In Which Square Enix Fucked FFXIV’s Solo Instancing In 2013 and Only Just Realized Yesterday

UPDATE: Square seems to have done… something in order to alleviate the choke point around the first questing instance, as everyone seems to have just been let in at once. There’s a rumor going around that a few NA servers crashed, alleviating the demand, but until any official word comes out I’m going to assume that they finally got some more instance servers from somewhere, for the sake of my own sanity.

Ah, it’s that time of video games again, and all over the world data centers are once more on fire as MMORPG devs refuse to anticipate that anyone would actually want to play their game.

It’s pretty much a given by now that an MMORPG expansion launch will be accompanied by frequent disconnects, server crashes, previously uncaught bugs and early quests that were obviously not designed to be attempted by several hundred people at once. I’ve been told that World of Warcraft: Legion‘s launch was actually an incredibly smooth ordeal, but I wouldn’t know as I finally playing WoW not long after Warlords of Draenor‘s launch made my server so unstable that I found the game literally unplayable for the first two weeks after launchNot every launch can be Legion, though.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood entered it’s early-access period yesterday morning. That is, four days before the “official” launch where people who pre-ordered the expansion got to do the expansion content before… people who hadn’t bought the expansion yet? As you can still “pre-order” the expansion and instantly gain access to “early-access” let’s just drop the pretense and marketing BS and say yesterday was Stormblood’s official launch.

For an expansion launch the servers are surprisingly stable. There were some reports of the instance servers crashing early on, but that seems to have died down and the only time I’ve actually been kicked off of the game so far has been a client crash caused by DirectX. Ironically enough the biggest problem of the launch seems to be the measures that Square Enix took in order to stabilize the servers. Explained here, they decided to temporarily limit the number of the instances the game can spawn in order to prevent server crashes. Which would actually be a really good idea if whoever made this decision had consulted with the team designing the main story quests at all.

The first few quests of a new expansion are always the most congested ones, which is something I think MMO devs need to take into account more often. Sure players spread out over the questline later on as they progress at different rates. But for the first day or two, those first twenty or so quests are bogged. Some quests can be completely broken by the number of people trying to them (which I propose we start referring to as “Telescoping”, after the bugged telescope that stymied Horde players in Warlords). FFXIV apparently had something similar go on back when A Realm Reborn launched, when certain quest objects were only set to be interacterable by one player at a time (because ????) so players had to form literal queues in front of them. (I can only assume that this only worked out on the European datacenters.)

And for some incredibly bizarre reason Square decided that one of the first quests in the expansion’s questline involve a solo-instance. Which everyone is trying to get into at once. And which SE specifically configured the servers to not allow very many people to do at once.

Yeah.

But this wouldn’t be such a bid deal if solo questline instances worked like literally every other kind of instance in the game, but they don’t. When you try to enter any other kind of instanced content in FFXIV you enter a queue for it, even if you don’t need any matchmaking for it. So if you have a full party of 8 people trying to enter a raid or a solo player looking to enter Hall of the Novice you spend a second or two in a queue while the game finds an instance for you. In the incredibly rare case that there are no instances available, you wait a little longer until they’re is one. But as far as instances that are entered as part of quests, Square apparently never had the foresight to implement a queue for because (I guess) they never thought they would need to. I’ve certainly never failed to join a quest instance before last night.

But with the slew of (quite frankly bizarre) advertising campaigns that SE held for the expansion, the introduction of level and story skip potions that let new players skip right to the new expansion content and the fact that they made the conscious decision to limit the number of instances that the servers could host at a time, it’s a right mess. People tried to do the queue thing again, but after realizing that it wouldn’t work, everyone just seems to have formed a massive clusterfuck around the NPC that starts the instance. Clicking on him repeatedly to try to get into the battle. Sometimes for up to 11 hours straight.

Pictured: Holy fuck.

Late last night Square apparently reverted some of the changes they made to instance limits but it doesn’t seem to have helped much a massive crowd still remains around the choke point and only one person in my raid group reports having managed to get in so far. Square, probably already working 15 hour days and in full panic mode to figure out some way to alleviate this mess, has yet to provide any more information other than a very politely worded “please go do something else for a while and try again later”.

