Yawgmoth’s Whimsy # 224 – More on MTGO

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Friday, May 2nd – I love Magic. I love building decks, and banging strange combos and theme decks against other players doing the same thing. I love doing that online, when I have a hour here and there. I just don’t love doing it on MTGO 3.0 at the moment.

I had relatives in town last Friday, so no FNM. The weekend was nice, so I was outside most of the time, but the evenings were reserved for online gaming. That means I spent more time thinking about MTGO, and I have a good theory about why we are where we are.

Considering the nice weather, I spent a lot more hours online this weekend than I thought I would.

I started out with an Obsidian Battle Axe, but soon upgraded that. I hacked my way through the five Fire Elementals and a hoard of Siege Elementals and Stone Summit Dwarves. Later, I hooked up with John & Ingrid and our Rangers shot a Legendary Dragon full of holes.

No, it wasn’t Magic. I was playing one of those — gasp — other online games.

I love Magic. I love building decks, and banging strange combos and theme decks against other players doing the same thing. I love doing that online, when I have a hour here and there.

I just don’t love doing it on MTGO 3.0 at the moment. Too many things are not working, or not working right, to be worth my time. At least, not worth my time when I have other options.

MTGO 3.0 does have some good points. It plays a decent game of Magic. The cards — at least 99.99+% of them — do what they are supposed to. The rules are enforced, and everything happens the way it is supposed to. Yes, a very few cards are bugged, but the number of known bugs is, to the best of my knowledge, a couple dozen. Under a hundred, in any case. That’s pretty respectable, given that there are thousands of cards and millions of interactions on MTGO.

The program also seems quite stable. I have had it running in the background on my desktop, and at work on my laptop, all day for a couple days. I have not seen any crashes or down time, other than announced maintenance and periods when my wireless connection has died. (At work, I can pick up a weak free WIFI connection, provided it is not raining, or snowing, or windy — or whatever. I connect about half the time — and since I can’t play while I’m working, that’s almost good enough.)

Under MTGO v3.0, the initial dual screen seemed cluttered and useless, but you have options. Duels can be fought in the “Mana Wheel,” “Big Card,” or “Compact” views. Compact works fine. Big Card also works. Mana Wheel — well, the wasted space annoys me.

Here’s a picture of the Mana Wheel kludge.

Mana Wheeeeeee!

For some reason, multiplayer and 2HG seems locked into Mana Wheel. Maybe that’s just the way it is. Maybe I’m missing something hidden in the menus somewhere. I don’t know. I have changed my options to Compact, and nothing happens. I have done it before the match, during the match, after the match. Changed them then logged out and back in, etc. The program says I should be playing inn compact mode, but when I enter a multiplayer game, it see the mana wheel.

Oh well. That’s life. Legend has it that an ancient Chinese king asked his court philosopher* for a sentence that would always be true. After a lot of thought, the philosopher came back with the following: “This, too, shall pass.”

I’m pretty confident that — like serious constipation — the MTGO mess will also pass. In the meantime, the analogy holds at a number of levels.

* A side note. In the deep, dark past, Chinese kings had court philosophers. Later, European kings replaced the philosophers with court jesters and fools. In America today, we make fools into kings.

This, too, shall pass.

I have been playing some casual games online. Not much else to play. I’m not really that enchanted with drafting Lorwyn. I am not really excited about Limited, period, when I have a decent chance of paying 15 tix or so for what can easily be 2-5 games of Magic. It’s not worth it.

I do enjoy Limited, when I can play more games. That’s one advantage to leagues — but leagues are gone, and won’t return until this summer, at the earliest.

I have also played in some Limited PEs. That’s not too bad — except that playing all five rounds with bad decks utterly destroyed my rating. That, and not practicing the formats at all. Doesn’t matter, of course — PEs are also not available at present. The prize payouts — or maybe pairings — are bugged.

Even 8-man Constructed is turned off today. Something wrong, there, too.

This, too, shall pass.

“Nattering Nabobs of Negativity”

That’s a quote from an old Nixon speechwriter — and it initially described the press corps back when Nixon was President. It can also describe large swaths of the online forums at present. People are pissed.

Me too. Right now, the program works fine for people who like to draft and have tons of bucks to buy packs. That does not describe me. For me, the program sucks.

