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.

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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).

Bracket Running: Avoiding Disappearing Players

Bear dropped this on Twitter in reply to PerfectLegend, and I thought it worth it to mention something about how I handle it. Using this method, I have never had a problem with the following problem:

Here’s how you make this less of a problem:

Talk about this with your players before you start your bracket.

Issue clear expectations for things like bathroom and smoke breaks, because players will ask you for these things. Let them know that they need to ask for them immediately after one of their matches, and that you have to OK them by looking at the bracket and seeing what time is available for people to do so. Also let them know that when you and they agree on a time limit for these activities, and they go over the time limit, they can be DQ’d.

Know where you are in the bracket and how long matches take.

You can’t be honest with players regarding the time available to them for a break unless you know how much room you have in a bracket for those things. You’re generally only going to be able to give them break time in the first couple of rounds, because that is the only time you have a lot more matches to play than stations.

Make sure you are playing out matches by rounds as much as possible to give players time to rest between their matches. Don’t run one person way through the bracket before you have had other players get their matches in.

Write breaks down on the bracket sheet or a notebook/notepad (if using electronic bracketing, which you shouldn’t be in most cases), and make sure the player sees you do it.

When I have a player ask for a break, I talk to them briefly about what they are leaving to do and ask them how long it will take them to do it. I check the time on my watch, and then tell them exactly when I expect they will be back for their next match. I then write their player name and the agreed-upon return time on the bracket, showing them as I do this, and let them go have their break.

This becomes a two-way agreement; I let them take the break, and they agree they’ll be back by that time. If they aren’t back by that time, I generally give them two to three minutes’ grace period before issuing a DQ loss. (This also means that when budgeting the time for their break, I give them two to three minutes less than I actually have for them.)

Above all, be fair and respectful.

Before every bracket I run, I set expectations that I’m going to respect players’ time, and that in return, I expect certain courtesies from them. It’s only in partnership with your players that you’ll be able to run an efficient and well-received bracket. Respect your players’ time and communicate with them clearly, and they will respect the decisions you may have to make.

Summer Games Done Quick 2017 Viewing Guide

My summer vacation has started, which usually means it’s almost time for Summer Games Done Quick. GDQ is a twice-annual speedrunning marathon, and each one lasts for a week. The summer one tends to be my favorite; the runs can be a bit more laid back and the charity is preferable to the one they use for the winter marathon.

You can find the channel for GDQ on Twitch any time you want to watch. The full event schedule is posted here, and there are some things you should know about it:

  • The schedule can and will change throughout the event, so if there is a game you are really interested in watching, you should check the schedule the same day of that game and also a bit before it’s supposed to come on the air. Runs are unpredictable, so there’s natural fluidity to the time slots.
  • For different types of games, there are different run categories. Pay attention to things like:
    • 100% or any%, the two most frequent run completion types – one involves collecting or doing everything a game has to offer; the other is just getting to the end of the game as fast as possible.
    • Restrictions like glitchless, 2 players 1 controller, co-op, and the like. This will give you more information regarding the general atmosphere of the run.
  • Runs have an estimated time to completion, which will give you the approximate time you’ll need to watch the run.

Keep in mind when watching these speedruns that many of them will involve the players going through the game in ways you haven’t in the past. If a run doesn’t call for glitchless or other restrictions, you’re likely to see things done to intentionally break the game and skip large amounts of the actual intended gameplay. This takes some getting used to and can look really weird the first time you watch a run for a favorite game.

That said, if you just relax and watch some people play games while using quite frankly amazing execution, muscle memory, and crazy amounts of practice, you can have a pretty good time. I suggest you find games you have played and liked on the schedule and trying to watch those to get started.

If you aren’t sure, here are some runs I think are likely to be great this week:

