Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
 
Failed Wisdom Check

You probably know the feeling when a song gets stuck in your head, and the track plays over and over in your mind. I do get something similar with games, where I suddenly can’r stop thinking about a particular game anymore. Unfortunately in this case the game is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the one where I forgot to pack the game cartridge for my Switch into my holiday baggage. My first solution was to watch more Let’s Play videos on Twitch and YouTube, but that didn’t really scratch the itch. And unlike World of Tanks, where I feel that watching a good player stream his games teaches me things like where to go with a certain tank type on a certain map, I didn’t feel like watching people play Zelda was teaching me anything.

The game of “Real Life” is another open world game, with great graphics but sometimes somewhat grindy gameplay. But I have been fortunate and/or skilled enough in “Real Life” to reach the stage where money isn’t a constant worry anymore. People still disagree whether that is a win condition. In any case it teaches you that in fact the problems in life that you can solve by throwing a bit of money at them are in fact the easier ones. So I decided to solve my Zelda problem with a bit of money, and just bought the game again, this time the downloadable version instead of the physical cartridge. The Switch was playing nice, and kept the download reasonable, probably because the game was already installed from cartridge.

So now I started playing Breath of the Wild again, starting over from the beginning. My plan is to follow the main story only as far as needed to get the main abilities and then to concentrate on exploring, gathering, and crafting. For example I never got all the Korok seeds in my first playthrough. There is obviously a risk that I get bored again of the game in a few days and wasted 70 Euro, but right now I don’t mind.

Saturday, July 13, 2019
 
Innocence lost

A decade ago, when I was still actively blogging about MMORPGs, the idea that I could record myself playing let’s say World of Warcraft and people would watch that seemed ridiculous. Today there is Twitch, and YouTube is full of “let’s play” videos as well. And even I am sometimes watching. Usually in order to learn how to play better, because that is easier achieved by watching than by reading an explanation. But recently I also watched somebody on Twitch playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the first time. Which at the same time made me want to play that game again, and had me realize that it wouldn’t be the same.

World of Tanks, which I have mostly been playing this year, has more or less infinite replayability. Even if you end up with the same tank on the same map, the actions of the other 29 players in the battle won’t be the same, so the battle will be different. The replayability of a game like Zelda is a lot more limited, because it is a game of exploration and discovery. Once you have discovered something unexpected, like drawing a bow next to a fire and discovering that this turns your regular arrows into fire arrows, you can’t unring that bell. On the next playthrough you will still know this, and be unable to have another “wow, discovery!” moment. The second playthrough of Zelda is necessarily much less exciting than the first. If I want to recreate those moments, I either need to wait for Breath of the Wild 2, or play a completely different open world exploration game, and then I can’t think of one as good as Zelda. Still I’d probably have more fun playing one of the newer Assassin’s Creed games that I haven’t played yet rather than playing Breath of the Wild again.

The great thing about Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is that a) you can go anywhere you want due to the climbing mechanic, and then b) there will be something there to discover. Most other open world games either have lots of areas you can’t go to, blocked of by visible or invisible walls, and/or you can get to the top of the mountain and find that there is nothing interesting there. In Zelda there would be at least a small riddle up there that rewards you with a seed, used to enlarge your inventory. I haven’t really found another game since Zelda that does this as well.


Friday, July 12, 2019
 
Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I’m on holidays. You know, the European variety of holidays, where you get three weeks in the summer to relax and not do very much. A good opportunity to try out some new games, so I deliberately left the laptop (and thus World of Tanks) at home and instead took the Switch and my new iPad Pro (3rd gen 12.9”). But the perfect new game still proves to be elusive. A long history of gaming creates a long list of expectations, and real games often do not live up to that imaginary mix of the best features of every game you played.

