Friday, July 31, 2009

Building a Better Fallout: You're SPECIAL

I've been playing a lot of Fallout 3 lately, and while it's a great game, I can't help but wonder if they put any thought into the mechanics of the game, or if they spent the whole development time almost purely on designing the maps. As such, I've discovered a blinding number of things in the mechanics of the game that, had more thought been put into the systems, could have been changed and given the game so much more depth. And what better place to start than on the very place where you always start when playing Fallout: The stats and skills.

For those who don't know, Fallout as a series builds its stats on the SPECIAL system. That is:


These 7 stats, alongside your skills, determine your effectiveness in most everything you do in the game, from having a friendly conversation with the local city folk, all the way to launching a Mini Nuke at the local Super Mutant Behemoth (though you admittedly don't need high skill for the Mini Nuke to be powerful). The problem though is that the SPECIAL stats don't really do much in Fallout 3, and tagging certain skills doesn't do anything outside of a bonus 45 Skill Points. So, without further delay, let's go over the first batch of SPECIAL stats and how they could have been more concrete.

The Strength stat in Fallout 3 is mostly fine, but it feels bland. Ok, so you can carry more. So what? By the time you beat the game you're swimming in caps and ammo even on the hardest difficulty, so why is it important that you're able to carry more junk to sell to vendors? Outside of the occasional Melee-oriented build, Strength isn't really a needed stat for any character. It's easy to ignore while leveling, and when you hit Level 30 you get 9 Strength anyway through the Almost Perfect Perk. At this point either you've already had a lot of Strength through the whole game, or you've learned to cope with having a smaller weight limit.

To flesh it out a bit, the stat should have been kept closer to its roots in the older games, in that a higher Strength is required to effectively use heavier weapons. If your character has a lower Strength stat, he'll have a hard time aiming that Minigun you really want to use. To take it a step further, certain pieces of gear (especially Power Armor) should have required a certain amount of Strength to wear. As it is, you could create a character who can barely lift his head without getting winded, but he's able to stomp around in heavy Power Armor all day long without problem. Perhaps a higher Strength could have diminished the run speed reduction when wearing heavier armors, where a lower strength would make the reduction even worse.

Thus, you have more than just Melee characters who feel the need to take Strength. Now just about any player who wants to use anything heavy (be it a weapon or armor) will need to think twice about lowering their Strength. As it is right now though, a character with a decent load-out of armor and weapons can easily make due with the 160 weight limit set by a Strength of 1.

So you got your Perception to 10 (the max, for those who don't know), congratulations. It now does nothing for you. Well, next to nothing. All that Perception does is effect how close you need to be before the blips on your compass show-up, telling you that there's something ahead. Despite that, even with maxed-out Perception you still practically have to trip over the enemy before their blip is seen. Certainly well within their listening range, so by the time you see the red blip and duck down to hide, they're already on their way to investigate that noise they heard.

Rather, Perception should have been used as an accuracy and "scrounging" stat. Perception would work along-side your weapon skills to help boost your accuracy during VATS mode. Adding to that, when digging through Medical Cases and Metal Boxes, a character with low perception might miss that handy Stimpac, where a character with high Perception would not only find that Stimpac, but the Rad X behind it. Oh, and are those Bottle Caps? Nice! See, now it feels worthwhile to have that higher Perception stat.

Furthermore, Perception could play a roll in the three skills it modifies. At the very least, it should play a roll in lockpicking. Something like a sound queue (such as a particular type of scraping) could be heard when you're nowhere near the "sweet spot" to open the lock. The higher your Perception, the louder that scraping is played, and the easier it is to know when you're wiggling the Bobbypin in a complete dead-zone. Mind you that the half-sweet spots wouldn't make the grinding either, so you'd still have to do a little trial and error to find the perfect spot once you're outside of the scraping.

This would make Perception a useful stat for Marksmen (especially Small Guns users), Thief-style characters, and it'd be a good early-game stat for people who want to find that extra Stimpac or stash of ammo in those cases. As it is right now, you could leave Perception at 1 and hardly feel punished.

Here's another stat that can be mostly ignored. Ok, so you have more health. Meh... and the effects on Rad Resistance are mostly negligable since Radiation (ironically) isn't much of a problem in this game anyway (I'll go more into that later). But at the same time, there honestly isn't a whole lot else the stat could have done. Maybe some damage resistance, but that would be negligible as well since either your enemies are barely pricking your health bar, or they're taking it off in chunks, even at high damage resistances. Not to mention that you can get the max 85% pretty easily later in the game anyway, so nevermind that idea.

