank would parse 4000 and a great one 8000, now the improvement goes from 2000 to 4000. That's a major decrease in contribution. The taunts on Test have been increased to the point where I once critted a taunt and taunted for 17,000 hate, with my single target taunt having a cooldown of no more than about 4.5 seconds and zero recover time.

With the changes, anybody could hold aggro with simple button mashing, so there's very little room to differentiate a good tank from a great one.

Toldain: That still seems to me that it's more about prestige than about winning. But I'll grant you this, these changes would have been much better taken if they weren't a change that takes something away from existing players.

Chuman: Yes, I agree. By the way, what's the most important thing you can do to keep aggro in the game as it stands?

Toldain: Ummm, big DPS?

Chuman: Not quite. These days, the most important thing you can do is to group with a dirge and have him put the hate-gain buff on you. And coercers are way up there, too. This is a problem for the game.

Toldain: Right, we enchanters took a lot of grief early in EQ2 because the designers wanted to get away from the idea that any single class was indispensible. So now, if Dirges and Coercer's are indispensible to raids, that's kind of broken.

Chuman: Really, my opinion is that the problem comes from the decision to have 24 classes in the game and 24 slots in a raid. There's just no way that was going to work.

And I think that changes need to be made, but the magnitude of the changes was pretty shocking. Many of us were going, "Can't we split the difference?"

Toldain: So it's back to the drawing board for them.

In thinking it over, I realize that any capability that is automatic and easy isn't all that fun. The game design seems intended for aggro management to be a joint effort between all the players in a group or a raid. Why else would players other than tanks have tools to manage hate at all? I don't think that's a bad thing, at least in the group game. And hate management isn't just about hitting your deaggro skills, it's also about managing your dps profile, putting big hits at the end, rather than leading with them.

A good example of the kind of rethinking that works well is how they have worked the power management tools of Illusionists. We have several:
  • A group power regen buff
  • A power transfer from mob to group, with a one-minute cooldown
  • A long cooldown spell that gives power to anyone getting hit.
  • A spell (AA ability) that gives power to a group or raid friend and to you, after a wait of about 20 seconds
  • Our epic weapon has a group power gain proc
  • The usual mage self-buff that takes health and adds power
To use these well, one must think ahead and adapt to the situation. One must also weave them into the fast-casting, always have the next button clicked in advance, style that enchanters use to maximize output. This keeps things pretty interesting, and never rote. Except for the ability on the epic weapon which is a fire-and-forget sort of thing. Not very interesting, though in some situations it may indirectly boost your dps because you didn't have to hit your power skills so much.

Currently, the hate management game, at least for raids, is this: Group with a Dirge and a Coercer, and do a lot of dps. That's got to change. I'd like to see it change to something more interesting, but the changes will affect group and solo play too, which makes it tricky. And the changes will necessarily mean less dps for tank classes playing the tank role, which will make it a tough pill to swallow.


The Continuing Saga

...of Blue Yeti Fur

Don't Do It, Etchii! It's not too late! Well, maybe it is...

Observant readers will note that I'm listed there too, in my pathetic attempt to unload my toxic assets at something approaching their real valuation rather than marking to market. It's obvious that we are in a fear-soaked trough now, and that in the long run, the market will realize the value of these assets.

Oh, and in the long run you might be dead, but I'm a high elf, so I'll still be alive (and looking fabulous, of course.) I'm going for 4000!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Seen in Shards of Glory Guildhall

Yes, those pink things are elephants. All Hail Great A'Tuin!

Credit to Phritz LePurr for discovering that The Discworld was actually right there in our guildhall. Let's hope he doesn't discover Death of Rats there, too.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

These Are My People

...and I don't mean elves, either.

Via Clockwork Gamer


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Race Coming For EQ2: Patent Troll?

