Archive for the ‘the Mario generation’ Category

Game Nerd Breakdown

April 8, 2014 - 2:43 pm 12 Comments

Over on the book of faces, Tam posted a kill shot from our last raid night. Naturally, this brought all the nerds a-runnin’, and quickly derailed Tam’s victory pose into a discussion of game mechanics and a more meta discussion on interface design. So basically take this as warning that if you’re not into gaming or whatnot you may as well knock off here.

A commenter correctly observed that there appeared to be a metric shitload of information present on Tam’s display. Various players agreed that yes, in fact there was, and it got a bit conversational about how that information is managed, displayed, and how it scaled from zero to ALL THE THINGS. LabRat did a rundown of her interface, which caught on. I was going to do a rundown of mine, and then my browser crashed and ate about 1300 words worth of explanation, causing me to say many unkind things about many things before sobbing openly and starting over. Since it came out to such a firehose of gamer nerdism, I figured why not share it here.

This is a screenshot from in-combat, annotated badly because I suck at gimp. I’ll try to stay somewhat meta so what I’m looking at and why is more important than the game/class specific mechanic in game-terms. I play a rogue, a melee dps (damage-per-second) class. My entire raison d’etre is to pump out damage on the enemy. I have very limited ability to self-heal, and substantially less damage resistance than a tank (though broadly more than a healer), with a few tools available to mitigate incoming damage if used properly.

No, there are not many like it.

A is my unit frame. Mine is the game default because I don’t rely on it terribly much. Green bar is my health, green text is incoming healing. Fun fact, showing this shot to LabRat, neither of us had any idea where that healing was coming from and I had to look it up (turns out it’s a racial passive skill I’d forgotten I even had). The yellow bar is energy, my primary resource, also tracked by the yellow bar in the central box marked 47. Anything I do in combat consumes energy at various costs per skill, and it regenerates fairly rapidly over time on its own, sometimes aided by chance-based “procs”.

B is my target, a training dummy which is exactly what it sounds like. Also game default because the useful information I’ve replicated in more sensible/useful places and don’t care enough to change it there. The three red dots on its portrait’s right are combo points, more on those shortly.

C and D are cooldowns. These are things I can trigger to increase my damage output for a short time, which are then unavailable for a while. The greyed out C means it has been activated, and the 39.4 is how many seconds until I can use it again. Since D is in color, it’s available to use.

E and F are “Fix this, dumbass” indicators. E is present because in this shot, I have not applied a poison to my weapon, which is a major source of my damage output but only lasts an hour between applications. It can expire in combat, and if it goes unremedied all of a sudden I go from useful to burden. F means that the enemy has not had its armor weakend. There are multiple classes that can do this, including my own, but it needs to be done by *someone* so there’s an indicator up for me if nobody has done it yet.

G, both left and right, is a proc, a chance based event to let me use an attack at a reduced (free in this case) cost. The big ( ) slashes are the game default indicator, the stabby box is my redundant indicator because it’s a short window to take advantage of the proc and I really need to get on that.

H is whether or not my interrupt ability is available. This can stop an enemy from casting some types of spells, but has a short cooldown on use. It’s short enough I find it more useful to be a binary present/not present icon rather than tracking time till available like on C and D.

I is the list of buffs and debuffs on my character. In a group, this would condense down to a single box with an X applied out of Y available count for buffs available from other party members, but some proc-based ones such as the left-most four would still appear separate. Unmodified since I can’t control the proc-based ones, and they don’t impact what I’m actively doing in combat (other than the Really Big one at G), and the party buffs are dealt with before combat starts, ideally.

J is just my area minimap. Unmodified, but ringed by icons to access the settings for a bunch of the addons I run.

Coming back in to the central box on the screen, this is all of the most vital data I need to run combat. The bar marked Rupture is a timer counting down. This is an class specific ability I need to keep active on the enemy if combat is of any noteworthy duration. The bar marked Slice and Dice is likewise a countdown timer, but instead for a buff I apply to myself that’s a major source of damage output increase. The initial duration of both is determined by how many combo points, the green, yellow, and orange boxes between the timers, I have when I do it.

The combo points are my secondary resource. They’re generated by doing “builder” moves at the cost of energy. Five is the maximum, although there’s a player-choice mechanic to tweak that a little bit just for more complexity/flexibility depending on how you like to play it. These are spent with big burst damage moves called finishers. They don’t necessarily actually finish the boss, but it’s a big whack of damage.

The red bar with 99 then a huge number is enemy health in both percent form and total hit points remaining. I track it redundantly here because after it’s hurt badly enough, I get to use a different move as my combo point builder that increases my damage output. This phase of the fight is called “rush-down,” and happens at different points for different classes. During rush-down phases, bigger enemies tend to change their mechanics to become more dangerous with sort of desperation tactics. Not all classes get rush-down tools, but they’re huge increases to damage output for those that do.

