Landmark: First Thoughts

For the game formerly known as Everquest Next: Landmark, and now merely known as Landmark… I have a new name suggestion.

Landmark: Pothole Simulator

Landmark: Pothole Simulator

Okay, okay, I’m being unfair.

I know it’s Beta, and I know caves are coming.

Soon, there won’t be these nicely convenient ore veins just glimmering on the surface, ready to be attacked… and we’ll all want to slit our wrists hunting for ore, just as in Vanilla Minecraft.

Minecraft: Mineshaft Simulator

Minecraft: Mineshaft Simulator

But in the meantime, since it’s there, and gravitating to the path of least resistance like the stereotypical gamer , one hammers away at the soil, creating ugly little scars of devastation that presumably heal at some future point when one is not looking.

tropical

When it’s working, Landmark really is quite pretty.

Even on my toaster, though its Core 2 Duo processor comes in under the minimum specs for CPU, and my ATI 4870 GPU apparently just didn’t make the cut either.

My screenshots are nowhere near as pretty as those of you with more modern machines, but they’re not bad, and to be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised that the game’s working at all.

The performance of the Landmark Beta client has apparently taken a sharp drop downward from Alpha, which I suspect is due to the increased number of entities since they introduced flora and the sickles to harvest them, plus the player load of all us freeloaders jumping in via the 4x Founder guest invites, and thousands of other keys being given away by various websites.

This has led to the initial uncomfortable experience of loading into a crowded Player Spire and freezing at 0-1 FPS, risking a crash or viewing most of the world as a slide show. My mistake was jumping into the Medium loaded Serenity server, whose 7+ player names in view completely hung up my system.

Well, that’s one way to encourage players to spread out.

I chucked my GW2-bred zerging tendencies out the window, put on my hermit hat, and tried to guess the least popular server name ever.

I settled on Confidence, mainly to shore up my lack of it.

The 1-2 player names on the island I randomly ended up on slowed me down, but I waded through molasses sufficiently far to get to a more quiet locale where I could actually experience the game a little closer to what is intended.

Moving also seemed to worsen the effect, causing framerate drops to 0 for a couple seconds before it bounced back up to whatever was presumably normal. My CPU and GPU took turns being the bottleneck, as indicated on the helpful display on the top left of one’s screen.

This led me to suspect that both were being slowed down when rendering new areas beyond the visible map, similar to how my Minecraft occasionally lags when procedurally creating a new chunk.

When I had the time later, I quit out of the game and edited the UserOptions.ini in the Landmark folder, and altered the RenderDistance from a very optimistic 999999.000000 to 1000.000000 – which sounded a lot more like what my toaster could handle.

(Basically, I followed a number of the settings tips from this website, also tweaking down Lighting Quality and Texture Quality to even more minimal than recommended, and turning off Shadows altogether.)

It didn’t completely get rid of the issue, but it did mitigate it significantly enough to be felt.

I now hovered around 35-40 FPS when stationary, instead of 20-30, and the framerate would only plunge to 0 for a split second when moving, or worse case scenario, pause for a few seconds when rendering the next part of the map.

Going near other players or their creations was still a little luck of the draw though, along with going near the Portal Spires to swap islands and entering the loading screen.

(Caveat: Altering Render Distance to such a short distance will make the map brought up by the ‘M’ key look fairly ugly, as it doesn’t render the landscape in its entirety. But you know, when you’re a desperate player with a low-end machine, you get used to such tradeoffs.)

There was also very regular falling out of the map for a couple seconds, before the game bounced me back up to solid ground.

falling

I’m curious to know if those of you located in the US also experience this, meaning it’s the Beta client’s unoptimized nature at work, or if it’s due to my 220-240ms latency from being on the other side of the planet disagreeing with the server on just where my avatar is. (Fair warning for those of us in Europe, Asia, Australia or the other continents anyway.)

I’m probably an atypical Landmark player.

Maybe it comes of having prior construction sandbox experiences in A Tale in the Desert.

