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Archive for March, 2011

Every so often a blogger or poster on an MMO forum will take it upon themselves to let those of us anticipating GW2 know that it won’t be all it’s cracked up to be. There is no way it can deliver on its claims, they say, and then proceed to list claims that have never been made by ArenaNet in order to prove their point. GW2 will turn out just like [insert list of previous, less successful depending on your point of view, MMOs], they say.

We’ll see, they say. In fact, the only reason GW1 has managed to be different in several of the ways GW2 is promising is because GW1 isn’t really an MMO. But since GW2 is an MMO, it won’t be that different after all. It can’t. There are certain characteristics that make up an MMO, you see, whether this is the presence of a subscription fee or some other factor – it depends on whom you’re speaking to just which list of defining factors you’re quoted - but it seems the amount of persistence in the world isn’t it.

I’m sure that these fellow gamers, our internet neighbors, only do this out of the goodness of their hearts, like good internet citizens. They just don’t want us to be disappointed! They would have no use for our tasty tears should what they predict come to fruition, and there’s certainly no room for schadenfreude here. We’re all gamers, remember. Our loss is their loss.

Well, I, for one, appreciate their concern. I look forward to having their internet shoulders to cry on when GW2′s endgame turns out to be a gear treadmill completely different from the leveling game, when the best content is locked behind raids, when I find that crafting isn’t a viable method of advancement, when I’m beat to the hundredth tin node by someone riding a faster mount than I, when I can’t roll an alt because there’s only one starting area, when I can’t play with my guild or other bloggers because they’re 20, 30, 70 levels above me.

After all, I’ve been warned, and I take that as seriously as they do.

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Just wander until you die

I have previously recounted bits and pieces of my experiences in StrangeMUD, the game that introduced me to online roleplaying and was my gateway drug to the MMOs of today. These days, StrangeMUD is still up and running, but the population is thin; when last I logged on, I saw only one other player who was as surprised to see me as I him.

There were likely several reasons why people started to leave StrangeMUD back in the day, but I remember one such reason very clearly. Back then we didn’t have quests unless an Imm was online and had declared that this day was the day we would Quest(tm). Usually we would log on, go to a few well-known areas, kill the famous mobs for their famous drops, chat, maybe group up for a particularly difficult kill, etc.

However, since part of the process to become an Imm was to create an area of one’s own, some Imms felt slighted that players did not frequent their areas, as some areas were clearly more popular than others. There were prolonged and heated debates on the game’s bulletin board about the matter. In an attempt to make sure that everyone’s areas received visitors, game-wide nerfs were put into place; suddenly, you would kill that favored mob that dropped that wonderful cloak, and find that not only was he more difficult to kill, but he no longer dropped anything. The solution, the Imms said, was to explore! Go out and find those other areas, they said.

The problem with this decree was, of course, the harsher nature of online RPGs in those days. Not only did you have to be careful not to be killed lest you leave your corpse (with all its loot and gold) behind in a hostile area, but there were death traps as well, which would simply destroy every item you were carrying without hope of retrieval – and being in a group rather than a solo player would in no way mitigate the loss. Most of us playing the game had no intention of wandering around the game world blindly hoping to stumble upon something interesting when so much precious loot was at stake.

Furthermore, the daily practice of logging in and “running the rounds” so to speak was part of the social life of the game. With that missing, people simply… stopped coming online. I watched the “who” list grow shorter by the week, until I, too, started forgetting to come back.

The moral of this story is that some people, by which I mean at least myself, like to explore, but do not necessarily like being hindered in our attempts due to either arbitrary difficulty spikes, acts of game god, or level gating. I am seeing three general trends represented in current and upcoming MMO’s approaches to the matter (sandboxes notwithstanding only because I don’t play sandboxes):

Rift (the prevailing mindset): Some things simply should be able to kill you if you wander into a higher-level area than your own. Get bigger numbers to counter their numbers. I say this is an example of the “progression model” because as with most MMOs, the emphasis is on growing your character number-wise, and level-gating serves as a carrot for players to pursue: to one day be powerful and well-geared enough to be able to safely explore that content. Level first, explore later.

