Monday, March 31, 2014

Killing the scrub attitude (part one?)

A winning attitude doesn't come naturally. People are instinctively born kind of scrubby and it takes years of conditioning to remove the various emotions that cripple competitive play.

When I was younger, I was kind of scrubby. I was probably not as susceptible to it compared to most people, mostly because I was better at video games in general and I won most of the time (and when you're winning, nothing you do is cheap). However, little kid me threw tantrums whenever I didn't get my way in games, whether that was playing as P1 in a 2P game or whatever. I grew out of it eventually, I think. Maybe.

It was really concentrated effort that got me really thinking non-scrubby, though. A little over a decade ago, I played Soul Calibur 2 pretty competitively, but I was getting owned by a friend who used lots of guard impacts. I could not figure out how to beat that strategy, and I remember feeling that it was unfair. I didn't say anything though, because I felt like I should be able to just beat it. I was upset, sure.

When I play games with other people, I notice some shared traits. People love to see themselves do well, and they vastly overinflate how well they do. I really like watching pro gamers when they win, and they're like "well we made a ton of mistakes, it was really fortunate that we managed to win." You'll never see that from most gamers. Most people immediately attribute success to their own personal ability.

Average people are not OK with things that damage their own personal self-image. Ask the average gamer about a game he or she likes to play and you will inevitably get the "I'm pretty good at this game." The same is true if you ask someone if he or she is good at anything he or she likes to do. It isn't just games. If a person invests a lot of time and effort ("lot" being a pretty subjective thing) into something, that person will almost universally feel like he or she doesn't suck at it. Of course, when it comes to games this is pretty much universally false. 90% of LoL players are below Gold league skills. The same is true of SC2 players. Over 90% of them average under 50 apm during a game.

The problem is perception. People want to feel good about themselves and aren't good at thinking objectively. If you ever want a really good example of this (and you play LoL so you can appreciate it), watch Nightblue3's stream sometime. He's a really good player and has a good attitude, but he is very self-centric and doesn't think very broadly, often misinterpreting events or what he could have done simply because of his limited perception. Again, this isn't a jab at him; he's a great player and you should watch his stream, but watching him at work can really show you how the "ego goggles" work even for a very humble person.

In order to dump that scrub attitude you have to really look outside yourself and try to see how outside factors contributed to your success or failure, particularly in a team game like LoL. When I play Payday 2 (or really any cooperative game) I am really cognizant of how well my team is doing without me. Sometimes this is because I'm not doing very well and I know it, and other times it's because I am doing well but I know I'm able to do so because my teammates are doing something else that I need to have done. Sometimes I am just carrying my team, too, and because I am more aware when my teammates are doing well and a little more objective about it, I can be more objective when I do pull my team's weight.

One LoL game not that long ago I hit with probably 20 Blitzcrank hooks on players. My team did well too, but I know I was doing well because I can objectively say that I hooked people often, at good times, and with really stellar accuracy that is sort of infrequent for me. I don't normally do that well (that game was hard to top, honestly) and it was easy to see that my performance was both exceptional and vital to my team doing well.

On the other hand, I can't count the times where I've merely been adequate, doing just what I needed to do, occasionally making mistakes or plays but nothing earth-shattering. I have many other games where I've played poorly and won purely by virtue of my team carrying my loser butt. That loss of ego and ability to self-reflect is what's really important to trashing the scrub attitude. If you can objectively assess how you're doing, your pride won't take huge falls when you're doing poorly because you understand that it can happen. You also might know how you can do better later, too.

Some people are extremely self-deprecating, which is a whole different problem. I have met a lot of people who immediately give up on stuff without really trying or putting in effort. "I suck," is the common response. "I'll never get good," is another. "It's too hard," is also very frequent. I only know how to solve the problem from the "dialing down the pride" end. I don't know how to get around the lack of desire to put forth effort. I see people who want to win and play whatever game a lot, but moan about being terrible and never improve. I'd just advise quitting, but if you really want to play and you want to win you need to detach yourself from your failings and concentrate only on doing better the next time.

The most important thing is effort. Try harder! Time is the most important weapon and you can't give up just because you get mad. The most important thing is to realize you're upset and get over it. The problem is that people get too tied up in how well they did and don't work at trying to change.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Melee versus ranged: The eternal struggle

Any game with both melee and ranged attackers faces a great conundrum. How do melee and ranged attackers fight against each other in any sort of balanced way? Your answer will depend on the game, as designers choose numerous different ways to balance these things.

We'll be covering both turn-based (including tabletop) and real-time (including MMO) combat, which means this will be a pretty long one. I hope it makes up for no update on Saturday.

We really can't discuss this in a vacuum. We have to talk about options each side has. There's really no "vanilla" option, either. For real-time games, do melee characters have gap closers? Do ranged characters have escapes? Are attackers rooted while they attack? Are only melee attacks rooted, or ranged? Can ranged characters attack while in melee range and if so, how effective are their attacks? Are there dead zones where ranged characters can't attack? Is there any sort of movement slow or other escape prevention mechanics for melee characters? What about for ranged characters? Are there ranged slows or CC to prevent the enemy from closing? And of course, how much reward is there for getting in close as a melee? How much reward is there for keeping away as a ranged? What about resources? Do ranged characters have to expend resources to attack?

Turn-based games have similar considerations. Is movement a "free" action, or does it take from the action pool used to attack? Is there any game rule preventing ranged attackers from retreating (attacks of opportunity)? Are ranged attackers prohibited from moving and attacking in the same turn?

If you think to games you've played, you probably realize just how different games can be. There's really no benchmark set of options for melee or ranged characters in any game. If you think on even shooters, many of them have a shotgun which is essentially a melee attack. It deals effectively zero damage at "normal" ranges and deals lots of damage at "close" range. Even if the game has a melee attack, the melee is probably an opportunity weapon or an attack of last resort, while the shotgun is closer to a "real" melee attack in another game where you're basing your strategy around its use.

Advance Wars style: Restricting ranged attacks and movement

Advance Wars honestly isn't the first game to have artillery units that can only shoot if they don't move. However, it's the first game that comes to my mind. I'm sure some retro gamers are shaking their fists at me right now.

I like this style because it inherently makes ranged weaker than melee, which I kind of feel is easier to balance around as a designer. Making powerful ranged attackers make it really hard to make melee good. GW2 actually sort of does this too; you can't run backwards or strafe as fast as you can run forward. If a ranged character turns and runs, he can't shoot back but he can get away... in theory, anyway (in practice, melee characters have lots of gap closers so that's not the most viable option). Restricting ranged attackers' ability to fight back and run away at the same time greatly limits their power and in turn, makes them easier to balance.

You actually have to give ranged attackers a lot of help in this situation. You would think that simply having ranged attacks where melee can't retaliate would be enough, even if they can fight back at 100% in close range. Honestly, you almost have to make your ranged equal to your melee in terms of tanking hits, since they can't retreat and attack, but melee can chase and attack.

Even though GW2 is a real-time game, I think it does this pretty well. The problem is that ranged characters are a bit same-y with melee characters, and you end up having a sort of similar experience regardless of what class you're playing. This works a bit better for war type games with lots of combatants, but if GW2 is any indication, forcing ranged attackers to choose between attacking or retreating (and then giving them some bells and whistles to help them deal with melee) is a pretty solid way to design and balance a real-time system.

Tactics-style RPGs: Movement is (mostly) free

Most tactical RPGs have a discrete order of operations in a turn; a character can both move and take an action. Many games allow you to do them in any order, but others require a character to move first. In any case, moving doesn't prevent the character from using his or her full range of attacks. Sometimes, skipping either or both actions lets the character act again sooner; this is mostly for time-based systems rather than discrete turn/round based-systems.

First we'll talk about "move and act in any order" since covering "move and then act" is easier once we've covered the basic groundwork. Ranged is obviously advantaged in this type of system. In most situations, ranged attackers will be able to attack first. Melee attackers need to abuse fog of war or other forms of imperfect information (such as stealth) in order to gain an advantage. The more imperfect information is present in these kinds of systems, the more melee benefits.

Note that if the time to kill is relatively long, some of the ranged advantage is lowered. This is because melee attackers get to spend more time in range attacking. Although ranged attackers can retreat and attack, if all things are equal, melee will simply chase and attack. This does allow ranged attackers to exploit advantages of terrain better, though. If the game is "move and then act only," it can be really painful for ranged attackers if they can move farther than they can shoot; either they move their full distance and still get chased down, or move less and potentially get surrounded, but get to fight back.

The biggest problem though is that ranged teams get to focus fire. In any of these kinds of games, you would want ranged attackers (it's just a given) just for this reason; you generally can't put multiple people in the same space (hex, tile, whatever), so many melee characters might not be able to attack simply because they can't get to an open adjacent space. This problem gets exacerbated as more units enter the game. Consider a game like Langrisser where you have huge armies of dudes; movements get really clumsy and irritating.

Overall I don't recommend this design at all. Ranged is too naturally favored and melee needs to be given too many concessions to be good. It creates very binary gameplay that is probably bad and really hard to balance.

XCOM: Action point tactics systems

Some tactical RPGs like the XCOM series and the old Fallout games use a different style of movement. Both movement and actions use the same pool of points. Much like the previous example, ranged is favored. All the things like focusing fire, preemptive attacking and controlling terrain are also true of this.

However, action point systems are generally worse because creating distance is part of the action economy instead of a separate, discrete action that you're forced to take. Adding free "movement only" action points does help, but not really. As melee, you literally can't close the gap to the enemy if they can all focus you afterwards, because you spend most of your offensive potential just getting in, and the ranged enemy gets all of their offensive potential immediately afterwards. Generally, a full turn's worth of action points in these games is enough to kill a single character, so you get behind on units (and therefore action economy) very quickly.

