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Archive for August, 2011

This was over the entranceway to the main Exhibition Hall. Boy, do I hope Casey Schreiner's words don't come back to haunt us all.

Well, I am finished with PAX Prime for the year as the exhibition halls have closed and I have returned to my temporary abode in WA, so my feedback on what I saw and experienced this weekend will be brief. Most of the news about Guild Wars 2 has been covered to death by those who attended Gamescom, so there’s very little to say.

One thing that was noteworthy for me was that Mr. Randomessa and I got to take on the ArenaNet devs in the PvP tournaments this weekend. We were part of team EGGS that played in the 3:00PM matches on Saturday. We are not in the picture because…. I’m not sure why. We probably wandered off immediately with our swag, excitedly gabbing and texting our friends about the experience. It was an honor to be insta-gibbed by ArenaNet, though I must toot my own horn and say that I held my ground with my necro 1v1 against Jon Peters’ guardian until he got reinforcements. I will, however, have nightmares about thieves and huge red numbers swarming about my head for many days to come. Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you want more details of our tournament adventures, since they were not livestreamed.

I’m extremely glad that I got to play the demo so many times at ComicCon, because PAX was a whole different story about the length of lines to play. The wait at any given station at the NCSoft booth was, at 5-6 people deep, 3-4 hours; at the Logitech booth it was 1-2 hours. Obviously we chose to wait at the Logitech booth when the line was shortest, which was for added benefit far away from the loud noises of the big displays and therefore excellent for actually hearing the game. Also, several ANet employees were stood around the booth and could just chat with you the whole time you were in line.

We talked the dev’s ears off about our pet subjects: me about character customization and variety, Mr. Randomessa about pets and skill acquisition, and anything else we could think of. As for GW1, we were told there are big plans for the next wave of Winds of Change and they are very excited to get it to us. My impressions after playing the new GW2 demo are pretty much in line with my thoughts after ComicCon, as this demo was again another strong showing, felt and handled great, and was gorgeous to behold. Mr. Randomessa, who got to play for the first time this weekend, is singing its praises (or would have been, if he weren’t already),

The asura are unbelievably adorable; when they are very low on health, or in downed state (I can’t remember which), they say “structural… integrity… failing!” You can tell that ANet loves the asura; it shows in every animation and voiceover. The new dodge button is a huge help to fumble-fingered folks like myself, and learning new skills through use was just fun (will it be fun with the 17th weapon on the nth new character? Hard to say, but neither would purchasing new skills and ranks of skills on that character, either, to be fair).

I had wanted to give other games a try, like SW:TOR, Rage, Skyrim, and Firefall, but without the added benefit of getting to chat with the devs themselves, waiting in line for 2 hours for anything else lost all of its charm, so I took the Secret World faction test instead and got to watch the final demo presentation of the con. The Secret World has interested me for some time (although I’m annoyed with Funcom’s decision to make the game subscription plus microtransactions), and I’m eager to see how the features they’ve been describing will actually play out in the live game.

They showed off some cool things like how the quests you get will pit you against the other factions, so you’ll be sabotaging each others’ missions and cleaning up one anothers’ messes. Remember how, in the Tortage storyline, if you played a healer you’d get word of how a warrior had done this or that, or how a rogue had managed to steal an item, and the warrior and rogue characters were the ones carrying out the duties you’d only hear about as another class? Pretty much like that. That spells “replayability” to me. They also demonstrated neat ways to use special items in the world such as flares or a headlamp to illuminate monsters in an area where the lights have gone out. I can’t wait to see if this stuff actually works as advertised.

Oh, and I mentioned Firefall earlier, it’s totally not my kind of game because it’s a shooter, but they were at PAX in force and had displays everywhere (even the ladies’ washroom mirrors – thanks for considering us in your shooter game promotions, Firefall – I mean that sincerely!). They also had this in the lobby:

It also thumped loudly and pulsed, vibrating the ground and everything. Very cool.

Finally, and unrelated to MMOs entirely, I got a pic and autograph of Steve Jackson, creator of Munchkin Games, because they – and he – are that awesome.

Now I think I’m going to bathe in hand sanitizer and sleep for 42 hours.

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One of the aspects of Guild Wars 2 that doesn’t get talked about or explored much during demos much is the personal story. ArenaNet makes sure to mention the Personal Story in their demo presentations, and the 10-step character creation touches on aspects that will affect the settings of the personal story, but for most people coming in with interest in GW2, it doesn’t seem immediately apparent that the Personal Story is indeed intended to be a drawing point for fans of putting the RPG back in MMORPG.

