Minecraft: Agrarian Skies

Someone should make a Clear Skies machinima for this mod... Hark, the flying pastureland!

Pete from Dragonchasers has been on the hunt for a single-player Archeage – that is, a farming, crafting, home-building and occasionally get out and kill things sort of game… without the 4h queues.

While I personally couldn’t quite think of a game that plays in an exact similar vein as Archeage, as in 3D WASD mouselook, MMO quest-driven, with trade runs and sailing, as well as crafting, farming, home-building, etc…

… I can think of games with bits and pieces here and there.

Trade runs and sailing is one of those systems that I haven’t seen done for a very long time since the days of MUDs. I vaguely recall some MUDs I encountered in my sampling days where these were a thing. Beyond that, the closest we’ve gotten is in the sci-fi space trading genres, where one effectively flies a starship from planet to planet and station to station buying low and selling high.

Modded Minecraft has been the popular recommendation over in the comments section @ Dragonchasers.

Blue Kae mentioned Agrarian Skies and Crash Landing as popular challenge maps, and I simply couldn’t resist checking at least one of them out.

(It was about time I dabbled with the Feed the Beast launcher anyway, which appears to be the other popular launcher that isn’t the Technic Pack – which I dabbled with, when I tried out Minecraft: Hexxit some months earlier.)

I haven’t logged into GW2 longer than 15 minutes in the past two days, having chosen instead to feed all available leisure time into Minecraft, which is as much testament and recommendation as I can give to this particular mod.

Agrarian Skies is a Skyblock type of map.

In case you’re just as outdated as I am on the latest fashions in the Minecraft modding world, what this apparently means is that they dump you off on a floating rock in the middle of nowhere with nothing but void surrounding the dinky island.

Basically, you’re on a block in the sky.

And it’s time to start fending for yourself, with whatever resources the creator was kind enough to supply. Hope he or she was feeling magnanimous.

Installation

Installing Agrarian Skies was fairly simple and painless, though one did run into “doh, that wasn’t obvious to a newcomer at first glance!” issues.

1) Download the Feed the Beast launcher.

2) Navigate over to the 3rd-Party Packs tab and select/install Agrarian Skies.

3) Launch Agrarian Skies from the button shown, select Single-Player Minecraft, create a new world and promptly fall out of the sky and die repeatedly until all three lives were lost and the map deleted itself.

Wut?

Apparently, one had missed Step 2.5, which is:

2.5) Navigate over to the Maps & Textures tab,  and click on the Maps button. This brings up three maps for Agrarian Skies, which you can choose to install.

Step 3 then consists of selecting the pre-existing map, so that you get dropped off where there is actual solid ground – rather than creating a new world, which led to the looping death scenario.

agskiesstart

First Impressions

I went for the default map, which as you can see from this picture stolen from Google Images, is a small but fairly generous-sized island, with a small but fairly generous-sized decorative house.

Except that there’s only one block of dirt on this island. The rest is colored hardened clay.

In a chest in the house, is one of each type of basic sapling – oak, birch, spruce, etc, three stacks of bonemeal and a couple of guide books from some of the mods installed.

Your quest, should you choose to accept it, is to rebuild the world.

The especially nice thing about Agrarian Skies is that it comes with its own version of GW2′s Level Up Guidance System, so that completely clueless noobs like me don’t just stand there, looking aghast, trying to read up a dozen wikis figuring out where to even BEGIN, and promptly starve to death in the interim.

It’s called the Hardcore Questing Mode (or System) and essentially provides direction for beginners, leading them through and ensuring that the player ends up familiar with the various crafting pathways that will unlock more complicated technologies later.

hqs1

The first section, as you can see, is basically a tutorial in learning how to skyblock – or survive in a Skyblock map.

The others appear to be about cooking, machinery, bees/forestry, magic?, storage systems, and fluids and so on.

One has a limited number of lives. One can earn more by completing said quests and getting the quest rewards.

Yours truly died once by accidentally digging through the block that one was standing on – trying to replace clay with farmland – and then subsequently followed that up with another by attempting to retrieve all the dropped items by flying down to the impact zone in creative mode. Note to all: it doesn’t work. (I think I must have forgot to toggle on god mode. Oh well. I sucked it up as a penalty for trying to cheat and just made new tools for my new life.)

hqs2

The beginning reminds me a lot of starting out in A Tale in the Desert.

You start with practically nothing, engage in a number of repetitive actions to accumulate a resource, which then unlocks another resource, and on and on. Ultimately, you’re striving to unlock the tech tree to the point where you can afford automation and industry.

One dirt block equals one tree grown. (Thankfully, they supplied bonemeal to speed this up on demand.)

