My Particularly Fascinating Brand of Raiding Malaise…

I woke up at 8am today.

I forgot to eat until 8pm.

Perhaps this might help to explain why I’m so allergic to, and personally wary of raids.

Yes, I know it’s unhealthy. The first thing I thought when I finally looked at the time was “Oh god, not again…”

I play games. I’m not immune to how these games are designed.

It’s so easy to get carried away down the slippery slope of the uber hardcore…

It’s just for a few days, right?

GW2: Needs of the Many, Needs of the Few

Random picnic party

I’ve had some great reactions to my recent musings on raids.

Syl posted a nice response, and one of the things she mentions is what she misses most about raids – that sense of steady group progression with a well-oiled and well-groomed team that trusts each other implicitly. I can’t help but draw some parallels to a very tight knit WvW zerg busting guild (though the inclusiveness or exclusiveness of each guild differs by individual guild culture.)

Murf shared some of the things he enjoyed about raids as well.

I’m especially amused by some of the comments over by MMO Gypsy who automatically assume that I’ve never raided, and thus my opinion is invalid or *shrug* raiding is not for him, period.

Or was somehow spurned by an elitist raider once upon a time and thus carry an awful grudge against all raiders, lumping them together as evil elitists, boo hoo. Go cry somewhere else.

Ok, I’m exaggerating for effect, I don’t actually think any of you guys meant that, but I see similar simplistic comments carrying that essence of trolling on forum message boards all the time, probably due to the subject being endlessly debated back and forth.

And there were plenty of other reasonable rational responses, which we will try to touch on later, but ask yourselves, WHY did your mind immediately flow that way?

It’s due to what we understand ‘raids’ are, especially if we come from a World of Warcraft background.

It may surprise some of you that pretty much my only activity for the past three days in Guild Wars 2 has been camping out as part of a huge group of 100+ people on a map, listening in on a Teamspeak, occasionally wandering off AFK for the 1.5 hours between exciting fights (of a world boss raid attempt) or enjoying some of the social aspects if the crazies happen to be in the same group together.

In fact, I’ve chosen to do this non-profit activity over other more lucrative options – such as running around in a mindless Frostgorge champion zerg or participating in a marionette fight that caters more to players without sufficient time or the inclination for organization on a massive scale (that rewards a regular stream of silver/crafting materials/lucky drops and a less regular stream of blues/greens/yellows respectively.)

A little background:

The Triple Trouble jungle wurm in Bloodtide Coast is a new world boss in the Origins of Madness update that has been specifically designed for hardcore groups that are all about the organization and figuring out the strategy and tactics.

At the same time, the Living World content involves the Twisted Marionette boss fight that involves -some- coordination but not as much. It’s on a scale where random overflows might conceivably achieve full success, whereas the intensity and complexity of the jungle wurm fight pretty much requires hefty leadership and organization.

It’s provoked some hefty discussion over why these bosses exist in open world zones instead of private raid instances, given the level of intended coordination involved.

One subset of players are in favor of exclusion by private raid instance, where they can invite their friends and players they trust have the level of ability required to produce serious attempts on the raid bosses. It wastes less time for the lucky collective, and makes it easier to control the group and organize specialized builds and functions, since there is always the threat of outcasting. It produces less frustration for these players as they don’t have to endure interacting with others who don’t match their unique criteria of worth, whatever it may be.

On the other hand, we have the existing case of open world bosses, where people in the same Reddit discussion thread linked above are giving examples of how they organically stumbled onto an organized group attempt, met up with nice people, joined their Teamspeak and had their eyes opened as to how rewarding such ‘hardmode’ content can feel, as many raiders already know.

We also have the rare maniacal leader-types that love the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together. For these treasures, there is an emotion called naches, where they take pride in the achievement of those they have so patiently grown and trained from the ground up.

On the NA servers, the founder of the TTS community, Ahlou, can deservedly indulge in this as he created something that had never been seen before. A server-agnostic collection of 11 guilds, dedicated to being inclusive and take down hard mode raid bosses in GW2. It has a waiting list hundreds of people long, only stalled out by the lack of leadership types that have stepped up and volunteered their time. We’re blessed as it is that a small council of 10+ leader types stepped up to support and grow Ahlou’s vision, with a minimum of ego and drama.

(I believe an equivalent TxS community exists on the Euro servers.)

The sad truth is, there is still unavoidable exclusion.

A map is hard capped at 100+ players. (I don’t know the exact number, but it’s around there.)

Exclusion is by a sort of lottery, whoever is first able to zone in to the maps where there is sufficient leadership to attempt the bosses get to do it. Those who can’t zone in, for whatever reason, are shit outta luck. Until the next time, anyhow.

