This World Ain’t Big Enough for the ____ of Us!

En garde! You... goldfish!

Over at Healing The Masses, J3w3l (or Eri, as I’m going to use from now on because it’s a lot easier to type!) has been singing the praises of multiplayer Terraria and what this may imply for sandbox MMO worlds, such as EQNext Landmark.

I’m here to give you the other perspective and the potential pitfalls, in a semi-serious, semi-tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Insufficient Lebensraum / Resources

Of all the things that could plague a sandbox MMO, I worry about this one the most.

The first pioneers get the best locations.

In A Tale in the Desert, areas near the chariot stops for convenient travel later get taken up very quickly. In fact, the crowd is so great that veterans tend to stay a little further away because they know they won’t have space to expand later when all the beginners are off squeezing in their little buildings near each other to form a sort of ghetto.

In my brief time with Wurm Online, anything near the spawn point was over-worked to the point of ludicrousness from the horde of new players zoning in, and I walked for miles and miles finding settlements all over (many seemingly abandoned) and I wouldn’t even dream about peak waterfront property along the coast. This was, of course, on the free server so overpopulation woes would be expected.

Over in Terraria, as the first players, Eri and her friend Grish have taken up the spot that most people in single-player games will build on. On the surface right near the spawn location. (The game’s design encourages this as the guide needs to be housed in a building, and between hostile mobs and his pathfinding AI… let’s just say we want a roof over his head pretty quick.)

They built themselves a massively grand castle.

bigasscastle

(And it just underwent a recent renovation to make it even grander. It’s lovely to behold.)

Now, being that I’m a guest and don’t want to be rude, it makes little sense to try and settle in the same space they’re using. So I looked around, found some real estate near them but off to the west a little and decided to go mostly underground.

If you’re a new settler coming by to the server at this time, your only other option nearby at this point is probably a base in the sky overhead. (The east side is over-taken by corruption.)

Or you’ll have to move a little further off to the west – though you’ll have to contend with a small lake and our sky bridge highway in the vicinity.

I did find two fairly creative buildings – a treehouse and a small obsidian underground lair – in my explorations, but I’m not sure if they were made by the starting pair or natural spawns or by well-equipped visitors popping by.

As for resources, well, suffice to say that you’ll be picking up after our leavings.

I had to do a much deeper and expansive exploration to find copper and lead (iron equivalent) as I’d started a new character. Fortunately, I like exploring and the other two seem more in favor of long highways and tunnels, so I managed to sneak into a niche of going around all the naturally formed caves, breaking vases and grabbing the abandoned ore that the two were no longer interested in after a while via progression.

For anyone coming in now, my suggestion would be to travel along the well-lit areas and venture further out. Just like the other two, I’ve now stopped digging out every last copper and lead ore I see, I only stop for gold and higher.

Chests with equipment in them? Haha. I didn’t see any for a while, until I started venturing into the unexplored caverns.

Luckily, like a number of players, underwater does not seem to be a hit with the two.

I wandered over to the East Ocean, struggled with trying to learn the new changes to the biome, made a makeshift survival elevator down into the water to get easier access to the bottom without drowning by being too gung-ho, and discovered it doubled up rather nicely as a shark trap. Rampant OCD farming for a while yielded a Diving Helmet and Jellyfish Necklace. (Fortunately, mob spawned resources are forever.)

Eventually, I made it over to the West Ocean to find that there were still two water chests left there – one with a Breathing Reed and one with Flippers inside! So now I have Diving Gear. New niche: Underwater Warrior Extraordinaire.

If you’re looking for those items, you’re now outta luck when it comes to the oceans. Maybe you’ll find a water chest randomly while digging underground.

As for the dungeon, I’m sure a good part of it has been picked over, as I dared (screamingly underleveled) into the place with them for a time until I got insta-gibbed.

World Progresses At Speed of Fastest Player

Which brings me right to my next point. Both of them had 400hp and were decked out in many shiny objects. I was waffling at around 140hp and had lead items then.

Out of pure screaming survival, I rapidly revised my goals (which were originally to explore and progress up the tiers and slowly read the wiki to catch up on changes) and did not protest when they found Muramasa in a chest and chucked it at me, because OMG, a sword that can kill things in here! (A nice sword at that.)

After which, it was an easy slippery slope to accepting the extra life crystals that were thrown at me, then picking over what seemed to be the ‘donation room’ chests to grab a better pickaxe, the first hit of demonite ore, and spare shadow armor, which immediately catapulted me several tiers ahead and expanded my exploration range much more rapidly.

donationroom

If you’re coming in now, help yourself to the stuff in the chests here. We three have been overloading it with things. I now keep finding life crystals, which I no longer need!

Last night, I got another free upgrade courtesy of Grish, who threw Palladium stuff at me. (Palladium, what the hell is palladium? Some wiki-ing later revealed it to be hardmode stuff, apparently.)