Melee needs to be very, very overpowered in order to survive in these kinds of systems. It's very telling that the modern XCOM games are completely imbalanced and it's clear the designers did not care to balance the game at all. I'm not really a big fan of that kind of lazy design, where you just put a bunch of OP stuff in your game and don't care how good it is because any of it can beat the game. I'll probably rant about game difficulty at some point too, honestly.

MMOs: Real-time attacking of all kinds

It's pretty common in modern real-time games to have attacks that root your character. WoW actually doesn't root characters any more, unless they use spells or some other specific actions that root your character. I remember when hunters couldn't move and shoot. Sigh.

Characters that can move rapidly in all directions and/or shoot backwards while retreating are really awful. It's basically the same as tactics-style systems but in real-time. Ranged has huge advantages, etc. Most of the melee versus ranged debate comes from this kind of game, and it's freaking obvious that ranged is good if they're allowed to attack and run away at the same time. Slow down backwards movement and keep characters from shooting out of their rear!

As a designer you have to give so much to melee to help them succeed. Movement snares/slows, CC, tankiness, gap closers and so on. You can give those things out but it kinda sucks to be forced to just because your game system is broken to start with.

Rooting while attacking is... only slightly better to be honest. If ranged is rooted and melee isn't, it still gives ranged an advantage but much less of one. You can add tankiness to melee and be a lot better off. If both are rooted while attacking, combat is just clumsier. Ranged characters have the same basic advantages as the tactics-style games; a lot more if running out of attack range while an attack is animating causes it to miss (which is common in many games like this). Even if it doesn't it generally puts a lot more forced skill on the part of the melee character. Definitely not a desirable thing.

D&D/PF: How to do it really wrong

I don't even know where to begin. It's basically the least balanced thing imaginable from a pure systems standpoint. I'm going to talk a little bit about specifics of this system because there are specific mechanics that make this system totally broken.

Melee are pretty limited in options in a core game. They have 3 basic options: Move and attack once, do a full attack but don't move (well you get a single 5' step), or double move in a straight line (charge) and take a single attack, but get a defense penalty. Ranged attackers have pretty much the same options, but we can also consider withdraw (double move, first square doesn't provoke) as an option as well. The options in this system are fairly clumsy but it is a PnP system (and thus more of a realism simulator) than a gamist thing like wargaming or tactical RPGs or real-time MMO combat.

Oh, also ranged weapons can shoot many times further than the standard movement action. Again, realism simulator. The first problem is that ranged attackers can take one or more full attacks before melee attackers can even close the gap. Additionally, if a melee attacker uses charge to attack one ranged enemy, other ranged enemies can use their full attacks to hit the charger and it's much easier because he charged. That seems totally fair especially because the charger gets a single attack. There is a penalty to hit an enemy engaged in close combat with a missile weapon, but the charge penalty effectively halves it and there's a feat to remove the penalty to hit enemies in close combat.

Now there's a catch here. Ranged characters can't use their ranged attacks in melee range without provoking an "attack of opportunity." However, they can simply use their single step to move out of melee range and then take their full attacks. In a magical world where all the melee attackers were to charge all the ranged attackers (thus forcing a threat of a full attack on the next turn), the ranged attackers still have the luxury of focus fire, while melee characters really don't.

Keep in mind that in D&D, the best ranged weapon users are also the best melee weapon users, so the actual tankiness of the ranged attackers is likely to be similar. The melee attackers are likely to deal more damage, but the ranged attackers are likely to be harder to hit. One or the other is likely a bit better than the other but it's not really important; they're roughly dealing the same damage overall when they attack.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that any sort of magic generally favors ranged attackers. Movement buffs like haste are the exception; even though they give the same effective combat benefits (+1 attack, +1 AC, and +1 hit) they give movement which favors the melee attacker. Movement slows, fatigue, entangling, and all sorts of conjurable terrain favor ranged characters who can deny melee characters an approach. One would think summoned creatures would be a benefit to melee (due to flanking), but not really; because charges are forced to be a straight line without obstructions, ranged characters can use summoned creatures to completely forbid a melee's best option to close the gap.

Probably the worst of it all is that all those magical effects presented above are on characters that are predominantly ranged -- mostly because magic is the best option in general and magic is generally ranged. The best part? Casting defensively allows spellcasters to cast right in front of their melee attackers! Magic is insanely OP in general but the fact that mages get an answer to melee that even archers don't get and is also trivially easy is just a slap in the face.

The moral of the story: Don't emulate D&D's combat in any version. It's really, really, really bad. In 2e when movement was abstract, the combat was probably more balanced than it is now (in 3.5/PF/4e/Next). If I ever design a wargaming-style strategy game, it will probably take a lot from Advance Wars; if (when?) I release my tabletop ruleset, it will also avoid as many of D&D's pitfalls as possible.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What does our gameplay accomplish?

Once upon a time there was a certain lady who worked at BioWare who claimed that she would rather "skip the combat" in games. Of course, Jennifer Hepler didn't "get" video games, or games in general. But the point she raised back then is still valid. Why shouldn't we be able to skip the combat?

The statement to me is patently ridiculous, but it makes sense if you look at games in a certain way. The singleplayer gameplay in a modern shooter serves what end? You walk through rooms of dudes and shoot them. Why not just make a movie about that? That's one of my hangups with Spec Ops: The Line, if you've ever played that game or heard about it. That game is a statement about modern shooters, so in that respect it's good that it is a shooter. However, basically the entire game would have been better if it was a movie. The combat in that game serves no point except as a backdrop to tell the story.

That's a big problem with modern games. We create gameplay that isn't novel anymore and don't use it to serve any purpose except tell a story. We make games that are designed for the player to win, but don't do so in a way that is interesting or fun. I'm really looking at shooters here because they're the worst offenders, but the same can be true of any other genre. Let me state some pretty big blasphemy here: the best Final Fantasy games would be better if they were books or TV shows. Very few Final Fantasy games do anything fun with the gameplay; it's just a means to get to the end. Final Fantasy VI is the worst offender; you barely have to even try to beat the game. It's just that easy. Final Fantasy VIII is even worse since the gameplay actively hampers enjoyment of the game.

Good games create an experience with their gameplay, and sometimes that's hard to describe with words. Metal Gear Solid (the original on PSX, not the remake on newer consoles) did a really good job of putting you in the shoes of this super-spec ops guy and showing you the dangers he was going through. Rooms were puzzles, but you could solve them in your own way; violently, stealthily and virtually any inbetweens. The game even gave feedback on how well you did. The gameplay was a huge part of the experience of that game, and if you played it for the first time, you felt really smart when you figured out the latest trick or puzzle. Skipping the combat (or perhaps action is a better word) in MGS is like skipping an entire movie except for the credits.

As designers we shouldn't just say, "I just want to create this story, so I'll make a game around it." The entire point of video games is the game part. If the only games you were exposed to were Dragon Age and Mass Effect, I can understand skipping the action parts because honestly other games do those things better; all BioWare games are about telling your story. They're basically visual novels that have gameplay added on (notable exception being SWTOR which has evolved quite a bit into a "real MMO").

In case weren't aware, I'm pretty hard on shooters. There are a lot of shooters that have been released that push the envelope (HAWKEN, Loadout, and especially Strike Vector) but the majority of shooters are really just old rehashes of the same boring shooter formula. Most action RPGs are too, honestly, but I'm less harsh on them because the people playing them really like that sort of gameplay (I play Borderlands 2 still, so I'm not exempt). I feel like shooter and to a lesser extent JRPG gameplay has become really stale. I do like that more games are branching out with stuff like DayZ, but then there's games like BioShock Infinite that are basically nothing new. Yes, I understand you're telling a story and showing a world, but why not do that in film? Depressing from the franchise that brought us System Shock 2.

The point of this rambling is that more developers should actually do something with their gameplay that makes their game worth calling a game. Even Long Live the Queen did it for visual novels (it's really good!) so I really think it shouldn't be that hard to create something that gives a new experience for a player without just telling a different story.

PS: Story's not a pillar of games and it never will be.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Summoner's Guidebook: More on role mastery

I'm not feeling really inspired to write something amazing this week (assuming you thought what I normally write is amazing), partly because I think my muse ran hard thinking about tabletop games. Haha. But I have been playing and thinking about roles a bit.

You may have already read my discussion already about picking a role. Naturally I was thinking about it a bit today. If you've picked a role, for crying out loud be good at it. Nothing is more irritating to me than getting into a game where someone firstpicks a role and then plays awfully. Examples include picking any last-hitting lane role and being bad at last-hitting, picking support and being passive in lane, or picking jungle and not exerting map presence via wards, ganks, counterganks or invasions. It might also be picking mid/top and getting wrecked by any matchup you're not familiar with.

I recently played a game where my team's Vayne was forced into ADC. She really wanted a solo lane, but both of them were picked by an obvious duo queue. The duo queue went on to play terribly. Katarina let the enemy Vel'Koz free farm while she attempted to put pressure on bottom lane, while our Jax lost horribly to the enemy Teemo. I couldn't gank top past level 6 (you can't really gank a Teemo lane) so I ended up playing proxy mid and jungle invasion because my mid laner was rarely in her lane. I would like to emphasize that Shyvana versus Vel'Koz is not a very fun matchup.

Likewise, our Vayne was garbage and would not ever shoot at the enemy. I understand being defensive and all, but I don't think she understands the need for ADC to continuously shoot. Our support would make plays but she wouldn't follow up, and unless Kat was around, basically nothing would happen.

