Tag Archives: concepts

The Skill Paradox

A little while ago I came across a comment on a blog which claimed that “as we know, most MMO players are bad”. I did – and do – find it curious, because this indeed does get passed around as a universal truth: most people we meet online are terrible players. Naturally and curiously except for those we’re having these discussions with, we’re all just fine. This, to hit where it hurts right from the start, is basically the same reasoning that constitutes racism: “all black people are savages, except for Joe, who’s a member in my Country Club”. We can even admit the popular argument that the blogging community in a way self-selects the better, because obviously more invested, players – and who doesn’t like to attribute themselves to a self-proclaimed elite; us bloggers, we’re awesome, aren’t we – and it still plays on the same lawn as racism, after all, the Country Club is also obviously a selective environment, but those other black people, the ones outside, they’re obviously savages. It is the hypocrisy that makes every representative of a group one knows by name and face an exception, while at the same time maintaining blanket judgements about the large anonymous group as a whole. That’s not what this post is about though. Instead, I’d like to consider how we arrive at the perception.

First of all, the claim itself that “most players are terrible” is inevitably wrong. As I casually remarked recently, we all live in the Gaussian Curve, and what it really means is that most players are average, as this is how most natural averages form, with only few cases when the data points are crowded near the extremes and the average is a mostly virtual value. An example of the latter could be the life expectation during the European Middle Ages, which was mathematically around 35, but if you look at the numbers closer, you realise that it doesn’t mean that “most people died around age 35”, but that the horrifyingly high infant mortality skewed the statistic and what it rather means is “if you survived past the age of 1, you were probably going to run for the 70”. But this is unnatural, an anomaly. Usually distributions follow the Gaussian Curve, which is why it’s called the Normal Distribution.

There are of course special situations, like, say, Wrath of the Lich King creating a particular expectation about content difficulty and the subsequent Cataclysm taking things in a somewhat different direction. But the aforementioned sentiments gets stated sweepingly, not in some differentiated “in early 2011, large parts of the WoW player base were not prepared for the content difficulty presented to them”, and gets accepted sweepingly. In fact, I can be reasonably sure that someone will actually comment on this very post that “no-no, really, everyone is terrible”. Well, maybe not after I wrote this, kind of falsifying the experiment. Or maybe not, because there are, like, 5 people commenting on my posts, so this isn’t exactly a relevant sample size of anything.

Still, the whole WotLK/Cata thing also highlights that, of course, skill is not an abstract concept, it is relative to difficulty of the task in question. So, yes, if we’re talking about reciting randomly selected works of Shakespeare while running a marathon in Antarctica, most people would be pretty terrible at it. Shopping for groceries on the other hand is something most would find pretty easy, catering to the casuals, almost. Here’s the thing though: in the context of a game, i.e. voluntary entertainment activity, people gravitate towards and away from activities such that in the long term, you are left with your normal distribution again – those for whom it’s too hard or too easy mostly leave. Even now, I think the Cata-difficulty issue is pretty much settling itself (Nils has some great recent posts on why having just one difficulty for everyone is bad design), because the averages are adjusting themselves, people are settling in their new relative positions and the content is self-nerfing.

Then there is always the possible explanation that there are, at any time, many new and inexperienced players. But frankly, this is not what the statement quoted at the outset states. “Most players are new” is not the same as “most players are bad”, even though it’s similarly unlikely. More importantly, catering to new players is by far not the same as catering to bad players. In fact, catering to new players is very important, as the expectation we have is that new players are going to learn, while bad players are not. Conversely, if you don’t let your players learn (cater to new players), you raise incompetent players (well hello, trivialised levelling game).

Last and least, because it’s mostly an exercise in being a smartass, the statement doesn’t even make sense on a logical-linguistic level. If “most players are terrible”, then terrible is the average, thus most players are average. If you’re the brilliant exception, then it’s you who is in the wrong place and probably should go back to the South Pole Stadium-slash-Theatre.