And the fucked thing is is that, not only is asking people to wait a while the most obvious solution available, it’s also likely the only viable one as of right now.

The optimal solution (and one sorely needed in general, if Square wants to keep designing questlines like this) would be to implement queues for quest instances as they could in every other kind of instance in the game. But making such changes to such a low level part of the game (in such a way that the rest of the game doesn’t completely blow up) would take a good chunk of man hours. This would probably be even harder for FFXIV that it would be on any other game because, after the game’s engine was hurriedly rewritten within the space of one year, I can only assume that FFXIV’s code base consists mostly of spaghetti and Nobuaki Komoto’s tears.

A large amount of time and money for Stormblood development supposedly went into alleviating some of the massive amount of technical debt the re-release accrued, but I’m not expecting any miracles when it comes to Square being able to quickly effectively rework old game systems.

Another solution would be to temporarily hotfix the quest for now to not require the instanced battle at all. Have the introductory cutscene fade to black and have “and then our hero killed all the baddies and it was really cool” appear on the screen, and then let players continue on. But Square Enix has repeatedly made it clear that they don’t like compromising with their story. Considering how the story in its current state is unplayable, I’d say it’s worth it. But I’m not Square Enix.

But honestly, there doesn’t currently seem to be a good, quick solution to the problem that SE has made for themselves. It took so, so many fuckups to get to this point. They designed a questline that required players to use a limited server resource at the exact point where everyone and their mum would be trying to do it at once. They didn’t foresee that one day so many people might be trying to do instanced solo battles at once that they would run out of resources, so they never bothered to implement a way for the game to handle a basic edge case gracefully. They released their new skip potions the same day as the expansion so every server had even more level 60 characters clamoring to start the new content.

And you know what else? There were definitely multiple people on Stormblood’s development team who saw this coming. There was definitely at least one person who saw the plans to restrict new instances and the fact that an early quest required instancing and tried to tell someone in charge that this absolutely was not going to work. But whoever they told presumedly told them the Japanese equivalent of “shut the fuck up” and then went to go spend more money putting Zenos yae Galvus on Carl’s Jr. cups.

And you know what? This level of fuckery isn’t even unusual in the world of expansion releases. The fact that the servers are even up and running makes Stormblood’s release one of the smoothest I’ve experienced, even if I can’t actually do anything on these apparently indestructible servers. I’m not sure why, but MMORPG developers honestly don’t seem to understand that people actually play their game. Despite that being kind of the whole point of the genre.

I’m honestly so deadened to MMO release day fuckery that I can only sit back and wonder if the people who took PTO on Friday to power to level 70 had ever experienced more than one other MMO release before.

And, Blizzard, you still owe me $7 for those two weeks in Warlords of Draenor.

Let’s Review: The Sims 4: Parenthood

Since the introduction of generational play in The Sims 2, family and parentdom has been a key part of the Sims series. However, the most recent two entries in the series received complaint from some (myself included) to the tune that childhood and teendom felt underdeveloped, especially compared to the wide variety of content that later expansions added for older sims. For 3, Maxis’ response to this was the Generations expansion which focused on younger sims and elders. Parenthood seems to be the Sims 4 equivalent to that.

Now let’s get this out of the way first: I hated Generations, as anyone who’s ever brought it up in conversation with me would know. But I hated the pack for reasons relating to its implementation, as opposed to it’s ideas. Idea-wise, Generations was solid, and I feel the same way about Parenthood. There’s nothing wrong with adding more depth to several life-stages that felt like they were added to the game as a second thought because someone at Maxis remembered them when the game already had one foot out the studio door.

But should most of the content of both Generations and Parenthood have been in the base game releases and none of us should have had to pay extra for it? Yes, absolutely.

Moving on…

Gameplay

Hey look it’s the bit that matters the most. The pack is solid here. A lot of expansion has been done on the interactions between young sims and their parents. There’s a new Parenting skill that lets adults get better at being a parent as they gain more experience with the role. The skill unlocks a number of interactions that sims can perform on their kids in order to help them develop better (or worse) traits as they age into young adults.

