“It’s Just A Game” – Or Why We Can’t All Just Get Along

I’ve been ping-ponging back and forth from a series of blog posts, enjoying a great range of shared perspectives about PvP.

  • Somewhere along the way, Zubon produces an informative little aside about a new term that may be useful when discussing PvP – “Contested”

Naturally, when I read so much thought-provoking stuff, my mind goes into overdrive and starts to try and make sense of it all.

Mostly because I’m super-puzzled by my own reactions, where I generally agree with a good part of most of the things said in -every- post, and then come to a screeching halt at certain paragraphs and think, “Er, no, sorry, I don’t share that particular viewpoint” or “Wait, I’m like that in this one particular game, and like this in some other game.”

Also, one of the things I like most about reading other people’s opinions on their blogs is that I get to try and pick out the reasons for why they hold a particular point of view, and then attempt to bring it together to form some kind of generalized theory about why people play the games they do – it’s a fascination of mine, if you can’t tell from the name of my blog.

I find it’s also helpful for further discussion, since players are better able to articulate what precisely they like or dislike, and for future developers to then try and design games that put these various preferences together in unexpected ways, rather than just clone whatever has worked before.

Let’s start with some ground rules, since PvP vs PvE can end up as a very loaded and heated subject matter, and I’m simply -not- interested in the same old boring rehash of “PvPers are evil, PvErs are carebears. WE don’t want to associate with THEM.”

Name-calling and dismissing another person’s interests, or unique perspective thusly, is not productive for a shared dialogue.

I’ll be doing my best to try and avoid it for this post, though of course, it’s sometimes fun to write with a very subjective slant for hyperbolic effect, or useful as an emotional release to vent and so on.

You see, I recently attended a talk on mediation, where the speaker shared something I found rather insightful and helpful.

There are generally three ways human beings use to resolve a conflict:

1. War – Being ”right” through might or power. The victor gets to rewrite history to suit themselves.

Yep, through history, this has been a well-used means of settling disputes. Basically, you wipe out or defeat or otherwise try to dominate the other party into agreeing to your point of view.

I’m sure you can think of so-called “marriages” that have essentially descended to this level of negative-sum combat, where one party wins at the expense of another, and both may have bled or been hurt during the conflict it too.

2. Logic / Justice – Determining who is “right” or “wrong” through a series of arguments and fact-finding.

This is the realm of our legal system, where countless lawyers are paid to debate in front of judges (or a jury) over which individual is “objectively” right or wrong. Someone wins and someone loses, the loser usually has to pay the winner in some way and usually isn’t left very happy at all.

The problem with this style of conflict resolution is that it’s very binary and not at all suited for certain situations.

The example the speaker gave was being a grandparent to two siblings involved in a dispute over toys. If one turned it into a farcial trial where one takes each sibling’s statements and uses CCTV cameras to properly determine “who started it” and “who should be punished,”

a) The siblings’ relationship wouldn’t improve at all and they might grow up hating each other.

b) The children’s parents would probably think the grandparent had gone around the loony bin.

c) The overall objective of having a harmonious family where the siblings learned how to get along and play with each other and share their toys wouldn’t be achieved.

I might even suggest that this is something that gamers have been doing for a very long time now and that none of us have got nearer to any sense of satisfaction beyond “Duty calls. Someone is -wrong- on the Internet.

So what’s the third method?

3. Diplomacy / Mediation – Bringing all parties to the table to talk things through and try to come up with mutually agreeable solutions to everyone involved

It’s not an easy thing, of course. That’s why there’s a whole profession or two dedicated to it.

And long, entrenched conflicts that stretch generations can take an equally long time to resolve, or serious amounts of dedication and perseverance to the overall goal (be it peace, understanding or just a mutual agreeable separation which still caters and cares for the kids.)

But it is this third solution that leads to a potential net positive for everyone involved.

(I’d add on that there’s a fourth method of dealing with conflict – which is less conflict resolution and more conflict avoidance. I’m guilty of resorting to that quite a bit, sometimes. It’s useful when the conflict is really quite trivial in the larger scheme of things and you don’t really mind letting the other person “win,” but there -is- a loser in this situation, and this can build resentment and grudges when it’s more important an issue.)

The speaker then told a story of two sides in history that were so entrenched in hate and a cycle of violence that it took years of patience to negotiate a peace agreement – and even then, certain key individuals were killed off by violence and the passage of time before the remaining parties could come to any sort of understanding.

Anecdotally, an old woman who was very invested in the conflict (after all, her whole life had been centered around it) asked one of the leaders that was instrumental in pushing the peace accord through how he could conceive of doing this, after all, wasn’t he honor and duty bound to kill or defeat his enemy?

His reply: “Do I not defeat my enemy by making him my friend?”

You may, or may not, share this same belief or think it’s a worthy goal.