So far, we have a brief outline of why “most players are terrible” should be considered to be wrong. Yet there are lots of people who will tell you that and be genuinely surprised that anyone should think otherwise (remember the bit with the potential comment on this post? Wait for it, still may happen!). Why is this? After thinking about it for a bit, I realised that the solution is The Blub Paradox. It’s a fairly long and technical essay, rich on self-praise, but well worth reading if one is interested in the matter. I will proceed to adopt the part relevant to describe The Skill Paradox.

Imagine the Skill Continuum. No, it’s not the point in space-time a gamer occupies at 13:37. It’s the line on which all skill levels are laid out in increasing order, from a hopeless failure to the greatest winner. Now imagine a player A, whose skill places somewhere on the continuum, a safe distance from both extremes. As long as A is looking down the skill continuum, he recognises that he’s looking down. He can see all the things these players are doing wrong, all the mistakes they’re making, all the potentials for optimisation. If he’s looking up, however, he doesn’t realise that he’s looking up. All he can see are players who are basically just as good as him, only some of them tend to do things in weirdly esoteric ways. A may even consider some of them his inferiors, because, seriously, what sensible person would ever do those esoteric things. This is the Skill Paradox, meaning that we possess very pronounced abilities in recognising all the ways in which other players are worse than us, but are comparatively bad in perceiving the ways in which other players are better than us. The direct consequence is that we tend to think of ourselves as “very close to the top” regardless of where we actually place in the skill continuum, which in turn, especially if you’re not necessarily the self-scrutinising type, lends itself to the “most people are terrible” fallacy.

At this point I originally intended to write down personally experienced cases of when despite the apparently obvious presence of empirical evidence I wasn’t as good as I thought I were, and only got better after embracing details I previously had dismissed as irrelevant, ranging from my most newbish online gaming beginnings in the year 2000 to more recent experiences. In fact I even wrote down those examples, read through them, and they felt so full of unintended self-adulation that they made me sick. And, you know, as much as there is to say about how awesome I am (for example: how awesome I am), I ultimately decided that it would rather distract from than support the point.

The point being: as soon as you acquire even marginal competence in a field (note how we gently drifted away from being gaming-specific), you will find it easy to recognise the shortcomings of those below your level of competence – that’s why you’re better than them, you moved past making their mistakes. Your observations will objectively suggest that you’re “one of the best”, because everyone else you observe is “bad”, with the exception of those whose superiority you cannot fully comprehend as such, for the very same reason they are superior – they realised potentials you have yet to discover.

Shall you live in eternal self-doubt? No, not at all. If you feel you’re good, you probably are. No one is born a master. Just know there’s always a “better” as much as there’s a “worse”. This is also why I don’t like evaluating my own performance based on doing something others (supposedly) can’t do – it’s much more intriguing to consider what can be done than what can’t. Otherwise you’re going for that old trap where “anyone who has accomplished more than you has no life, and anyone who has accomplished less is a noob“.

There is another consequence to all of this, one that won’t sound particularly surprising: your ability to look up the Skill Continuum and realise that you are looking up is directly related to your ability to become better yourself. This is what teachers, trainers and guides do, they explain to their students how those esoteric things can make them better. The good ones do, the bad ones simply state what to do – and sadly there’s a huge demand just for that, seen in the MMORPG world where a lot more people blindly follow the cookie-cutter spec and rotation than actually understand why and under which conditions it is superior. Whenever you convince yourself that “this is as good as it gets”, you stop improving. A truism, really.

And just as I was about to finally post this (it’s the third rework or so), xkcd came out almost on cue: Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.

Level playing field

Yes, it’s going to be one of those posts.