Chat window is in the lower left, and the box marked DPS in the lower right is my e-peen meter. That tracks how much damage everybody in a group is pumping out either for a given fight or overall (it can track other metrics for other classes, too). There’s another meter that comes up when I am in a group fight that shows how much threat I have, i.e. how important the enemy considers me in priority for who to squish. Damage output is a major factor in threat generation, though far from the only one. Tanks get moves specifically designed to generate more threat than my raw damage output, but that isn’t to say I won’t pull threat from a tank if I just unload carelessly. Or intentionally, since it can be fun to annoy tanks if I think I can survive being the monster’s focus for a while.

While this whole thing is unique to me, perhaps the *most* individual aspect are the rows of buttons along the bottom. I use a keyboard with 18 macro buttons off to the left, and a mouse with another 12 aligned in a thumb-grid, and on my main character there, every one of them has a use. Those bars map all sorts of utility skills and spells for faster access than clicking them (which is still available as a redundant access to the tool). The bar with the buttons marked 1 through – are my most combat-critical things, though not sorted by numeric priority but a more organic process as I leveled the character, with a dash of standardization across all my characters (for instance 5 is *always* my interrupt button).

Finally, the bar at the very top of the screen is supplemental information: where I am, how much bag space I have, etc.

And this is what happens when I have nothing better to do in an afternoon than nerd out about warcrack. Which for all that complexity remains…. a game. I don’t think Pong had quite this many tweaks.

What’s This Button Do?

June 27, 2013 - 3:14 pm 9 Comments

So, as we’re clearly in the filler-or-nothing mode of content, still, it’s my turn to dust off the keys for a bit. For those of you who aren’t warcraft/gaming nerds, go ahead and just pretend it’s status quo and there’s no post. For the rest of you, if you’re happy with your gaming set up, you can probably do the same, because all I’m going to talk about today are mice.

For those who do like warcraft, you’ve probably noticed, “Hey, there’s a metric shitload of things I would like to have quick access to!”, possibly during a raid while a boss is nomming on your face, possibly during pvp while a rogue is making your life miserable. I too found myself in one or both of those situations, and so when I saw the Razer Naga I was all over it. Once integrated into my setup, it quickly became indispensable, though over time it was not without its flaws. The thumb-grid was extremely useful and after a bit of practice reasonably intuitive, but the scroll wheel flat-out sucked on ice; this was the naga’s biggest flaw. Frequently using the wheel to scroll a web page down, the jittery little shit would wind up scrolling up. There was also no side-to-side tilt on the scroll wheel, which is not a dealbreaker, but incredibly useful for in-game movement.

As the naga was first to the scene with this enormous raft of helper buttons, I accepted the limitations and went on about my way. Until one day, Amazon made an actual useful suggestion with their “other people looking at X liked Y” section, the Logitech G600. What’s that? A giant raft of buttons, plus a couple more, and a tilting scroll wheel from a company that specializes in mice and keyboards? Oh hells yeah.

So I jumped on it. And overall, I have to say the logitech is the superior shitloads-of-buttons mouse. For starters, the scroll wheel is not even a little bit flakey, and the tilt function to it covers that shortcoming from the naga. Otherwise, it’s basically the same mouse but with a few minor differences that manage to change and improve the quality of life surprisingly well. Where the naga’s thumb grid is laid out on one convex grid, the g600 instead uses two concave depressions on the side to arrange slightly larger buttons. After getting used to muscle memory of “slide two buttons back, one over to do _______” with the naga, this new arrangement made finding the right button even faster. This also means a couple of buttons I didn’t use for much of anything on the naga were now easier enough to find to take over Vital Functions. It also feels somewhat larger in the hand than the naga – that’s a pro for me, but probably a con for the smaller handed.

Neither mouse really wins in the configuration software department, but the logitech sucks less because you don’t need to create an account to configure anything, or be online, and the profile is stored in the mouse itself, rather than in the software. In the minus column for the logitech, one of the buttons is, for my use at least, more of a pain in the rear than an asset. The far right button, the “g-shift” key, is designed to be essentially like the shift key on a keyboard, and be a on/off to modify the function of other keys. Out of the box, it changes the mouse’s sensitivity on the fly, which, uh, sucks, to put it mildly, when your nice zippy responsive mouse suddenly drives the cursor like molasses in January because you cycled out of the top end of the sensitivity and back down to the sludge setting. The two buttons behind the scroll wheel did the same thing, which was particularly festive when configuring VuhDo for my priest to use those for healing. And it’s ridiculously easy to hit by accident. Even with that button remapped to something more innocuous, I still find myself brushing it occasionally while holding my push-to-talk button and cutting myself off mid-instruction/rant/dirty joke.

