Monday, July 9, 2018

A Brief Wave While Driving By

Between work, unexpected "renovations", and college visits, I have been playing some games.

Posting, not so much.

However, I wanted to drop in and say that Blizzard is now a contributing sponsor of Gen Con, and they'll be setting up a dedicated Hearthstone area in the Indy Convention Center. If there's any doubt that Gen Con Indy has re-established itself as one of the premier gaming conventions, Blizz' appearance leaves little doubt.*

Alas, I won't be able to attend Gen Con this year, and at the rate badges are selling it looks like the Gen Con Indy will be a sellout. But still, this is some cheery news for a Monday.




*I do wonder whether Blizz is looking at eventually doing more than just running Hearthstone, because I'm sure there's plenty of interest in seeing something from Blizzard east of the Rocky Mountains, and Gen Con Indy still has room to grow.

Friday, June 29, 2018

What Might Have Been

I've been watching Mini-Red #2 play Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U, and all I can think of is that this should have been a better selling title than it was.

As a friend of mine described it, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a single player version of an MMO, and I can't dispute that analysis. There are players out there that you can team up with if you keep your eyes open, but the game revolves around your toon and a configurable squad of up to four other NPCs. The graphics and gameplay itself are pretty much modern MMO standards, and my son vouches for the storyline so far.*
Yes, the entire game is as beautiful as this.
From time.com's review of the game.

The world is vast, too, and the polish is closer to Blizzard standards than anything else.

But.... The US version came out many months after the Japanese version came out, and rumors of the demise of the Wii U + speculation on the Switch helped kill the game.

It's a shame, really, because if there was one Nintendo game that was built for an endless supply of MMO style expansions, Xenoblade Chronicles X is it.




*The music reminds me of anime in that it's not traditional video game orchestral music but a blend of rock and pop, closer to K-Pop than regular rock.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Blizz Presents: A Short Data Structures Seminar

I'm coming a bit late to the story --okay, 11 days late-- but I read with great interest the work that Blizz is putting into WoW Classic.

Coming from an IT background, I particularly found the file table formats a good example of what Blizz will need to do to get WoW Classic working properly.

The way Blizz placed items into file tables has changed over the years, from a fixed length format like so:

Spell ID   Name   Effect One   Effect Two
01         AAA    Damage       Apply Aura
02         BBB    Damage       Nothing

to something more dynamic, like this:

Spell ID   Name
01         AAA
02         BBB


ID   Spell ID   Effect
01   01         Damage
02   01         Apply Aura
03   02         Damage


This removes artificial constraints put on the system by the data design, and allowed Blizz to be more dynamic and expansive in what individual items/spells/whatever could do. The kicker here is that Vanilla WoW used the old data structure while somewhere over the past decade plus WoW transformed into using the latter data structure.

Blizz believes they can keep the latter data structure in place and simply utilize the old data, but after they convert the old structure into the current one. From a personal perspective, I think it's the smartest way going forward, since it fixes artificial limitations and allows WoW Classic to utilize the current game engine but deliver the Vanilla experience. Additionally, Blizz won't have to build an entirely new team just to handle the old data structures and the old engine, but just have a subteam off of the main infrastructure groups that make sure that any changes don't break the "converted" environment of WoW Classic.

From an HR perspective, they keep the personnel costs down while they still remain committed to the additional work, and keep a stable interface in place for dev teams.

As anyone in IT can tell you, keeping the back end craziness down means more time spent actually developing the game. In my own experience, that last 1.5 years at the software shop was spent constantly fighting to get a stable development platform, which was constantly breaking when people would make a tweak here or there. When we had a stable platform, the programming teams could actually make significant progress, but frequently we had outages where people were breaking code without realizing that their "tweaks" were causing huge downstream ripples, and those ripples had to be constantly beaten into submission.*

Blizz is trying to minimize ripples in an ancient (by gaming standards) environment by utilizing a stable platform and just converting the data to something usable, but that conversion is the critical part. My first thought was you could build a Perl or Java script to convert the data into the format you need, but I'm sure that Blizz' example is one of the easiest parts of the data conversion process. My experience running QA on data set translation code for CAD/CAM tells me that the WoW Classic team will get a conversion done, but then need someone to sift through and manually check all. of. the. freaking. data.

Yes, by hand.

That is NOT going to be a fun task, but someone will have to do it. And I don't envy that person's task.

Still, I'm heartened by the work that Blizz' WoW Classic team has put into the game, especially since they're likely in major crunch time leading up to the next WoW expac.

One thing I do expect is that by the next BlizzCon, they'll likely have some in-game footage of how things are progressing with WoW Classic, and given Blizz' history, I expect them to remain silent on any release date until they get closer to something resembling an late stage Alpha. But it is happening, no doubt of that.