So I have been trying Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the Switch. I read reviews about it complaining about the combat, but as one of the main complaints was that combat was slow and not as “real time” reaction based as it seems, I thought this would be the game for me. I prefer turn-based combat anyway. Unfortunately it turns out that even I don’t like the combat system in this game. Not because it is too slow, or too complex, I am fine with that. But because it doesn’t give you very good feedback about what is happening. I am in chapter 3 now, so I have a full party of three characters, each one with at least one “blade” sidekick. But of those 6 characters fighting, I control only one, while the other 5 do their own thing on auto-pilot. Yeah, I can launch their main ability in order to build a blade combo, but that is all I can control of the other characters. So I am playing on the small Switch screen, there are 6 of my characters fighting X enemy characters, and I barely have a clue about what is going on. They usually win, but it feels as if they also would have won if I had gone for a cup of coffee instead of pressing buttons. That is not very satisfying.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is certainly a nice JRPG with an interesting world and story, fun characters, and lots of cinematic highlights. But to me it feels way too passive, with me having no control, neither in combat nor in the story. There are no dialogue choices, the story is completely on rails. There is no open world, not much exploration, and as I said not much control in combat. I could certainly occupy myself for many hours just playing through the story or doing some grinding (salvaging or combat). But I feel that I could have more fun with another game. I just need to find the right one.

P.S. I bought a transport case for the Switch that comes with lots of little pockets for the little game cartridges that the Switch uses. But I wasn’t very thorough filling those pockets and left Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild at home, having already “finished” it. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 made me want to play Zelda instead, too bad I didn’t bring it.

Thursday, July 11, 2019
 
Sunless Sea

I’ve been playing Sunless Sea on my iPad for several days now. It is a game with a great setting, somewhere between steampunk and gothic horror. Unlike its predecessor Fallen London it also has a gameplay beyond clicking through text: In Sunless Sea you control a ship exploring a large map, including getting into ship combat. However gameplay clearly isn’t the strong suite of Failbetter Games, and that ultimately lets down the game.

I have recently finished Out of the Abyss, a D&D campaign playing in the Underdark. Sunless Sea imagines a Victorian London having sunk into something very much like the Underdark, or rather the Darklake. There is a lot of fun to be had exploring this weird setting. Every new harbor you find has new stories to tell. Often you need to transport things from A to B in order to advance these stories, which gives you some motivation for your ship travel. At the start of the game you can set yoursellf a story goal, e.g. find and bury the bones of your father, and you “win” by fulfilling this goal and retiring.

I don’t know how many more hours it would take for me to win the game, because I already got tired of constantly losing it. Sunless Sea is designed to be lost. It is a survival game in which you can easily run out of fuel, food, crew, or hull strength, and die. You can then pass on some of your stuff to your next character, but even if you have a son and made a will, your death is a huge setback. You can die a lot less by save scumming (in the default mode you only get the autosave, but you can switch to manual saving). But even if you do that, the game remains very tough and progress is very slow. If you take enough fuel and supplies for a long journey, you have very little cargo space left. While trading goods between ports is possible, profits are slim. It takes forever to get enough money for a better ship, and even then you are still stuck with a small cargo space, as the ships with more space are unaffordably expensive.

But the fundamental design flaw in Sunless Sea is that story-based exploration and survival doesn’t mix well. I understand the appeal of rogue-likes and survival games, in which every new game starts in a new, random environment. That isn’t the case in Sunless Sea; there is some minor rearrangement of the tiles that constitute the map, but the stories and characters remain the same. Your umpteenth captain is going to again transport the same tomb-colonist to the city just to the north of London, starting the same story about rescuing her father for the umpteenth time. Needless to say that gets old pretty fast.

So I am avoiding death through save scumming now. I have a pretty good fighting ship, well equipped and with a full set of officers now. I am well advanced in the story about recovering my father’s bones. I have explored most of the map and know what I must do to finish that story. But I won’t. Because once you visited most places and have heard the initial stories, and understood the gameplay well, “winning” the game is just a tedious exercise of sailing your ship all over the map for many long hours to gather all the required items to advance the story. The game simply runs out of fun long before you reach the win condition.

Overall I had enough hours of fun with Sunless Sea to not regret the purchase price. But I am not yet sure whether I want to buy the successor, Sunless Skies. I really likes the world of Sunless Sea, but found the gameplay to be underwhelming in the long run.

