A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

There's a land you promised us! Deliver us to the promised land...

As mentioned before, when I go quiet, it’s usually because things have settled into a comfortable happy rut. The same old games routine leaves nothing new to comment on.

MMO Population Blues

Wildstar seems to be undergoing its first month blues, what with one blogger announcing they’ve canceled their subscription and another commenting on how the online population appears to have dropped.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s disinterest and perhaps it’s just pragmatism, but I can’t really bring myself to be concerned one way or the other.

Guild numbers and roster counts don’t really mean anything, in my opinion, except to show that attrition always takes place over time.

In two years of GW2, I’ve seen my two main guilds bounce up and down in online players: offline members ratio and all it really says is how well each guild is doing in time – was there anyone actively recruiting, was the leadership active or did it go dormant, did anyone clean out the guild roster lately of people who lost interest in the game, etc.

They certainly didn’t reflect anything regarding overall game population numbers, considering that the best period of activity one had was when the other was almost dying, and vice versa.

The megaserver change that GW2 dropped on us is more sneaky in comparison.

I logged on today in Divinity’s Reach and consciously reveled in the fact that there were some 30-40 people running around just near the Trading Post and Bank area. “See,” I told myself, “GW2’s doing great! Look at how many people there are online!”

Then the more cynical part of my mind stopped me and said, “Ah, but don’t forget that this perception is due to the megaserver.”

Which is true and somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, imo. Crowds beget crowds. Someone who needs a social atmosphere is inclined to stay logged on if he or she sees people around them. I’m sure Tarnished Coast would be able to pull up a similar kind of number without the megaserver, but we’d probably lose those players from less crowded servers who can’t transfer off.

As for Wildstar, welp, the only ones who knows the real numbers are the devs. So let’s see how they react in the days to come. What they do or don’t do will reveal just how important they regard keeping subs, creating new subs or selling CREDD, and what their strategy is in regards to the casual/hardcore divide and earning revenue.

I’ve decided I really don’t care that much either way about the typical MMOs any longer and am just watching all the various rants from the peanut gallery and chomping down on popcorn.

GW2

I don’t need a promised land made up of dreams and future MMO sandboxes.

I’m already THERE.

I’ve been there for close to two years now. It’s not PERFECT, but it’s been comfy enough to be a home.

If I didn’t have GW2, I’d find somewhere else to settle down. The next best thing.

Probably A Tale in the Desert. Or Guild Wars 1. (City of Heroes did fine for 4-5 years running before things became a little too static and too traditional for comfort.) Wherever.

Point is, there’s so many games on the market that if someone couldn’t find something to satisfy or suffice, then the problem is probably less with the game and more about how someone is in a more nomadic than settler frame of mind.

So what have I been doing on the Guild Wars 2 front?

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

Dailies. My ritual gathering of nodes and iron ore because it’s fun.

A significant amount of Dry Top geode farming because I’m in love with the Ambrite weapons and it sort of has the meditative fun of a zerg-y champion train with more sophistication in the strats used for each event, without the utter boredom of a sequence that a bot could be programmed to perform.

Totally in love with this greatsword.

Totally in love with the Scorpiones greatsword.

Say hello to mah lil friend.

Say hello to mah lil friend.

I look forward to each recipe I get to ever so slowly buy.

I stalled out on Episode 2’s achievements due to the reputed bug in the Concordia instance and haven’t gotten around to moving beyond that. Perhaps later or when the next patch arrives. At least the stress is gone from it not being temporary content.

I poked around in the next part of the Dry Top area, since I more or less stumbled into it while hunting Lost Coins, and indulged the explorer part of me.

There's some really lovely landscapes in the next section...

There’s some really lovely landscapes in the next section…

I popped in on the Triple Trouble Wurm today, after a long time of not showing up because I got bored with the boss. Got lucky and managed to taxi in. Things went super smoothly and a kill was obtained. And you know what made me smile?

There was a little level 49 standing right in front of the Wurm chest, going “holy crap, I don’t know what just happened, I just got this game a week and a half ago, I was just here and people were saying get into Teamspeak…”‘

Then he put on his shiny new Wurm’s Bane title.

He had 449 AP.

I don’t begrudge him a thing.

This, my friends, is the beauty of Guild Wars 2 and open world raids.

It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t max level. That he didn’t have crazy gearscore or what have you. He didn’t have to spend a month or two ‘getting attuned’ or jumping hoops and matching schedules to get into a raid guild just to ‘earn’ the right to be there.