But I’ll make an appeal to your self-interest and suggest that it is only the third solution that can actually expand the pool of people you can play with, that increases the number of people interested in playing the game you like.

In every other solution to conflict, you separate yourself from a bunch of people you won’t ever play with, because eew, they’re different from you.

So how do we start coming to the table and finding commonalities with which to work from and begin?

We move from arguing about positions to focusing on interests – the WHYs behind our positions – and listing out what they are.

For example, I’m pretty well stuck on certain positions and values. I get very twitchy and intolerant of games that put vertical progression front and center, and I really hate elitist or close-minded viewpoints being outwardly expressed.

Why?

I don’t want player improvement and learning to be masked by a number that merely grows from time invested. I don’t like that old artifact and hold-over from the devs trying to incentivize people to hold on to subscriptions. I basically don’t have such constant chunks of time to invest simply to stay competitive, and want games that demonstrate that they value my time more. I don’t want players to fall back on a number as an excuse for not increasing their skill or knowledge at a game. (That last, you’ll note, is a little value judgement that has slipped in.)

Why?

Because I believe that a player would appreciate a game more when they have sufficient skill or knowledge to play the game at a certain baseline or level, and when they see the depth that a game is capable of. Because I want to play with players of equivalent skill or knowledge so that we can progress or learn together.

I also want a level playing field where a new player has a decent chance of coming in and right away defeating a veteran player, if he or she plays in a smart, strategic or more skillful way than the old player.

Why?

Because that encourages new blood to join in at any time. Because new blood joining at any time is what keeps a game I like going. Because I might be that new blood and I’d like to have a locus of control and useful things I can do even when new, and aspire to victory, without having to spend 3-6 months “paying my dues” and “earning my way” – I don’t have the time for a game if it makes me do that.

I don’t know if anyone else is seeing this, but when I list all this explanatory stuff behind the simple “I hate vertical progression” statement, I also see the opportunity for different ways to tackle these issues.

You can put players of equivalent skill or knowledge together by -good- matchmaking, or even ensure that only players with the same stats meet, even if the rest of your game has vertical stat progression because you know, Achievers like that sort of thing, incrementing numbers.

You can also try your darnest to bootstrap more players to a skill or knowledge baseline by plenty of tutorials or other means of learning/teaching or if you’re a player, writing guides till your hands fall off or teaching via mic until your tongue turns blue.

You can make sure that your stat progression isn’t absurd to the point of removing all possibility of victory from the new blood or low level, if you -must- have stat progression. Maybe 2-3 low levels can gang up on a high level or highly geared player and achieve victory that way, rather than have it completely impossible or require a raid of 50 low-levels to take down a high level or something of that nature. That might be a balance point that becomes more acceptable to more people.

You can also see that I personally don’t have an intrinsic aversion to PvP, if presented in the right way and with the same kinds of values or philosophies.

Another position: I don’t like bullying. I don’t approve of encouraging this sort of negative, toxic behavior, even in a game, and will not support or play a game that produces safe places for griefer and troll types to feed on others and thrive.

(Note: I do not lump all PvPers as trolls or griefers. I am very specifically referring to those players that are out to ruin another person’s fun and will go through all kinds of hoops to do so, as well as people who enjoy low-skill easy fun “fights” – ok, I’m having a hard time calling it a fight, a “gank?” a “walk over?” “not even a speedbump?” – by one shot killing other players via a massive stat advantage and repeatedly do it, in the hopes of getting some sort of explosive or frustrated reaction from their victim, or even PvE-only players that are used to using abusive or racist slurs on other people as a matter of course, flinging blame around on everyone but themselves and generally “not playing well with others.” )

This one comes very close to being about fundamental values and nears intractability.

Why? Because I believe bullying behavior does result in emotional stress and hurt on the part of the bullied, even if the bully thinks that their victim should just “man up” or “get harder” or “grow thicker skin” or “why so serious, lulz.” I do think that what happens in a game can leak emotions back onto the player behind the character and that we naturally behave the way we are conditioned or have become habituated to behave. I think the world would be more of a better place if games encouraged players to be decent people to each other more, rather than throw hostilities and toxic slurs at each other.

I do however recognize though, that other people may not feel that a game has that much importance in the larger scheme of things.

Or that a particular game is set up with a particular set of rules and boundaries and design to prompt players into acting in a certain way, because it’s the point of the game, to a large extent.

(I personally don’t equate the killing of a game avatar to the killing of a person. Especially not if it’s a MOBA or FPS where respawns are quick and consequences aren’t persistent and don’t last beyond the match. Other people seem to apply a distinctly more elaborate honor code to the whole affair. Couldn’t begin to tell you why, maybe those who have this belief can share.

But I’m not really interested in playing a game like DayZ where I get to act out or experience Lord of the Flies scenarios, because I’d rather not “be content” for groups of friends that play in this fashion. Especially if they’re talking on voice, I’m calling emotional leak into real world right there. Not feeding that sort of predatory desire. Other people are cool with it, cos that’s the whole premise of the survival game.)