Saturday, July 06, 2019
 
The mod that ruined the game

Most players of World of Tanks use the XVM mod, either as standalone or as part of a modpack. The mod requires you to log into the XVM site at least once every two weeks, at which point it updates your statistics. In exchange you get to see in the game the statistics of the other players. That is very helpful information, as it gives you a better idea how dangerous an enemy tank is. No, it doesn't really measure "skill", but a mix of skill and gear in past games. But that still means that the player marked as "tomato" red probably is overall less dangerous than the "unicum" purple player.

However that color coding of players leads to lots of insults flying towards the "tomatoes". Thus players not just want to get better at the game, they want to get better displayed stats. Which is not the same thing, as stats can be padded. And one of the most effective ways to pad stats is to play well equipped tanks with good crews at lower tiers, where many enemy tanks will have less good equipment and crew.

The overall result is what is called "seal clubbing", lots of more experienced players in low tier games racking up lots of kills against new players. That seriously discourages new players from continuing to play, which is the main reason World of Tanks is in decline. Nobody wants to be a noob forever, but leaving noob status requires the constant influx of new noobs, so yesterday's noob can now feel superior to somebody. Scare away the new players and the whole edifice crumbles slowly over time: The least good players leave in frustration, making the next better strata of players into the new permanent victims, until they leave as well. And so on.

What is really remarkable in World of Tanks is that the game company itself uses much better scoring systems. Everything in the game is designed to drive you towards higher tiers. If XVM wouldn't exist, seal clubbing wouldn't make much sense as it doesn't really give you much progress. It is player-designed formulas for WN8 "skill measure" that drives players to ruin the games for new players. If the "skill measure" formula would count against what tier of tank you dealt damage instead of treating all damage equally, the picture would look a lot different. And Wargaming would have an actual chance to attract new players into World of Tanks.

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Thursday, July 04, 2019
 
Rage of Demons: Final Session

In the previous session the group had gathered all the ingredients to produce the dark heart, the magical object that would act as a focus for a ritual to summon all demon lords in the Underdark to the same location. They were only missing the demon summoning grimoire of Gromph Baenre, the drow archmage who had initially summoned the demon lords from the abyss. And this book was in a highly guarded location in Menzoberranzan, the capital city of the drow. At the same time they were told to leave the dark heart there.

Getting to Menzoberranzan was easy with the help of a tunnel the exiled drow archmage Vizeran had built over the years. But it was still a trip of several days. The group was accompanied by Vizeran's apprentice, Grin Ousstyl. And as they approached their destination it became obvious that Grin had a problem. So they questioned him and found out that Vizeran had lied to them: The dark heart could be placed anywhere, not just in Menzoberranzan. And Grin really would prefer if his hometown wasn't further destroyed by rampaging demon lords. However only Arkoy the cleric didn't want the demon lords to destroy Menzoberranzan, the rest of the group was quite okay with that.

In Menzoberranzan the group encountered Jarlaxle Baenre, head of the Bregan D'Aerthe, the drow spy and assassin organization. The group managed to persuade him to help them getting into the archmage's tower, as Jarlaxle also wanted to get rid of the demon lords. Of course they didn't tell him that they planned the final confrontation to happen in Menzoberranzan. With some very lucky rolls they actually got away with lying to him.

In the tower they overcame some obstacles like guardians and a magical maze to arrive in the inner sanctum. They found a female drow there, trapped in a magical circle, and decided not to free her (good choice, as she was a shapechanging demon). The got the book, and tried to get out of the city again. But as they had placed the dark heart in the city, Grin now decided to betray them to avoid the summoning of the demon lords in Menzoberranzan. But they killed Grin and a drow patrol, and then escaped.

So the rest of the plan went as foreseen: They got the book back to Vizeran, they went back to Menzoberranzan, Vizeran summoned all the demon lords, and the demon lords started fighting each other. At the end only Demogorgon was left. That started the climax of the campaign, the final fight: A level 13 group of 5 players against Demogorgon, challenge rating 26.

Playing Demogorgon as intelligent adversary, at the start of the fight I got the group good: I used Demogorgon's power to create an illusory duplicate of himself with the project image spell, and the group wasted their alpha strike on this double. Then the fight began for real, and it was tough, but not quite as tough as I had thought it would be. It took a lot of rounds, but nobody died. Demogorgon at several occasions used his dispel magic spell to remove spell effects cast by the group. For narrative purposes I described that as him corrupting the spell effect: The grasping vines the ranger had cast to hold him turned into another tentacle, the moonbeam turned into a moon shadow. The corruption didn't do anything else than negating the effect, just like dispel magic, but made it more interesting. After a long fight they brought down Demogorgon, and the campaign ended.