Tree yields wood, and a couple more saplings.

Repeat until one has sufficient wood to build various workbenches, including the Tinker’s Construct workbenches which open up an entire system of creating intricate tools. I’d previously encountered an earlier version of Tinker’s Construct in Hexxit, so it wasn’t too perplexing, but a newbie would probably spend some time playing with the whole thing.

How does one obtain more dirt? The questing system tells us how.

We have to create barrels to compost organic material into dirt.

compostingshed

There are a few not-so-obvious ‘stuck’ points that are not explained, probably under the assumption that any Minecraft player who plays around with mods are so used to and take for granted.

Use of the NEI is pretty much assumed.  That is, the “Not Enough Items” inventory mod that allows a player to flip through and keyword search through all the various items supplied by all the various mods, and look up recipes by pressing R or right or left-clicking on the item in the NEI.

I started out not so familiar with the NEI, and ended up Googling for info initially, but one eventually does get used to it.

The above barrels are quite neat. Covered, as above in my little composting shed, they accept things like saplings, leaves, rotten flesh, carrots, wheat, etc. and turn it into a dirt block.

Uncovered and left open to the sky, they collect rainwater until they fill up to 1000 mB and can fill an ordinary bucket as water.

The quest system walks you through creating a crook. Using it to hit tree leaves increases the chances of more saplings. More saplings = more compost = more dirt = more trees, unsoweiter.

From there, it takes you on a journey to obtaining string (via the most hilarious silkworm farm ever – contrast this with the utter brain-destroying pain silkworms are in ATITD), and working out how to create cobblestone from virtually nothing.

cobblegen

Also known as a cobblestone generator.

I have never been prouder of obtaining cobblestone in Minecraft before this.

You see, getting that one lava block was no trivial matter.

Dirt blocks – each one painstakingly composted from the death of many trees – are run through a Sieve to get stones. Stones are assembled into cobblestone.

This is then hammered into gravel. The gravel is hammered into sand. The sand is hammered into dust. (Again oddly reminiscent of A Tale in the Desert and running after medium stones to crush them with a sledgehammer.)

The dust is soaked in a barrel of collected water. (Hopefully, you already made an infinite water source some time ago! Though you’ll need a fired clay bucket to move water around in, without an iron bucket!)

clay

This wet dust turns into clay. The clay is combined with bonemeal to form porcelain clay, and shaped into a crucible. This is fired in a furnace to make it functional.

The crucible, atop a heat source, will melt 4 cobblestone into 1 lava – which you pick up in a bucket. Except if it’s a clay bucket, it’s good for only one use.

Imagine my utter agony when my first attempt at a cobblestone generator… yielded an obsidian block, because moving water came into contact with stationary lava, instead of the other way around.

For my second go at it, I decided not to reinvent the wheel and copied the simplest cobblestone generator from the Minecraft wiki page so that absolutely nothing could go wrong.

Agrarian Skies does a marvellous job of making what are typically commonplace materials a rare and valued resource. This does change the feel of the game considerably.

agskiesoverview

Every last cobblestone of the modest bridge took effort to produce – even if it’s just mining it off a cobblestone generator. (One day in the future… we look forward to automating the process!)

Room for the tree farm, and the trees themselves, were created from almost nothing – just one sapling and a lot of bonemeal.

farm

The modest farm that holds starving to death in check? (Yes, you can starve to death in Agrarian Skies, and food items don’t fill you up as much.)

Every block assembled with invested effort. No free digging stuff out of the world like in regular Minecraft.

And it’s only the beginning.

hqs3

My current project is the Smeltery, from Tinker’s Construct. Something I’ve, thankfully, done before with Hexxit.

Even then, one has to figure out where to put it!

There is no more room left on the island, which means room has to be made. Which means a floor of cobblestone somewhere, at the very least…

There’s a massive tech tree to explore.

I assume there is automation and fluids somewhere in the far future. There’s a Pam’s Harvestcraft mod that seems to expand to a ridiculous amount of fruit trees and cooking recipes. There’s beekeeping. There’s the Mariculture mod – or marine aquaculture, I presume.

mariculture

Conclusion

Minecraft: Agrarian Skies is very much a crafting / tech exploration / achievement delight.

Where Minecraft: Hexxit places the focus more on an adventuresome exploration of a fantastic world, with farming and crafting and home-building more in the background, Agrarian Skies is a mod that places progressing through the crafting aspects front and center.

Along the way, one will unlock more and more blocks, from which to assemble the world itself, in a manner that pleases you.

The planning of which becomes ridiculously addictive.

Recommended, definitely worth trying.

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.