The Results are in…

29 10 2009

… and the verdict is:

Build a Crafting Guide!

That’s what the majority of votes asked for. Turns out that no one cares about how to balance stats against one another to build a character, so hey – I’ll drop the topic. Less work for me; hurrah. I’ll indeed likely have to come back to work on the Chanter-specific guide, and I’ll talk more about them as soon as I get farther in the game and can thus have a better grasp of the class’s full dynamics.

There were also a handful of votes for “something else.” I’m not sure what these mean, as there’s no comments or E-mail that I’ve got to explain them. So, for cuiosity’s sake, I’ll make some guesses:

Combat Mechanics: There’s a fair set of nuances here, some of which I’ve covered with my statistics guide. There is more to talk about here, though, such as the order-of-operations (and thus knowing what has priority), the simultaneity confound, its effects and potential benefits, and other intricate elements of the combat engine. It’s a fun topic for experimentation and evaluation, but then I don’t know if I can codify a substantive guide out of it.

Grinding Optimization: This has been done. Given the level and ranking of enemies you can handle and your level, you can simply look up the set of enemy types that you can handle at aionwh.com – simply go to the tools section, and go to the Grind Optimizer (no direct links because the site runs on ajax – yay for simple directions!). So, if you’re wondering if you’re actually fighting the right type of stuff, you can use this little tool as a sanity check for your efficiency.

Gathering Guide: The question of “What stuff is where?” is already solved by aionarmory.com’s Gatherables section – every resource type that’s been encountered has its possible locations tagged on the appropriate maps. The mechanics governing these gathering attempts are synonymous with the mechanics governing crafting, so they’ll be covered in my crafting guide. Is there something I’m missing here, some other solution needed for understanding how to go about gathering materials? If so, let me know.

PvP Guidelines: I don’t think I’ll ever be as good at explaining good PvP guidelines compared to other players. I’m proficient in duels, and I have a fair grasp of scaled PvP combat by and large, but I’m no stellar player. I’m afraid that if you’re looking for more information on how to take down human-controlled adversaries, you’ll need to keep searching for a good, comprehensive approach. Be careful about the approach you execute, though: you will lose some fights, and if you go out into the world expecting to win everything you will be disappointed. I guarantee it.

However, I should note that it’s okay to lose. After all, your loss is someone else’s win, which at least makes that person feel better. If you don’t get depressed and angry about losing the fight, then there’s only gain to be had. Otherwise, it’s a zero-sum game: one side goes up, and the other side goes down equally. If it’s a zero-sum game, then on average you don’t gain anything. If there’s no gain, then why are you spending your time on it? I encourage you to take advantage of your losses as well as your wins, so that there’s always a positive takeaway.

Also, win or lose, don’t be an asshole. The last thing this game needs is more assholes.

Other: I’m really not sure if there’s other stuff out there that’s substantial enough to warrant a full guide. Other classes, perhaps, but I’m no expert on anything outside of what I’ve played (Gladiator and Chanter). Other than that, I’m a little lost. But, just because I’m lost doesn’t mean I can’t help, per se. If there’s something I’m missing, do feel free to tack it on here – I’ll find a way to make it fit, independent of my severe lack of free time lately.

So, there are some other possibilites. For now, however, I’ll be conserving my focus to building a comprehensive crafting guide. Some topics I know I’ll cover:

  1. Basics of crafting: What crafts are there, what do they provide, and how a player can acquire and improve any craft.
  2. Crafting algorithm architecture: How do the two bars work, and how can a player minimize his chance of failure.
  3. High-Quality production: What is a high-quality product, what factors influence creating them, and what to do to turn a profit with high-quality materials.
  4. Powerleveling approaches: Is the process of leveling crafting best done in tandem with leveling, or afterwards, and what arguments support either side.
  5. Meta-crafting: How a player can make the most of the craft-leveling process, and how to handle the unavoidable downtime.
  6. Advanced topics: To be extended for high-level crafting quests; Expert Craft requisites, limitations, and benefits; Other problems/questions posed.

The Advanced section will be empty in the first pass of this guide, as I can’t really speak to Expert crafting just yet, but I’ll add to it as soon as I can in the near future. If there’s something you think is missing, let me know now – I’ll work it in as best I can before actually posting the guide.

Gunsmith of Williamsburg: a comprehensive documentary of gunsmithing, if my guide takes too long.

So, there ya have it. The results say that people want to learn about crafting, and so I shall deliver. Yay for a free, long weekend ahead! Games, storytelling, and guide-writing are all on the horizon – such a welcome break from network graph transformations and sleep plasticity experiments.

In the Meanwhile: Check out The Gunsmith of Williamsburg for a comprehensive look at just what hand-tooling your own equipment can require. Sure, the movie’s about crafting a rifle, rather than a plate hauberk or wooden stave, but I think there’s a lot of overlap. It’s a shame how little we appreciate the enormous acceleration of crafting in current video games. That said, the actual process behind making this stuff is super cool, in my opinion – check it out!

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“What do the Numbers Mean?” Guide Released

28 09 2009

UPDATE: The Guide is complete! There’s still a bit of cleaning for me to do in the near future, but by and large everything regarding the actual core stats is available in the guides section. Enjoy!

I love my numbers work, and so I’m going to be moving the project to a more permanent space. I’m also going to convert the information into a more easily-navigable format. If you want to view the information from all of my “What do the Numbers Mean?” explorations, simply click on the “Guides” section of the top toolbar.

Note: this is still a work in progress. I’m in the process of writing up segments for each of the remaining stats, so it’ll be a while before everything is as pristine as I would like. I just figured I should let you all know what’s going on, as this will be an incremental process. I’ll update the Blog once everything’s all happy, though, and be sure to give me feedback on what might make the guide easier to navigate!

