Raiducation Precepts

With Moments of Triumph hitting Destiny 2 this month, and lots of people looking to complete activities they haven’t yet attempted, I’m considering doing more high-level activities to teach other players how to run specific things in the game. 

Part of what I’ll be doing is working on guide posts people can read to get an overview of the activities and hopefully learn them within their own groups. But with the release of the first Lair activity, I started considering what the important aspects are for teaching these things.

These precepts are certainly not the only way to teach endgame activities (thinking specifically about raids at the moment), but the way I try to approach them.

Have patience. These activities require practice and familiarity.

When you’re running a complex and sometimes punishing encounter with players who haven’t completed it before, it can be difficult to put yourself back in the shoes of an inexperienced player.

It can occasionally feel like the rookies won’t ever understand how to complete the activity—to you, it’s very simple! After all, you’ve completed the activity a couple dozen times or better, and you have the muscle memory and encounter familiarity to execute your role without serious danger of a wipe.

Just recall the first few times you ran through a raid, before you’d been in the spaces and executed the necessary steps. Use that to guide your words. Ask players what’s going on when they miss a step or take a death. Remind them to look at the section of the death HUD that shows them what killed them and to share that information with you so you can help them.

Don’t berate players if they are having trouble. Be a positive influence on the attitude of the group.

Be mindful of the activity when you split the fireteam between new and experienced members.

Leviathan has many sections where the team is split 3/3. Eater of Worlds often has you split 2/2/2. When you make these splits or consider roles, try to group new and experienced players together. This allows for a few things:

  • Experienced players can make up for any lack of gun skill or encounter awareness.
  • Experienced players can watch the new players as they execute and help them determine what’s going wrong if there are mistakes.
  • Experienced players are better at knowing when it’s appropriate to go in for a revive if a death happens.
  • Experienced players should be flexible enough to play multiple roles within an encounter, so if you need to switch, they can do so.

When you group experienced players with new ones, you’re primarily doing so to get more information on what’s happening in the encounter, so you can change things up if you need to—either by switching roles or sometimes switching to an alternate strategy.

Explain the victory conditions first, then go back and explain the mechanics that get you there.

When you are running through encounter explanations within the encounter space, it’s really easy to get bogged down in the details and start explaining things in order. The main problem with doing this is that new players can often fail to see the forest when surrounded by really tall trees and a handful of bears.

Start by telling players what needs to be done to complete the encounter. Give them the tangible goal of the victory condition, and then explain how to get there. Go one phase at a time if you have to. If there are checkpoints, don’t be afraid to wipe after a checkpoint or take a break before explaining the next part of the encounter.

Doing this often helps players establish the mental space necessary to track various phases and can reduce surprise, especially if there’s a wrinkle happening at the end.

A great example of this is the Gauntlet in Leviathan. The victory condition is dunking nine orbs in the center. Once you establish that, it’s slightly easier for a new player to see how the phases of the encounter relate to one another. (e.g., The consequences of missing an orb during the first three rounds are easier to grasp.)

Unitask new players when possible.

If you have a choice of roles in which to put new players, you should give them a single task if possible so it’s easier for them to establish the mental space necessary for surviving the encounter and executing well. Eventually, you want all players to be comfortable with various roles, but especially for a first clear, give those new players something to do that allows them to focus their attention on one or two things at a time. Cognitive load is a real thing that takes concentration away from execution.

Good examples of these roles are:

  • Pretty much any role in Leviathan Gauntlet, though I advise steering them clear of the Psion-punching role.
  • Following the ground leader in Leviathan Gardens and taking either of the close (L1/R1) dogs in damage phase.
  • Perma-punching or throne room defense in Leviathan Calus.
  • Plate defense in Eater of Worlds Argos Phase 1.
  • Either of the inside plates in Spire of Stars boss room. (Less gun skill required to survive, and you will always be able to switch out a floater with at least one of the outside plate holders.)

If a unitasked role isn’t available, try to find positions that either start with extra help or give you a buffer. The main example I can think of on this one is the “top” plates in Leviathan Pools, as you can have the left/right float positions start there and help with taking out bathers before establishing the triangle rotation.

Teach methods that are easy to adapt for Prestige or Challenge modes later.

This one can be tough, but ideally, you want to set up players for success in later, harder, more mechanically-challenging activities. I don’t yet know what this is going to look like for the Raid Lairs in Prestige mode, as much of it will depend on the modifiers in use. (We don’t even know what two of the three of those are yet.)