Or that a game is in fact a safe place to harmlessly vent or release emotions and behaviors that they would not dream of expressing in real life, because games can be a form of escapism too.

I would, in fact, agree that it’s much safer and probably more preferable for someone to experiment with these things in a game, and get it out of their system that way, even if I might disagree and believe that it’s probably habituating them to behave in a more hostile and combative and domineering fashion, having learned that it’s a viable form of conflict resolution and practising it so regularly.

I would also agree that it’s in our mutual interests to BOTH have games that cater for our specific needs and values. Someone publicly acting like an ass in Guild Wars 2 will get promptly slapped around by the Anet GMs with a suspension or a ban. I have my safe place to game in. I see less trolls and griefers around in my game, while I still have PvP options that I enjoy and plenty of PvP here too.

They’ve got to have somewhere to go. Their safe place that allows them to enjoy themselves. If another game is brave enough to take them on and take their money, then who am I to demand that that game cater to me too? I’m busy over here in my game anyway. In fact, there’s a certain poetic justice in that those who share the same beliefs are spending time with each other, engaged in behavior they understand and find natural.

It may very well be that we find that one of us won’t play a particular game for whatever reason, but are perfectly fine playing another together.

In the same way, it may very well be in all our interests as gamers, to encourage a diversity of games – even those we won’t play personally – so that others may have places where -they- can play together.

Evolve: The Big Alpha – First Impressions, Part 2

On the second day, I debated with myself whether I wanted to give Evolve another chance, and ended up saying, “What the hell, why not, it’s free at the moment, with a time limit for this experience.”

This time I purposefully set myself to a completely Random role preference, hoping that this would help the currently not-quite-perfected matchmaking match me with players a little more at my current level of play, and giving myself the opportunity to play all the roles to understand them more.

The Medic, whom I managed to randomly roll first, was quite understandable. The character of Val has a sniper rifle – landing hits on the Monster with this yields zones of critical damage that your teammates can use to increase their own damage done. She has a medic gun that essentially acts like the TF2 medic’s healing gun and an AoE healing burst skill, both of which I spent a lot of time with that game, keeping all the Hunters alive. Finally, she has a tranquilizer gun that slows the Monster and also keeps it targeted for the Hunters. I was a little less adept at landing this on a regular basis (my twitch aim has never been the greatest and ping does play a part too.)

Our Monster for that game managed to hit Stage 2, but his defeat, I felt, was a moot point. He never managed to pick me out as a threat, and I did a -lot- of healing of anyone else damaged, so no Hunter ever died. He eventually died from attrition over time.

I also got Markov the Assault again and watched the intro video a little more closely, finally figuring out the lightning gun and finding it much easier to get up close and personal with the grounded Goliath – who also needs to be in close melee range to fight – than with the Kraken.

I spent a little time as the Trapper Maggie, and mostly spent my time following my pet Daisy follow tracks, while failing to successfully trap the Monster – missing by a couple feet because I kept misjudging distance and hadn’t yet worked out how to catch up with the Monster – which was busy running away most of the time.

Meanwhile, the rest of my team had dispersed in who knows what direction, so that wasn’t a very satisfactory game at all.

The Monster was too busy being pursued to stop and eat and level up, the Hunters were spread out and unsuccessful at cornering the Monster. After ten minutes of this, I rolled my eyes and quit, being perfectly happy to sit through a minute-long “quitter” penalty than put up with another 10-20 minute stalemate while the Monster eventually stole enough meals on the run to get to Stage 2 or 3.

Then I had a quick run as Support, where I mostly never had the opportunity to use much beyond the basic damage gun, and an experimental cloak or two, because that game was most notable for a not-terribly-experienced level 7 Monster and a super-experienced level 23 Hunter.

The scenery's pretty great if you have the machine for it.
The scenery’s pretty great if you have the machine for it. Too busy to remember to take screenshots in game though. I was the level 4. The level 23 kicked major ass. I don’t even know what the level 10 and 13 were doing, they eventually caught up later.

The Hunter immediately zoomed in on its tracks the moment the game started, while I merely faithfully followed in the Hunter’s footsteps. He seemed to have a radar equivalent to Daisy’s given how skilled he was, despite him being a Medic. The Monster got caught in Stage 1, constantly filled full of Tranquilizer Darts leaving him easily trackable, ran in easily predictable straight line directions while I was finally figuring out the art of the double-tap-space jetpack forward leap to catch up with the Monster more effectively, and ended up full of bullets, standing still near the end because it had entirely given up.

I never much had any opportunity to use a shield for allies, since the Monster never really attacked anyone successfully, nor did it ever occur to me to figure out how to use some harpoon line mines because the Monster was standing still anyway and I was mostly reflecting on how asymmetrical this matchup was, and how it might be theoretically possible to “grief” games by voluntarily not putting up any kind of fight, while emptying entire clips into it.

