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.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tradeskill Rumor

Last night I heard a rumor that the upcoming expansion, Kingdom of the Sky, and the associated Live Update 19 will bring changes to tradeskills that did away with subcombines. A brief search of the Test Update notes produced this:

- You can now view the components and subcomponents required to make a recipe.
- There are now recipes for all the new level 1-19 spells and combat arts. These new recipes require no subcombines, and instead have additional component requirements for the final recipe.
- Recipes will now default to the "N" key rather than "B."
- After creating a specific quality level of an item for the first time, the tooltips for completed product icons will update without requiring you to re-examine the recipe.
- Recipes for some subcomponents that were not marked as recipes are now found properly on the tradeskill prepare window

So, it appears that only the low level spells are being revamped. Because of the change to character progression all the spells from level 1-19 needed to be revamped in any case. Presumably the recipes for these spells were simplified in an attempt to help out the player base.

If you have old apprentice 3-4's or adept 1's (or even 3's) that haven't moved, you might be wise to cut prices now, since it's far from clear whether they will be converted. Clearly spells that have been scribed will be converted in some form.

While I'm at it, some welcome changes to Tradeskills are in the works, too. Again, from the Test Update notes:

- The tradeskill UI will now display the stack count in the component choice window.
- You can now search for a particular recipe by name from the recipe window.
- The crafter's name will now display on stackable items as long as every item in the stack was created by the same character.
- The maximum stack size of all tradeskill-used fuels is now 100 instead of 20.

Also, it looks like LU19 will expand the size of house vaults and make it so that a character can access their vault from any residence in their home city. The combined effect of these and the new stacking size of fuel will make it much easier to do tradeskilling at home or in a cooperative residence.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thinking Caps

If you cast spells instead of using Combat Abilities, having a higher INT means each of those spells does more damage, on average. But there's a limit to how much improving your INT will help you, and it's level dependent. This limit is called the INT cap.

There is a simple formula for calculating the INT cap from level: the cap is equal to level*7 + 20. How is this used? The potential damage a spell does seems to rate the caster's int as a fraction of the caster's damage cap. I don't know that this is the right formula, but it might be something like

(damage) = (base damage) + (damage constant) * min((INT current)/(INT cap), 1).

Of course, there is also a random noise factor on damage, as well. We can think of the preceding formula as a calculation for the average damage and then a random adjustment is either added or subtracted.

And while we are discussing it, I want to mention damage resistance. There is no mitigation of spell damage, which is to say that the mobs hide, or spells, or whatever do not reduce the amount of damage that a spell does. They may however, resist the spell entirely, suffering no ill effect from it. The likelyhood of this happening depends on the relative level of the caster and target, and the resistance value of the target for the particular kind of spell incoming.

So higher mental resistance means a greater chance of resisting not just a mez, but also a mental-based direct damage spell. Upgrading a spell to adept or master seems to make it resisted less, but it also seems true that some spells stick more than others.

Anyway, back to the cap. The effect of INT on damage is normalized (and capped at) the level-based cap. Let's imagine that you are an illusionist of level 56. So the int cap for you is 7*56+20 = 412. And let's imagine further that somehow you have managed good enough gear that you have 200 INT when all buffed and ready to go.

Your Laser Beam does about 300 points of damage on average. Now you level up. You were at 200/412ths, or 48.5 percent of the cap, but the cap just increased by 7, so you are now at 200/419ths of the cap, or 47.7%. Your average damage for the same spell has gone down. Not by much, but it has gone down.

This has been the source of some complaint on net message boards. I can understand that because the idea that your damage goes down as you level up is very counterintuitive. It doesn't make sense. You are supposed to get better as you level up, not worse. And it makes people feel like they are on a treadmill.

Mitigation and avoidance values have much the same property. Avoidance is based on AGI, and there is an AGI cap, too. Mitigation is normalized to mobs of your level, but mobs of your level do more and more damage as you level up.

The game, of course, is supposed to get harder as you level up, and if you could be successful at level 60 with gear you wore at level 20, it would be pretty silly. But it feels arbitrary to have your damage with a given spell go down as your level goes up. The caps were introduced with LU 13 and the big combat changes, and this property noticed shortly thereafter.

Moorgard has posted that they are aware of the problem, and agree that it is a problem. He said that some ideas had been tossed around but that it wasn't going to be an easy fix.

I personally don't think this is an earthshaking problem. The decline in damage is small enough that you wouldn't notice it unless you parsed output regularly. And there's probably a fair number of players that don't even realize that there is a cap on INT.

Furthermore, the effect on gameplay is minimal. After all, leveling up gets you new spells to play with, which do more damage. Mobs die quite fast to groups with mages, and frankly, the biggest problem is not lack of dps, but controlling aggro when the mages overnuke. So I think that aggro is a bigger limiting factor on mage dps than the INT cap.