While I am very happy to have played this campaign to the end, I must say that Dungeons & Dragons after 5 editions still fails to work very well at high levels. Demogorgon was nearly too easy for a level 13 group, and this is one of the strongest enemies available in the Monster Manual. The only thing these strong enemies achieve is making the fights longer, not necessarily more challenging. And with the group that strong, it is nearly impossible to challenge them anymore with just regular monster fights in a typical dungeon. "You open the door and encounter 3 ancient black dragons" doesn't really work from a story point of view, and the lesser monsters pose no sufficient challenge.

I will play a shortened 5E version of the Zeitgeist campaign with this group next, and then probably Curse of Strahd. Neither of these will go beyond level 10.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019
 
Keeping tanks

Progress in World of Tanks revolves around tech trees. You start with a tier I tank of a nation, and work your way up the tech tree up to tier X for several different tank types. At each tier and type you need to play the tank a while to gather the necessary xp for improved tank equipment, and then research the next tier of tank. Invariably you thus end up in a situation where you have done everything you need with a tank and could move on to the next. But what do you do with the old tank, keep it or sell it?

I must say that when I started World of Tanks in 2011, I was firmly in "keep it" mode. Thus there are some tank lines where I have many or all of the tanks from tier 1 to 10. However that method has several disadvantages: You can't use a tank without crew, and any given crew member can only be proficient in one specific tank. Only for premium tanks you don't need a specific crew. So if you have all 10 tanks of a tank line, you end up with 10 tank crews, all of which aren't very experienced, as each of them is only used a fraction of the time.

So the alternative "sell it" version that I am doing now involves sending the crew of the old tank to the barracks, selling the old tank, and putting the crew on the new tank, retraining it with gold. That way every battle along the whole tank line gives the crew experience that improves their skills and perks. In the end you have only one tank with one crew, but that crew has several skills and perks, and performs a lot better.

My problem with the "sell it" plan is that sometimes the higher tier tanks aren't the most fun to play of a line. I had cases where after reaching top tier, I went back and bought back a middle tier tank of that line, because it was just better for its tier than the top one. And then I needed to decide whether to keep the top tier tank, and whether to put the good crew in the top tier or the medium tier tank. However right now I don't enjoy the high tiers all that much. They aren't really suited to more casual players or people like me who took a 7-year break from playing.

And there in a nutshell is my problem with quite a bunch of multiplayer online games: You progress towards a point where the other people playing with you are far too serious, have all the toxicity of the usual hardcore player, and are frequently frankly not the kind of person you would want to hang out with.

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Sunday, June 23, 2019
 
Should you be playing World of Tanks in 2019?

Short answer: No

Long answer: World of Tanks is a fun game, and can be played for free, so you might want to try it out. However you need to be aware that it is an ageing PvP multiplayer game, which is definitely in decline. There are very few actual new players in the game now. You will constantly fight against people who know the game far better than you, and have amassed as sorts of advantages over you in the form of better equipment or better crew. You basically can't get a fair fight. And if you would really want to invest yourself in the game and get as good as the current players, you'd have to take into account the declining server populations. Especially if you live in North America, where the servers are already pretty empty.

I was playing several tier VIII games this weekend, and noticed that in several of them the average number of battles played per player was 30,000. And several of the players with lesser number of battles played had suspiciously high win rates and WN8 ratings, suggesting that they were second accounts. Me, with my 10,000 battles, am still considered a n00b. Even in low tier games I meet players that have played far more battles than I have, and many of them in low tier tanks, trying to get high ratings by preying on less experienced players.

