Loot progress

I’m not dead! Just … didn’t really have much to talk about for a bit there. I’m months behind my target date for pre-alpha 3, but I’m now at the point where I could put the game live with a weeks’ notice.

For months the hold ups were due to technical issues, but now the hold up is the new art from the LoE guys — the art I’ve gotten so far has some rigging bugs (which distort the animations in surreal, terrifying ways). To fix those errors, they’ve gone back to the drawing board and are doing a new rig entirely, so I’m not sure what sort of timeline I’m looking at. Not trying to point fingers at them — making an art pipeline is no small task! So I’m not too surprised that there’s setbacks. But… yeah, there’s setbacks.

Unfortunately I ripped out the placeholder human art a while back, so I can’t switch back to that easily. But if things take too much longer, I’ll just deal with the animation glitches and run it with whatever I have… I’d really like to start getting feedback again! Both because the feedback would help me shape the game, and also because it’s such a motivator to see people using your stuff.

So… soon. Gonna set an arbitrary date: I’ll put the pre-alpha back up on, hmm, let’s say the 25th. In whatever state it’s in!

In the meantime I’ve been working on content, mostly focusing on random treasure, making that fun. There are now well over 100 different powers that can show up randomly on treasure, and they let you customize your play-style to a high degree.

For instance, all Combat Psychologists have the same 6 basic abilities (in MMO terminology, they are: a combo instigator, a mez, a fear, a ranged instant attack, a targeted heal, and a detaunt). However, the equipment you wield changes the effects pretty dramatically. If you want to focus on debuffing, you can get equipment that makes your mez cause Depression (reduces the monster’s damage output), Numbness (slows movement), and various other effects, as well as its usual mez behavior. If you’d prefer to focus on a support role, you can improve the effects of your heal, and get the ability to make monsters worth more XP when killed. And of course there’s lots of in-between steps.

Most combat abilities aren’t quite so versatile — for instance the Sword skill is always going to be about killing things first and foremost. But your equipment lets you choose between pure dps or focusing more heavily on the swordsmans’ Rage-reducing powers. And there are other choices to make when you try to combine two skills at once. (Because remember you have two combat skills active at the same time.) If you’re a Swordsman/Psychologist, you might want to use Psychology as a ranged pull, or as a pick-off-fleeing-enemies tool. Or you might focus on the Psychology abilities that let you heal yourself and get out of scrapes. Different equipment would work better in different cases.

Anyway, I’m liking the test loot that comes out of the system so far. The numbers and stats on the loot are mostly placeholders — I’ve tried to get them in the right ballpark, but I’ll have to do a whole lot more rebalancing down the line. First, though, I’m just trying to let you explore different meaningful combinations.

There are a million ways it could break down. For instance, the large number of skills means it’s harder to find loot specifically for the skills you use. So players might fall behind because they can’t find good enough loot. Or they might be bored by the loot because it’s all fiddly effects, not just a couple of numbers. It takes a lot of effort to evaluate and compare items. Or maybe lots of these powers don’t work very well, so everybody finds one or two combos that work and people end up pretty samey.

Fortunately most potential problems have pretty easy solutions — or at least ways to make them less painful. So I’m really dying to see the system in use.

Hm, I wanted to talk about the playable races today but I got distracted talking about loot. Will talk about that more soon.

And I’ll see you here on the 25th if you’d like to play test! Pre-alpha 3 will last at least a month. (And possibly stay up forever, depending on how the testing goes…)

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17 Responses to Loot progress

  1. Mouse says:

    Difficulty with or sheer inability to compare items is a big gripe for me. If Item A has 5 DPS and +1 to Foobah, while Item B has 7 DPS, given this basic information I expect B to be ‘better’. However, if, behind the scenes, 1 Foobah boosts my DPS by 50% then A is ‘better’. Such interactions need to be clear on the item or the stats not shown at all (such as ‘low DPS and a minor bonus to Foobah’ and ‘moderate DPS’).

    Stats that do not directly interact with damage just need to list cleanly with comparison. Some method to easily say swapping to new item would gain you A, B, C and lose you X, Y, Z. It’s up to you to decide if you want ABC or XYZ, but it shouldn’t be a pan and scan back and forth between the items looking to see what they have, how much they have and doing mental arithmetic of the variance.

    Item A has +5 Foobah and +3 McGuffin
    Item B has +2 Foobah and +7 McGuffin
    Some command (be it mouseover or more complex) should clearly state that if I change from A to B I lose 3 Foobah and gain 4 McGuffin.

    Diablo 3 really got my goat regarding this. Items that at a glance look better and even show better on mouseover compare wind up being a downgrade once equipped. Emotionally this is far worse than just finding a downgrade – you were given an expectation (upgrade) and then it was proven false. Finding something clearly a downgrade doesn’t carry this feeling of ‘betrayal’.

    If a stat increases damage, such as Str/Int/etc in Diablo 3, increases DPS the comparison needs to factor this into what it shows. Comparison should match what your combat code actually produces in combat.