Now I understand that you don't always get the role you want, but screwing someone who can play the lane out of the matchup so that you can lose your lane or give your opponent free farm is not really OK. Yes, I do think that ganking is important for a mid, but you really need to push up and ideally harass your opponent out of lane or kill him before you gank. I'm not a pro mid player, but you generally rotate as mid when you're ahead, not when you feel like giving the enemy hits on your tower.

What I'm saying, and what numerous games where this happened (I had jungle stolen from me by the worst Evelynn ever) have told me is that you really need to know your role. I mean really. Pick a role and actually learn what the heck you're doing. If you don't know what you're doing in a role, don't call it until you know!

Maybe I should just have talked about the skills you actually need to have to do well in a position. I dunno.

Sorry for the meh update (and slow update too), not really feelin it today I guess?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tailoring a narrative to your games

First on the agenda: apparently you can't import a feed into Tumblr anymore. I'm not sure what's up with that. You can import your entire blog into Tumblr but the links to the tool for that are currently down. Kind of annoying.

Anyway, today I'm gonna talk about creating a narrative. I've been getting positive feedback with PnP-related stuff and it's been on my mind lately, but this is probably the last tabletop-related post for a while. One of my friends talked about how she was good at writing, and I snickered a bit because she is terrible at writing. Pretty much any criteria you could use for writing, she'd be bad at. Her mechanics are bad, the stuff she writes is super self-indulgent, and she has no concepts of plot or pacing. I'll come back to this story a bit more later.

When you're creating a narrative for anything, whether writing or gaming or interactive (tabletop) gaming, the first and most important thing you need to dump is your attachment to whatever it is you're writing. I feel like this is why George R. R. Martin is such a fantastic writer, because he isn't in love with the people he writes about. It allows him to create a compelling narrative because the characters feel believable and act believable. Characters don't just act out of turn "because plot." In the Song of Fire and Ice, you really feel like the story just flows and he never has to force things to happen.

That's sort of the problem with narrative is that you create an idea and you fall in love with it. You identify a sequence of events that you want to happen and you create a story around that idea. The problem is that unless that idea is the central point of your story, the rest of your story can easily get tangled up around it. Your idea could just be bad too, but unless you can step back and trash what doesn't work then you're kind of doomed to "because plot."

"Because plot" is really bad in tabletop and you will get some pretty bad feedback regarding it if your player group is at all creative. If you have a story in mind you want to tell, that story better have some if/then statements to cover if the players fail, if they succeed far greater than you would have expected, or if they do a flying leap off the rails and do something you don't expect. If your villain is defeated and you want him to get away, he'd better start running before he runs out of hit points and he'd better be able to make saving throws against CC spells, tear gas, and a huge fighter dude blocking his way. You'd better have contingencies and more importantly, you'd better be ready to have those contingencies get trumped by smart players.

If you're creating a narrative you want as few ridiculous coincidences as possible in your story. Things like having the protagonists meet up is technically a coincidence, but no one thinks twice about it unless it happens in an especially contrived way. If you aren't familiar with Star Ocean 3, there's a part where the main character's escape pod randomly lands on the same planet as a space criminal's escape pod, and then another character's ship lands on that same planet (following the protagonist's distress beacon), but that character is randomly someone important to the plot. If that wasn't bad enough, the group crash-lands on another planet later which ends up being a planet of key significance to the endgame plot, forcing the heroes to return later. There are a lot more ridiculous coincidences in that game and they are all plot-drivers. Really awful.

In the same way, events in your story should flow naturally. When you create characters, you give them motivations and you make those motivations drive those characters into conflicts. This can happen whether you're a DM/GM or just writing a story, interactive or not. Coincidences can happen -- they happen in real life -- but they shouldn't be the key driving forces in your story. Try to limit "because plot" coincidences to one or two at the absolute most. If the good guys get bailed out by luck at just the right time every time, or the bad guys get away due to chance every time, it just feels hackneyed.

The reader/player is attached to the protagonists emotionally, and so their triumphs and failures should be their own. If a bad guy succeeds, it should be because he had a good plan or contingency, or maybe because he just naturally had some advantage that the good guys didn't plan for. In general, when I plan encounters I make my antagonists way ahead of time and just play it as it goes. I scale the overall power level to be comparable to the players but the actual plan for each antagonist is flavored for that character. It's then up to the players to do the work, and depending on the antagonist, he might be able to gather info about the players too and change his plans.

When story events happen, they happen because the story has already been driving towards those things happening. As a writer, you need objectivity. You need to play out plans from multiple perspectives and try to see things in the eyes of other characters. Characters act according to their wants and needs, and people's wants are what ultimately create the narrative of a good story.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How detailed should non-combat systems be?

One of the most common things I hear from other GM/DMs is that they feel that skill and non-combat systems in general should be less simulationist. Roleplaying is about roleplaying, not roll-playing, people tend to argue. I agree with the statement, but not the premise.

Tabletop RPGs are fundamentally evolutions of games like Cops n' Robbers or House, or perhaps even like playing with dolls or action figures. The difference is that they're actually games. Cops n' Robbers isn't really a game. You're playing it but it's not a game. There's no rules saying what you can't do. You can decide that you're a SWAT officer in that game if you want. You can even be Robocop. I did once, when I was a kid. He's a cop, right? So that's fair!

Of course, your friends think you're cheating when you play Robocop in Cops n' Robbers, but there are no rules saying you can't. Heck, there aren't even rules for how much Robocop or any cop can get shot before he goes down. That's really what separates RPGs from those kinds of games. Rules.

With that, we have really elaborate systems of how our heroes and villains can hurt each other in our games. I personally think that's both OK and lame at the same time. If you compare combat to an opposed check of any other kind, combat is generally of similar complexity. Card games, strategy games, social interactions or racing (foot, horse or otherwise) are similarly complex to crossing swords. In real life, combat ends much faster than these things, mostly because when you stab someone they usually go down right away. In other events you can come back from a deficit and still win.

Combat gets the complicated rules though and other skill checks get single opposed rolls even though in real life, we do way more opposed checks that aren't fighting than we do fighting. I've been in more fights than most people have, and the number of actual fistfights I've been in number less than 20. I've been in more "fights" that were sparring or whatever, but those don't really count. All my real fights were over in under 10 seconds (typically 2-3 punches), except for one that lasted a bit longer.

It seems sort of weird to put that much weight on combat and not put emphasis on non-combat too. If you have this really simulationist combat system (D&D 4e, I'm looking at you) and then have a really barebones skill system, that feels really tacked-on to me.

Let's put it like this. Your character is also a bassist and you jam out a performance. You want to know how good your character is. Some systems, particularly those without detailed skill rules, would simply say that your character just succeeds. Maybe you roll a stat check or something. So anyone with your dexterity (or charisma or whatever the GM decides is the stat for bass playing) could play the bass as good as you. If you're a bassist IRL that really feels hokey. I have much higher dexterity and charisma (he's missing half a finger and he's kind of a jerk) than my dad but I'd be damned if I can play any instrument as well as he can.

So you go a bit further and now you have skill ratings, and you roll your perform check for a set. Except that feels hokey too. Even if you've played Rock Band you'd know that even a single song has easy and hard parts and you might do some parts amazing (even possibly improv something really cool) and other parts you might make a slight error or a big error or whatever. And if you get into a bass battle where you're playing off the other guy and improv-ing stuff everywhere, that has just as much back and forth as something like combat. Probably more so because nobody is immediately dying.

Now being too simulationist is probably bad too, I mean we don't roll for angle of swing for our swords, angles of deflection or stuff like that. In the end it's opposed rolls or rolls against a target number, and really the difference in combat is stuff like movement, defense, or grappling that add to the complexity of fighting.

It's really not fair to the characters that play in non-combat roles (and anyone who has ever played a rogue knows my pain here) to say simply that they do something fine and be done with it. It's important to know what characters can do and what they can't, and how well they can do that thing. Opposed checks might be all that is needed, or we might not need to roll. But the option should be there, and there should be guidelines for what a good roll means.

Let me use a real example here. In our D&D campaign, we're playing E6 and our party is fighter/cleric/bard. I'm the bard. I'm int/charisma so I have a lot of skill points and I'm good at a lot of stuff. I have a huge amount of points invested in knowledge skills -- I don't have any in planes, geography, architecture, dungeoneering, or martial lore, but I can take 10 and get over 15 in any other check (and I can get 14 in the others due to a feat that lets me roll them as trained). The game gives guidelines for what various numbers mean. A 15 means something that's not common knowledge, but not especially rare. A 20 is privileged information, 25 is a secret no one wants to have known, and so on. Sometimes I ask a question and the DM knows the answer in the setting, but he isn't sure whether he wants me to know the information. A skill check says whether or not I know. Sometimes if I really need to know the answer, it means I'll need to do other forms of research like gather information checks or maybe even asking specific NPCs or library research. Knowing the party limits means I can work to find ways around those limits or get lucky and just know a tidbit of info.

The other part of this is that with a rule system for skill checks you really do need to have a guideline for what kind of roll equals what level of knowledge or ability a character has. D20 is pretty good about this. Every skill in the game says what you can do if you can roll X number. Other games don't do this and that is the big mistake. If you don't know what you can get with a roll of 50 (or whatever), the GM will just match the difficulty to the party's average skill. I was once in a D&D 3.5 game where there were DC30 spot checks to see things 15 feet away that were not actively hiding and in good light. What the hell?

Of course, sometimes you don't need to roll. I haven't rolled a disguise check since the first month or so of playing, because my bonus is so high and I've never impersonated anyone specific. Our DM just decided not to bother having me roll. Sometimes I don't have to roll diplomacy checks if I roleplay really well. If something is obviously trivial for a character or the DM really wants the character to know the info, we don't have to roll.

