Competitively-priced small disabilities

Herewith, a combination of two of my favourite things: Imaginary giant Internet robots, and perceptual and cognitive dysfunction.

Today's patch for MechWarrior Online, you see, didn't just add a mildly interesting new 'Mech...

Trebuchet BattleMech

...and a large new map.

Alpine Peaks screenshot

Besides that, it also fixed a few bugs which most players, me included, should have noticed. But didn't.

The second-most-coveted "Elite" efficiency upgrade for your 'Mechs is "Fast Fire", which makes your weapons recycle to fire again 5% faster. Everybody with a 'Mech that, you know, has guns, buys Fast Fire as soon as they can.

Except, until now, it didn't work.

Worse, it worked backwards. It made your weapons recycle 5% slower.

They've fixed that, now.

But I never noticed. I've bought Fast Fire for, what, two dozen 'Mechs so far? If you'd asked me, I would have said it worked.

(The most desirable elite upgrade is "Speed Tweak", which raises your top speed by ten per cent. That always worked, though it used to only boost you 7.5% before they bugfixed that too, a few patches ago. Well, I think it always did something. Maybe it just changes the speedometer to tell you 100 kilometres per hour is now 110...)

And it was actually even worse than that, because there were several other screw-ups in the upgrade system.

People noticed some of them, like how you still have to buy the Basic upgrade "Arm Reflex" if you want to get to the Elite upgrades, even if your 'Mech is a Catapult or something that does not actually have articulated arms.

But Arm Reflex and "Twist Speed" were backwards, until now. Each actually gave the other's upgrade.

And the reason the Fast Fire problem was even worse is that when you bought Fast Fire it didn't do anything to your fire rate at all. Because, like Arm Reflex and Twist Speed, Fast Fire and "Pin Point" were reversed too!

If you bought Fast Fire you got Pin Point, and if you bought Pin Point you got Fast Fire. Which was, once again, actually Slow Fire. But when you bought it you didn't get it. Which was actually helpful, since it didn't work. Stay with me, here.

And the doubled Basic efficiencies you got from getting to Elite weren't doubled properly! And there's more!

MechWarrior Online is still in beta, so you should expect stuff like this. If there weren't bugs, even quite egregious bugs, then it wouldn't be a beta.

But you'd think errors like this would be the talk of the town. I mean, it'd be the work of a moment to do a little science to detect such things. Time some gun-shooting, or screenshot how far your 'Mech's torso can twist, or whatever. Then buy a new upgrade that's meant to change whatever you did, and test again.

But, clearly, almost nobody did that. I certainly didn't. So almost nobody noticed the bugs. This may have something to do with how long it's taken these bugs to be fixed - we're almost four months into the open beta now.

The moral of the story is, once again, that if you want to see if something is true or not, you have to do science. And science is not restricted to incomprehensible white-coated boffins who look at brightly-coloured liquids in the background of wrinkle-cream advertisements and who also dogmatically pursue the formula for the perfect biscuit dunk. Science is just careful experimentation, observation and thinking, which anybody can do, any time they like.

Some differences are blatantly obvious enough that you don't need to set up a formal experiment. You don't have to do science to determine whether it is safe to cross the road when something that looks very much like a car, but could be a hologram or hallucination, is coming. And if there were some upgrade in MechWarrior Online that was meant to make your 'Mech twice as tall or twice as fast, you'd be able to tell if it was working pretty easily with informal observation. (Though you wouldn't be able to easily determine if it were only making you 1.95 times as tall or fast...)

When something is subtle or elusive, though, as many concepts in the real world are, there is no substitute for science. And it's surprising how often it's needed.

3 Responses to “Competitively-priced small disabilities”

  1. jaranath Says:

    Heh. I was thinking the same thing as I read the patch notes, though partly in reverse. After you suckered me into the game, I eventually settled on the HBK-4P as my favored ride. I'd been worrying that Fast Fire might seduce me into heat shutdown more often.

    I very much want to try out Alpine Peaks, but the matchmaking system seems to be having some hiccups at the moment. Can't get a match.

  2. MikeLip Says:

    I sort of demonstrated that in the cell phone battery saver software world. There is a program called Juice Defender which is quite highly rated with lots and lots of reviews saying it doubled my battery life, blah blah blah. OK, since smartphone batteries are notoriously short on charge I decided I'd test it. Method was simple. Over a period of weeks I had it on one day, off the next and I recorded charge state at the end of fixed, identical periods over workdays where the phone was used more or less consistently. I took a lot of samples to smooth out usage variances. The result? It helped a *little*, but not much. It simply turned off certain stuff like wifi when I was out of range, things that I could have done manually. But being software it did it consistently. There is a widget with the program that reports savings, and it was claiming 1.8 to 2x battery life, when calculations showed more like 1.2x. So people who spent the money on the software wanted to believe it worked and they took the programs word that it IS working, without sorting it out for themselves. This happens all the time in all sorts of areas, but it was an interesting experiment.

  3. Anne Says:

    There's another lesson here: buying upgrades is a sort of totemic action - people do it to reassure themselves that they're making forward progress, rather than because they make any appreciable difference. CRPGs have this problem in spades - the whole *point * is to get skill or equipment improvements, so the game has to make them significant enough to avoid frustrating the user without making the difficulty escalation too preposterous (in Morrowind you start out being killed by insects and the traditional rat, and by the end you can kill three of the four gods in the pantheon).

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