From The Escapist: CEO Thom Kidrin is getting ready to sue the pants off every MMOG in existence, including World of Warcraft and Second Life, for infringing on what he claims is his company's patented intellectual property: Scalable virtual worlds with thousands of users. claims to hold a patent for the idea of virtual worlds that dates back to 1995 and that could quite literally apply to every 3-D online world currently in existence. In fact, has already taken one MMOG heavyweight to court: Korea-based NCsoft, the company behind games like Lineage and Guild Wars. And while legal expert Ben Buranske, contacted by Business Insider, says the wealth of "prior art" will make the case tough to prove,'s court of choice, the Eastern District of Texas, is notorious for handing heavy damage awards to plaintiffs in cases like this. Nintendo was recently ordered to pay $21 million in damages after a jury in the district found the company had violated 12 patents relating to its controllers held by a small Texas company called Anascape.

Honestly, all I can imagine is a troll in a 3-piece suit, with a cell phone to his ear, saying, "Murray, do you want to do lunch or BE lunch?" Or is this going to be a new addition to The League of Cruelty

Seriously, how is it that plaintiffs get to pick the exact court in which to sue? No, no, we're not going to fight you out in Antonica, you'll have to come fight us in our swamp!


Monday, March 16, 2009

More Zombies in Africa

Seth Schiesel has a review of Resident Evil 5 up on the New York Times site. I think it's worth reading, if for no other reason than Seth never writes, "It's just a game."

So Resident Evil 5 exposes the perhaps uncomfortable truth that blacks and Arabs can become zombies too, just like anyone else. Blacks and Arabs do not have a secret anti-zombie gene. And just like all the thousands of white, Asian and Hispanic zombies that have been dispatched in innumerable other games before them, the African zombies must also be destroyed, or at least neutralized.

This supposed controversy is why no one should ever try to come to a serious judgment about a game — which by its nature is interactive — based on a noninteractive snippet like a trailer.

Isn't it possible that the game isn't racist, but the trailer is?

Here Seth highlights that once caught up in gameplay, racial references drop off the radar.

There is no question that Resident Evil 5 is mostly about a white guy and his local café-au-lait hottie running around killing a bunch of deranged Africans (as opposed to deranged white people). But this is not a movie. When you are in control of the action the racial or ethnic appearance of your enemies simply stops mattering. The basic mechanics of moving, shooting, using cover, solving puzzles, employing weapons properly and understanding the overall environment are universal, no matter whether the enemies are aliens or Nazis or zombies or gangsters or any of the other categories we use to denote “acceptable to kill.”

I agree to a point. When you play these games, you aren't thinking very much about anything other than success in the game. But what's on the screen has an effect. And this effect is probably stronger if it isn't mindful. The effect is to associate certain things together. With luck, the association would be to associate "Zombies" with "Bad". But is that what it accomplishes? Are all the zombies rendered with the exact same skin tone? Is there variation? Are there absolutely no white people in RE5's Africa? I can't say because I haven't played the game, and Seth doesn't tell us because he thinks it doesn't matter. But it does matter, even if you aren't paying attention to it while playing. (Again, I say take the Harvard Implicit Association Test to see what I mean.)

My biggest problem with the review is this:

For at least a year some black journalists have been wringing their hands about whether the game, the latest in the seminal survival-horror series, inflames racist stereotypes because it is set in Africa. The answer is no.

The phrase "wringing their hands" is a cheap shot. It delegitimizes the concerns of a people who have, within the lifetime of people living in this country, been shot for the crime of walking into the wrong neighborhood. That stuff really happened, there are people around who personally witnessed it. And I'm talking about humans, not 3000-year-old elves like yours truly.

All that said, Resident Evil 5 could not possibly have been made in the United States. Racial sensitivities and prevailing political correctness would have had American game executives squirming in their Aeron chairs the minute they read a budget proposal for a game featuring African zombies.

Somehow, I seriously doubt that Seth has ever been involved in early-stage development of a video game, at the executive level. And while the US gaming industry isn't full of people trying to lead the culture (as opposed to making a buck), there is serious potential there. There are probably a few executives and gamedevs out there grappling with how to make a game both address race relations and be lots of fun to play. Where is the game equivalent to Die Hard With a Vengeance? I'll bet there's someone out there who will make it.