That's really the thing, though. There's always a time where you don't want players to roll because you want them to succeed, and rules don't stop you from letting that happen. They just provide context for all the blurry stuff in the middle.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Action economy in turn-based games

Turn-based games have a unique way of handling event timing. Instead of acting in real-time, turn-based games use actions to determine how many things a character can do in a given span of time. The action economy is something very difficult to work with, and any alterations to it can greatly skew the balance of a game.

The simplest type of action economy is single action rotations where each character gets one action per cycle of turns, and the characters go in order until everyone has taken one action, and then the cycle repeats. This basic concept is used by most turn-based games, although there might be some wiggle room with things like movement.

Anything that allows extra actions in this environment tends to be extremely powerful even if those things are very limited. In D&D 3.5 (and PF), there's a special type of action called a swift action that can be taken in addition to the standard or full-round action you normally get. These swift actions are often less significant than standard actions, but for the most part because they do something at all they are extremely powerful. Some swift actions are just as good as standard actions, but cost more resources (such as quickened spells).

Action denial also really impacts the action economy. Making an opponent lose an action by spending an action of your own is generally really powerful, but making an opponent lose more actions rapidly becomes ridiculous. Even two rounds of lost actions generally falls under the "save or die" category just because being two actions behind the curve means an otherwise balanced combat is now probably heavily skewed.

Clock-based turns are another way of handling the action economy. These systems have a number of problems, mostly due to initiative advantage rather than action economy. As an example, games like Final Fantasy Tactics or the semi clock-based PnP game Champions have faster characters acting first. Occasionally, faster characters also get more turns too if the encounter runs longer. Faster characters acting first AND getting more actions is generally bad, because their actions are, all things being equal, going to have the first chance of disabling an enemy. Even if the enemy isn't downed right away, they will win the battle in the long run simply by doing more things.

The only way a slower enemy can beat a stronger enemy in this type of economy is if their actions have more weight. Put simply, if they are more resilient/evasive than the faster opponent, they might shrug off enough of the opponent's power to get ahead. Likewise, if they are considerably stronger offensively they may be able to win as well. It really comes down to specific numbers, but going first AND having action advantage is generally very ridiculous.

The last type, and the type I like a lot, is some volume of actions that is measured during the turn order, with initiative a separate thing. Linking initiative with action economy is very bad for balancing because you have to adjust both to adjust one. The action volume is much nicer because you can make small tweaks or adjust it without doubling. Adding a single partial action to 4-6 base actions is a lot less impactful than adding the same sort of action to one. It makes balancing a lot easier because nudges aren't huge swings.

In the same vein are action point systems and I kind of view them the same way. If you have 6 action points and you gain 1, and it takes or 3 action points to do a full action, that extra 1 point might only mean a bit of extra movement or an extra small thing. Again, I really like that overall idea.

This is perhaps why I keep coming back to my homebrew Palladium games, because many of the issues with the system could be fixed with really aggressive balancing. Unfortunately you'd have to completely throw out most of the content (and the system has a lot of great content that was produced over the years) and make your own stuff, but I feel like the basic skeleton of the system is probably better than something like D&D where adding an extra action breaks everything.

Honestly I would publish my own homebrew Palladium content if they weren't so awful with their legal issues. The main issue with simply rebranding it as something else is really content. D&D has huge reams of material for their system. I used to have like, probably 40+ books for Palladium games worth of content. I'm good at rule systems and semi-OK at worldbuilding but producing enough specific things like gear, character classes, abilities, monsters/enemies and stuff like that is so daunting for me.

I dunno, I have time now so maybe I'll work more seriously at it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Homebrew game design

Homebrew gaming is probably the easiest way we can "practice" game design and actually view the results. Unless you're in a game creation circle and have some programming skills (even stuff like RPG Maker or RenPy require programmer skills to a degree) it's pretty had to find decent feedback for your design -- especially the kind where you actually see what people do and figure out why they're not doing what you intend. By comparison, you can just apply your own mods to your tabletop game or RPG and play it out and see the results, play situations over and over and see different permutations of your adjustments right away.

Part of this is because tabletop games have randomness, so even if people play "the same" the randomness helps a lot with seeing how adjustments work over the long term.

Just last night we played Sentinels of the Multiverse and we played against the Chairman for the first time. If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it's that Chairman is very poorly designed. His deck is designed to have no good counter AND to punish the things that can beat it. While no enemy deck should have a guaranteed answer, the Chairman has completely built-in consistency. I've been thinking about a lot of possible fixes for it.

My gaming group also plays D&D (3.5 E6, with some PF content) and 3.5, even when capped at level 6, has some pretty egregious balance issues. I'm not the DM, but I work with him a lot to address stuff that we both don't like, or stuff that I think is kind of dumb and imbalanced. I even do it for player stuff, even though I'm a player. There were a number of power creep feats that were either removed or nerfed because of me. Fortunately it's E6 so our feat builds are pretty flexible. On that note, I also try to help with the rest of the team's character designs. I don't tell people how to build, but I definitely offer suggestions and advice, especially where bad choices are involved. In case you didn't know, there are a lot of bad choices in D&D.

For the game systems I have GMed for, I've usually rewritten entire parts of the game. Probably most notably, I completely rewrote the Palladium combat system to somewhat make sense (though it's still bad, there is only so much fixing you can do) and rewrote a huge amount of content in the game from weapons and armor and magic and everything. I think my Palladium games are more homebrew content than anything else at this point.

On that note I'd also like to mention that sometimes games can't be saved. I did a lot of work on BESM (2nd, 3rd, and DX) as well as Palladium, and for the most part those games are not salvagable. You can make a lot of changes and adjustments and do a lot of work, but it really doesn't matter if the game is totally screwed. Palladium isn't totally but... you really have to work to have things fit and their magic system is completely busted beyond fixing. It's taken me actual decades to come to terms with how busted magic is in that game.

Being a DM/GM in general is a good way to kind of help put on the designer hat, and I'll possibly get into the difference between being a director/designer and being a writer at some other time. Either way, when I look at stuff that happens in a PNP game, I'm always asking myself whether such a thing is fair or reasonable. When my players trump stuff that I do in a game, I'm not always mad. Sometimes stuff like that is just clever, and other times it's like "this stuff trivializes the action economy in the game."

Let's give an example. In Palladium, dodging is basically an action tax, and if you want to do stuff in that game, the person who shoots first with a serious threat is the one who wins in a fight. Melee ends up being kind of underpowered even if you greatly buff its damage, because melee can be blocked as a free action. Likewise, any way of avoiding ranged attacks for free (typically by blocking) is desirable because it gives a chance of avoiding the ranged attack, but keeps actions free for creating your own threats.

This is especially troublesome because of the "no save or die" effects present in magic. There are a number of effects that allow no save except a dodge, and many of them can't be blocked. Some of these aren't game ending (some are just blinds for instance) but even a blind completely takes an enemy out of the fight for a very long time. So you have dodge-only attacks that instantly incapacitate.

Of course nerfing the attacks themselves is something you can do (I did that at first), but I realized much later that it was an underlying problem in the game system itself. If dodging is a huge action tax, then any attack that is dangerous and can't be blocked becomes a problem. Kind of hard to balance in that environment. Even worse is the fact that the game is sort of balanced around dodging taking more effort than blocking. If we converted defense in the game into something abstract like "armor class" or "defense rating," it would change a whole lot of other interactions in the game too.

There's a bunch of other issues in the game related to the action economy too. I don't like the D&D solution (you get one thing every turn) because anything that comes later and adjusts the action economy (like swift actions) has undesired effects.

This turned into a bit too specific about action economy. I have run into a lot of other troubles too, namely from scry-and-die (mainly via astral projection) and other such things. If you ever want to be a designer, you should consider how to handle these kinds of things when you run a campaign (or play tabletop games).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

It takes a designer to balance a game

The rule of Saturday is that I don't have to post. However, I will probably post anyway, because I feel like it. I don't really feel like braining out quality content, though (whatever that means).

I feel like players are really bad at having balance discussions. I think this is true regardless of how good these players are. If you look at the Lee Sin balance discussions, people say ridiculous things like "rito nerfs the one balanced champ in the game" which is a totally ludicrous statement that I shouldn't have to debunk.

Yes I feel that Lee is too good and I can somewhat articulate why, which I already have. But it's really hard to have a discussion with players about why Skarner is bad because the players rage hard. Feelings get too much in the way of the actual truth, so all we hear is a lot of whining about how bad Skarner is and not a lot of useful feedback.

Scarra recently tweeted that the Ryze health buff is possibly too much. I can honestly say that is unlikely to be true. He was buffed by 54 HP (an honestly weird number), which is enough HP for roughly one basic attack at level 2 (slightly more than one at level 1). How many times do you get into a fight and survive with under 54 HP? I imagine that number is slim even in the early game. Yes it adds power, but the amount of power added is very low. I doubt that it's too much, but it's possible that he played Ryze and felt really strong for whatever reason (the range buff on Q or something) and said the HP might have been a factor. Or maybe he lost in fights to a Ryze, who knows.

Scarra's a pretty knowledgable player too, and I respect what he says a lot. But when he makes a statement like that, it makes me realize that he can't wear the designer hat, which is OK. A lot of people might say that players that play at the highest level know the game best, which is possibly true. However, only a designer can really read what is happening in games and say "well we need to tune in this way."

It seems a bit weird, but even smart players see things in forward directions. They tend to think that mixing certain things together would result in something strong. It's hard for them to work backwards and think about how the game might change to fix. The Lee Sin changes are a good example of that. Most pro players don't feel he's a problem, but most people with design experience who look at the character do.