Guild Wars 2 (we’ll fix it or die trying mindset – see also City of Heroes/Villains and Everquest II for similar, though not identical, ideas): You’ll always scale up or down to the area you’ve entered so that your numbers will roughly match the mob’s numbers. I call this a “bandaid model” because it doesn’t get rid of the level-gating (or levels) so much as it seeks to make those levels less relevant via scaling and side-kicking. It does raise the question of why we should bother with levels at all, but in this model exploration is king, since there is nothing keeping you from running over that hill yonder.

The Secret World (you’re not in Hyboria anymore): No levels, only skills. There will be mobs you can only take down using skills you can only purchase after you’ve earned a certain amount of xp (or purchased their pre-requisites). I call this the “oh what the hell, let’s try it out” model because given that The Secret World is a story-based MMO and not quite a sandbox, I’ve no real idea what effect this will have on exploration or how open the world will be (can you even wander the world without unlocking areas via story-based missions?).

Since neither TSW or GW2 are out yet, I will have to withhold judgment as to which of these models I would prefer, but I can easily state that I am quite tired of the first model, boy howdy. Exploration, and primarily story, are what drive me in an MMO, and current offerings can be admittedly weak on story, and then gate me from exploration on top of that.

What would an MMO be like, if it just let you wander without fear of death by numbers? It would have a different audience than many existing MMOs to be sure, but – what would it look like? Does this idea begin and end at games like Myst URU?

I wonder.

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28/50

So close I can taste it

Although Internet Explorer is clipping the page in a weird way so you can’t make out all the numbers, this is my latest progress into updating my Guild Wars Hall of Monuments. I spent last week finishing up the items for my Black Moa Chick incubator (including fighting dozens of skales that wouldn’t drop a single fin), and Saturday I braved Sorrow’s Furnace for the final moment of triumph.

You may laugh, but I really mean “braved”; I have pretty bad anxiety about failure and my palms were sweating every time I passed that red zone barrier! No thanks to you, High Priest Alkar.

Having achieved the one-two punch of attaining both my unique miniature point and my 30th mini point, I had also re-acquired (post hack) enough gold to finally buy myself a Destroyer weapon for my third point of the week.

And that’s where I sit today. I’m not sure what I want to pursue for the last two points I’m going to try to acquire before returning to “playing for fun.” I put that in quotes because although I am pursuing some goals and in some very real ways, farming for gold to achieve them – and although Mr. Randomessa is teasing me about having created a spreadsheet of my miniature collection – I don’t feel like I’m grinding at all. I think I went on 10 farming runs for the bog skale fins and that was the worst of it. I managed to finish Sorrow’s Furnace in one go (er… though I did read the Wiki). I’m vanquishing areas I never vanquished before.

It’s the last two points that worry me:

  • I could hang around in Kamadan for days and try to buy up the remaining 20 miniatures, but more than five minutes of that drives me crazy (how’s that selling white minis for 20k working out for you?).
  • I could buy up two more Destroyer weapons to get one point for having 5 weapons (at 6 medals of honor, and 25 War Supplies per, I don’t think I’m going to make a go at a third Oppressor weapon)
  • I could do challenge missions on my Elonian character who’s completed the campaign for increased drop rates and increase my 11 out of 20 companion statues, as well as Glint’s challenge on my main for Cloths of the Brotherhood
  • I could save up for Luxon or Kurzick armor, except that I don’t like the Ele or Assassin armors and I don’t want to run another character through the campaign just for the armor
  • I could keep my fingers crossed that Mr. Randomessa sticks with GW this time around and we are able to acquire some other fun stuff together

I’m leaning towards a bit of the last item, coupled with the challenge missions to see what hero armors I can gather. I think that way leads to the least amount of burnout, and I won’t be buying things I don’t really care for (prestige weapons I don’t use, armors I don’t like) just for the points.

I have to say, I’m excited. I’m so doggone proud of my Black Moa chick.

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Well, I’ve finally done it. After months of gentle cajoling (which didn’t work), and more recently, letting him watch over my shoulder as I trudge through vanquishes, Zaishen bounties, and re-build my character stock in general, Mr. Randomessa has caved in and decided to give Guild wars another try.