When I started playing LotRO back in 2007, truth be told, a major motivation was to just “sample” what an MMORPG plays like, what it does wrong and to come up with ideas how it could be done better. I then found myself having lots of fun playing it and the rest is history. Not exactly history you can expect to be taught in history class. Unless it would, in some unthinkably wicked way lead to me ultimately making some sort of discovery that will elevate mankind onto another level. Which would be cool. Or to be directly related to me becoming a historically renowned villain. Which would be uncool. The part about me becoming a major villain, not so much about LotRO being directly linked to it. Although that would suck too, really tired of those “gamer plays games, goes on to destroy the Moon” stories. Other than those possibilities, I can’t really see how anyone would ever be taught the beginnings of my MMORPGaming in history class, so I guess it’ll be more like mysterious and forgotten history, rediscovered millennia later to make gullible people believe the world will end in 4012 AD. Don’t ask me why or how that can possibly have any connection or meaning at all, those future mountebanks are just crazy like that. How are my KiaSA-style tangents coming along? Working on it, working on it.

So, anyway, the earliest major point of criticism was, to put it in the words of a friend: “forget your stats, forget your gear; there is one number that determines how your character performs more than all others combined: your level”. Almost 4 years later, and the grave gravity of those words weighs heavily on my shoulders, like a heavy weight that makes everything appear much heavier. In fact, compared to what I’ve seen since, those heady days appear almost like a dream of level-unhindered harmony, when we’d be dancing and running over green meadows with higher and lower level mobs alike. Killing each other in the process, naturally. I mean us and the mobs, not players killing each other. LotRO is a fairly strictly PvE-focused game.

Mobs as far as 9 levels below you, if memory serves, would get on your case, as LotRO used a sharp aggro cut-off, rather than a gradual never-ending reduction in perception radius, if it was 10 levels below you, it would ignore your existence completely, but spot you perfectly fine if the difference was less. Which was more than a little silly from a simulation point of view. But naturally – and it’s a shame it’s so natural, really – no later than when you were 5 levels higher than the mob, the poor bugger may as well have had his weapons – or claws – replaced with cotton swabs, as they’d never be a danger to you. On the other end, you could pick a fight with a mob 5 levels above you, and it would be a winnable affair, the sharp cut-off, i.e. the point at which you’d just be precluded from being able to hit, coming somewhere (not far) above that. It was indeed easy to see that your level was not so much a representation of your character power, as naive pre-MMO me had thought, but the very basis and structure of said power, everything else effecting only a small variance.

Interlude:
This is not to downplay the insane power creep and power discrepancy games like WoW or RIFT create between characters of the same (max) level due to escalating gear rewards. Not only because any character below max level does not have access to that gear, but also because the means of earning that gear are usually balanced in such a way that there is no way for a sub-level-cap character to appropriately contribute to the success of the process of their acquisition, even if they are not, which is also often the case, mechanically excluded from participation at all. In other words, at best a raider can toss a BoE drop to a leveller/alt, which they won’t be able to equip until they hit level cap; there’s no way for the leveller/alt to actively earn that reward themselves.

Fast forward to RIFT. Let’s keep this short with one concise example: if I take on a mob 3 levels above me, something close to half of my attacks do not land in the target, despite me having a 5% hit bonus from talents and another 1.5% from gear stats. This breaks simulation, breaks immersion, and basically constitutes the game coming at me with a big flashing neon sign saying “do not go this way, go that way”. On the other end, of course, it also gets dull to fight mobs you outlevel pretty quickly. All in all, you end up with this really narrow corridor of “what you’re supposed to do”.

Why does this bother me particularly? Because I play together with MFCFKAMFDFKAMFLM (My Favourite Cleric Formerly Known As My Favourite Druid Formerly Known As My Favourite Lore-Mistress), and I’m really very much enjoying it. Currently, we’re levelling together. Levelling together means, because of the above, staying at the same level, ideally within a few percent points of a level from each other. As soon as you drift apart even a little, you start banging the walls of that narrow corridor and the game comes at you with its flashing neon signs. Consequently, when one of us doesn’t play, the other, effectively, can’t do anything. This is exacerbated by the quest driven game play, which offers you exactly one way to interact with the content, by “doing the quests” – which is content we want to do together. In fact, RIFT offers a resort of sorts here, in the form of the namesake rifts – one could run around a lower level zone just outside the XP range and close rifts. Doing something like that alone does start feeling like an end in itself pretty quickly though.

