EVE: CCP is changing how PLEX will work, goodbye Aurum

Changes to how PLEX works in EVE are coming, though no exact date on when this change is going live is given. As with any major change, I expect the PLEX market to be very active between now and whenever this goes live. The proposed changes are good and bad IMO.

The good is that the other secondary currency, Aurum, is going away, meaning one less currency to worry about in EVE when looking to buy something. I also like PLEX becoming a currency rather than one large item, as this will make buying things with that currency easier and more clear, especially for new players.

The bad is the conversion rate, which is currently set to 1 PLEX = 500 new PLEX. 500 PLEX a month is an odd number, as it doesn’t divide evenly by 30. Is the new price of EVE 16.667 new PLEX a day? Why not set the price to 10 new PLEX a day, or 20?

The other downside, though not completely, is that with the addition of the PLEX vault, we likely lose PLEX tanking” ships, where someone loses a ton of PLEX while being dumb or horribly unlucky. Oddly this hurts CCP the most, as any destroyed PLEX was a loss of a game time someone already paid for, without it being converted into actual game time. On the other hand, a lot of PLEX losses were from new players, and I’m guessing CCP has the stats behind someone instantly quitting the game the moment they lose their newly purchased PLEX before they were able to sell it for ISK and get a jump-start in the game. Saving players willing to spend more on the game than just the baseline sub price from themselves likely makes up the losses from PLEX being removed before being cashed in.

I’d say overall this is a good move, and if they tweak to make the price-per-day a bit more clear, that would really make this great.

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EVE: Incursion running double feature

Quick little EVE update for today. Due to mostly RL factors, I haven’t been able to play as much EVE lately as I’ve wanted. In particular, I haven’t been able to sit down for a 2+ hr chunk of time to do things like bigger fleet ops or run incursions. For the most part I’ve been logging into my industry pilot to update orders, queue up new production, and manage PI. Hell I’ve actually started buying minerals in Delve because I haven’t even ratted enough to reprocess junk and feed my production chain.

Things have settled down a little, and as luck would have it an incursion has spawned one carrier jump away from our home system. I got in a few runs there, but again not as many as I’d have liked. But wouldn’t you know, I think this month CCP has picked Goons to win EVE, and the incursion respawned in the exact same spot, meaning the incursion SIG went right back to printing money. RL having settled down a bit, I’ve managed to stay in a fleet for a decent chunk of time, and the ISK has been flowing nicely.

There is also a rumor that Concord-themed ships are coming to EVE ‘soon’, and will be bought via Concord LP, which is the secondary currency you also get from Incursions. People in the SIG are sitting on massive piles of the stuff (one pilot made 1.8m LP last Incursion, which is next-level grinding), and as Goons are the only major alliance who run null-sec Incursions, that could be a very nice break for us all. But, this being CCP, that ‘coming soon’ could be a ways off. Until then, the grind continues, and I’ll just keep letting my LP stack grow.

Posted in EVE Online, Goons

Battle Brothers – Keeping pace, recovering from setback

It’s rare in single-player games that you can bounce back from a setback. Usually you are either progressing towards victory, or you are defeated.

Take for example a typical game of Civilization. At the start (on a decent difficulty level) you are behind the computer, and you either slowly climb up, or you don’t climb fast enough and lose when the AI beats you to an ending or defeats you in war via superior tech/units. Its very rare that you can fight the AI, lose a bit, and then come back. It’s also pretty rare that you can be winning and have the AI bounce back against you.

The same can generally be said about XCOM. If you are keeping pace, you are winning. If you fall behind the pace, you will lose and have to restart. If a mission goes very poorly, you again lose (this is less the case in the Long War mod). The balance just isn’t there to get a very tough mission, have it go poorly (multiple soldiers die), and for you to bounce back and recover.

Battle Brothers manages to achieve that feeling of things going south, but still giving you a chance (though no guarantee) that you can still turn things around, and its a rather thrilling feeling. I’ve mentioned before that interesting decisions pop up when a guy goes down, or gets serious injuries, but as I finished my first epic event, I can also say that those type of decisions also exist at a higher level as well.

Here is how it can play out. It’s around day 90, and you are doing well. You have a full company of 12 brothers, all decently geared, and your supplies/gold are solid. The epic event starts, and you take a 2 skull contract. That contract ends up being far more difficult than you predicted, but you only realize this after the fact. Now you are faced with a choice; fight the battle and potentially lose it all, or decline the contract/fight and take the reputation hit, along with the epic event getting worse (a town is burned, for example).

