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.