He’s never going to forget his first wurm kill.

He’s going to remember the rush of all the people around him. If he has the slightest interest, now or later on, he’ll recall the TTS guild website where he can sign up to be a member.

He’ll have one hell of a story to tell to anyone who asks how a level 49 character got his title.

(To a lesser extent, similar things can happen with guild missions. I joined my NA guild today for theirs, and for the guild challenge, the 20-25 of us DIS managed to gate crash CERN‘s Save Our Supplies disco party of 50+ and 10+ commander tags.

One lone unguilded wanderer walked by and did a double take, commenting on the size of the guild. All CERN, of course, ours is small. :) That’s one way to meet an active guild… though there’s always the trouble of seeing if they’re on the same server as you.)

DOTA 2

I got my sleep schedule twisted around a little trying to catch the International.

I faithfully caught the matches on the weekend live, then found myself getting sleepier and sleepier on the last two days and gave up, resolving to watch them later.

If anything, I have to commend Valve and the DOTA 2 crew for the sheer spectacle of the event. There’s big money involved, and no effort is spared to make it -feel- grand.

Seriously, watching DOTA 2 is a game in itself.

If you just pop on over to the website, you have the choice to watch every match with the main audio, or using the newbie stream.

The live video stream stalled a few times during the broadcast, which led me to experimenting with DOTA TV, aka watching the match from in-game itself.

It boggles the mind how intricate it all is.

dota2tournaments

There’s matches galore from what seems like a dozen tournaments.

Scroll down, find the International, and you can download replays of every single match. Not to mention, watch and set an option to automatically spectate live games.

dota2international

Inside the game, which had upwards of 200k clients spectating during one International game (presumably at least some of those were bots hoping to get lucky drops), you could pick from 4-5 audio streams in various languages.

The highlighted scroll is the newcomer's stream.

The highlighted scroll is the newcomer’s stream. Kinda nice that they made the effort to guide people like that.

The camera itself is configurable. Let the caster show you the action from his or her point of view. Or you yourself manually follow along whatever you wanted with your own free camera.

Or chase/follow a game from each player’s perspective, which is no doubt useful for learning how to play a certain hero by watching how the pros do it, or if you have a celebrity crush on a certain player or whatever…

Quite a few exciting games out of the International this time around. Pretty much every time a once-champion team got knocked out of the running was thrilling.

One of the best turnarounds was the second match between Cloud9 and VG (July 20, starts about half an hour into the stream) which rather nicely illustrates the ebb and flow of these snowballing DOTA games, where one team can start out pretty strong over the other team and by the end of the match, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

I still keep wanting to play the actual game but always keep getting turned off by the reputed toxicity of MOBA players (aka a complete 180 from the GW2 community) as well as the amount of -time- it would take to learn enough to get past the gatekeeping layer of impatient ‘blame-others’ players.

Maybe if I wait long enough, the devs will figure out a way to manage the culture. I hear LOL has started outright banning toxic players.

Blaugust

In blogging news, Belghast is challenging bloggers to write a post every day for the month of August.

I’m kinda looking forward to the extra posts I’ll get to read from participants.

I’m probably not going to participate as I’ve more or less settled on a comfortable 1-3 day pace for myself, but it’s a good idea for those who haven’t yet tried the experiment of writing at a habitual pace.

When I first started blogging, I definitely made myself post once daily or every two days or so. It’s just a way to both make a commitment to yourself to post as well as get your blog out there to readers and search engines to pick you up.

(I have gotten slightly more lazy since then, and allowed 4-7 day lapses, but I do get antsy if I haven’t made any kind of post for a week or more and the self-nagging starts up until a post is made.)

Who knows, if the conversation picks up, I may find myself unable to resist getting a word in and posting more myself. :)

GW2: Entanglement – First Impressions

entanglement1

Going to write this post without spoilers, and I suspect I will end up echoing Bhagpuss, dancing around in generalities and going “Blimey, Charlie!

Except my phrase veers more towards “Damn, that was satisfying.”

Not because I liked what happened in this episode, mind you – some bits veered towards the dangerously melodramatic – but because from a structural and design perspective, I think Arenanet has hit upon something promisingly good here.

We go back to Guild Wars 1 yet again, where each story mission one played through meant a development of the plotline. There were ups and downs and change happened.

You remembered them because you got to play through each and every episode, at your own pacing, rather than end up with gaps in the story because you couldn’t log on for that particular week or two.