So what’s the result? A subconscious rush to level cap. Which is ironic, because RIFT is a game that is actually really good fun to play below level cap as well. I have been and am still enjoying the levelling process, despite having never been a fan of quests. But this is one of the fundamental reasons why people rush to level cap. Not because we’re all impatient and can’t enjoy the road for the goal. Not all of us are, at least. No, it’s because only at level cap that number which is way more powerful than it should ever have been stops changing, and only then can we meaningfully play with others. Especially with specific others rather than random others. On a level field.

To close and be clear, I’m not complaining about playing together. Playing together is awesome. I’m complaining about the restraints resulting from a level-centric quest-driven game design. One of those restraints is that playing together only works either in a perfectly static group (which excludes the “sharing independently made discoveries and experiences” element) or at level cap (which needlessly devalues the game before level cap). Yeah, I told you it was going to be one of those posts.

More on Riddles

In my previous post I made a few remarks on how riddles shouldn’t be viewed as inherently slowing and interrupting, how they should be part of the game world and the game experience as a whole. The comments made me realise that I should have emphasised that point much more.

The problem is that when we say “riddle”, what we imagine is having to stop and align a bunch of stones such that they light up or something like that. And all the time while figuring out how to align them, our gaming (levelling?) flow is kind of interrupted and we feel slowed down. Then there is an easy way to accelerate and bridge that interrupt, namely by looking up the solution. Which we promptly do. Here’s the thing: when I say “riddle”, I don’t mean the “align five rocks” sort of things, at least not exclusively.

What I mean is this. Usually, that is in an MMORPG you’re likely to play in 2011, you get a quest that tells you to do something. And how to do that something is laid out step by step: kill X, loot Y, apply to Z. A riddle, in the wider sense of the term, for me, is when you have a goal but no recipe how to achieve it – you need to figure out how to get there yourself.

This comes with a few issues attached. For one, if all goals in your game come with a recipe, except for some, which you consider your “riddles”, the reality is that the recipe-driven gameplay takes place at a particular speed, which is, by nature, higher than a riddle-based one can be. Thus when your players get to your “riddle”, they feel slowed down, their flow interrupted. For example in the early levelling game in RIFT, in Freemarch, there are a couple of (story related) quests that ask you to find something/someone, but don’t tell you where. That doesn’t add any sense of mystery, but only annoyance, because all other quests tell (or rather show) you pretty exactly where to go, so suddenly having to run around more or less blindly, suspecting that there is probably exactly one right spot to look in, but unless you end up standing on top of it, you won’t know, because there are no hits to work with, feels rather awkward. Which leads in nicely to the second point.

In the real world, figuring things out is fun (if you’re the inquisitive type, that is) and actually even just possible, because everything takes place in a highly consistent system: the laws of nature. Any knowledge you have about how a certain process works is universally applicable, everywhere and always – and you accumulate a lot of that knowledge. All those “brilliant heads” we watch in our favourite TV shows, solving crimes and difficult problems, are basically characters who are really good at connecting causes and effects. A game world doesn’t have this luxury. The laws of a game world are – inevitably and in significant parts also desirably – different from those of the real world and potentially arbitrary at that. Therefore, unless you make an active effort to relay the laws of your game world to the players and then stay rigorously consistent, the players won’t have a frame of reference to work with. This is the important difference between being able to figure something out gradually and trying things at random until something works.