You might be wondering, what does it take to have "design experience?" In general you need to have made your own game or done balance work for a game. More importantly, like any skill, you need to have made objective analysis about the things you've done and said "well I could have done this better" or "this change really sucked" and so on.

Having "made your own game" is possibly a bit out there for most people. All you need to have done is produced something that a group of others played and gave feedback on. If you have done mod content for a game that had a decent amount of feedback, that probably counts. Homebrew pen and paper rules also count, if you played the game long enough to determine what kind of an impact they had on the game itself.

I've done a lot of smaller stuff like modded content, homebrew rules and a little bit of making my own games (none published yet, sorry) and given a lot of feedback on design decisions. Some of my other blogs that a few of you have read have a lot of stuff related to that, although because much of it is caused by RL conversations there is a lack of context. I feel like homebrew is sometimes hard to balance. I can probably talk about some of the lessons I learned on that front later.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Developing good practice skills

Do you ever wonder why people who are good at games always end up better at games than you, even if you have a head start? It's one thing to play a new fighting game with fighting game players, but it seems like even if you play other games they seem to get better faster. What gives?

Gene and I are playing through Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst so that we can stream multiplayer with all the characters at some point. The game is more like a Dynasty Warriors game than a fighting game, though it has lock-on, 1v1 matches, and many fighting game-like mechanics. I've actually finished the game (though I haven't done all the optional post-game stuff) and I think Gene is pretty close to the end. I've watched him play though, and I've already noticed that there's a pretty sizable skill difference between me and him.

He was about halfway through the game when I noticed he needed to block more. I mean a lot more. He was near the end of the game and he had no idea which characters that he'd already used were good or why. He seemed like every FG scrub; he got excited over characters with cool aesthetics and didn't grasp why certain abilities worked the way they did. I never saw him use roman cancelling (CDCing or whatever).

It's also worth noting that I self-banned myself from playing in practice mode. If anything, I died a lot less and got a lot more S ranks so I have almost certainly played fewer actual matches in the game (I tend to leave games running so my hours played is longer). Why?

I've already written here about practice. So the same stuff applies there. But this is more about the actual practice method.

First, you need to develop the mechanical skill to be able to do whatever the thing is that you want to do. Sometimes it's like last-hitting where you can pretty much always get better at it. It might be another skill where the mechanics are very easy (such as learning to throw in SF4). Either way, you need the correct amount of mechanical practice to improve your skills up to where they are respectable. You want to do this in as controlled a manner as possible. If your skill is a reflexive skill it helps to have a practice partner. You can trade off with your practice partner so that you both develop the skill. An example like that is dodging skillshots while laning or baiting bursts/combo breakers.

The next thing that really helps is playing against opposition worse than you. A lot of people think that playing against better players is good for skill development, but for the most part it's not. To develop a trick, you want to play against competition you aren't going to be taxed trying to win. If you can "win automatically" without really flexing your skills, you can use the saved mental energy to practice a new skill. In a lot of situations you can just play against bot/AI players. For instance, learning the recoil pattern of an AK-47 in CSGO is not something you need humans for. Learning to land a combo in a fighting game is also something you can practice with bots.

Sometimes your opponents need to be of a certain caliber. Baiting bursts or hitting people's reversals with your own invincible move is something you need people who have some level of ability. In general, punishing people's reactions requires players to have those reactions in the first place. These players are still far beneath the level of an expert, though.

You might be wondering what is the value in playing against good competition then? The answer is that good players are inventive and come up with new tricks on their own or steal them from other, better players. Weaker players won't do that for you, and even if you come up with your own tricks, you might not be prepared for new tricks. There's still value in playing strong players (other than in tournaments or competition), because they will teach you new things that you can go and learn. Weaker players won't do that.

Still, it can be hard if the weaker players level up along with you. I think that most pro gamers don't understand the importance of "underclassmen," other than people who might someday be great. However, they're really the most important practice partners because they help you level up.

For online games, this is a really good reason to make a smurf account.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Summoner's Guidebook: Should Elise/Lee Sin be nerfed?

Elise just got gutted last patch, and it was pretty painful. As an Elise player, I can tell you that nerfing her numbers really hurt her jungle game. She might still be viable in top lane, I don't know. Her clear speed is much worse now, and it will take some time for her to adjust. I'm not sure she can recover without help because I feel like a lot of her old power was invested in numbers. She's one of my favorite characters, so it sucks to see her nerfed.

I think she's probably still OK, for the record. Her kit is still very capable of securing ganks, although Riot hit literally every part of her kit at once. I feel like the difficulty in ganking with her is not worth the power she now carries, though. There are easier junglers now that do better (lol Pantheon).

Lee Sin is next on the chopping block. Let me start by saying I'm nowhere near as emotionally invested in him, and seeing him nerfed would be good for me since I don't like playing him. The big problem is that Lee's kit is so good that it will be hard to nerf him enough. He's a simple case of completely busted powers with huge base numbers. It is super hard to get away from Lee. His dash kick > ward hop > kick enemy into team combo is so ridiculous that there's no real answer except for flashing ahead of time. The term is "insec mechanics," after incredible Korean player inSec. Lee Sin is a character with tons of theoretical depth. His abilities allow for all manners of crazy antics that weren't originally intended when he was designed.

I will go outright and say that a character that works outside the developer intentions of a game is probably bad for an esports game that is in continuous development. If the game is finished (like most fighting games), having something imbalanced is OK because it can either be banned (if it's actually OP) or people will figure out counters and the meta will stabilize around that. Super Turbo, for instance, has a really stable meta and the top tiers aren't 100% dominant. People still main the lower tier characters and do well with them because they understand how the top tier matchups work out.

In a moving game, introducing new elements or tweaking balance means that things like Lee Sin (with versatile kits and weird interactions) continue to be dominant. It's even more so in a MOBA where there are fewer options for any given character.

But Lee Sin himself? Is his kit that broken? I think the answer is no, but I do think he should be nerfed. I don't think the nerfs should be what he's getting, but I appreciate that Riot is trying. I don't think that comboing his passive is really going to pan out in high level play and the nerfs are straight nerfs. I think that numbers should be reduced on his dragon kick (it's way too high, so nerfing it is fine) and the kick length should be reduced. I also think that increasing the cost or cooldown on Safeguard if he hops to a ward is fine. I think they're specifically targeting the QQWR combo with that.

Ultimately, Lee Sin's nerfs are like any nerfs, there's going to be adjustments and it's probably fine. I think that most people who wear the designer hat and are informed about his design think that it's too much. In the local sense, he'll still be OK and probably viable even in high level play.

The problem is the jungle meta is... sort of fragile right now. I think that junglers will continue to need to be nerfed until a fix occurs. Pantheon is too good, and pushing him up is probably not good. I don't think we need to see a League of Evelynn again and Kha'Zix is also a problem that should have been addressed in Season 3 when he launched in a completely broken state.

Currently the top tier of junglers are all so busted that Vi is considered second tier. What kind of jungle is this game that has Vi as a second-string when her ganks are practically inescapable? What hope does the other, weaker junglers have in a meta like this? I think that nerfing junglers is potentially bad just because it will polarize the other, easier junglers more. I like that Lee and Elise are hard and give great rewards because Pantheon is too easy and gives great rewards.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Good skills and bad skills

This is a game design-oriented post, but I figure it might be interesting to some of you.

When it comes to gaming, there are a lot of skills that help you succeed. There's stuff like spatial awareness, reaction speed, execution, situational decision-making skills and so on. There are some skills in games that are simply a tax, though. It's a skill that adds nothing to the game, but forces you to do it anyway.

Because I play fighting games, we should point out how rife they are with stupid mechanical stuff that you don't need. Special move execution could be greatly simplified, for instance. A lot of games do simplify special moves a lot, but the dragon punch motion has been around for literal decades and there are still people that can't get into SF because of it. P4A finally got rid of it, and I have somewhat mixed opinions on that.

There is an argument that doing things like a dragon punch or a command grab or super should take time. The idea behind a dragon punch is that it's invulnerable and beats lots of stuff, so you shouldn't be able to just bust it out quickly. It should be a planned thing. That's the theory but the truth is that even hitting one button in response to an opponent's attack is pretty hard and the risk of doing a dragon punch is already pretty high. I think that 3A+B or whatever the motion is in P4A (it's down-towards and two buttons, don't know which ones) is plenty as long as DPs still carry some risk.

But honestly those skills are tame compared to StarCraft (2, in this case). Consider how much of StarCraft could be automated. An example might be zerg queen larva injection. It's something you want to do every time perfectly and you literally never want to delay it. Larva injection is never a strategic decision. If you want more queen energy for transfuse or tumors you'll make another queen. Yet so much of zerg skill is tied up in the ability to hit backspace, select queens, V, click hatch, next hatch, every 45 seconds. Not a good skill.

Macro in StarCraft is in general kind of bad. BW is the worst. You press a F key to switch to a different screen, then click build dragoon over and over and over, every minute or however long it takes to build a dragoon. SC2 made that easier but it still emphasizes a skill that is almost never involved in strategic decision-making. If you want to stop making dragoons or stalkers or marines or whatever, you could just tell your unit production to stop making them.

Of course StarCraft players will balk, and I think the game is a good game. But it's hard, and it's ultimately hard for the wrong reasons. So much of StarCraft is jumping through hurdles that what you actually build in the game is sort of irrelevant until you're very, very good. No fighting game has special moves that are that hard OR that essential. Yes, it's harder to win in SF without knowing special moves, but it is not as impossible as winning in SC without macro.

