State of the Game–2014/2015

The new year has come and gone.  We have seen an interesting twelve months with many additions.  But we will go over things from last year just briefly.

We started 2014 with Galactic Starfighter, ending 2013 with early access and seeing the public update come in the February.  This was the space combat game people wanted when they first started seeing what was going into the game the words “…pilot your own ship…” were thrown around, what we go Space Battles the on rail shooter was a fun feature to while the time away, but it was no way integrated into the story.  Neither was Galactic Starfighter other than with an interesting change on the flashpoints with the Kuat Drive Yards FP meant to serve as the starter to jumping into the action.

Was it right?  Yes, what the team at BioWare put into this was everything people wanted from the get go.  But was on vital element missing…

ship_defender ship_freighter ship_thunderclap
ship_fury ship_phantom ship_mantis

Enable players to pilot their Starship into the fray.  The introduction of the fighters, bombers, etc… we have seen throughout the story was good, but it would have been nice.  The models are there, use the one used for the Space Battles, I think there will be a massive take on this.  But that is my opinion.

Invasion

April gave us the first part of the story arc we have seen come to its conclusions at the end of the year.  The Korriban Incursion and Assault on Tython tactical flashpoints.  We had the end of the first official season, some PvP love was also bestowed with the a Starfighter Map, the Quesh Huttball bit for the warzones.

These flashpoints gave us a certain glimpse of the goings on in the galaxy and with the breief encounter of the Revanites on Dromund Kaas which has you determining if you are worthy and then needing to steal the mask of Revan from Lord Gratham.  Was the seeds of things to come sewn back then. 

Soovada

Hit us in June.  This was initially a way to bring into the game a credit sink for mainly PvP players as they really don’t have any mechanism for dumping their credits into other than minor upgrades to their gear.  Since most upgrades can be obtained through commendations.  So, what better way than spend credits than buying tokens to get some new gear.  The weapons were interesting certain the Kingpin Blaster Rifle, very Tommygun-esque in its appearance.  It is still sitting in my cargo-hold waiting for that perfect look to match, I think I am nearly there.

Why do I believe this was meant as a credit sink for PvP.  Because when introduced they offered double commendations for all PvP events AND you could purchase tokens for the machines using commendations, credits worked just as well.  This was a success and the community were asking for more events, so we have this one, we also got life day, which need to get expanded.   But I will talk more about this later.

Welcome to your Stronghold

We all had our ships, our home away from home.  Our crew always more open when on our ships, but now, we have the ability to have decorate our homes.  This was considered a much needed addition, especially for the large guilds and keen role players of the community but there was one small catch. 

Subscribers, got early access and a nice Nar Shaddaa Sky Palace and based on past, recordable achievements we received the trophies of our successes in Flashpoint and Operations.

But Strongholds and Guild Flagships are are massive expense.  I purchased all of the strongholds and proceeded to unlock the rooms, this was an expensive exercise and now, with everything unlocked there is little in the way some of them look.  But I am happy with just slowly build on them.

People, as always have an experience with what they want from player housing decorations etc…  Often these expectations lead to disappointment and constantly there is disappointment with much of the community.   I know with Guild Capital Ships there was so much more they wanted than parking a ship above a planet to help boost the conquest points achieved from performing conquest missions there.  More on Conquests and Guild Capital Ships later.

This patch also saw Manaan come back, the ocean world and the new Flashpoint with the Depths of Manaan.  But we were give a nice expansive area to roam but nothing to do, but going into a story instance, see a reputation vendor or medical droid and enter the flashpoint.  It looked like more was planned, but nothing happened… I will talk more about this later.

Alliances Forged

The final part of the Forged Alliances story arc was included and it again took us to a familiar world in Rakata Prime (The home world to the Rakata but not their true home world but when forging their Infinite Empire this force energy of the planet made this the best choice for the building of the Star Forges.  So we are then shown a familiar mask, at the end an a peek of what is to come, the return of Revan.  Legacy of the Rakata flashpoint a new PvP season nothing much else was included.

