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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

See-through RPG

Another important idea in the combat revamp seems to be a focus on greater transparency in the game. We see this in three primary areas, mob mitigation, spell progression and equipment.

Mobs now have no mitigation. Period. End of story. If your skill, weapon, spell says it does 100 points of damage that's how much it does. Unless it is resisted or misses. Definitely easier to understand what's going on there.

But what I'd like to know is whether this means that resistance debuffs are no longer meaningful. Presumably, they reduce the chance that the mob will resist the spell/art.

Spells used to do more damage as you leveled up, until they turned gray, I believe. In fact, many numerical values associated with a spell would increase with level. This is no longer the case. The only way to make a spell do more damage, or add more mitigation, or avoidance or resistance buffs, or whatever, is to upgrade that spell.

Important spell lines are now upgraded about twice as often, since the greater granularity is now needed. Before, when a spell's damage (or healing) increased when it's owner leveled, it's potential could keep pace with the mobs you were facing as they increased in level. That's no longer the case, so upgrades become more frequent.

In Everquest 1, by the way, all spellcasters got upgrades to all their spells only once every four or five levels. Which meant that right after your upgrades, life was a lot easier that it was when you were on the level just before new spells. And it also meant that gaining a level often didn't mean very much to you. I'm glad they've changed that.

I've made a few comparisons and found that even an adept 3 version of a direct damage spell does slightly less damage than the next higher level of the spell at apprentice 1. Though not by much. This was intended; the "better is worse" idea has been publicly walked away from. New versions of a capability will feel like an improvement, though maybe not much of one at first, if the old one is adept 3.

I don't think this holds true for the Master II training upgrades. These are very cool, by the way. Though it's easy to feel you've made the wrong choice with them, I recommend you relax on all but the one that represents your most recent upgrade, since the rest of them will have been superseded by newer versions of the capability that are probably a little better than the lower-level Master 2. But I digress...

If you can stand another paragraph of digression, we're going to have another round of picking these things made available to us very soon now. I recommend that experienced players decide this by asking themselves which abilities, and skill do they use the most often. This is simpler to answer than which would you use most often, and probably gives as good a result.

Anyway, mitigation on armor used to scale with the wearer's level and no longer does so. This makes things more transparent, certainly. Again, I think the consequence of this is that armor must be upgraded more frequently. Maybe jewelry too, but stats never scaled with level, and jewelry no longer affects mitigation at all. (If it weren't for double experience I'd probably be cranking out jewelry with stat buffs.)

Another place where there is perhaps more transparency is the issue of what your traits do for you. STR adds to melee damage, INT to spell damage. AGI adds to melee avoidance, and WIS to spell avoidance. And STA gives you more hit points, like it always did. Simpler to understand and explain, certainly.

I think this means that power pool size depends only on character class and level, and gear and buffs that add directly to pow pool. Specifically, greater INT does not add to mage's POW, nor WIS to priests.

Now it's not as though SOE publishes the formula for any of these things, so transparency apparently has its limits. One could argue that such publication isn't practical, since the formulas are quite likely tinkered with fairly frequently. But in the day and age of web publication, I don't think this would be terribly burdensome.

But it's got to feel like quite a risk to the publisher and team. Total transparency, exposing every tweak to the community, can be quite bracing. Though it's almost always good for all parties involved. There's also the concern that if the formula's are published, someone will "crack" them and exploit loopholes in the system. But "security through obscurity" is always a second choice, since it doesn't actually address the loopholes, just makes them a bit harder to find.

On the other hand, exposing yourself will allow you to find the loopholes you didn't know about much faster. There are definitely going to be people who will want the loopholes closes as much as SOE does, and will be happy to point them out. The point of such transparency is to expose the flaws, and in so doing, improve the game.

Clear enough?