Both mice are nerd approved on the grounds of the thumb-grid. The naga’s scroll wheel, after getting back to one that works properly on the g600, would now definitely be a deal breaker for me though, and the current iteration of razer software utterly blows. Got a lot of skills or macros you need in a hurry? There’s worse ways to go about getting to ‘em.

Unexpected Sights

July 28, 2012 - 3:40 pm 3 Comments

Some people you really don’t expect to see playing Mario Kart Wii. Let alone being that damn good at it that quickly.

…though it’s gratifying to see that some phenomenon are universal.

Trouble Brewing

May 16, 2012 - 8:46 pm 26 Comments

Because content only a few people will care about beats no content…

Stingray plays a subtlety rogue. I play a protection paladin. He has the legendary daggers. Right now he is making me take full advantage of the fact that I have two taunts and a threat/damage wipe.

Rogues to be emergency offtanks in next expansion

I’ll hurt the first son of a bitch who gives it to him.

Thinkyless Linky

May 11, 2012 - 7:06 pm 11 Comments

Fashion It So, which has been distracting me thoroughly and hilariously for the last two days and looks to keep right on truckin’ through the weekend until I run out of archive. The thing about pretty much all incarnations of Trek is that it’s like a lasagna of good, bad, and cheesy, and the bad and the cheesy are actually as much a part of the appeal as the good. It’s kind of like a stadium hot dog in that sense. You take your servings of bad with the good because it’s part of the experience, and wouldn’t be the same without it. The people writing this blog are watching Trek for pretty much exactly the same basic reason I am, except vastly more focused on the costuming choices.

25 Minutes of Cave Johnson

So the context for this is the folks at Valve had Cave Johnson’s voice actor record a whole bunch of new lines for a new level creator downloadable content package for Portal 2, so that the lines play more or less at random at the beginning of created levels. That’s actually not really important, nor is having played any Portal game ever or knowing who the hell Cave Johnson is. This is all of those lines stitched together in a 25 minute sequence. The experience of hitting “play” on this is like having a mad scientist CEO who took acting lessons from the William Shatner school of scenery chewing come into your work space and emit a stream of consciousness. It’s the best background to reading my news feeds I have ever experienced. chariots chariots

David Sunflower Seeds now comes with a reclosable zip-top bag, so you don’t have to rip an awkwardly sized hole in it that you optimistically try to crumple closed after you’re done with your feed seed bag for the moment. Stingray, who always has various seed and nut bags in various stages of consumption strewn around his desk because he is actually a parrot, is very excited about this.

LF Raiders

February 24, 2012 - 9:56 pm Comments Off

Because every once in awhile, it works.

Steamwheedle Cartel-US, Hordeside, Reprisal, 10 man runs, two teams, one on Wed-Fri and one on Tue-Thursday, 8:45 server start time, two hour run time. We need a healer for the Tuesday-Thursday team, and could broadly use more DPS for either, as we’re running low on people that can be consistent and more padding is better than fishing around for alts. A tank, especially one with a strong DPS offspec, wouldn’t be unwelcome either. Warlocks, priests, and hunters are particularly welcome. A resto or elemental shaman would be particularly welcome for Tu/Thu but not so much Wed/Fri.

Ping Thraps, Jujutan, or Emming on that server/faction if interested. Or here.

I Was Busy Tonight

January 27, 2012 - 8:18 pm Comments Off

And this will mean jackall to 99% of you. Occupy Nerd Ranch!

U mad, Bro?

YO JOE!

QFT

October 21, 2011 - 3:47 pm Comments Off

*peers* Are you there? We’re not. Blizzcon started today. We’re alternately playing with Tank*, eating popcorn, and making fun of Chris Metzen.

So here’s someone else’s snark to fill your time:

A: What do you think of Ron Paul’s budget plan to gut all research?

B: We’ve all played Civ IV. Sure, you’re strapped for cash now, but cutting back will kill your tech tree, and the next thing you know “China has completed Space Ship Stasis Chamber” and Julius Caesar is trying to eat your face.

New blogger, old friend. Not much there yet but there will be.

*One of the things that cemented his name was friend and guildmate Vertel commenting, on hearing of the wasp attack, “Bear tanks with his FACE. …. Actually that kinda works.” He always has resembled a polar bear cub more than anything else…

Proof of Concept

September 22, 2011 - 4:40 pm Comments Off

Gamers Crack Protein Folding Problem. The proper journal article is here.

More accurately, this would be titled “clever biochemists induce a population of people who do spatial reasoning puzzles for fun to solve their spatial reasoning problem for entertainment and bragging rights”.

The journal article is worth digging into; if you can read around the biochemistry jargon it’s a pretty interesting description of the approach the group took and in what ways the Foldit players- non-professionals all- were not as good at the top-performing computer models, and in what ways they were better. More interesting yet is the way the researchers directing the whole thing analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of their players- and what they were succeeding and failing at and why- and re-tweaked their presentations of the problems in order to bring out the biggest strengths of their players. As an end result, they wound up solving a problem in three weeks that had been outstanding for ten years.