It also favors those who have oodles of time to stand around waiting for the next spawn, even if it is an hour and a half away.

It favors those who are willing to make the effort to download a voice program and join a Teamspeak, if only to listen in to leader commands, as taxis are first offered by voice to those gathered in the channels.

It favors those who are ballsy and persistent, observant and determined enough to read guild member rosters and note down the names of leaders and those who commonly taxi into instances and pretty much blindly /join and wiggle their way into the instance, as long as checking on Teamspeak reveals that an attempt is going on.

It favors those who are dedicated and driven and -crazy- enough to sit around for an hour spamming right-click on a party member’s portrait, clicking “Join party member in X zone” repeatedly, for a chance of merely participating in non-guaranteed discovery attempts at the correct tactics and strategy, leading up to a potential world first. Loot is not at all guaranteed, but potential fame and glory.

It’s produced quite a number of indignant complaints from those who feel excluded, since they don’t have sufficient time for such madness, or can’t be arsed to go through all that kind of trouble for a non-100% chance at good loot.

You may be surprised, but after some thinking it over, I am more or less okay with this particular sort of exclusion in this particular set of circumstances.

Me, the champion of being philosophically inclusive.

I think, in the end, everything seems to be about tradeoffs. We exclude one group of people, at the cost of another group that don’t meet some set of criteria.

We endure mind-numbing wait time for the potential memories and social connections we build through people being bored out of their skulls.

Deathrifyerr Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.

Deathrifyerr’s Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.

But maybe only a hundred people (and probably less since a good percentage may be AFK) got to enjoy such socializing, compared to how many people playing Guild Wars 2 at any one time?

Is it fair to cater to the needs of the few as compared to the needs of the many?

Should we be concerned about being fair? Or making sure that there’s something for everyone?

In this particular case anyway, it’s probably a temporary state of affairs.

The TTS leaders (and probably a decent amount of its members) share and espouse a very similar sort of inclusive philosophy as I do.

The jungle wurm is in a “discovery of strategy” phase, not an “on farm” phase. There’s insufficient leadership to spread out to create multiple overflows, as was promptly done once an effective strategy to down Tequatl was found. Then information spread out and disseminated as experienced leaders and members felt confident enough to teach the strategy to others.

It’s most likely the case that the same will happen with the jungle wurm once some optimal strategies have been found. More space will open up. Anyone who wants to attempt the bosses will be invited and taught, as long as they open their mouths and ask, and even those who randomly stumble into the boss being taken down by the group will get a chance.

The danger, of course, is when designers tweak up the challenge to a level where only certain groups have sufficient stats or builds or reactions (or whatever form of player or character ability) and other groups simply don’t, regardless of how much teaching and training and information dissemination is done.

The automatic response of players optimizing for the best solution is, naturally, exclusion of players who don’t meet those criteria.

You may ask, why do I feel that this is such “a danger” given that I have accepted that -some- kind of exclusion is likely to happen, no matter what kind of raid variant is designed?

Well, part of it is naturally self-centered. I personally have a better shot of seeing raids completed in a TTS-style organization than your typical raid organization. They match my on-again, off-again type of scheduling. I like that I can just jump in when I have the time to one of the scheduled raids, and as long as there’s space in the overflow, I get a spot.

Whereas I would simply go nuts in a dedicated raid style organization. What? Perform the same role over and over? Prepare laboriously for days before the main event? Set an alarm clock to raid at a certain hour or let down the group of people that are counting on me? When real life interrupts, I can’t just sneak out of the raid and let someone else who desperately wants in get in? Do the same thing over and over for WEEKS and MONTHS?

I’m an explorer. I like the new and shiny. I’m crazy enough to enjoy the discovery aspect of developing a strategy. That’s why I’m camped out at the jungle wurm, giving up loot and gold earning time from all the other alternatives I could be doing. I KNOW I will get bored within three months once the thing is on farm. Like how I can’t endlessly show up in WvW night after night doing the same thing over and over. Fixed schedules and me don’t really mix well. They lead to obligation and obligation leads to erosion of fun, for me.

The other revelation I’ve had is that I’d personally much rather enjoy raids as a social club, not a competitive sports club. I don’t mind having the leeway for 30 to carry 10. Because after all, we are all good at different things. And there’s no chance to learn and improve if you aren’t allowed to keep practicing something for fear of wiping or letting down the team.

The other part of it is what I think it implies for the overall health of a game.

Closed raid communities become insular, deriding PUGs as part of a very human ‘us vs them’ tribal mentality. It becomes hard to penetrate into such social environments. Sure, the community is GREAT once you get in and stay in. But can your average newbie or person with irregular time schedules get a chance at it?