Additionally, are there other aspects of the game that you would like to see explained? I know that information about specific classes is pretty prized, So I may start up a Guidelet on what I find to be good in playing a Chanter properly, as well as habits to avoid. What else would you like to see?





How can we Estimate Better?

23 09 2009

Here’s a fun, surprisingly relevant problem that Aion’s creators doubtless have been wrestling: how do we estimate, and how can we do it better?

You can look at it like this – Go, extended metaphor!

How many Jellybeans are in the jar?

How many Jellybeans are in the jar?

Imagine that you’re working at a summer camp, and today you’re in charge of distributing snacks. All that’s on hand is a large glass jar full of jellybeans. There’s no way that you can see all of the jellybeans from any one angle, and there’s too many to reasonably count out one-by-one if you poured them out. All of the kids in the camp will be heading out for snack in about fifteen minutes, and they will each have a dish into which you should put 10 jellybeans. Any leftover jellybeans are thrown away – all those grimy hands in the jar is just bad news.

Now, there are a couple things you can do in those fifteen minutes. You can run to the store and buy more jellybeans, if you think you’ll need more. You can also siphon off some of the jellybeans for safe-keeping, so they don’t have to be thrown away.

Your goal, then, is to balance the amount of jellybeans on hand to feed all of the kids in the camp with the least possible waste (all that spare money for more jellybeans comes out of your paycheck, by the way!). There’s nothing you can do to be sure that your ratio will 1:1 fit with the number of kids in the class – how best do you get close to it?

There’s a few approaches:

  • Better safe than sorry is a common answer. Buy extra beans, and no worries if they have to get canned. A typical conclusion, especially from the consumers of America: we have stuff to spare, and a feeling of infinite dump space. A little extra waste won’t hurt anyone, and we’ll guarantee that everyone gets something to eat. Not a bad approach when the resource is cheap, and excess material has no real consequence.
  • Or perhaps you’re more clever than that: buy the extra jellybeans, then siphon them off to clean storage. From storage, you only replenish the jar as necessary to meet the demand of the kids. This works well if the kids are patient enough for you to refill the jar. Hungry, screaming children are rarely willing to wait any longer than absolutely necessary for food – standing in line while staring at other kids eating their jellybeans just sucks from their perspective.
  • A third approach, if only to illustrate the multiple options: use a back-off handout system. Kids at the front of the line get the normal amount of jellybeans, but when the jar hits half-full, you ration it out a little more sparingly: 9 beans per kid instead of 10, for instance. Cut back more as your supply dwindles until you see the end in sight. This isn’t a fair distribution, but gets something to everyone with a constant supply of jellybeans.

There’s a lot of options, and each one tries to address the hard balance: how much supply do you put up front, given how many people are coming, when you don’t know how far a given amount will actually go?

The problem can get a lot harder, too. Imagine that, instead of working at a camp, you’re catering youth events at your local park: now you have no measure of how many people will show up today, and you can’t safely extrapolate how many people will come in the future based on today. Essentially, when you remove the constraint on how many people are coming, managing your jellybeans gets even harder. After all, you can’t hold enough jellybeans for everyone in the world, and getting as much as you can would be horrendously wasteful if only a handful of kids show up on a rainy Tuesday.

Talk about a negative edge on approximation, huh? The point I’m trying to illustrate is that estimation is hard. At the same time, estimation is an integral part of our lives, and we need to estimate several things every day. From supplying food for kids to tracking gas used in our cars to guessing how many groceries we need to get through the week, we have to make guesses about what’s going to happen in the future. Sometimes we use measurements to help us: our cars have gas meters to help us track our fuel consumption. Sometimes we use past history: I’ve only needed one gallon of milk each week for the past year, so I don’t think I should buy two this week.

But then, sometimes our easy comparators are unavailable. There’s no scale handy for my huge jar of jellybeans, and this is a new job. How can you hope to gain some intuition into feeding kids that you’ve never met, with an unknown amount of food? Intuition here is going to be crucial – with intuition, we can guess with more certainty, and know that our errors will be less drastic if they do occur.

  1. Know what you know. This may sound trivial, but it’s important. Let’s look at the youth events in a park example again: I said there’s no way to know how many kids are coming, right? We can at least place some of the limitations we know in effect, and that will give us some bounds for estimation. Say the city has only 50,000 inhabitants. The activity at the park is oriented for kids, and probably has some age restrictions; if the kids are all supposed to be within 9 to 14, that’s likely to be within 10% of the town’s population. So, that’s just 5,000 kids, at maximum. Another good question is “how big is the park itself?” if it’s small, you likely can’t fit all 5,000 kids in there at once. If there are sister events happening across town, you can divide your maximum attendance down accordingly. So, I don’t know how many people are coming, but I do know that it won’t be more than X, based on the parameters here.
  2. Ignore precision. I think this is fairly clear from all of my examples, though you might be a bit uneasy in doing it yourself. Just remember that the details in estimation are irrelevant: 38,475 people are the same as 10,000. The paradigm my suite-mate told me was “the only numbers you use in estimation are 1, a few, and 10. Multiply them together as necessary to get the estimates you need.” Even “a few” is extemporaneous. So, for jellybeans: we’ve got a jar, and it’s got some dimensions to it. We know that jellybeans have smaller dimensions, and we can use knowing what we know to figure out how many jellybeans could fit in the space presented (comparing volumes is fun, I promise). So, maybe we can fit 20,000 jellybeans into the space ideally: it’s now 10,000, as far as I’m concerned. How many kids in class? 84? Nah, it’s just 100. If those hold, I should be able to give 100 jellybeans to each kid with the supply in the jar. That’s not going to be accurate, but that’s why we’re estimating – all we want is a ballpark figure.
  3. Know the cost of over- and under-estimating. If you over-estimate and have way too many jellybeans, what happens? If you’re short, what happens to the kids that don’t get any? If failing one way or the other is going to have a substantially worse consequence, weight your estimation accordingly. For instance, starving the kids is bad; throwing away spares is less bad. I’d therefore overstock and expect to throw some away – at least no kid goes hungry. If I’m estimating my gas, however, under-estimating is the way to go; I don’t want to drive my car on fumes unless I absolutely have to.
  4. See, you can be cute AND comfortable with imprecision!