While technically World of Tanks is better now than it was 8 years ago, with better graphics and features, the lack of new and casual players, and the lack of game mechanics that would separate players by power, pretty much tipped the game over the edge. It is unlikely that it will ever "revive" and suddenly gain large numbers of new players. If you played before, you might want to play again now. But getting into the game now as a real new player would be painful. I'm not saying that "World of Tanks is dying", as it will probably still be around for a number of years. But the era where I would with a good conscience recommend World of Tanks to a new player is certainly over.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019
 
My name in yellow

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. That can actually be useful as a strategy when you feel that you are too in awe or afraid of something: Studying that something to become more familiar with it will usually deflate that awe or fear. Now since I have restarted playing World of Tanks and am using the XVM modpack, I had been somewhat intimidated by WN8 ratings, seeing how serious some people take them, and how they are used to judge other players. And now I studied them, became more familiar with them, and considerably less impressed.

My WN8 rating on my main account in World of Tanks is around 790, or "orange" in the color coding system. That is labeled "below average", and just one step above the "red" of what is generally considered bad players. But just like in scales of income, there is a huge difference between "average" and "median", the median being the value at which half of the population is above and half is below. If you look at statistics from sites that follow this, you will find out that orange is the mean WN8 rating of the players on a server at a typical point in time.

Now of course when I play a game, especially a competitive game like World of Tanks, I would like to get better at playing it. And the XVM modpack as well as various player comments in chat or the forum made it appear as if WN8 was a measure of skill, and if I wanted to improve my skill, I needed to improve my WN8 rating. However once you look at ways to improve your WN8 rating, you end up realizing that improving your WN8 rating and improving your skill are not exactly the same thing. WN8 mostly measures the average damage you deal in your battles, and that depends on many other things than skill. For example in World of Tanks it is totally allowed to have several different accounts. And one of the Twitch streamers I follow has a main account on which he spends money, and another account on which he deliberately spends no money or gifts at all, keeping it purely play for free. And there is a huge difference in WN8 between those two accounts, although his skill is obviously the same.

Believing that WN8 ratings can be manipulated and depend on factors other than skill, I decided to do an experiment. I have a second account with just a few hundred battles played. So I decided for some time to try and maximize my WN8 ratio on that account: I am playing tanks that are likely to deal good damage compared to their expected damage values. I play relatively low tiers, because for WN8 it doesn't matter whether you hit a stronger opponent or a weaker one, it just counts pure damage. And I play tanks with good equipment and good crew skills (for which the recent addition of crew books really helped). Most importantly I only play very few different tanks. After doing this for like two weeks, I am already at 900 WN8, and I can reliably every day play a number of games with an average WN8 of above 1000. So if I continue this for some more time, I will end up having a "yellow" WN8 rate. Which would in common belief make be a "better player". I could do the same on my main account, but with already 10k battles played there it takes much longer to shift the average.

There are actually quite a lot of players you meet that have a second "reroll" account and proceed with the same sort of stat padding exercise in order to have a higher WN8 rating. Which just shows how little WN8 rating can be correlated with real skill. My WN8 manipulation exercise showed me exactly what I did "wrong" on my main account to end up with that orange, "below average", skill label: I played mostly light tanks, often more in a scouting role than in a damaging role, and while this scouting is extremely useful for your team, it doesn't count for you WN8. I also climbed through various tech tree lines, unlocking many different tanks of different types and nationalities; that is really bad for WN8, because when you get a new tank it doesn't have the best equipment yet, nor the best crew (I usually didn't sell the lower tier tanks or retrained the crew). And while switching from one tank type to another, or even from one tank of a type to another tank of the same type with somewhat different characteristics, you tend to need a period of adjustment of tactics during which you don't perform quite as well.

In short, if you play World of Tanks in order to maximize your fun, you are hurting your WN8 rating. If you want to maximize your WN8 rating, you should play with very little variety, play for personal benefit instead of team benefit, and ideally go "seal clubbing", exploiting the lack of knowledge and equipment of newer players at low tiers. That is not to say that really good players don't have high WN8 ratings, it is just that the reverse isn't necessarily true.

Now I am not going to uninstall XVM. It is still very useful to know whether the tank behind that rock has a player with a "red" or "purple" WN8 before deciding to push around that rock and engage him, or to know whether one side has a much higher average WN8 than the other for deciding whether you should play aggressively or not. But I am now much less in awe of WN8 than I was before, and want to rather play for fun than for increasing my WN8 on my main account. That probably means that my main account isn't going to be "yellow", but seeing what performance I have with bad tanks in bad matchups I am pretty confident that I won't fall to "red" either. Suddenly the fact that the average WN8 is hard to budge if you played 10k battles is an advantage, I can fool around without taking a large hit.

