Monday, October 22, 2018

The Bad News Bears Go To Dantooine - 2



RAAAARGGRRRRRRGGRRRR


Hey! Before you dig in, did you know that subscribers to my Patreon can now read Galaxy of Zeroes every week-ish (cough) in the virtual pages of The Hurting Gazette?


The double-sized premiere issue, featuring “The First Star Wars Essay,” is still free here

Thank you for reading! 

*


So lets talk about Ships.

Everyone hates the Ships minigame. Everyone has also been pretty vocal about that since they introduced it. Let’s talk about why.
     
A normal Arena match is played with five characters against five other characters (unless you’re playing something like a raid and therefore attacking the computer). Ships started out that way as well, with five ships against five ships, with a carrier for each side. Every fleet needs a carrier – currently the most powerful and popular carrier, without question, is Thrawn. You do see Admiral Ackbar and Tarkin as well, but very rarely Mace Windu.
      
Poor Mace. Between Clones and Jedi, the Galactic Republic faction actually has a strong fleet – just not Thrawn strong.
     
Anyway. When Ships started, the max time for any game was 7:30, up from the 5:00 of timed Arena combat. Between the carriers and reinforcements (something unavailable in any other part of the game), ships games naturally run longer. At the beginning, they ran so long that they had to nerf half the ships’ defensive capabilities and reduce the opening number of ships from five to three. They lowered the max time down to 5:00 at some point in there, and it plays better now but games still run a lot longer than Arena contests.
     
If I had to describe the experience, I’d say if the regular game was baseball, the ships minigame is baseball for people who really like sabermetrics. It’s the same game, roughly. Galaxy of Heroes is a wonky game in a lot of ways – by which I mean it encourages a wonkish mindset. It’s OK for things to be kind of boring or even kind of elaborately boring to an asinine degree, because what they’re trying to do is entice players to spend money. Much of the game, for me, and I imagine for the developers as well, consists of testing the patience of even the most committed free-to-play users, such as myself.
     
Ships takes the regular game and adds another layer of fiddly shit in order to scramble expectations. The presence of static carriers and the use of reinforcements does give combat its own distinctive feel, but it also makes for longer games. That’s only a bad thing if people aren’t having fun, but the fact is that the earliest incarnations of Ships were terrible. It was a slow game seemingly for no other reason that defenses relative to offensive capabilities were poorly balanced. People avoid Ships still because, frankly, it just wasn’t very fun for a very long time.
      
But something important regarding Ships, which I believe I’ve mentioned before: the Fleet Arena is the only source for Fleet Arena tokens, and those are the only tokens you can use to buy Zeta materials. And as I know I’ve mentioned Zeta abilities represent the most significant upgrade in the game.
      
So if you’re following along so far, let’s now talk about the game’s single biggest Achilles heel.
     
The developers manage a pretty tight grip on the metagame, and they do this primarily through making powerful new characters that lead the game precisely in the direction they want to go. Sith were dominant in the meta for a long time – and still are, as of this writing – but they’ve been putting a lot of effort into rebuilding Jedi the past few months. They’re not completely competitive yet. Twenty-two out of the top twenty-five teams on my Arena node are currently led by Darth Traya, with two led by Bastila Shan and one lonely team led by good ol’ Emperor Palpatine. 
       
Jedi have been on the receiving end of a concerted effort to reboot the faction for a few months, after being completely unplayable for most of the game’s existence. General Kenobi has always been good, but General Kenobi was also the only playable Jedi for long stretches of the game’s history. They started with goosing Grand Master Yoda’s stats to make both of his Zeta abilities more effective. His Leader ability still isn’t anyone’s favorite, but otherwise they succeeded in making him a lot more formidable. Actually kind of a tiny green cyclone of pain, which is probably what Yoda looks like to you if Yoda wants to beat your ass.
      
Beat your ass I will, but enjoy the exercise of violence I will not . . . much.
      
But, everyone already has Grand Master Yoda, and a lot of people even already had his Zeta abilities, so that one upgrade wasn’t going to push anyone to spend a lot of money. Which is why they introduced Bastila Shan right after, telegraphing her significance before putting her on sale for a month.    
     
And that makes sense. They want me to drop either crystals (which cost money) or, preferably, human money. There’s no way to get enough crystals to be able to afford to buy the latest character packs when they appear – and I will point out, the character packs in the store often do not include set amounts of shards. Right now the going rate is 1,299 crystals for anywhere from 5-330 character shards. And I probably don’t have to tell you the payoff for those isn’t always the best.

Or you can pay $19.99 American dollars for 30 shards, guaranteed, which is about the going rate. It varies a bit depending on how hot the character is. After the first month or so they start selling premium characters in the Shipments store for a slightly better freight – right now you can get 4 Bastila shards for 320 crystals, so you can do the math on that.
     