I got into this discussion because my best friend and I are working on a game and he asked me if weapon switching should allow the player to immediately attack after the switch, even if you had used a weapon with a long cooldown (long in this case being measured in hundreds of milliseconds). It is cool to use a trick like that just like it's cool when you do macro well or pull off a combo in a fighting game. However, as designers we have 2 options. Either we balance around the trick or we ignore it and let the people who can do it have a bunch of extra power. I chose just to not have the trick. Optimal play shouldn't require players to have an extra dexterity tax.

What about hard combos in fighting games? Well they're like hard dragon punches, right? The answer is yes and no. Just like dragon punches, combos are basically a dexterity tax, but unlike dragon punches there's a bit of nuance. Doing a combo is a strategic decision. Which combo you do, more specifically, is the strategic decision.

First is the likelihood that combos will be in your game anyway even if you don't build for them. The chances are that yes, if you are making a game with hitstun, that people will find a way to link stuff even if you try very hard to keep it out. If you take control over the system, you can make combos look cool instead of lame, and to some degree control the damage levels characters get when they hit things.

When you do a combo, you're making a decision about how much damage you want to do, how much special resource you're willing to expend, and in what position is your opponent going to be after the combo is over. Some people will do the big damage combo every time, but experts will choose combos with more corner carry or have an optimized combo into an ultra or using EX moves or supers or whatever your fighting game has. There are even resets where you end your combo early (before the enemy is ready) and then perform a mixup to start your combo over!

Those things are all strategic, so we have to consider them when creating a combo system. We can't simply have "mash the punch button to do a combo," unless there are other ways to fulfill those other situations. On the other hand, we want each option to be as simple as possible. There's no reason for combo into super to be 10 times harder than the basic combo, for instance.

A lot of games have easy base combos with variation, which is great. Others have complicated combo systems but built-in helper tools to make hitting hard links much easier. In general, the execution can't be too simple or it hurts some of the complexity. Resets, for instance, basically depend on the combo system not being "just mash P for combo A, P and then mash K for combo B, mash P and then super for combo C."

Bunny hopping, various kinds of strafing that make you move faster, and all sorts of aiming bugs in FPS games are other examples of bad skills. When discussing a particular feature, just ask yourself two things:

  1. Would the game be better off without the skill?
  2. Would the game be better off if the skill was easy, trivial, and/or blended into the game's "normal" way of playing?
Even in the case of StarCraft macro, the answer to question 2 is "making it easier would make the game better at all levels of play."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hearthstone's mana curve issues

Hearthstone differs from M:TG in a couple big ways that make creating "big cards" a lot harder. The biggest issue is that the mana curve in Hearthstone is smooth. In M:TG, decks generally have a stopping point where they stop gaining mana. In most cases, that's around 4-6 mana and almost never at 10.

The additional problem is that the game caps mana at 10. Occasionally decks can get more mana than that, and some things can also reduce mana costs of cards. However, the fact that you're guaranteed to get 6+ mana means that cards that are worth that much are worth appropriately less.

The value of a 6 mana card in M:TG is a ton! You might never get enough mana to play it in a real game unless your deck has mana acceleration. Most 6 mana cards are expected to basically win the game on their own. By comparison, a good 6 mana card in Hearthstone is... well, a 6/7 ogre or a 4/2 haste/divine shield. Those cards give favorable card advantage (they're generally worth several lesser cards) and with the right combos and a winning life total, they can secure a win. None of these cards will give a huge comeback (though a number of other good cards in the 4+ range can).

The big problem with this is that, as I stated yesterday, the big problem is that it really hurts card diversity. There's simply fewer gamechanger cards. Most people's ideas of what is great is an 8/8 creature. Hell, it's my idea of something great too. Almost any time I manage to get out something like that, I usually feel great because dealing with an 8/8 is very hard.

But that 8/8 or whatever is boring. There's less stuff that really just turns games around and Hearthstone becomes way more about boring trades.

So what should Blizzard do about it? At first I thought that they could adjust the way mana is gained in some way, but I think that's bad. I would like to see more alternative costs for things like sacrificing minions or discarding cards (like Warlock does already but with more interesting actual cards) and other similar things. I'd like to see more game winning stuff that is harder to play, but causes bigger swings if you manage to get it out. Imagine 10 mana cost, but requires you to sacrifice a minion in play. I think that'd be pretty cool and it wouldn't take away from Hearthstone's essential simplicity.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hearthstone isn't as good as Magic

One thing that really struck me about Hearthstone coming from a M:TG background is how simple the game is. Simplicity is good, and I really like that it's easy to play and understand. Unfortunately, there are some problems with being simple and they're a bit hard to solve.

The #1 biggest problem with Hearthstone is the lack of big gamechanging cards. I started playing M:TG in third edition (we call it Revised), and back in those days there was no Type 2 and there were a ton of broken things. There are creatures that do all sorts of zany stuff like making people discard whenever they hit a player. Honestly, even that was fairly boring (and too good, according to WotC) compared to some of the stuff we saw in Legends and Antiquities sets. There was a card that made players swap life totals if it stuck around. There was a card that made both players play a sub-game of M:TG within the existing game. There were cards that let you take an extra turn! There were cards that let you pay X to do X damage. Some of these cards were super OP, others were gimmick novelties.

The trick with most of these really crazy cards is that most of them completely broke the idea of card value. A single card that cost 4 mana might be worth 2 enemy cards, or even more if it had some drawback. "Destroy all creatures in play" cost 4 mana. You could easily get 2 for 1 trades on even low-cost cards. Some cards even prevented all damage from certain kinds of sources. Imagine if you had a creature that read "Warlock spells can't deal damage." That'd be wild.

Because M:TG had such wild ideas about card value, the game design could be a bit wilder. Hearthstone is so boring by comparison, because there are fewer ways to get card advantage that don't involve dealing damage to minions by hitting them with attacks or spells. Single draws mean so much more in a game where a 2 for 1 means a huge lead.

Part of this is simply that Hearthstone strategy is so much more refined, because we came in with preconcieved ideas about card value from games like M:TG. Magic taught us about how good drawing cards is, and as a result stuff that lets us draw cards in Hearthstone is usually super valuable. Casting a spell that wipes the enemy board is usually game-ending in Hearthstone. In M:TG, a decent deck usually has multiple ways of coming back.

And really, that's my problem with Hearthstone. So much is decided in the first four turns of the game that the later game feels really meh. I hate grinding out a sure win when I have 4 creatures in play and 3 cards in hand and my opponent has 2 cards in hand. In M:TG, you could always topdeck something crazy but very few cards do that in Hearthstone. Yes, I'm aware Flamestrike exists, but that's one card, it costs 7 mana, and it's one of very few cards that actually have that kind of game impact.

I have a lot of issues with card value in general in Hearthstone, but I'll gripe about them some other time. It's still a good game but I think Blizzard's monetization is borderline scamming. Really that's worse than any card value issues with the game.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

There's nothing wrong with being bad

I criticize my friends for sucking a lot. I hold them to a different standard than normal people, though. I am not sure why it's such a big deal if you're bad and someone calls you out on it, though. I was thinking, people get really offended when I say it's their fault they're stuck in bronze. It really is your fault if you're stuck in bronze. If you're gaining ranking and it's taking time and you're impatient, then yeah I understand that sucks. If you actually can't gain ranking, it's your fault.

There's nothing wrong with that.

Really. If you're bad, that's fine! It means you have skills you need to work on. Just last night my best friend was playing Ashe and he sucked, his teamfight positioning was horrible and he cost us the game. After a bit of whining and feeling sorry for himself, he realized that in fights he was getting panicky and spamclicking. Let's cut out the lame whining and feeling sorry for himself and get right to the actual point. If you make a mistake and get called out, own up on it and find out why it happened. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes, there's something wrong with not knowing why you did them.

In the same series of matches I got caught a few times and lost fights and even lost a game. I was like, oh man I totally shouldn't have gotten caught there, I was out of position, my bad, and similar things. When you screw up, man up and take responsibility.

So if you can't gain ranking in bronze league or climb the ladder in your favorite online versus game, get over yourself when someone calls you out. There's nothing wrong with being bad but there's something wrong with getting upset over it. If you're bad, you're bad. It means you have to climb up the skill ladder. Don't feel bad about being bad, work to do something about it.

If you take every criticism to your failures personally, you'll never improve. Don't be hurt because you're bad. Accept that you are and get better.

Or don't! Really you can also just not get better too. You can play casually, and that's OK too. But why stress out when someone calls you out for being bad? Yes, you're bad! You play casually! Those two things are typically (though there are some anomalies) synonymous. A casual player can't really be expected to know the things that someone who is trying to improve would, so yes, you'll be worse. If you take criticism personally, you might as well quit playing because it's only going to continue.

I feel like there's some kind of entitlement that people have, that they expect to be at least average just by picking up a controller. NO. I am sorry, that is not how it works. If you don't spend any time learning, you're bad. If you're early on your road of improvement, you're also bad.

Let me end this by saying that two of my most commonly stated things while playing are "god, why am I so bad at video games" and "we honestly don't deserve to win, they're playing better than us." So I really know a little bit about being bad. I'm right there with you, walking the road to improvement.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Normally I probably wouldn't post on Saturdays

Holy crap, Bree did a huge tribute post for me at Massively. Wow. Tres thanks. Also thanks to everyone who came over here from that post!

We will not generally have regular Saturday updates from here out. I'm kind of busy on these days, so I won't hate myself if I don't update on Saturday. I might still do it, but I am not going to obligate myself to doing it.