I would love if World of Tanks had a rating system that is less prone to manipulation, and which corresponds better to skill, but that is outside of my control. Right now the way to go if I like to play a scout is just to ignore the WN8 rating.

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Monday, June 17, 2019
 
Games and money

I spent €100 on a "Fort Know" special offer in World of Tanks this month, giving me 12,500 gold and 12.5 million credits. I used the gold and credits on a few projects I have, testing out crew books and playing through the Italian tech tree. And it struck me how this purchase was at the same time exaggerated and normal, being both expensive and cheap. And how that relates to the weird economy in which we live in.

Games in general are cheap. The price of a top of the line console or PC game hasn't change much over the last few decades, its still around 60€, no inflation adjustment. And between stores selling used console games and Steam sales on PC, you can often get those top games a bit later for half the price. Furthermore a game with the features and graphics of a decade ago would today be sold as an indie game for under €20, and there are some excellent cheap games around. In other words, €100 buys you a lot of game today.

However this pricing is somehow linked to an overproduction of games, and an outdated concept of games as being toys for children, which need low prices. The customers for games on the other hand are getting on average older, and with that often more affluent. €100 is a lot of money if you need it to pay rent, buy food, or get your washing machine repaired. However once you earn enough money to have no more problems paying for all of these necessities of life, the 100 Euros become "discretionary income" that might be spent on things like a nice dinner with your spouse. And if you look on what people spend their discretionary income on, €100 is not very much. There are a number of hobbies and sports in which €100 doesn't get you very far. If you wanted for example to take up skiing, buying the equipment and going on a ski holiday for a week once per year would set you back thousands, and you'd get a lot less hours of enjoyment out of it than from a computer game.

When I was young the idea that if I would study hard and work hard I would have a good chance at financial success was still very prevalent (and it sure worked out for me). The idea isn't all that popular anymore, and prospects for young people are not quite as good anymore. But if you add some additional constraints (e.g. study something useful, not whatever you like best), there is still a strong correlation between effort put in and reward gotten out of the economy. You can still work hard to become let's say an engineer and end up being among the 10% top earners in your country. Now of course the top earners pay more rent, maybe eat more expensive food, and drive more expensive cars. But overall the percentage of what you spend on the necessities of life goes down when your earnings go up, and that leaves an increasingly large part for that "discretionary income", which you can spend for the not-so-necessary stuff in life. Walk through a high-end shopping mall, and you'll see store after store filled with expensive stuff that nobody really needs, but which is nice to have if your interests are in this area and you can afford it. And we are not talking top 1% vs. bottom 99% here, already at the 50% line the mean US household has a discretionary income of several thousand dollars a year. It is just that the discretionary income goes up much faster than overall income, and so €100 represents very different things for people on different positions on the economic scale.

All this to say that I can drop €100 on virtual tanks without batting an eyelid, and I feel as if that isn't all that unusual. The very fact that various online games sell you something with a €100 price tag suggests that there are customers for these things. But I know that for other people the idea of spending €100 for some virtual stuff sounds absolutely preposterous. And I don't blame the game companies; they just adapt to this economy of inequality, where some people have to play for free because they are short of money at the end of the month, while others can spend €100 easily. If you wanted to change that, you would need to change the way that the capitalist economic system distributes the wealth it creates, and that wouldn't be a very easy task. Complaining about sparkling ponies in online games is just complaining about one minor symptom of the economy, the root causes go much deeper.

Saturday, June 15, 2019
 
Chi-Ha

Different people have different reactions to Pay2Win schemes in games. Some rage-quit, some just accept it as sign of the times. My usual reaction is wanting to try it out, to see how good/bad it really is. And then I have the excuse that I'll blog about it. :)

That brings us to World of Tanks, the new crew books, and the Chi-Ha tank. Or tanks, rather, as there are two of them which are pretty much identical, except that one is a Japanese medium tank and the other a Chinese light tank. Just shows how arbitrary the classification between medium and light tanks really is. The Chi-Ha is a tier III tank, and tier III is in my opinion the tier where the game actually begins. Tiers I and II are very random, and battles are over too quick. Tier III is good for testing purposes, as you never get to see tanks two tiers above you, and the frequent battles in which you are top tier are all on just two maps: Abbey and Himmelsdorf. That makes tier III relatively good for testing things out.