Maybe it’s just that the GW2 WvW league is starting in a day or two, and thus I’m keenly aware that I only have a limited amount of time to play in the Landmark sandbox before my gaming priorities call me elsewhere.

Setting down a claim flag and hogging some land for myself was not the first thing on my mind.

Exploring was.

desert

The biomes, by the way, are pretty nifty in how different they all look.

I’m exceedingly partial to the desert one, which is great because barely anyone else seems interested in claiming land on that biome (the crowd seems to have gravitated to the forests.)

Admittedly, the Old Forest biome looks pretty darned good too.

Admittedly, the Old Forest biome looks pretty darned good too, if you catch the lighting at the right angle. It’s downright gloomy at other times though.

In close-up, there’s quite a bit of variance to the objects that make up the biome – though after wading through the same terrain for ten long minutes, thanks to the stuttering framerate, it begins to wear on you.

I suspect this is merely an early Beta thing. It doesn’t make sense to have islands of one concentrated terrain or another, so it’s likely that these biomes will get spread out in more natural fashion across the continent at a later date. (That’s probably going to make it a lot harder to collect resources though.)

There were a number of pragmatic reasons for why I decided to be a nomad and explore first.

For one thing, I was coming in completely cold, having not followed any forums or watched any videos. I had no idea what to expect, what kinds of resources there were, or what would be considered a “good” location to claim or no.

To me, this sort of thing is the privilege of veterans. It’s similar to A Tale in the Desert, where my first Telling ended me up in a somewhat out-of-the-way locale, making it slightly awkward to get anywhere and being a little short on nearby resources (luckily I got adopted fairly quick by a friendly and welcoming guild and moved in with them to use their stuff.)

That learning experience helped me out in subsequent Tellings to land grab locations with desirable resources, and still have sufficient space to expand. One has to see the crowd tendencies at least once to know where the newbies go and where the vets hang out.

For instance, it was very likely that the central hub from which you could portal anywhere would form into a crowded little village / ghetto of a few oldbies seeking convenience, not minding the crowd or wanting to be very social, plus newbies crowding in next to each other without sufficient room to expand.

Landmark does seem to safeguard against this somewhat by reserving some space around the claim for you, so the danger of random players building unsightly stuff too near you is probably a little less.

I personally don’t like those kinds of crowds, and I’m okay with walking a bit to get to the Central portal, so felt very little urgency to plonk a claim down. Worse case scenario, I’d wander out to a map edge or something.

(After you’ve played ATITD, which can take upwards of 2-3 hours or more to walk from one side of the bloody map to another – plus a near-mandatory cross-region run for seed from various Universities if you start the game before chariot stops are up  – I was pretty sure that walking a ways in Landmark wouldn’t take as long. Though I didn’t quite account for the framerate lag.)

For another thing, once you’ve played some of these crafting sandbox games, you learn about community technology bottlenecks and certain resources being gating mechanisms, where players coming in late get the privilege of skipping past some of the early grind through the altruism of community-minded veteran players.

craftingstations

It never fails to amaze me how these public works are bound to spring up.

Have a crafting station or piece of equipment that isn’t destroyed when other players use it, that takes a lot of resources to construct? Only going to use it irregularly yourself?

Well, why should every player waste resources reinventing the wheel, then?

Enter the communal-shared resource. Public goods, public works, call it what you will in different games, the concept is the same.

I got lucky.

The random island I started on when I selected my server had one such industrious individual benevolently building away right next to the Portal Spire.

Seeing him WAY further along the tech tree than I was, I immediately dumped all plans of trying to follow the miserable little crafting chain from the basic work station at the Spire, and tried out all of his crafting stations instead, staring at the recipes to make plans for what I wanted to collect and trying not to drool onto his floor.

In return, he got my verbal thanks, and a Feedback thumbs-up. Not much, but I guess those warm fuzzy feelings make up for it?

Oh, and publicity here, I suppose.