UPDATE 9/22/05 7:30 AM PST: I was reminded of two other places where the expansion/revamp has introduced more transparency last night. First, you can now look at your faction rating in the persona window. This is good news for folks trying to get titles from the city factions. If a faction does not appear in the window, it means you have done nothing with that character to earn the notice of that particular faction. The bad news is that after months of doing writs, my faction has barely moved.

The second form of transparency overlooked is that NO-TRADE items are marked as such when they are up for lotto when looting. That's handy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Toldain Crows

In this month's Producer's Letter Scott Hartsman says

Along the way, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to enhance other parts of combat and to improve on other parts of the game as well. Most notably, these changes affect the Encounter and Death systems and are aimed at providing more chances for positive interactions between people.

And then, on the same topic, he later says

However, for single group encounters the loss of positive social opportunities far outweighs the protection that hard encounter locks were providing.

Also in the update, group experience debt has been removed. If you die, you take the death penalty, exactly as if you were solo. The system that we have in place currently is absolutely the most fair - Of that, there's no argument. However, it has ended up having the practical effect of causing more groups to break up faster, which has to be our overriding concern.

To sum up these changes: In any MMO, people come for the game, and they stay for their friends and the long-term challenges and rewards present in the world. We're not just in the business of providing an interesting, fun, and challenging world to adventure in. We're equally responsible to ensure that we provide a setting in which our game draws people together as best as it can.

It's as if Scott read my mind. Or perhaps he's just reading my blog. (See the post titled "My Guildies Keeper")

On a different topic, Scott said this

In many cases in the current system, spell and combat art upgrades do not always feel like satisfying upgrades. We've changed the system and all of the spells and arts in it with the goal of making sure that this is the case. Getting a new or upgraded primary ability should be one of the most proud moments of a character's career. Those are the moments people look forward to. They need to have meaning.

Scott, I couldn't agree with you more!

There are some interesting details here, and some unknowns. For example, invisibility/sneak spells no longer go obsolete at some level, and no longer upgrade either. You will never be able to sneak past mobs that con red. Unless someone higher level than you is providing the capability. The "see invisibility" and "see sneak" capabilities always work. So you will never be able to sneak past them either.

This means all the upgrades to invisibility have been eliminated beyond adding wrinkles such as group invisibility or movement speed. Better is actually better.

So will a new Apprentice 1 nuke do more damage than the old one which has been upgraded to Adept 3? It's hard to say, but player expectations are clearer here.

Unanswered is the following thought. Will spells continue to increase in value as you level up and gain skill? Or does skill only affect resist chance? By giving little or no upgrade to a spell as skill improves and levels are gained, it gives SOE more room to make a spell upgrade more meaningful.

One idea that I didn't fully anticipate was that they would back away from the Archetype system:

First and foremost, we want to ensure that each class has a fun and fulfilling role to play.

In addressing Class Diversity, we wanted to place a greater emphasis on people's final Subclass selection, focusing less on Archetypal roles than previously. As one example, very few people start a new game and think to themselves, "I want to be a Generic Mage!" That's a fun stage to grow through, but not a destination in itself.

If a person wants to be a Necromancer, they want to be a Necromancer. There are certain images that conjures up. The same thing applies when you say the word "Enchanter" to someone who is familiar with EverQuest. It's our responsibility to ensure that the expectation is met, and the absence of certain abilities is not jarring.

In some cases, we've added entirely new spell lines to classes, and in others we've made them the game-wide experts in existing lines, where previously everyone in their archetype may have had an approximately equal ability. For other classes, we may have just bumped an emphasis slightly in one direction or another.

In particular, Enchanters now get a charm spell. This acknowledgment backs away from the commitment that "Any subclass of an archetype will be able to fulfill that archetypes role". This was patently untrue for Illusionists, who had very limited individual DPS, faring not much better than priests for DPS in a group setting. Enchanters work by making other group members better, and by reducing the amount of damage incoming. But the promise that the archetype seemed to be making is that enchanters, in a game where mez was less important and charm was non-existent, would be able to keep pace with warlocks, wizards, conjurors and necromancers when it came to dealing damage, and they didn't. SOE no longer believes this is a good promise to make.