In fact, I think it already has been made, and it's called Warcraft and World of Warcraft. Blizzard has completely rethought what an orc is, and helped us to see the world from their point of view. So much do they identify with the orc that they put a statue of one outside their new digs.

The best part of Seth's review is that he takes gaming seriously. I don't agree with some of his points, but I would like to see more discussion of this, not less.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Overheard in Guild Voice Chat

We were adventuring in the Obelisk of Akhz'ul yesterday when this conversation took place:

Phritz: Hey, what was that cloud that just went up, did someone fart?

Pakq: It was probably me, most of my warlock spells look like farts. They shouldn't call me a warlock, they should call me a fart-o-mancer.

Me: (Tosses red hair attractively) Wouldn't that be called a flatumancer?

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Filling the Master Gap

Via Kendricke at Clockwork Gamer, SOE appears to be considering bringing spell research to Everquest 2:

These hardworking researchers will help you acquire upgrades to your spells and combat arts while you’re off adventuring in the deepest darkest dungeon or asleep in your own warm cozy bed. Even though they’re hardworking, they’re not a speedy service and they are limited in how much they’ll help you. Because this kind of research is complicated, they’ll only be able to work on one spell or combat art for one character per server.

All research requires a base amount of information to work with. In the case of the Research Assistants, this manifests in that they require you to have the previous tier of the spell being upgraded before they can begin work for you. So, in order to research that Master I, you’ll need to first know the Adept III version, though it doesn’t matter whether that Adept III version came from researching or from your friendly neighborhood sage, jeweler or alchemist. The time required to research a spell increase will vary based on the level and tier of the spell. A level 20 Adept I may only take an hour, while a level 80 master will likely take a month or longer.

Kendricke goes on to discuss how what the "standard" is for spells has risen over the years:

When Echoes of Faydwer launched, the standard for spell quality for the average player was only Adept I. [...]

When the beta buffer was introduced in Rise of Kunark, I was surprised to see that Adept III’s were the spell quality we were being asked to test with right from the word go. Right away, I could see a significant difference in difficulty between the hardest solo content in Echoes of Faydwer and the easiest solo content Rise of Kunark. [...]

Even today, when players first complain about the difficulty of those first Kunark encounters, the advice they are almost always given invariably includes “make sure you have all of your Adept III’s”.

First a quibble. By the time EoF came out, many people that I knew had mostly adept III's already. And maybe a master or two. I'm talking about non-raiders here, but very good players, who play a lot. By the end of EoF masters were pretty widespread. However, Kendricke's point that RoK was much more difficult than EoF is well taken. And it wasn't just spells, it was gear, too. There are plenty of treasured drops in RoK that are better than a Legendary of a similar level.

And, as so many of us experienced, you couldn't just go straight into a dungeon in the new zone, you'd become dog food. In Karnor's Castle, that was quite literal. All those masters didn't help us much, we still got our butts handed to us when we went in at about level 75.

But it's just a quibble, since it's evident that adept 3's are far more plentiful today than they used to be, back in the dim misty reaches of ancient history. And the proposal to do spell research does have me scratching my head. What's broken that prompts them to do this fix?

Many games do not have "levels of spell" mechanic at all. You either have a spell or you don't in Everquest, Wow, LOTRO, and I think Vanguard. The question is, what does this spell system add, and in particular, is it fun? Now those rare occasions where an Exquisite chest drops out of the blue, and it has a Master that you can actually use, that's priceless. I think since launch that's happened to me once for sure, and maybe one other time. One can get a Master for someone else's class and sell it. That's fun for those of a mercantile bent, but maybe not so much fun for others.

Is that what this is aimed at? Consolidating to a system where there is only one de facto level of spell, Master? I doubt that, since the research service will only work for one character per account. That didn't say "one spell or combat art per character per server" it said "one spell or combat art for one character per server."

Most people I know have multiple toons at level 80, and are playing up alts. There is always the exception (I'm looking at you, Chuman). Spread this ability across two toons and you've got 6 masters each. Nice, but it's no longer an expectation.

