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Archive for July, 2009

Queen of Roses

I’ve been playing Blazblue recently, and, of all the characters, I enjoy watching Rachel=Aludard the most.  All of the characters are original (even in their stereotypicality) and dripping with personality.  But Rachel entertains me the most:

Granted, watching any of these characters in the hands of a skilled player is akin to watching choreographed dancing: visceral, elegant, and impossibly precise.

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Eve is one of those games whose concept I adore a great deal more than actually playing.  Usually, other vectors in my life deflect my desire to play Eve Online.  Still, it probably best encapsulates what I think of as a true virtual world game:

Also, Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions is a phrase with RESONANCE.

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If you’re reading this blog, chances are you got here through other blogs.  That likely means that you pay attention to what goes on in the world that seems most directly connected to my blog: video games.  And that implies you’ve heard about EA’s Dante’s Inferno Sin To Win contest at Comiccon.

In general, I don’t directly discuss ethics.  As the first post I ever made indicated, I’m given to philosophy.  As everything I write should imply, I’m something of a contrarian.  In fact, I’m a a deep-seated skeptic in the philosophical sense.  So I’m not going to get into the ethical right or wrongness of EA’s action, or anything related to it.  I don’t really worry myself over objective judgments of moral culpability or virtue.

I will note that socially (and in marketing) presentation is everything.  If you desire some kind of end result, you need to understand how your presentation appears to the people seeing it.  You should also pay attention to the spoken and unspoken rules of the social world.  Seriously: any sort of activity which specifically refers to women purely as objects of lust and is couched as being an “Ok thing to do” treads right on the edge of polite acceptability.  It’s vaguely like discussing the works of De Sade without indicating some sort of discomfort.  You’re violating accepted social norms here, so you’d better be prepared to face a certain amount of discomfort and hostility.  To proceed to goad people into even remotely acting upon the perception of women as objects of lust involves taking a flying leap over the edge of social acceptability and into the sea of shame.  It’s obviously going to be looked on askance even if it’s confined to very specific venues and situations.

However, people are usually rather out of touch with other people.  I would like to give EA marketing the benefit of the doubt here and suggest that what happened was the result of a profound disconnect in their understanding of the factors at play.  I’d hazard a guess that none of the EA marketing people are bad or malicious folks.  I’d also guess that men and women were involved in the decision making (though this really is a guy sort of thing to do, I suspect women at least KNEW about it).  They’re trying to come up with a fun, young take on putting this game in front of people’s faces, so they come up with these competitions.  When they hit lust, they make a few unconscious, socially dictated assumptions assumptions about their audience and about what qualifies as lust.

Keep in mind that any discussion of the various sins is difficult; they were already treading murky waters.  Lust, though, has long been an unspeakable space – even symbolically lust is problematic.  They hit on what they think is the least problematic symbol they can: photos with attractive girls.  Now, it’s important to note that socially, it’s nearly impossible to talk about lust with women as the lust-er.  Inevitably, the entire marketing department, men and women, are going to think of men doing the lusting.  Since Comiccon was coming up and pictures with “boothbabes” is an accepted pastime of con attendees, they thought that would serve well enough: it’s about as innocent an act of lust can be in the majority’s social perspective.

Here is the problem point: to use Freud’s terms, the superego of the people thinking about this sort of thing makes it difficult for them to imagine implications beyond the unspoken social rules.  I’m serious: it likely didn’t occur to them that people would take this, regardless of wording, as a competition to do anything other than take a picture with a boothbabe.  From there, they thought it’d be ok to include non-EA personnel because they really had no idea this could be construed as anything else.  I’m serious – and this is important to understanding the activities of every person ever – we act from our own social point of view and have a very difficult time imagining other people operating in a different perspective.  If it would simply never occur to them to fondle, or think of fondling, a representative because that’s an obvious broach of every rule of decent social etiquette, then they would have a difficult time conceiving of anyone doing it.  It’s something you just don’t do.  No one does that.  It’s against the rules.  If they’ve never witnessed it, and only been in the company of people holding to those same standards, then they’d tacitly presume that EVERYONE felt that way, and they’d consider this whole thing completely innocent.

