Superior Realities Sixth Anniversary: Reflections

Six years have now past since the first post appeared on Superior Realities. Time flies when you’re yelling at Blizzard, I suppose.

The Greatest City in the WorldIn some ways it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but in others it feels like a lifetime. I was still writing Dispatches from the Romulan War when this blog started, for crying out loud.

When the blog started, I lived in Toronto, then I moved to the country for a few years, then I moved back to the city. Seems like rather a lot of effort just to move from the west end to the east end.

I still miss Parkdale. My new neighbourhood is nice, too, but that’s the problem. It’s too nice. I’ve been here for going on two years now, and I’m still waiting to get the bum’s rush. I don’t fit in here.

I try to visit Parkdale as often as possible. I feel like I belong there. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where I’m not the weirdest person around.

When I lived in Toronto the first time, I lived with my father and a couple cats. Now that I’ve returned, I live alone with many books but no cats.

When the blog began, freelance writing was still some new and exciting adventure I was embarking upon. Now it’s just old hat.

Looks pretty in the picture, but it's really a miserable placeI’ve written… three novels since this blog started. I think. Three or four. Of course only one of them (Human Again) has seen the light of day so far. I’ve also written who knows how many short stories in that time.

Six years ago, I had hair. I should really update that profile picture at some point. Male pattern baldness can suck it, by the way.

When the site launched, I was a huge Metric fan, and now I’m a huge Metric fan who’s shaken Emily’s hand (best day ever). I’m also now a huge Chvrches fan, but I haven’t shaken Lauren’s hand.

When Superior Realities began, I was still in the process of re-entering the gaming world. Of course I’d been playing WoW for a while by then and had also played StarCraft II and maybe one or two other things, but I was still a bit out of the loop on the industry as a whole.

Since then I’ve broadened my horizons considerably. I eventually got around to most if not all of the games I missed out on during my teen years and embraced many modern classics, as well as a few more obscure titles. I hated Bioware for a while, then I kind of liked them, then I loved them, then I think I hated them again for a bit, and now I’m just generally confused.

They had real winters up there. That's somethingI’ve blogged through four WoW expansions, the rise and fall of my passion for Guild Wars 2, and my totally unexpected dive into Star Wars: The Old Republic. I fell in love with The Secret World, and now I’ve had to cope with its inglorious collapse. In general I’ve created enough MMO characters to form an entire battalion, and like half of them are named Maigraith.

I’ve mourned the cancellations of Defiance and Sanctuary, and I’ve fallen in love with Continuum, Dark Matter, and iZombie. I’ve reviewed some very good movies, and also Immortals.

It has been suggested I should take this opportunity to examine whether I’ve achieved my goals for the blog, to which I can only say… maybe? I guess?

Honestly I’m kind of losing sight of what the point was originally supposed to be. Nowadays blogging is just part of my routine; it’s not something I think a lot about. Just an excuse to run my mouth (figuratively speaking) without anyone trying to change the subject on me like they usually do.

I’m mostly happy with the traffic I get, though of course it’d always be nice to get more, and I do get a decent amount of attention within the greater community, so that’s nice.

Best day ever

Shake your head, it’s empty…

I will confess that I wish I got more comments, though. Figure pretty much every blogger wishes they got more comments, and compared to the handful of blogs I follow, I seem to get less comments than most. Not sure why this is, but I imagine it’s some combination of my terrible opinions, my long-winded endurance test of a writing style, and my cantankerous personality.

Of course, reflecting on the past also invariably leads one to pondering the future. For the most part, I suppose it will continue to be steady as she goes for Superior Realities for the immediate future.

I’m always mulling ideas for new types of content, but I dismiss almost all of them.

There’s often the temptation to expand beyond my relatively narrow sci-fi/fantasy/video game focus (the lack of Simpsons content on this blog saddens me sometimes), but at the same time I think there’s something to be said for keeping a clear vision for the site. I like the idea that my readers know what they’re getting: angry nerd rants and Elves.

I’ve thought about doing a series on various songs that I use for inspiration when writing fiction, but most people’s ears start bleeding when confronted with my musical taste.