To use an example from RIFT again, there is this awkward “puzzle” in Moonshade Highlands, the point of which is basically to open valves along a water pipe to fill target reservoirs with water. The reservoirs are aligned in a chain, filling up one after the other. You fill up all 10 – you win. Each valve, after being opened, stays open for about 10-12 seconds and cannot be interacted with until it closes again (so you can’t just keep them open continuously, they will inevitably close and you’ll have to reopen). So far so pretty evident from the arrangement you find – it should also be noted that there is no actual “puzzle” element at work here, unlike in the other puzzles we did so far there’s no actual secret to solve here, it’s basically a click-time game, which is bad in itself, but that’s not the point here. The point is that how the riddle, or shall I say the water behaves is not consistent with anything you could derive from real world or game world observation.

The water flows when all valves are open, through the pressure generated by the source – so far so good. We’ll also accept that the valves auto-close after a while, because that’s how they work, fair enough, such are the tools we’re given. But why is it that water already in the target canisters starts draining when there’s no fresh water being pumped in? Is there a leak somewhere? Possible, but I can’t observe it. All I can see is lights going on and off, and when one of them remains on while the previous ones turn off, I have no idea whether it’s just a bug in the game or actual information being relayed to me. I can’t tell because neither is consistent with any reference system I’d feel my actions and their consequences bound to. Also, while it’s understandable that the flow stops when any of the valves closes, because that cuts off the pressure of the source, it is entirely unclear why this causes all water that is already in the pipe but not in the target canisters yet to outright disappear. That doesn’t align with any law of physics or game world one would be aware of. Shouldn’t it remain in the pipe and be pumped forward once I reopen the previous valves again? It just disappears. This behaviour cannot be derived from any other process observed in the game, nor is it teaching me anything about “how water behaves in RIFT”. It is nothing more than an arbitrary mechanic of this particular riddle. No consistency whatsoever.

This example got a bit lengthy, but was important to explain what I mean when I call for consistent rule systems. If we want players to figure something out, we need to give them knowledge based on which they can make educated deductions. We can’t give that knowledge out all at once, at the moment when it’s required – that’s the recipe approach utilised by modern day quests. We need to introduce it gradually, letting the players (interactively) observe consistent and reoccurring processes and events, allowing them to learn about the game world and how it works. And then, when someone goes ahead and creates an online resource about the consistent laws governing our game, no harm is done at all. This is what community research should be all about, rather than providing players with scripts to success.

Besides, we need the game to take place at a slower pace, such that stopping to think doesn’t feel like an interruption. Of course solutions will still be discovered and gathered online, but here’s the thing, once again (cf. previous post): players don’t look up everything, they look up things they aren’t having fun doing on their own. When the players feel slowed down, they will look up the solution to accelerate back to their usual pace. When they’re used to a slower pace in general, the difference won’t be there to compensate for.

The modern raiding game is a good example of a bad riddle, in fact. Why does everyone look up strategies (and then follow them with a ridiculous rigour, not understanding why something may or may not be applicable)? Because the pace set by the rest of the game doesn’t align with the notion of stopping to think, attempting to observe and find a solution. At the same time, the raid encounters themselves don’t make much of an effort to provide observable cues, to allow you to grasp what’s going on without already knowing in advance. As Telwyn commented on the previous post, the developers pretty much expect us to know. We’re very rarely provided with analogies to established knowledge, because there’s very little consistent knowledge that could be referenced to begin with. Except, you know, don’t stand in the stuff on the floor. Unless it’s good stuff. Naturally.

Wikipedia

I was recently watching the recording of a political cabaret live performance. For my German readers, it was, of course, Volker Pispers with the 2010 version of his “Bis Neulich” programme. He was ridiculing the economical nonsense of a news announcement predicting the pension premium rates for 2050, wondering how one can pretend to derive any serious information from such detailed predictions that far in the future, including his wonderful line “economic experts are people who calculate how the future will look like if everything remains exactly as it is now”. He invited us to think back in time and to consider which events of the last 20 years would have appeared like a reasonable prediction in 1990. In an off-hand joke he posed as a hypothetical student asking “what, no Wikipedia? How did you do your homework then!?”. And then it hit me.