  • Sunday
    • Luigi’s Mansion any%, no OOB (out-of-bounds). The restriction means the runner can’t break the constraints of the levels to get places the game didn’t intend, so this requires going through a decent amount of the game, and is estimated at around an hour.
    • Metroid Prime 100%. Some people really find these runs interesting because there is good execution necessary, but I frankly find them boring because large amounts of the run take place out-of-bounds. If you want to see a game get broken, watch this.
    • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, any% glitchless. One of the all-time great games, played to full extent, in 36 minutes. Should be fantastic.
  • Monday
    • Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, Ultimate. Watch people wreck this game with what is essentially playing angles very carefully. Looks reckless, is actually super-controlled.
    • Mirror’s Edge, any% glitchless. A game that was designed with multiple paths in mind. Speedrunners have no doubt found all the super-fast ones, and the execution necessary for this should be impressive.
  • Tuesday
    • I Am Bread, any%. I say this because I tried playing this game and found it inscrutable and impossible, and this runner is going to beat it in 15 minutes and make me feel really old in the process.
    • Pokemon Puzzle League, 1P Stadium, Super Hard. Puzzle game execution at this high a level is always impressive.
    • FPS Block of games, starting with Half-Life. Every game here should show super-impressive play, even with glitches.
  • Wednesday
    • Ninja Gaiden 3, any%. Watch this and then remember how hard these games are and hate yourself immediately.
    • Marble Madness, any%. See above.
    • Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Richter any%. The finest 2D Castlevania pre-Symphony, done in 25 minutes. It’s likely you aren’t familiar with this entry in the series (it was on Turbo CD), so you should give it a peek.
    • Mega Man X2, any% race. Four runners play side-by-side, trying to finish first in a live situation. X2 has a super-optimized run that is really impressive to watch and easy to grasp.
  • Thursday
    • Shadow of the Colossus, NTA. I personally don’t think this game is as awesome as a lot of people do, but the run should be impressive.
    • Portal, inbounds. Should be one of the more amazing-looking runs of the whole event.
    • Chrono Trigger, any%, no wrong warp. Puwexil is one of the best RPG runners to watch. His commentary during the run (and the “couch commentary” helping him along) will be great and will explain exactly what’s going on as he does the run. CT is also a great run.
    • Tetris: The Grand Master block. You should watch this because I won’t; once you have seen these runs once, you have seen them all, but this is Tetris at a level that’s more instinct than reaction. TGM is way harder than any Tetris you have played (they will play on arcade hardware).
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, all dungeons, swordless. I don’t even know how you would do this, so I’m going to be watching this one with fascination.
  • Friday
    • Super Mario Series Warpless Relay Race. Great games, done head-to-head, and with relay handoffs to boot.
    • Metroid Block. Always one of the highlights of any GDQ. Usually tight races, high execution, sequence breaking in a lot of cases.
  • Saturday
    • Dark Souls 3, All Bosses. Watch someone rip through this game with way less health than you would ever try to play with and weird items you didn’t think about using.
    • Super Mario 64, 120 star. Every star. Every level. A game that requires crazy-cool execution and looks rad when people pull it off.
    • Earthbound any%, glitchless. An RPG to send the marathon into the sunset, and a run that even today is still being rerouted and changing to be more efficient.

There’s plenty more I could have put in here, but these are the things I’d suggest to anyone who asked me about GDQ and what they should peek in on.

I hope you watch and have some fun doing so. Please consider donating to the event!

Fighting Game Reference Screens, Upgraded

Around a year or so ago, I posted a bunch of reference screens captured from various fighting games, to help streamers plan their UI against the actual game without needing to hook up a capture device or to search for images on Google.

It struck me today that putting that here was probably not the easiest thing to find, or the easiest thing for people to use in their projects, so today, I moved the whole thing over to GitHub as a new repository:

https://github.com/ryanmarkel/fg-reference-screens

Contributions are welcome, and requests for screens should be filed as issues. I hope these are useful to you in your stream production.

Preparing to Run Brackets at Large FGC Events

Combo Breaker 2017 is coming up in a handful of days, and I’ll be on the floor helping run brackets to do my part to make it a great experience for competitors.

I enjoyed my volunteer time a ton last year, and I’m happy to help make this year’s event a similar success. Assuming there are new volunteers this year who haven’t run brackets at a big event before, I thought I’d put together a list of things that have worked for me in running an efficient, well-organized bracket and getting the most out of my volunteer time.

So, here we go, in no particular order other than this first one, which is most important:

Attend the Volunteers Meeting before the Event

This is non-negotiable. Every event will have specific ways they do things. They are not always going to be the same from event to event or even year to year. They are almost certainly different from what you have been running for your locals, house events, or whatever you have run before. Your head TO or other bracket coordinator should have sent you a message with the meeting times. Show up.

When you are there, the most important thing you can do—even if you have been to a million of these—is to listen. Things may have changed from the previous year, and there will be others at the meeting who have not done this before. They need to be able to hear, and for that to happen, everyone in the meeting needs to be listening.

If you have questions, ask them at the meeting. It’s far more efficient for you to have your questions answered before a single bracket has started than to try to track down other staff once there are hundreds of people on the event floor and you are facing a time limit for running your pool.

Do Your Homework

You will have your pool assignments ahead of time so you know when you are needed and can schedule yourself accordingly. Players will have their pool assignments ahead of time so they can plan for their matches.

This means you should know who is in your pools before you get started. You’ll also know what games you will be running. Take the time to see who you’ll be working with, study the rules for the games you have been assigned, and make sure you know when you are supposed to be there.

Know who your game’s TO is and what they look like. Know who the head TO is and what they look like. You need to have this information in your head so you can quickly and efficiently get help if and when you need it. Come prepared.

Wear a Watch

You’ll be responsible for getting your brackets done on time. This means you will need to know the following at all times:

  • How long you have before your next bracket starts
  • Whether you are at the threshold of time for you to start DQ’ing players (varies by event)
  • How much longer you have to get the pool done to end on-time

You need to have a clock somewhere on your person the whole time you are staffing the event. A phone is fine, but phones can get dropped, run out of battery, be misplaced, or the like. (I carry a portable charging battery with me at all events in case my phone starts running low.)

YMMV on this suggestion, but I prefer a watch because it’s less obtrusive, easier to glance at when needed, and far more incident-proof than a phone.