12 times XP

Yes, you could and many did, create new toons, complete the story only on those characters and they were at Level 50 and subsequently 55 before they could blink.  This saw a massive surge in the population of the game and was regarded as one of the more successful things they have done.  Even if people didn’t continue the influx into the game this bought was massive more than they anticipated and subsequently issues arouse from this with what was happening with the server.

3.0 Drops and the Ball is Dropped

Well, what can be said that hasn’t already.  The Shadow of Revan, Early Access was available, gave people new content, 2 new planets, dailies, 2 new flashpoints and operations and with the release of this they introduced a new mechanic of Solo flashpoints.  They did this to enable players who have not done the Forged Alliances story line to enjoy them before jumping into the new content.  This was a great addition, so much so that people are wanting to go back to use it for other flashpoints, but once you hit the level cap (60 now) you can go back and do all flashpoints, including the level 50 hard mode ones, solo (with some caveats).

Then the Ravager’s Exploit reared its reared its head, BioWare went underground or at least on holidays and those who would took full advantage of the situation.  192 and 198 gear for free, well almost free, though some servers is was common, others, no so, so much in fact that people transferred characters to servers, with lockouts and started selling it to players for credits.

This is what we are left with the stinking mess that is the community team at BioWare in their attempts to handle, fumble and deal with the situation and the subsequent fall out.  But this isn’t about the exploit or their handling of it it is merely how what was meant to be a great end to a year this happened.  But we are now in 2015 we can put the year behind.

Coming Soon

What is coming soon.  There was a community cantina, in which they revealed what was on the cards for 2015.  Two major releases a mid year and end of year. Talks of focus on story, providing a unique class story again but where the events make a difference to the outcomes of your story, an interesting take as ESO tried this and found people in groups when they choose different outcomes that had a baring on the instance they were in, they found the group members would spawn in different instances.  Not being able to help them at all.

There were elements I liked that carried over and made me feel that things were different in the stories.  I did like how the cross over of the stories were there in some instances small others significant.  But they are wanting to have more focus on that, they saw a massive influx of people into the game as a result of the Revan story so they must see this as a positive.  If they can make great stories for each of the classes I think they will find their population growing again.

No PvP Love

PvP is one of those things where many people love it, others hate it, but it was an area in this game and the story that lead it to be integrated better than with any other game in the past.  They did this in some degree with some of the warzones, but it gave a bite sized way to the game, they, I feel, improved it with 4v4 arenas which was a nice quick battle, Hutt Ball which I will talk more about soon and Galactic Starfighter space PvP.  Each of these need to be integrated greatly into the game and shown that PvP is just as important to the narrative as any other element.

Queues

Some servers are good, others not so.  So the only way to fix this would be cross server queues.  But this isn’t as saying, well let us implement cross server queues.  Here is why.

image

 

Here is a very crude map of the world with the locations of the data centres on it.  There are 3 servers on the West Coast of the US;

  • The Bastion
  • Begeren Colony
  • The Harbinger

5 servers on the East Coast of the US

  • The Shadowlands
  • Jung Ma
  • The Ebon Hawk
  • The Prophecy of the Five
  • Jedi Covenant

Europe has 9 servers, 3 in each languages

  • Tomb of Freedon Nadd
  • The Progenitor
  • The Red Eclipse
  • Darth Nihilus
  • Battle Meditation
  • Mantle of the Force
  • T3-M4
  • Jar’Kai Sword
  • Venjervalis Chain

So, players from all over the world played on these servers they often pick the server with the least network latency.  I played originally in Australia then was moved from there to Drooga’s Pleasure Barge and then finally to the Harbinger.  I play daily with a latency of about 170ms, which isn’t great but if it is stable I can deal with it.

Players in the Southern Hemisphere are the worst affected than most but I am sure that latency in other parts of the world with less stable connections are also an issue.  So, knowing there are people playing all over the world, we look at the cross server queuing. 

  1. Which server is picked to play the game one?
  2. How is the server picked?
  3. What mix of players from which servers are picked?