A quick note about what I'm doing/thinking about; obviously watching IEM Katowice. A few brief thoughts:

Deman is still not very good at talking about LoL while commentating. He does bring a lot of excitement and energy to a cast though. He's much better in interviews. I think he should try to script himself so he avoids saying things he is really clueless about. I think he asked something like, how does Zyra roots with Vayne wallslam work? Yeah, I'm sorry, that's really not something you should ask because you'd know if you played the game a little. I think Krepo was internally facepalming.

Krepo is really good at commentating. Keep it up!

MonteCristo is a huge jerk. No offense meant by it, and I don't think he'd take any if he heard me say it. He's kinda been rude about the whole event on Twitter, and iuno. I'm starting to see the holes in his logic. He really is best tempered by other people.

Froggen is Danish? He sounds like he has an Austrian accent. Either way, it sucks that he struggles with English as much as he does. He is really smart and knows a ton about the game. It's clear he gets really excited and he has to stop and think about what the English is for what he's trying to say. I'm not being critical here, because again, he's really smart and insightful and is doing a great job.

Quickshot has improved a lot. He's leveled up quite a bit since Season 4 started. I think there will still be haters. He's really doing well as a play by play commentator and as a host at the analyst panel. I have been noticing this through the LCS in general, but I thought I'd mention it here since he's been doing well at IEM.

On the subject of LCS casters not at IEM, Phreak is doing a lot worse in his LCS/Challenger casts. He's doing a little bit of trying too hard to be funny and it ends up being painful. Even he thinks he's going too far, I think. But he's not at IEM, again, just thought I'd mention it while talking about casting.

I missed C9 versus FNC. I saw game 1, it was sort of depressing to watch because both teams were playing so perfectly, and I wanted C9 to win. They obviously won game 2 and lost game 3. Fnatic is a crazy team. They've really leveled up and are in pure adrenaline win mode. Also Gambit made a stellar showing too. Great games to watch.

Anyway, go watch VODs or something if you haven't seen them. The matches are pretty good!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Random thoughts on Vanguard Princess

What the heck is Vanguard Princess? It's a cute doujin fighting game made in the Fighter Maker 2K engine (I think?) by a former Capcom employee named Tomoaki Sugeno, or Suge9. Something tells me that 9 is actually a Japanese "no" character turned to the side, but I dunno.

The game is pretty high-quality for a one-man game. Even if it was made in a game-making engine, the sheer amount of labor involved is pretty crazy. Suge9 did all the art and music, and I'm guessing the SFX (aside from the voices) are probably from a library or something. Just the sheer amount of art boggles my mind. Some people really are talented.

The game itself is pretty good. The characters seem fairly well-balanced, all are pretty unique and interesting, and I feel like the game system allows for a lot of freedom of fighting "expression." I really like the assist system as it really helps to balance the main cast and help troublesome matchups. It reminds me a bit of Arcana Heart where the various Arcanas can be used to help mitigate a problem matchup or enhance the strengths of a character.

I also really like the game's almost rigid enforcement of footsies. You basically have to play footsies in VP. The game's limited projectile system (including proxy guard) and good anti-airs make the ground game very very important. All characters have their own tools for getting in or keeping the enemy at bay, and I like how assists work in that environment too.

Actually, I want to talk about projectiles. In VP, projectiles generally don't occupy the screen for very long. Also, the huge majority of them can be crouched, forcing players to think about when they stick them out. You need to anticipate when the opponent will move in, not just throw lots of fireballs. There's rarely a time where doing a projectile attack will be both useful and safe, which I really like.

Onto the bad, though. No netplay is really bad. eigoMANGA (the localization person/team) has stated that netplay will eventually be on the table, which is good. Also we might see features like a survival mode or new characters or assists. Hmm.

The really bad is that eigoMANGA's localization is terrible and a bunch of stuff that was promised for the Steam release wasn't in the actual game. The localization is really, really, really bad. I mean terrible. It's literally translated (no localization effort) and there are both misspellings and grammar errors. Also, the heavy attack button and assist button were renamed from C/D to X/Y for basically no reason. It feels like a one-man translation job with no editing. Absolutely awful. Also there are no post-battle cutscenes to better explain the story battles that take place. I realize this is Suge9's fault, but the characters feel like paper dolls and not actual characters.

One thing that really annoyed me too is that a Q&A was made where people asked a bunch of questions, many of which got answers. Several people, myself included, made comments that the game would not work with many Japanese arcade sticks because the sticks were mapped to the D-pad. Unfortunately, the localization team/person/whatever completely forgot to fix the D-pad inputs of 360/PS3 controllers, which made some sticks unusable. Ugh. Fortunately I have a MadCatz SE stick, which lets me set the stick to the left analog stick. Unfortunately, if you have a HRAP or Fighting Stick or some other stick, you might be screwed. If you have a standard PS3 or 360 pad, you can't use the D-pad and have to use the analog stick.

Also, certain versions of the game were released with no versus mode at all. What the hell? I got my copy of the game quite a while back, and it wasn't until the Steam release that I got a version with an offline versus mode. What? The version that I had didn't have a practice mode, either (which is baked into the versus mode). I understand taking out an online versus mode, but the offline mode? What the heck?

I like the game and I would like to see money go to Suge9 so that he will make more stuff. However, eigoMANGA's localization was really bad. I hope that he/she/they hire an editor and clean up the translation.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Summoner's Guidebook: Thinking about team composition

I know in the past I've said that which champion you play doesn't really matter if you just have familiarity. I still think that's the most important thing because winning early in League usually means winning the game. However, that doesn't mean that composition isn't important. For us scrubby low tiers, what I mean by this is not that you have the perfect synergistic composition. Instead, I want to talk about analyzing what composition you do have and what you can do with it.

First, let's look at combos. If you have any obvious combos, you should consider working with those options. Likewise, if your enemy team has combos, you should be looking to play around those things in teamfights. It's more important to think about the enemy's combos than your own, honestly. Most combos in LoL are obvious. For instance, you might have Jax and Lulu, and you might think of Jax leaping in with Counter-Strike, then Lulu ulting him and getting a big AoE wombo from that. Or you might see a Veigar stun and link it to any other skillshots in your team such as Ahri charms, Nidalee spears, etc. Likewise you need to be aware of those things on the enemy and play around them.

Be aware of big ultimates or even normal skill CDs and try to fight when they are down. If the enemy team makes a failed play on one of your characters and burns an Annie ult on it, you need to engage shortly after Tibbers times out (or when you kill him) with your own fight-starting ultimates.

That brings me to another point. What if you don't have initiation? It happens. This means you can't start fights, really. If you can't initiate, don't try to start a fight if the enemy team does have initiation. Just wait for the enemy team to start something so you can deny them a good opening, then use your team's advantages to take the win.

What are your team's advantages? You might need to kite the enemy through traps, Nidalee spears or Teemo mushrooms before you fight. Don't assume that you can just go in. You might need to pick a single enemy (with a Blitz grab or something) before you can fight.

I'm poorly communicating the obvious, here. When you get into a match, you should always look at what your team can do and formulate a strategy. Don't look at individuals and don't skip characters. I talk with friends and they always think about what their character can do in a match, and I'm like "well we have xyz, which works together like this." Also compare it to the enemy team. Don't just look at one thing. "We have this OP thing" but you don't have anything to work with it.

This isn't about drafting teams; it's about playing with what you have. It might also be the case that you actually draft a champion to fit your team comp, but again, the point is to be flexible and play with what you have. You'll win a lot more in the lategame if you play to your team's strengths, and at lower levels of play, the lategame might actually be where the game is won.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Conceding momentum and knowing when you have it

This article will not be about the kind of momentum you get when you go on a win streak. I am not really a believer in that kind of momentum even if happens, because it's not actually momentum. When you go into a new game, match, whatever with the exact same options as your enemy, everything is neutral except what is going on in your head. We're not talking about the head stuff today.

Instead, we're talking about events that happen during a match. The #1 worst thing you can do in a match is give up momentum. In a FPS game like Halo, Quake, or UT when you're ahead, you don't let your opponents get good weapons. Ideally, you don't let them get any weapons. In a fighting game, if you knock your opponent down or put him in the corner you make him struggle before he gets to play again. No matter what situation you're in, no matter what game you're playing, the best way to win is to not give the opponent a chance to play.

I'm dead serious. If unplugging the enemy's controller was a legal move, the best move would be to do it. Take away your opponent's moves and don't let him or her get them back. Of course, unplugging the opponent's controller is not a legal move, but there are plenty of ways in the game that you can deny the opponent options. The exact method varies by game but we're here to talk about the opposite, letting the opponent play.

One thing I really like about LoL is that you can give your opponents an apparent opening and punish them for it. It's very similar to traps or resets in fighting games. What I mean is that you create an opportunity for your opponent to catch a breather or make a play. In high level play, you see the other team immediately attempt something. You can guess based on your stranglehold of the map (wards let you know where the enemy isn't, even if you can't see them) where the enemy team is, and play to punish their breakout attempt.

For instance, if you're really ahead you might see the enemy team group up to take an objective like a dragon or turret, and your team split pushes a bit and turtles while two of your team go to duo Baron. You kind of bait the easy objective while you take a better one. Another example is the death bush. If you know the enemy team wants to set up a death bush and you haven't seen them for a while, you can use that opportunity to take objectives somewhere else.

That is the point, though; all of these are tricks that you're using to get the enemy team to hang themselves. If you're losing momentum, it should be because either the enemy team made a great play/you screwed up (it happens) or because you're trading momentum for something tangible like a resource advantage. We see it quite a bit in StarCraft where a player wins a little skirmish and could possibly push it further, but he decides to back off and expo safely instead. A safe expo is the key to more momentum, so it's good to trade immediate power for.