I could also probably get a lot more posts out of the head canon and backstories for my video game characters, but my previous posts on that subject have the dubious distinction of being the least popular posts I’ve ever done by every available metric, so I probably won’t bother with that.

To winter I belongI tried my hand at video content recently, and there’s some temptation to do more of that, but it’s another thing that didn’t get much reaction. Plus I’m not sure I can bring anything to the table that the legions of YouTubers out there aren’t already covering, and I definitely have a voice for text (which is like a face for the radio, kind of).

I’m also often tempted to post more of my fiction and thoughts related to it on the blog, but again, such posts never seem to generate much interest, so I’m kind of gravitating away from that at this point.

Seriously, if you ever feel like doing me a favour, go read some of my stories and leave feedback. I don’t mind criticism as long as it’s constructive. I’m particularly interested in opinions on The Wounding and Lady of the Dawn, as that setting is very important to me, but In Her Sister’s Pose is probably the best thing I’ve written as far as short fiction goes.

Anyway, if any of these ideas sound like they’d interest you, or if you there’s something else you’d like to me to do with the blog, let me know, but otherwise it’s probably going to be status quo for the time being. There is many a Warcraft rant yet to be written.

In closing, I would like to thank my readers for sticking with me all this time. Be seeing you, sweetlings.

In the half-light.

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Tyler Versus the MMO Trinity, Part Three: My Solution

Over my past two posts on the so-called “holy trinity” of group roles in MMORPGs, I’ve discussed my problems with the trinity, and some of the good times I’ve had outside the traditional role system.

My warlock battling Ragnaros the Firelord in pursuit of Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest in World of WarcraftNow, we reach the end of this long journey as I outline my personal plan for how to “fix” the trinity.

For some crazy reason I decided to do all three of these posts at once. It’s well after midnight, we’re approaching hour three, my fingers are sore, and my brain is fuzzy, but Hell, let’s do this.

First, some caveats:

I was hesitant to do this for a very long time because I don’t like playing armchair game designer. Well, actually, I like it a lot, but I don’t like the risk of being seduced by the idea that I actually know what I’m talking about, or giving anyone the idea I think I’m better than I am.

I am not a professional game designer. I know this. I’m not going to pretend I can do a better job than they can, because I can’t. This seems like a good idea to me, but what do I know?

And I really doubt anyone particularly wants to hear my pie-in-the-sky ideas for how games should be designed, hence why I haven’t done posts like this before now. But if I’m going to talk about the trinity, I think this is a necessary part of the discussion.

My Templar tanking a lair boss in The Secret WorldSecond, I want to stress once again that variety is what I want. What I’m about to outline is a solution to the trinity. It is not the solution to the trinity. I obviously think my idea is good, but I wouldn’t want to see it become the only system used by MMOs. I want a mix. Some games with traditional roles, some with softened or modified roles, some with no roles.

That said, this is a plan that I believe would solve most of the problems with the trinity while preserving much of its virtues. Your opinion may vary.

On with the show!

Where Guild Wars 2 failed:

Unfortunately, Guild Wars 2 has become the poster child for trying to break the trinity. I say “unfortunately” because they did an awful job of it. Of all the games I’ve played with no trinity or a relaxed trinity, GW2 is the only one that fails to provide fun group dynamics. Ironic considering how much of a selling feature it was.

Things are supposedly a bit different now that raids are in, but at launch, Guild Wars 2 essentially eliminated tanks and healers. This solves some problems, but it also made pretty every class play mostly the same. It made a lot of things into mindless zergs, and combined with dungeon design that wasn’t sufficiently removed from that of trinity games, it was just broken as all Hell.

My thief battling the Sons of Svanir in Guild Wars 2But there are lessons to take from Guild Wars 2’s failure. They were in the right neighbourhood, but they chose the run path.

You see, they got rid of the wrong roles. Tanks and healers are fine.

I say it’s DPS that needs to go.

Death to DPS:

Wait, what?

Tyler, you want to delete the overwhelmingly most popular MMO role? The one you play the most? Are you high?

But think about it. There’s method to this madness.