Challenges in Leviathan will grant you additional loot, which is important for power leveling when the cap is increased. And Prestige modes are going to become more desirable once they have Exotic Masterwork Catalysts attached to them starting tomorrow. If you teach strategies that don’t apply easily to those more complex encounters, players will have to unlearn things before they can adapt to them. Shoot for methods that allow players to slide into Prestige by changing as few things as possible. Good examples of this include:

  • Using rotation strat in Leviathan Gauntlet. (Runners, punchers, platers.)
  • Practicing quick handoffs and quick bather kills in Leviathan Pools.
  • Using perma-puncher role in Leviathan Calus. (This teaches the throne room defenders to solo left/right.)

I don’t want to speculate too much on Eater of Worlds or Spire of Stars until I see what tomorrow looks like, but my guess is that the current optimal strats that involve point-blank damage might not be the right ones to use.

Argos will probably revolve mostly around using primarily supers for damage phase? I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to see what it is and how it changes how people play.

Teach for understanding, not carries.

When you are running folks through these encounters, I think it best to teach the encounters like you are preparing those players to teach other people. There are a handful of encounters where you can super-simplify the mechanics to the point where one or two players don’t have to do much to complete it.

(The main example of this right now is the “run backwards” strat for Leviathan Gauntlet. I strongly believe this strat should be avoided in teaching runs.)

I’m sure a decent number of people will disagree with me on this, but I think there is a fundamental difference between a teaching run and a carry. In teaching runs, you want players to learn the mechanics in a way that they theoretically could go out and teach others in the same way. In a carry, you just want to complete the encounter with the least amount of danger (or even effort) possible on the part of the inexperienced players.

Gimmick strats and cheeses are fun to mess with when you are playing with established groups and you all know what’s going on. My regular group usually does Rat King 2-plate for Calus on Normal, for example. But I would not teach that method to a player new to the raid or encounter, as it requires fairly advanced knowledge of the workings of the encounter and tight coordination in the group itself.

(This is also why I am bearish on point-blank strats for Spire boss phase 2.)

Focus on fun first, learning second. Stop the session if the group stops having fun.

Raiding and running other endgame activities in Destiny is both challenging and fun! Once you get the encounters down, it’s a good time to run through these things with a group that knows how to rock it.

For people new to the activity, it won’t always be a fun time. It can be frustrating, demoralizing, and negative—especially if you are made to feel like you are holding the group back.

Do your best to prevent the establishment of that kind of tone in your encounters. Be positive. Compliment players on their performances. Reassure them when they make a mistake that it can be corrected and that it happens to everyone.

If you sense the mood in the group flagging, stop running the activity. There are lots of way to do this: take a water/bathroom break, move the group into a different activity (much easier when 6v6 PvP becomes standard in Quickplay tomorrow), or just call it and consider scheduling a follow-up session.

Encounter fatigue is a real thing that can lead to repeated wipes when the group hits a mental—or even physical—wall. Try to manage this as best you can.

Talkin’ TWAB: Bounties and Prismatic What Now?

This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for some time now: more discussion regarding what I like and what I don’t like in games. I think it’s only natural to start with Destiny 2, which is a game I have played (and continue to play) in rather obscene quantities with my son and other groups we’ve found out there.

In talking about games, I’m going to try very hard to follow the advice on game design feedback that I have digested from this Twitter thread, which is worth your attention:

I also thought it’d be a decent idea to start with talking through Bungie’s weekly updates and patch notes for Destiny 2, which are something on which pretty much everyone has an opinion, and affect a fairly large number of people who play a game over many hours. (My son and I have around 600 hours each in Destiny 2 to date.)

This week’s This Week at Bungie (or “TWAB”) can be found here, but read on for some snippets and commentary on the announcements therein. It should be noted that I’m only going to touch on game-specific announcements and not the links to external coverage or GuardianCon stuff.

Continue reading

Health Check: 2018

Fair warning: this post is going to be pretty personal, and if you don’t care about my struggles with my weight and food, then you should probably just skip it and move on to the next post.

In fact, I’ll add a cut link here to encourage it unless you really do care about me, in which case, please proceed.

Yes, I want to know this stuff.

Don’t Let Me Drive the Chopper?

Co-op with best friends is never a bad idea.

(You’ll just need to grab that link until I can work on a better Twitch embed handler, I guess. The one I have right now doesn’t support Clips.)

If you want to potentially see more moments like this one, consider visiting my Twitch channel and following it. I try to stream at least a few times a week, and play various types of games depending on what I’m working on at the time.