    See, you can be cute AND comfortable with imprecision!

    Be comfortable with the imprecision. This one is key. No matter what you do, estimations are never replacements for algorithms or equations. Algorithms and equations operate on known input formats, and produce known output formats. In contrast, estimation is about making a reasonable output for some loosely-bounded inputs. Do not expect accuracy. Just be comfortable with getting a decent guess. More often than not, that’s all you’ll need: do you really need to know how many feet you’re going to get on your tank of gas, or is three hundred miles, give or take, enough information for you? Your only goal is to get a good-enough result; if that’s not enough for you, then move on to fitting your system into an algorithm.

So, why not algorithm everything? Simply put, algorithm implementation takes longer and requires fairly strict bounds on input formats. Estimation sacrifices those bounds for a faster, less-accurate conclusion. If you can force strict bounds on your input, and care about accuracy, then you should take the time to implement the algorithm.

Okay, so we’ve gone over jellybeans a bit more than necessary – why does this stuff matter? Aion and I have both been doing a lot of estimation lately:

Aion:

The Aion team estimated the number of servers and population limitations per server for pre-release and release. This has led to countless complaints across forums and such about very long queues. Remember my second solution for feeding a summer camp? Yeah, all those people in the queue are whining because they’re staring at the other players who are already in the game. Turns out adults aren’t any more patient than little kids – we all feel entitled to have what other people get at the same time. Aion is pretty brilliant in their implementation of this, I have to admit, and yes I get to wait in a queue every day when I try to play. Sometimes I can’t play as a result (too much work). In fact, A lot of this was written while I was waiting in those queues!

So, why are the queues brilliant? Because Aion delivers a promise to their players of a reliable gaming experience. They could have taken the route of other MMOs and ignored server population caps, and watch the game degrade in many ways:

  • Players would have higher competition for materials because there would be a higher player density.
  • Players would have to handle more computation on their end to compensate for the player density, compromising any machines that aren’t well above the game’s recommended specifications.
  • Players would experience substantial connection latency from the server, as it would be operating beyond its own specified capacity (this one may be seen even as we are; those global lag spikes are a by-product of an overclocked server).

Aion: the new exclusive getaway

Aion: the new exclusive getaway

Aion circumvented these issues by implementing a queue. The game then becomes a fixed population-per-server environment, with transparent information for players in the queue (how long the line is, and an estimate of the queue time – look there, more estimation!). So there’s that benefit. They also knew the cost of over- and under-estimation. Over estimating and providing too many servers would have killed many of the servers. Under estimating simply creates queues, which – contrary to popular belief – actually builds suspense and makes players want to get in. Suddenly, the game world feels a bit like an exclusive party. Not everyone can be inside at once, but we’re willing to wait for half an hour or so to get a chance to hang out inside. Admittedly, the first couple of days were more than half an hour, but it’s gotten better for me with every day. That said, Aion is likely surprised that they underestimated the interest in the game.

Note that I didn’t put “check your history” as part of the intuition for estimation. This is because the past is very often misleading. Just because the past ten coin flips I’ve performed have come up “heads” doesn’t mean the next coin flip is any more likely to be “tails.” Likewise, kids that haven’t been hungry for jellybeans the past week may be really craving them this week, or may be genuinely sickened by the gooey things. Aion likely looked to other game releases and saw just how many pre-subscriptions went from CB to OB to Live, and expected those trends to carry over here. They then prepped for that level of decay; they didn’t expect such a high percentage of their subscribers to actually stay on. I think they shouldn’t have underestimated their potential, though: we kids were craving a new MMO experience more than even we realized.

My only critique is the exploitative nature of private shops. Once open, your character is not checked for inactivity, and is therefore never disconnected. 1.6 is bringing with it a catch for bots that are camping resource nodes; with any luck, they’ll bring a limiter on shop duration (say two or three hours) along with it. Don’t get me wrong – I do like the legit shops that are out on the frontier. They can save me a lot of travel time if they happen to have what I’m looking for, even if it is a little pricier. But then, the afk chumps aren’t adding anything to anyone’s game experience when they’re trying to sell bandages for one billion kinah each.

Me:

I did a lot of estimation in my first post on “What do the Numbers Mean,” and I’ve been doing some more for the second one (Coming soon!). For instance, I assume that Parry stops 50% of the damage on an incoming swing. It may be closer to 30% or 40%, given some reading I’ve done, but I’m not convinced. I estimated 50% based on the admittedly small in-game sample, and compared it to the other avoidance/mitigation stats. Parry is meant to be middle-of-the-road in terms of mitigation, so the amount mitigated fits very nicely at 50%. Again, it could be more or less, and it could even scale with weapon quality – just like the shields. However, 50% is enough of a ballpark for me.

Of course, I could work out algorithms for these things, and for some I’ve figured out the equations. Yet I don’t stress over those too much. Instead, I base my intuition here on the premise that Aion is a diverse game, so stats should likewise be diverse. I find it highly unlikely that any one stat will trump all other available attributes, but I guess time will prove that right or wrong.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to go play. My queue time is finally expired, so I’m gonna get back to the game! In the meanwhile, for all of you whiners out there, I challenge you to present here a better solution for Aion’s release. To say “they’re doin it rong” is one thing, but if you can’t do it better, then who are you to judge? Show me that you can; I’m always curious to hear more solutions, and any truly valid solutions will doubtless be good to preserve for future game releases.





What’s a Weave?

17 09 2009

The following is presently an open problem in Aion. There are many people who will tell you they know the solution, but there is yet to be any conclusive evidence that convinces me of an actual solution. Moreover, most so-called solutions look at a particular case, rather than the general.