In this demo version from 2010, the character driver demonstrates some features of the personal story, then leaves off (3:25 through 4:50):

Is this because ArenaNet doesn’t want to get into story spoilers (one of the reasons they have given for not going in-depth into their story mode dungeons), or is it that this work is incomplete? Or perhaps some combination of the two? Wartower.de managed to get farther into the personal story during the 2010 demo, as illustrated in the oft-linked Ranger demo footage (25:51 through 29:10):

This year, Wartower has again managed to snag HD footage of a personal story, this time the charr (…all 28 minutes of it):

TalkTyria has a few items from the Norn personal story as well:

A few things we can see from this latest demo footage:

  • Personal story action items (my new corporate-speak term for “quests”) take place in the persistent world as well as within instances. You may well receive a task in an instance that requires you to travel through the persistent world to complete.
  • It’s possible to receive personal story action items via mail. It’s nice to know that a fantasy game like GW2 isn’t afraid to use what has worked so well in games like City of Heroes/Villains and Star Trek Online. I’ll note that LOTRO has also delivered quests via mail, IIRC, though I’m not sure how often this happens outside of seasonal festivals.
  • You’ll pass by numerous dynamic events and map hearts on your way between personal story action items, which might be why more people haven’t filmed more cutscenes – those dynamic events and overworld tasks are addictive. I will withhold judgement as to whether this will make me feel as though I need to “level up” between personal story instances or if hanging around in the persistent world will feel more organic than in other MMOs where I am told to return when I have “grown stronger” in order to proceed with a story arc.
  • There are plenty of characters we’ll be interacting with, NPCs we’ll love to hate, and our stalwart companion, chosen from character creation, will apparently be by our side for much of the goings-on.
  • Interesting that when the charr character is defeated within an instance, he is not thrown out (which is what happens if your party is defeated in a Guild Wars 1 mission): he can choose to leave, or try again from a waypoint within the instance.
  • Voicework and animations are obviously not yet complete, unless there is a charr voice option called Microsoft Text to Speech (if there were, I would absolutely pick it for one character).

One thing we haven’t seen yet in the personal story is where we will be able to make secondary choices, such as the oft-quoted hospital versus orphanage decision. What will that sort of choice look like? A dialog box such as the one that pops up when you are about to enter an instance? Will it be in the form of choosing which character to talk to given two NPCs who run up to you demanding attention? I would love to be able to get far enough into a demo personal story, any personal story, to see some sort of decision-making required.

Now that I’ve seen more of the personal story in action, it has come farther to the forefront in my mind, nearer to dynamic events, as to what has me excited about Guild Wars 2. We’re only getting glimpses of immediate conflicts for the races in these opening cutscenes and events, hints of underlying mysteries, and I am really looking forward to seeing where the story goes from there. Oh, the broodmothers and ghosts of Ascalon will be exciting to battle as well, but as ArenaNet says, this is my story, and I hope that I have enough time in the demos this weekend to begin to explore it.

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Or, Sexual Dimorphism in Guild Wars 2

Now that the sylvari have made their grand re-entrance in numerous articles in gaming news, this is a question that has been popping up as those who haven’t been following GW2 (or simply not following as rabidly as others) get exposed to this new race. So, why is it, folks wonder, that a race of sentient plant people whose bodies are mere illusions of humanoid forms, have secondary sex characteristics such as breasts (or beards; nobody seems to ask why sylvari have beards)?

It begins with the story of a man and a centaur. The human Ronan, upon finding his village had been slaughtered by the White Mantle and their Mursaat, planted a seed on his family’s graves, vowing to live peacefully from that point onward. He was later befriended by a centaur named Ventari, who shared Ronan’s ideals despite the violent history shared between their respective peoples.

After Ronan died, Ventari tended to the sapling that grew upon the human graves, and wrote his thoughts and life lessons on a tablet that he laid at the base of the tree. The sylvari were later born from this Pale Tree, taking the human forms from the land that nurtured it. Hence, boobs. And beards.

If you remember that their "modesty flowers" are part of them, you realize they're actually naked.

While sylvari do have gender, they act entirely without regard to gender with respect to life, chivalry, and love.

…traditional human-style gender roles have no meaning to sylvari, either in their society or in their romantic relationships. Often, a sylvari’s ardor is expressed with courtly zeal—emotional, empathic, personal—and is not necessarily defined by gender.

Angel McCoy, ArenaNet

I think I can safely say, based on the above information, that the reason for the mammalian protrusions is not purely for titillation. First of all, ArenaNet can do better than that for titillation’s sake (see: Norn females, below). Second of all, the following races exist to show that ArenaNet does know what to do with races that have no good biological reason for D-cups:

Charr

Charr male (L), charr female (R)

As might be expected from our knowledge of cats, female charr do not have visible breasts.