Speaking of traits, there are (a whopping, considering the track record) 11 of them included in this pack. 1 of them is gained by completing the new Aspiration, while the other 10 can be earned from the new “Character Values” system.

A new element has been added to Toddler, Child and Teen sims Simology panel that tracks the status of five values. They can be in either the positive and negative, and getting any of them high or low enough will award a trait once the Sim ages up to a Young Adult. This is a really cool idea. I often think that Sims games could improve by having sims develop their personalities through their lived experiences, as opposed to being chosen by the player every birthday. Character Values seems like a step in the right direction.

Parents can take an active role in encouraging certain values but they can also be developed through everyday actions, like cleaning the dishes or being nice to others. There are also chance card-type events that can affect a sims character. All in all, this feature feels very well integrated with the rest of the game.

The awarded traits themselves do indeed affect how the sim plays. Argumentative sims seem to have trouble forming new relationships and ill-mannered sims wont autonomously clean their own dishes, to name two examples. As the main mechanic of this pack, Character Values worked out really well as both something to do while your sims are children, and something that fleshes them out for the rest of their short, pointless lives.

As for other gameplay stuff, curfews are back from Sims 3. They’re optional this time (thank god) and they’re not enforced by psychic police. They’re a nice feature and the ability to break them helps characterize teens as more than just slightly shorter adults.

CAS

There’s nothing particularly notable about the new CAS assets this time around. There’s an acne face detail, which is a tad disappointing. It looks fine, but I was hoping that zits would be a gameplay thing, as they were in 2. There are a few new hairstyles, but none that I’m particularly enamored with save for maybe the cute twists with the flower clips that female children get.

As for the adult to elder category, there are a few pieces obviously aimed at teenagers and I like the jeans with a plaid shirt wrapped around the waist. But that’s about it.  I can see myself using the stuff, which is more than I can say for what came with some packs.

Build/Buy

There’s nothing in Build mode save for a cute door intended for children’s rooms, two windows and some new wallpapers.

The real treasure is in Buy mode. Bizarrely, there is absolutely nothing in the way of new toddler toys or beds, but there are two really nice new single beds. There seem to be two styles of decor in this pack, the weathered country theme and generic kid-friendly furniture, like something one would find in the children’s section of an IKEA,  all round corners and extra storage. The new counters follow the rustic theme and are absolutely lovely. There are also some new 4×4 coffee tables, which are a neat. There’s a new shower/tub combo that has some really nice shower curtain options and a lovely sink that looks like it could belong in a utility room. And I am absolutely in love with the new stove.

Just look at this thing. It looks like a car.

There’s also a decorative bread box(!!!), but that’s the highlights of it. Everything else isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.

Brand new items include a diary, a building block (think Lego) table, a toy doctor’s kit and school project boxes. The diary is pretty boring. Sims can write in it for a positive moodlet and an increase to Emotional Control, reread it to gain back the mood that they were in when they last wrote, and other sims can snoop if they so choose. The table is nice but I’m kind of over this whole trend of adding new activities that can only be done on specific tables. I’d much rather be able to place a block set, a deck of cards or drawing set on any given 1×1 dining table rather than fill my sims’ house with ten different mismatched tables.

The doctors kit comes in two varieties, teddy bear and baby doll. They’re functionally the same, and both are adorable.

The school projects are neat. Kids will sometimes bring them home from school and they can also be bought from the catalog. There seem to be grade bonuses for completing the project quickly and doing the project sloppily or carefully affects the project’s final appearance. It’s a small little feature, but I like it a lot.

Misc.

This pack followed Vampires’ lead and added some truly lovely new music to Build/Buy and CAS. If new packs continue this trend, or we gain the ability to disable certain tracks, I could see myself muting the game during long stints in build mode a lot less.

I don’t know who they had to fire to get this to happen, but I’m glad they took their horrible plinky piano noises with them.

Conclusion

I like this pack. It approaches the same problem that Generations did, but implements it a lot better (for half the price, no less). I still feel that most of the content in Parenthood ought to have made its way into the base game, as playing children and teenagers without it just feels empty and half-baked. I’m not going to go off into conspiracy theory territory and posit that it was left out of the base game in order to charge and extra $20 for it later. But I do think that a fully fleshed out childhood in a series where family play has always been a focus shouldn’t be locked behind a $20 DLC.