The basic problem is this:

Every character in Aion is capable of performing auto-attacks. Every physical damage dealer also has instant special abilities to deal damage. A character can only be performing one action at a time, however; instant special attacks and auto-attacks must happen in some form of interleaving structure. Every ability has an associated delay, implying a possible limit to the number of special abilities. Given this, what’s the best way to prioritize your auto-attacks and special abilities?

I don’t have a concrete solution to the problem myself. I believe it’s an open problem for a reason; each case depends on the number of special attacks available in a given time period and the strength of special attacks versus auto-attacks. The speed of the weapon in question is also an important component: faster weapons have identical special attack cooldowns, but shorter auto-attack cooldowns. Thus, each case is likely to have different results under optimization.

I would like to give some general intuition for solving this problem for a given particular case. That is, if you know the number of special attacks, their blackout periods, their cooldowns, and the speed of your weapons, you should be able to guess a good solution from the advice here. You can then tweak the information to fit your particular playstyle. Perhaps I can test out the general solution in the future, but I don’t really plan to test out Assassins, Gladiators, and Rangers that extensively.

First, let’s look at some key aspects of physical damage combat:

The Auto Attack:
Every character in Aion can perform these. based on the weapon equipped, and any Attack Speed modifiers, your auto-attacks will land at set intervals from one another in time. The time is listed on your character sheet. As a general rule, faster attack speeds lead to smaller damage values per swing for weapons of equal worth. The auto-attack swing timer is always running in the background once auto-attack is activated (though it is presently rather buggy because of an underlying implementation error).

Instant Special Attacks:
Most every special attack for physical damage dealers is instant; cast times are avoided so as to make the Concentration stat a non-issue for Warrior and Scout classes. When any special attack is executed, the auto-attack swing timer is allegedly reset. The reset in time occurs at the beginning of the animation period (as soon as your action bar blacks out), or what is sometimes referred to as the Global Cooldown.

Blackout Period / Global Cooldown:

Whenever a special ability is activated (completion of a spell cast or an instant ability is activated), your action bar will fade. During this period, no other action can be performed (though movement and jumping are sometimes preserved). The Blackout Period in Aion is not constant across abilities. For instance, a Priest’s buff spells can be cast within 1 second of each other, while many Gladiator special attacks have a blackout period nearing or exceeding 2 seconds (most are closer to 1 second, to be fair). This difference may not seem substantial, but it means that player reactions must revolve around individual skills, rather than a single Global time (turns out that this is harder to do optimally). Auto-attacks cannot occur during any Blackout Period.

Cooldowns:

Every special attack also has an associated Cooldown. Because most abilities are ridiculously cheap for Warriors and Scouts (remember from the Numbers post: MP is not a limiting resource for them), the cooldowns of the attacks become the limiting factor. Cooldowns vary from attack to attack, but most attacks used in a regular rotation require eight to twenty seconds of downtime before they can be used again.

Okay, that’s all elementary-school stuff, right? I just want to make sure Aion-specific traits of these terms are clear.

Now, some of the common solutions to the optimal interleaving of special attacks and auto-attacks:

Auto-Attack Only:

Auto-Attacks Only: damage is inflicted on every blue "A." 13 attacks in 12s.

Auto-Attacks Only: damage is inflicted on every blue "A." 7 attacks in 12s.

This one is rare, but important in a few key situations. Namely, when your weapons swing so quickly that even chaining special attacks is slower than your auto-attack speed. In such situations, the slower special attacks may hit a bit harder, but the lost speed could actually be a detriment to your damage output.

Burn Everything Early:

Special Attacks Only: damage is inflicted on every orange "S." The auto-attack swing timer continues to update, but there is never an opening for a blue "A." 8 attacks executed in 12s.

Special Attacks Only: damage is inflicted on every orange "S." The auto-attack swing timer continues to update, but there is never an opening for a blue "A." 8 attacks executed in 12s.

Many people claim (without evidence) that chaining together every special attack available as soon as it becomes available is the best way to deal damage. The intuition is that, because the abilities are special, they should take priority: they likely deal more damage and have important effects to get on the table (debuffs, stuns, etc.). Proper chaining of skills will lead to more attacks per second than generic auto-attacks for a slow weapon, with the added bonus of landing debuffs. Especially in late game, when your special attack list becomes long enough to fill a full 20-second rotation with no gaps, this becomes a very appealing option.

Weave Attacks:

Weaved Attacks: damage is inflicted on every blue "A" and orange "S." 13 attacks in 12s.

Weaved Attacks: damage is inflicted on every blue "A" and orange "S." 13 attacks in 12s.

The middle-of-the-road approach. The Weaving approach takes advantage of instant special attacks’ resetting of the auto-attack swing timer. That is, as soon as an auto-attack occurs, a special attack can be used without slowing down the auto-attack’s timer. Thus, a small pause is included after each special attack to allow for the next auto-attack to land. Remember that, in the Burn Everything Early approach, there should be no gaps in the rotation; as a result, no auto-attacks will land. By loosening the rotation correctly, one or two special attacks can be removed from a given 20-second rotation to allow for a number of auto-attacks (6 to 10, depending on your swing timer and tightness or rotation). This will give you more hits, but the auto-attacks are likely to be weaker than the special attacks on a one-to-one basis.