Problematically for them (and everyone else on the planet when interacting with other humans), social rules are in the mind of the actor.  In reading through the stories about this, I have learned something new: guys really will randomly fondle girls.  That’s infuriating to me, not because they’re breaking the rules, but because they’re being hypocrites and imbeciles.  If one of the girls punched them because her rules said that was ok, they’d be all kinds of pissed.  Yet I fully expect the fondling guys think what they’re doing doesn’t actually merit the response they get (though I expect there’s an entire psychology manual to be written on the set of reasons for them doing that; people all have labyrinthine minds).  I bet the EA marketing guys simply never thought people would do that.  Their failure lies, I suspect, in not fully understanding the mindset of everyone; in making the mistake of trusting people to adhere to what they thought were standard social mores.  Specifically, they shouldn’t NEED to tell you not to do that sort of thing if you claim to adhere to the same set of social standards; if you don’t adhere to the same rules, then there’s some question as to whether you belong in this society.

Yes, I’m giving people the benefit of the doubt here.  It’s not so much that I trust to people as being innately good as that I trust to people despising shame.  On the whole, people adhere to social norms because they’re worried about what other people will think.  The misfits are people who either haven’t grokked the social norms (and how people will view their actions) or HAVE figured it out, and realized that they aren’t terribly concerned with it.  Honestly, the latter people are substantially rarer.  In general, most people fall into the former: we simply can’t see from the point of view of every sub-social group.

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I’ve been playing Empire: Total War recently.  It’s a very solid entry in the Total War line, though it piles on even more complexity; this may scare off newcomers.  Given that I enjoy complexity (and numbers, which it has in spades), I enjoy this game.  It also happens to have an endearing battle model, enjoyable graphics, and lots of guns and cannons.

It also makes for some entertaining historical fiction.

I chose to begin my campaign as Sweden.  Had I thought about it, I would not have been surprised at the extent of the Swedish Empire entering the 18th century.  During the Thirty Years War, Gustavus Adophus had brilliantly turned the Swedish military into a fearful and modern machine.  However, when he died before the end of the war, Sweden became a stagnant player through the finale.  I honestly remembered him from early on in studying the history of modern warfare, where he pioneered a mobile force, including mobile artillery and combined arms forces (spread out infantry, bolstered by cannon and decisive cavalry strikes).

But after Adolphus, I hadn’t really paid attention to Sweden.  According to wikipedia, moving into the 18th century, Sweden’s king Charles XII had a substantial and modern army, along with a potent economy.  The Baltic Sea was Sweden’s pond, and they guarded it jealously.  Apparently, they thrashed Russian invaders and then invaded Poland, whom they also thrashed.  Flush from this victory and angry at continued Russian assaults, the Swedes marched on Moscow.  We know how this works if you’re general’s name is not  “Genghis Khan”.  Sweden, like EVERY SINGLE OTHER post-Mongol Empire invader of of Moscow, promptly faded from the limelight after the ignominious loss of all the effort plunged into taking Moscow.

As I set out to remake the history of the Swedish Empire, the world was arrayed thus: under my control were Finland and Sweden on Scandinavia, and Ingria and Estonia on the continent proper.  To my east, Russia extended her sway from the bitter cold of the north to Georgia in the south, pressing west on the continent to press up cozily against Poland and Austria.  The kingdom of Denmark held sway over the passage from the Baltic into the Atlantic, controlling both modern Denmark and Norway (and Iceland).  Modern Germany was then a patchwork of kingdoms, with Prussia building its early economic and political strength under Frederick I in two, small (though important) provinces: Prussia proper and Brandenburg.  Austria stretched through Central Europe, with Poland to its north.

France held modern France, but was at this point growing increasingly fatter from its successes.  It has colonies in the Americas and was the dominant force in central western Europe.  Spain also maintained some colonies in South America, though New Spain is apparently not classified under its governmental rubric.  The United Dutch Provinces held modern Holland, colonies in the Indies and the New World, and a potent economic and military potential.  Britain, of course, was pragmatically pursuing the course towards becoming the dominant colonial empire of the world, ruling the Thirteen Colonies, Canada, bits of India, and obviously the whole of the British Isles.  To the distant south, the Ottoman Empire maintained its power over Anatolia, Arabia, and North Africa.  The far off Indian Subcontinent was split evenly between the Mughal Empire and the Maratha Confederacy (who, if I was at all successful in tying up the European powers with my belligerence, would likely have a much higher survival rate than they did in our history).