Actually, I think this mechanic is aimed at something else. Every class has a few spells that are vital to them, and are not upgraded in the top tier. Until RoK, spells were on a strict 14-level upgrade schedule. Which meant that four levels of spell from the previous tier would still be the best version. The problem with these spells is that once you hit the level cap, the mobs that drop these lower tier best-in-class spells are gray to you, and you can't get the drops. Almost nobody does, and the masters are never for sale on the broker. They can't be had for any price. For Illusionists, it's Rapidity, our haste buff, which didn't upgrade in tier 8.

And yes, you could level lock some toon, and armtwist your friends into farming lower tier nameds for them every single day for three months and you might, MIGHT, get it to drop. Or not. Good luck with that. I don't call that fun.

So, I wouldn't mind seeing some mechanic that allowed people to get such spells. Spell research is one way to address that. It ends up being a freebie, which bothers some folks. I tend to ignore that. There's lots of stuff that people get that they didn't earn. They might be slacking in a group with friends, or they might buy plat. I've been outright given a Master spell. (Ahh, for the days when Illusionists weren't popular!)

As the games stands, Masters are unnecessary for success, unless you are raiding. I'd like it to stay that way. One month for T8 masters does seem a bit short, until you consider alts. But something like that for tier 7 would plausibly fill the gap. One day for a tier 2 master seems fast, but you will probably outlevel that spell in a week or less.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Leviathan Pwned

This is a repost of something my guildie Karaya put on the guild website. In addition to being the most awesome enchanter in the world, from whom I learned everything I know about mezzing, she's also pretty handy with a keyboard.

The Chamber of Destiny was the scene of a massive upset last night when the reigning champions were soundly beaten on their home turf... er.. surf. MVP Milia Flibbertigibbet of the visiting Raid Force took home a fabled breastplate, while Karaya N`Daasi seemed more than satisfied just to have bragging rights. Amidst the post-raid celebration, neither could be reached for comment. However, Leviathan, captain of the Yha-Lei team, had this to say: "You know, when you get down to it, we just didn't bring our A-game tonight. I mean, we gotta give it to these girls, I got a lot of respect for these PCs. But we got a great group of fishmen here. I been playing with these guys for a long time now - since the release of Kunark - and I think if we were more focused the raid would have gone lot different." We asked Leviathan what the plans are for the future: "Well, after tonight I think we all know we have some work to do. We gotta keep moving forward and look at the next raid. I think we're really gonna refocus on defense, maybe move some of the guys around, try to work on getting some more AEs off. We got a great team, I have a lot of faith." You heard it here, we haven't seen the last of Leviathan and team Yha-Lei. But in the meantime, congratulations to tonight's victors, and good luck going into the semi-finals.

Update: I've deleted a tidbit of this post that wasn't actually part of Karaya's message, just my sloppiness in cutting and pasting


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Legion Starts Over

Over at Clockwork Gamer, Kendricke describes how his guild managed to finally shape itself into a raid force that could get mythicals for its members.

There's a lot to admire about this approach. My guild doesn't raid, none of us can commit to three nights a week. But we made a big push last fall to level up and earn enough money to get a big guildhall.

Last fall, their raiding wasn't going well. They had some raid-focused recruits, but those recruits weren't fitting in well, and the situation was stressful. After some meetings:

In the end, we made the decision to scrap the current raid force and start over. We cancelled all raids for two weeks. We needed time to recoup and reflect. We needed time to rebuild. However, before you can start rebuilding anything, you need to have a plan. You can’t just start slinging mortar and sheet rock without a blueprint and hope to have a house worth living in. We wanted to live in our house for a long time to come. We needed to get back to the drawing board.

The leadership of Kendricke's guild, The Legion, decided to rebuild the raid force from the ground up, focusing first on in-guild membership.

We built a template which outlined the type of raid force we wanted, rather than what we already had. Once we had the outline built, we started planning out which classes we had available to us already and which ones we would need. We looked at our roster. We didn’t just look at primary or “main” characters. We looked at all of those secondary “alts” we had piled up at the bottom of the page. In particular, we noted which classes were already avaiable to our “foundational” raiders. If we were going to use them as our new bedrock, then we wanted the most critical classes to be theirs.