One thought is that Endurance could play a factor in the drugs in the game. A character with higher Endurance can take more drugs without becoming addicted to them. This would make Endurance a tasty stat for people who like to pop their chems when they get into a tussle, but don't want to risk dealing with the withdrawals of getting addicted too often. It isn't much, but at least when asking the question of "Who wants this stat?" You can give an answer. Perhaps as an add-on to that idea, Withdrawal effects can be made better or worse based on your Endurance, so with a low Endurance, you'd better stay away from Chems or get used to visiting the doctor a lot to get rid of the withdrawal that actually feels hindering (as it is, Withdrawals just lower your SPECIAL stats, which as I stated earlier, don't really seem to do much anyway).

Another idea is that since Endurance is used to modify the Big Guns stat, perhaps a higher Endurance would allow you to more easily carry bigger weapons without being slowed down (not to be mistaken with Strength making it easier to aim). And with Endurance effecting the Unarmed skill, perhaps it could make your blocks with melee weapons more effective. So now we have Melee characters, Big Gun users, and Chem-poppers who would be attracted to this stat because their desired play-style would be hindered without it.

In Closing
That will do for this post. I'll try and get Part II of this posted-up soon as I can and wrap-up the SPECIAL stats section of this, and maybe follow it up with a run-down of different styles of builds and talk about the stats they'd probably opt for, and what they'd be losing in order to get those stats were the above changes applied to the game. Does it suck having to give something up? Sure, but that's the point of creating a character in an RPG. You're good at some things, but there are other things your character might struggle with.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Shiro's Brief WoW History

My main character is a Blood Elf Mage named Balthior. I started-up a guild there named "Silence the Discord" - a quote from the hybrid enemies of System Shock 2 - shortly after Burning Crusade was released. Having started the guild when I was around Level 30, it started as a leveling guild. After some waffling about (PvP vs PvE), I decided I wanted to take the guild into raiding, and given the hours I play games most often, a late-night raiding guild.

We started in Karazhan as most guilds did in the day. Actually no. We started in 5-man content, working to gear-up our freshly-leveled players, while also trying to recruit whom we could. From there we finally worked-up 10 decently geared people, and on a whim we decided to head into Karazhan for the first time to take a shot at the first boss and see how things went. From there, we slowly worked our way from barely being able to kill some of the bosses after a full night's worth of attempting, to eventually cleaning the instance out in a single night, with two groups of 10 people going at it.

The next step was the rough one. We had to work our way from Karazhan which required 10 people, upto the other raid instances that required 25. This is when we teamed-up with another guild, who's name unfortuneately escapes me at the moment. One of our recruits was friends with the leader of the guild (and in fact, came directly from that guild because he couldn't make their raid times). We set-up a date and time when we'd pool our resources together to tackle the first 25-man raid, Gruul's Lair. It was a semi-success.

After a number of raids together, the other guild started wanting to merge with us to make it easier to coordinate the raids. After some thought, I agreed to the matter, but things didn't turn-out quite so well as we would have hoped. Shortly after the merger, we tried to integrate them into the guild community, but they just seemed distant, as-if they didn't care that they were in the guild despite having been so adamant about wanting to merge. Slowly but surely, everyone from the guild funneled-out one by one, followed by one big purge as the last half-dozen or so of them left all at once.

It was a slight hit, but since they'd been slacking on attending raids anyway, we'd mostly been working to recruit anyway, so recovery was fairly quick. After their departure, we finally broke into the 25-man content, finally killing Gruul and eventually moving into Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep. From there the guild had it's highs and lows, I'm sure I could right a whole novel on our Level 70 raiding history. Our Level 70 achievements, to keep it short, include killing such bosses as Magtheridon and Lady Vashj before they were nerfed into obselescence, and making good progress into Black Temple.

Unfortunately for the guild though, progress was dragged to a hault. See, pretty much right from the start of the guild, I always had a hard time nailing-down officers. I'd promote some, of course, and they'd do their job for a while, but seldom stuck around for long. They never left the guild mind you, just vanished, stopped playing the game. For the most part we'd eventually regain contact with them and find out what happened with them, but it still left the guild with basically one leader through it's entire Level 70 endgame process. So what happened was... I took a vacation.