Much of GW2’s first season reminded me of a family roadtrip where the players kept stridently asking “Are we there yet?”

A tiny bit of plot happened, a small part almost lost in a larger picture of frantic open world achievement and taking on whatever new mechanical developments there were (often in a zerg fashion), leaving players confused and perplexed by the one-liner plot, often summarized as “Something happened, and we still don’t know what’s going on,” then later, “Scarlet did it.”

Like an amateurish novel writer who thinks all the mystery would be lost if the readers actually knew what was going on, the writers played everything with cards close to their chest – hinting at something happening, but not saying much more than that. That led to plenty of unfounded speculation, some of which was much better than the simplistic linear plot actually taking place but not shown to anybody.

Some players might have wanted to know more but having to wait 2-4 weeks later (an understandable and reasonable length of time for the actual game experience and rewards earning part of temporary, seasonal content) for the -next- story snippet, generally made everybody stir-crazy in the process and having promptly forgotten what happened before by the time the next update rolled around.

For instance, some players are still trying to figure out why we’re suddenly such pals with the B-Iconics, or Destiny’s Edge 2.0 and how they’ve ended up calling our characters ‘boss.’

I drew a blank when first thinking about it too, but cudgeling the brain reminded me that I first met Marjory and Kasmeer to solve a Lion’s Arch mystery that involved an Aetherblade attack, meeting them at the Dead End Bar in Divinity’s Reach.

From there, we went on to fighting together in the Tower of Nightmares, taking on the Marionette, defending the city of Lion’s Arch from Scarlet and so on. One almost doesn’t remember it because one mostly only saw the NPCs in passing, in the open world, usually when the brain is busy focused on not-story but achieving something.

We go even further back with Rox and Braham, when they were refugees from Flame & Frost. We fought with them through the Molten Facility (some of us through several dozens of Molten Facilities, dat monocle drop! Beet soup was the best I ever got.)

I vaguely recall helping Rox with Tequatl, oddly trying to track down the beastie  with a footprint, though he usually came by on the hour every hour and has subsequently been taken apart repeatedly to the extent that everyone mostly remembers the Tequatl’s Hoard drop (or lack of it) as the most memorable incident of that update, and not the actual plot step.

We were there with the whole group through the Crown Pavilion and Queen’s Gauntlet events, preventing Queen’s Jennah’s assassination and fending off endless waves of invading Twisted Clockwork, we investigated the Fractals and the Edge of the Mists with some of them, and there were probably more things that I don’t remember offhand.

Each story step was so piecemeal and staggered, disconnected in theme and linked only tenuously by a mad sylvari, that it’s hard to absorb that it all really did happen.

In Season 2 of Guild Wars 2, I can confidently answer, “We may not be there yet, but we’re certainly -moving.-“

The sense of movement is evident in the storyline now.

Things happen. The plot is better structured and developed. There are going to be more obvious ups-and-downs akin to GW1. More “your character is important and the center of your universe” focused stuff, and not just “your character is one of a big faceless crowd in the open world.”

There’s a sense of movement with the opening up of a new part of Dry Top. Exploration is going forward.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn't explore most of it in a sandstorm.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn’t explore most of it in a sandstorm. Time to go back later.

NPCs are moving along with that – the very talkative and almost-annoying Priory NPCs have changed position and are now saying different story-and-lore related stuff.

NPCs in the town of Prosperity are reacting to the preponderance of massive vines that have suddenly grown up all around them. (That’s not a spoiler, I hope, that seems to be the most obvious part of what was going to happen in an episode titled “Entanglement.”)

Dry Top is now twice as big, with new things to do in the part we haven’t seen yet.

Presumably, we might be opening up more zones in the Maguuma jungle this way, over time, and I’m good with this.

Players will still be focused into a relatively small region at any one point in time. Folks that come later might miss some of that launch feel, but still have the option of working their way through the area by themselves at a more sedate, casual, solo pace. (Just don’t expect to unlock all of the zone’s Favor mechanic tiers by yourself. Higher tiers are definitely group content.)

The only negative I can think of is that we’re still missing a good transitional cutscene between episodes.

Between the Labyrinthine Cliffs and Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma, we know the Zephyrite ships exploded and crashed. We don’t actually see that happen in-game, but only as a teaser trailer outside the game. Our transition on entering the zone is just seeing the wreckage of the Zephyrite ships, but not what actually happened.