Assuming the decision you made didn’t result in complete defeat, you must now recover. The tricky thing is what do you do? If most contracts are event-related, maybe more of them will be too difficult or risky, but you have to do something or you will run out of gold/supplies. Wandering the world looking for fights is an option, and a viable one at that. Taking one-skull contracts is another option, though that might be tricky as the pay may not justify your ongoing expenses, or the gains might be too small for the amount of time spent.

The whole time, you are balancing getting stronger with the world overall getting more dangerous. The more you push yourself, the faster you will progress, but pushing too far could either result in a total defeat, or a setback that requires more recovery/pushing. The epic events just ramp this aspect up, with more dangerous fights and contracts coming up, along with far greater rewards. It’s an impressive display of game design and balance, and makes the later stages of Battle Brothers as engaging and challenging as the early.

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Battle Brothers full release coming March 24th, 2017

If you don’t own Battle Brothers by now, you either A: suck, or B: avoid Early Access games at all costs. Well I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is I can’t fix your suck problem, that’s on you. The good news is I can tell you Battle Brothers coming out of EA on March 24th, so all you EA-phobes can join in and experience the greatness.

The put together a nifty little trailer here. Also note that the price will be going up come release, so you should grab it now before that happens.

Going forward I’m curious what their plan is. I’m all for DLC that just adds more stuff (enemies, recruit backgrounds, items, locations, etc). Plus if they open it up to modding, I’m sure there is a ton of interesting stuff people could do with the game ala Mount and Blade.

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It’s not the player, it’s the game

Over at Tobold’s blog, across a number of recent posts, the familiar topic of why MMOs in general have declined has come up again, this time framed in the context of whether it’s the players or the game that has changed. Tobold is very clear that be believes it’s the players, while I’ve always been in the camp that it’s mostly the changes to a game that drive things.

My example, as always (because it still holds), is EVE vs WoW. WoW has declined in popularity overall, and what was once a game players would vacation away from (remember that WAR guild named after the release date of WotLK that was a popular meme before meme’ing was a thing?), is now for many a game they vacation to, consuming the month or so of new content before leaving again.

In contrast, EVE in 2017 is still EVE, in that those who play it are still playing (along with all the new alpha people), and the big names from five years ago are mostly still here and important (Goons, PL, TEST, Brave, etc). There is more stuff, and everything looks/sounds/functions like a 2017 game, but the game is still about PvP, economy, and epic player-driven storylines around space empires.

So now you either believe everyone playing EVE is a special exception, or you accept that because EVE hasn’t radically changed like WoW has, the design still hold and works in 2017 like it did ten years ago. Which isn’t to say EVE in 2017 is the same game as it was in 2003, it’s not, but its core design and principles are. It’s also why looking at a vanilla WoW server today misses the point; yes that server is popular because vanilla WoW is still a better MMO than current-day WoW, but had WoW stayed frozen in vanilla it would have also declined. What Blizzard needed to do with WoW is what CCP has done with EVE; update it to keep it current/modern, but not at the expense of your core design/appeal. Had they successfully done that (no easy task of course), WoW’s ‘decline’ would look similar to that of EVE or Lineage 1 (bigger than ever).

As for players changing, while individually we all grow up and stop being basement-dwelling no-lifers capable of putting in countless hours into a single game (most of us anyway), we are just replaced with the next wave. Ten years ago I would have easily had the time to be a full time FC in EVE, or to run a successful Corp (because, you know, I did that), but that’s just not the case today. Luckily for me, there are other who do those things (thanks Mittens and Asher!), and when they retire, others will replace them as well. The same would have happened to the content-creators in WoW had they in general not been driven away by the changes to the game’s design.

Finally, on the topic of the market today being different than it was in 2005 (or whatever time period you want to use as ‘back then’); that is also obviously true, but it works both ways. In 2005 having a gaming-capable computer wasn’t automatic, nor was having good-enough internet. In 2017 both of these things are far more common, far more affordable, and far more socially acceptable (gaming isn’t just for nerds anymore). So yes, we have Steam and its yearly 4,000 releases, or the whole mobile gaming segment, but we also have a much larger pool of potential players, and the age range of people who ‘get’ gaming is also far larger. A successful 35 year old might not have the same amount of time to play a game as they did ten years ago, but you better believe they have a lot more disposable income, which is why games that tap into that successfully (LoL, EVE) are seeing increased revenue-per-player without sacrificing design principles.

In summary, gaming today, MMO or otherwise, should be in a better state than in years past. More people are interested overall, more people with money are interested, and all of it is more accessible than ever. The fact that the MMO genre is suffering rather than thriving isn’t because the players all suddenly decided they hate this style of game, but instead because today the average MMO is terrible. Bad F2P models and their influence on design are a large piece of the blame pie, but there are plenty of other factors as well. Making a good MMO is hard, but even today if you have one, you will have people happily playing/paying it.