Despite having left an Officer specifically in charge of leading the raids during the week I'd be out of town, raids apparently screeched to a halt the instant I was gone (despite them having done raids just fine in the past during nights I was unable to be online, with that same officer leading in my stead). So I return, and the guild is in shambles. I tried to get raids back on the calendar, but no one showed for the raids anymore, and one by one, everyone except for a tightly-knit group of friends all trickled out. Were it not for the fact that Wrath of the Lich King was around the corner, I'd have probably just recruited to rebuild the raid, but pre-Expansion season is hell to recruit for if you don't already have a static group.

So that was that. The raid group had all but fallen apart, and the next Expansion that would raise the level cap to 80 was just a few months away. Around this time, one of the guild members had invited his friend who plays as a Warrior into the guild (a guild member who was in this group of friends who stuck around). He was green as hell, having not played the game at all in a year or so, so he quickly got a knack for how things worked at Level 70. Before long I decided he would make a good officer for the guild, and currently him and one other officer are the only two to stick around for more than a week without dropping off the face of the Earth.

So here we are now, at Level 80 and raiding Ulduar with something of a council in charge of the raids. Instead of just me trying to keep everyone coordinated, we have the afformentioned Warrior leading the tanks, the other officer leading the healers, and myself trying to keep the DPS and Crowd Control coordinated. It's been a slow climb (partially caused by a surge of apathy on my part), but our new raid group is starting to gel and reach the same level of performance that I was proud to say our old Level 70 raid group had. A lot of it due to the fact that we have fewer raiders leaving. High turn-over and successful raids just don't go hand-in-hand unless you're lucky enough to be recruiting natural pros with said turn-over.

Lately I've been putting a lot of thought into World of Warcraft. Still waffling-about on whether or not I want to pass-on the mantle of leadership to someone else, if I want to continue raiding, or if I want to even continue playing the game even on a casual basis. Were it a single-player game I'd probably just stop playing it for a while, but when you meet and bond with other people while playing a game, it can be hard to just stop.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Idle Thinking: Day One

Greetings all, and welcome to Idle Thinking, my new blog. Posted here will be my random musings, mostly things that pass through my mind while I'm working. My current job being pizza delievery, I tend to have a lot of time to think as I from Point A to Point B, then back to Point A again, hence the name of my blog. My goals for this blog are to work on my writing skills, hopefully to the point where I can maybe make a job of it. I will talk about various things from what I've been playing lately, news bits that I've read about recently, and probably a rant or two... or three or four.

As for me, I am WhiteTigerShiro as many people know me, Shiro or WTS for short. I play World of Warcraft (but who doesn't play it these days?) on the Mal'Ganis server. Outside of WoW, I play a variety of games. I often referred to myself as being a "wandering gamer" (or The Wandering Sage when I joined a community called the RPG Elite) in that I seldom would play a game for more than a few weeks before deciding to move-on and play something else. It's part of why my favorite quote is from Tolkien: Not all who wander are lost. I was never looking for a "favorite" game to nestle into, I just enjoyed such a variety of games that I could never tie myself down to just one.

The result is that I met with a lot of communities, most of them localized on the GameFAQs forums, though perhaps my favorite was the Samus.Co.Uk forums, or SCU as we quickly came to call it. As the name would imply, it was a Metroid community, a nice and tightly-knit group of Metroid fans, but we talked about everything from here to there on those forums. I made a lot of friends there, maybe a couple enemies. The community sadly dissolved when the web host grew disillusioned with a series of sub-par Metrioid releases and decided to move onto greener pastures. It's unfortunate that he was unable to keep the site up for the sake of the community, but such is life.

So here I am now, rambling-on to (hopefully) a bunch of strangers. I suppose that will do for one day, honestly it's more than I thought I'd write, but that's part of what I wanted with this blog, someplace where I can just wind-up and be set-down to see what interesting trick I do while the dial turns. No saying how frequently I'll be updating the blog, but I'll certainly try and keep it updated more often than VG Cats. Hm... no, that doesn't narrow it down enough. I'll try and keep her updated at least once a week though. ;)


PS: This is a blog that I want for people to read, and enjoy reading. So I welcome any input anyone has for me. Be it how the blog appears, things I talk about (or should talk about), etc. No guarantees that I'll do everything everyone sends, but it's good to see what people are thinking so that I can take it into consideration.

Edit: I cropped my tangent on my history on Mal'Ganis and made it into a new post.