That is essentially the world as I found it.  The political map of Europe is as haphazard as you’d guess, and the web of alliances was convoluted and painfully fragile.  It turns out that Poland and Russia outright hate my Swedish people, and likely me.  I turned to Austria for support, forging an alliance with them that I hoped would provide me with support against the inevitable incursion of belligerent Continentals.  My plan, such as it was, was to solidify my economic strength, taking advantage of the Baltic as a relatively peaceful place to put together a navy.  I was hoping to use that navy to sprint for the New World and new trade.  That path lay through Denmark and their control over the straits letting the Baltic into the Atlantic.  As Denmark controlled Norway, another important part of insuring my dominance of the Baltic, I put the Danes at the top of my conquest list.  Given that they were already hostile, I didn’t think it’d be long until war broke out.

However, I moved against the king residing in Courland first.  They were small and not prominently allied with a major power; a fitting test for my army.  That this would also extend my control of the Baltic was merely a bonus.

Initially, the economic income of the Swedes is quite potent.  I spent it on a mixture of economic upgrades throughout my lands – improving my farms and my towns, my fishing and my one university – and on increasing my military strength.

At the turn of the 18th century, the military is entering a long-lasting revolution in how war would be fought.  The Thirty Years War had decimated the continent, particularly Germany.  The 18th century saw the dawn of what would be called the Age of Limited Warfare: a time period characterized by national, professional armies fighting in a formal and restrained manner over limited political objectives.  None of the monarchs of the era could afford more than that; neither could they afford mass conscription of any of their peoples, lest they create even more widespread famine and economic chaos.  Nevertheless, war continued to be a dominant political fact of European life.

Entering the 30 years war, heavy cavalry and pike formations were the dominant battlefield fact.  This is a period of transition from the shock of heavy cavalry charge to the mass of heavy infantry, begun with the Swiss pike square and culminating with the Tercio.  The Spanish Square doomed the heavy cavalry charge as the dominant battlefield force, ushering in an era where cavalry began to move towards a lighter, skirmish/decisive flank charge role.  Gustavus Adolphus, motivated by the practical exigencies of Sweden’s situation during the war (generally poor and underserved by mercenary forces), altered the Tercio into a much more specialized combined arms group.  Where the Tercio combined multiple arms into a single formation, Adolphus organized his armies around interwoven lines angled lines of musket/pike infantry with artillary at the intersections and light cavalry behind the artillery.  This produced interlocking fields of fire, anchored around the massive bombardment of artillery for standard maneuver, along with a ready avenue for cavalry to decisively encroach on wavering enemy formations.

By the time of the 18th century, heavy musket infantry supported by mobile artillery and light cavalry became the norm.  Dominant tactical procedure of the time took the lessons of the Thirty Years War to an extreme: massed, consecutive firepower by heavily drilled infantry arranged in lines so as to maximize the concentration of firepower.  That’s not to say the trappings of the earlier period didn’t remain in play.  Pikes took sometime to finally vanish from the battlefield in favor of bayonets.  Cavalry drifted between melee shock units and skirmish forces, and even to the dragoons, which amounted to mobile infantry divisions.  Technologically, unit warfare centered around the musket and the sabre for infantry and cavalry.  Most of the changes in the ways wars were fought during this period centered on training, tactics, maneuver, and politics rather than on the “gadgets” of war.

Artillery and fortresses (and the taking of fortresses) were the obvious exceptions, revolving as they do around machines and gadgets.  The fortifications of the Europe underwent something of a renaissance during the latter half of the 17th century, with Vauban being the notable contributor to the art of war engineering.  The re-introduction of bastions and the creation of star forts peppered the continent with redoubts of surpassing strength.  This development, in turn, drove innovations in fort reduction.  The result of this, perhaps counter-intuitively, was the decline of the permanent fortification’s startegic significance.  Forts became were generally too impregnable to warrant the effort, and could be maneuvered around, but would fall with relative rapidity if focused on.  In this period of more limited engagements and political maneuvering, they became something of a pointless anachronism.