Carry a Notebook

When you run into a sticky situation, or if you need to track what’s going on at any given point during your bracket, notes can save you from problems or time-delaying issues. Assume the following when you are running the bracket:

  • Someone will have to go to the bathroom and will (or should) tell you they are doing so to prevent being DQ’d
  • A player will ask you about the rules for the game you are running
  • You’ll need to look at your own schedule to keep things straight and report to the correct place
  • Someone not even in your bracket will see your staff shirt and ask you a question to which you may or may not immediately know the answer
  • Other staff people may have things they need your help with that you can’t get to immediately

A notebook is your lifeline in most of these situations. Things I recommend for your notebook:

  • Put your schedule in it so you can refer to it at any time
  • If someone asks you something and you need to get to it later, write it down so you don’t forget
  • Jot down the rules and default settings (or anything specific that’s different!) for the games you are running so you have it available instantly
  • Write down player names if they leave and inform you they are doing so, as well as what time they left the pool stations (when they leave, you should tell them how quickly they should be back to avoid a DQ situation)

Last year, I carried my Moleskine around in the venue, but it was overly bulky and not very practical. I recommend a smaller notebook style, like a Moleskine Cahier or a Field Notes notebook. They fit in a pants pocket and are easier to move around with.

Relatedly, when you take a pencil for writing on your brackets (because events use paper brackets), take two so you have a backup.

Early = On Time. Be On Time.

Find out what the expectations are for players and when they should report to a pool station for their brackets. Be there five minutes before that time so you are there when players arrive. Politely clear away any casuals at the station in advance of your brackets by setting time expectations with those players as you get things ready. Mark players on your bracket as they check in with you so you know who is there.

Take Care of Yourself

Don’t forget to eat something. Drink water like it’s going out of style. Wear comfortable shoes you can stand in for a couple of hours at a time without problems. Clear any bathroom breaks you might need before your bracket starts. Get some good sleep the night before.

If you are miserable, you are going to pass that savings on to your players, and they won’t have as good a time. Which brings me to my last point:

Have Fun. Help Players Have Fun.

This is your job when you help run an event.

Yes, you are there to enforce rules, make sure players are not being disruptive or otherwise problematic, and to run your brackets on time. You can do these things and still have a good time, which will result in your players also having a good time.

Bracket runners do not get salty. Be fair. Be calm. Encourage your players to have a good time. Answer their questions. Thank your players for being there when they are out of the pool. Congratulate the players who escape the pool to later brackets.

Anything Else?

If I missed something here you think is important, drop me a reply on Twitter and let me know. I’ll be happy to add things to this guide.

One-Second Galaxy Fight

I’ve actually never played this game before, but this tournament(?) of matches for an (I’m assuming relatively) obscure Neo-Geo title with the timer set to only one second is beautifully insane:

A port of the title to PS4 was released last week, and you can buy that here for $7.99.

It’s been confirmed the one-second round timer is possible in the port:

If anyone knows any of the other rules that were used in the Japanese tournament video, let me know; it looks like it’s at least set to Level 1. I’m not sure there are any other settings that matter. :)

Step-By-Step Video Guide to Configuring a Tournament Setup PS4

For my stream tonight, I went over some basics for setting up a PS4 to be a fighting game tournament setup that doesn’t annoy with pop-up notifications and also makes it harder to do things like pause or take screenshots.

The video is less than 20 minutes long; if there is enough interest in it, I’ll do something that is more effectively edited and not full of my rambling while waiting for things to load and forgetting where some settings are.

Broadcast Graphics Example: The ESPN BottomLine

Since I have been thinking a bunch recently about broadcast graphics and best practices, I decided that it might be a good idea to take a look at some examples of television broadcasts and what they have established.

I’d written about this before, but it’s often the case that Twitch broadcasts don’t pay much attention to “broadcast safe” areas even though it’s true that many people now watch Twitch streams on televisions. TVs have to deal with the rather annoying but real matter of overscan. (I may write more about this later.)

Something specific that I use on my stream and I’d love to see more of on event streams—specifically fighting game tournament streams—is a ticker across the bottom of the screen. (I’m actively researching and hoping to build one.) ESPN has been using one for a long time. Here’s what I found when I took a look at it:

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 8.19.21 PM

I had to match them up by eye, and the screen capture isn’t an exact science, but I’m pretty sure they reserve the bottom 100 pixels of a 1080p signal for the ticker. The bottom 50 pixels receives absolutely no information; it’s just a grey stripe. This is “blank” because many televisions will not display this information at all due to overscan. The ticker information is placed within the next 50 pixels, and there’s even a bit more margin before the text baseline.

You can also see that there is a bounding line to the left, where they do not place any text information. That line is 84 pixels from the left of the frame.

It’s clear that if you want a fighting game to be broadcast safe, you will have to adjust at least the UI elements of the scene, if not the output of the console itself. As I mentioned in a tweet recently:

(There is even more information available in that thread talking about this, including the fact that Mortal Kombat’s meters are pushed way to the edge of the frame.)

As was pointed out to me on Twitter by @logichole, who has had some pretty great back-and-forths with me on this subject:

Is this something streamers should concern themselves with? Do we care if our broadcasts are being shown on televisions with overscan? Toss me a tweet reply or write up a post and let me know what you think.