DKonen's claim - Confidence Server - Channel (Tier 1)

Public Use Crafting Stations - Dkonen’s claim – Confidence Server – Channel (Tier 1)

Try not to crowd there so much that it freezes my CPU from too many adjacent players when I visit. That would make me sad.

But visit Dkonen anyway, because there’s a lot of cool crafting stations generously made available for the public to use, and he ought to be one of the first to get a flaming thumbs-up indicator of awesome coolness for his claim.

Since I now had a public works to fall back on for crafting stations, I decided that the nomadic plan would be viable for a while yet, and that I ought to work on the danged vertical progression for personal tools instead.

That’s still a heck of a lot of work, I might add.

It turned out to be a fairly considerable amount of mining and tree-chopping involved, along with having to cross-island hop from biome to biome, slowly raising Tiers as my tools got better and needed the next Tier’s resource to build the next better tool.

(Still not a fan of vertical progression, but I suppose the game needs stuff like this to give players some goals and the temptation to shortcut it via the cash shop later on.)

These, by the way, are the trees you need for the Thistle Seeds for Sundrop Heartwood.

These, by the way, are the trees you need for the Thistle Seeds for Sundrop Heartwood. Ran around for ages looking for them, suspecting I was following in the footsteps of someone(s) who had already chopped them all down. Finally got far out enough to find plenty.

I started to wonder what the point of claims was, since there was no way you were going to be able to find a good geographic locale with all the necessary resources nearby, when all the necessary resources were separated so widely.

It was beginning to seem as if all a claim needed to be, was a patch of empty land on which you get some space to build whatever pretty object you wanted, having already spent the time (or $$$) to obtain the necessary resources elsewhere.

It took many hours, but I did get to the Cobalt Pick and Gold Axe before getting bored of the grind and deciding the last tier or so could wait and be spaced out a little less urgently.

Good tools -really- make a difference.

The Cobalt Pick is significantly more enjoyable to mine with than the earlier picks, in my opinion. It can even almost completely mine an ore vein in a few artfully chosen single-clicks, rather than having to toggle on clicking and waiting for an endless amount of time, adjusting the cursor every now and then.

Speaking of which, Landmark REALLY needs a auto-attack toggle for their picks and axes.

I got through one vein and one tree holding down the mouse button before my finger started cramping, and I started hunting for other options… including keyboard/mouse hardware macros or writing something in AutoHotkey and braving whatever reception third-party software users got.

I eventually settled for the forums-suggested solution of turning on Windows 7’s Click-Lock, via Control Panel => Mouse. Holding down the mouse button for an adjustable amount of time then locks it on, allowing one to auto-mine or auto-chop without risking RSI or carpal tunnel. Click again to stop.

Along the not-obvious line of things one might be interested to know, shift+mouse wheel zooms in and out, alt-F10 removes the interface, and ctrl+F12 takes screenshots. Who thought these up?

If anyone figures out how to strafe, please tell me. Keyboard turning is weird as hell for many MMO gamers.

Anyway, I’ll be grinding out the rest of the resource-locked tools before seriously experimenting with building. I plunked an experimental claim down and tried some of the basics, but made a pretty lousy job out of it. Maybe I’m just not cut out artistically for voxels.

Walking around to see something like this totally doesn't help the ego either.

Walking around to see something like this totally doesn’t help the ego either.

Still, I could see myself in a nice gathering and exploring niche in the future, selling stuff to the dedicated builders – assuming the rest of the game develops well enough to do that in an entertaining and non-boring fashion.

A Guide For Every Season

A different sort of guide... (So how clueless are players, really?)

This post was sparked by a thread that popped up over at the Guild Wars 2 Guru forums.

(I know, I know, it is a cesspool compared to the official forums, which aren’t much of an improvement either, but drama at a distance is sometimes entertaining and one gets the occasional news/valuable tidbit that one has not heard about.)

Some guy asked for a leveling guide from 1-80 for Guild Wars 2.