We had previously made an attempt at running through Prophecies on a friend’s second account. However, due to the lack of jumping combined with, I think, Post-Searing PTSD, Mr. Randomessa bailed, finding various excuses not to pick back up where we left off at Fort Ranik. Then said friend’s account was hacked, and nobody could remember the passwords or other critical information to regain control, so that ended the saga right there.

We’ve played, and tried to play, several different games since then, most recently Rift, yet for the past two weeks (and for various reasons) I’ve logged much more time in Guild Wars than Rift. It’s not so much that Rift is doing anything wrong as that with Guild Wars 2 information coming so fast and furious, I keep wanting to return to that world. Embark Beach and my team of heroes beckon.

Mr. Randomessa, for his part, has been watching the PAX East footage with me and wants very badly to have a piece of the Hall of Monuments stash, especially the Ranger pets. He would keep asking sidelong questions about what would be the easiest items to get into the HoM, and I would repeatedly volunteer to help him level up a Ranger in Factions so that he can quickly dedicate both his pet and capture a Black Moa.

He is intrigued by my buying and selling white miniatures in Kamadan. He wants to be able to jump, but he wants to be a part of this even more. So, we are making attempt 2.0. The Guild Wars trilogy and expansion are headed our way via Amazon, and I intend to roll a new Ranger alongside Mr. Randomessa to see what will happen. I’m not sure how much he’ll like Factions – I didn’t care for it as a campaign – but it is the easiest path to 20, and then to EotN for free max-level heroes, so we’ll see how it goes.

As for Rift, I wish I could say with any clarity whether I think I will still be playing in six months. I think I will be sticking with the one-month-at-a-time investment after all. We are still only level 18 and Ravious reports that even the level 20 -30 area has cleared out on Faeblight, so I’m a bit discouraged.

When last I played – before my laptop went explodey – I caught myself pushing on just to get to the next level because I was thinking “when I get to 20 I can play the Codex. When I get to 20 we’ll be at a good level to leave Freemarch.” I never wanted to chase levels, because chasing levels is boring for me. There’s an epic story to follow in there, but I have so many quests at the moment that I can’t remember what it is.

We’ll push through it (see the aforementioned Post-Searing Ascalon PTSD) but it’s a bit of a hump I have to get over that doesn’t have me enthusiastic to log in. Still, it is nice to have something I can return to when I hit my next wall in GW content.

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Knowing Myself

Through an interesting journey of blog clicks, I stumbled upon the following link via Nil’s MMO Blog

A New Taxonomy of Gamers: Know Thyself

I found it a fascinating read, and I think sums up quite well why I approach the MMOs I play the way I do. As a Tourist with Completist tendencies, and a Premium outlook, I can see why I liked Guild Wars so much and look so forward to Guild Wars 2: I strive to be skilled enough to beat the content (and once is enough; I don’t need to do it with perfection) so that I can be rewarded not with goods and loot, but with the next cutscene, the next breadcrumb on the story trail, and my goal is to finish the story. While it would be nice to see the end of GW’s elite dungeons, I am comfortable in the knowledge that they don’t keep me from being able to progress in the story, or prevent me from being able to be effective in new content that is released with the game.

Meanwhile, I find it difficult to connect to more traditional MMOs with their subscription fees (assuming subscription fees appeal to the Wholesaler) and end-game raiding – where, presumably, the bulk of the story resides. I can’t complete that content, so I end up dropping out long before, wondering what the point of leveling at all is. As much fun as I am having with Rift, I am still struggling with this. I do also wonder if this carries over into my view of PvP. My thoughts on griefing/ganking and uneven odds aside, open-world PvP has no end condition, unlike battleground/scenario-based PvP. It feels a lot more like a treadmill to me, which might explain why I want to stop for the night once I’ve had a particularly good match in the Black Garden. I won, right? I’m done. Yay!

I know there are a myriad of psychological factors that drive us and this 11-part series only serves to scratch a surface of a surface of why we do the things we do. For one thing, there’s no accounting for taste; why I like Guild Wars but really didn’t enjoy LOTRO for long remains a bit of a mystery to me. But I find it far more enlightening than a simple “hardcore” vs. “casual” debate, or even “carebears” vs. “everyone else.”