Finally, after a lot of Hunter experience and seeing how not very effective Monsters played, I was tempted once again to select Monster as a first priority and try my hand at it once more.

This time, my new strategy was just to test out evasion and sneaking -everywhere-, since running in a straight line away from Hunters wasn’t that effective.

Sneaking gave me a little more time to feed, but I still wasn’t very good at it since feeding attracted carrion birds, which signals to Hunters immediately where you are. By the time I hit Stage 2 and was ready to evolve, the Hunters would usually find me, and I kept having a hell of a time losing them once they caught sight of me and had me on their radar.

I did however have one very memorable moment while being filled with bullets and trying to do some damage to them while getting away, and managed to scale a cliff near to the map limits. It so happened there was a big pillar I could hide my bulk behind, and I could keep track of the Hunters by sniffing my surroundings with right-click.

They must have somehow lost sight of me, possibly from their attention being taken by neutral monster attacks during the time I broke off. I hunkered down and stayed -absolutely- silent. They stood around in a group of four, looking around, seemingly extremely puzzled because the Trapper’s dome was up and I couldn’t have gone far.

They moved around to the sides to look around, while I kept sneaking and strafed left and right to keep the pillar between them and me, and completely failed to come around to where I was.

The dome came down. I stayed super quiet still.

Eventually, they moved off.

I got a BIG thrill from that.

Outsmarting my opponents through clever strategy is one of the things I do enjoy in my FPSes. That’s why I can stand to play Team Fortress occasionally as an engineer doing horrible things to people with my turret placements. Or aiming to, anyway.

Unfortunately, they managed to catch up with me rather quickly again once I got on the move and tried to hunt and feed, and I died from attrition damage as expected. But that was a game where I felt that they weren’t a super-experienced group of Hunters and that I was actually fulfilling a role as a fair enough challenge for their level, while getting some valuable personal experience as a Monster myself.

I dare say that given time and effort, most players would be able to climb out of the newbie stage and get to a passably average level of play.

An interesting question then arises: Is there sufficient motivation to?

I’m still on the fence about that myself.

On one hand, I do like the whole alien vs humans premise. I do expect that if I spent time playing the game every day, I’ll be able to move with the launch crowd playerbase, from the point where nearly everyone starts as newbies and eventually gains more skill over time.

On the other hand, I do have a main game I’m playing called Guild Wars 2. I’m not sure if I have enough time left over to devote to Evolve.

I’m not sure if I want to pay $60 for the privilege of playing with the launch crowd, and I highly doubt I’ll have a good time paying a discounted price later if everyone else left playing it 6-12 months after launch has become super skilled.

There are also some questions about the game’s longevity. Evolve is essentially about the monster vs hunter experience. Twist and turn it how you like, eventually it tends to boil down to “If the Hunters can catch the Monster at Stage 1, the Monster is likely to lose. If the Monster can get to Stage 3, the Hunters are in serious trouble and will probably get torn to pieces.”

How many variations on that count can you play before you get bored of the premise?

That answer probably differs from person to person – what they’re getting out of the game experience, if they’re playing with a regular group of friends, how competitive a level they’re playing at, etc.

There are some hints that Evolve will include more game modes and maybe even a single-player experience of some kind, so that might affect perceptions of longevity down the road.

Some people have also expressed concern that it’s possible to “grief” matches by either not putting up much of a fight (which can be rather hard to tell apart from a true newbie) or by artificially extending the length of a match by intentionally leaving Hunters alive while murdering them one by one and letting them respawn from their dropship singly to get picked off again.

Still, I presume there will always be the standard FPS options of dealing with trolling players, by either vote kicking them off the server or quitting yourself and finding another match, so I don’t personally find this a major issue.

I’m mostly just trying to decide how long I’m liable to find Evolve interesting – given my personal preferences of not really liking uneven playing fields and one-sided matches, but really liking strategic fights and alien vs human combat – and if it’s worth $60 to me personally to play at launch.

So far, the magic 8-ball says: Reply hazy. Please try again.

I suppose I’ll keep an eye on it, give it another try in beta if given the opportunity to and see how it develops.

Evolve: The Big Alpha – First Impressions, Part 1

Evolve is the upcoming game by Turtle Rock Studios (of previous Left 4 Dead fame) where one Monster player gets to pit themselves competitively against four Hunters with different roles like Medic, Trapper, Support and Assault playing cooperatively.

Premise-wise, it sounds really fun.

evolve-summary

Looks-wise, it doesn’t have anything to be ashamed about.

Being rather cheap and unwilling to pay a box price sight unseen, I was initially perfectly content to wait until after launch and pick it up when it got discounted, following prior established pattern for all these FPS games like Left 4 Dead or Natural Selection 2.