Our Optimism Blinded Us

Laura Hudson for The Verge:

Ready Player One’s quixotic ideas about the future of online life aren’t unique, because nothing is unique to Ready Player One. It’s a haphazard mishmash of more meaningful and resonant pieces of culture, a callow pastiche that stands on the shoulders of more interesting works and demands the applause they’ve earned for itself. But Ready Player One is also worse than that, in quietly unexamined ways that speak to the internet’s original sin. If the book has anything to say beyond repeating a litany of cool franchises, it is believing that the internet is a sublime, inherently liberating space where allowing anyone to say and do whatever they want will lead, inevitably, toward an abstract notion of freedom. While that may have been the case for some members of society — notably the most privileged ones — in practice, it’s meant injustice and abuse for a lot of others. 

I’ve been working in the technology field for over a decade now, and what drew me to the Internet and web-based work was this same optimism. It’s taken some time—and meeting many people different from myself—to learn that it hasn’t happened that way for everyone, and in a lot of cases, has made things worse.

But I continue to work in this field and do what I can to push things forward because I believe these things are still possible. It’s just that the road is a lot harder than I thought it would be and will take different approaches than perhaps I’d previously thought.

Ready Player One is garbage, but it’s garbage that can partially reveal to us where we’ve been misguided.

On Patch Notes

Video game nerdery ahead.

It's pretty safe to say the 1.1.4 update coming to Destiny 2 tomorrow is a big deal. It's an attempt to respond to criticisms of the game's shortcomings when it comes to the gameplay tuning, pretty much across the board—and it took Bungie over six months from launch to get to.

Lots of people are looking to this patch to reinvigorate some of the game and bring some excitement back to both PvE and PvP modes. It's been termed the "Go Fast" update, because it has tweaks to player movement, ability recharge rates, and some gunplay bits.

The notes won't drop until tomorrow, but I want to take a few to talk about patch notes and what makes for good game patch notes. At least so far, Bungie hasn't provided good patch notes for a game that a lot of hardcore players study down to specific numbers. In fact, just today, one day before the update, the main subreddit for the game has been publishing or republishing a lot of numbers, like these:

These posts have very specific numbers that are based on measurements being taken by players that have no access to the underlying math of the game—they are all based on observation. There's a post like this probably every week somewhere, detailing something and including numbers to show the work.

They shouldn't have to do this all over again; post-patch, the patch notes should give them all the information they need. I'll explain. Bungie's patch notes have previously looked like this (and yes, this is a bit cherry-picked, but it's representative and is from this update):

  • Increased the base damage and reduced the precision modifier of Precision Auto Rifles
  • Slightly reduced the aim deflection of High-Caliber Rounds on Auto Rifles and Scout Rifles
  • Reduced the effectiveness of Aim Assist at higher ranges on Scout Rifles
  • Reduced severity of recoil on Hakke High-Impact Auto Rifles
  • Hand Cannon accuracy recovery now scales with rate of fire
  • Improved base Aim Assist on aggressive Hand Cannons
  • Slightly increased the rate of fire time between bursts on all Omolon Sidearms
  • Slightly increased impact damage on lightweight single-shot Grenade Launchers

These aren't good patch notes. They leave me with tons of unanswered questions.

How much more damage will my Precision Auto Rifle do now? Why are you making it less precise, and how? High-Caliber rounds deflected aim before? What do you mean, and how is that changing? How much is "slightly," and does that mean roughly the same across the various notes, or does it stand for a range of values?

Almost everything in these notes is pretty vague.

Good patch notes should:

  • Tell you what changed.
  • Tell you how much and in what direction.

Great patch notes will also:

  • Tell you why something was changed.

The best example of this is almost certainly Killer Instinct. KI had the best patch notes of any game I have ever seen, followed pretty closely by Diablo III. Here's a great example of KI patch notes that accomplish this:

Fulgore:

  • [Fulgore has been pretty difficult to balance. We’ve adjusted his rushdown, his zoning, and his instinct during Season 3 and he is still an extremely powerful character, which shows how tricky it is to find the sweet spot for him. Now that the dust has settled a bit, the team feels confident that Fulgore now has the weaknesses we intended him to have, but on the journey to this spot, we went a little far in a few areas. These buffs will not send Fulgore over the top again, but should help with some small quality of life aspects of his game.]
  • Raised Energy Bolt damage by 42% (from 7 to 10) [This gives him more zoning damage and more damage on his Energy Bolt into Teleport mixups]
  • Raised Light Cyber Uppercut damage 33% (from 15 to 20)
  • Raised Medium Cyber Uppercut damage 16% (from 12 to 14) [Usually, you’d expect the heavy version of a move to do the most damage, but in this case we wanted the reverse. The benefit of the light uppercut is the highest damage and most invulnerability, while the benefit of the heavy version is more potential damage left behind and multiple hits.]
  • Light and Medium Eye Lasers can now be Pip Cancelled into Energy Bolts. Heavy Eye Beam still cannot be. [This is a big buff to pip cancels and these versions of Eye Lasers, and as a result, his instinct mode as well.]
  • The minimum reactor spin speed has been increased slightly. It now takes about 10 seconds at the lowest speed to build one pip, instead of 12.5 seconds. [Fulgore’s weakness should be the odd way in which he gains meter. The old instinct mode gave him so much free meter per game that this weakness didn’t matter. Now that we have things functioning the way we want, we feel his default ‘slow’ meter gain is just a hair too low. Over the course of an average match, this should result in 3 to 5 more pips than you used to get.]