Imagine what happens when DPS is no longer a dedicated role. You no longer need to tune healers and tanks to have lower damage. In a world where no one is a DPS, everyone is a DPS.

That immediately solves the problem of it sucking to solo as a tank or healer.

My Sith inquisitor in Star Wars: The Old RepublicThen think about what group compositions look like in this hypothetical game where there are only two roles, not three. When you can only include tanks and healers in your group, the responsibility is much more shared.

This solves the problem of the disproportionate sharing of responsibility. It’s not just one tank and one healer. There’s several of each. That glorious double tank run I had in SW:TOR? That could be the norm.

In such a paradigm, if you screw up and get yourself killed as a tank, it wouldn’t be a guaranteed wipe. The other tank(s) would pick up the slack.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds tremendously appealing to me.

Similarly, this makes forming groups a lot easier. Tanks and healers obviously wouldn’t be a rarity, and in theory, such a system could be balanced to no require rigid party compositions. We’re getting far into the hypothetical here, but I think it could be the case that if you have more tanks, your party takes less damage and needs fewer healers, and if you have more healers, you can restore more damage and need fewer tanks.

This would necessitate softening both roles a bit. For example, healers couldn’t simply spam heals all day. They’d need to mix both heals and damage.

My group approaches the final boss of the Slaughterhouse in The Secret WorldThis would require slowing down the pace of both heals and damage. Not slowing combat altogether. You know me; even the standard 1.5 second global cooldown feels sluggish to me. But tanks don’t need to be losing half their health every few seconds. There should be time to recover from a mistake, and on the flip side recovery from bad play shouldn’t be one click a way. Healing is at its best when it’s a tug of war.

I’d put heals on cooldowns or otherwise limit them. Not heavily — healing should obviously be a core part of playing a healer. But it shouldn’t be all you do. Like the devoted cleric in Neverwinter, there should be a degree of adaptation based on the needs of the moment. Sometimes it’s about healing. Sometimes it’s about pouring on the damage.

I’d also like to see a little less emphasis on straight up healing and more on buffs and utility. I like The Secret World’s take on buffs — short duration, dramatic effect — and I’d like to see more of that.

So under my hypothetical design, healers would perhaps be more accurately described as support. They keep their parties afloat through a broad toolkit of heals, buffs, and damage.

As for tanks, I’d soften their role a bit, too. I’m not sure I’d do away with aggro mechanics altogether, but I don’t think tanks should be expected to hold aggro on everything all the time. I’d probably make taunts an emergency cooldown rather than a bread and butter ability. Combat need not be total anarchy, but there should be some unpredictability to it.

My devoted cleric in NeverwinterSlowing down incoming damage supports this, as well. With mobs delivering hits that aren’t so massive, healers (or supports) can take a few hits without collapsing, and combat can afford to be a little less carefully choreographed.

Aggro mechanics are one of those things about the trinity that are painfully artificial, so I’d put a greater emphasis on tanks controlling enemies directly through slows, stuns, pulls, knockbacks, and abilities that manipulate the battlefield. Let them physically impose their will on enemies.

By softening the roles this way, you’re providing everyone a broader experience of combat. Everyone is, one way or another, interacting with enemies, delivering big and satisfying attacks, and aiding their team in a crucial way. At the same time, distinct roles aren’t gone entirely. There’s choice and variety.

It even solves the realism issue to some extent. With multiple tanks, it’s at least somewhat plausible that they could hold off enemies from their weaker team mates. Not because Orcs are magnetically attracted to dudes in plate for some reason, but because they form a physical barrier around their allies. I think I could suspend my disbelief for that.

It’s probably not as simple as I’m making it out to be, but to me, a two-role system seems like an option that avoids the worst flaws of the trinity while still offering much of its benefits.

* * *

Thus concludes my epic series on the trinity. My duty as an MMO blogger is done. Agree or disagree, I hope I’ve at least provided some food for thought, or entertainment value.

While you’re reading epic rants on traditional MMO design by yours truly, why not check out my latest article on MMO Bro: The Case Against MMORPG Button Bloat.