Artillery flowered into a variety of variations on the basic cannon: the howitzer and mortar saw mass introductions to the battlefield.  Mobility became a prized feature of artillery, and horse-drawn artillery of all sizes accompanied the tromp of marching infantry.  Perhaps most importantly, though, was standardization: It became simply unsupportable to have hand-made, non-specific cannon sizes and weights, so slowly European military forces moved to adopt at the least  internally consistent bore sizes and ball weights.  Notably, Gribeauval introduced into France (in the late 18th century) the beginnings of cannons built using interchangeable, stock parts.  This really feels like a very simple idea, but would revolutionize the cost of supply and maintenance.

In beginning my military growth, I focused on the linchpins of any land army: the infantry ranks and their artillery support.  Small pockets of artillery would be supported by lines of infantry, which would attempt to envelop the flanks of my opponents by sheer dint of their mass and length.  Very small cadres of cavalry would support this, flanking when the opportunity presented.  Militia forces would be called up mostly to serve as local garrisons.  The army that marched on Courland consisted of old fixed artillery pieces, masses of line infantry, and the cavalry attached to my general.  The opposing army consisted much more heavily of militia and levees raised for emergency defense.  These simply couldn’t stand up to the massed, flanking firepower of my professional troops, and I quickly took the city.

Meanwhile, my navy grew to include additional small ships (brigs and sloops) and some of the smaller, early frigates.  Sadly, my naval facilities could not bring out anything beyond a sixth-rate, but for my purposes these would suffice.  Luckily, the straits between Denmark and Norway served as a useful bottleneck. and I could safely defend against incursions from any naval force by concentrating my fleets there.

Unfortunately, political forces usurped my designs at this point.  My hopes to use Austria’s allegiance as a shield against Polish or Russian belligerence backfired when Austria became embroiled in war with both nations, forcing me to direct significant effort to solidifying my Continental holdings against potential incursions.  Unfortunately, military buildups have economic consequences, and the upkeep of this military force began to strain my treasury.  I could not afford to both retain soldiers for war AND develop my local economy.  I attempted some triage, struggling to maintain a balance while preparing to move against my enemies, but this bore little fruit.  Fortunately for me, Russia opted to play its hand early, and around 1709-1710, Russia invaded my holdings in Ingria.  I took what forces I had managed to assemble and moved to head off the attack.  I had overwhelming numbers on my side, stomping apart the Russo expeditionary force and using my momentum to sweep down into their origin…which turned out to be Muscovy, whose heart is Moscow.  I arrived in winter.

I besieged the city, assaulting its streets, dispersing the armed rabble and minimal professional forces.  Here, I hoped to cut out the heart of the Russian threat, so that I could focus my attention west.  I was admittedly appalled (and amused) at the sad state of the Russian defensive force, but settled in to wait out the inevitable retaliation; a retaliation which never materialized, at least not directly.  Instead, I was faced with insurgency, riots, and outright rebellion.  I was forced to keep my largest and most veteran army locked in Moscow for years attempting to placate the populace and put down what rebellions sprouted up (and they sprout they did: I’d cultivated a veritable garden of rebellion).

Knowing I’d be unable to move from Moscow for sometime, I promptly began building a smaller army in St. Petersburg, capital of Ingria, to serve as an expeditionary force.  Now, from hoping for war with Denmark I had gone to praying for peace.  In the meantime, Austria had garnered me Prussia as a new enemy and my military exploits were not paying off sufficiently to support my troops.  While Muscovy had headed considerable clout to my economy, I was forced to spend some of that economic gain on churches and a school, hoping to improve my technological situation and convert the people from Eastern Orthodox to Protestant, thus calming some of the unrest.

At this point, I looked to trade.  A new port had opened up on Swedish shores, and I moved to expand it into a commercial hub.  While this facilitated the export of furs to my trading partners and allowed me to add additional trade partners to my roster, it wasn’t quite sufficient for my purposes.  I commissioned an Indiaman to explore the trading ports of Western Africa.  Some years later, I had an established trade route for shipping exporting ivory, a significant boon to my economy.