So, which approach is best? It’s all a matter of trade-offs. Each approach has its strengths, and the relative benefit to a player will vary with gear and available skills. As I said, it’s an open problem. Let me try to give some insight into some trends I’ve seen, though:

  • Filling a rotation with only special attacks removes the need for a fast weapon. The weapon simply becomes a stat stick; the one that best benefits your damage with special abilities subsequently becomes the best weapon overall. This means that attack speed bonuses on the weapon are irrelevant (unless the Blackout Time is affected by weapon speed – I don’t believe this to be true, but I haven’t encountered it yet so I can’t say for sure). It seems a little unusual that a stat of such relative worth would be useless to the highest level classes, simply because leaving no space for auto-attacks actually leads to more damage.
  • Filling a rotation with only special attacks only works once a rotation can be filled. What I mean is, you won’t have a full rotation at lower levels. When you can’t fill your rotation, you’ll have blank time no matter what you do. The auto-attacks here have, in my experience, come out to be roughly equal to the number of auto-attacks gained from a weaving approach at lower levels.
  • Weaving Attacks will perform better with a weapon speed that is closer to the Blackout Time of your special attacks than with a weapon that is really off from your Blackout Times. The closer they synch, the less time you have to wait for the next auto-attack. Therefore, there’s less blank space in your rotation not being devoted to special attacks.
  • Weaving inside a chain attack is almost always a bad idea; The chains tend to be tightly timed in and of themselves, so I find that they are best treated as a single, long-Blackout Time special attack.
  • Weaving around every attack may leave out too many critical abilities. In tandem with the note above, don’t let waiting for auto-attacks push important debuffing abilities or key high-damage abilities out of rotation. There are likely a couple filler abilities that can be lowered in priority – they are the best options to drop if your rotation is getting particularly tight.
  • Weaving will perform better under a lower latency. The closer you can time your special attack to the start of your auto-attack, the less swing-time you’ll end up clipping by restarting your swing timer. This is the best way to tighten a rotation, and some practice will allow you to predict when an auto-attack should land so you can pre-empt the server and have the two attacks land at nearly the same time.
  • Auto-Attacks are powerful. They miss out on the special effects and damage boosts of special attacks, but they do hit surprisingly hard. Their value should not be ignored.
  • Burst damage will behave very differently between approaches. A full chain-skill set will likely execute the most burst damage, but two single special abilities will likely benefit from having an auto-attack woven between them for three hits in the time of two-and-a-bit.

How would I approach the problem? I’ll give two case studies. First, I spent a lot of time on a Gladiator in the Closed Beta. I started out just chaining my abilities, then auto-attacking while the cooldowns spun. The performance felt a bit lack-luster. When I tried weaving in some auto-attacks between abilities, the cooldown timers suddenly started to synch more evenly: I had exactly the right special ability come up as soon as my auto-attack triggered. Suddenly, instead of the one auto-attack that fit in the open window at the end of my rotation, I was seeing three or four auto-attacks land in the exact same time-frame. No special attacks needed to be cut: I just got two extra swings every twelve seconds for exercising some patience. I subsequently stuck with weaving my attacks on my Gladiator.

Second approach, on my Chanter: I had fewer special abilities, so my intuition was to go with the approach that had worked on my Gladiator. I figured that this way, I’d be able to spread out my abilities and cut down on the downtime. It worked nicely. Then, curious as I was, I started trying to chain my abilities together as tightly as possible. I figured that if I could tighten my special attacks into one block of the rotation time, the other half of the rotation would be completely open. Turns out that I performed the same number of auto-attacks on a supertight rotation as I did on a nicely weaved rotation. Interesting. But, when I started getting lazy, I saw problems. When waiting between attacks because of inattention or some such, the little phases of open time cut into the block of blank time at the end of the rotation. As a result, a loose burn-all-specials-first approach yielded fewer auto-attacks in a given rotation.

As you can see, results change based on the situation. Either of those case studies may have behaved differently with more or less abilities to consider, or with differently timed weapons. I never had to choose between two auto-attacks and one special attack, for instance, which could have a whole range of trade-offs. I like that this is an open problem, though: if players can execute well-thought-out solutions, it will be a good indicator of how well they understand the game mechanics and, hopefully, the game itself. I look forward to hearing more about this subject, and in particular some thoughtful counter-examples to the boringly-easy “chain everything together immediately” approach.





Where are the sheep?

15 09 2009

Just a small one for today – Tuesday’s kinda suck for me, so I’ll hold off on the bigger posts for now.

I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what’s worth saying about the numbers of Aion (get super-specific and run more equations, or stay as general, or get more vague). I like the specificity to a point, but I don’t want to build carbon copies of every formula that Aion runs underneath: I don’t want to unravel the game that way. That kind of analysis has become constituent in WoW, and it really sucks in my opinion. No one has to think for themselves when the game tells you what does what, down to .01% accuracy: just pick the most efficient stat and roll. Carbon copies from that are lame. I like to explain how things work – I just worry about too much depth, if only for my own sake.

So, if you ever happen to be working with me in game, know that I’m open to experimentation. Anyone working in software will tell you straight-up that there’s always more than one solution to a problem: don’t be afraid to look for an alternative that works better for you.

On a side note, the Health base stat (and it’s effect on HP) in Aion thoroughly confuses me. My guess at this point is that the stat acts as the exponent of some base value, yielding the roughly quadratic equations that people observe. However, there are other coefficients at work that don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason – certainly no basis on the Health value itself (A Spiritmaster has a lot more HP than a Sorcerer, yet their Health value is identical at every level – …wut?). I’ll keep looking around for insights on that one, I guess.

Now, for the main article: Critters!

cheepcheep cheep cheep-cheep!

cheepcheep cheep cheep-cheep!

Aion is home to many cute creatures, some of which you have to kill (Those poor Danu’s, my friend Bran was so sad about having to kill them), and some of whom are just around for the scenery. Aion’s pretty special: they really went out of their way to rename every critter out there.

These little Methu, for instance. They make me think of Kiwis who have eaten kiwi fruits. They’re impressively round. Their eggs are pretty huge too. They make little chiruppy sounds if you listen closely; I was amused when I came across them.

There were squirrel-like critters, as well. They were pretty adorable, and skittered away whenever you got too close to them. I believe they were called Elroco’s, but that’s likely changed since the CB’s textual overhaul.

