Thursday, November 28, 2013

WoW: Will the Item Squish Quash Our Ability to Solo Earlier Raids?

A rather interesting feature of Warlords of Draenor is the much anticipated “Item Squish”. Basically, numbers are getting too big to rationalize. It’s hard to fathom ten billion health and a half-million DPS, compared to a million health and five thousand DPS, so Blizzard wants to make all the numbers in-game smaller.

Stolen from MMO-Champ. From Blizzcon.
A quick technical aside, many people believe that Blizzard is performing the number squish because computers take longer to calculate bigger numbers. Assuming Blizzard has upgraded their servers to 64-bit code, this is erroneous. An unsigned 64-bit integer goes to 264 - 1, or 18,446,744,073,709,551,615. Any calculations on numbers smaller than that, be it 10 + 20, or 10,000,000,000 + 20,000,000,000, take the same amount of time. In Computer terms, if the numbers can fit in a single register, it doesn’t matter how big it is. Technically Blizzard would still be okay on 32-bits, as long as boss health stayed below 4.2 billion or so, but we’re rapidly approaching that (Malkorok has 1 billion health on 25-man Normal, for example).

Back to the squish itself, Blizzard claims that our relative power won’t change, and that our ability to solo old content won’t change, but my intuition tells me that this is mathematically impossible. Now, instincts about math are often wrong--a prime example of this is the Monty Hall problem, which states:

‘Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?’

Most people figure keeping to the same door is the better choice, however, you have a much better chance to win that car if you switch to the other door. The Wikipedia link gives the proof, but the end result is any time my intuition tells me something about math, I figure I need to question it (not to mention justify my minor in Pure Mathematics). So let’s run through some numbers and figure out whether my instincts are right, or if Blizzard’s statement is true.

The first thing I did was determined the DPS curve for all of WoW. For each raid tier, I tried to find a boss with the following qualities:
  • Tight enrage timer (DPS race)
  • Single target
  • As little movement as possible (i.e.: Patchwerk fight)
  • 25 Normal data exists (Tier 2 and 3 I took 40-man data and normalized the health to 25-man)
The fights aren’t completely comparable, but when I saw the compiled data, I quickly realized that the magnitude was really the interesting bit. There’s a couple cases where I couldn’t find a great fight, either because no enrage timer existed (Tier 1, Tier 4), or no Patchwerk-style fights existed (Tier 9). For Tier 4 and Tier 9, I picked a fight as close as possible, and Tier 1 I just said screw it and dropped it from the data.
Raid DPS Required
*(999,300) 624,562
5 Minutes
*(3,850,000) 2,406,250
7 Minutes
~7 Minutes
10 Minutes
6 Minutes
6 Minutes
15 Minutes
10 Minutes
5 Minutes
7 Minutes
6 Minutes
6 Minutes
8.5 Minutes
12 Minutes
6 Minutes
* Health normalized by multiplying by 25/40.
~ No enrage timers for 25 man raids exist. Text suggests that ~7 minutes the raid will be overwhelmed.
% No Patchwerk fights exist on this tier. Anub’arak is the only one with a tight enrage, but between the life leech and the adds, the Raid DPS required is probably a fair bit higher than listed.

If we plot the data on a graph, it’s very clearly an exponential curve:

But we already knew that. Blizzard has stated a number of times they’re aiming for an exponential power curve, so that gear can feel exciting, and such that you actually replace your gear when an expansion drops. But as you can see, the lower end is incredibly compact in terms of values. The jump from Void Reaver to Brutallus may be a factor of 4, but the raw value is only about 22,500 DPS, which is nothing in comparison to the 1.2 million DPS jump from Iron Qon to Malkorok. So how do we reconcile this with ensuring that we can solo the old raids and not have numbers get ridiculously small rather than being crazy big?

One of Blizzard’s claims is, “it will STILL take 5s to kill a Timeless Isle Gulp Frog.” To ensure that’s true, it’s a simple case of just scaling your current power down and the health of the mob down by the same factor. For example, if you do 100,000 DPS today, and a Gulp Frog has 1.4M health, it would take you 14 seconds to defeat the Gulp Frog. If Blizzard wanted to scale down DPS so that the same character after the squish would only do 5,000 DPS, it’s a simple matter of dividing both numbers by 20, so the Gulp Frog after the squish would have 70,000 health. No big deal.