That promptly extended my range downward and I ventured into Hell to find it pretty darned survivable, as long as one didn’t try to take a bath in lava. So now I’m amusing myself collecting hellstone… for fun, I guess.

hellforgesgensandmore

It’s not like we have a shortage of hellforges here.

(Also in the background, two obsidian generators that off the scale for anything I would ever make, and a large sign pointing out the west highway.)

This is something a lot of sandbox MMO players are going to have to come to terms with. There is very little point reinventing the wheel.

In A Tale in the Desert, the first pioneers suffer through some exceedingly tedious grind with primitive technology, and proceed to unlock much better technology for all players to come.

The bottlenecks that are designed in place can be quickly overcome by making use of communal public resources, or becoming friends with a veteran player, who will usually not mind chucking resources like leather, papyrus seeds, better flax seeds to get a new player coming in late to the Telling started with a much easier time.

If you try to solo it all, you’ll probably drop out after a month or two, tops.

Obnoxious people will now proceed to throw the ‘this is a -multiplayer- game, after all’ line in your face.

As a solo-preferring player, I’d just say that one needs to be open to social interaction and opportunities that arise and adjust your niche accordingly, and use the presence of other players and communal resources as desired to get over humps that are designed into the experience.

You’re never going to come in cold and be just as good as the vet player who’s played since Day 1. Be patient with yourself, adjust your expectations, work your way through the wiki in sections, learning one aspect of the game at a time.

I started one Telling as a complete noob, and ended up sharing the resources of a nice guild that befriended a newbie. With that experience, I began another Telling solo and worked my way through that, learning additional aspects of the game. Which made the Telling after that a very easy powergamer start – I was now an intermediate-level player and probably could claim some vet-hood (but not as much as the players who had been around for all the time.)

Player Creativity May Affect Experience

Back in Terraria, I have to confess that I would never build the structures I’m seeing the pair create. They’re of a scale that is quite beyond me.

I tend to just build ugly functional rectangles.

undergroundfarmexperiment

(Underground farm experiment in perpetual state of under construction)

In a single-player game of Terraria once, the most creative thing I probably did was to balance my wood tower on top of a single door. Because the idea struck me on a whim and looked highly amusing.

In Minecraft, if I manage to make a two or three floor rectangular cottage with corresponding mine shafts and a rail line highway, that’s already a big accomplishment for me. I tend to just tunnel into a stone wall and set up operations there. Decorative architecture? Large bases? Expansive castles? Not at all likely to happen.

In a multiplayer world, -I- benefit from seeing the structures other players create. They’re a lot more beautiful than I would be able to make, I get to wander and explore and get creative inspirational ideas that I would never have come up with on my own.

Other players, however, would have to contend with my corresponding lower aesthetic sense impacting on their designs.

Differing Player Goals

Which brings us to how player goals may end up clashing in a sandbox MMO and lead to either compromises or drama.

Eri’s friend, Grish, is a veteran Terraria player. He runs around being very familiar with everything, and his goal appears to be to finally beat the hardmode bosses with the benefit of extra hands in multiplayer. Progress is dizzyingly rapid as a result. Goals clash: I compromise by inwardly shrugging and saying thank you whenever the next set of equipment I don’t even recognize is thrown at me. I can always learn at my own pace in a single-player world another time.

Eri seems to be a big decorator. The castle is her baby. A very lovely looking place it is too. Her appreciation of aesthetics is evident. Also, expansive highways tunnels for convenience. She’s taming the wilderness one straight line at a time. Goals clash: I’m just guessing, but she probably winces every time she walks past the eyesore that is my permanently-under-construction no-time-for-decorating-yet base, or the many torches I dot around the place because I’m blind as a bat and prefer all the places I go to be clearly lit up. :)

needmoarlight

The problem with turtles is that they can’t see worth beans.

In this case, I’m a guest. I just try not to be too annoying and go with the flow of whatever the plan seems to be.

In a sandbox MMO, what this has a tendency to promote is each person (or group of players) spreading out far enough away from another to develop their own homestead the way they like it and do their best to live and let live. Until some idiot builds too close to them – whereupon the drama starts.

Take home message: Remember plenty of lebensraum. If you’re a designer, try to make the world large enough for many players to settle in with sufficient resources not to end up fighting over them (unless that’s what you want players to do.)

Property and land ownership and access rights are going to be very important to get right, including what players are able to do with aesthetic eyesores (especially those that are abandoned.) In A Tale in the Desert, the player-arrived solution is to allow other players to remove them after a certain number of days have passed if the owner has quit the game. In Wurm Online, they appear to be left to rot slowly, I’m not sure. In Terraria, anyone can modify anything apparently, which involves a fair amount of trust and compromise.

If you’re a player, try to settle sufficiently far from other players if at all possible. One potential problem, of course, is that one’s idea of ‘sufficiently far’ is never really accurate when one is new to a game. The room needed for expansion can always end up surprisingly large.

And finally, let us not forget the griefers.

I am sure there are worlds in Terraria where friendships have been broken because some guy’s idea of fun is to go around being destructive and troll-y. Even while not trying to, we run into opportunities for potential problems.