Once my expeditionary force was assembled in Ingria, I marched it east against Karelia.  Eastern Russia was wide expanses of forest surrounding a few, dispersed cities.  Given the lack of major Russian responses to my conquest of Moscow, I thought I’d see some success swinging through the east, securing that side of the Continental Theater with a small force while I pressed west from Moscow and south from Courland.  Karelia fell to rapidly, broken by the line infantry and mobile artillery I sent against it.  I settled in to muster militia to garrison my new conquest before moving on.  I also sent spies from Moscow to look in on the other Russian holdings while my missionaries preached the protestant faith amongst the Orthodox populace.

Around this time, the Danes finally decided to throw the gauntlet, declaring war.  Small raiders out of Norway swiftly moved into my homeland to harry my towns, while reavers out of Danish ports raided my trade lanes.  I gathered what strength I could in Stockholm, then marched out to meet the invaders.  I swiftly repulsed the small raiding parties and settled on the Norwegian border, awaiting the arrival of artillery I was shipping over from St. Petersburg.  In the meantime, my navy sparred to great effect with Danish ships, quickly sinking their raiders and settling into sparring with what ships they would produce.  The Prussians also saw fit to antagonize my ports and trade lanes about now (along with normal militarily-sponsored pirates at more distant parts of my trade routes).  Fortunately, my initial naval investment and concentration of fleets paid off, and I help the Baltic for Sweden.

In the east, my forces moved on to northeastern Russia before swinging south, capturing two more cities in my name.  Moscow had finally settled down somewhat, allowing me to assemble my army and move west into the Ukraine.  Sometime in 1714, I besieged and conquered Kiev.

The Poland-Lithuania Confederacy had by now gotten around to deciding I was a threat, moving a sizable army north against Estonia while maintaining harassing forces along our borders.  Marching out to meet this threat, I suffered my first defeat against a vastly superior force.  I retreated what I could to the capital while increasing military recruitment.

By this time I had added howitzers to my artillery forces and was considering the addition of 6-lb, cavalry artillery.  Dragoons had served me well in numerous battles, being able to quickly react on the field and bring reasonable firepower in important points.  My cavalry forces beyond that, however, were limited.

In 1715 I added trade routes with Brazil and conquered Norway.  Aside from Iceland, the only major Danish stronghold was Denmark itself, and now my forces gathered to end the local threat.  The Polish attacked in Northern Europe, only to be repelled, and I felt relatively safe for the moment.

I laid siege to Copenhagen in 1716.

I had a mass of line infantry, with some local militia added.  I also brought a few cannon and a unit of cavalry and dragoons.  Unfortunately, the Danes had a sizable array of militia and infantry, along with locals pressed into the defense, along with some few cannons.  I held, however, a significant advantage: their forces were split, though they’d be able to reinforce one another.  If I could crush one army before the reinforcements arrived, I could hope to deal with the reinforcements separately.  I played defensively, knowing that they must break the siege if I refused to bring the fight to them.  They attacked, without combining their forces.

The assault against my lines was somewhat haphazard, though dangerous.  I couldn’t reach their cannon until I had broken their incoming infantry, as they maintained a fair force beside the artillery to ward my cavalry.  I spread out wings of infantry on either side of two cannon positions, creating funnels of sorts, with cannon at their exit.  as infantry moved into the channels, I was able to rake them with cannonade, then fusillades from my soldiers, and finally canister shot from the cannons when they closed to range.  The result was a massacre as my well dispersed force enveloped the defenders and routed them.  By the time reinforcements arrived, I had broken the main army and driven off their gunners.  The straggling reinforcements were quickly picked apart.

Copenhagen flew the Swedish flag.

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The remixers at OCRemix have put together a (really, really) lengthy collection of remixes from Final Fantasy IV.  I recommend checking it out.