Must resist looklookin at you pun...

Must resist "Looklookin' at you" pun...

And thank goodness for that! Now we get Mumu Looklooks! Need moar Looklooks at the front gate! Oh, and the highsitters are getting lazy – I only got shot at once from all the towers I ran past in OB – I just started to ignore the bow-users.

I do miss the standard exploding sheep of WC2 sometimes, but I think I’ll be content with chubby birds and Looklooks. They may not be the most serious thing ever, but any good game knows to not take itself too seriously – it loses realism. There’s a fine balance, and I really think Aion is pushing for that ideal. I just hope they don’t lose sight of that mix as I experience their mid- and end-game content.

What’s the best part of Naxx10/25? That’s right, killing Mr. Bigglesworth (Inadvertantly AoEing maggots was admittedly a close second, but they’re pretty slimy).





What do the Numbers Mean (Part 1)?

13 09 2009

This is the first installment in a series of posts I’ll be putting up periodically (They’ll be interspersed with other posts). The goal of this series is to explore the relevance of the various statistics in the game. I’ve played a lot with different characters since the second Closed Beta, and knowing which stats do what is a key component to building an effective character.

The numbers, what do they all mean?

The numbers, what do they all mean?

We all want effective characters, right? No one wants to be a sitting duck for World PvP.

So we’ll take a look at some of the basic stats now. There’s more to be discussed in the future, but that’s why this is a series.

Warning: this is a long one. Every class has these stats, but only some classes care about some stats, so feel free to jump through to just the parts you care about.

Stats that can be acquired through early Mana Stones:

  • HP (Hit Points)

HP is a fancy, video-game convention for health. Two characters is easier to encode than six – go efficiency.

This one is pretty straight-forward: every incoming attack that bypasses all of your defensive attributes deducts from your HP. If your HP drops to or below 0, your character “dies.” Of course, Daevas are immortal, so your character doesn’t stay dead for long. Nevertheless, dying is a serious hassle (You have to wait for a rez or respawn at your obelisk, suffering a penalty either way). From a downtime perspective, death is the single worst devourer of time – avoid it.

So, staying alive is good – I’m glad our survival instincts are still intact. Now, how helpful is HP at improving survivability? I’d argue that it’s the best tool available at low levels. At higher levels, this may change, but HP is extremely powerful at the opening of the game. Why? Because every attack hits it, be they physical or magical. Parry and Physical Defense can help against melee, while Elemental Defense can help against spells, but HP helps against both. Moreover, every class can access the stat: there’s no need for a shield to get mileage out of HP.

From a survival perspective, HP is the last line of defense. You’d obviously much rather resist or dodge incoming fire, but I’ll wager that 100% avoidance isn’t a possibility in this game. If you can’t avoid every attack, then it’s best to be prepared for those attacks that will break through the front lines: a poor last line will only earn you more quality time with the Obelisks of Atreia.

  • MP (Magic Points)

This is the magical counterpart to HP. Every character in Aion has MP, and every character uses MP when executing special abilities. For Warrior and Scout classes, these stats are largely irrelevant: the latent MP regeneration of all characters tends to keep pace with the rate of use (their abilities are dirt cheap, in other words – MP is meant to be a non-issue, at least for fights under five minutes in duration). For Priest and Mage classes, however, MP plays a big role in gameplay.

Running out of MP isn’t dangerous on its own. 0 MP will not kill your character, but it will place you in a risky situation: without MP, you can’t perform any special abilities. You can think of MP as the fuel of your character: you won’t explode when you run out, but you’ll have to manually push your character the rest of the way home. Again, this is less of a problem for Scouts and Warriors: their normal attacks are likely enough to get them through to a rest point. Mages and Priests use at least some magical attacks, however, and their melee abilities are far less potent (Chanters excluded).

Narrowing the scope to Priests and Mages, how important is more MP? Having more doesn’t hurt – it’s a boost to longjevity, therefore reducing downtime. However, I’m hesistant to recommend it for anything more than a healing class; for dealing damage, there are better choices.

For Sorcerers, Spiritmasters, and offensive Clerics:
imagine that you’re in a car. Think of MP as your fuel tank, and Magic Boost as your engine. The stronger your engine, the better you convert fuel into energy. Likewise, the more Magic Power you have, the more damage you deal with each point of MP spent attacking. Meanwhile, increasing the size of your fuel tank will also increase the amount of energy you can produce; You simply won’t be able to produce that energy as quickly without a stronger engine. Increasing your MP does the same thing: you’ll be able to deal more damage, but your damage per second will not improve.

For Chanters and defensive Clerics: if you’re running out of MP in your healing career, stack on more MP. As far as I can tell, Magic Boost does not influence the strength of healing spells. At all. So, until MP regeneration stats appear in the late game, more MP is the only way to improve your healing capacity.

  • Attack

For physical damage dealers, this is the bread and butter of your damage output. Attack will increase the damage of melee or ranged auto-attacks, as well as the damage of all special attacks that deal physical damage. The base damage of your physical attacks and skills will be one additional point higher for each point of attack you have. That is, if I have a physical attack skill that hits for 20-30 damage, then acquire a new gear piece of gear with +3 attack on it, the skill will hit for 23-33 damage.

How valuable is Attack? In terms of PvE content, it’s likely the most important stat for dealing damage. Attack scales consistently forever; there are never diminishing returns on the value of Attack. The only caveat is to make sure you have enough Accuracy in your gear to avoid being parried and dodged all the time (Note: you’ll never see the word “Parry” spring up when your attacks are parried, as they do when you parry an incoming attack; speciously low numbers are the best indication of having insufficient Accuracy). Physical Critical Hit is also valuable, but is not as reliable (especially in shorter fights). Crit also suffers from diminishing returns late in the game.