Just because Wikipedia exists, schools didn’t stop giving out homework. Even the most slow-to-adapt school systems can’t help but realise that at this point, virtually everyone has access to the internet, meaning that all answers can be looked up, interpretations can be found, essays can be assembled from sufficiently reworded sources and Google generally knows everything. I pulled a somewhat audacious stunt myself about 10 years ago, when I failed to read an assigned book in time and instead looked up a one-page summary and interpretation of “what it is supposed to mean” on the then-young internet, and proceeded to score an A+ for an oral discussion of a book I never read. And yet, homework is still around, going strong and I think we’d be rather surprised if it was announced to us that there is now a general consensus that “homework is pointless, since everything can be looked up”. We’d have a thing or two to say about throwing out the baby with the bath water.

This made me wonder whether we’ve been all a bit rash to completely and indisputably give up on riddles, secrets and mysteries in games – especially online games, especially MMORPGs. The widely accepted reasoning goes that with the power of crowd-sourcing, the more interest your game generates (i.e. the less likely you are to simply go bust because nobody buys your stuff), the less time it will take for every single secret to be discovered, disclosed and meticulously broken down on countless wikis, guides and community websites. Thus, in the Age of the Internet, every task or mechanic relying on the player having to find something out in one way or other may as well just not exist at all. Everyone will tab out, look it up and the development effort will be disproportionately higher than the game experience derived. Occam’s Razor did the rest. Was it wrong to assume that riddles and secrets are worthless because you can circumvent them with external knowledge? I think it depends.

Granted, educational institutions have a slightly different take on things: their goal is to teach you to seek out and apply knowledge, not necessarily to create knowledge. Finding the answer on Wikipedia isn’t really worse than finding it in your textbook; training in finding desired information through modern media is arguably quite beneficial. In the above personal example, the primary reason I got a good grade was that whenever a classmate would stumble through a failed attempt to express their thoughts concisely, I’d catch the drift of what he was going for, cross-match it with the short summary I read, wait for the teacher to cut them off, pipe up and deliver a well formulated version of that same thought. You see, I dare say I’m somewhat clever and can express myself reasonably well, and since those are the very qualities the school system is out to teach, I don’t think I cheated it all that much. Or, in other words, I did cheat it, but without invalidating its purpose.

Games don’t have this particular advantage going for them, but they have another, revealed once again by looking at the goal: games aim to be fun, to increase your joy, your level of satisfaction. Satisfaction can be derived from various aspects (achievement, immersion, socialising etc etc) in varying combinations, but it is always the overarching goal of a game; in the simplified world view where you do things either because they keep you alive or because they bring you joy (not necessarily mutually exclusive), games are firmly in the second camp. So the question that needs to be asked is not whether someone would tab out to look up the solution, but why someone would tab out to look up the solution. And the answer is simple: because searching for it themselves is not fun. It doesn’t mean that people hate riddles, it means you gave them a bad riddle! Riddles have a bad name because they tend to be this thing that slows your gaming flow down to a crawl and makes you stand around staring at some unintuitive interface or some such. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Several questions need to be asked.

Is the process through which the riddle is solved fun in itself? – Clicking on static objects cannot be the only mechanic used in solving riddles. An element of “figuring it out” can be applied to all sorts of game activities, and all sorts of game activities can be involved in the process of solving riddles. If your game is about slaying dragons while your riddles all consist of clicking on bottles, then yes, they’ll come across pretty lame.

Is the process through which the riddle is solved part of the game world? – A riddle should be a challenge posed to and solved by my character/avatar, by means available to my character/avatar. Sure, it’s me who controls him, but … no, actually that’s not even a “but”. The riddle should be solved as I control my character, not as I sit there with pen and paper, ’cause that’s less than a step away from Google.