In the earlier days of starting out, I had a bad habit of finding uneven holes to fall into, or wooden platforms that weren’t level and thus inadvertently cause a precipitous encounter with gravity and the ground. It’s not hard to extrapolate to intentional pitfall traps from there.

endoftheline

There’s always the risk that each others’ aesthetic designs overwrite or annoy one’s fellow players, and from there, it’s an easy step to intentionally trying to be offensive via trying to destroy another player’s creations or create an ugly eyesore.

In Terraria (and presumably Minecraft), the host can always boot with extreme prejudice someone being a pain.

In an MMO, rules are going to have to be built into the design as to how players can end up affecting each other, and what recourse players have if they feel someone is griefing or harassing them. Be it griefing them back or killing them (a la Eve Online and other FFA PvP MMOs of that ilk), or clear and strong land claim and property ownership rights, or being able to vote out a non-cooperating player, or having a few people with the power of enforcement and authority to turn to, etc. And when the final stage of taking it to the GMs is appropriate.

Emergent Properties and the Right Attitude

After all that, you may ask, why would anyone bother playing a sandbox in multiplayer?

I’d suggest that one should play it for what you can’t get in a singleplayer game. The opportunity for emergence that arises between player interactions and the opportunity to be social..

You can get emergence from NPCs in a single player sandbox, and you can talk to them if you want to, but they’re unlikely to return meaningful conversation :)

When two self-interested parties interact, one has the opportunity to choose cooperative, selfish, altruistic or indifferent behaviors.

Depending on one’s viewpoint and goals, this can lead to welcome or unwelcome results. (Someone acting in altruistic fashion may not always be welcome by someone wanting to be left alone. Someone being indifferent can be taken as a massive affront by someone with the expectation of more friendly behavior. It’s not always easy to cooperate at a skill level that matches the other and having a shared goal is often a prerequisite. Selfish behavior can benefit oneself at the expense of others, which may be the primary goal of the individual in question.)

I think it’s important to have the right attitude and expectations that all this can and will happen at different times, between different players when one plays a multiplayer sandbox, so that one isn’t surprised or disappointed when it does. It’s never paradise or utopia. It’s humans, and they bring with them heaven, hell and ordinary earth wherever they go.

notquiteheaven

If this is heaven, there are many holes in it now.

(Aka the effect of player depredation on a limited resource. Most of the building was gone by the time I arrived. I took apart a few more bricks to find out what they were. And added the tunnel to hide from harpies and collect both cloud and rain blocks. I also mined out the gold. Still silver left!)

The actions of one may also randomly impact on the landscape and others around them, which leads to unpredictable occurrences.

One can look upon them as problems / crises or opportunities to take advantage of or tell stories or laugh about.

The recent castle renovations in Terraria have necessitated a moving of the combat arena over to the west. Right on top of my house, in fact, which has now been dubbed ‘the hobbit hole.’

arena

Did I mention that I would never build something so expansive on my own? They took the opportunity to enlarge and prettify it, which is very awesome because I get to use it without expending any effort at all.

It is also really conveniently nearby. I am a very lazy person and hate walking, so all amenities close by is great. I’m big on functionality.

In the process, a water tank/reservoir was set up on top of it to create a waterfall effect. Except… there was a leak.

I was fairly deep underground digging out my glowing mushroom farm at the time, when I saw water cascade into the tunnel just a few blocks away from the farm. (Thankfully, it wasn’t connected.)

Mildly amused and relieved at the close call, I call out: Hey, there’s a leak.

Oops, comes the reply. Will fix it.

Turns out one side was a block shorter than the other.

Chuckling to myself that this exchange was something that wouldn’t happen if not in multiplayer, I finish the farm and in truly lazy fashion, use my magic mirror to port back home, barely one screen away…

Whereupon I discover that I am effectively ‘snowed in.’

frontdoor2

It’s around this point where I just crack up and die laughing because the juxtaposition of the turtle looking at his front door with that expression is priceless.

The back door was also ankle-deep in water, so opening either door would not have been the wisest maneuver. (I did, of course, eventually open the back and have to bail out some water. They came in handy for watering waterleafs later, Silver lining, laziness to walk and all that.)

This would so not totally happen when playing alone.

ATITD: The Psychology of the Pilgrimage

It's actually bad form to have two shrines near each other. But yeah, people do that too. For various reasons.

This has not been an easy post to write.

Like survivors of the aftermath of a game of Neptune’s Pride, I find myself wrestling with negative emotions and a gnawing feeling of unease in the pit of my gut.

It’s probably why I’ve jumped back into Guild Wars 2 lately, in an effort to escape the guilt. It’s taken a few days to try and put things into perspective.

Have you ever been benched? Put aside for another player?

Gone around? Had folks do stuff behind your back?

Betrayed? Backstabbed?

The damnable thing about the Test of the Pilgrimage in A Tale in the Desert is that you require a total of seven characters, no more and no less, to do something in-game for roughly an hour or more.