A more open and inclusive raid community allows for penetration. It makes room for those who just want to or have time to show up for one kill, just to say they did it or saw it or whatever. It makes room for those with irregular schedules. It still gives the crazy dedicated a chance to shine, especially by leading and organizing or just staying longer for insane amounts of time, at the cost of them occasionally having to put up with the company of those they consider ‘lesser’ than them.

It promotes a culture of positive behavior, of friendly encouragement to each other, cheering each other on, rather than a toxic mindset of blame and shame and only interacting with a special select group, reducing the occurrence of a negative hostile atmosphere that discourages new people from participating.

I’m not going to ask which game will have a larger population over time or be more successful.

Folks can point to World of Warcraft and Eve Online and demonstrate how they are thriving and doing great, despite the reputation of a toxic, hostile culture. Hell, for that matter, look at the success of League of Legends.

But -I- know which game I’d rather be playing and supporting.

Signing off,

Your neighborhood carebear furry blogger.

P.S. The last thing I sort of wanted to say regarding the needs of the many and the needs of the few.

I think there’s room in the MMO gamespace, and indeed in each MMO as multiple activity types, for many options and alternatives to cater to all sorts on whatever spectrum you draw up. Hardcore or casual. Time-plentiful or time-starved. Competitive or cooperative. Inclusive or exclusive. Hard difficulty or easy. Majority or minority.

But we need to stop assuming that what we have is all that will ever be.

That raids are THUS, as defined by World of Warcraft, or Everquest. (And I’m sure connoisseurs will tell you the differences between both games’ raids.)

That if you don’t like it, shut up and go to your solo leveling corner of the world, you antisocial excuse who should be playing a single-player game instead of whining.

Instead, we need to break down all the aspects of raids that we like, and all those we don’t like.

So that a creative team of developers out there can start taking a little of column A and a little from column B and glomming them together to give us new raids and new challenges that we haven’t seen, that cater to different groups of players.

Only then will we see progress and innovation and novelty.

GW2: Finding Something Else to Do (Origins of Madness update)

Raids give me that "played like a puppet" feeling...

Thanks to the two new bosses added in the latest GW2 update, I no longer loathe raids with extreme prejudice.

I have now reached a state of indifference.

I guess that’s progress.

See, one of my most major issues with the concept of raids was exclusivity.

I’m just philosophically opposed to the idea that some players get automatically rejected due to whatever they’re wearing because it’s a convenient shortcut to judge player ability, or the simple capacity of a character that has sufficient stats to meet the challenge.

Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)

In the case of Guild Wars 2′s new approach to raid bosses, aka more challenging world bosses that require a significant amount of coordination and organization to succeed, it’s been comparatively more inclusive, mostly because individual groups of people can’t control 100% who shows up in a zone.

One can still attempt more coordination and organization by joining and following along with an organized group, such as various server groups, or megaguilds. TTS, for example, is the primary NA example. I’m aware of AARM doing weekly Tequatls on Tarnished Coast these days. Unsoweiter.

The fact that it is not at all possible to reject players out of hand skews GW2 raid bosses significantly towards a more philosophically palatable direction for me. (As opposed to say, the propensity of some people to get kick happy with their party in certain dungeons.)

My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.

I ranted about this in City of Heroes, which was rather inconsistent about this in its Incarnate Trials, whereas the few I encountered in RIFT were distinctly clearer to me.

mines

So far, the Guild Wars 2 indicators resemble RIFT a lot more. This I like.

The first champion in the marionette fight also has a rather elegant indicator for facing, which is handy since the goal is to hit it from behind.

What I’m not liking is the speed at which these are appearing and disappearing. Between my slow framerate and latency, there doesn’t seem to be sufficient reaction time sometimes to dodge. Presumably as one learns the encounters more, one might possibly be able to use animation cues to get a few more valuable split seconds but well… it’s been a little hit or miss at times.

Some of my other issues regarding raids are unfortunately still not resolved.

There’s the waiting.

I’m making significantly more progress on my browser games in the other screen, and my audio CD digitization project since there’s a good half hour between each wurm or marionette attempt.

Standing around in a game doing nothing annoys me.

Well, I -could- jump around waypoints catching energy probes, but then that would make commanders trying to physically count people and get organized sad.

Catch-22.

Since I can’t be arsed to even conceive of leading such a cat-herding endeavor, my most meaningful contribution during the waiting phase is to be an obedient charr and stand on the blue dorito.

There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.