These are some of the questions regarding cross server queuing.  Some might suggest well, if 12 players from the 16 are from The Harbinger, why not play on the Harbinger.  Because the other 4 might come from countries like Eastern Europe where a connection to the US West Coast provide a 400ms latency and therefore making it uncompetitive against people who play with 40-70ms. 

Would a centralised server work?  Maybe if you could find a location that meant everyone could play with the exact same latency as everyone else, or with minimal changes to it. 

image

That is the only physical way to make sure everyone has the same latency, but then we have cooling issues, pressure, physical maintenance,  the list goes on.

The final solution would be to use the server with the least population where the majority of players are from.  Then artificially increase latency for all players to match that of the slowest.  To perform this task would need a change to the clients.

Currently all commands travel to the server is actioned by the server and is returned to the client to display the animation or other displayable elements.  When playing with players in a group those with the highest latency have also delays in where players are as these actions, locations are then synchronised with the other clients in the group or match.

So anyone who believe they play with “LAG” should feel for the people who are geographically more distant from the servers whose “LAG” will not go away with the implementation of a server upgrade or the like.

So, in these scenarios, we use a client acknowledgement contract on data.  A command is sent to to the server and all c

image

One client will send the command to all machines connected to that instance.  The computer above in Orange is “your” computer.  You are in a 4v4 arena match.  Every PC is sending the commands out too all others, including the server.  This server much acknowledge this command but it will not provide the appropriate actions until all clients have confirmed.

So, in this configuration the time it takes for the server to acknowledge the request is based on the slowest time to send a packet.  Now this person who is on the slowest link will still be at a disadvantage when the server says, yes.  If the slowest link is 400ms, this is a round trip, there for it is 200ms to the server.  The fastest is 40ms. So when the server sends the packets to the clients, this can send the data to the slowest first to the fastest.

The server will then wait a certain time before sending the request. to the others.  So, the slowest is sent first and the server knows it has received it in 200ms so, it should take about 200ms to send back.  It waits then 160ms before sending the packet to the fastest which is knows is 40ms.   Since this pertains only to actions, abilities, all locations can be updated through the client data packets being sent.

This create equality among the systems but creates an natural level of latency FORCED to uses.  Some might say this is nothing since there is a massive problem with lag.  But players who normally play 40ms complain about 100ms latency.  Forcing them will create an even further level of “unacceptable lag” as they call it to play a PvP match.  But the inqueality exists now, more so than those who complain know.

Downside to this method is;

  • Increased load on the local PCs network stack which, depending on the machine might already be under significant load and the network is possible the one area is often forgotten when it comes to increasing the speed of the PC.
  • The server code needs to be redesigned to not need to synchronise all of the data between clients and the initiator of the action will send the synchronisation data required.  Adding additional load to the client PC CPU.
  • Redesign to the client code to accept this data.  And since many of these components are linked in the way the application works it might be difficult to take this to the full advantage.
  • Rejected/Lost packets.  If the server is sending acknowledgement on packets to enable the client to perform the updates.  If one of these gets lost or needs to be requested again then we get into similar issues as would any normal multi-player scenario.

So given the complexities of implementing cross server queues where the latency issue would be a greater issue than normal.  Normal meaning if you play from Australia on The Harbinger then you will be used to playing with the latency you have change it to double or triple, and people will leave by the bucket loads.

Reduce East Coast

The East Coasts should be mereged into 3 servers like the rest of the English, French and German speaking world.  Since English EU, French EU and German EU as well as US West Coast have all three servers, what is the population numbers on the other East Coasts servers.  Complaints from this area about queue times would be reduced if they were on less servers and like much of the world who were reduced to a smaller number of “large population” servers then it is time the East Coast US was reduced to 3.

Win Trading

How do you deal with this.  Can you work who is trading wins?  Well from my understanding with comments like this;

…we can work towards finalizing our data review and assigning appropriate actions. We have a lot of information! We know who used it, who they invited, how many times they exploited, when they participated, credits gained, and whether they gained a crafting pattern from reverse-engineering.

means they should be able to get the metrics on it.  PvP is difficult enough let alone having groups artificially inflate the end of season figures.  So how can’t this be done.  It is a simple task of making sure that the teams (and you know the teams when the queues pop) get it so if they have played before in a certain period of time, pop it with someone else or another team they haven’t played.  My main issue here is a simple one, if they are all in on it or the majority of them are it then gets difficult to police.