What that something is, is not really relevant, but I’ll describe it anyway. The seven pilgrims bring requested resources to pilgrim shrines set up by other players, in order to tithe (donate/give) them to those players. This accrues points. The highest scoring team at the end of each week passes the Test.

If you are less dedicated to test-passing, you can opt to just finish the Principles, which only requires that your team score 700 points, and nets you a level.

A slight complication arises in that each pilgrim shrine, which has to be 600 coordinates apart from each other (a pretty long jog) in order to be valid and score you the points.

Early on in the Telling, when the most competitive players are out to outdo each other and level up the fastest (which gets them a heads up on technology and skills and easier test passes for other things,) a pilgrimage can be quite a long and grueling affair.

Many teams are in the running, and there are a number of strategies used to eke out a slight point advantage so as to pass weeks before another team. This can involve tithing extra rounds (assuming one has the materials) for a diminishing return of point score. One tithe nets you 100 points. Two tithes at the same shrine nets you 150 points. Three tithes 175, four 187 and so on.

Or a team can get members to set up their own private pilgrim shrines and keep them secret and off the wiki, so that other teams cannot find them and tithe at them, while their team does so and gets extra points. (Except those pilgrim shrines require marble to build, so that opens a whole new kettle of busywork.)

Or teams can simply do herculean routes of pilgrimage and run together for hours across endless roads and sands of Egypt to get to every last scrap of a shrine there is, and outlast the stamina of teams that are unwilling to or cannot stay on long enough to recreate the same feat.

Assuming one can afford all requested materials to begin with. If the pilgrim shrine asks for materials that one cannot afford, one is out of the running for that shrine in the first place.

Those are all the technical game-design rule considerations.

The more sneaky social aspect is that it’s pretty hard to get seven disparate players online at the same time and coordinated enough to go anywhere together. It’s like arranging a dinner meetup with a big group of not-very-close friends, like classmates or something. There’s always one or two bound to be late, or one that simply doesn’t show up or arrive at the same time.. cat herding stuff.

In hindsight, I made the first mistake. I tried to form a PUG pilgrimage.

I would never have done that if it was the early part of a Telling. I would have found reliable friends that were always online during the times I play, and raised the question with them, and done it with as little ‘outsiders’ as possible.

However, at this late stage of the game, I’d imagined there was no more competition and no more interest in the Test. All the groups that wanted to must have passed by now. For a good many weeks past, there were zero pilgrim groups passing – essentially a ‘gimme’ for any team that scored any amount of points.

Furthermore, most of all my friends and veterans that I was familiar with had stopped playing. Not to mention, probably already passed.

At this stage in the Tale though, nearly all materials are ridiculously easy to obtain to the point where I could essentially sponsor the entire group’s resource list by myself, and it wouldn’t have to be that onerous, we could just ride around Egypt’s chariots and go for the nearest shrines without running too far.

Filled with a benevolent confidence, I thought I’d just ask over an essentially public chat channel if anyone would like to join and take pretty much the first six people that responded.

That was a big fucking error on my part.

Not because I’d stir up interest and put ideas into many peoples’ heads and possibly create additional competition where there was none before. I knew it might happen. And I was okay with that. I figured there aren’t twenty one people left in a game that only has some 300 odd players that still want to pass pilgrimage. Even if my team didn’t pass this week because another more hardworking team overtook them, there was always next week or the next after that. ATITD’s a long term kind of game anyway.

Not because I might have to turn away extra people, and possibly leave them feeling benched or rejected or basically passed up for the baseball or basketball game. I didn’t design the test. It’s a mean test. Seven. No more, no less. I need one more. You’re the seventh, sorry, you can’t bring your friend along. Don’t want to do it without your friend? No problems, I’ll find another, no hard feelings, good luck with your friend and the other team you’re bound to form, I’ll send you other peoples’ names who have contacted me too, but I had to turn away.

Yeah, I know I was creating competition for myself. Yes, I was experiencing an odd sort of cognitive dissonance about the fact. Yes, I was trying to brush it off and try not to mind it, despite some bits of my obsessive-compulsive win-at-all-costs Achiever nature screeching that it was an illogical thing to do. Remember, I’m trying to be its master, not let it rule me.

No, I made the exceptionally critical mistake of assuming trustworthiness, reliability of log-on time and shared priorities among strangers I’d previously never met.

And they the same in me.

To be honest, it -usually- doesn’t steer me wrong. I like to think good, positive things about other people. I find folks tend to respond in kind. Trust them first, smile at them and the natural response is to reciprocate.

However, I do follow game theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma and tend to subscribe somewhat to the Tit-for-Tat strategy if cooperating first doesn’t yield cooperation in return. That’s the head talking. The heart? Well, it kinda exploded. Once in a blue moon, I have hot-button volcanic rage issues.

It all started well. We talked, exchanged broad timezones for scheduling purposes, expressed interest in getting the pilgrimage done. One person wanted to delay for a few days for some real life concerns. Okay, I thought, there’s still some five days to go before test passes are run, we can work with that.

