Friday, August 31, 2012

Guild Wars 2 8/31 Status

Arena.net is certainly living up to their communication promise.  Here is the update for today, as copied from Reddit.
submitted  ago by ArenaNetTeam [+2]
This is the current status of the most important issues we're tracking with Guild Wars 2 live service.
This status information is also available on the Guild Wars 2 wiki[1] . Check there for the most recent information.
Account security - Protect your account! We've seen hackers systematically scan email addresses and passwords harvested from other games, web sites, and trojans to see if they match Guild Wars 2 accounts. We've taken steps to protect our players from this, but we need your help too. Make sure that you use a strong, unique password forGuild Wars 2 that you've never used anywhere else. For best security, use a unique email address too, and see ourblog post[2] for more tips.
Email authentication - We now have email authentication enabled for all players who have validated their email addresses. This feature sends an email whenever it detects a login attempt to your account from a location you haven't played from before, asking you to allow or deny the login.
We've learned of an incompatibility between email authentication and older versions of Internet Explorer. We're working on a fix, which we expect to deploy tomorrow.
If you're not receiving account verification emails or account authentication emails, please check your junk/spam folders, and add noreply@guildwars2.com[3] to your safe senders list.
Parties, guilds, etc. - We've made significant fixes to parties and guilds. However, you may still see intermittent outages. These outages cause symptoms such as party members not appearing on the map, party members not staying in the same overflow servers as they travel between maps, and guild invites not working.
Trading Post - Yesterday we opened the Trading Post for a random, rotating 50% of users. After gathering data from yesterday's tests, we applied a number of fixes and performance improvements, and are preparing a larger-scale test today.
Tournament Rewards - We believe we've addressed the problem with tournament chests not appearing. Let us know if you still see any issues with this.
World v. World - We're aware the world v. world matches have not been resetting properly. We're preparing an update to fix this. Once the issue is fixed, we'll start running 24-hour matches to balance servers.
Worlds - We added three new worlds in Europe yesterday, three new worlds in America today, and increased the population limits on all worlds.
Overflow - During this initial surge of high concurrency, and especially while most characters are low-level and thus playing in the same starting areas, it's common for players to be directed to overflow servers. If you want to play with a friend, but you're not on the same overflow servers, you can form a party together, then right-click on your friend's portrait in the party list and click "join".
We expect the use of overflow servers to naturally subside as players spread out more through the world.
Botting - We suspended accounts of 750 players running bots. We're ramping up and will soon apply permanent bans for cases of substantial botting.
Exploits - If you discover an exploit in the game, do not exploit it or publicize it, but instead please notify us immediately at this new email address: exploits (at) arena (dot) net.
Forums - Our most important priority at the moment is to ensure that the game runs stably and flawlessly. So as to not create additional demand on our infrastructure and on our programming team, we made the decision not to open the forums until the initial mass influx of players has calmed down a bit.
Wiki - We increased wiki server capacity to address issues users are seeing. We plan to start posting these updates to the wiki, as long as the wiki can handle the traffic.
Next software updates - We're making non-disruptive changes throughout the day. We'll publish the next back-end server update tonight at midnight Seattle time. The game may be unavailable for approximately 20-60 minutes while we perform this update.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Updates

