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Progress! Progress? Well, Better Than Nothing

Twice as much time off means twice the blog entries, right?  Honestly, when each entry gets less than 50 hits (and most of them are probably spam bots) I find myself concerned that the effort I put into writing these entries would be better spent elsewhere.  But my first bizarro weekend (so named because it's the opposite of what most people would consider a weekend) in a long time is at an end, so lets talk about what happened with that.  Two things, basically.

1. Elder Scrolls Online Alt-O-Holicism: Settled.

After much finagling over the perfect character for me (see the past two entries) I basically came to the realization that there's no such thing.  None of the character builds by this game are any more satisfying for me to play.
It doesn't look bad on an ultrawide monitor.
However, one thing that is satisfying for me to do in the game is consume content.  I've said before, that the content is one thing that Elder Scrolls Online does quite well.  It should be noted that, as of the One Tamriel update, there's neither progression nor limitation to how you go about consuming the content.  Any character can go off and explore nearly anywhere in the game.

So it is primarily thanks to the grandfathered content before the One Tamriel update that there are three main climbs of unique content.  These are three whole separate regions to explore, one for each faction, and my three "mains" try to salvage what little uniqueness of gameplay can be found in the RPG mechanic:
  • Daggerfall Covenant: Breton Sorcerer.  My Magicka specialist, that means he will be using staves and light armor.  In practice, all I really do with this guy is stack the damage over time effects, keep myself healed, and watch stuff melt.  He's probably the least interesting to play, but he does it with plenty of pyrotechnics!
  • Aldmeri Dominion: Imperial Nightblade.  My Stamina specialist, this puts him in leather and mostly having physical weapons skills on his hotbar.  The most thematic choice of weapons being dual blades and bow.  In practice, a "stamblade" has to kill stuff fast and dodge a lot of damage manually, because they have the least access to sustaining abilities (heals, damage shields, ect).
  • Ebonheart Pact: Imperial Templar.  My health specialist, but leaning somewhat stamina as well.  Heavy armor and the two remaining weapon skills (greatsword, sword and board).  Tanks are probably the most interesting role in this game as they make use of all three resource bars: health (their job is to get hit) stamina (for blocking, rolls, and weapon abilities) and magicka (primarily to cast abilities that bolster survival).  In a group, these guys are your primary crowd controllers, and that's always the most interesting job.
In a very real way, you can think of these as being the only three characters in the game.  Yes, there's five classes, but class choice does not have as much impact on whether you are focusing magicka (for magic DPS or healing), stamina (for physical DPS), or health (for tanking).  Magicka-focused characters will see more class difference in play style than stamina-focused ones, but at times the difference between ANY character feels somewhat academic.  The developers were shooting for open-endlessness in their RPG mechanic, but it feels bland and samey to me.
That critique aside, I have to admit that the gameplay opens up and gets quite a bit more interesting at level 15, so it's partly my fault for alting so much that I took too long getting there.  There's no less than three reasons why that is:
  • Level 15 is approximately where the main tutorial missions turn you loose to explore a large continent.
  • Level 15 unlocks the second weapon slot.  That doubles your hotbar access as well as the added challenge of learning when to switch between hotbars.
  • Level 15+ loot tables start dropping a lot more set-based loot.  
Although the idea of set-based equipment was not invented in Elder Scrolls Online, the way it contributes to the loot system is fairly unique.  Set loot is a lot more common than it is in most other games to implement sets, and this makes acquiring loot a lot more interesting (if overly grindy when set acquisition is your primary goal).  Further, many of these sets can be crafted, but you must first have researched enough traits for that set.  This creates a whole second dynamic where you are trying to acquire more pieces of gear for the right slot to research those traits.  Taken as a whole, the loot system is not bad.

All that said, since I am primarily there just to enjoy the high-quality hand-crafted content, the RPG mechanic is sort of vestigial.  It hardly matters which character I advance and at what rate, just as long as they all consume new content when I play them.  I have actually taken to randomly rolling to choose whose story I am advancing in a given session: it avoids the stalemate of trying to choose between three roughly-equally-mediocre characters and also introduces a little excitement from a chance element.
Anyway, I guess I am having fun in Elder Scrolls Online and, considering I've been at it for several weeks now, I decided pay the piper by caving in to a limited time overt hard sell on a wholly cosmetic mount.  $25 is a reasonable tithe for that much entertainment.

2. Game Development: Re-Railed.

The technique I have found for building motivation that works is simply set a small enough time period that it is approachable.  Ten minutes?  Hell, anyone can stare at Unity for ten minutes.  At first, it's excruciating, I have no idea what I am supposed to do because it has been so long since I did.  But even if I do nothing, trying to do something counts.  When straining against something to set in motion, it is only natural it does not move at first.

At the start of this week, the ball was pretty much at a dead stop and slightly burrowed in the rough.  To get it to budge, I started by promising myself an hour in Elder Scrolls Online if I can manage 10 minutes of straining.  It worked, the ball began to roll, and the effort to maintain its momentum was significantly diminished.  There was no longer any hesitation, Unity was open, I worked.

I think it's possible that a 15:30 minute work:play mix works better than working with as many minutes as possible.  This is because programming and designing a project like this is very mentally intensive and giving those neurons a rest can actually produce better work.  Also, developer myopia can set in quick, if I get deeply involved in designing and making the program I lose perspective and end up making a mess.

This week, I pretty much redid my 2D RPG tile engine I am developing in Unity from scratch.  Twice.  The excessive details of which can be found here.  I find myself still struggling with trying to find a good balance between an engine that supports emergent content versus an engine that favors more intelligent design, something I talk about a bit here.

It's a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario whether to allow emergence drive the procedural generation or just generate everything and off the player goes.
  • When emergence drives the procedural generation, you just plop down your actors (the player being among them) and let them figure it out.  In a world without purpose, the players are more likely to revert to savagery out of desperation to derive a point to play.  A real Lord Of The Flies scenario, that.
  • When procedural generation is done ahead of the player, your choice of what is produced drives the action and the player must follow.  In that case, the author is very much alive, but the virtual world loses much of its potential for emergence and may also feel less immersive.
If I side completely with either method, it's relatively easy, but there are obvious consequences.  I need to find a balance, or perhaps something completely off to the side, before I will be content to see the production of a game through.  I definitely have the gears turning upstairs about this, and hopefully will find something that satisfies the exacting standards of the inner muse.


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