Another person kindly made a guild hall for us. This opens up a shared chat channel. Remember, in ATITD, anyone can join multiple guilds and often do. A shared chat would make things easier to coordinate and I could post proposed timings for all to see.

Two days passed. Real life days.

Three people still had not joined the guild.

Three people did not have the courtesy to speak one single word to me about why they could not do such a simple thing.

It did not bode well for the actual concept of being logged-in together for an hour to achieve the pilgrimage.

I checked their log-ins and all of them had logged in at least once each day during those two real life days. It wasn’t as if there was some real life emergency that stopped them logging in to the game. If they aren’t logged in, of course, I would understand that it’s physically impossible for them to join the shared chat channel.

But they were.

So they were online. Doing other things. Not considering the pilgrim group important enough or worth enough respect to even offer a word of excuse or explanation or hell, conversation.

I spoke with the person who made the guild for us, and he too, was unable to get any response out of them – in fact, one closed the chat window on him – until finally, on the second day, one of the recalcitrants gave in to the nagging and joined. His flippant excuse? Living too far away from the guild hall, and not wanting to waste the 25 minutes it would take to get there.

Apparently helping the group get organized was not worth that amount of time to him.

By now, my paranoia was in full swing. I was starting to imagine worst-case scenarios, which included things like those three members having gone on their own pilgrimage and all this being an elaborate deceit to stall us from even attempting ours until they had passed theirs.

The two missing members, who were related, and friends of abovementioned recalcitrant third seemed to have a new excuse every day for being absent and unable to join the guild. Day 1, it was a test to study for. Day 2, a friend in the hospital. Day 3, guests over. Yet, they had logged in every day.

Despite my misgivings, I pressed on and decided to schedule a time, chatting our absent members about it.

Here, I’ll admit that I didn’t give MUCH warning time. It was only about 10 hours away. But I was in a hurry, and new priorities had come up. I’d just been accepted into a big GW2 guild and there were Guild Bounty missions I wanted to attend on the weekend, rather than sit around in Egypt hoping on the offchance that these people might show up online.

That third person said it would be fine. He was online all the time, so could do it any time. He was sure that was within his two friends’ regular play times. We could go ahead, sure.

The scheduled time came, and you guessed it. The two weren’t online. The third wasn’t there. The third’s excuse? “Oh, they have people over, I think. Guess we can’t do it then. I won’t be wasting the 25 minutes to come over.”

And you didn’t tell us earlier? Or attempt to reschedule?

You just let us wait until the time, turn up at the agreed-on meeting place, and THEN drop the bombshell on us when we ask?

Boiling over, seeing red and generally pissed off and supremely paranoid about the very strange behavior shown by the three, I promptly moved coldly, efficiently and ruthlessly to Plan B.

Which I also had in mind, so I’m not a complete angel. Just human. And possibly over-reacting.

Plan B was simple. Cut the three of them out of the group. Bring in replacements. It wasn’t as if they had shown much interest in JOINING the group in the first place.

Fortunately I had chosen a prime time, so there were plenty of spare names that I had been eyeing as potentially more reliable pilgrim goers. Out went the chats, and thankfully, back came very positive replies.

I had to communicate the new plans to the other members of the pilgrim group who were there – and up came one more complication. On learning that I would be cutting out the third guy and the two that weren’t online, the guild hall builder balked.

The third guy was a member of another of his guilds. He would hear no end of it from the third guy if he went without him. Choosing the path of virtue, he decided to opt out.

Sheesh. I really didn’t want to cause drama here, but you know, you do what you gotta do. I respected the fellow’s decision. In another life, I might have done the same. But I think I’ve just gotten cynical about how ATITD’s tests are designed to promote maximum conflict, competition and drama.

That, and I had the Zeigarnik Effect BAD.

What the hell is that, you ask? The Psychology of Video Games blog explains it here. It’s basically that intrusive, dissonant feeling you get from a task started, but not yet completed.

This “Zeigarnik effect” subsequently entered the psychology lexicon to describe how we tend to find it easier to recall a task –and the details surrounding it– when we feel like we have begun to undertake it, but been unable to complete it. Apparently we as humans don’t like it when we begin something and don’t finish it, and such circumstances create an internal tension and preoccupation with the task. Completing the task provides closure, release of the tension, and –not to put too technical a term on it– goodie feelie type feels.

I needed closure. An end to the feeling that I had been left hanging and dangling on the hook for two whole fucking days. And I didn’t really care whose fucking feelings I hurt anymore when the whole situation had essentially gotten FUBAR.

(I didn’t understand what was happening to me then. But it makes a whole hell a lot of sense after reading the above blog.)

Except, of course, it was not. I was still in control. I moved on to the next guy on my mental list of people to recruit, he responded, and voila, about several hours later than originally planned, the seven of us – half of us completely new people – finished what had originally been intended to be a short pilgrimage.