    Sorry for the rant – not implying you have done or are doing this in any fashion other than optimal. I just want to make sure it’s something that actively crosses your mind (which it very well may have already done).

  2. Zik says:

    I agree with Mouse above. Being able to clearly compare items is key, especially when loot is so random. I feel that The Old Republic did this fairly well (when it worked) – on the mouse-over the popup showed additional bonuses in green and any minuses in red. So in the Mouse’s example it would show -3 Foobah in red and +4 McGuffin in green. Stats that did not change were in white. Sometimes this resulted in a lot of information (replacing something with +str and +end with something +wil and +per, for example) but I still liked it. I seem to remember it listing (for weapons) min/max/dps and I *think* it used the stats of the weapon in that calculation but I can’t say for sure.

  3. RO says:

    Out of curiosity, is there any way to join the alpha or is it invite only?

  4. Eric says:

    Yeah, I’ve been concerned about comparing items too. I don’t have color-coding in yet, but I’ve set things up so that I can add it pretty easily down the line.

    On the one hand this game is at a disadvantage because I can’t sum up your DPS into one easy number — equipment modifies different abilities, so the effect on your DPS depends on how often you use those abilities, and sometimes in what order (for combos), etc.

    On the other hand, in order to compensate for this extra complexity, I’ve taken out meta-attributes entirely — there is no Strength, Dexterity, etc. that augment other numbers. This swings the pendulum of complexity back in my favor, making it easier to see which item has higher numbers (and letting me color-code relatively accurately).

    But item comparison is still hard, because you have to sit there, thinking “Hmm, well this sword boosts Riposte damage, and I use Riposte a lot. But this other sword boosts Parry, and my necklace gives me healing every time I use Parry, so…” comparing items with similar enchantments is easy, but when they have different enchantments, it will really depend heavily on your play style and other equipment synergies.

    @RO – I don’t have alpha signups open at the moment, but if you’d like to join the pre-alpha on the 25th, just stop by the blog for login info. Anybody in the pre-alpha will get into the alpha automatically.

  5. Mouse says:

    No meta stats seems good. Comparing ‘it has skill A, which I use a lot, but I lose skill B, that I also use a lot’ is good comparison and, at least to some people, fun. Opportunity cost decisions are interesting decisions as long as you have all the info before you. Only when mechanics are hidden behind the scenes is it an issue – then it’s more like false advertising – ‘it’s a direct upgrade, no, I lied’.

    Even if you don’t add colour coding, you can always table – raw item stats at top, bottom-left is what you lose and labeled “Lose”, bottom-right what you gain and labeled “Gain”. Or reverse sides, depending on what looks/feels right when you test.

    One thing that’s always puzzled me is when folks do colour code this info, they use red for loss and green for gain (presumably under the streetlight ‘red means stop, green means go’ philosophy). While I’m not colourblind, red/green colourblindness is the most common, isn’t it? So using only those two colours seems unwise.

  6. Ken says:

    Yay! I’ve been waiting somewhat patiently for this. It will be nice to get back in and see how things are going.

  7. Hamburgerler says:

    Keep it up bro, I have total faith in you.
    Hope I can play in the alpha.

  8. Ken says:

    Moolo there Lolin :)

    Oh, and in response to the original post. I agree that items can have misleading stats but to me that is just part of the fun. I mean, you can always experiment with these items and figure out for yourself which one seems to work better for you. I like how in the last phase you could already sort of begin to pick and choose equipment that suited your playstyle, not just your class or skills.

    The game is already moofrific, a rawrrring good time and full of oinkin hot elvish babes.

  9. The Psychologist sounds really clever but reinforces my concern about developing a “free to play” model that permanently restricts off certain professions. If I come in as a free player, dislike sword, and quit, did I dislike the game, or just miss my calling because there was no opportunity to discover that I would have enjoyed psychologist? SOE had to remove class restrictions from EQ2 (with its 24 classes – previously $7.50 each) for just this reason last week.

  10. Ken says:

    You get two skill bars and you can keep two skill groups active. You don’t have to use skills that you don’t like and you are not restricted from using skills that you want to try. (Unless that has changed since last pre-alpha test.)

  11. Eric says:

    I think I’d talked about locking some skills out unless you paid for them, but I haven’t done that yet. I wouldn’t lock out early-access skills like Psychology, though — I’d guess it’d be skills that take a bit of time to build up to, like Battle Chemistry.

    Still mulling that… in the shorter term I’m going to start with selling “Skill Books” that let you advance a skill while offline.

  12. SomeGuy says:

    I have to disagree with the general sentiment regarding item comparisons in the top posts. Its true that most people find comparing the overall usefulness of complex items to be difficult – but not everyone. Comparing sets of wildly different bonuses on items has always been an enjoyable experience for me, because i am a very imaginative and logical person, and i have always been able to think laterally about the issue.