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In a similar vein to my Gamescom post last year, here are a few things I’ve learned/observed about Guild Wars 2 from videos and coverage coming out of PAX East:

  • You can cut down trees, and they actually fall down. I’m immediately reminded of Vanguard; I’m not sure what other MMOs use this visual representation of wood harvesting.
  • Per the GW2 panel Q&A, when you kill players in WvWvW, they drop loot (I assume via loot table like Warhammer and Rift, and not actual items dropped by the player character).
  • The Order of the Vigil’s keep outside of Lion’s Arch is enormous.
  • ArenaNet has yet to take the brilliant idea of AOE looting from Rift and make it their own. Psst: do it, ANet. AOE looting. No excuse to leave this out.
  • New dynamic events will be added on the fly after the game’s release, and not publicized, for explorers to discover on their own. I have no intention of wiki-ing these.
  • “Floaty” character animations have been greatly improved for this demo; it was hardly noticeable, or only popped out at me in a couple of instances. Norn stair-climbing was particularly impressive; do their feet actually land on each step correctly? It seemed that way to me.
  • Shimmery zone “portals” a la GW1 are most definitely in: what remains to be seen is if there is a loading screen when passing through each and every one of them (as opposed to only those between major zone barriers, or only when passing in/out of a major city).

Most of the intrepid fans who collected tons of footage still have to return to their homes, detox, and upload their cleaned-up, edited videos, so there will be more interesting tidbits to pick up, I’m sure. These are just the ones that jumped out at me (I’ll admit to being overly excited about the tree-cutting one). Now that we’ve already seen demos of the game in action, and there has been so much information coming out about it, it seems there are fewer large revelations to be had this time around.

Can’t wait until there is more video to pore over.

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In the Black

Well, now, that’s better.

Much more appropriate attire given the weather

Nothing like having your account hacked to get you to be more active in a game! Suddenly I have new goals in Guild Wars, such as “buy a new pair of shoes for my Dervish” (they were inexplicably junked, while the rest of her armor was left intact), or “find out where my Warrior’s pants went.” In some cases I found gold items in storage that I had not acquired myself – I suppose the farmer was planning on returning later to sell those? – so I actually managed to recoup some cash just by selling the materials they had ill-gained on my characters.

With such modest goals, it’s been easier to meet them as well. The gold it took to clothe my Necromancer was more than earned in two vanquishes and a short Zaishen mission. Normally I shrink away at the Zaishen bonus PvE, but I’ll be the first to admit that Embark Beach has breathed new life into it for me. I no longer feel like I’m just repeating unpleasant content because I have such diversity in the crew I can bring along, and it’s been exciting seeing the difference between, say, bringing along three Discord Necros and two Panic Mesmers, and not. A big thumbs up to Embark Beach from me. Bring on the Canthan Winds of Change, I say. I am more than ready!

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Black Screen of Frustration

After my initial whinings about not being able to play Rift for long periods of time due to graphics card overheating, I did manage to find a newer version of my graphics card drivers, install them, and see some improvement to the point that I was able to run Rift on Ultra settings with no frame rate loss and more importantly, no more crashes!

That is, until sometime this past week. I’m not sure when the change occurred, since I have not played daily, but my last two gaming sessions in Rift have ended with the black screen of frustration and a complete powerdown of my laptop. I played a little over an hour both times. A quick perusal of the Rift forums, and other forums dedicated to my particular laptop, suggest that upgrading my bios is the only surefire solution after graphics card drivers are updated and various settings tweaks have been tried and failed. However – and here I lose my geek cred – although I have no problems flashing my smartphone, I’m not willing to take my chances on my considerably more pricey computer, especially when it’s only one game that’s causing me these problems. I just wish it weren’t a game I’m actually currently trying to play.

Mr. Randomessa and I are now sitting pretty at level 17, having a few stunning successes with The Black Garden and were happily stomping invasions across the land when this latest blackout occurred. I suppose now I will have to restrict myself to strict 60-minute gaming sessions to preserve my hardware.

