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, February 21, 2006

Everthing I always wanted to know about hate

I posted this on the SOE forums today, while waiting for my update to load.

Hate is how mobs decide who to attack during a fight. Every character (player or npc) that does something threatening to a mob goes on that mobs hate list. Each hostile action is given a "threat" rating, and the hate list is sorted in order of threat. The NPC then targets the character with the biggest threat rating, and proceeds to do whatever nastiness that mob chooses to do.

I believe that it is a design principle of EQ2 that groups must cooperate in order for the main tank to keep aggro. A wizard and a scout of equal level and spell upgrade levels will always find it possible to take aggro from the tank if they start off the combat at full DPS. It doesn't mean he's a bad tank, it's supposed to work that way. In any case, everyone needs to know something about how hate works in order for a group to function at a high level.

Here's what generates threat:

  • Melee and spell damage create threat. I presume this is on a 1-1 basis with the threat rating reported on taunts and threat reduction spells, though I don't really know.

  • Healing someone (PC or NPC) in combat with a mob generates threat. Does each point of healing correspond to a point of threat, or is there a multiplier? I don't know. Does group healing generate a threat proportional to the number of people in the group? I don't think so, I think it's proportional to the amount healed on one character, the others are healed for free, but again, I don't know for sure.

  • Pets generate aggro for themselves as long as they are alive. As soon as they die, all the threat that they generated is immediately transferred to the caster. This includes the temporary pets that most casters have, be they wolves, sharks, or constructs of logic, as well as the more permanent sorts of pets that summoners and necromancers specialize in. The consequence of this is that in longer fights with Epic mobs, using a temporary pet means certain death for it's caster.

  • The hate produced by non-damaging hostile spells is a mixed bag. Some stuns generate no hate at all, while mezzes typically generate a lot of hate. I suspect that debuffs are like dots in that they accumulate threat over time, though it may be that they simply don't generate much threat at all, since they can often be started quite early in a fight without gaining aggro.

  • Spells that are resisted often still produce threat. I'm not too certain whether this is every spell, every time, since I could swear that I have seen a pulling spell resisted and the mob not react. But a wizard that redoes his nuke when it is resisted often finds himself face-down in the mud not too much later.

  • Taunts produce threat, as advertised. Taunts that are resisted do not produce threat.

  • Being low on hitpoints increases your "threat", making it very hard to pull mobs off of you until you or they are dead.

Now there's a wrinkle here. There are spells descriptions that say "reduce threat by X and drop target 3 places on the hate list" or some such. This makes no sense if the hate list is instantaneously updated on every change in threat rating. The implication is that you don't necessarily move ahead of someone the instant you have one more point of threat than they do. Very interesting.

Here's how I think this works. I think the hate list has built-in hysteresis, or resistance to change. In order for you to move up on the hate list, it is insufficient to simply have more threat than the person above you, you must exceed the threat rating of that person by some set margin. It might be percentage based, for example, you might have to exceed the threat rating of the person above you on the hate list by 3 percent before taking over their slot. Or it might be a fixed amount, requiring you to exceed threat rating by 500 threat. Though I really think that it's more of a percentage.

It is a very open question as to what resistance is checked to resist a taunt. There are several possibilities:

  • Taunt is checked against a hidden attribute we shall call "taunt resistance" PC's don't have this attribute for obvious reasons. This would imply that there is no debuff which can make it easier to land taunts. Or,

  • Taunt is checked against mental resistance. There's a certain amount of sense to this. And if true, it would mean that tanks would really like to pull with a chaos-imbued doll (which lowers mental resistance). It's a long cast time, but on the pull, that may be acceptable. Or maybe,

  • Taunt is checked against a resistance that depends on the class of the taunter and the combat art used. Taunting Slap would be checked as a crushing attack. Jeer would be checked versus mental. And so on. Or even maybe,

  • Taunt is resisted with one of the normal spell resistances, but which one depends on the mob. I don't put much stock in this theory, mostly because it doesn't make any sense to me to model things that way. But that isn't really a knock-down argument against it either. It would take extra code to implement this, and I think the idea of "taunt resistance" would probably be superior in most ways.

The existence of hate-list hysteresis (resistance to changes in order) is that it reinforces the need to start dps low, and build it over time. If you pass the tank in threat at the end of a fight, it's much less of a problem than at the beginning. First of all, if the threshold is based on a percentage, then the numbers are much bigger at the end of the fight, and exceeding the threshold is all that much harder. Furthermore, the mob is likely to die before killing you if you get aggro at the end of a fight.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Time for Names

My hair's only barely smoldering now, since Gallenite announced the new policy for resolving name conflicts on merging servers. Here's the gist of it, in his words:

When comparing two characters with the same name:
  • If neither character has logged in within the past 60 days, the character that has more played time keeps the name.
  • If one character has logged in within the past 60 days and the other hasn't, the one that has been online most recently keeps the name.
  • If both characters have logged in within the past 60 days, the character that has more played time keeps the name.