But I did love the pack, and would highly recommend it as a first buy for anyone just getting into the game’s addons and who enjoys playing families. It doesn’t add any great new adventure to the game like University or World Adventures did, but it’s something more in the vein of Freetime, that adds to the sims’ daily lives, making them feel more human.

Stop Putting Servers in California

Dear online game developers,

Why do you insist on situating your North American servers in California? Is it because you almost definitely have a building there? Are you like me where on particularly hot days you like to go and have a sneaky lunch in the server room because it has the best air conditioning in the building?

Help me understand why, oh why, you insist on putting your servers on the very edge of the continent.

North America is a giant landmass with absolutely garbage physical infrastructure. Most internet connections within the United States still run along copper phone lines, which were invented over 100 years ago to handle much simpler communication protocols. Pile on top of that that most of this infrastructure is owned by one of just three companies, each holding an absolute monopoly over several large areas within the United States, there is no incentive for the infrastructure to update any time soon.

Despite the illusion we’ve built up around the digital age, data does not move instantly. Even within your own machine there is a minuscule amount of latency (nanoseconds) between the moment where your machine’s memory controller requests a value stored in memory and when that value is received. Now multiply that out to a distance of a few hundred miles and the latency of the data transfer may become a noticeable delay, measurable in tens or even hundreds of milliseconds.

In an online game where reaction speed matters, latency can become a problem. Before League of Legends moved its North American servers from Portland to Chicago, 61% of non-international competitors in the season 5 NA championship series hailed from (and learned to play in) the Pacific timezone.

Although not every game requires as little latency to play optimally as LoL does, more games would absolutely benefit from moving their datacenters from one of the coasts to a location closer to the center of the country. As it stands, being closer to the game server permits a distinct advantage over those further from it.

Some games may follow in Riot’s footsteps and relocate to Chicago, a large city with compatible infrastructure to those on the coasts, that’s quite far north and closer to the East Coast than to the West. For those games that would prefer a more central location between the coasts and a better deal for South American players (in exchange for a sacrifice of Canadian ones), Texan cities like Dallas or Austin would be a fine choice. Kansas City and Denver are also viable options for centrally located cities.

There is simply no reason for a company worth billions to shove their game servers to the edge of the continent. It hampers player competition and inconveniences more players than it aids.

Just stop putting your bloody servers all the way over in California, ok? It’s real stupid.

Yours,

Exx

Wherein Cancelling a Pre-Order is a Bannable Offense

Pre-ordering digitally distributed games is dumb. It’s dumb, but I do it anyway sometimes for various dumb reasons. In the case of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood, getting to play the expansion content four days early is part of the pre-order bonus package. And, well, you can’t afford to waste any time hopping on that gear treadmill.

I got my pre-order bonus codes the day I ordered the expansion on Amazon. They don’t do anything until Square decides to mail out the bonus items a little before early access starts, but I still applied them to my account as soon as I got them because why wouldn’t I? And then I was all sorted until early access started June 16th, right?

Nope, ’cause Amazon sent me my estimated delivery date yesterday.

Yep. That’s a week after release. Shouldn’t the point of pre-ordering something be that you’re guaranteed to get it on time? Anyway, if it was just getting the game a week late that might be okay I guess. I’d be a little behind on gearing by the time raids open in a month or so, but it would probably be fine, save the immense disappointment. But because I have early access applied to my account, I get to play Stormblood content for four days, and then lose it for a week.

This doesn’t just mean I lose access to the new areas and the new classes, for that week I would lose access to every character on my account with a point of experience over level 60 or one of the two new classes unlocked, effectively making the game unplayable for 6 – 10 days.

So I cancelled my pre-order and re-ordered the digital version of the expansion directly from Square Enix’s online store, getting another pre-order bonus code in the process. My original pre-order bonuses were still attached to my game account though, so I contacted Square Enix about that, unsure of what to do with the new codes.

Lolwhat?