Even in the paper the researchers credit “human intuition” and “the ingenuity of gamers”, but what I see here is people being given a toy to play with that builds very specific cognitive skills and then being directed- quite skillfully- to sharpen those skills on successive levels of difficulty. All for the pleasures of teamwork, competition, and the sense of accomplishment.

Reminds me of nothing so much as the Calutron Girls, a pool of young women in Oak Ridge, Tennessee hired to operate the electromagnetic uranium separation machines at Y-12 during the Manhattan Project. They explicitly were never told what it was they were doing or why- for national security reasons- but they were able to outperform the PhDs who understood all of it, because their entire skill set was in the process and they practiced constantly.

You learn what you do, no matter why you’re doing it.

Pay To Play

September 21, 2011 - 4:07 pm Comments Off

Find of the day: there’ll be a talk in November on the subject of cognition and learning in MMOs, by a member of the PopCosmo research group. In the most literal sense it’s taking place in Australia, but since in effect it’s taking place in World of Warcraft within the Ironforge Library on the Saurfang server, the cost of travel is pretty cheap. I plan to be there if I can manage.

The usual reflexive reaction to a research group that studies games, and does so specifically to learn how our approaches to education are working or failing when we get kids who are completely uninterested in school but deeply engaged with games, is to pass it off as a too-hip shallow diversion into something irrelevant and unimportant. Games are games, shiny flashy play and time-wasting, and learning is learning.

The thing is, though, that what game developers are essentially in the business of is making learning such a fun and organic activity that people pay in real money and real time in order to do it. It doesn’t matter how basic the game is, all that any of them offer is a chance to master an activity at progressive levels of difficulty; Tetris is a spatial puzzle that speeds up. You can see rotation of objects through space as a challenge on many, many different IQ tests. Pac-Man is another spatial puzzle- track yourself and several other moving objects through a maze, complete the maze within a time limit and without running into any other moving object. Any of the original simulation genre is complex systems manipulation and mastery, and the flight simulator became so detailed that its devotees can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on equipment and the software to do something that has no game goal but is just as complex and difficult as flying a real plane, minus the g forces and fatal consequences. The later Sims games are a combination of resource management, virtual architecture, and learning how the AI works. Portal is another spatial puzzle, speeded up and with extra dimensions and physics problems added.

MMOs take things to the next level; something like Portal is meant to be played out over a certain number of potential gameplay hours, but an MMO developer has to make the game interesting enough, and content extendable enough, that players remain interested and engaged with the game for years. Depending on the game and the size of playerbase it’s looking to command, there are usually multiple layers of gameplay to learn and potentially master; a developer’s challenge is to make the transition between “kill ten rats, get ten silver” to “level up (gradually increase in complexity)”, to “master your class and take part in competition demanding great knowledge of the game and your role in it, teamwork, practice, and research” fun enough to be worth paying money for- and the fun is in the learning process; even very achievement-oriented players walk away if there’s no challenge to it.

EVE Online is probably the most extreme example; the point of the game is participation in a player-driven economy, which rather than being centrally controlled by the parent company is entirely player-organized and run, to the point where fantastic acts of economic sabotage that nearly any other gaming company would put their foot down on is merely part of the game experience. It’s also the only game with a player-created and elected governing political body, the Council of Stellar Management, which exists to represent the playerbase to the developer team. It is, in essence, a virtual state with virtual corporations and virtual militaries and mercenaries who do what is in nearly all respects work, with the difficulty curve to match and little effort made to make it more accessible to newer or more casual players. The work IS the point of the game. In essence, people pay real money for a non-real job with far fewer protections and benefits than a real job, except for the freedom to experiment.

There are two possible reasons for why this should be a viable and ongoing business model for the game developers:

1) People are inexplicably stupid.
2) The game developers are in the business of making even a very steep and punishing learning curve, covering multiple aspects of cognition and driven by cutthroat real intelligences, appealing and rewarding enough to pay for.

Personally, I’m betting on 2. Play is already a somewhat murky domain; we know that organisms seem to need more of it the more intelligent they get, that it is always self-driven and self-rewarding, that it seems to carry far more risks to it than just leaving well enough alone would, and that it doesn’t solely consist of aping out real-world skills and motions, though it seems to help somewhat. Games in general and MMOs in particular are play gone professional, at least in their creation; developers compete to offer something customers are internally driven to do that takes up a lot of their time and cognitive resources.

I think there is probably a great deal to learn about learning, motivation, and cognition in there, particularly as the process of development and development cycles themselves break down the moving parts in the system, and the way players interact with them, by small pieces.