Do you focus on the solution or on the search for it? – Easy mistake to make: here’s my riddle, here’s how the riddle is solved. But how, i.e. through what process and activity, does one arrive at the solution? If all you focus on while designing the riddle is the solution, that will be what players will focus on as well. You have to provide a path if you want people to walk it.

Are your players in a hurry? – Also known as the WoW-Syndrome. If the driving force in your game design is the accumulation of staggered rewards, then yes, the majority of your players will take every short cut imaginable to get to the reward faster. Be warned, because WoW shows that speed is addictive, and you’ll need to somehow increase it with every update, endlessly streamlining until every second not spent rushing full speed towards some destination is perceived as wasted.

Did you try to design a game element or a time sink? – Be honest. Players will know.

Will everyone like it? – Doesn’t actually matter. No one game mechanic was ever universally beloved by everyone. Tastes are different, perceptions of fun are different. Even in one person: what I want to do today, I may not like tomorrow. If anything, it should be an incentive not to design all of your game around One Thing, rather than to kick out features not everyone may love. If you leave out everything someone might not enjoy, you’ll end up with a blinking dot in the middle of a rectangle faster than you can finish reading this post.

Can it be done in a group? – Massively Multiplayer. At the very least, multiplayer. If your riddles are a process during which one person works towards a “Eureka!” while everyone else sits around unaffected, go back to the drawing board. Think about meaningful sharing of gained knowledge, think about mechanics that allow people to help each other: “help” being notably different from “do it for you”! This isn’t easy. It’s a challenge. But solving riddles together that allow you to truly cooperate in finding the solution is so much more satisfying. It is, in a way, the essence of MMORPGs.

Does it stay the same every time? – That’s the question, isn’t it. A static riddle isn’t always bad: not if it’s well designed, with a focus on the search for the solution and using entertaining mechanics while being rooted in the game world. Bringing in random elements isn’t automatically good: it is, if you can meaningfully diversify. Now, a riddle which is not actually a riddle but a problem situation as presented by a dynamic state of the world with various available solutions through differing approaches, each with built in variations: jackpot.

As a friend of mine tends to say:

We can’t stop people from ruining the game experience for themselves, nor should we try. All we can do is to design in a way that doesn’t make them want to.

PS: Despite having a heavy crush on RIFT, I am objective enough to not really consider its puzzles (one per zone) very much as riddles in the above sense. They’re all variations of clicking on static objects; are completely devoid of any relevance or connection to the game world (as a matter of fact, they are, as a rule, always in particularly hard to access spots, there is no explanation or justification for their presence whatsoever, nor does solving them have any perceived or even hinted at effect on anything); are entirely solution-focused, the only effective progress feedback being “you won!”; they incentivise through very powerful rewards; are for the most part solo-only deals (and the one that actually encourages cooperation does it in a horrible way); all in all leaving an impression of “just being there for variety”. Which is all good and fine, but they don’t make RIFT a “game with riddles” in any other than the most literal way (it mathematically contains riddles).

Words of Truth

I’ll get back to answering comments and writing my own long winded points of view shortly. Today, however, I would like to just full-quote a post from the RIFT forums, a response to a discussion about the DPS advantage of a Warrior build sub-specing into Beastmaster. Highlights by me.

I’ve never understood the whole “this is the only good spec because it wins the meters by 50 dps” mentality, or moreover the people who are convinced it is a game developer’s goal to create some uber cookie cutter build and just force everyone to play that and only that. Do people really believe Trion hates its player base and is deliberately sabotaging a game their developers and investors have put significant amounts of time, money, and effort into in an effort to rickroll millions of players at personal expense? Of course, if some other spec happened to parse 50 dps higher than beastmaster builds, there would be half a dozen threads about how terrible Trion is for shoving warriors into that spec, and that some people want to enjoy having a pet out and still be competitive.