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The Warrior Q&A saw Ghostcrawler demonstrating his consistent lack of a coherent vision for the future of WoW gameplay, thinking instead in an ad-hoc manner about specific problems.  There’s the possibility that his thoughts are crystallizing into a broader realization that perhaps they have gone TOO FAR in insuring the efficacy of each class in every role.  I don’t mean to suggest classes shouldn’t be effective in every role they have available; I like my Balance Druid.  I am saying instead that their changes carried unintended consequences, which led to a feedback loop.  This loop has produced a situation that Ghostcrawler is feeling more and more frustrated with, even if he only vaguely gets why.

Unfortunately, Ghostcrawler is still caught up in a certain manner of thinking about pve content and the Holy Trinity (damage dealer – tank – healer).  He still views everything through that EQ-style lens, and it colors how he looks at the future of WoW classes and specs.  Looking at basic MMO combat naively, I suspect there’s certainly a tendency for the three roles to emerge consistently.  As they do, the advantage of specialization becomes obvious.

Let’s look sort of abstractly at how combat in, well, any game really, breaks down.  Let’s go ahead and imagine combat as it’s own game.  My standard definition of a game is a start state, an end state, and ways to change between states.  The end state of combat is when one opponent or set of opponents is defeated.  We generally measure that via something like a health pool, so we can say that the end condition is met when one player or team is reduced to 0 or less health.  The player or team with more than 0 health when the game ends is the winner, the other the loser.  Any combat game state which does not meet the end condition is a valid start state.

Since I’m talking about combat games in a very abstract manner here, rules for state changes are going to be necessary general.  A combat game is, at its core, about the rate of change to health for each opponent and the time to health = 0.  Each opponent seeks to maximize the difference in time to health = 0 between themselves and their opponents.  We can then say that actions can focus on changing the rate of change in health for the opponent or for oneself.

The three roles of WoW each focus on a specific aspect of this: Damage dealers, obviously, focus on increasing the loss rate of their opponent’s health.  Tanks focus on minimizing the loss rate of their own health.  Healers focus on introducing a positive rate of gain on theirs or their team’s health.  However, as long as the net effect of the activity of a side produces a time to health 0 smaller than their opponents’, they will win.  That point can be effectively guaranteed by achieving a net health loss rate of 0 while insuring your opponent’s loss rate is >0.  Once your loss rate has achieved 0, there is absolutely no reason to do anything else to alter the loss rate: additional effort to either reduce  the incoming damage rate or increase the incoming health rate are pointless (this is a simplified case: mitigation buffers and healing buffers to take the net incoming damage rate below 0 can obviously help things such as “burst damage”).

WoW boss fights are predicated on the fact that no single character can reduce the rate of incoming damage from the boss to 0.  The best way to achieve optimal health loss is for whoever takes damage to focus on minimization of the rate of loss and for the team as a whole to focus on reducing the number of targets.  Because of the threat system, in a standard fight this trivially becomes get the damage to be focused on a single target with the highest threat.  The point of target minimization is two-fold: first, as you reduce the number of potential targets, you reduce the need to focus on  team-wide mitigation.  That allows non-targets to focus on either positive health gain for their team or positive health loss for the other.  Second, it reduces the amount of positive health gain needed to produce a loss rate of 0.

The next focus is obviously healing output to bring net health loss to 0.  Once that magical threshold has been reached, increased damage is the greatest optimization (it becomes the sole variable capable of altering the difference in time to 0 health).

All this puts a hard (and soft) cap on the benefit of mitigation and healing.

Looking at combat like this, I can point out all sorts of ways to avoid the strict player division into the holy trinity.  An important note: the holy trinity is not needed to promote grouping.  Increased damage is always more optimal than healing or mitigation once the proper health loss rate is hit, which implies that even without the requirement of additional people to achieve the correct healing/mitigation levels, a group will be than one person, and a larger group better than a smaller.  We need not worry everyone will take off on their own.

So, knowing that grouping will not disappear if we alter the holy trinity, what sorts of things could be altered that would dispense with the MMO Caste system?  The trinity depends on the need for a tank and healers: damage dealers would be necessary regardless.  Tanks and healers are both mitigation roles: they are focused on reaching that magical nil loss rate.  The necessity of specialists comes from two, related sources: the inability of the baseline character to mitigate or restore enough to compensate on their own, and the enormous gain to mitigation for specialization.