The only way to get that many crystals, the amount you would need to ever be able to justify actually buying new character shards in the store, is by winning in the Arena. First place in the Arena – which goes out every night at 7:00 PM – gets 500 crystals and 900 Squad Arena Tokens. (Squad Arena Tokens aren’t that valuable except for the fact that the Squad Arena Store is the only Store that sells the Prestige ability materials which you need to upgrade your Carriers for Ships – there was an old lady who swallowed the fly.)
      
By contrast, coming in First in Ships gets you only 400 crystals, along with 1,800 Fleet Arena tokens. (Remember, Zeta mats cost 2,000 Fleet Arena tokens and every Zeta ability requires twenty Zeta mats. See what I mean about the math starting to stack up?)
     
If you’re thinking, wait a minute, 400 really isn’t a lot less than 500, well . . . that’s a very good point. Because the thing with the Ships minigame, it’s simply a much smaller game. Ships didn’t start until the game had already been going for a while, and there just aren’t as many ships in the game as characters. Even once they started releasing ships at a steady pace alongside characters, there are just fewer ships in the Star Wars universe than characters. Around the time of the release of Rogue One they added nine Rebel characters to the game, but only two Rebel ships, to give you the idea. Now, you needed many of those characters to fly their ships, but fewer than nine.

 
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Galaxy of Zeroes









If This Goes On - II






The Bad News Bears Go To Dantooine

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2
3

Next week's installment should now be up on the Patreon! 

Subscribers also receive access to tons of other goodies, including updated complete ePub files of my first two fantasy novels The Book of the Loam and A Darkness in the Time of the First, as well as ePub files of Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life and Whistling in the Dark: A (Very) Short Book About They Might Be Giants.

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dude the Order of Saint Dumas called and they want their stuff back


Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Bad News Bears Go To Dantooine




My large son, he is not so bright but he makes up for it in anger

Hey! Before you dig in, did you know that subscribers to my Patreon can now read Galaxy of Zeroes every week-ish (cough) in the virtual pages of The Hurting Gazette?


The double-sized premiere issue, featuring “The First Star Wars Essay,” is still free here

Thank you for reading! 

*

So let’s talk about how I got decent at this damn game.

Notice I didn’t say “good,” I said “decent.”

There is a great deal of humility in learning how to do something not well, but decently, and being aware at all times of just how large the gap remains between decent and well. Perhaps I aspire one day to reach beyond mere mediocrity – but you’ve got to pay your dues before you can pay the rent.

Something about video games that I never appreciated before is that they present a windows into worlds where actions have consequences. Things make sense because players have to be able to depend on some degree of consistency. Even given the element of randomness inherent in the game system for something like Galaxy of Heroes, the randomness is predictable. You can set your watch by it. I know that every different kind of item to be farmed is meted out according to odds that range from “parsimonious” to “grim.” And it sucks, sometimes, to do something like drop 200 Cantina Energy in one fell swoop – which buys 12 shots at node 8-F at the Cantina Battles table, at 16 points a pop, with half of one left over – and get one measly Veteran Smuggler Chewbacca shard for my trouble. But I know the next time I have just enough for three shards – 48 points – I could just as easily get all three shards from all three chances.

It’s consistent enough that I can make reasonable common-sense estimates regarding how long certain things are going to take. In the case of Veteran Smuggler Chewbacca – well, I didn’t pick just any random character. Right now as of this writing the biggest question mark on my horizon is whether or not I am going to be able to get the aforementioned Veteran Snuggler up to the requisite seven stars by the next time the event comes around for Jedi Training Rey, currently one of the most powerful characters in the game. He’s one of the five characters you need to finish the mission to unlock her . . . and he’s the last one I need, incidentally.

(I should point out that I literally just now picked up the game, saw that I had 21 Cantina Points, and bought one go at 8-F – and got one snuggly shard for my trouble. So it’s just luck. And algorithms.)

Perhaps I should back up a bit here . . . it’s easy to get lost in the weeds because long-term plans for this game tend to metastasize, as they generally follow the story logic of the “swallowed the spider to catch the fly” type. The important thing to remember is that the most powerful character in the game is currently Darth Traya.

Yeah, her.
 
So powerful is she that the all but two of the top twenty Arena teams in my node have Traya, and some of them don’t even have her all the way up to seven stars yet. If you recall, there’s only one way to get Traya, and that’s the Heroic level of the Sith Temple Raid. And it so happens that the absolute best character for getting past the most punishingly difficult level of the temple – that’s right, our boy Captain Tryhard himself, Darth Nihilus – the character who does it best is none other than Jedi Training Rey.
 
Please don’t ask me how. The reason why Nihilus is so damn annoying in the first place is that he has 
some kind of weird protection regeneration ability that deflects the vast majority of damage – unless, that is, you know how to slide your damage under the protection, and the character who can do that the absolute best is Rey with a dedicated Resistance team. The most common team I see when I look is usually Rey (“JTR”), with the game’s other Rey (“Scavenger”), BB-8, R2-D2, and the powerful generic Resistance Trooper.