I like building decks. I have twos and threes of a lot of cards — and I never did finish playing through my Lorwyn tournament packs and Morningtide boosters. I was going to fill in my collection once I did, on version 2.5. Now it’s too late.

The problem is that trade has big problems right now. Trades create memory leaks under MTGO v3.0, and other errors with “product escrow” also occur. The long and the short of this is that trading bots are generally not available, and the only buying and selling going happens in the “Classifieds.” As I type this, there are seven ads in classifieds. None offer the cards I am looking for.

I’m sure I can troll the “ticker” and try advertising for the strange Onslaught uncommons and Eighth edition rares I need, but I don’t really want to pay a ticket each for these cards: they were only worth $0.08 or so before the trade bots vanished. I could pay that again — but the bots are not around, and the online dealers I am used to buying from are in a world of hurt due to trade bugs. I don’t want to bother them unless I want to buy some serious cards.

I talked to some dealers. Basically, their practice is to disconnect and reboot their machines after every big trade. Ouch. Wasting time like that means they cannot do many trades, so their revenues per hour must be dropping like a rock.

This, too, shall pass.

Until it does, though, I’m not going to be doing much buying or trading. Until it does, I’m a Constructed player that is bored with my current cards. That means I’m not playing much MTGO.

I’ll be swinging an Axe, or shooting dragons full of holes on some other program.

Collection View

Back in 2005 or so, Wizards previewed screen shots of MTGO 3.0 with a markedly different user interface. At least one thread in the Gleemax forums has pictures. That UI also has some issues and quirks, but it does look different or better or worse, depending on what you like. Some forum trolls are screaming and fuming because it wasn’t used. Whatever. The thread also discusses what happened to that UI. According to one story, some Wizards insiders didn’t like it, because it was too “science fictionish” and didn’t go with the brand. They wanted something more fantasy-ish, less Mirrodin meets Star Wars.

True? Urban legend? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. Things could have been different. They aren’t — they are what they are. Too late to change.

Still, I wonder whether one of my pet peeves is a result of a decision that MTGO should not have a science fiction feel. For me, the view of my collection is a great example of where a “science fiction” feel might have worked well. At least, it could look better than this:

Am I a tatty piece of tangled string? No, I'm a frayed knot.

It’s not science fiction. It looks like my collection is embedded in slabs of stucco, and tied together with string. What is up with that? It’s not science fiction — and it certainly isn’t fantasy. No Mage has a spellbook that dissolves when wet, and shatters if you turn the pages too quickly.

Whatever. As Craig pointed out, there are Class A bugs, Class B bugs, and things that aren’t really bugs, but just don’t match your sense of esthetics. True.

This, too, shall pass. Maybe.

Maybe the people who like the coin flip mechanic also really like the look of stucco and string. If that’s true, I hope someone can point them out. I’ll take up a collection and pay them to go play Vs or Yugi-O.

Working Offline

When I have my laptop at work, I can sometimes play some Magic during lunch break. With version 2.5, when I was unable to get a WIFI connection, I could at least work offline and build decks. For some reason, MTGO 3.0 does not have that capability. I really miss that — but I still have 2.5 installed on the laptop. For now, when I can’t connect, I can build decks in 2.5.

Going to suck once Shadowmoor is legal.

Maybe no one else used the “work offline” functionality. That’s possible — and if so, it is a decent reason to drop it. Wizards also dropped the ability to track your physical collection. In 2.5, you could click enter the number of paper copies of each MTGO card you owned. It was a nice idea, and I did hear from at least one forum dweller that used the function. I didn’t — and I doubt very many other people did. Maybe that’s true of the working offline feature as well. However, the two are not completely parallel: the physical collection wheels took up screen space in the collection views, which is a good reason to kill it if it wasn’t useful. Playing offline did not take up screen space, except for a button on the entry kicker.

I wish they could put that button back.

Why Fonts Cause this Much Trouble:

MTGO v3,0 has had all kinds of problems with appearance, with getting fonts to work and getting mana symbols to fit into the card frames. Text has, during beta, spilled out on all sides, and it did not always move cleanly with the cards. Fixes for font and appearance problems have taken an awfully long time to appear. I always wondered why.

I think someone now has an answer. This is from Arkanin, on the Gleemax forums.