For real: these notes are amazing. Fulgore was a special case in that specific update, but these notes accomplish everything they should:

  • They tell you exactly what changed, and don't leave anything out.
  • They give you exact numbers for the changes, so there's no guesswork as to the extent of the changes.
  • They tell you why things were changed and what the intentions of the development team were when they made the change.

Look through the rest of that patch's notes, and you'll see more of the same. Specific, well-documented patch notes that indicate not only the exact changes made to the game, but the thought process behind them.

And look: I know these are two different game genres. One is a 2D fighting game with a limited amount of movement on a plane, and the other is a 3D first-person shooter with lots of complicated environmental and player-vs-player interactions to keep in mind.

But when you get down to it, it's still adjusting math and systems. This information is available to someone, somewhere. (If it's not available internally, there are other problems afoot.) And this goes not just for Destiny 2, but all games: please don't use vague terminology when you patch your games. (Capcom with SFV is another notable offender here.) Tell your players what you are changing, whether it was a bug you fixed or is a new adjustment, and why you are making the change and what you hope to accomplish with it.

They'll most likely appreciate it.

WordCamp US 2017 Presentation: Security, The VIP Way

This past Friday, I gave a 20-minute presentation on WordPress security, giving a high-level overview of things you can do to help keep your sites secure.

The Presentation

Here's a SlideShare embed of the presentation deck:

And you can download the Keynote source file for my presentation, including presenter notes.

Twitter Questions

As part of my talk, I asked attendees to submit any questions they might have had via Twitter using the hashtag #wpvipsec. Here are the questions I received, and some brief answers to them as best I can provide.

As we have been transitioning some of the WordPress.com VIP platform to our next-generation VIP Go platform, we've had to reinvent some of this stuff slightly. :) You'll be pleased to know that we have made the mu-plugins we use on VIP Go publicly-viewable on Github, and you can see our custom two-factor module here.

I don't know very much about securing sites via VPN, but I'm assuming here that you have site access (even front-end) locked to internal IPs only based on that VPN connection. That should handle a large portion of your security from outside attack, assuming the VPN is using appropriate security precautions.

At this point, your chief enemy is likely to become human error. This is where portions of the talk surrounding things like limiting user capabilities and access to certain settings pages can really help you out. Making sure your users are following good account security processes for connecting to the VPN is also critical.

As I suggested in the Q&A after the talk, I highly recommend that user roles and capabilities be in your WordPress engineering toolbox. They are enormously useful.

Multisites are interesting because they have additional layers of user access. Let's look at the two admin roles:

Super Admin: This should be as limited as humanly possible. The only users who should have superadmin powers on a multisite IMO are system administrators, your development team, and support users who will be assisting other users with account-level actions regularly. (An additional user or two might be necessary if you have people who need to spin up new sites on-demand rather than contacting your support team.) You should certainly require two-factor authentication here, and if you can require proxy or VPN access at this level, you absolutely should look into that as an option.

Administrator: This is going to be on a site-by-site basis within the multisite. If you can craft custom roles and their capabilities finely enough for your needs so that non-development users who are "in charge" of a site can use those roles instead of full admin, you should absolutely do this. Ideally, this user group and the Super Admin user group are as close to identical (and as limited) as possible.

The remainder of the roles are easier to parse. I'd like to especially recommend here (as I did during the talk) the use of an audit trail plugin; as you will have many users working on sites, and some with superadmin powers, the helpfulness of knowing which users performed which actions increases.

Additional Questions?

If you have any questions that haven't been covered above or in the talk, please send me a reply on Twitter and I'll be happy to drop them in the post and let you know when I have updated it.

I'll be updating this post occasionally with new information, as well as a link to the talk's video archive when it's available. To be notified of this, please either follow my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Destiny Discussion Stream: Bungie’s December Roadmap Post

Bungie dropped a pretty big blog post today regarding where they are with updates and changes to Destiny 2, which seems to be in a spot with some hardcore players.

My son and I hopped in-game tonight and had a chat about the changes while we were playing. We keep things positive and talk about the changes and a bit about the things others seem to want but aren’t yet getting (and may not get).