The player who had been their MT had recently gone through several life changes: he graduated from college, got married and got a full-time job. So they decided they needed a new MT.

However, as officers, we knew that things needed to change - not just with him, but with every member of our raid force that was filling a critical slot who wasn’t able to consistently give the effort they wanted to. [...]We spent a few days figuring out who could switch classes and who could simply take a less active role on the raid force.

That, in itself, is a hard place to come to. Ego is a precious and fragile thing. You’ve got to handle it firmly, yet with care. We were careful not to diminish anyone’s personal performance, and we concentrated on committments and the good of the guild. We’ve got some fantastic guildmates in this little guild we’ve kept going, so talking from a team perspective seemed to be the way to go. Everyone wanted us, as a guild, to succeed. No one wanted to be the person who held us back. Everyone was willing to do what needed doing to pull us up again as a group.

I have personally witnessed corporate professionals screw up this kind of change management. The result of this focus was that individuals started to step up, leveling up brand new toons, leveling alts and then betraying to get the critically important classes. Because of the shared sense of purpose.

We cut our weekly raids from four to three, because (as I’m sure everyone got sick of hearing me repeat) “we bond in groups”. We began running more group instances. We began gearing each other up. We started mentor groups and flat out powerlevelled several members who were starting over for us. We opened up new guild funds from our long neglected treasury and we started to outfit new members in free gear, adornments, and spells. If members were willing to sacrifice for us through their time, the guild would meet them halfway. This had started as a shared effort to rebuild our diminished raid force. What it became was a rebirth of our guild’s purpose.

The story ends with big success. Over 40 mythicals in their guild, and a bunch of people with a renewed bond and a sense of purpose. This is the good stuff, and it goes way beyond "it's just a game". Frankly, the story reminds me of the sort of change management described in my favorite business book of all time, Good to Great.

A big Congrats to all involved.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Interview with RE5 Creative Lead

Crispy Gamer is carrying an interview/discussion that Evan Narcisse recently had with Jun Takeuchi, creative lead on Resident Evil 5. If you recall, RE5 shows, right at the start, black Africans hauling off a white woman. There's some honest stuff in there, as well as some disappointing "it's just entertainment".

It's a hard piece to take just a bit out of. Narcisse says that he finds it difficult to shoot poor black people, even if they are zombies. It's just a little too personal to him. And recent. Takeuchi, in something that seems a bit of a non-sequitur, says that in recent history Japanese non-combatants had been bombed by Americans. Narcisses suggests that an analogy might be the portrayal of Japanese in WWII games, and the experience that a Japanese player might have playing one of them.

Another interesting tidbit was Takeuchi's assertion that the objections are coming more from Europe and America than from Africa, which surprised him. I wonder if that's because Africa doesn't have the history we do.

However, one thing that isn't mentioned, that I think is worth calling out is that the problem with the opening scene isn't just that we are now shooting black people. The black people are threatening a blond, white, woman, and its intimated that they haul her off to kill her.

This trope is so old, and so common I guess it's hard to see. But how many times in books, films, and games do we get our moral compass from a narrative about violence against women? It's not that I think violence against women is a good thing. Let's reimagine the scene to be violence against a black woman, of the same culture as the zombies (we know now that they are zombies, taken over by the disease). Is the implication that I would be less inclined to get involved? And if a man had been their victim, a black man? Were they worried that potential players would think, Man, that's not my problem. I'm kind of insulted by that thought.

All too often a narrative choice is made to show that the bad guys are bad because they do violence to women. Yes, that's bad, and yes, that's something that does happen. It's what makes this stuff so difficult to pin down.

But here's the thing: It's a cliche. We've seen this a million times before. Why not spend a little more of the creativity that goes into level design and gameplay on the narrative setup?

Anyway, the interview is very interesting. Go read.

Via TNC, where there is more good discussion.