*Bioware has had major issues like that with the development of both Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda with the Frostbyte engine. Frostbyte wasn't built for what Bioware wanted to do with it, so they had to create their own interface with Frostbyte. The problem was that the Frostbyte team was constantly breaking the interface whenever they would make changes to the engine. Yeah, I've been there, Bioware. SO been there.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Decorating and Re-Decorating

LOTRO has this method of "upkeep" that forces people and guilds who own houses to login periodically and pay for the privilege of keeping your house, in much the same way that you have to pay property tax to keep your own house. The idea is to keep people from buying a house and then taking up the space after they stop playing the game. ArcheAge has a similar methodology on upkeep, in which it is explicitly described as taxes.*

However, those two housing systems are set up in either a separate group instance (LOTRO) or in the open world (ArcheAge), not in an individual instance. Other MMOs, such as SWTOR or Rift or Wildstar, are completely different, existing in an individual instance and therefore doesn't require a recurring fee to maintain the privilege of keeping your housing.
I could handle this. That'd make a helluva
side area to hang in. From rebrn.com.

But you know all that, right? (Or at least have some passing familiarity with it, anyway?)

Well, I began wondering about MMO housing while I was trying to find out where a leak was coming from in the bathroom in our house**. Specifically, I was wondering why MMO housing doesn't incorporate repairs and maintenance into the ownership of an MMO house (and/or dimensional space). Sure, there's the "monetary approximation" of taxes, but nothing that says "hey, this broke, we need to fix it", or "this needs repainting". Before you say "well, that's just too much of The Sims or something akin to Stardew Valley to incorporate into an MMO", incorporating problems in a living space has appeared in RPG video games before: Baldur's Gate II, to be precise.

Back in BG2, Bioware adhered to the traditional D&D rite of passage that once you reached (roughly) 10th level, a PC had the ability to obtain a stronghold of some sort and attract followers. Fighters would get a fortress/castle, Clerics would get a temple or church, Thieves would start a Thieves' Guild, etc. BG2 took that and ran with it, adding in extra quests that led to you handling some of the issues of your stronghold, and protecting it from attack***.

If that sounds a little like the PvP guild fortress area of Age of Conan at max level, that's because it is. But what it most sounds like is WoW's Garrisons from Warlords of Draenor.

But I do have to wonder why MMOs tend to shy away from more complex maintenance and whatnot surrounding your housing when they've frequently developed crafting to an insane degree. Look at people who play WoW just for the auction house, or ArcheAge for its complex crafting/farming system, and you can't tell me that there isn't a subset of people out there who wouldn't get invested in maintaining/developing their own housing system far beyond what is already available.

I figure that if someone could be so dedicated as to get the Insane in the Membrane WoW achievement, there is likely a subset of people who would be very happy if WoW's Garrisons weren't consigned to the dustbin of past expacs, but expanded upon and kept up to date.

And while I drop into my own housing in SWTOR and LOTRO (for instance) just to chill from time to time, it would be nice if there were actually things to do in there outside of move furniture and artwork around.

I have to admit that there are times when
it feels like I'm doing this when hanging around
in MMO housing. From pinterest.





*ArcheAge also has a much more complex housing build system as opposed to a lot of other MMOs. First, you have to have a Patron account (something that doesn't require you to pay money for, but paying some dollars is frequently the easiest way to do it), then you have to get blueprints, then find a plot, then get the materials, then.... You get the idea.

**The porcelain lined bowl had rusted through at the drain. This means I have to replace the bowl, but since the bowl is integrated into the rest of the vanity, I have to replace the entire damn vanity. Yay me.

***I was a fighter in BG2, so that was what happened to my character. Not sure if that's the case for other classes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

As If I Didn't Have Enough to Do

I have several blog posts in various states of completion, and you'd think that I'd just finish them off to get them posted. After all, none of them are time/date dependent, and it would be nice to get some of these posts just done and posted.

But as you can guess, the answer to that is "Oh no, I couldn't possibly do that. I had to go write something else instead."

***

The truth is, I've not had that much time for writing. Well, I can find the time to write but I also want to sleep. I thought that this summer would have afforded me more time for gaming and writing, but I've been instead spending my time plotting and figuring out work schedules and college trips, cleaning and fixing things around the house, and just trying to hang in there from month to month.*

A sword? A blaster? a lightsaber?
No, THIS is my current weapon of choice:
the Ryobi Brushless Motor Impact Driver.
It replaced a 21 year old drill that was barely
hanging on. From ryobitools.com.


But in a bizarre set of circumstances, I've taken some of my spare dollars** and bought games on Steam, in spite of my a) lack of time to play games, and b) my current slew of games that ought to be completed. Because "shiny", I suppose.