Between Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma and Episode 2: Entanglement, vines have suddenly grown up in a lot of places. If you follow developments on Reddit, or just paid attention to what was gradually changing around you, you might have caught sight of vines starting to tap on waypoints like they’re Mordremoth’s new snack to nom. But it still feels a tide abrupt to suddenly walk into Prosperity and go “WTF, when did this happen?”

entanglement2

An introductory cutscene on a clickable button in the Story Journal, or that plays on zone load just like in the Tower of Nightmares update, might mitigate some of that weird feeling of instantaneous change.

In general, the layered content feels just right.

For the casual, what they want is -story-. That’s best conveyed in a small instance, solo or grouping at one’s choice, with plenty of conversation.

For those interested in achievements, re-use the same content and get them to do more complicated things. Players who like meta stuff like achievements generally won’t mind a repeated grind of the same content (as long as they can skip the long-talky stuff) just to get their shiny gold star for doing whatever teacher wants.

The open world opens up further, creating a feeling of progress – and folks can choose at will to casually wander through, with GW2’s organic grouping design naturally creating allies out of the players near you, or take on the zone’s content at a higher, more organized level for faster shiny but non-essential rewards.

(If only we didn’t have to taxi in people one at a time – but perhaps that is part of the intent, to force -some- player interaction and self-organization . Though it mostly feels like a workaround.)

And boy, are the rewards shinier in this episode.

The skins are here. Tons of weapon skins.

Tier 4 and Tier 5 are where they unlock, and I’m hoping this gives more impetus for more players to work on the zone’s Favor mechanic.

I’m personally digging the look of the Ambrite weapons, something that hasn’t happened in a while since the Dreamthistle lot, and I suspect it’s going to take quite a long time to work one’s way through all the geodes.

I hope this means that Dry Top is going to be a well-traversed area, something like the next Frostgorge Sound champion train, regularly frequented by a group of level 80s who enjoy a slightly more sophisticated champion bag farm.

Time will tell, I guess. I’ll see how many I can unlock before the place loses critical mass. I’ll be happy with one or two, which I’m sure is doable within these two weeks, but collecting them all eventually would be cool!

The Gem Shop Ley Line weapons are also rather appealing visually. I like the idea of carrying a symbolic reminder of a very beautiful locale that got opened up this episode. They’ve got that blue fire guardian look to them. I might end up branching out some time for Black Lion Key farming, hoping to get lucky.

Of course, beyond actually obtaining one, another problem I face is an unwillingness to change weapon or theme on my main characters. My charr guardian is red and fire. My charr warrior is yellow and metal. My asura guardian is green/blue and holograms. My sylvari necro is green/black/white/gold and gothic. My norn thief is brown and natural leather.

I have no idea who I can put it on, even if I do get one. Will figure that out later, I suppose.

In the meantime, lots of stuff to do in this episode.

Of Spectator Sports and Trinities

My television watching habits are supremely irregular.

That is, I don’t watch much TV at all.

All those crucial 45 minute blocks of time are spent gaming, rather than passively experiencing a story that goes absolutely nowhere except into yet-another-episodic-arc-designed-to-keep-you-glued-to-the-screen.

Nor am I a big sports fan.

Competition and me are not pals, having been bitten once too many times by an obsessive personality that would fixate too much on winning at all costs, if I gave it free reign. I’m mellower when I tell myself winning is not the goal, but having moment-to-moment fun is.

Still, there was a time when I was enraptured by the NFL and American football. It just seemed so much more complex and intricate than the football the rest of the world plays – lots more clear cut roles, different strategies every pass designed to get the ball the next 10 yards and beyond.

Until I took note of how many hours a night I was spending watching one game (3-4 easily) and how much gaming time I was losing out on as a result. Fell out of the habit shortly after.

It’s funny then that even I can get caught up in the zeitgeist of the moment. I just spent the last couple of midnights staying up till 3am to watch the semi-finals and finals of the FIFA World Cup.

Not as a rabid soccer or football fan, staunchly loyal to one team, but out of a pigheaded determination to discover an appreciation of a game that I mostly always viewed as “kicking a ball around a grass patch for 90 minutes and falling down with an agonized look on one’s face the moment the faintest contact is made, hoping for a favorable referee call.”

The internet helped.

Googled up “soccer strategies” and “why do people like football so much” and devoted some time to reading other people’s thoughts.

Apparently, it’s the continuous flow of action rather than the typical start and stop of American football that some find compelling, a constant adrenaline high for one and a half hours punctuated with more extreme buzzes whenever the ball gets close to the goal posts.

