Monday, February 18, 2008

A few months ago, I wrote that I was working on interactive illustrations for my A* pages. Has it taken that long? Well, I've actually had things working for a while now. I just haven't published it. Why? It turns out that my A* pages, which I wrote a long time ago, are really out of date. As I was trying to illustrate various concepts, I was trying to illustrate the concepts from my pages, but not all of them worked well in my Flash program. I eventually realized that some of those concepts are just unimportant in practice. I also discovered that the style I used in my diagrams only works for very simple maps. Once you add terrain into the maps, the visual style fails to convey the concepts I wanted to illustrate.

I haven't yet resolved these issues, which are taking a lot more time than writing the code itself. The algorithm and data structure code is complete, so I've uploaded them to my web site. You can see source code and the applet running on a square grid. The code is released under the MIT license; feel free to use it. I made the A* portion work on any graph, and included square, hexagonal, and triangular grids. This isn't the most efficient approach, but I wanted something flexible so that I could later use it in my article on grids. I haven't finished the hexagonal grid code yet; the only thing missing is the pixel coordinate to hex coordinate transformation. Enjoy!

Once I figure out the best way to display the important concepts for A*, I'll update my A* pages to use the interactive diagrams.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In World of Warcraft, the game evolves with patches released every few months. After the most recent major patch, 2.3, many areas became significantly easier, the UI became more helpful, the item rewards got better, and it took less time to “level up”. When the expansion was released, the “regular” items in the expansion areas were often better than the “elite” items in the regular areas. People who played the game in the early days sometimes comment on how easy things are now. (“When I was a kid, I had to walk uphill in the snow…”) The question is, is this a good thing?

I think in the context of a game like WoW, it is a good strategy.

Players who are more skilled or have more time to play get lots of rewards, and later players who are less skilled or play less get those same rewards. It seems unfair. This happens in the tech industry too. Last year Apple released the iPhone for $600, and later lowered the price to $400. Many people were upset by this. But price drops are common in the tech industry. The iPhone will be available for $30 in five years. Does that mean nobody should buy it now? No! What you're paying for it not just the product itself, but getting it earlier.

It's the same in World of Warcraft and other long-lived games. What was expensive before is cheaper now, except instead of the “cost” being in terms of money, it's in time and skill and effort. It doesn't even the playing field though. Just as the top items become available to more people, new top items are added that beat the old ones. There's a new iPhone out now. And Patch 2.4 will add new cool items for the top players to get. Those who had the top items before will find it easier to get the new items. Without these changes, I think the game would stagnate. Everyone will reach their peak potential, and there will be nothing more to get. You need change to keep the game exciting to existing players and new players, and Blizzard seems to be good at doing that.