I have noticed that the main system is finally showing its age (6 years old) after the latest Windows 10 update in that graphics are taking longer to switch on screen in spite of the 1+ year old RX470 graphics card. I'm sure the old Intel i7 Ivy Bridge + 6 year old hard drive has something to do with that. The games I've bought, however, can easily still fit within my system parameters for the "recommended" settings, as they tend to be (at newest) a few years old.

Because I don't have enough MMOs to play
with, I picked up ESO on a Steam sale.
From elderscrollsonline.com
One thing that I've noted is that there really are very few SF or Space Fantasy MMOs out there. There's SWTOR, EVE Online, Star Trek Online, and Wildstar, and maybe Destiny/Destiny 2 if you squint hard enough and claim it's an MMO, but far and away the MMO genre of choice is Epic Fantasy or its cousin, Sword and Sorcery.

So naturally, to balance out picking up ESO, I decided to download the game that I never said I'd be interested in, ever, and fire it up just to look at: EVE Online.

I haven't actually done anything with EVE yet, simply because I've been trying to figure out the backstory for each racial option, but one thing did raise my eyebrows quite a bit: your body is "grown" as a clone in a similar manner as that found in Brave New World*** and your toon has interface holes in the back where you plug into your ship. I have to admit that this is a bit of a new twist on why you pilot your ship around without seeing your toon --see Star Trek Online for a different example-- and one that frankly gave me an uncomfortable feeling up and down my spine.
EVE Combat suit concept art by Andrei Cristea.
If you look at the back, you'll see the neural
connections that allow you to plug into your ship.
I'd have picked a bare back pic, but most of
those are of dead bodies in space.
In a way, the fact that your body is grown and then let loose to go and be a space merchant (or whatnot) without much of anything in the way of normal human familial contact is about the most radical piece of social engineering seen this side of Sparta. If there wasn't a more perfect worker drone prototype created to promote the corporate mastery of the bourgeois, I've not found it yet.****

Beyond that, I've not done anything else with EVE --or ESO, or any of the other games, for that matter-- simply because I know that I won't have much time to play at once, so I've been sticking to games that don't require a huge chunk of time investment at once (such as running an instance or dungeon), and that I can stop at the drop of a hat.

So here's to Summer, the (supposed) slow period of the calendar year!




*I also thought I wouldn't be called on quite so much to be a personal taxi given that school is out of the summer, but it seems that things have actually gotten worse in that regard. Silly me.

**No Gen Con this year again --due to school timing-- so any money saved for that has been freed up for a few games here and there.

***I wonder if Aldous Huxley gets a nod in the EVE wiki somewhere.

****Oh, I could have so much fun with this, utilizing Marxist language I've not used since a few university classes.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Quick Request

Last week, when the new EU privacy law went live, this little note began appearing on my Blogger Dashboard:

European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used and data collected on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent. 

As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies, and other data collected by Google. 

You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. If you include functionality from other providers there may be extra information collected from your users. 

So, I'm responsible for making sure the notice works on my blog, but I can't see it myself. Can someone from the EU check to see if that notice is appearing?

Oh, and it seems that Blogger is no longer supporting OpenID, likely due to the requirements surrounding the EU privacy act. I don't think anybody used it here, but if you did and wondered what happened, now you know.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Clothes Make The Man

Several years ago, Mini-Red #2 was given a book on how to draw superheroes by Stan Lee* as a Christmas present by one of his sisters. As far as art books go, it's not that detailed about the mechanics of drawing, but it provides a short background into where superhero stories came from and the basics about creating a superhero and the surrounding cast.
Kudos to Stan and the ghost writers for
putting this promo shot of
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland
from The Adventures of Robin Hood
in the book. (from Pinterest.)

I don't have much in the way of artistic talent, but I still found the design and technique fascinating to read. What also caught my attention was that, in his own 'grumpy old man' way, Stan was trying to make comics more inclusive.

Part of the design for superheroes is that they look like more idealized versions of ourselves. Not us personally, but people in general. They look fitter, more muscular, more attractive, more everything compared to most people not named David Beckham.** While Stan pays lip service to all sorts of body types for superheroes (giving a nod to the obscure Great Lakes Avenger Big Bertha), he does focus on the fit and muscular for his examples of superheroes, allies, and villains.
Big Bertha, Deadpool, and Squirrel Girl.
Really. (From backissuebin.wordpress.com.)

While perusing the book, I kept thinking of how players are portrayed in MMOs, and how much they fit the specific ideal for superheroes.
Now, where have I seen this before?
(From The Nerdist.)

Oh yes. From here.
(From MMO-Champion.)

Or here.