I gave them a choice: either be subtle and downplay the breasts (it wasn’t a point of the race, anyway) or go full-on realistic. Yes, that’s right —none or six!!

-Kristen Perry, ArenaNet

Instead, they are distinguished from male charr by the size and placement of their horns and teeth, a slightly sleeker head shape and a bushier tail. More on the breast issue (and the other issues related to designing the charr) here.

Asura

Asura female (L), asura male (R)

Here is the final example of a race that does not slap breasts onto the female characters and call it a day. While more information might be forthcoming about whether asura have teats like charr, or simply lack that characteristic altogether, it is apparent that aside from a few variations in head shape and hairstyle – and perhaps clothing – there is no differentiation between male and female asura. There does not even appear to be a notable height difference between the two.

Now that we’ve covered two races without the typical fantasy sexual dimorphism, and one who act entirely without regard to gender and for whom such differences are mere outward forms, we turn to the familiar.

Norn

What were we saying about titillation?

Here we have possibly the most extreme case of sexual dimorphism in the form of bulk and body structure between the male and female norn. The males seem to be built with a particularly recognizable heft to them, and an allowance for an abundance of hair grooming options on nearly every exposed surface, while the females, unfortunately, venture very close to “large woman” status.

How much we will be able to modify the female norn build and bring it more in line with that of the male is something that I hope we will get to glimpse at the upcoming Gamescom convention. Right now this is probably the most obvious throwback to video game titillation to be found in Guild Wars 2. Fortunately, at least, these female norn can easily break your bones for commenting on their, well, titillation.

Human

Ah, there we go. Nice and reliable and wearing clothes that make sense at a Renaissance Faire. Here you can expect get your usual suspects and a variety of builds (we can hope): men with or without facial hair, slender such as the one above, or perhaps bulkier to a degree currently unknown. Whether women have a slider for their bodice area will be of great interest for those watching the convention footage coming in next week.

All in all, I think ArenaNet has done a good job avoiding many of the tropes and stereotypes about male/female appearance, dress, and behavior when it comes to their race design. We have breasted sylvari who engage in chivalry, asura and charr who don’t have breasts, norn females who drink and fight with the best of them, and humans who are led by a queen with no king in sight.

So the next time someone asks if female sylvari have breasts in order to satisfy the 14-year old male audience, simply challenge them to a duel with your female sylvari character; may the best sylvari win.

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Home Sweet Sylvari Home

So, Sylvari are pansexual fae made of plant and tree material who exhibit gender-neutral Arthurian chivalry (including dueling), drop fully-formed from the Pale Tree at a great height and look like this?

I mean, sure, I thought they’d be interesting, but man, the Norn never even stood a chance to compete in my heart for a main character.

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GW2: Taking from the Best

ArenaNet has made a couple of blog posts this week discussing their approach to audio in Guild Wars 2. I hadn’t been paying too much attention to them (what? I might be a fan, but I don’t devour everything), but this bit in particular caught my eye:

Finally, no matter how fantastic a game’s music is, when you hear the same music for the thousandth time, you start wanting to change things up a bit. Many players will simply turn the game music off and play their own collections. The problem is that an external music player has no context as to what’s going on in-game. Guild Wars 2 will offer a solution for this as well. We’re giving players the option of choosing external music playlists that the game’s audio engine will use as a replacement for the default in-game music. Players can choose different playlists for background ambience and battle music, for instance.  Additionally, when appropriate, such as during cinematics, the game can revert back to in-game music temporarily to give the best possible cinematic experience, then resume the custom playlist when it’s done.

This is going to be awesome for folks who admit to muting games, while still allowing them to use their own music in a meaningful way. I think the closest other MMOs have gotten to this so far is having in-game music players for folks to listen to their own playlists. I have heard that this is a feature of other genres of games that I am not aware of. Either way, this would be a perfect example of how ArenaNet looks outside of the MMO world to bring solutions in and perfect the package. I was really impressed to read this.

Due to the chaotic and noisy sound level at the Alienware Mobile LAN booth where I got to demo GW2 at ComicCon, I could not fully appreciate the use of sound or soundtrack during my playtime, even with the headphones on. It was a shame, too, because I could hear well enough to know that surround sound was well-utilized; I could “hear” that an NPC talking on my right would switch to my left ear if I changed direction; sounds would fade in on one side and out again, and so on. I cannot wait to play GW2 in an environment where I can fully appreciate the way sound is given life in the game world.

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