For PvP content, Attack becomes less important. Making your critical strikes as likely as possible will quickly outweigh the benefits of increasing the damage of every attack by a little bit. Why? Because a healer sitting on your target will be able to keep up with a steady stream of damage; sharp bursts that are less predictable are your best chance for dropping your target before the healer can react with a big heal. Attack still matters in PvP (bigger crits are bigger), but Crit should take priority until Crit starts to suffer from diminishing returns.

For casting classes, avoid Attack. Attack has absolutely no bearing on your spells, so you won’t hit any harder for having it.

  • Accuracy

This stat is a good thing: Accuracy makes your physical attacks more likely to connect. Rule of thumb: if Attack makes it harder, Accuracy will make it hit more often.

Aside for Math Junkies ahead. On each physical attack, your accuracy is compared to the Dodge, Parry, and Shield Block of the target (if applicable). I believe that each comparison is made independently; I’ll have to test numbers in PvP to get a more accurate model. For the moment, I’ll provide the best-guess equations that I’ve run across:

%ChanceToDodge = (DefenderEvasion – AttackerAccuracy)/10

%ChanceToParry = (DefenderParry – AttackerAccuracy)/10
Note: This requires the Defender to have a physical melee weapon equipped.

%ChanceToBlock = (DefenderShieldDefense – AttackerAccuracy)/10
Note: This requires the Defender to have a shield equipped.

Then, assuming that each of the above checks is performed independently:

%ChanceToBeHit = ((100 – %ChanceToDodge)/100 * (100 – %ChanceToParry)/100 * (100 – %ChanceToBlock)/100)*100

It’s a reverse equation, I realize – You’re the attacker in the above case, so the target’s chance to be hit is the same as your chance to hit the target. Again, I’m also assuming that each of these checks is independent because of a gut feeling; they could be dependant, and therefore added instead of multiplied in the last step. Something about the nature of this equation makes me doubt that, though; there’d be too many opportunities for exploitation.

To get mileage out of this in PvP, you simply need to read your opponent’s stats. take a look at some geared character models and you’ll see the kind of Evasion, Parry, and Shield Block they’re likely to have. For PvE, the problem is harder – we don’t have numerical models for them. So, time for hand-waving estimation!

for a normal monster of level X:

if 1 < X < 10: MonsterEvasion = 40 + 8*X; MonsterParry = 120 + 24*X; MonsterShieldBlock = 120 + 24*X
if 11 < X < 20: MonsterEvasion = 120 + 12*X; MonsterParry = 360 + 28*X; MonsterShieldBlock = 360 + 28*X
if 21 < X < 30: MonsterEvasion = 240 + 16*X; MonsterParry = 640 + 32*X; MonsterShieldBlock = 640 + 32*X

for an elite monster of level X:

Take the number found in the equation above and multiply by 1.5

So that’s some major hand-waving; I have no source for those numbers. They’re likely to vary level by level, and even across mob types. However, I believe the estimations are reasonable – the values are drawn from appropriate-level manastones, which I believe demonstrate part of the game’s expectation of growth.

Either way, those numbers should make a good baseline for physical DPS classes to look at: your accuracy should be enough to at least negate the chance for a monster to parry your attack (every monster I’ve seen so far can parry, even if they don’t seem to have a weapon). Once you reach that, lean towards Attack.

  • Physical Cricial Hit

A critical hit deals double damage to the target. Physical Critical Hit (PCH) increases your chance to score a critical hit with a physical attack (who would’ve guessed?). That said, how much PCH do you need to crit, say, 20% of the time? 50%? 100%?

The best-guess equations that I’ve found so far look like this:

for PCH < 450: %ChanceToCrit = PCH/10

for 450 < PCH < 550: %ChanceToCrit = 45 + (PCH-450)/20

for 550 < PCH: %ChanceToCrit = 50 + (PCH-550)/100

So, there’s a very sharp dropoff once you reach about 450 PCH. Until that divide, the rule of “1PCH = .1% Crit Chance” holds.

I’ll save theorycraft on the benefits of Crit versus Attack for another time. Both PCH and Attack are good, and both are likely to be rare, expensive stats to acquire. Your best bet in the early game is likely to take whichever is more affordable.

  • Magic Boost

For magical damage dealers, Magic Boost is your primary stat for damage output. This is how you strengthen your character’s engine, as I mentioned in the MP section. Warriors and Scouts can pass this section by completely.

I have no formulae for the conversion of Magic Boost into damage, but I can guarantee that it’s less impressive than the conversion of Attack into damage (Magic Boost is anywhere between 8 and 12 times cheaper as a stat compared to Attack, so it rightly provides less benefit per point). However, nearly every target you find in Aion is better at mitigating physical damage than magical damage; you don’t need such a strong conversion to get more power.

Note that Magic Boost only influences offensive spells; healing spells and roots/snares don’t care about how much Magic Boost you have (as far as I know). Thus, only stack Magic Boost if you’ll be casting damage spells; otherwise, look elsewhere.

  • Evasion

Evasion increases your chance to dodge a physical attack. Dodging an attack avoids 100% of the attack’s damage, as well as any abnormal effects the attack may have caused (poison, stun, stumble, etc.). It’s a very powerful stat in terms of survival. Such a powerful stat is likely to be rare, though; it’s about three times as valuable as Parry and Shield block, as far as the game is concerned.

But how much Evasion do I need to get a reasonable chance to dodge incoming attacks? For this, we can look back at the estimations I made when discussing Accuracy.