Then the Evolve Big Alpha announcement dropped: all players who own XCOM have free access to the current ongoing alpha.

Oh. Well. That changes things.

And I have a new computer that is just asking to run these sorts of graphically intensive games.

Downloaded it, tried a few games and now I’m caught in an even bigger dilemma – do I pick it up at launch, pick it up as intended much later on when it is discounted, or maybe I shouldn’t even bother to pick it up at all.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad game. Even in alpha, it’s extremely functional and does what it says on the box. Pits one monster player against four hunter players.

But after two days of very light play, I’ve suddenly realized that there is an inherent flaw in multiplayer PvP-only games.

(It’s a flaw to me, others might find that it is the very -point- of why they enjoy multiplayer PvP.)

The level of challenge (and resultant enjoyment or frustration) faced depends very much on the players themselves and their level of skill and where they are on the learning curve.

Any asymmetries in the matchup produce something less enjoyable as a result, and the variance in encounters can be exceedingly high.

I guess part of the reason why I got bludgeoned in the face with this fact is that Evolve, being in Alpha, still has room to improve on its matchmaking and learning tutorials/tips/safe learning grounds (such as bot games) for new players.

At the moment, though there are in-game tooltips and an introduction video when playing a new character, there still seems to be gaps where an unsuspecting player can accidentally skim through and miss something.

For example, in my first game, I had selected Monster as my first priority of character, followed by Support, Trapper, Assault then Medic. Then hit the automatic matchmaking.

Somehow, I got thrown into an already in-progress match, skipping all the initial load and introduction screens that I saw in later matches, and got presented with one character in a drop ship with the cryptic message “Press E to take over BOT.”

I vaguely remembered on skim-reading the Evolve website that there was some kind of robot character that was a Support, and assumed that I’d been given my next priority choice. Being my first game, I had no clue that this was an in-progress match – for all I knew, this was the standard introduction screen.

Pressed E. Pressed E a few more times. Eventually something happened and I parachuted out of the dropship by myself and landed in some dark jungle somewhere.

No intro tutorial, possibly because it was a mid-match join up, which left me rather lost and confused and inventorying my guns by myself.

Press 1 – Some lightning gun thing comes up. Press left click. Sparks fly around the end. Nothing visible seems to happen. No bullets, no big zap, no nothing. Wut.

Press left click to hold and charge, maybe? Released left click. Nuthing. No big boom. No massive zap. Huh.

What kind of dumb gun is this? Maybe it was for close range fights, was my next thought, though it seemed a bad idea to get up close and personal with a Monster when I was all new at this game.

Ok, next gun. Press 2. Ok, looks like a more standard Assault Rifle. Left click, and get bullets flying out. Ok, I know how this works.

Press 3. Looks like mines. That looks quite standard. Press left click, mines get laid, presumably Monster runs over them and there’ll be a big boom. Great.

Press 4. Hmmm. Some kind of personal shield thing. With a cooldown. Ok, I can deal with that.

All this, while desperately trying to catch up with two other players, who had run ahead and hadn’t bothered to wait for the rest of the group. For whatever reason, my jetpack seemed to be running out of fuel at a much faster rate than the other two.

The last player had wandered off somewhere else by himself.

I suspect you might be able to immediately tell that we were a shit group of Hunters, with no coordination whatsoever.

Me, I was so disoriented, it took me a couple minutes to figure out that I wasn’t playing a robot, that my character’s name was apparently Markov (given the context of the voice-overs that popped up when I pointed my target reticle at something) and that maybe I wasn’t the Support character I’d been expecting to play after all.

(For the record, Markov is an Assault. I know that now.)

Meanwhile, our Monster opponent was a Kraken – a flying beast with ranged attacks, which is apparently unlocked through progression, after playing a grounded melee Goliath.

Naturally, that suggested that this player was of quite a high level, and as you might expect, he proceeded to wipe the floor with us for most of the game. He went through the weak Stage 1 in under a minute or two, while everyone was still running in circles trying to figure out what we were doing. Not a good sign for the Hunters, that.

In Stage 2, the Monster is about an even match for the Hunters and in Stage 3, it gets OP. The Kraken player pretty much controlled the entire pace of the game, indulging in fly-by bombings and tearing through Hunters like tissue paper. The only reason we didn’t immediately lose the game was that we were so spread apart, the Kraken couldn’t find all of us before someone respawned after two minutes.

We only managed a temporary stalemate when the Monster happily evolved to Stage 3 and we all decided independently that we’d camp out by the power reactor that was ostensibly the Monster’s main target and let the Monster come to us.

At first, the Monster player was not exceedingly keen on entering entrances that were loaded down with Arc Mines with four rather panicky Hunters aiming and spraying in its direction the moment it showed its face.

Eventually, when it got bored, it decided to barrel through and massacred everybody.

Yeah. Well. Inexperienced Hunters. Learning curve. These things happen.