Brawlers and Shamans suffered from "archetype breaking" as well. Oddly enough, many of the details of the combat revamp seems intended to help these classes fulfill their archetype roles. Nonetheless, SOE no longer seems interested in promising Defiliers that they will be able to take the role of main healer just as effectively as a Templar.

Enchanters still present a game-design puzzle that has produced some intrusive limits. As I understand it, the new charm will work only on mobs that are solo-rated. Which means that players of this class will see a reduction of their capability as the mobs get harder. We can't charm Heroic mobs or bigger. We can't power drain or mez large Epic encounters, even on just the lesser helpers of a big boss. These abilities are very powerful and could result in making such encounters too easy, I understand that. But getting a message that says "This mob is too powerful for that spell to work" represents an intrusion of the game design on the player. It feels highly arbitrary and artificial.

After all, Guardians don't get messages that say "That mob is too powerful for your taunt to work on them". The taunt may or may not be resisted, and it may or may not be enough to distract the mob from the warlock going ape with his nukes, but that's business as usual, nothing different from solo or Heroic encounters, only more so.

Anyway, as regards a solo-level charmed mob, if chosen carefully, can still be a useful addition to a group or a raid. We'll have to see. I certainly plan to have some fun finding out.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Don't Hurt Me!

Yet another post examining the upcoming changes in live update #13 (released with DoF). Today we're going to talk about how your stats and your gear affect your chances in combat. Today we're going to consider invormation from the official posting from Moorgard about avoidance and mitigation.

Avoidance, if you didn't know, is your characters ability to not get hit, and it's relevant to both auto-attack damage and combat arts (but not spells). Mitigation, on the other hand, reduces the damage that you take when you get hit. It also is relevant to auto-attack damage and combat arts, but not spells.


* Your likelihood of avoiding an attack is now based on two primary factors: the con color of the attacker and the type of armor you are wearing. The heavier your armor, the lower your chances of avoiding an attack.
* The more grey your target is to you, the greater your chance to avoid attacks and mitigate damage from that opponent; your chance to hit and damage the target also increases.
* Conversely, the more red your target is to you, the less your chance to avoid attacks and mitigate damage from that opponent; your chance to hit and damage the target also decreases.
* Increasing your Defense, Parry, and Deflection skills give you a better chance of avoiding attacks, but there is now a cap on how much these skills can be buffed or debuffed.
* Increasing your Agility improves your base chance of avoiding an attack, but it will not improve your likelihood of parrying, deflecting, or blocking with a shield.
* Buff caps scale as the character increases in level. The higher your level, the greater the amount of buffs that can be applied.
* Mages and Priests no longer receive the Parry skill.
* Shields now have the following base chances to Block: Tower (15%), Kite (15%), Round (5%), Buckler (3%). Your chances to Block scale up or down based on the con of your opponent. Shield buffs no longer have any effect.
* Wearing no armor significantly reduces your chances of avoiding an attack.


* The base mitigation values of armor against an opponent of your level have been adjusted as follows: Heavy (38%), Medium (30%), Light (22%), Very Light (16%).
* Mitigation scales up or down based on the con color of your attacker. That is, you mitigate progressively more damage of blue, green, and grey opponents, and progressively less against yellow, orange, and red opponents.
* Mitigation is now shown as a numerical value instead of a percentage. The percentage is still visible by mousing over the mitigation value on the Persona window.
* Spell and item effects can now have a greater effect on your overall mitigation. You can mitigate a maximum of 80% of any damage type. This cap is higher against opponents that con grey.
* Armor quality (Handcrafted, Treasured, Legendary, Fabled, or Mythical) is more meaningful than it was before.