    Having items with qualities which require numerous referencing to spell/ability descriptions, and/or checking out the various infos on the character screen when swapping items about.. followed by usage of a calculator (or a brain) to make sence of it all: is a fun part of an MMO.

    Why? Firstly because it challenges my real life abilities which are rarely challenged in any other part of the game, and secondly because i know most other players cant do it as well as me, so i know im making better item choices than they are.

    I reguarly see people, infact almost everyone, running around these games in gear they think is great, but is obviously chosen with simplistic little minds, without much lateral thought as to the end-effect on their overall performance. I compare it to other items they could be wearing instead, and i imediately see they’ve made mistakes.
    It gives me a big feeling of satisfaction in real life.

    When i lowered myself to play WofW when it was first released in europe, it struck me how inept the rest of my guild were at comparing complex items. Some simply said ‘Oh you cant just say thats equivilent to +4dps, because its neither +dps nor +stats. Its simply not comparable’, and usually with coarser more childish terminology.
    When I went to great lengths to explain it, the vast majority of them were perplexed, or simply said “yeah whatever..” or “what? that doesnt make sence”, because complex thoughts were beyond their limited reasoning faculties.

    Normally i would be enraged by being surrounded by such idiots, but in this case i didnt mind – because it was their loss. They are punishing themselves for their own stupid ignorance, and general anti-academic sentiment.

    Its poetic justice; and thats rare in these games, especially one as idiot-enabling as WofW.

    Usually idiots are rewarded for their idiocy. It is quite normal for a game to specifically target what the lowest common denominator would chose, (because it looks ‘cooler’ or ‘sexier’ in a clichéd shallow way) and make it even easier to use, even stronger, even more selfish of a choice than it already was, and even more cowardly and unfair on players who actually had the courage or self-respect to pick something more original or complex, less ‘cool/sexy’, and more helpful for other players (i.e. healer) .
    Just look at rogues on WofW. Or Night Elves. Or Night Elf Rogues.
    Idiots and children are enabled and rewarded for being idiots and children.

    Now that isnt a gripe specifically about how items work, that covers everything about an MMO; but it potentially relates to items anyway.

    The reason i bring up such a general and obviously personal Flame, is because complex item stats and abilities are one of the few ways, if not the only way, where for once a game may actually reward players for not being idiots, instead of rewarding them for Being idiots.

    If you dumb down the item mechanics so that less inteligent gamers can always make the best item choices, even in the most complex situations, then you remove possibly the only thing in the game which allowed the more imaginative players to actually feel good about themselves; to compensate for the perminent burning rage they feel against the people around them.

    When it really comes down to it, the vast majority of players who are unable to fully compare complex items, do not actually feel bad about it. On the contrary, the very fact that they dont understand means they never realise they made a bad choice. Most think they made great choices, even when they are wearing gear which doesnt really help their playstyle. They are happy.

    Let them wear their badly-chosen gear, and let players like me have our crumpets too.
    We need them.

  13. Ken says:

    I think the idea of offline skill training through books people pay for is a great idea. Having certain skills only available for pay might not go over well since it tends to make a game look a bit more like pay to win which does turn off enough people to make that tricky. Your game though Eric, I will never trash talk you for making such a decision.

  14. Mouse says:

    SomeGuy – the point is listings on an item should be accurate. If the item specifically says “Increases X by Y”, then your value of X should increase by Y, not go up/down by Z because other stat on item impacts it in a fashion not listed. The interest/difficulty should be in the comparison between currently used Item 1 that increases skill A by +1 and freshly found Item B that increases skill B by +1. Do you lose 1 A for 1 B? Personal playstyle decision.

    Decisions: good. Interesting decisions: better. Decisions based on insufficient or downright inaccurate information: very bad.

  15. Kaldane says:

    *Clears schedule on the 25th*

  16. These loot issues also affect how the game is to play, from aesthetics to combat. Admittedly, given the randomness of the game the loot you find can vary between playthroughs, but get stuck with the short end of the stick and you can be left struggling. As in the previous game, accuracy is by far the most important statistic on any weapon, and most of the common weapons aren’t so hot at it, meaning you miss more shots, which means your ammunition drains without doing damage, and you’re stuck whittling down enemies as they charge you relentlessly. Or, to put it another way: get crap loot, die constantly and gnash your teeth in frustration. Add to this the fact that aside from the bandit weapons, the common items are generally boring to look at and boring to fire: compare a plasma caster, with a futuristic design, wild colors and metallic glints, to your average gray or beige SMG, which might not even have a scope. Admittedly, even the more common weapons do have better designs and more variety than in the original, but it’s so rare to find anything interesting or game-changing that loot is rarely anything to look forward to. And as far as the rarest weapons go? So far, I’ve found about one per playthrough, and while that one has often been awesome, it’s far too rare to get a gun that actually does something particularly different that you look forward to using it over something else. (This is compared to at least a half-dozen or so per playthrough in the original).