My next two games were from the perspective of the Monster. Except I didn’t get a flying Kraken, I had to start with a Goliath. Big, strong and clumsy. Mostly melee.

In my first Monster game, everything was unfamiliar, I was still learning what all the controls did, via very quick pop-ups that I barely caught. Hell, I didn’t figure out how to climb up vertical surfaces until the second game, when I finally managed to read the pop-up tip.

I can only take comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one who had trouble with this – if this forum feedback is anything to go by, that it feels very cheap when the poor Monster player is forlornly jumping at the edge of a cliff, trying to figure out how to scale it, while the Hunters just stand at the edge, zip around with the jetpacks, riddling its large bulk with bullets until it dies, none the wiser about how it was supposed to get up there.

(For the record, it’s pressing SHIFT while one is climbing.

Nor is it still very clear which walls are climbable and which are not, despite the tool tip proclaiming that the Monster can climb pretty much anything. Not true, very tall faces seem to be off-limits, despite me wanting very much to take advantage of verticality to evade Hunters.)

Conversely, all four hunters I faced stuck like glue together and didn’t wander off by themselves.

For all I know, they could have been a pre-made team that knew each other and were linked by voice chat. (Pre-made groups in the Big Alpha were limited to Hunter teams only. So it would make a lot of sense that a lone individual selecting Monster as a first priority might be paired up with a Hunter team ready to go.)

You can expect that I gave a really poor showing as a Monster and made easy prey, getting cornered very quickly while I was still working out how to feed, entangled by what seemed like a million holding cables and zapped by tranquilizer darts, then trapped by the Trapper’s dome.

Mostly, I think the only challenge I presented for the Hunters was being cowardly as hell and trying like dickens to run away and hide.

Not very well, since one’s first impulse at escape was just leaping away in a straight line, which tended to just collide you head on with the map limits in front and the Hunters in hot pursuit behind.

In my second game, I finally figured out how to climb, which made evasion slightly less pathetic, and how to break the cables by aiming my reticle at them by left-clicking.

I was also working on my absolutely disgusting aim – it’s not easy to actually target any hunter while they’re so small and wriggling around. There was also always the big question in the back of my mind, exactly what kind of ping do I have versus theirs? If they have better ping, that might explain why they’re able to see my intended attack and evade it faster than I can make contact, for example.

Some of the targeting also felt very console-y. For example, I kept overshooting the distance from which to “eat” from, which led to me always having to start the eating process, then getting stuck halfway as my monster leaned down to eat and backing away for proper distance, then eating again.

Or there’s the rock throw on the Goliath, with which I’m still trying to figure out exactly how it works – it seems like I generally get better results firing the skill the moment the targeting reticle is over a hunter, where it then tries to automatically lock on and land the boulder after the whole animation is complete… except in cases where the boulder doesn’t land, because I don’t exactly know why one Hunter was able to evade it by moving while another couldn’t.

By virtue of just ignoring survival as a criteria and just focusing on “I am going to learn how to attack people in this game,” I managed to down one or two. All that while taking fire from two other Hunters sniping from all sorts of vantage points, so that’s not exactly good overall either.

Eventually, I got attritioned to death and died, realizing after the fact that I’d been going in circles in a very small part of the map, and that I could have run a lot further away, had I –actually- been familiar with the map, which I wasn’t.

Learning curve, yet again.

I don’t have issues with learning curves per se. All games have learning curves, some easier than others.

And I do think that Evolve is potentially a very fun game when Monsters and Hunters of roughly equivalent skill are having a go at each other.

However, my first day newbie experience rather rubbed my face in the fact that -while- players are going through these learning curves, the game as presented isn’t really fun for either party.

Newbie Monsters are a boring pushover, say the experienced Hunters who know their weapons and how to work together. That it almost feels cheap and isn’t very challenging to face such a Monster, and the only thing they can do is end the game quickly, say in 3 minutes or less, and move on to another hopefully better game.

Meanwhile the newbie Monster is faced with rather impossible odds of trying to break up a coordinated party of four, or get away long enough to feed and get powerful, which is rather hard to achieve if the Hunters are good and more experienced than thou. The experience becomes a rather frustrating tempting-to-ragequit moment, because you start weak and never are given the opportunity to become on par with the other side to get a fighting chance.

Or conversely, the opposite scenario can also occur. Wow, this Monster is OP, say less experienced Hunters who get their face wrecked by someone who actually knows how to play a Monster, who took advantage of their inexperience to get valuable time gaps in which to feed and power up.

It strikes me that in a contested game where player skill level determines the difficulty, these sorts of asymmetrical matches are going to be very much more the norm than the ones where player skill is perfectly matched.

Yes, there is such a thing called matchmaking.

Yes, the goal of matchmaking is to reduce as much as possible these sorts of uneven situations.