Mixed in with the feelings of relief at finally getting at least the principles done – there were still ways for the test pass to go wrong – was the feeling that I might have overrreacted and treated the three people somewhat crappily, and inadvertently caught the fourth as collateral in a negative emotion blast.

I tat exceedingly well.

Also, there was an underlying fear that my overall reputation may have taken a hit if people talk. (And I’m sure people gossip in Egpyt.)

Still, what’s done is done.

I sent all four parties who missed the group one last chat to briefly apologize for essentially doing the pilgrimage without them, sent them the remaining names on my mental list of ‘folks who might be interested in pilgrimage’ and wished them good luck.

(Enter brief spurt of fear and cognitive dissonance again that they might just outcompete me. Except I wasn’t trying to compete, so that was not a logical feeling to have.)

((Trying to outthink and not get sucked into the inherent design of these Tests can give one an aneurysm if one is not careful.))

God knows what they think of me, but I guess when human beings come together, sometimes people clash. It’ll be nice if everyone could be nice to everybody, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Fast, done, nice – pick two.

Lesson learned: No more trying to prearrange PUGs. Schedule with friends, or pick up PUGs then and there.

Endnote:

With an amazing display of irony, the virtuous builder contacted the names I gave him – two of which are a veteran player pair – and that veteran player, who is understandably a lot more hardworking and actively competitive than I – formed a pilgrim group that outscored mine this week.

I quite expected that to happen.

(I hate losing, but knowing how ugly a person I can get when out to unabashedly win, I have to keep learning to swallow the bitter pill and re-fucking-lax.)

The virtuous builder also tried to get the third guy included in the pilgrim group – but as fate would have it, other more closely related friends of the veteran player apparently got first dibs at the pilgrim slot.

Which makes me chuckle. And feel just slightly more vindicated.

Guess we’ll see what happens next week.

For now, I’m just happy that I no longer feel compelled to stay online waiting for people to log on – something very antithetical to my nature – and am back following no one’s schedule but my own.

Time Flies When You’re Having A Good Time

What do two games have in common? Quarries.

Three aborted attempts at blog posting later, I have pretty much decided that I don’t have anything substantial to say for now.

It’s just taking up valuable time from actual gaming.

A Tale in the Desert

Part of the blame goes to my recent re-awoken interest in A Tale in the Desert. The thing about oldschool games is that they make you want to play hardcore. Or as hardcore as you can manage – which for me includes staying online for as many hours as I can spare, and staying up till 3am to join in a group event in order to progress one more teeny thing on one’s checklist of things-to-do.

I’m sure it won’t last, and I feel the burst of energy/activity cranking down, which is probably also why this post can be written.

Some day I’ll figure out how to properly balance my time in that game, but the design of it makes it very tricky. There’s stuff that once you start, you have to check back in at various intervals or bad stuff happens or things simply don’t progress.

I generally avoid games that do that because I feel it’s an artificial constraint placed by a developer to force addictive behavior or negative gaming patterns, but for some reason, ATITD has a ridiculously compelling draw for me that offsets it.

I think the key is that it’s not enforced or compulsory. It’s player-chosen, in the sense that you decided to do this activity or build that thing – which requires this other thing that needs you to check back in at set intervals or every now and again.

You don’t have to. You could go use someone else’s already built thing, or choose not to do that activity or bypass it in some other way and do stuff that doesn’t require the login-like-clockwork maintenance.

But since I decided that such-and-such was my goal, then for the next few days or weeks, I have volunteered to impose the schedule on myself until I get the things I want and then stop or continue on as desired. That autonomy is a big deal for me.

I’d love to write more descriptive posts about aspects of ATITD in the near future, but I’m having serious difficulty separating out each bit.

In the two weeks I’ve renewed my alt’s sub and been regularly playing again, I’ve built an extra water mine (figuring out my nemesis of glassmaking in the process) in order to get cuttable sunstones, massacred possibly 40 of them on a gem-cutting table and finally obtained the last full-eye sunstone I needed, with which to build an automated flax gin.

That was the start of the attempt to move into the automation age like everybody else – I desultorily tweaked my brick machine (though I honestly prefer manually making bricks), worked on getting mechanics skill levels for my characters to tune the automated machines, built a limestone auger to automate limestone harvesting, which is still awfully slow at basic levels and set up another goal to make a springbox to speed it up, which led to finally figuring out how gearbox designing works, which necessitated a lot of forge and casting time making small and medium gears, which in turn meant I needed to mine and smelt ore into metal, and also meant I needed to convert lots of wood into charcoal.

To top it all off, I need a spring and a cotter pin for the springbox, which means I either need to get very good at blacksmithing two objects, or break down and give up and look for another player blacksmith who doesn’t massacre the object’s quality like I do.

Speaking of gears, getting a handle on gearboxes meant I could quarry with two characters, so I did, and busted up the one Osyster Shell Marble quarry I owned, which necessitated going out to prospect for two more, and gathering the materials for those quarries. And why did I need Oyster Shell Marble? For a Test called the Ritual Tattoo, which involves identifying herbs and visiting odd locales satisfying criteria like near 2 cactuses and a road, or within a certain altitude – which by the by, meant I needed a barometer to measure the altitude with, which meant glass making once again. Oh, and I still need more Oyster Shell Marble for Acid Baths, which are used to make metal salts, for pyrotechnics (aka fireworks) which I’ve never played with, and chemically treating metal.