Part of why I’m focusing on the Holy Trinity is that it’s so…static.  As a player, it’s frustrating to realize that I can’t meaningfully contribute in the event that things go south in any other role.  This is particularly true for damage dealers: in pve content, there is very little in damage dealing that is truly DECISIVE.  This is particularly the case in large raid environments, where the majority of the group are damage dealers whittling away with butter knives at an ancient redwood: it’ll eventually fall, by sheer dint of the number of butter knives, but no butter knife was particularly effective on its own.

Combatting this is a matter of attempting to make individual decisions more meaningful, by making them decisive.  Decisiveness is a function of choice: seeing the opprotunity, realizing it, and acting upon it.  It is the essence of puzzle-solving in boss fights.  A damage rotation is not decisive.  Even a complicated rotation, or small state diagram, or FCFS system, or whatever, is not decisive, it’s busy work.  It is decisive to perform an act that you know altered the course of things.

Admittedly, I feel like addressing this would require an entirely different design philosophy on large-group content.  However, I do think there are some ways to address things without radically altering WoW raids.  For instance, if personal mitigation were better or incoming damage were lower, the need for consistent, long term healing would fade.  Instead, the focus of a healer would move to dealing with instantaneous damage: reacting to the application or threat of significant damage.  The tank would see their role specialty decline, but still be favorable: they’d maintain an advantage in damage mitigation, at the price of damage output.

This mitigation improvement could be done through increases to passive mitigation, or by adding utility powers that help mitigate damage.  Frost mages leap to the fore as leading examples in survival utility.  Of particular interest is the lack of importance in movement as it relates to pve combat.  Sure, there’s the “avoid the crap on the ground” trope which peppers modern WoW fights, but anything which might lead to “kiting” is often frowned upon in design.

Other options would be to simply hand out group mitigation more broadly, such that certain abilities for classes provide a consistent, long-term mitigation (such as baseline, group wide healing every time an ability is triggered, though that is painfully boring).  As we move to more sustainable, long-term mitigation, it feels like resource management in the short run becomes more interesting.  Right now, mana, energy, runes, or rage don’t impose very interesting limitations on classes usage.  For mana-based damage dealers, Blizzard has specifically said that the damage rotation will be mana neutral: you’ll only run out if you do something other than damage.  Energy, rage, and runes merely serve as limiters on ability usage, not as interesting choice producers.  A lot of this derives from abilities being relatively uninteresting: there is no reason not to simply use them in order of highest DPS addition.  The only way to insert an interesting decision in ability choice is to have abilities do something different, thus making resource management suddenly meaningful.  First, time is a resource: if two abilities do meaningfully different things, the opportunity cost of using one is the loss of doing the other, and the time spent waiting to be able to.  If you add a flow-constrained resource to the mix, it becomes an even more interesting decision.  DK runes showed promise in this direction, but ultimately were pushed into a pretty standard rotation.

Anyway, I think I’ve rambled on enough.  I will likely expand on this.  If I have to point at any example of what I mean, I’ll point at Magic: the Gathering and Guild Wars.

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Perhaps you’ve heard that the savings rate in the US has increased.  It’s interesting to examine this: savings is measured as the difference between income and expenditure.  That is, it’s a measure of the change in net worth of the population, not necessarily an increase in what laypeople understand as “savings”.  Saving in that measure can simply be debt reduction.

Interestingly, one can imagine a period where debt relative to asset value grows in the face of an increasing savings rate.  If net worth = (assets – liabilities) + savings_rate * income, and savings rate is positive, then net worth will decline if the difference between assets and liabilities is negative and greater than unspent income.  This obviously occurs when the value of assets declines and/or the value of liabilities increases.

We can see that, prior to the crash, the population’s balance sheet may very well have been improving: while liabilities as a portion of GDP were expanding, the liability generation was developing a correlated growth in asset prices.  That would leave a nationally positive balance sheet.  However, if asset prices were to go into a rapid decline, then we would see a dramatic switch to a substantially worse balance sheet, even if underlying “real” economic performance wasn’t very bad at all.

Examination of flows without looking into how the existing stocks can fund those flows seems…foolhardy, but all too common place.

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