When comparing two guilds with the same name:

  • The guild that was created first keeps the name.

I feel better about this. I can't determine it for sure, but it would seem as though yours truly will get to keep his name.

In the linked message, Gallenite notes that they ran several algorithms, and this seemed to work the best, even better than things involving create date and level.

Also, there will be an option to move servers for free after the merge, or to use the /rename command. Those using /rename will get the opportunity to claim some xp and tradeskill xp bonus potions.

Let's amuse ourselves with wondering how play time might be superior to level or create date. This doesn't favor people who have simply made a toon to claim a name for the future, which probably shouldn't be favored over a toon that has actually been played.

Favoring play time over level also allows merchant characters to retain their identity. Not a terrible idea, and it doesn't hurt SOE to be nice to those folks who maintain a second account just to have a seller. Though with vault selling, that's less common these days.

On a related note, it appears that while names are changed, not all other places where those names might be recorded are updated. For example, there were some problems with residence permissions. After the move, the trustee lists did not track the changes of name that came with the move, so that the character on the destination server now had permission, rather than the character on the merging server. In consequence, permission had now been given to a stranger with the same name. There have been thefts.

I recommend anyone involved in a server merge to clear trustee access from their residence(s) and wait until the dust settles.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sony Rules of Conduct

Given the issue raised by Sara's dispute with Blizzard over her use of the phrase "not LGBT only, but LGBT friendly" led me to research Sony's Rules of Conduct. Here's what I found:

You agree not to do any of the following while on The Station or in any SOE Communication Feature:

  1. transmit any message, information, data, text, software or graphic files, or other materials ("Content") that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, that may be invasive of another's right of privacy or publicity, hateful, racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;

That's my own added emphasis on the words "otherwise objectionable", since I think that's the only language in Sony's Rules of Conduct that has a prayer of covering the phrase "LGBT friendly". Of course, in my book that's not very objectionable at all. Nor do I see much interest at SOE in censoring folks. In particular, they never cracked down on the many political discussions that used to take place on the Qeynos Crafting Channel. But then, the language above makes no mention of political speech, unlike Blizzards.

The ooc channel in Antonica can be pretty annoying at times, with all sorts of juvenile and sometimes lewd remarks. The general attitude in game is: "That's what /ignore is for".

So, I don't think anyone will be cited or suspended for advertising themselves or their guild as LGBT-friendly. If the topic of gayness makes you uncomfortable, I'd like you to consider my personal story.

When I was a young man (2990 years ago), I too was pretty uncomfortable with the subject. Of course, that discomfort made me want to avoid the subject. I remember being scandalized when I attended a church in which a man whom I knew to be openly gay was assisting in the service in some small way. That was really the first real gay man I knew. He turned out to be one of many. Over the years I have had many colleagues, co-workers, friends and even a relative that was gay or lesbian.

There's Greg, who was a co-worker. We worked on some tech project together. He made no secret of his gayness, having participated in campaigning for domestic partner benefits, but it was never an agenda item. Greg was a very early employee of a Silicon Valley success story, and so was able to take early retirement. On his last day, we had lunch, and I told him that at first I had been kind of uncomfortable with his gayness. I'll never forget his response. He said simply, "me too." I then confided that some months earlier, when we were working on something together, he had stood behind my desk chair looking at my monitor and had laid his hand on my shoulder, which had given me pause, though nothing came of it. He then looked me in the eye and said, "Toldain, if only you weren't married". (Well, ok, he used my RL name, but you get the idea). I got a really big laugh out of that one, and so did he.

Greg's just one of many for me. Each of these people had the courage to be out of the closet, and were strong, decent people. At least as much as the straight people I know, anyway. Which is why I've come 180 degrees from that discomfort I had as a young man. That's why I took my teenage children to visit the two gay men that had new baby twins which they had gone to great lengths to get. I am convinced that they will be great parents. Love knows no boundaries. And I'm not talking about sex.

WoW chat controversy

Usually I focus exclusively on EQ2, but today I'd like to take a look at something going on in World of Warcraft. A little more than a week ago, Sara Andrews, while online, posted a message to a general chat channel recruiting for her guild, in which she stated that the guild was "not LGBT only, but LGBT-friendly". For this action, she was cited by a GM in the game.

I'm not sure if that means any action was taken other than she was told not to do that again by a GM:

While we appreciate and understand your point of view, we do feel that the advertisement of a 'GLBT friendly' guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise.

Sara's point was that the policy at the time prohibited chat which "insultingly" refered to sexual orientation, as well as politics, religion, and race, to name a few. She saw nothing insulting about stating her guild to be LGBT friendly.