The system’s default reaction to somebody cancelling a pre-order is to immediately ban the account and make the user fight with a cumbersome customer service process to get it back? Why? It’s not like filing a credit card chargeback on my subscription after I’ve already played for the month. I haven’t actually gained anything yet from the cancelled pre-order. If Amazon requests my early access be revoked there’s surely nothing stopping Square Enix from silently removing it from my account.

Isn’t this policy just wildly consumer unfriendly?

Anyway, I did end up calling Amazon and asking them how they would handle my cancellation, which had already taken far more of my time than it should have. Fortunately Amazon isn’t vindictive about that $40 I wont be giving them and I was informed that they didn’t give enough of a crap to revoke my pre-order bonuses and that they weren’t losing anything by letting me keep them.

And that’s how I discovered how horrifyingly flawed Final Fantasy XIV’s account management system is. I also spent more time that was warranted getting to play a game early during a four day period in which the game servers are most likely to be on fire.

Rebranding!

If you haven’t noticed already, I changed the name and URL of the site. If you came here via the old one, you would have also noticed that the old URL redirects to the new one. I’m probably going to keep it that way for a while, as I still have a lot of email accounts on the old ones and too many mailing lists to update.

The old name was a joke on my accent, but it kind of falls flat when you’ve never, you know, heard me speak. This new name is probably more memorable, more fun and it reinforces the idea that this is definitely not a Sims blog.

I’ll also be updating the site theme in the next few days to make it easier to read, because I hate this font and should have done it months ago.

Let’s Review: Kathy Rain

Hey so here’s a game that came out over a year ago and I didn’t hear about until two days ago. I find it pretty weird that I never heard about Kathy Rain for an entire year after it was released because I goddamn love point and click adventure games.

Kathy Rain is an adventure game in the style of a classic LucasArts title, which makes me hard as hell. The pixel art is lovely and there’s a lot to be said for the character and scene design. The plot holds a lot of intrigue and there are even one or two legitimately spooky moments, despite not being a horror game.

The voice acting is great and really helps bring each character together as a distinct, believable person. Kathy herself is an interesting character, with just the right combination of obnoxious edgelord and vulnerable young woman to come off sympathetic, yet flawed.

The final section of the game (you’ll know it when you see it) is a tad weak and I feel that several plot threads went unresolved after all was said and done. This was probably done for a sequel hook, but apparently the first game didn’t sell too well so a Kathy Rain 2 is hardly guaranteed. I have a big problem with questions left unanswered in media that isn’t likely to warrant a follow-up.

The game’s puzzles are pleasantly devoid of ‘moon logic‘ and many of them are difficult, but definitely fair. Everything you do as a puzzle makes total sense in the context of the game’s plot, which is a nice break from adventures such as Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series, which, while being one of my favorite series, features puzzles such as solving a 2048 game in order to open a lighthouse.

Kathy Rain is a pretty short game (I finished it in one six hour sitting), but that might be on par with other point and clicks. It’s on the individual player to decide whether or not that warrants whatever price the game is currently selling for (in my case, the full price of $14.99).

At any rate, Kathy Rain is a well put together point and click adventure game, reminiscent of the genre’s golden age back in the 90’s. It falls apart a bit at the very end but the ride to get to that point was very enjoyable nonetheless. Unlikely though it may be at this point, I’m going to start holding out for a sequel.

Maxis is Asking Sims Players to Design a Stuff Pack for Them

Update: It seems like Eco Living has won the poll. #TeamDangerousStuff will have its revenge!

EAxis is currently hosting a small survey that lets people vote on the theme of a future Sims 4 Stuff Pack (the $10-tier of DLC for the unfamiliar). According to the blog post, they’re apparently planning several more surveys in the next few weeks to narrow down the content of the pack.

The stated purpose of the project is to give players some insight into the studio’s development process (as well as create something that a lot of people would be willing to spend $10 on, no doubt). Not sure if it’ll teach anyone anything useful about the development process, but hey.

It’s still a neat idea and you should go vote on a thing.

#TeamDangerousStuff

A Self-Proclaimed Sims Competitor Threw a Twitter Tantrum. Or Something. I think?