Chemically treated metal is also needed for a bunch of other things involved with automation, but I haven’t built myself a chemical bath yet, which requires acid (yet another thing to do) and on and on… I think you get the idea.

There was also flax, camel-catching, papyrus growing with newly built papyrus tanks, aqueduct-building, vegetable growing, beetle tending and competing, silkworm feeding with thistles, beer making, wine drinking and grape tending, a new citrus grove planted with indonesian bee hives, and learning about and attending festivals for another test, just to name some of the other things I did.

I hope to cover them all in greater detail some day, but for now, my focus was just on catching up (just a little) and restarting the fires of industry, so to speak.

Guild Wars 2

Coming along the tail end of a slightly flagging energy level in ATITD, is recently revitalized interest in GW2.

I’d been doing the dailies faithfully and sneaking looks at the Living Story while on effective break, but as the end of Feb patch dropped, I got off my arse and applied to a new guild.

As much as I’m a proponent of the peaceful immersive wandering about Tyria in a guild of one (or living a self-sufficient hermit lifestyle in ATITD unhassled by guild drama or the demands of other people,) I have to admit I also derive a certain enjoyment from seeing lively chat scroll across my window and friendly recognizable names/faces.

It’s about balance, I suppose.

The new guild has given me an opportunity to get back into WvW again, this time fighting for the Toast (and teh RPs!) and I’ve been enjoying myself thoroughly. TC appears to have a current numbers advantage on their two opponents during NA times, and it’s a low-stress reintroduction back to part of the game I’ve ignored for some time.

It’s been interesting to observe how different servers use different strategies. TC places siege a lot more readily than IoJ ever did, especially defensive siege. I haven’t seen a major stress on portal bombing yet – perhaps the meta has shifted while I was away and wasn’t looking, apparently counters were developed for it or some such. I’ve seen some brilliant speed siege builds and ballista sniping of opposing siege in just a few days of WvW, and shitloads of superior siege used, something I’ve barely ever seen while on IoJ.

Conversely though, I haven’t yet seen the very patient and methodical catapulting and trebbing that [ND] or Never Die was fond of using, with their massive guild defending the siege emplacements while opposing team morale whittled away under the relentless pounding. Different guilds, different strats also, I guess.

TC also seems to like to run in massive zerg balls, sometimes ridiculously massive, which makes me fear that in a higher tier, more mobile smaller guild groups of 10-15 like how IoJ fielded in its prime would run supply camp circles and havoc around the TC mass – but I guess we’ll see how things go in later weeks. The nice thing is having a numbers advantage immediately puts opponents on a slightly more defensive footing, so to speak, and makes morale shakier (for PUG participants, anyway.)

Dipping a toe back into WvW encouraged me to re-attempt some fractals, though I’ve been sticking to the lower levels for now. I just don’t feel like I have a specialist build good enough for over 20 fractals yet, I capped at 18 and already felt very torn up. It’s either my generalist build – to which there’s no solution until I level my new Guardian alt, I’m just too comfortable with the current one for farming and roaming and WvW and all to go changing it back and forth, or the lack of Agony Resistance to which the only thing to do is continue to accumulate fractal relics at a doable difficulty while I decide which, if any, Ascended Gear I want to buy and how.

My opinion on the Ascended Gear debate?

I don’t know. On one hand, I feel the gear difference between yellows, oranges and pinks is not that wide, and therefore I don’t feel the stress or urgency to max everything out.

My PTV exotics have served me well for a very long time, I still haven’t upgraded all my jewelry to exotics yet, there are still two yellows that I’ve been thinking I might just jump up to pink with, rather than ‘waste’ crafting an exotic to serve for a short time for not too much effect.

On the other hand, I’m feeling the decision about what stat arrangement to get one’s gear in to be a lot more constricting. I’ve been so far happy with my PTV and Berserker mix for a sort of off-tanky dps hybrid, but sometimes I worry that I’m not being as team-friendly as I could be by specing into something a lot more supportive, be it with boons, shouts or heals – which would suggest Cleric gear, or just not as tanky as the cookie cutter AH guardians – which might also mean a look at either Knight’s, Cleric’s or whatever stuff has mixtures of Toughness, Healing Power and what not.

Then again, my current main is not really meant to be a group-focused support guardian, my upcoming asura is destined for that. The main activity I end up doing with my Charr, besides WvW, is farming. LOTS of farming. Orr Events? Yes please. Dragons? Sometimes. One man genocide on wildlife? You bet.

And I’ve been feeling lately that my yellow magic find power/prec gear is not as hard hitting as it could be. The thought of blinging myself out in exotic magic find, plus one or two Ascended magic find pieces via the Laurels, is oddly… tempting. (And a new look, Vigil armor or racial armor might be cool. I’m getting tired of looking like a polar bear – the fur on the crafted armor was the only place I could think of to make use of the Celestial dye I gulped down without thinking.)