Posted in EVE Online, MMO design, Tobold being Wrong, World of Warcraft | 5 Comments

Battle Brothers – Difficulty that keeps the pace

I’m really, really enjoying Battle Brothers, to the point that it’s heavily cut into my EVE time and I’ve been in maintenance mode (market, industry, and PI updating only) the last few weeks now. Luckily EVE isn’t going anywhere, and I did take a little BB break to burn a few things in Jita, which was great fun and it’s always amazing to see that level of coordination from Goons. But yes, back to Battle Brothers.

One of the things that is really holding my attention with the game is the overall difficulty has stayed very consistent, while the risks/reward aspect increases as you progress. BB is a difficult game, both in terms of in-battle decisions, and with regard to larger, long-term stuff (when and who to hire, when/what to buy).

At the very beginning, the challenge is learning the basics, but you are also facing basic enemies that don’t bring a great deal of complexity to combat, while your own units aren’t yet specialized. It’s not quite “line up and swing away”, but it’s not terribly far from that, especially if you aren’t hyper-focused on minimizing damage and just want to win. The economy aspect also starts simple, where you are mostly focused on having food and tools, and you aren’t really diving into buying equipment or moving trade goods between settlements.

At the mid-point of the game, more of these things start to factor in. As you gain levels, you open up more abilities or specializations, which you need to align with the gear you have. Say for example you hire an amazing archer with fantastic ranged stats/bonuses, but you haven’t gotten a single decent ranged weapon yet. It would make sense to seek one out on the market, but how much do you spend and where? (at the first city you find, or do you run contracts for a city with a bowyer to increase your reputation and lower the price to create a more long-term solution?)

Let’s say you have that great archer, and are working on reputation with a city that has a bowyer. Suddenly in an encounter that archer is killed. Now what? Do you scrap the whole general direction you were going in, or continue and attempt to hire a suitable replacement? What happens when you pay a high price for a replacement, and their stats/bonuses just aren’t worth really focusing on?

And all of that is just one example, and you will likely have half a dozen such example going at the same time in one game, with varying degrees of impact, complexity, and demand. If two settlements are in close proximity with each other and produce profitable trade goods, you will really want to focus on that area and build a reputation to get lower buy, higher sell prices. But maybe the game has other ideas, and the contracts you are offered are ones to protect a caravan that is traveling to the other side of the map. If you keep declining them, you might not have other work to do. If you accept them, now you aren’t in that area. If the towns are often hit by raiders pillaging supplies, or greenskin raids, prices and supply will also suffer, and your once profitable area is now (at least until you fix it) poor and doesn’t produce what you need to keep going.

The final layer is once you are further in, and you have higher-level mercenaries with mid to high-end gear, a single death or crippling injury is now far more of an issue than it was earlier in the game. Lost gear is much harder to replace, and if the merc lost was also a specialist, his replacement will be both costly and difficult to find. If your general battle strategy counted heavily on the specialist (say a center line holding defensive guy), until you replaced that guy and his general effectiveness, you either can’t fight the same difficulty of battles (not always an option), or you have to change up how you fight.

Now multiply the problem of a single merc lost with a battle that goes really poorly and you lose two, three, or even six+ guys. Sure you can give up and restart, but it’s far more fun to try and recover, which is possible but is its own complex set of problems.

All of this really only works in Ironman mode too. If you save scum BB, you really are going to ruin the game. Being able to reload after a failed contract negotiation, or a bad battle, or even to only hire the best recruits not only cheapens the whole experience of difficult decisions and dealing with them, but you will also out-scale the difficulty since you are accepting only the best results all the time, which the game isn’t balanced around. Even if you generally stay away from Ironman modes in other games, don’t do that here. It should also be noted that Battle Brothers is intended to be played multiple times. Each game has its own map, towns, units; basically everything is different but the game basics, so don’t be afraid of playing with one band, it going poorly, and now having to ‘repeat’ the game again. It really won’t feel like that, and you won’t see that brilliance if you save scum and progress with only one perfectly-played merc company.

 

 

Posted in Random

Battle Brothers:Death comes in many forms

The best stories in gaming aren’t written by developers, but by you. The best stories in gaming are often enabled by developers who set the table, who provide the environment, but then let you drive the narrative and its ultimate conclusion. In more open-ended MMOs this happens often (EVE), and it can even happen in more controlled environments (WoW). In single-player games its a bit more difficult to achieve truly memorable player-driven stories, often because the game won’t allow it (on-rails dev-written story), but other times also because the events just aren’t that memorable (your events in one game of The Sims are likely pretty close to the events of another playthrough, just with some details changed up).