Living in a not-so-popular geographical area means making compromises with one’s day and mealtimes to match the more populous NA and Oceanic times, during which there’s more people, more organization and thus a higher chance of success.

This is, of course, insolvable without migrating, but it does wear down on my personal level of interest for raids, especially over time. I haven’t attended a single Tequatl for weeks, there just seemed to be better things I could be doing with that two hours.

And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.

Yes, I understand that is somewhat the point (or a major component) of raids.

That it is somewhat like a sports team where people need to practice together, learn how to work with each other in tandem, trust and rely on each other, etc.

A situation set up so that more complex societal behavior can be exercised, such as leadership, organization, division of roles, teamwork, good sportsmanship, yadda yadda.

(Naturally, where one has the opportunity to demonstrate positive behavior, one ALSO runs very easily into the opposite toxic and negative examples, fueled by immaturity and ingrained habit of certain game cultures. But y’know, tradeoffs, can’t have one without the other.)

Call me a hermit, a misanthrope or a control freak, it’s just not a preference. 80% of the time, I’d much rather be challenging myself or relying on me, period.

I actually find the mechanics of the marionette champions rather interesting and look forward to learning more with each time I enter. Except there’s all the in-between that just feels like time-wasting.

And there’s that omnipresent situation where four platforms manage to finish and the last has unfortunately encountered some kind of problem. It’s a bit of a letdown when you feel you’ve played the best you could, and victory (or even partial success) is taken out of your hands because somebody else screwed up somewhere. Locus of control? None.

Perhaps one could keep repeating the strategies over mapchat and just patiently wait until everyone learns them. Perhaps some really creative leadership and organization could fill a separate overflow with more hardcore players and better communication.

Perhaps an individual might just indulge in blame and name-calling because they can’t do anything else besides spew abuse at others to make themselves feel better. (Protip: Shit-talking to ‘motivate’ only works on a certain subset of the population. Everyone else thinks they’d rather not have a victory confirm your behavioral hypothesis that toxicity results in a win.)

But really, for most people, the only thing left to do within one’s locus of control is shrug, feel disappointed and try again another time.

Which again, personally, is not something I’m playing a game for. Life already throws sufficient repeat disappointments one’s way, y’know?

Of course, the other 20% of the time, I can deal.

I’m quite enjoying the coordination and strategies involved in working out and learning the jungle wurm fight with TTS. (Save for all that time-wasting between attempts, egads!)

I like that different skills and builds have been stressed this time around – such as condition builds for the husks, and good running, jumping, speed-boosting abilities.

It’s just… that I’m somewhat puzzled at myself, that I’m not feeling as compelled as I used to be.

Sometimes, I look at the clock, and think, hmm, in the same hour, I could give the wurm or marionette another go, or I could cook myself a nice meal and have a proper sit-down feast, or I could watch something on the telly…

And I choose the latter options instead. (Hell, I’ve been tempted by the thought of giving Dragon Age Origins another go, or playing Skyrim again.)

It’s like I’m suddenly in no hurry to experience the content.

Was it just the three week break from GW2 that gave me a certain distance?

Is it just because I suspect it’s going to take a few days anyway for the general population to learn the fights, for information to filter down and so on, before the bosses will become more enjoyable like Teq on farm? (I certainly didn’t enjoy the first few days of Teq, super-stressed out trying to squeeze into the main server, wiping repeatedly, AFKing for indeterminate periods of time, etc. World firsts mean absolutely nothing to me.)

Is it just a personal disinterest in raids in general?

Who knows.

I do still harbor a slight worry that I need to catch the marionette fight at the sweet spot intersection between too many people -trying- to do it but not knowing how, and no one interested in doing it ever (like a successful Scarlet invasion – anyone actually manage that recently?) Being tied to the Living Story, it may be a two week thing.

The wurm is less stressful, since TTS is both organized and inclusive. One will get all the boss achievements there in the end.

Well, whatever the case, it’s… something else to do.

When one feels like it.

While it’s new and shiny.

For now.

P.S. Opinions on the story aspect of the update are a little better. Nice instance, more in-game storytelling, even if the bit with Kasmeer and her father sounded like clumsy exposition. I haven’t seen Scarlet’s lair yet, but looking forward to discovering it slowly.

One immediately gets the unsupported hunch that players might just end up with another cutthroat politics vote where it turns out Scarlet has a grand design to defeat the dragons and wanted to be a good guy after all (with Taimi and Braham and whoever else may be on her side) while Rox wants her dead because Rytlock said so.

Or maybe not. As a player, I’d probably let Primordius burn Divinity’s Reach and Lion’s Arch in order to see Scarlet dead. I suspect I’m not the only one.