So here’s a weird thing that’s come to a head these past several hours.

It started five months ago, when a reddit account going by the name of /u/projectvie began posting to the Sims subreddit about a competing game that may or may not be in the works. This garnered quite a lot of attention rather quickly, garnering several more reddit posts dedicated to the mysterious ‘Project Vie’ as well as posts and discussion among the Sims communities on tumblr, twitter and miscellaneous Sims fansites.

For context, a true competitor to EA’s cash cow series has been something talked about for some time now. The Sims series exists completely in a genre of its own and has done so for 17 years. It’s quite a popular (and probably not false) thought among fans that the series having to compete with others for its role in the game industry would force EA to create more consumer-friendly products and business practices. Combine that with the complete commercial failure of SimCity(2013) and subsequent success of Unity-built indie city sim Cities: Skylines in 2015, people are interested to see whether or not Will Wright’s other popular brainchild could get a decent equivalent outside of the EA realm.

And so people got interested. And the whole thing took off from there.

/u/projectvie kept posting in /r/TheSims, dropping vague hints about its totally real and happening video game, and posting a link to their official twitter, the only web presence that the project had (and still have) at the time. With only the working name of a project in hand, and not even the name of a studio that would be working on the game, it was easy to be skeptical.

But whoever was behind the accounts got the attention they wanted, nonetheless, after yet another vague post, this time made on twitter, promised an official announcement on March 15th. There were also some rumors about the /u/projectvie account being shadowbanned for breaking reddit’s self-promotion rules (which they were).

But March 15th did come, and the people got what they were asking for, in the form of no official announcement, but in a tweet, with two supposed ‘alpha’ screenshots attached.

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How a Poorly Designed Boss Made the Entire FFXIV Community Lose Its Shit For A Goddamn Month

Final Fantasy XIV is my current weakness. I wrote about it previously when I discussed the game’s interesting rules concerning addons and log parsers. Today though, we’re talking about Zurvan.

Recently added in patch 3.5, Zurvan Extreme is the latest Primal, a single raid boss generally intended to be easily killed in PUGs. Despite being touted by the developers before release as intended to be harder than other recent bosses, well, Zurvan is pretty goddamn easy. The fight itself only has three mechanics that aren’t some variation on “don’t stand on X when he casts Y” and two of those could be completely skipped on day 1 with a decent amount of DPS. The fight was cleared within an hour of the servers coming back up after the patch and some of the first groups to do it seemed honestly confused that nothing seemed to actually happen until the boss was pushed to 60% HP.

Many more groups after that seemed even more confused when they tried the fight and found that, for them, things did happen and they ended up wiping to a fight that they had previously been told was faceroll. And then everyone got really salty when they figured out what the hell was going on.

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Let’s Review: The Sims 4: Vampires

In an attempt to steal the award for least imaginative add-on title away from the likes of Pets, University and City Living, The Sims Studio came up with The Sims 4: Vampires. The fourth in a series of $20 ‘game-packs’, Vampires does exactly what it says on the tin.

When the vampire leaks first came to surface, I was pretty skeptical. Since The Sims 2: University, each and every Sims expansion included a new ‘life state’, a playable monster or supernatural kind of sim tangentially related to the expansion’s theme. With monstery and otherwise weird sims being one of my favorite aspects of the series, it was disappointing as hell to see both Get Together and City Living ship without a new life state. It was even more disappointing when combing of new patch files brought to light the possibility that EA would start packaging off my favorite part of the game and selling them separately. For $20 a pop.

But, having played Vampires quite a bit in the past week I realize that I don’t… actually hate the idea? Of course I’d rather not spend more money, but the pack does feel like it justifies the $20 price tag.

For one, this is probably the most complete vampire implementation in the series so far. Whereas 2’s Night Life focused more on the stereotypical Stoker-esque interpretation of vampire folklore, with ashy skin, bat transformations and more Counts than you could count, 3’s Late Night implementation followed the sexier, more brooding strain of vampirism that was extremely popular in young adult novels around that time. The Sims 3 vampires also all had neck tattoos for some reason. Seriously.

This implementation, however, doesn’t limit itself to one version.

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