Arena Net has posted their progress on the Guild Wars 2 launch and planned updates and fixes they have in the pipeline over at Reddit.  Re-posted below:
This is the current status of the most important issues we're tracking with Guild Wars 2 live service.
Account security - We're seeing an uptick in reports of account theft and attempted account theft. We believe hackers are using databases of email addresses and passwords stolen from other games and web sites, and pre-existing trojan horses, to search for matching Guild Wars 2 accounts which they attempt to compromise. To prevent this, we have temporarily disabled the "reset password" feature, and we're working to bring email authentication online. To protect yourself, please ensure that you use a unique password for Guild Wars 2 that you don't use for any other game, email account, forum or web account.
Email authentication - Email authentication is a feature that notifies you if someone tries to log into your account from a location you've never logged in from before. Thus, even if someone guesses your game password, he can't log in unless he also guesses your email account password. You can make email authentication even more secure by using an email provider that supports two-factor authentication, such as Google[1] or Yahoo[2] , and taking advantage of that. We're currently preparing email authentication and intend to deploy it in a phased rollout, starting on Thursday, August 30.
Parties, guilds, etc. - Parties, guilds, and other social features are periodically failing. This causes issues such as party members not appearing on the map, and party members not staying in the same overflow servers as they travel between maps. This happens particularly during times of peak usage. We're working to fix related problems and mitigate this issue with each subsequent update.
Worlds - Many worlds are filling up. We're keeping the number of worlds constrained so that worlds stay well populated even after the initial surge of high concurrency. However, we will add worlds as necessary. As of Wednesday, August 30, all German language worlds are full and all French language worlds are at high usage, so we're adding two new German language worlds and one new French language world.
Overflow worlds - During this initial surge of high concurrency, and especially while many characters are low-level and thus playing in the same starting areas, it's common for players to be directed to overflow maps. If you want to play with a friend, but you’re not on the same overflow map, you can form a party together, then right-click on your friend's portrait in the party list and click "join". Note that this functionality is sometimes intermittently unavailable due to the "parties, guilds, etc." issues noted above.
Trading Post - We're working to bring the Trading Post back online. To help test, we've temporarily made it available to a random 15% of players, while we work to resolve remaining capacity constraints that will allow us to open it to everyone.
In-game mail - We detected a potential abuse of the in-game mail system and have temporarily disabled in-game mail to prevent any such abuse. We'll reenable it soon, hopefully in tonight's update.
Botting - We'll start substantial banning of bots on Wednesday, August 29. Since we're currently seeing widespread casual, unsophisticated botting, we will start with 72-hour bans for first offenses. In the coming days, as we address the casual botting problem, we plan to switch to our normal policy of permanently banning anyone who runs a bot.
Forums - Our most important priority at the moment is to ensure that the game runs stably and flawlessly. So as to not create additional demand on our infrastructure and on our programming team, we made the decision not to open the forums until the initial mass influx of players has calmed down a bit.
Next software updates - The next update of the game server and back-end server software will take place tonight at midnight Seattle time. The game may be unavailable for approximately 20-60 minutes while we perform the update. We expect this update to have fixes for email authentication and in-game mail. Our continued work on the Trading Post is not tied to game updates, so we will continue to test Trading Post updates throughout the day.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Initial Impressions

Guild Wars 2 head started on Friday shortly before midnight.  I was able to log in immediately to the Maguuma server and get started on my Norn thief, Heartless Foe, and my Human ranger, Heartless Gamer.  (Heartless Foe is a throwback to my Warrior/Necro character name from Guild Wars 1).  Guild Wars 2 immediately lives up to many of it's expectations by improving and simplifying many MMO tropes, but at the same time there are some core issues that hold it back.

Upon logging in the first enhancement is immediately visible: overflow servers.  This is the first MMO launch in recent memory where the word "login queue" didn't apply.  Instead, extra players are thrown into an instanced server where they can play and progress waiting to join the main server.  The downside is that right now overflow servers make playing with friends difficult, but to me its a better solution than NOT playing the game while watching a login queue.  Playing will always win the war against NOT playing.

As far as the actual game goes; Guild Wars 2 is a brilliant package.  There is a lot to like, from the excellent world/zone maps, "quest" design, and graphics, to the little things such as the collections tab, waypoint system, and emotes.  Without spending too much time droning on about the nuances, suffice to say that Guild Wars 2 listened and executed well in regards to improving on many little annoyances of MMOs.  Anyone that has experienced MMOs for the past several years will be spoiled by Guild Wars 2's feature list.

However, I can't put Guild Wars 2 on too high of a pedestal as there are some problematic core items that have already started nagging on my brain.  First and foremost is the combat which works somewhat well in small scale, but is a complete clusterfuck once more than five people show up.  Worst of all, it clearly seems to have been designed to be a clusterfuck in certain situations.  In the open World vs World PvP map or large public quests (aka dynamic events), the combat is just unintelligible spam.  With spell effect scaling, players will often find themselves subject to invisible attacks and random death.