The other reason I'm testing out crew books at tier III is view range. At tier III the typical view range of most tanks in the battle is relatively low compared to the size of the battle map. The Chi-Ha tank not only has a good base view range, but more importantly for this particular test has a dedicated radio operator. So with crew books I can boost my view range via two crew members, the commander and the radio operator. The overall effect is that the boosted Chi-Ha can reach the maximum spotting view range in the game, 445 meters, using binoculars. And then some if you add premium consumables.

While there are other tier III tanks with even better view range, they are either slow to get into position, and/or have inaccurate guns that can't really fire that far reliably. The Chi-Ha not only can get into a good position early in the game and spot enemies at long distance, he can then also shoot them with reasonably good accuracy. And that long before the enemies can see the Chi-Ha. Which overall enables the Chi-Ha to act as the "invisible tank", shooting enemy tanks that can't shoot back because they don't see him. And that even without the help of bushes, like on the railway tracks in Himmelsdorf.

Of course that doesn't happen in every game, because you never know which way the enemies are advancing, and how aggressively they are about it. But on average I am doing extremely well in my Chi-Has. Yeah, I got and boosted both of them, so I can keep playing one when the other is stuck dead in a long battle. Compared with my usual performance I can say that this "paying to win" actually works, I am doing better in these tanks that I boosted with crew books than I am doing in other tanks. In the Chi-Ha the effect is very noticeable. While the crew books certainly also improve the performance of any other tank, the increase might well be less in other cases, and it is harder to notice a few percentage points of improvement. But crew books definitely improve your chances to win.

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Thursday, June 13, 2019
 
Crew Books

World of Tanks was patched to version 1.5.1 this week. And one of the new things are crew books. Now you get one of the smaller crew books per nation for free, and you can randomly get others as rewards the same way you can get the recently introduced blueprints. But what has far more impact on the game is that you can buy large crew books for credits. 2 million credits buys you a crew book that would raise a totally new crew directly to have one full skill. 6 million credits for three books gets that crew directly to two skills and working on the third. And that is pretty huge, it would take you hundreds of games to level up a crew this high.

Now credits are supposedly the common currency of World of Tanks, available both to free players and players who pay for the game. However the game is balanced in a way that free players tend to be somewhat short on credits. With a premium account earning you a lot more credits per fight, plus added credits from a daily mission and the "reserve stock", and added credits if you play with a premium tank, you can see how credits are a lot more abundant for paying customers. Also you can buy special packs like "Fort Knox", which gives you 12.5 million credits plus 12,500 gold (which theoretically you could convert into another 5 million credits) for €100. So the stereotypical "wallet warrior" can spend €100 and get the crews of three different tanks to two skills each.

Why is that important? Well, the first skill you'd take for everybody would be brothers in arms, which when everybody of a crew has it increases all the basic skills of the entire crew, so the loader loads faster, the driver drives better, the gunner shoots more accurately, etc.. Then as second skill you take sixth sense for the commander, which is extremely useful for knowing when to pull back, and useful stuff like camouflage, repairs, or extended vision skills for the other crew members. In short, a tank with a two+ skill crew will perform significantly better in battle than the same tank with a lesser skilled crew. So crew books are actually "Pay2Win", increasing your chance to win battles, not just letting you advance faster down some tech tree. That is somewhat unusual for World of Tanks, they were just about to nerf the other Pay2Win aspect of the game, premium ammo.

Crew books further expose the fundamental problem of game design World of Tanks has: The matchmaker considers two tanks of the same tier and type as being equally strong, regardless of player rating, equipment, crew skills, or any other stuff. Sometimes you get lucky and in a 15 vs. 15 random battle everything balances out more or less. But often it just doesn't, and you have one side with better players driving tanks with superior stats against newer players with stock tanks. I don't like those games, even if I happen to be on the stronger side. Walkovers are boring.

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