Yes, the game is in Alpha, and Evolve devs have shared that the matchmaking priorities can be tweaked a little more so that the game prioritizes player skill levels a little more over player-selected role preferences.

I was the level 2. I followed the level 20+s like glue. The poor level 3 became the Monster. It wasn't what you might call a close match.
I was the level 2. I followed the level 20+s like glue. The poor level 3 became the Monster. It wasn’t what you might call a close match.

(Which very much explains why my Alpha experience tended to end up with level 1 or 2 players mixed in with level 21 to 23 players… It’s very obvious that the higher levelled players have spent more time with the game and know more of the tricks.)

I do worry, though, that matchmaking tends to fall flat if there aren’t enough players at all skill levels to evenly distribute out, to say nothing of geographic region matching too.

This may be less important for a game like League of Legends that has a playerbase of millions of players, which suggests ample critical mass at any one point in time, but smaller population games may face a challenge with this.

The big question I’m asking myself is: Do I personally find this sort of inherent asymmetry fun?

Truth is, I’m leaning towards “Not really.”

I liked Left 4 Dead because it was a cooperative game where the computer “Director” was given the responsibility of entertaining the players.

If the players sucked, the computer would ease up on the amount of zombies sent their way.

If the players were a cohesive team, the computer would raise the stakes and tension by challenging the players with more special zombies, more hordes and so on.

This adaptive difficulty level creates flow. The perfect amount of challenge to produce player engagement.

Too little challenge produces boredom. After the hundredth easy Monster pickings, I doubt a skilled Hunter player would be interested any longer, beyond the schadenfreude pleasure of bullying a real person. Ditto the opposite situation where Monster and Hunter roles were reversed.

(I suppose in a contested multiplayer game, there -is- a substantial subset of players who are more griefing/trolling oriented than fair fight-competitive PvP per se, and this would appeal to them. Being able to dominate another player without much real challenge faced.)

Too much challenge produces frustration. Frustrated individuals, who don’t feel there’s any more value to be gained by investing time and effort to learn to get better, quit.

Is there any way around this?

There’s a few I can think of, with some onus on the player, and some on the developer.

From a developer perspective, they can definitely work on better matchmaking to hopefully give the most number of players an even balanced match.

And they can work on creating smoother learning/tutorial experiences where a newbie player has more safe opportunities to learn the game to the minimum level needed for enjoyment.

Ideas along this line would be things like single-player tutorials or games against bots, where their newbieness won’t spoil any other real player’s experience and they’ll have more time to find their feet and get familiar with all the controls.

Or more contextual tool-tips, so that the poor Monster humping the cliff will actually get a pop up telling it to “Press SHIFT to climb this,” or the Assault left-clicking vainly with his lightning gun will get an out-of-range message or indicator or some other kind of visual feedback to suggest that it doesn’t work well at long range, rather than taking home the message that this gun is broken.

Of course, some effort and time investment on the player’s behalf is required too. One generally gets more familiar with a game by playing more matches and playing different roles.

Continued in Part 2

GW2: Echoes of the Past – Zeroth Impressions

Getting Crystal Desert flashbacks here...

Okay, I lied.

Or at least underestimated how bad my discipline is, in the face of many other distractions.

Between real life and having too many games grappling for my attention, I haven’t found nearly enough time to write blog posts.

Worse, I’m nearly fit to bursting with things I want to write about but haven’t been able to devote enough time to give it a fair treatment.

The latest update in Guild Wars 2 is one of them, and I’ll have to point you over to Bhagpuss’ coverage of it for now.

I haven’t even had the time to finish the Living Story instances yet – I backed out of the last one when it looked to be way too much reading plus a very long fight to fully do it justice when I was in a sleepy “just want to get things done and over with” sort of mood.

Suffice to say that it looks to be a very nice update indeed, proof of which is the dearth of player whining on Reddit, suggesting that many are too busy in-game to have the free time to write long dissertations on why ArenaNet is variously the devil or “doesn’t get it.”

  • Big hefty new area almost the size of the full Dry Top, with the lifted from WvW suggestion of having fort defence vs mob scenarios and transplanted into this “WvW experience, but in PvE” zone.
  • Lots more nods back to GW1 lore, giving nostalgic players loregasms all over the place.
  • Shiny new armor pieces that are not sold in the gem store, apparently to be earned via a PvE grind of some kind.
  • An interesting new stat arrangement that isn’t immediately dismissed as “worthless” and may have some experimental use for some professions.

Stuff like that. Haven’t had time to absorb or analyze it any further, so that’s all I can say about it for now.

What I do want to talk about instead are my experiences playing the Evolve Big Alpha, and then try to segue into a very interesting discussion in the blogosphere right now about PvP, where many folks are chiming in with their own perspectives.

That’s the subject of the next few posts.

…and Done. Normal Service Should Resume Shortly.

Welcome to the jungle...

It’s here! It’s here!