There's one more tidbit you should probably know. Items will no longer improve as you increase in level, but have a fixed value for all benefits they give you. I'm not sure why this change was made, perhaps to simplify things. It takes away an interesting choice, but perhaps it turns out that it was a choice that players didn't like to make, or often felt they got wrong. There's a limit to how much grief an entertainment company can give its paying customers, after all.

Ok, what does all this mean? First of all, there's no mention of mitigation values for armor, mitigation is tied only to the type (Heavy, Medium, Light, Very Light) and also to the quality level (Handcrafted, Treasured, Legendary, Fabled, Mythical) Presumably that list is in order, and this statement means that the better the quality of the item, the more mitigation it does.

However, there's no mention of mitigation improving by level of armor. Does that mean that tier 5 handcrafted heavy armor is the same mitigation as tier 3 handcrafted heavy armor? (nobody can wear heavy armor in tiers 1 and 2.) Does that mean that the Fabled heavy armor drop you got at level 20 still makes sense to wear at 60? That's possible, and it would mean that the only reason to upgrade armor is for the improvements to your stats that they bring.

All of which means that the high-tier handcrafted stuff is going to be less in demand, I think. The imbued items will maintain their value, I suspect.

But there is no stat that improves mitigation. There is likely to be spells, though. And wearing heavier armor comes with a tradeoff now, in the form of decreased avoidance. Some tanks are talking about getting a set of medium armor, although I'd have to consider it a design failure if that was a strategy that was effective in all situations. Of course, there will be people who will insist that going with lighter armor is the thing to do whether that's true or not.

Every melee class will be getting a defensive and an offensive stats. I suspect that these stances will interact significantly with avoidance and mitigation in such a way as to make avoidance more important for scouts and brawlers, and mitigation more important for the heavy armor types. But what about priests, who are sometimes expected to be able to take a beating, particularly templars. Will they want to boost their avoidance by wearing lighter armor?

With the changes, there will now be a "hard cap" of 80% avoidance, no matter what mob you are fighting. So you can't make yourself unhittable to mobs with color, period. This was the issue that prompted the big "AGI nerf" last winter. By stacking AGI buffs on an agi-based toon (typically scouts) they could become the best tanks in the game, due to never being hit. This is not what the game designers had in mind.

Buffing AGI so that avoidance is nominally higher than 80% is still useful, since effective avoidance is reduced for each level that the mob is higher than its target. So stacking nominal avoidance up to 120% means that your favorite troubador will get his full avoidance versus a mob a few levels higher than him. We don't have figures though for how much a level is worth, but my sense of the game is that it means quite a lot, perhaps 5 percent per level. We shall have to see, though.

It's also stated that gray mobs should have a hard time hurting you. This is already true to an extent, but it's not sufficient to allow my level 43 illusionist to take on heroic mobs that are 10 levels lower than him. This makes certain low-traffic quests, such as book quests, very difficult to complete. I'm hoping these changes will make gray heroic mobs easier for me to handle solo. Though enchanters are getting some specific help for soloing which should help too.

Given the hard cap on avoidance, some templars might find it advantageous to use lesser armor to maximize avoidance. This is because getting hit gives the chance of interrupting spell casting. By the way, there is a new skill for all casting classes, called Focus, which is used to determine whether an interrupt happens when you get hit.

But if you don't get hit, you can't be interrupted. Thus some healers might very much like to maximize their avoidance rather than their mitigation. Since the relative level of the mob to the character affects mitigation and avoidance pretty strongly, it using light armor against mobs that con green might have no point, avoidance is already hit the hard cap of 80 percent. So we could see templars using heavy armor against green mobs and light armor against orange mobs, which would be strange, to say the least.

To sum up, it should be easier for melee classes to tank against mobs which are con gray, and harder for them to tank mobs which con red. Furthermore, though I don't expect scouts to be able to tank Heroic or especially Epic mobs of their same level very effectively, monks and scouts will have better tanking potential, especially against mobs of equal or lower level, and they will be better able to solo.

Which is probably the way it should have been all along.