I’m somehow not wired that way. I don’t get adrenaline deliveries on cue, which may suggest a reason why competition isn’t that exciting for me. Instead, I enjoy watching the interlocked intricacies of each team member in American football performing their specialized role well, with the result that the football either gets passed or gets stopped, depending on which team outsmarted or outplayed the other.

Still…

…Surely, soccer has -some- strategies of this ilk? Just less obvious, perhaps?

More reading. More eye-glazing over various “formations” with hypenated player numbers. More beginner tips on how to appreciate soccer via watching how one player may outsmart another by looking in one direction while kicking in another, or using their body to block an opponent’s view of the ball, or players that criss-cross and cut in at various locations to become open for the ball and so on.

I guess there were -some- things that I could find vaguely interesting, after all.

So I watched the World Cup and admired Germany’s efficient teamwork and appreciated on a distant theoretical level why defensive football is so important by observing Brazil’s total defensive meltdown.

Still didn’t like the extreme boring nature of a super-defensive football game with zero goals scored in two hours (with extra time) – effective, I’ll grant you, but boring as heck to watch – and repeatedly rolled one’s eyes at the more unspoken sides of football – ie. sneakily damage your opponent as much as you can get away with, dramatically telegraph all contact in the hopes of a free kick or yellow/red cards, and apparently biased referees.

Seriously, if things are going to get that physical, then put on some padding and go to town like the Americans do.

It’s with some irony though that I find a parallel with MMOs and that I’m on the opposite side when it comes to computer gaming.

American football reminds me of the holy trinity.

Everyone has a specialized role, everyone works in unison and it’s beautiful when everything synchronizes.

Rest-of-the-world football is a non-holy trinity game. Perhaps, dare I say it,  even like GW2.

There’s one primary role everyone performs, do damage or get the ball as close you can to the goal/stop ball getting close to yours, while still paying attention to the team and working in sync with them and supporting them as needed. There may be different “classes” or “soccer positions” with some variants in playstyle. There’s probably more going on under the hood than is obvious to the casual observer.

Soccer is said to be one of the most unpredictable sports. A weaker team has a good chance of upsetting a stronger team because the scores are so low. If opportunities fall their way, and are capitalized on, that may be it for the more unlucky team.

Some find this a reason why soccer is so exciting to watch.

Me, I personally find it about as thrilling as trying to predict heads or tails on a coin toss, and just as pointless. I guess I prefer to watch a good team demonstrate -why- they’re a good team.

Strangely enough, I find unpredictability a bonus if you’re the one actually participating in the moment.

Because it’s suddenly you that can become the hero with a well-placed rez, or good dodging or even indulge in a star solo moment, by catching the right opportunities.

To me, soccer or GW2 is a tide more individualistic, whereas American football or a holy trinity game seems a bit more skewed towards subsuming the self to make a team work like clockwork.

Not really sure where I’m going with this, but I guess the moral of the story is that people like different things, which may differ again if they’re spectating or doing.

And that we can all learn to appreciate (if only at a theoretical distance) stuff we thought we didn’t like before, if we try to look for its redeeming features.

After the World Cup, I’ll be going on one more spectator sports binge.

The International is slated from July 18-21.

DOTA 2 and I have a curious relationship.

I was super-thrilled to win a beta key in one of Steam’s sales contests when it was in development. I installed it gleefully, remembering my very amateur DOTA games-with-real-life-friends, and tinkered around with a few bot games.

Then never quite got back to it again.

Every now and then, I log in, admiring its whole elaborate free-to-play structure of level unlocks, vanity costume skins that cost money, numerous beginner tutorials/build guidance/encyclopedias that are linked to community knowledgebases, on and on through an intricate ladder of intermediate to expert commitment.

Then I back out without having gained a single experience point.

Sorta like LOL, except LOL did seem a little simpler and I did get to around level 4 or so.

I want desperately to play them and learn how deep both rabbit holes go, but the truth is, I just can’t envision investing all that time into MOBAs.

A single match takes like 30-45 minutes or more. You have to play a lot of them to get familiar with the game. You have to play a number of heroes to get familiar with the heroes and gain some flexibility in what you can play. Getting skillful takes even longer.

It’s easier to just watch a couple hours’ worth of professional teams go at it, for a couple of days, and get the entertainment experience without having to personally grind your way up.

Maybe some day, I’ll give them another go, but not today.