15 December 2014

The search bar of Firefox 34

When I use my web browser, I am usually doing a search. I am rarely typing a URL from memory. Also, I try doing everything through my keyboard. Using my mouse means thousands of back-and-forths with my right hand every day, which cost me time and energy. And sometimes I have to look at the mouse to grab it, which makes me lose my focus on the things I was doing on the screen. For what I do, all-keyboard is better.

Up to Firefox 33, my typical web-search steps were: 1) alt-tab to web browser, 2) ctrl-K to focus on the search bar, 3) ctrl-down to select the appropriate search engine, 4) type query and enter. Step 3) is a power user step. Its goal is to save time by not using the mouse and skipping a web page load. For example, I want to know who Seth Green is. I could run the search through Google or DuckDuckGo, and then click the Wikipedia link (usually in the top 3 results). But if I select Wikipedia as my search engine, I directly land on the page for Seth Green. So ctrl-down saves me a page load and a mouse click. Some users even have more than 30 engines!

In their new search interface, called Find it Faster, FF34 basically replaced ctrl-down by a mouse click on tiny buttons. FiF saves me a page load, but it's at the cost of a mouse click. Below is a GIF demonstrating the new search feature.

Average users do not switch search engines - they always use the default one. So FiF is a feature targeted to power users, and yet it apparently forces them to use their mouse. Obviously, the feature has annoyed many users, including me.

There are two solutions. A first solution is rejecting the change: go to about:config, and switch browser.search.showOneOffButtons to false. Another solution is learning the change: the search steps used to be 3) ctrl-down, then 4) type query and enter. Now the steps are 3) type query, then 4) press tab to switch search engines, and enter. This new process is not as good as the old one: switching search engine after having typed, rather than before, loses the benefit from autocomplete/search suggestions anymore. Anyway, Mozilla should emphasize on their FiF release page that tab replaces ctrl-down.

16 November 2014

Diablo's randomness: competition vs variety

In Diablo 3, randomness is everywhere: in item rolls, maps, monster types, critical hit chance, and more. This randomness bothers competitive players. Greater Rifts (GR) are the platform where competition takes place. GR are random in several ways: their maps are generated randomly, their monsters picked randomly, and the monster density also happens to be random. Therefore, ranking high on the leaderboards is mostly a matter of luck, not skill.

Blizzard probably launched the first season as a sort of test drive. They figured players would still find some exploits during season 1. I think Blizzard learned many lessons from season 1. I thought one of them was that they should level out, or even remove, the sources of randomness in GR. For example, I really expected that they would remove pylons from GR. Others expected the same. But Blizzard has decided to keep pylons inside GR for season 2. I was bewildered: why keep a luck-based mechanic in a competitive setting? I can now see at least two reasons.

One reason is that Diablo 3 is not about player skill, but about grinding. I think looting a full set of decently-rolled gear takes around 50 hours. Then the game is all about looting better-rolled gear and acquiring decently-rolled ultra-rare gear such as Tasker and Theo or Wand of Woh (both below 0.2% chance from Kadala). Crafting a good Hellfire Amulet, another end-game yet crucial piece of equipment, can take months. The hardcore players who compete on the leaderboards have acquired all this gear. While they may object to the contrary, they love grinding, or they would never have obtained such great gear. Thus re-rolling GR for slow and benign Risen Deads instead of fast and dangerous Winged Assassins may be less boring to them than it is to me.

Another reason for keeping randomness in a competitive setting is variety. The developers admit that they use randomness in Diablo III to increase the replayability, Greater Rifts included. Pylons can be a hell of a lot of fun to encounter in game, and that’s one of the big reasons we added them to Greater Rifts. The great majority of players do not compete seriously for the leaderboards, so they actually really enjoy the occasional Conduit Pylon in GR. Moreover, even competitive players may become bored if the GR were completely standardized: they would always know where to go, which monsters to avoid, and so on.

In short, Blizzard is probably right to keep pylons inside GR, but they should definitely look at 1) leveling out monster density across GR, and 2) leaderboards that measure player skill by their ability to deal with randomness.