Guild Wars 2 relies a lot on reflex and action-based combat.  This works great and lets players showcase their skills in small-scale combat, but again it does not work, AT ALL, in large scale confrontation.  There is literally so many area of affect abilities (and one shot death in PvE) being tossed that the dodge mechanic is completely rendered moot.  And the game was designed to bring clusters of players together in small areas to spam the shit out of these abilities.  It is very troubling to me that so much effort was put into this action combat to have it result in a complete button mashing affair when it should shine the most.  Combat is very difficult to follow because of this.

I want to reiterate that outside of combat, Guild Wars 2 has completely won me over.  The features are really that freaking good.  Advancement paths are varied and traditional MMO quests are all but gone.  Players are always encouraged to play together and never are they penalized for helping each other out (seriously, how the fuck has it taken this long to get an MMO where playing together is NOT a penalty!).  The non-combat heavy players will also find they can successfully thrive and reach max level simply through crafting and exploration.  If you can do it in Guild Wars 2, it probably advances the level track (even resource gathering gives experience!).

Another core area of weakness, which Arena Net keeps holding up, is all the voice acting in personal story quests and dungeons.  Instead of traditional MMO quest text boxes, Guild Wars 2 opts for quasi-cut scenes with voice acting (think Mass Effect 1 dialogue).  The problem is the character models are nearly 100% emotionless while the voice actor puts passion into the lines.  It is terrible.. honestly terrible... and I end up clicking skip the end just to red the blurb that will appear on the map (which again, the map is awesome).

Even with the core weaknesses in combat and the story telling, Guild Wars 2 is certainly a refreshing take in the MMO market.  I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in MMOs to check it out.  If anything, it is certainly one of the few games worth the $60 box price and there is no subscription so it is a game that players can continue to come back to at their leisure.  It also features level-up mechanics to bring lower level characters up to level 80 for the World vs World combat (albeit as a lower level character your stats are lower and options limited).

I expect a good healthy run in Guild Wars 2.  Once I reach level 80 down the line I will certainly be spending a good amount of time learning the WvW map, but at this point I think I am going to have to let the "mists" dissipate a bit as it is not fun currently.  Hopefully the WvW areas will change to encourage smaller group skirmishes (Arena Net should start by removing the invisible walls at the bottleneck leading out of the portal keep).

Monday, August 06, 2012

DotA 2 – What I Dislike

In my previous post I detailed some of the items that I liked about DotA 2 and while the game has slowly changed my outlook on its potential, I still have some hesitations. Some of these are not limited to DotA 2 and are concerns I shared about my time with League of Legends.

Asymmetry

The asymmetrical nature of the hero design in DotA 2, as much as I love the idea of it, rarely works out in public match making. As explained in my previous post, there are heroes that have no business being on the field by themselves, but when combined properly they become a force multiplier which really unbalances a match when not countered. Then there are other heroes, such as Ursa or Lycan, that when played well singlehandedly destroy the other team (often referred to as “pubstomping” heroes).

This leads to one-sided games and the more I play DotA 2 the more I realize the public matchmaking games at my level are terribly lop sided. In fact, I went back over my history of recent games and found only a single game that was competitive. All of the other games were steam rolled by one of the teams and were decided within the first 15 minutes.

I must note that this is actually part of the game design for this genre. It is also what gives these games such high skill caps and great competitive scenes that are quickly taking over eSports. However, I can’t help but feel that it really damages the casual scene and in the case of DotA 2, so far, it seems to be a much bigger issue than other games I have played.

In comparison, in my time with League of Legends, I have certainly seen my fair share of lop sided victories and losses. Yet, I have also been involved in far more competitive matches via public match making than I have in DotA 2. Not nearly as often did I feel like a match was a complete wash and in games that were a wash there was the forfeit vote or the dominating team could easily and quickly push to finish the match which brings me to my next two gripes about DotA 2: the length of matches and the lack of a forfeit feature.