There will pretty much always be one spec that, for a given set of equipment and utility buffs, deals more damage to a stationary single target than any other in a specific time interval. Capacity for single target damage in perfectly ideal stationary conditions is rarely the only mechanic you’ll have to worry about in an encounter (and in the cases where it is – then yes, you use the “best single-target stationary damage” spec). The question becomes, what is an acceptable margin of disparity, and what other benefits does a spec yield in exchange for that damage? And yes- not having to babysit your pet is a real advantage that can and should be considered when selecting a spec for an encounter.

I personally feel that anything which comes within a 10% margin of the ideal-case spec is perfectly acceptable, assuming there is some element of mechanical difference to be leveraged. I run three different damage builds for various encounters. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and these are quite often more than enough to overcome a minor loss in damage from a spec with better perfect-conditions throughput. Way of the Mountain is a real benefit – not having to leave melee range for knockback mechanics can increase your damage significantly. Not having to resummon a pet can increase your damage significantly. Being able to dive into an encounter early, switch to adds immediately, and completely ignore threat limitations can increase your damage significantly. Providing a key buff or debuff effect that your raid currently does not have can increase not just your damage, but the whole raid’s damage, significantly. Having fewer class-based elements to watch and react to during a complex encounter can keep you alive, which will increase your damage significantly. These are all elements that a training dummy will never show you. Some of them can be mitigated by “playing better,” but any strategy or rotation which relies entirely upon sustained perfection is bound to inevitably under-perform. **** happens, and you can’t ‘outskill’ an ISP hiccup. The goal is to meet requirements as consistently as possible, not to set the highest mark in one attempt out of many [Rem: yes, this warrants double-highlighting].

Here are what I view as core problems for the warrior class:
* Dual wielding damage, in any spec I have found, is at least 20-30% behind the top dog two-handed specs. This is enough of a margin to be difficult to overcome via class utility. Furthermore, just about all utility available to these specs can be reached by two-handed builds.
* Certain specs are unique to the raid due to debuffs which are unique to the target. (This is a bug, being fixed in 1.2)
* Beastmaster buff effects do not refresh after zoning; the pet must be resummoned. This is a bug.
* Attack power scaling on warrior skills is relatively low, making AP (and strength) less significant than alternatives such as crit rating (or dexterity). This creates awkward gear contention with rogues, among other problems.
* Strike Like Iron’s tooltip (and % damage scaling in general) is misleading. Perhaps something like “Increases skill damage by 48% of the unmodified value” or “increases damage modifier by +48%” would be more accurate.

Here is what I don’t see as problems:
* BM/champ/paragon is slightly higher than other two-handed builds. Someone’s got to be the top dog, and the margin’s not insurmountable.
* Strike Like Iron is a keystone ability for most specs. It is not as overpowered as the tooltip would lead you to believe. It is still good, adds depth to skill rotations, and forces a choice about immediate returns versus throughput damage.
* Burst abilities do not scale with weapon damage. They’re off the global cooldown, and they DO scale with attack power. The GCD you save by having an off-gcd finisher means another ability which does scale with weapon damage gets used. At absolute most, you’re losing 40% of weapon damage (140% for a 3 AP finisher versus 100% weapon damage at worst for AP-buildup attacks), and even then Rising Waterfall and Enhanced Burst mean it’s rarely the full 40% lost.
* Long-term scaling concerns. I don’t care if the class in its current state will be completely non-functional in 2014. Odds are that bug fixes, the addition of new stats or procs, or general class revamps will occur somewhere in the next three years. Whether the class is propped up three tiers down the road by gear or by developer-based changes, it will still be competitive and still merit a raid spot.

That’s my wall-of-text opinion on the matter, for better or worse. I’m sure some people will agree with me, and some will not, but I feel the statements are justified and well-supported. Thanks for reading, and I hope I’ve at least put a few worries to rest.