(An aside about generics: faceless characters like Resistance Trooper, Resistance Pilot, Hoth Rebel Scout, and Hoth Rebel Soldier are actually important, even though it really hurts to have to allocate resources to get my Resistance Trooper up to Gear Level XII when other, cooler characters who are also significantly less important languish. I’m looking at you, seven-star General Grievous. Perhaps the most useless rare character in the game, but I love him perhaps not despite but because of his uselessness. He tries his best. I’m proud I got my angry son up to seven stars even though there was literally no reason to do so except my vague suspicion that he will one day be a Fleet Commander in the Ships minigame, same as Holdo. Presumably either Hux or Snoke will one day also be a Fleet Commander for the First Order, since they already have a lot of ships but still no carrier. Neither Snoke nor Hux are playable yet, and one must assume the developers are aware of the absences.)

(“Holy shit,” the developer gasps, “you realize we could do . . . Snoke! He’s in that movie too, we could make him a playable character!”

“Let me see if I understand you correctly,” the other developer answers, “Snoke . . . from that movie we saw?”

“Yeah! I was just reading – did you know that was a Star Wars movie?" 
  
“I suspected as much,” the second developer mused. “Call it a hunch. But this – this changes everything.”)

So anyway. JTR does something really quite clever but very complicated and leads her team to a considerable amount of damage against that punk Nihilus.

This is an example of everything I hate about the game, by the way. They designed an essential challenge such that there is really only one viable option, meaning that you’re stuck playing the game at their pace. Which, I mean, fair enough, it is their game. But I hate being siloed into a very specific set of actions, especially when it’s a multi-step process that forces me to build my entire medium-term plan around accomplishing just this one thing.

There’s not a lot of creativity in that kind of game play. In fact, there’s quite a bit of white-knuckle grim determination.
 
Here we see a big difference between the game play in Galaxy of Heroes and the kind of game you’d buy (hopefully as much as possible) all at once and play in its completed form at home on your TV. My game playing experience is free, yes. Never paid a single dime. But the game is obviously not designed to help players like me in ways that discourage us from spending money. There are always opportunities to get ahead if you’re willing to part with actual hard-earned currency.

So it’s not as if long stretches of boring languor are going to get me to rage-quit the game. I mean, they might in theory. But whereas another type of game might put a premium on never consciously trying to frustrate players through sheer tedium, Galaxy of Heroes has such tedium structured as part of the experience. They always play fair with free-to-play players – by which I mean, everything is available if you have the patience. They’re counting on people not having that much patience. 

But over the long term? As of this writing they have just introduced a maddeningly fiddly new system for mod enhancements, one that introduces yet another currency into the game economy. Doesn’t look as if they have any plans to stop expanding the game anytime soon. There’s just a lot to keep up with. In lieu of being an oil tycoon the only way to stay competitive in the long term is just to show up and do the damn farming. 
 
With that said, there’s really no way for me to be competitive in the Arena anytime soon. I’m stuck around one hundred on any given day – on a good day I can maybe beat a team in the seventies, and on a day I don’t pay any attention my team on auto will tend to settle somewhere around the one-teens. Pretty consistently.

So they’re not a good team. Not even close. Every character in it is good, but ultimately they’re a team of utility players without much direction – Emperor Palpatine on lead, with Vader, Thrawn, Tarkin, and right now, the generic TIE Fighter pilot in the fifth slot. Even if my team is maxed-out there’s still only so much that set of characters can do in Arena. Not compared to the wall of Trayas at the top, or the Jedi and Resistance teams scattered among the Sith for most of the rest of the Top 50 on any given day.          

It’s a placeholder, basically, because I know I’m not competitive in that realm. The problem is that the game doesn’t sit still. Traya is on the top now, but as sure as the sun rises, in a few months it’ll be someone else. Traya will undoubtedly still be important but will in her turn recede into precisely the kind of utility player represented by the likes of . . . Emperor Palpatine, Vader, Thrawn, and Tarkin. 
 
Because, I mean, I finally got my General Kenobi up to seven stars. Remember him? It’s been an eventful summer. He’s still very playable, especially since they’re slowly building Jedi into a competitive faction – all the Jedi teams in the Top 50 are led by Bastila Shan, another Old Republic character, about whom I know only that she whomps ass.

It took a couple years for me to get that General Kenobi. They introduced him, and the original Tank Raid, when I was just fresh out of my nervous breakdown rushing like a freight train towards the climactic end of 2016. A different world ago. I was patient.

The long and the short of it is that I don’t anticipate being competitive in Arena anytime soon.

I am, however, quite competitive in Ships. And that might be almost as good.      

*



Galaxy of Zeroes









If This Goes On - II



Next week's installment should now be up on the Patreon!
 


Subscribers also receive access to tons of other goodies, including updated complete ePub files of my first two fantasy novels The Book of the Loam and A Darkness in the Time of the First, as well as ePub files of Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life and Whistling in the Dark: A (Very) Short Book About They Might Be Giants.

Your support helps create new content for this blog while paying my bills, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who subscribes. Every dollar counts and is appreciated.

Seriously still need an agent, or a publisher for that matter. Please inquire at teganoneil5000 at outlook dot com.

It will be a while.