That being said, I have to wonder why they adopted this system. One could have used the formula

(damage) = (base damage) + min(INT, INTCAP(level))*(damage factor)

instead. Why didn't they? The effect of INT is capped at any level, which I think is important, but the effect of INT isn't normalized, so spell damage never goes down.

I don't have a good answer for this. Maybe the answer is, "we didn't think of it, and changing now would involve a lot of work, since we'd have to go around and choose numbers for each and every spell, and then run it through a bunch of testing just to make sure we haven't forgotten or overlooked something, or accidently make a level 12 spell do 1000 damage. And we just don't think it's important enough to justify the effort." But companies never say that to their customers, now, do they?

I could certainly empathize with such a statement. Often changes which seem easy to an outsider aren't. Sometimes that's due to sloppiness in architecture or coding, but usually its because nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year's for Newbies

As the first post of the new year, I think it fitting that I discuss the other set of changes highlighted in the producer's letter, namely, the notion that SOE will be revamping the low-level experience.

Their plan is to allow players to pick their final class at the outset. If you want to play a necromancer, you choose necromancer at the beginning, not after 19 levels. And the abilities that you get at low levels are related to your final class. Furthermore, they intend to differentiate the Isle of Refuge experience for good and evil characters. And the starting town zones and their associated adventure areas will be redone to create an experience that is more racially distinct.

This is all about replay value. There is no difference in what skills a paladin has and what a shadowknight has until level 20. A necromancer has to earn 20 levels before gaining lifetap and an undead pet. Many people do not have the patience to repeat the level 1-20 experience, apparently.

Given that I've already leveled several characters past 20, this does not apply to me, or to several of my guildies, who have done the same thing. We kind of appreciate the story whereby you earn the right to be an Illusionist, Necromancer, or Paladin. On the other hand, I know some other folks who don't like the repetition, so I think SOE is probably on to something here, business-wise.

Of course, anytime the something is made easier, all the folks who earned it the old, harder way feel a bit cheated.

My biggest worry is that the class and subclass quests will be done away with. These are some of the best part of the game. They really dramatized what your class was about, and made you feel how that was differentiated from others. The Rogue class quest involves actual sneaking, not just turning on a skill. The Freeport brawler class quest involves a series of bouts with what are basically professional wrestlers. And so on.

However, I have every hope that SOE understands this and is trying to expand on it, not do away with it. If the first twenty levels are something to be enjoyed and played for its own sake, then people won't rush through it so fast. Which means more time and dolllars spent playing the game.

The second component of the changes consist of making races mean something more to the player. As it stands, your starting race affects very little except your appearance. You get your racial language, but that is easily learned. And your racial vision ability, which is seldom used, it seems. The most important meaning of race is the racial traditions that are offered to you, which oddly enough, mean that tradeskill class choice is coupled to racial choice at least as much, if not more than adventure class. Starting stats are differentiated, but in the long run, they don't really mean much.

Let me explain what I mean. At level 50, my Intelligence floats around 300, depending on what buffs are up. All but 25 of those INT points come from gear and buffs. If I were an Ogre, instead of a High Elf, I would have started with 15 INT instead of 25, and my int would now hover around 290 instead of 300. This might have some impact on the damage of my spells, but I'd have to parse to really be able to see it, and, as an illusionist, my bread-and-butter spells, Breeze and Mez, would not be affected at all, as best I can tell.

By contrast, in EQ1 at level 50, I had about 250 INT, about 120 of which was due to my personal INT. Had I been an Ogre, that would entail a drop of maybe 60 points of INT, which is a much more significant fraction of the total. However, in EQ1 I would not have been allowed the choice to make an Ogre Enchanter. Finally, choosing a different race started you in a completely different city, with entirely different quests and newbie zone, so that would be something you would do just to see that city.

They aren't going to change the basic structure of the game and make racial stats more important, I'd expect. It seems unlikely that they will start to restrict class choice based on race, as well. Which is nice, since I think it's kind of fun to have the "wierd" classes available as a possibility. You know, an ogre wizard, or a troll paladin.

I like a world where characters can shape their own destinies. Where it's about the choices your character makes, not what race they are, that determines their skill and ability. That's a satisfying story to me. One where limitations can be overcome. One of my least favorite lines in the Star Wars saga was "his midichlorians are off the scale." Which implies that being strong with the force is a matter of genetics, not of training.

Anyway, I think that they are going to strengthen and differentiate the meaning of your racial choice by means of changes to the residence zones and the city adventure zones. Given how good they are at dramatizing classes and subclasses, this could be a very positive thing. Here's hoping!