Considering the extremes of the male human in WoW and TERA as a muscular bodybuilder and the numerous examples of female Elves/Humans/etc.***, it seems that the superhero standard is the MMO standard for body image. When you come across the chunky male body image in SWTOR, the Hobbit images in LOTRO, the female Dwarf in WoW, it comes across as a breath of fresh air in the cookie cutter environment. But what I find interesting is that even the "non-muscular" male standard found in MMOs, such as the male Blood Elf in WoW and the male Elf in TERA also reference another comic standard, the Japanese Manga standard, instead.
I believe the term I'm looking for
is Bishonen. (From Anime News Network.)
And, for comparison, my old WoW main,
Quintalan, without all the Pally armor.

So in a way, the comic standard has become the MMO standard.

***

What does this mean to MMO designs? Not too much, because game artists/designers were obviously influenced by the comics they read both as kids and adults. And really, the oversexed outfits found in MMO designs are found in comics****, pro wrestling, RPG books, and anime to just name a few. And video game design has a long history of oversexed characters, so there's that tide that you swim against as well.
Long before there was Lara Croft, there was Leisure 
Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards. And yes,
for the record, I did play the first Leisure Suit
Larry while I was in college. (from the wikia.)

But on the flip side, denying characters any sort of sex appeal in the name of fairness or reality also seems like a waste of time, because people are sexual beings, and divorcing ourselves from this reality is making a mistake.
Where would Bioware be without romance in
their RPGs? Well, they do have plenty of good
story in their games, but story is only one of their pillars.
The other two are gameplay and romance.
(From powerupgaming.co.uk.)

I think the best way of approaching character design and creation is to acknowledge and work on several things:


  • People will want to play characters with all types of physical options*****, and enable those options. This is not a difficult thing to create, as we see various body styles in SWTOR and other MMOs. Just because you prefer to look at one style doesn't mean that others will too.
  • People will congregate in an MMO for funny business --it's a collection of people, for pete's sake-- and that means that a Goldshire is going to inevitably appear.
    Yep, that's the Goldshire Inn. (From imgur.)
    People will go clubbing or will go off to fool around and want their characters to dress the part. At the same time, don't go out of your way to provide only clothing/gear options for the Goldshire set, but allow for more practical clothing/gear design. In this respect, Neverwinter has great practical gear designs that actually look like you'd take into a dungeon. Even with WoW you can use underclothing to make some of the more eyebrow raising designs look (somewhat) more practical. And SWTOR does a lot of good work in this regard, creating some practical and stylish designs while allowing the "don't I look hot??" set to wear cosmetic clothing more suited to Jabba's Throne Room.

  • Have the NPCs actually look the part, wearing clothing you'd expect them to wear, rather than some hot and sexy little number that you'd expect in a brothel. (Unless you're in a brothel, of course.) This is where GW2 still bugs me the most, because most "villagers" wouldn't be wearing their best outfits while working in a bakery or bringing in farm goods to market. Having your villagers change clothing depending on the situation --whether for a dance or working out in the fields-- makes far more sense than anything else. If Origin Systems with their Ultima V game could figure out how to handle NPCs working vs. not working back in the 80s, surely MMOs can figure this out.
    An, Ultima V, my old friend. (From lparchive.)

  • Finally, clothes/outfits are also a measure of social status. If your toon is wearing crappy looking gear or clothes, NPCs should react to that. Sure, that means having NPCs who are quite shallow, but clothing does engender reactions even among supposedly "advanced" and "mature" people today.





*What I found most interesting about the book, Stan Lee's How to Draw Superheroes, is that it's published not by Marvel, but by Dynamite, another comic book publisher. Stan and the ghost writers actually did a good job of spreading around lots of different examples of superhero design, covering DC, Marvel, Dynamite (naturally), and even Zenescope.

**Or The Rock. Or Serena Williams. Or any one of a number of incredibly attractive and physically fit people.

***It's a pretty rare MMO --or any video game at all these days-- where you find a woman not sporting a pretty decently sized chest. Even SWTOR, which gives female body shapes ranging from muscular and large to curvy to short to a medium-normal type, has the C-cup minimum chest size for female toons. And while a C-cup is being polite about it, there are plenty of MMOs where chest size goes up from there (such as Age of Conan, TERA, Black Desert Online, and others). Aion is one of the few MMOs out there that acknowledge that women with smaller chest sizes actually exist.

****Do I really need to post examples? There's plenty of them out there, from Sue Storm's "cut out" Fantastic Four uniform, to Power Girl's "boob window", to just about the entire Zenescope lineup. As an aside, I really have mixed emotions about Zenescope. They've gone full into the 90s era comics oversexed female design, but at the same time their stories are well written with strong female as well as male characters. I sometimes got the feeling that Zenescope designed their characters to get their foot in the door with the comic community, but I also truly feel that their 90's era over the top designs (and promos) aren't needed, as the stories stand well on their own. (This is also how I feel about the video game Bayonetta, but that's a topic for another post.)

*****My most recent SWTOR character, a male Trooper using the heavyset body design, has gotten more comments by far by other players than any of my other characters. Just goes to show what stands out to other people.