This is the biggest thing outside of a lack of content the PvP crowd are wanting change in.  So addressing this will help alleviate many of the issues around the rankings.

Make it Integral

There have been suggestions regarding PvP and open world PvP.  Ilum was a complete debacle, their removal of it and moved to the PvP in the Gree Event made this much better but due to the instancing on planets to help with the performance, lead to some issues.  But that said, providing missions that were in the PvP area and could mean you were attacked by anyone at any time mean some tactics.  On a whole this work for my opinion.

So, including areas like this in the other locations in the galaxy.  Provide a familiar landscape but entering the area was Open slather PvP and having missions in there means unless people want to do it, attachment to the Conquest events which are often on a couple of planets I think you will have something as successful as the Gree event was and providing there was a decent incentive for those to venture in there, special decorations, mounts and the like means it will be good and makes the conquest feel that much more part of the battle at large.

Also provide any player from one guild get points for taking down someone from another guild but anyone who has been taken out, is detrimental, some amount of points come off.  Could win/trading be a part of it if guilds with Republic and Imperial versions could do it.  So getting the balance right is important.  But if you make it only minor but the number of kills for each missions as bonuses etc… can add. 

What about the Guild Flagship Raiding?  Something I have been thinking of for some time is, guilds have flagships now, we can now move them from planet to planet which then give us boosts for conquest events.  Provide Guild PvP raiding of other populated flagships.  This can make the conquests more person, provide the raiding only on a specific day, to enable the guilds to prepare.  Enable flagship decorations to be defences that can help your guild from being raided.  The issue with this is alerting guild members their flagship is being raided by another guild.

Outpost Attacks

One of the things I liked with World of Warcraft is, when the opposite faction raids an outpost.  Messages would appear telling players this was happening.  This it is up to the player to determine if they wish to join in.  Link this to the Fleet and have those sitting around on fleet, hear an audible announcement that players are attacking the Organa Palace all able members to respond.  Make them sound like the warnings at the time of the Rakghoul events.  It is a buzzer, it audible and then people can jump into their ships on mass to attack the raiders, or repel them. 

This is how it would work;

  1. An imperial invasion force would attack a settlement on a planet.  These are the “PvP” zones, areas where you are flagged to attack anything within them.
  2. An announcement is then broadcast in general chat on the planet.  Then an audible broadcast is sent out on the fleet.  “Attention.  Imperial forces have attacked “Castle Organa”.  We require all available, to proceed to “Alderann” to repel the invaders.
  3. Players can then take their starships or guilds can pilot their flagships into position above the planet.
  4. They can then travel to the location that is being attacked.
  5. Any player that is a member of a guild partaking in the attack and they have their flagship above the planet, they would receive some boost similar to the healing of that done by the GSI satellite on Makeb.
  6. Any guild flagship can also deploy a temporary medical station where players of that faction can respawn when they are felled in battle.  (This is crucial as the attacking side is put out by the distances they must travel to get back into the fray.  But put some caveats around it in that it can’t be within the enemy zone and can’t be within attacking distance of enemy NPCs.
  7. If this planet is one of the conquest planets anyone participating in this action would also get bonus points for the conquest objectives.
  8. Low level players against high level players, the greater the level gap between the players killing another the less bonus points.  So this means it is more beneficial to attack players of similar level.
  9. Provide special mission items that can be retrieved from special locations that enable the deployment of manned turrets similar to those used in Kaon Under Siege or Collicoid War.  Low level players can then man the turrets, they are provided some level of additional defence while manning the turret They do the damage based on the player they are attacking.  level 60 higher damage than a level.
  10. What is the end, in each outpost there is a high level NPC that needs to be killed.  They are similar to many of the champions in that region of the PvP and once defeated then the battle ends, all players partaking will receive extra rewards, achievements, etc…
    1. The objective at the end can be healed and guarded, they do not put out much damage (but this might not always be the case) but they are reliant on the defenders to protect them.
    2. These end objectives must be difficult to get to and difficult to kill. 