So how about soloing old raids? If you wanted to use the same level 90 character to kill Festergut, before the patch it would take 404.4 seconds at 100,000 DPS. After the patch, Festergut would need to have only 2,022,000 health to achieve the same result at 5,000 DPS. Not so bad.

Things start to get a little weird, in-line with my expectations on an exponential curve, when you apply the same thing to the first few tiers. Princess Huhuran would need to have only 49,965 health to have the same effect, which is less than General Drakash in UBRS--a 5-man level 58 boss--by nearly half. Void Reaver, only 225,000 health. That’s not to say it’s impossible, just a little strange. It’s honestly a large enough difference between Tier 2 and Tier 16 that if Blizzard only reduced the Vanilla tiers by a factor of 10 instead of 20 (meaning Huhuran would have 100,000 health), the ability of a max level character to solo that boss wouldn’t be greatly impacted, though someone at level 70 might struggle a bit more than they would otherwise.

If we were to take the squish to its literal conclusion, it would fall apart once you hit Vanilla content, so I feel my instincts were justified. But at that point the numbers are so small anyway that the precise factor one would utilize applying the squish is largely irrelevant. The math is a bit basic, but it supports Blizzard’s statements just fine. I doubt they’ll just apply a multiplier to reduce the values because I’m sure there are subsystems that I haven’t looked into that would fall apart, but given I didn’t go to Blizzcon, I couldn’t begin to guess what they actually did (the squish was in effect at the Warlords of Draenor demo stations, apparently). Still, it seems feasible. I’ll be interested to see how they go about doing it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rewards, Achievements, and Goals in Games. What Drives You?

There’s a pretty well-known test for MMO gaming known as the Bartle Test. It’s not unlike the Myers-Briggs type indicator test, with the exception that it’s not quite as well established, and of course suffers from many of the same flaws as the Myers-Briggs test. However, it still provides an interesting basis of comparison and discussion. For those interested, you can take the test here:

In my case, I’m apparently an Explorer-Achiever. Basically, I’m a reward-driven completionist. Which fits somewhat well. Some games, I like finding and doing all the things, assuming they can be done in a reasonable amount of time, though I’ll definitely do things I don’t necessarily think are fun if it means it’ll give me an in-game edge. But that’s the caveat: a reasonable amount of time.

Reward Driven, Exploratory, Social, and definitely not sadistic or competitive... wait, I'm totally competitive when it comes to DPS/HPS meters...

One would think as an Explorer that I’d love open-ended games. I mean, in a game like Skyrim, there’s so many things to do and see. But that’s where I hit a brick wall. A game that’s open-ended also doesn’t necessarily have goals, which are part and parcel of what drives me in video games: goals that mean something. Oh, I’ll explore the world and let myself get side-tracked, but then eventually I lose the thread of what I’m doing and get bored, but I’m too far from the main storyline, the primary goal, and so I just quit. 

Recently, there’s been a fair amount of talk in the blogosphere about Achievements in MMOs. They provide arbitrary goals (as much as anything can be more arbitrary than anything else in a video game) that you can choose to complete. And while I don’t begrudge others their achievements, I find they don’t do a damn thing for me. I’ve had my Xbox Live account for nearly 6 years, and I only have ~10k points despite having nearly 100,000 available to me based on the games I’ve played. Even in WoW, my achievement score is just over 7,000 out of a total possible 21,000. Basically, I only pick up incidental achievements.

Yes, they’re goals, but there’s no real reward besides a toast on-screen. Now, a reward doesn’t have to be a powerful item. It could be a cinematic, or some story, or revealing a new area. That’s all just dandy. But for me there has to be something more than just a “Congrats, you met our requirements!”

Which may be why I tend to gravitate to JRPGs over WRPGs. Solid, clear story. Minor deviations for side-quests, but nothing that takes away from the primary quest. Direction and goals.

(Yes, I did that in Survival. From scratch. With no help or cheating. I think I died making that waterfall like twelve times...)

So then why the hell do I like Minecraft and Terraria? They’re the ultimate in sandbox games, and yet I love playing them. Perhaps it’s because I give myself clear goals (rail system to all my friends, build a keep, get the best armor, get this enchant, so on), or perhaps I just can’t deal with the hybrid nature of a game like Skyrim, which mixes sandbox with the theme-park story on rails. I'm not sure. What makes other people tick?