On the really micro scale, take a situation in LoL where you're winning your lane. If you are quite a bit ahead and are getting good damage in on your enemies, don't let them farm. It seems obvious, but I'm serious. Don't actually let them scale up into a state where they could be a threat. You can't prevent someone from farming under a tower in LoL, but if you have done enough damage you can set up a dive and keep them from playing even more.

Of course, this all stems from fighting games. If you make your opponent block something, do your best to not just let that one blocked jab go. Sometimes you are going for footsies and they block, and you might not be able to get too much from that (depending on game; most "anime fighters" have lots of ways to get momentum on any blocked hit) but if you can confirm anything into a mixup, pressure, any sort of lockdown, do it! Don't just end your string in neutral, have ways of mixing things up so you can stay in control. Force your opponent to make a guess in order to stop your offense.

Part of that means that you need to make your offense not airtight. As I said above, you need to give a tiny bit of space to let your opponent hang himself. If the only option is to block or turtle at a turret, then that's what your opponents will do, but you're losing out on ways to get ahead and take the enemy down.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Finally playing Hearthstone

I finally got into playing Hearthstone. I have been following it and it's definitely interesting, but I didn't get any beta invites (unfortunately) and my interest waned a bit. Now I'm playing it, though, so I can talk about it a bit.

Probably the biggest thing about Hearthstone is that it greatly resembles normal CCGs, but with the spice that is afforded by it being a computer game. I wish I could play it for Android, as it fits really well. There's some good and bad things about the game.

First is that there's no timing. The game does everything generally as favorably for you as it can. For instance, if you have an end of turn thing that is beneficial followed by something that is bad, the bad thing generally happens last. There's no fast effect stuff, which I think is actually good. Cards right now are really simple and I think Blizzard will expand greatly on new mechanics so there's no need for stuff like instants to clutter up the turn space. Asynchronous turns is really good. 100% like it.

It also plays a lot like the World of Warcraft TCG, except that hero abilities aren't free and you have to lose a card to put a resource into play. But the idea of card advantage emphasis, cool abilities, fewer fast effects (none in Hearthstone) and a guaranteed resource point every turn is really reminiscent of the WoW TCG.

It's definitely very easy to take basic skills from M:TG or similar games and turn them into Hearthstone skills. Hearthstone is simply really easy if you played Magic at any sort of competitive level (I played a lot of draft Magic so I'm in there somewhere). The game is so much less complicated than Magic so you know right away whether you made a misplay or not. I still bash my head whenever I make an obvious error.

Right now I'm stuck in the situation where I don't know whether I should trade down in order to stop bleeding life. I get into situations sometimes where the board situation is bad and my only option is to trade poorly, and I wonder if I should actually do that and try to make up for it, or if I'm just screwed. I guess I should treat some of these situations like LoL where you just have to try and play out of it. You don't always have the answers in your hand, but you might draw something to help you get ahead later.

The community is generally nice, I think. It helps that you can't type to your opponent, and you can only say polite canned things. You could still "threaten" randomly but I don't think that it has the same effect as trashtalking. Unfortunately the way to make a good community is to prevent them from using text chat. True story.

The monetization is absolutely atrocious. It's so bad I simply don't have the words. You have to play far too many games to unlock a pack and the alternative is doing daily quests or paying real money. Packs only have 5 cards, too. Totally ridiculous. Granted, decks are only 30 cards instead of 40-60 like in other TCGs, but 5 card packs is just awful design.

I'll keep you guys posted though. I have a lot of thoughts and I want to talk about Hearthstone's draft mode but I spent way too much time playing and slacked off on this post already. So until next time!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The life of pro gamers is hard?

Sorry about no update yesterday. I was really sick with food poisoning, and so I wasn't as keen on doing a full-length thought process. I have been thinking about this topic for a few days now though, so I figured it was good to go into it even if I am still a bit under the weather.

There is a lot of discussion on the Internets about the difficult life of pro gamers. I would like to explain the truth of such things, because there's definite truth about it. There is also myth too, and we should bust some of that. The reality of it is that their life is actually pretty hard, but they don't work as hard as people think. So there's a sort of dual element there.

Pro gamers tend to "work" less than anyone making the same salary. I'm not actually sure how much they are salaried for (it probably varies) but my guess is that they make somewhere in the high five figures up to 150k/year. I have no actual evidence to support that, though. Some (especially outside the US) make additional money from sponsorships or streaming. In the gaming world though most sponsorships actually go towards paying team salaries and expenses. It's definitely a bit different than the real sports world where athletes get most of their own sponsorship money and the team has its own methods of income. We'll come back to real sports and e-sports comparisons in a bit. The short of it is that real athletes have much easier lives, though.

Back on topic, pro gamers typically do somewhere between 6 and 10 hours a day of scrims, coaching, and scheduled practice. This is for days they don't compete; obviously some time gets diverted to competing. Most teams say they do 8 hours of scrims a day, but this is basically a lie. I don't want to say this is necessarily bad though. Playing 8 hours straight with no coaching or analysis is pretty bad and having some alternate form of practice such as 1v1s or solo queue is also helpful.

Even if they wanted to set up 8 hours of scrims, there would be dead time between games unless two teams just decided to play with each other all day. I'm fairly certain that's not the case. It's likely that most teams play a number of sets with another team (taking a few hours), then there's a coaching period, then probably a break or lunch, then another group of games, then coaching and analysis of those, then some cooldown practice before the end of the workday. Depending on how long or short the games go, this could run longer or shorter, so 6-10 hours is probably a better guideline anyway.

As far as I know, players have 0-1 days off from this schedule per week. I am 100% certain that they do not get regular weekends, though they might have light practice days where they scrim less and solo queue more. This means that in general, they're working about 56 hours a week, which is not too bad if they're making nearly six figures with no expenses. I'd be surprised if they got paid less than $80k/year so overall their work time is pretty good for their pay (again, partly due to living in a gaming house).

The work they do is, as I mentioned above, not especially strenuous. It's even less continuous than a typical desk job and has more flexible breaks. Right now, pro gamer organizations are really bad about letting the players do what they want, so if they want to take a 30 minute break during a coaching or solo queue session, they don't really get held accountable. I think that there is some peer pressure things in place though so I'm not sure huge unscheduled breaks like that actually happen in practice.

A lot of their workday is also taken up by coaching and replay analysis. This is so important to improving performance so I absolutely see why it's done. However, it is a lot less real work than a typical desk job. It's a lot of work for the coach, of course. The players just have to listen and communicate, so while it requires their brains to be dialed-in, it doesn't require a lot of super active effort.

So we could say that pro gamers don't work as hard, especialy considering good salaries and free living for 56 hours a week. Most jobs like that are pretty cush, like we're talking low level medical profession jobs or high level office/desk jobs or low level legal administrative jobs. But that's not the whole story.

Pro gamer jobs suck. I mean they really, really suck. Their lives are unbelievably stressful. This is not like pro sports where just making it into the job ensures that you are set for life. In e-sports you have to be the best, and being the 7th best LoL team in your region is not good enough. This means that they practice hard. Their jobs are not jobs like those of normal people.

As a normal person, you can be merely OK at your job. Once you have the job, you don't need to be the best at it. You simply meet the job requirements. If a pro gamer job was like a real job, all you'd need to do is meet the "Diamond 1 support and good enough to make an interview" requirement, and then you'd be set. Your job could fire you if you were incompetent but chances are you're not. You might not be the best support in the world. You probably aren't even in the top 50, but that's OK.

Being a pro gamer is nothing like that. If you're not in the top 20 supports in your region, you have probably 0% chance of keeping your job. This is doubly true of solo lanes. If you don't synergize well with your team, you're out even if you're in the top 10. This is (I think) what happened with Chaox, for instance, and it's definitely what happened with Dan Dinh.

Teams like Cloud 9 are super lucky that they're all friends AND all super good. In particular, having two world-class solo laners plus a world-class jungler is insane. The fact that their bottom lane is among the best in their region is completely crazy. What makes all of that actually crazy is the fact that they are all friends and all work well together. Teams like Curse are having to continuously hunt for players to fill roles, and there's no guarantee that everything will gel. If your team manages to actually stick together and keep winning enough that you keep sponsors paying, it's nothing short of a miracle in the esports world.

Pro gamers do not get paid enough for their poor job security. You can be hired and fired within a few months. What does a pro gamer do after spending their life, their free time, all on a video game? Almost nothing in the real world! Their only hope is to stream or produce other content people want, and hopefully things work out. Take a look at guys like Elementz, who are basically treated as laughingstocks in the pro gamer world simply because they didn't perform in the top .000001%. I feel really bad about guys like that because they put so much effort and energy into gaming, and are seeing very little for it. It also makes me worry about guys like ZionSpartan who dropped the option of going to school to be a pro gamer. I really hope those younger kids are saving their money because their time is so limited.

In the NFL, pro players are signed on for years, and in order to get out of those contracts, teams have to pay their way out of the contract. In those years, players are paid very generous sums of money. Two years of playing in the NFL or NBA or NHL or MLB is enough to set a person for life. With good investments and good life choices, a person can easily go from a kid out of college to wealthy entrepreneur in just a couple years. There's no such option for e-sports pros. They don't make enough to retire in a couple years, and on top of that they are also not guaranteed the same level of job security.

What this really means is that consumers that support e-sports really need to invest more in it. Watch e-sports streams with ads on. Subscribe to channels you like and donate to teams or players that you like. Buy from e-sports sponsors, especially online where you can say "I heard about your products from the GSL ads" (one of my friends actually did that when he bought G-Skill RAM) and so on. The more money that gets dumped into e-sports, the more likely companies will see it as a legitimate investment. Players pour their lives into being the best at what they do, and we can do a lot better for them than a five figure salary.