Then Lambda Legal got involved and sent Blizzard a letter, which Kotaku posted to the web. It's well worth reading if you are interested in the topic. And it appears that Blizzard is trying to backtrack somewhat as well. As best I can tell, their Terms of Use have already been rewritten to eliminate the qualifier "insulting" and to claim the absolute right to censor general chat. In particular, users may not

Transmit or post any content or language which, in the sole and absolute discretion of Blizzard Entertainment, is deemed to be offensive, including without limitation content or language that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, hateful, sexually explicit, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable, nor may you use a misspelling or an alternative spelling to circumvent the content and language restrictions listed above;

The word "insulting" has been removed, and "offensive" substituted. But is "LGBT-friendly" offensive? I guess to some people it is. And those people will make a big fuss.
Now, I can understand why a company like Blizzard might wish to minimize the number of their paying customers which get offended. But I can't endorse the policy.

For the record, I'm LGBT-friendly. I've never discussed this explicitly with my officers or guild members, but I know that most of my officers and my co-guild leader are as well. We keep guild chat PG-13, though, so there's not a lot of discussion of a sexual nature, gay or straight. One thing I frown upon is the use of the word "gay" as a disparagement in guild chat. I expect that if I were an LGBT person, that would be a positive quality in a guild - not having part of my identity used as a put-down.

And bear in mind that such use of language is usually not cited in general chat channels. So guilds of this nature do a service to those customers of Blizzard that find such chat offensive. Why try and stop them?

Blizzard is already trying to walk back from their position somewhat as well. There may still be more paying customers who take offense at "LGBT-friendly" but there are more than a few LGBT players, and they are paying customers, too.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tradeskill Update

I have it from that source of all truth in tradeskills, Niami Denmother, that tradeskills are changing. All tradeskills, not just combat arts for levels 1-19. The combat arts changed in todays live update were changed to the new system to avoid two changes, since the new character progression required that they be changed, anyway. The change for the rest of the combat arts is scheduled for February 21.

My previous post then was wrong, or incomplete. Apologies.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Toldainn Talks?

My server, Highkeep, is being merged into Butcherblock. Highkeep is one of eight servers that are being merged into another server. In general, I don't see the need for it on Highkeep, though I think it might help lower level toons to find groups some. And if it makes Freeport a more viable economy, that's good too, though the ability to mail stuff between cities does more in that regard.

What really sets my red hair flaming is the issue of name change. Scott Hartsman said this in the producer's letter:

For those characters who do not choose to move early via the Character Transfer Service and are moved automatically on their moving day, some may be automatically renamed (with one or more 'x's appended to their name) in the case that their name is already taken by an older character. If that occurs, the renamed character will be able to use the /rename command once to choose a new name for themselves.

Uh oh. Yours truly has had the handle Toldain for perhaps five years or more, starting with EQ1. I chose an EQ2 server that would let me create my red-headed glory under the same name. I created Toldain on Highkeep on Nov 8, 2004, one day after launch. And now I might have to change it? Let's study this further...

So, what exactly does "older" mean in this context? Scott has clarified on the forums:

Regarding who gets renamed when:
At the moment, the person coming over will be the one renamed if the person blocking it doesn't end up cleaned up in the pass of removing placeholders.
We're looking into more desirable alternatives to this that favor the more recently active, more established characters, but I don't want to get into specifics until we've tested them. Once we have something that verifies out, I'll make sure everyone hears about it.

So, "older" in this context means the character being moved, even though its create date might be a year before. I'm definitely not happy about that. Why give precedence to one servers inhabitants over another? My alter-ego on Butcherblock is an unguilded level 15 human berserker. His creation date is unavailable. He might well be in an inactive account for all I know. I don't see what interest SOE would have in giving an inactive account precedence over an active one of long standing.

Some folks are attempting to negotiate with their clones. But if your alter-ego And if he's inactive, I have no way to negotiate with him about the name, since he can't log in.

Falco, the first person on Highkeep to reach level 60, is facing a name change also, and has expressed his displeasure. I don't agree with Falco about much, but I am fully sympathetic this time.

The only reason I can think of for giving precedence to the non-merged characters is that it's easier technically. The database records for the merging characters all have to be processed anyway, so it's much simpler to change those that need to change at the same time. Perhaps the database guys are working on a more sophisticated script for handling name conflicts, but they've only got a couple of days to work out the kinks, so no promises are being made.

But really, why are the mergers happening? I think it's clearly a cost-saving move. Paradoxically, the game is on a more solid footing now, and starting to grow again, which gave them a strong enough hand to make this move without it looking like an admission of defeat. Our server was completely overcrowded in the first month or two. Contention for spawn was enough to give you hypertension. Things have fallen off dramatically since then, but recently has been bouncing back.

Frankly, I like the less-crowded feel. Though there are very few new players on the server, only alts. Perhaps SOE feels that with a larger server population, the server will be more friendly to new players? They must acquire new players to grow, or at least bring back some of the folks that played at launch.

I'm not going to threaten to leave the game and stop paying my $20 a month. I'm too hooked for that. My main hope is that, maybe, just maybe, some SOE developers read this blog, or the comments on the forum attached to the producer's letter and come up with a more satisfactory renaming scheme. Either that, or I'll hold my breath until I turn a delightful shade of robin's egg blue.