Arkanin: A theory about what’s wrong

I want to share this with you because I may be on to something. I am a programmer for a company that designs software banks use. I work with XML, Java with Struts, C, Visual Basic and some other things. Some of our tools with a user interface are designed in Visual Basic, a programming language designed to make windows applications. Our programs collect data, store them in a database, and present them in the form of reports to banks using some sophisticated mathematical models. It so happens that Visual Basic is very good for this purpose, because while not extremely graphically intensive, it is clean, easy to program, and allows you to design a very functional application.

Now, let’s think of another, more exciting program than my banking tools… World of Warcraft. In World of Warcraft, you choose from a variety of character classes, fight many enemies, and explore Azeroth. Sounds exciting, right? Well, World of Warcraft isn’t designed in Visual Basic, it’s been designed in its own proprietary 3d game engine. In a 3D game engine, it is much harder to program simple 2d menus and be able to drag them around, reshape them, play with them and so on — so much of the stuff that happens automatically with, say, Visual Basic (where you’re reusing someone else’s code), when you are working with 2d menus, the developers have instead been forced to code themselves in 3D menus — and even there, since the 3D engine may not have been designed to work with tons of 2D menus, coding them, which you are now forced to do from scratch, may be especially difficult to do from scratch at all to boot.

Now, imagine if programmers set out to remake World of Warcraft in Visual Basic, and my company set out to program their banking software in World of Warcraft’s game engine. This would be a terrible idea for obvious reasons, right?

Well, I get the impression – it’s my theory – that this is exactly what is going on with the transition from MTGO V2 to V3. They are trying to transition from a 2D-only engine with a lot of resources that handle text boxes and menus and 2D sprites very well, to some kind of far clunkier engine where all the stuff they took for granted they have to hardcode in some kind of 3d engine. This would explain all kinds of issues that should be trivial – e.g., extremely bizarre behavior of fonts in text boxes. What was simple and may well have been written by another programmer, they can no longer reuse and have to write themselves.

The reasons I am cued that V3 is a completely 3D engine whose rules they are being forced to play by are:

-The presence of texture blending in all of the 2D sprites
-The quasi-3D behavior of cards and so on when clicked on and dragged
-The extremely strange issues with text formatting that simply should not occur
-The automatic full-screen and re-skinned UI

If I’m right here, and it’s the inherent difficulty to program good, clean menus, text formatting, interfaces and so on in the 3D engine, I would not get my hopes up for quick improvements, as I would bet money that the programmers are being forced to wield a system that is far clunkier and unwieldy and ill-prepared to suit their needs than the system they were using. If they are being forced to rewrite a lot of other people’s code because they are using a different engine that wasn’t designed to have tons of convoluted 2d menus, do not hold your breath – it will most likely be a very long time before MTGO V3 improves significantly.

Is this the answer? I don’t know. It sounds reasonable.

Here’s some more evidence that seems to support this idea. Back when Wizards announced v3.0, they talked about the cool new things the avatars would do. Here’s a picture of my Avatar in the current program.

Destroy All Humans!

This looks like Wizards was / is intending to have avatars that are rendered in 3D. Who knows — maybe they will move around. They may even dance and sing.

If anyone at Wizards is listening — I really don’t want a dancing and singing avatar. I don’t want to collect cool clothes or furniture for my avatar. I want to play Magic. I don’t want to play Bella Sara — and I certainly don’t want to be cleaning out my Avatar’s stall.

Maybe Wizards is trying to bring to online play one memorable part of paper tournaments — trying to force your way through narrow aisles when two fat Magic players are sitting back to back. Ugh. That could be even worse than cleaning up digital horse crap.

I really don’t want an Avatar. I could care less. I just want Magic cards, and the ability to play Magic.

You would think that Wizards had learned that Magic players want to play cards. They don’t want semi-associated crap. Remember this?

Eight-and-a-half Fails

Those “collectible, limited edition” Kamigawa figurines originally retailed for $59.99. They are available online for $5.99 now — and are not moving at that price.

Please, Wizards: more cards, more Magic play, less of the cutesy crap. Unless, of course, your marketing department really sees a huge crossover between Bella Sara and Magic. If they do, get their eyes checked.

As for me, I’m off to hack on dragons.


“this player in not online” on MTGO 3.0