Length of Matches

DotA 2 matches last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, more often than not leaning towards the hour mark. Combined with load times and match making time, I would estimate a player averages one game per hour. This is just too long, especially when considering that many of the matches are pretty much determined by the 15-20 minute mark and the rest of the time is spent just waiting for the towers and base to fall. Unlike League of Legends, DotA 2 does not really have anything that speeds up the inevitable push so to avoid leaver penalties many players end up just AFK in the fountains for 30 minutes waiting for the match to be finished.

Forfeit

DotA 2, by its mere design, should have a way to concede a match. Currently the only safe way out of a match is if someone makes the first move and disconnects, allowing all others to drop out without penalty. After the 15 minute mark, a team should be able to call a vote to concede.

Customization Items

This is a minor complaint, but may in the long run be the biggest problem for DotA 2 with its Free 2 Play business model. The customization items for heroes are not distinguishable and I don’t see how they make someone feel unique. Other than looking good on a player’s profile page, I do not see as nearly as successful a market around customization items as there is in Team Fortress 2 (where the customization items affect game play as well as are clearly distinguishable when playing). This may change as more items are added to DotA 2, but to say that I was less than impressed by what was already out there is a massive understatement.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

DotA 2 – What I like

I have put 50 hours into DotA2 now and I am slowly revising my outlook on the game. It will not be as bad off as I predicted. In fact, even in its beta form it has become one of the most played games on Steam. I can’t imagine how big the game will become once it has hit a full on release and anyone with a computer can try it out for free. There are certainly some things to like about DotA2.

Asymmetry

While the DotA map is symmetrical (for the most part), the same cannot be said for the pool of heroes. The 80+ available heroes in DotA2 are varied and unique, with almost none of them working the same. I am a huge fan of asymmetry in game design. Balance is so often forced through symmetry: team A gets uber power 1 so team B gets uber power 1 as well just with a different name and graphic. This is annoying and destroys any chance at something feeling unique within a game. Not the case in DotA 2.

Take for example the support hero Wisp; a shiny ball of energy that has almost zero offensive capabilities, some middling defensive capabilities, and only really excels at supporting a team’s carry. Wisp serves almost no purpose by itself. Now compare Wisp to Phantom Assassin; a hard carry capable of killing enemy players in a single hit and thus is almost single handedly responsible for winning the game. Phantom Assassin can dominate without the help of Wisp. Wisp, when placed against Phantom Assassin, could never win. In a vacuum, those two would be completely broken.

This asymmetry leads to amazing dynamics as neither team can have a copy of the same hero as the other team. Combine Wisp and Phantom Assassin together on the same team and all of a sudden the support + carry combination can easily wreck the other team if the other team failed to pick a counter. And really what the core of DotA2 competitive play comes down to is the counter picking and execution of that counter pick. And at the end of the day, this asymmetry results in a balance in the competitive scene of DotA 2.

To note, this isn’t always the greatest thing and in my next post I will talk a bit about how this is detrimental to the game at times. Even with that in mind, I am still a firm supporter of the asymmetry.

Character

DotA 2 has character and is building in character; from custom announcer packs to the constant quips the heroes give off during the course of a game. I can’t wait for First Blood in every game, hoping it will be a new hero who scores the kill just so I can hear their First Blood quote (for example, Invoker says something to the effect of “First, as I am in all things”). Another example is the hero Gyrocopter who flies around the map in a helicopter-like contraption making helicopter noises with his mouth. It is brilliant. Just as Valve did with Team Fortress 2, they have really cemented the idea of character into DotA2 and with 100+ heroes to eventually have in the game I can only imagine the sort of stuff they will bake in. Now they just need to deliver a “Meet the” video for every hero!

Presentation

I’ve spoken about this before, but DotA2 is as much of an experience as it is a game. The interface and feature set are amazing (without even having everything in the package yet!). Spectating, replays, learning features, etc. DotA2 really strives to deliver the entire package that the MOBA genre seeks.

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