*cue choir bells and much trumpet fanfare*

There isn’t a gaping empty space in the middle of the motherboard any longer!

newpc-complete

I didn’t exactly plan a tri-color scheme, but I’ll take it.

Naturally, one of the first things I did was take it for a spin in Guild Wars 2.

gw2-people

Crazy… I can actually see what other players are wearing now.

And their attack animations… *shudders in ecstasy* are actually playing out now, creating a glorious tableau of information and particle effects.

It’s almost overwhelming to take in at first, having been so used to having blinders on by all other players set on the lowest model and quality settings, where they pretty much exist as an invisible model under a green name tag or a pink clay-colored model holding some weapon basic attacking.

I got an immediate flash back to City of Heroes though, where a regular 8 person team was also a kaleidoscope of colored particle effects and strange animations. When one first starts, it’s all overwhelming and hard to read – though you see what’s happening, you don’t actually understand what’s going on. Over time as one gains experience with different classes and commonly used attacks, you can just naturally tell when someone has just used a crowd control effect to alpha strike, or some other player placed a valuable debuff, etc.

It’ll take some practice again, but I’m sure it’ll be the same with GW2.

I’m really looking forward to test running this out in WvW and maybe even PvP.

Being able to read your opponent’s animations are critical in PvP, and I’ve always been sure that I was essentially playing a delayed guessing game when it comes to zerg fights in WvW – actually seeing models and what other players are doing (are they leaping in with hammers or greatswords, or just being able to pick out which characters are the long-range casters with staffs, etc ) would be game-changing, I suspect.

It’ll likely take some graphics adjustments still, for good framerates in WvW, but I like what I’m seeing in the Mad King’s Labyrinth already.

gw2-fps1

Just trundling around on autodetect settings, with a group of 10-15 killing stuff gives framerates of 60+.

Normal autodetect settings also seem to be pretty damn high (compared to my toaster, everything is high to me, I guess):

gw2-autodetect

The only time the framerates dropped was when we piled on as a group of 20-25 on a door unloading plenty of Halloween mobs:

gw2-fps2

Dropped to 33 FPS.

Hell, 33 FPS was the best I ever got on the toaster, on minimal settings.

Out of curiosity, I switched back to my usual minimal settings to see how different this new computer was. FPS danced around from 92 to 150.

150. I had no idea that there was such a thing as triple digit FPS. Insane.

This bodes very well indeed. Since I’m already used to playing GW2 on super minimal settings, I can always tweak it back down to that in times of need, and remove lag from my computer as any contributing factor to lousy game performance.

gw2-before

Fake Before shot (ie. minimal settings on the new computer, though I may have forgot to uncheck high-res character textures. I’ll get a real Before shot later, when I feel I can face a minutes-long loading time for Windows again.)

gw2-after

And After. Oh, those textures and lighting and shadows. *swoons*

I immediately ran out into the open world and man, it feels absolutely different and more immersive with the music playing while you’re looking at this sort of scenery.

gw2-openworld

On the to-do list: Level the abandoned lowbie characters in a gloriously more gorgeous world.

Though truth is, I’m feeling more attention-torn than a kid in the candy store now.

Every game on my Steam list is now viable to consider playing.

I immediately installed Natural Selection 2, which is something my old toaster has -never- been able to run. It used to just stall trying to load the opening screen, let alone actually connect to a game and load a map. Well, it -works- now. The only limitation now is ping, seems to be only one Asian server visible that gives ping in the 100 range, everything else is 200+. (Dang it.)

Still, I ran around like a noob while all the veterans stacked over to the other team (there were around 6-7 other green name newbies on that server, so it wasn’t just me), and lost two games that way, but well, I’m actually getting to -play- NS2, which is utterly cool. Maybe some day I’ll find a server with people who actually can play strategically and cooperate with each other.

I took Deus Ex: Human Revolution for a spin too. Feels pretty awesome, when you take into consideration that I haven’t played one of these story-based action FPS type games in a long time (beyond Sleeping Dogs or Spec Ops: The Line anyway.)

I have no clue what else to install yet. Something like Skyrim would probably be a massive disruption to all the other games I’m playing, so maybe not.

Naturally, my usual contrarian self, when given a computer that can run stuff at sick FPS, also immediately copied over the Feed the Beast launcher and existing save files, and spent several hours playing Minecraft: Crash Landing. (Bright side, a lot less CPU lag when opening chests and things with inventories.)

The next installment of the Living Story is due to drop in a few days though, so maybe I’ll just leapfrog around in a bedazzled fashion for a while, then get down to brass tacks in GW2 on Nov 4.

I’m pretty open to suggestions on good games to take for a spin (as long as they’re old enough to get 50 or 75% off discounts on Steam, I stopped buying stuff at launch a while ago and generally don’t miss a thing. Seems like more and more, launch day buyers are just volunteering for a paid beta test to find all the bugs anyway.)