Thing is, there are only so many ways to get Ascended gear, and while I appreciate the fact that there are alternatives that suit different playstyles, it becomes somewhat tricky for a dabbler in many playstyles (but never professionally serious in one) to figure out which piece he should get where, by what means and statted how.

Faced with the prospect of three or four armor sets (x 6 slots each) and two or three jewelry sets (x 8 slots) to juggle in one’s bags, it’s enough to make said dabbler (who mind you, was never serious enough to pick one and stick with it) just bury his head in the sand, continue to save up currency in the bank and not upgrade any gear at all.

In a few months, there will be enough guild commendations to complexify the issue even further…

Which brings me to the other controversial issue raging in the GW universe. Guild Missions.

To be honest, I’m reserving comment. And waiting to see.

While I certainly appreciate that smaller guilds are feeling that it’s an impossible milestone to hit (let’s not even talk about my guild of one,) my reigning impulse is that it’s way better that fewer massively large guilds test this stuff out, than numerous small guilds that might later feel very jipped if stuff bugs out.

And I hear stuff is already bugging out.

I also have to admit that there is a certain community-building and player-retaining value in incentivizing people who might otherwise be loners like me to get off their arse and join a big guild.

While running around in my guild of one was fun, it also did feel somewhat disconnected. All I saw were other people with unique guild tags, roaming about by themselves or in duos, and they felt like strangers. Friendly strangers, to be sure, thanks to GW2 encouraging cooperation, but people I probably wouldn’t see again. If I weren’t long term committed to the game and the lore, I can easily understand why someone might feel discouraged or lonely and quit.

Being part of a big guild and seeing the same tag out and about in big events or WvW creates a bit more of a bond with fellow players. For me, at any rate.

Our guild’s first Guild Bounty mission was mind blowing in terms of how the leaders managed to organize some 60-odd players across various zones in teams to go hunting for the NPCs. That’s an experience one just wouldn’t have without the crowd.

On the other hand, one nitpick I could see was that the big guilds kept running into each other and grabbing bounties at inconveniently staggered timings. Not at the same time, so that both guilds hitting it could get their own credit for the activated bounty. Not well after each other so that one guild would be done and gone before the other started. But just a few minutes before so that the mob would die and respawn somewhere else, making the slightly later guild end up delaying once more while the poor team in that zone ran about looking for the damn bounty again.

And these were just the big guilds. I don’t want to imagine what would happen if every small guild could activate their bounty and be hunting at the same time. There would no doubt be a lot more screaming at each other over chat. (Little unanticipated kinks like these is one reason why I’m ok with stress testing via big guilds first, btw.) Weekend prime times are a bitch.

I like the idea of each player being limited to 2 guild commendations a week. You get them as a personal reward with the first boss you take down, so you aren’t necessarily compelled to stay for an entire extended event if you’re time pressed, nor do you have to follow some hardcore raider-like schedule of gaming at set times three or four or five or more days a week for maximum optimized rewards. I managed to make it to my guild’s Saturday Guild Bounty, but had Sunday available for other real life concerns, even though they ran it again for those who couldn’t make Saturday, and also to max the guild’s reward of whatever its currency was.

I’m not sure what good solutions would be for guilds of moderate size stuck in the middle. Alliance or multi-guild chat would be a good start, imo. In more ways than one. Enable guilds to talk to each other in-game. Enable players to hear and talk to their separate guilds in-game. At this rate, you’re forcing guilds who want to coordinate with each other to use a third-party voicechat program.

Alternate missions that smaller guilds can do more easily might be something good for future development. Though those things necessarily take time. Or allow guilds to sync their missions with each other for an alliance. Though I don’t want to imagine how much coding that would take.

And frankly, I have no idea what they were thinking gating the stuff behind Art of War.

Obviously someone thought that guilds weren’t using their fortification buffs enough or something. Perhaps defending places were balanced with that in mind, which is why attackers seem to have a pretty good advantage when not many people are defensively minded enough to begin with (cue lack of siege placement, lack of siege usage, lack of defenders, and lack of guild buffs.) A well defended place by a determined guild is actually a bloody tough nut to crack. It tends to eventually crack, since the attackers want in and won’t give up most of the time, but yeah.

But it’s a heavyhanded and clumsy move, and PvE and WvW move in different circles. It’s like asking PvPers to go run dungeons before they get geared enough to duel.

Rather nonsensical.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks. I’ve been playing browser game Fallen London in between spurts of ATITD and GW2, and sampling their other StoryNexus games. My Steam list is still a mile long. I do kinda want to check out TSW and/or DDO again. SWTOR has been deleted, I just couldn’t feed their cash shop in good conscience.

Others can look forward to Wildstar or what-have-you, I won’t be there until much later and only when a free trial comes out.

I just have no time left between the two mainstay MMOs.