Of all the-

I don’t even-

Hello? This is an MMO with a completely FLAT leveling curve! It’s meant to take an average of 1.5h per level.

It is clearly marked on the map which zones are appropriate to which level range.

Which is infinitely more sensible than a list going Plains of Ashford 1-15, Diessa Plateau 15-25, etc. because you don’t even see or know the name of the zone on the map until you venture into it.

The game downlevels you in any zone you’re too high leveled for, so that there is some difficulty/challenge remaining. You can practically go anywhere if you don’t like the proposed paths.

Hell, if you don’t want go anywhere and have other characters to be your materials supplier and gold daddy, you can CRAFT your way from 1-80. (Refer to ubiquitous crafting guides online, I suppose.)

Guides That Are Really Walkthroughs

Of all the ‘guides’ that pop up for various games, I honestly fail to understand leveling guides the most. What kind of person requires someone else to hold his hand, set his goals for him and tell him exactly where to go on each step of his journey to max level? Is it that hard to figure it out for yourself?

This is a rant against those who don’t want to think for themselves, who eschew discovery and learning, slavishly following other people’s instructions on how to do something.

There is an amazing number of them, just going by the number of hits I get on my page that is a simple map and directions and answers the questions “How do I get to Blue Mountain in The Secret World?” I fail to see how someone moving around the map doing quests can miss the Blue Mountain exit, but evidently, people do.

Little wonder why people put up all kinds of crap guides on websites, lace them with tons of ads to generate revenue, and let the Googling masses loose upon them.

Guides That Are Really Cheats

The countering defense to this is that for some people, they say that they are looking for guides that will show them the optimal path. They’re on a search for efficiency, the speedrun way.

A little questioning in the thread I brought up reveals that the original poster really wants, not just a leveling guide, but a FAST leveling guide, a power-leveling method. He wants to get his alt to 80 as uber duper quick as possible. He wants to find those weak spots of a game, such as a continually respawning dynamic event that will yield an abnormally higher rate of xp than the average, or perhaps mobs that return lots of experience to farm, and so on.

To me, it sounds like he’s looking for someone to share (ok, too kind a word, to give) knowledge of a near-exploit or a loophole for rushing to max level as fast as possible.

Putting aside the ‘why rush headlong into boredom and burnout quicker’ retort for now, we run into the ‘how stupid do you think those in the know are, that they will share this with you in a public setting, so that the developers can close it in the next patch?’

Little tip: Follow the bots. The gold farmers know where to be. It’s more than a game to them, it’s their livelihood. They -know-. And because of the way xp sharing works in this game, you can make use of their leet multiboxing hax skillz to kill stuff at a vastly accelerated pace.

Caveat: The above tip segues immediately into the ‘how much do you value your account’ argument, because ArenaNet is pretty fond of the banhammer for stuff they deem as exploiting and 72h suspensions for mere infractions, and they don’t even have to worry about losing your sub fee.

TL;DR: Follow my tongue-in-cheek suggestion at your own risk.

Guides That Are Really Guides (And Those That Are Not)

Ok, we cannot expect everyone to be number-crunchers or systems explorers, so there is some validity to the argument that writing guides that explain numbers and stats, esoteric knowledge, and shares and teaches strategies and general philosophies are kosher on the quest for the holy grail of min-maxing.

I don’t actually have an issue with guides per se. Especially if they are written with an intent to teach, or share, or discuss strategies or builds or what-have-you.

I tend to have a small issue with guides written like they are the be-all and end-all of all possible knowledge and treat-me-like-holy-writ-or-else, but I suppose if authors need that egomaniacal boost in order to get them to write in the first place, we can give them a little leeway for that.

But I do have big issues with people who do take them verbatim and everybody else is WRONG and we must all DO IT THIS WAY or else the sky will fall down and the earth will be swallowed in a pit of hellfire.

And there are an amazing number of people who don’t want to think and just want to follow someone else’s checklist or directions or list of ingredients or goals. Why in the world is that the case?