The best single-player game to deliver memorable stories IMO is Mount and Blade: Warband. It has the setting, it has the scope, and it has the high consequences for success/failure. Given that Battle Brothers is very much inspired by M&B, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that it too has already given me a very memorable story, and here it is.

Every new mercenary company in BB starts with three members, and these three members are the foundation of your group. They are generally stronger/better than most recruits you will get, and because you start with them, there is a certain emotional connection you have with them compared to the more random villagers and city folk you will ultimately recruit. Two of the three are melee fighters, while the third is more intended for ranged combat. Their specific traits and strengths are random each game, but again overall they are strong and very capable, so they are special and worth protecting.

In my first game since the big final update, my original three survived and thrived in dozens of battles, and while other fighters around them would go down and need to be replaced, they remained. And not only did they remain, but they avoided any permanent injuries as well, something somewhat rare after so many battles. The world of Battle Brothers can often times be brutal, and even the best plans tend to go sideways.

It wasn’t until one mid-game battle that the archer of the three took a critical-hit crossbow bolt to the head, killing him outright. It was a devastating blow, crushing my own moral as I finished up the fight. I had gone so many battles keeping the three alive, and yet here, despite solid planning and not making a mistake, one of the three went down.

Yet as the fight ended, hope was returned. Looking at the loot after the battle, it seemed this particular site contained not one, but two special named pieces of armor, an extremely rare occurrence. Not only that, but both suits of armor were incredible powerful, especially for a mid-game warband. The remaining two original members were each given a suit of armor, and this would make them true juggernauts on the battlefield, able to hold the front line while withstanding considerable damage. (The armor I found had over 200 hp on each piece, while at the time most of the armor I was using had between 50 and 110hp).

Despite the loss of an original brother, thanks to the new armor the mercenary band did very well for itself for some time, building a great reputation and undertaking contracts for the nobles of the land. The band had gold, they were well-supplied, and other members of the company were catching up in experience and abilities.

But the world is a harsh place, and just as you start to feel comfortable, disaster has a tendency to strike, and strike it did. Accepting a risky contract, the mercenaries found themselves in a loopsided battle against the undead and a necromancer. Individually each member could handle his undead opponent, but being so greatly outnumbered, they simply couldn’t cut through the horde and reach the necromancer in the back line. As the battle dragged on, fatigue was becoming more and more of a factor, and slowly control of the battle was slipping away.

At the center of it all where the two original brothers, holding strong and putting down undead left and right. They were tough and experienced, and fatigue wasn’t a factor for them just yet, nor was the quality of their armor, as the inexperienced undead had trouble landing a hit, let alone ones strong enough for serious concern.

While the center of the battle was going well, on the edges things were not. One by one brothers were going down, and as each fighter fell, the task of reaching the necromancer and stopping him from raising more undead got harder and harder.

Taking a risk, an archer moved closer to the front line to attempt shooting the necromancer. The chance of landing a shot wasn’t great, but with his cloth armor, the necromancer wasn’t the most durable of combatants. After a few rounds, finally enough shots landed to take him down, and to put an end to his dark magic. At this point however many of the brothers were either dead or critically injured, and at the end only the two original members survived to kill the final enemy.

It was a victory, but one that crippled the fighting power of the mercenary company going forward. New recruits could be hired, but seasoned fighters are very expensive, and that was beyond the financial capabilities of the band. The roster was filled out with farmers, common workers, and a ragtag collection of peasants; hardly the seasoned fighting force the company was prior to that fateful battle.

Costs and upkeep remained however, so more contracts would need to be accepted. The band still had its glowing reputation, despite losing so many, which meant the nobles expected great things, and lesser tasks with easier foes were not common. Given the choice between starving or taking a risk, the band took a tough contract against another lair of the undead.

As the battle started, it was clear to the two veteran members that this was be the bands final stand. The numbers were too much, and the enemies far more experienced than the average mercenary. Additionally, among the undead were a few ghosts, which quickly cause fear and panic among the ranks. The mercenaries never had a chance as a whole, and the new recruits were quickly cut down in brutal fashion. Worse still, the two original members, seeing the carnage around them and with ghosts wailing in terror, started to lose their moral and would soon break.

In a sad twist of fate, they didn’t die together fighting a tougher foe in heroic, but rather were slowly nicked to death by shambling undead as they attempted to flee in terror. And so marked the end of that mercenary company, crushed by a cruel and harsh world. But another band would arise, to make new memories, and to push further towards glory.

Posted in Mount and Blade: Warband, Random | 9 Comments