%ChanceToDodge = (DefenderEvasion – AttackerAccuracy)/10

So, every 10 Evasion you have over your opponent’s accuracy, you’ll have an additional 1% chance to dodge his physical attacks. Again, PvP values can be estimated by simply looking at your friends in other classes; whatever their stats are at a given level are good indicators of what you’ll have to deal with. For PvE estimation, we go back to my hand-wavy estimations:

for a normal monster of level X:

if 1 < X < 10: MonsterAccuracy = 120 + 24*X
if 11 < X < 20: MonsterAccuracy = 360 + 28*X
if 21 < X < 30: MonsterAccuracy = 640 + 32*X

for an elite monster of level X:

Take the number found in the equation above and multiply by 1.5

These values are purely speculation, but they’re likely to be a good model. The numbers will likely deviate from monster type to monster type, too, so melee-oriented classes may be more accurate; caster classes may be less accurate. If your Evasion is woefully below the base accuracy of these estimates, it’s probably a good indicator that Dodging isn’t a core quality of your class.

How valuable is Evasion, then? It’s truly the strongest avoidance stat in the game. being able to completely avoid attacks and their detrimental effects is amazingly good for survival. The stat is extremely expensive to gear for, however, so you’re likely to lose out on a lot of other stats if you pursue Evasion. And even fully equipping Evasion gear won’t grant you a 100% dodge chance against enemies of your level. In my experience, a reliable defense and sustained offense are the best attributes of any solo class. Dodging is great, but unreliable; the game is always going to get lucky, so preparing for those times often improves your survivability more than stacking an unreliable stat.

Scouts have a particular proclivity for Evasion. Leather gear is stocked high with this stat, and so building upon that value is likely in their best interest. Their survivability is subsequently spiky, but a good Scout won’t be targeted too often anyways. Other classes are less likely to find high Evasion on their gear; stacking the stat when it’s below the minimum needed to Dodge anything is a thorough waste of time – you won’t see any benefit!

Final Note: Dodging is Omni-Directional. Turning your back on a target has no bearing on your chance to dodge incoming attacks (As far as I have seen).

  • Parry

Parry increases your chance to parry a physical attack. Parrying an attack avoids 50% (estimated) of the attack’s damage, but not the abnormal effects of the attack. Parry is less powerful in terms of survivability than Evasion. Therefore, Parry is a more abundant stat than Evasion.

Parrying requires that a physical melee weapon be equipped; Bows, Spellbooks, and Orbs do not allow you to parry incoming attacks. So, if you’re a Mage class, you’re welcome to ignore everything that follows.

The Parry equation is identical to the Dodge equation posed above:

%ChanceToParry = (DefenderParry – AttackerAccuracy)/10

The PvE enemy accuracy estimations also hold here, if you want to have an idea of how much Parry you need to avoid incoming attacks.

So, how valuable is Parry? I personally find this to be one of the coolest stats in the game in terms of survival. Because the stat is cheap, you can exceed your enemy’s accuracy with sufficient Parry, and you can do so by a large margin. This results in a 50% reduction in a fair number of incoming attacks (not all of them, unless you stack the stat absurdly high, but some). Because the stat quickly results in a likely chance of parrying incoming attacks, this can support a reliable defense. 50% of the damage coming in is still significant, but the percentage reduction means that it will scale nicely as you progress (suck it, WoW).

The bottom line is, each point of Parry provides an appreciable chance to mitigate incoming damage from physical attacks; the damage reduction per point is the strongest available to lower-level characters. Parry is therefore a key survival stat for melee characters without a shield.

Final Note: Parrying is Omni-Directional. Turning your back on a target has no bearing on your chance to parry incoming attacks (As far as I have seen).

  • Shield Defense

Shield Defense is the shield-using melee class’s alternative to Parry. Shield Defense increases your chance to block incoming physical attacks. Blocking an attack avoids a portion of the attack’s damage; the portion’s size is dependant upon the shield. Weak shields block as low as 30% of the attack’s damage, while top-end shields block as much as 45% of the attack’s damage. Each enchant rank on a shield boosts the block portion by 2%, leading to a maximum current value of 65% blocked on an incoming attack. In all cases, abnormal statuses caused by the attack will pierce the block.

Blocking clearly requires a shield to be equipped. So, if you’re a Mage or Scout class, feel free to ignore everything that follows.

The Block equation is identical to the Dodge equation posed above:

%ChanceToBlock = (DefenderShieldDefense – AttackerAccuracy)/10

You can also look back to find the estimated accuracy of PvE enemies in the Evasion section.

So, Shield Defense is never quite as good as Parry (assuming that Parry does, indeed, stop 50% of an incoming attack). By and large, the stats are equally common, too. So what’s the appeal of Shield Defense, if it does less to keep you alive (unenchanted)? Templars have the added plus of inheriting some neat tricks in response to blocked attacks, but all classes that actively use a shield should probably look to Shield Defense instead of Parry to increase survivability.

The motivation for this is simple: The shield provides an absurd amount of Shield Defense, while the accompanying one-handed melee weapon provides only some Parry. Remember, reliable defenses will serve you better, even if they seem a little weaker up front. Because Shield Defense can get so high, it’s not unreasonable for a shield-user to block nearly every incoming attack. When every attack is blocked, you can expect incoming attacks to only deal 60% or so of their intended damage. Your HP thus has a reliable second line of defense that the other mitigation and avoidance stats can’t easily provide. It’s no surprise that Shields are designed this way: the best defenses should be reserved for the tanks of the game, after all.

So, if you want to get the most out of your shield for survival, stack Shield Block: the base boost to the stat that the shield provides should make getting a strong block chance relatively simple, so take advantage.

Final Note: Blocking is Omni-Directional. Turning your back on a target has no bearing on your chance to block incoming attacks (As far as I have seen).

End Installment 1

There’s plenty more to come in this vein, I’m sure: There’s the less common stats (Magical Accuracy, Magical Resistances, Physical Defense, and those core stats that you can’t touch). There’s also more to be said about prioritizing one stat against another when socketing in Mana Stones. I’m sure there will be more threads to follow thereafter, too: better estimation equations, different theories of stat importance, and more!

Is there something about the stats of Aion that you’re curious about? Is understanding these stats so deeply valuable, or is a gut feeling enough to get you through?