There would be a question on what about, going in what about a bunch of stealth characters sneaking in to take the objective, not entirely possible.  It would be any NPC close to the objective would have advanced stealth detecting abilities.  They could sneak into part of the way but they couldn’t.

What about mid fight, stealth out and advance, that could be done much like it is in normal PvP.  But this is greatly hindered. 

What about instances where there is low populations.  Switching instances after a player stealths out.  All players who begin an attack receive a special debuff this debuff only cools down when a player is not in battle.  This debuff prevents players from switching instances or using quick travel,  iIt is 5 minutes.  Players defending do not receive this debuff.  If attacking players decide to all stealth out, hide for 5 minutes for the time to wait for the debuff then Quick Travel or Change instances they might be seen by NPCs or enemy players.

Then the defending team could switch instances to determine what the happenings, if there are no additional instances, then this is not an issue but the debuff will still be present while in enemy territory.  

Bring the PvP into the game’s greater conflict would help immerse players greater into the galaxy of SWTOR.

Hutt Ball

This is an area which can be a major problem for some people.  There are those who like it, others who hate it.  Me I am neither.  But something I have always felt is Hutt Ball should be a competition on its own.

There is a couple of ways to do this.  Follow the seasons for the normal PvP, which is 8 weeks.  So, in 8 weeks, you are to have all teams face off in a best of 3 elimination.   Then it culminates into a final with a best of 5 can play for the title of Hutt Ball champion.

The systems are in place to record results from games and the games are held at certain times of the day and this is to make sure you get through the number of games.  Is it possible.  I am sure it is as many of the mechanics are in place in the back end there would be a need for some tweaking.

But then enable players to enter and watch the matches going on.  The games going on are in separate instances so this is achievable, enable a selection of which game to watch.   I could even go as far as provide a simple betting system as well.  Get players more involved in it, make it a proper competition and bet on the winner.  I know this could open up all sorts of issues but even if you don’t allow it.  I think it would add to a more immersive galaxy. 

Sabacc and Pazaak

Something called by the community since launch.  BioWare placed a wonderfully addictive game in Knights of the Old Republic called Pazzak.  People have called for this to be included into the game in some form.  There is even a Sabacc table on the Esseless, you can interact with the table but it says, it isn’t taking players at this time..

One on One games, player v player.  Finding cards throughout the galaxy and also from drops from major bosses.  Another PvP experience and one that is not like other games.  I say work it out.

Finally

These are just some of my suggestions for bring PvP into the fore.  We know that BioWare can delivery story, we know they have the mechanics in the game to deliver it but I believe there is one thing that the crowd, all, want more than anything else.  A performance upgrade, moving to DirectX 10, 64 bit clients, or at least making the game perform consistent across the board and not be impacted like it is dependant on the goings on in the world.  When I hit ATL + Z and I get a 10-15 fps boost in performance there is a massive issue.  We want updates but I believe BioWare would by some leverage if they came out and said, guys, we are working on Migrating to (an example) Frostbite 3, we will be releasing a version on the PTS come June.  We will not release anything else until this is done. I feel everyone will sit back and say “finally”. 

But the state of the game is open for debate.  We are getting story, more story and some additional minor quality of life issues.  The state of the game as of this day is healthy and it is growing by the day.  But they need to get their arses into gear and look at what is hurting the game the most.  It isn’t the current content out there, it is the performance, the bugs the little things.  Once you have a stable, well performing platform then what you can release the sky is the limits at the moment, the limits are very much imposed on by the very dated and dogged Hero Engine they have used, butchered and hacked to pieces to get it to work.  It performs well, but it is prevalent that the more they add to this engine, the more issues that come from it. 

The Cartel Market gets the most love, new packs new items, items on sale.  The one that gets the least love is performance.  Yes this is lower than PvP but PvP is not far from it.  Is what they have restricting their growth, time will tell.  But for many in the community, time is not a luxury.  They will leave if things don’t improve.

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Posted on February 3, 2015, in Article, Star Wars and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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