 

Level 16

The Scarred Mire doesn't make for extremely pretty backdrops

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Sweet 15

(because I couldn’t wait for us to reach level 16)

Mr. Randomessa and I are now level 15 after 1.5 weeks playing Rift (well, Mr. Randomessa actually has a Spousal Leveling Contract alt that he levels up in his spare time so that he can play with me with whichever character he feels like). Pre-launch weekend I was working and didn’t have much time to play, but we put in a good few hours this past weekend and are still enjoying ourselves very much, even as we lag behind others who are having dungeon tales and adventures in the next zones of the game.

I will say that we are really loving crafting so far in Rift. It’s the least-grindy crafting I’ve had the pleasure to experience, although something nifty like an EQII-esque minigame would be even better. Heck, just give us an actual crafting animation for each type of craft instead of having us “wash our hands” over the forge and I’d be thrilled. In very little time and with surprisingly little effort, I already can make items that I won’t be able to use for four more levels; my level-appropriate crafting skills are grey and net me no additional experience. After crawling away battered and bruised from LOTRO’s crafting, this lack of grind is a very welcome departure.

The only unfun thing about the crafting is that our chosen professions rely on mining. I touched on this before, but the whole ninja-ing of metal nodes is really old. Mr. Randomessa doesn’t have enough money for a moount yet (we spend all our cash on crafting, heh), so he is constantly beat to nodes by turtle-riders, when nodes aren’t gathered out from right under his currently-in-combat nose. The only thing that makes up for it somewhat is that I can butcher anything left behind from others, which feels a lot nicer than having to compete with them for the resources I need. I can’t say this enough, but I cannot wait for GW2 to do away with this competition thing entirely. For now I just stow my own turtle, or use it to travel to the node and claim it for him.

Oh no! There's a progress bar! That means it won't be fun, just as all progress bars are the enemies of fun

Speaking of GW2 crafting, apparently this is a screenshot sneak peak of GW2′s crafting interface. GW2Guru denizens are crawling over themselves to speculate about what this means, but my take on the matter is that if GW2 crafting were exactly like Rift’s, only without the node competition, I’d be tickled pink. Add something like EQII’s crafting minigame, and I’m in heaven. Unlike my progress-bar-phobic brethren, I really don’t mind them if they are small and if I can create useful things immediately. Unfortunately, how many items must be created before they are “too many” will vary from person to person, but if I can start a crafting session after an evening of questing (or, for GW2, pursuing my personal story + dynamic events), and, in five minutes, have leveled a tier of crafting and can create more powerful items than I could have when I started using solely items that I gathered during my game session, this is plenty for me, and not grindy at all.

Back to Rift: server queues for Faeblight are still an issue when we get ready to play, especially on weekends, though since we are on the West coast the weeknight queues are short by the time we hop online at around 9pm. There are still plenty of people running around the low-level areas, which is nice, and we have even participated in a zone-wide event or two. On the other hand, we have also been known to avoid a zone-wide event or two in favor of crafting in Meridian. I’m not yet certain what the repurcussions of failing an event are, other than “well, there will be rifts everywhere, good luck with that.”

The public grouping system is as nice as we remember it from Warhammer, with the same problem that we noticed when we played Warhammer: there’s no real way for Mr. Randomessa and I to “stay together” after joining a public group, except to each leave party and then party up again (or if there is, I’m unaware of it). It’s a minor thing, just a few clicks really, but it would be incredibly handy if joining a public group were more like joining a Warfront/Scenario: join the group and then when you leave, you stay in whatever pre-formed party you were a part of.

PvP-wise, we have dipped our toes into this as well, and have the usual complaints about group cohesiveness and the importance of killing the Guy With The Thing, but when matches are good, they’re great. When they’re not, they’re teeth-grindingly bad. When they’re close, they still manage to be a lot of fun, though, so it can go either way.

In short: Rift is still fun and is shaping up to be a pretty big success, where I define “success” as “at least as successful as anything released post-WoW, with better retention than most if not all comers.” We have our fingers hovering over the 6-month subscription button, but haven’t had the guts to follow through yet. I think once we reach level 20+ (if we can do so within the next 8 days!), we will be in a better position to say whether that investment seems worth it. I’m very glad that Trion has given us this window to decide; they’ve got the best of the subscription-model game options I’ve encountered.

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