I don’t understand leveling guides, I think I’ve said that before. I find it terrifying to think that someone needs to be led around by the nose in this fashion. How are they going to manage more complex parts of the game? Find more walkthroughs? Pay someone to play for them?

I’ve taken a look at the odd crafting guide before, mostly from WoW, and some from GW2. A lot are just shitty terse checklists. From X to Y, do this. From Y to Z, do that. The only valuable thing in them is possibly that someone has counted up the number of materials you’ll need beforehand so that you can gather them first or buy them wholesale from an auction house, and one has to block a whole lot of ads to get that one sentence.

Probably the most comprehensive guide I’ve seen on the subject is an LOTRO guide for the Scholar, which besides an FAQ, includes suggested crafting node locations, though there is a hell of a lot of ingredient lists that are probably better off on a wiki somewhere.

I could point to the ATITD wiki for what proper crafting guides should look like, but practically no other game has that kind of complexity. Maybe Puzzle Pirates.

See, the really cool thing about this sort of guide is that even after reading it, it is not an instant “I win” button, you still have to put in time and practice to increase one’s performance, armed with better knowledge.

If, after reading a guide, you could program a bot or get your cat or parrot to do it and still attain 100% success, something is dreadfully wrong somewhere. I’m not sure if one should blame the game’s design, or blame the majority for wanting mindless button-pushing achievement.

A Guide By Any Other Name

I guess part of the problem is that every player’s definition of what is a useful guide differs.

I assume that people write and make the guides that they themselves would prefer. Which doesn’t bode well for the theory of crowd intelligence or humanity as a whole, given the number of cheats and straight up walkthroughs out there.

Either that, or they take the lazy way out and write down the least amount of words necessary, which boils down to a terse laundry list of “go here” “do that.”

Maybe the lazy man’s guide explanation is why there are so many unedited video ‘guides’ which are just playthroughs of a particular sequence. Extracting benefit is left as an exercise for the viewer to manage for themselves, which can be either slavishly aping what has been done, or pulling out the general principles to understand, utilize and possibly apply elsewhere.

Perhaps ‘a magician never reveals his secrets’ may be a reason why some people just write out the bare bones of what to do in order to gain the desired end result. They know that that’s what most people just care about, and in that way, they keep the superior edge of true knowledge.

But it really bugs me that so many people just care about the ends, and couldn’t care less about the means. This is why we have gold-sellers, why we have folks asking ‘where is the loot’ and looking for the next developer created shiny carrot to lead them on to the next, following guides written or filmed by other people.

Taken to an extreme, one may as well sell one’s copy of the game and just watch other people play the game from start to end for you on Youtube. Gaming as spectator sport.

Why? People, why? How special does it make you feel, if none of it is really what you accomplished on your own?

It’s borrowed fame. It’s pretense.

I can understand not wanting to reinvent the wheel from time to time, or even ‘skipping content’ to get to the good bits (though I personally think you’re skipping faster to burnout) now and then, but it’s so easy to run right down the slippery slope of not-wanting-to-do-anything-at-all-without-a-guide-showing-you-how.

TL;DR: Use Guides in Moderation

Ranting aside, at the end of the day, I guess I have to come to one of those Zen conclusions you tend to find on my blog.

Guides, like guns, are tools. It’s how you use them that really matters.

The objective and the intent behind using the guide is a big deal, and can lead to healthy or unhealthy consequences.

A little bit of self-discipline goes a long way to using them properly, and the lack of it leads to lazy dependency and misuse.

When in doubt, anything taken to an extreme is nuts.

Go play, and have fun.

ATITD: The Bijou (and Gem-Cutting)

Water mines used to look like pretty glass screws until they got uglified. (We will get around to discussing the very obvious epeen in another post someday.)

Before I played this game, I had no idea such a word existed. And to be honest, I only looked up the definition when writing this post.

bi·jou [bee-zhoo, bee-zhoo]

noun, plural bi·joux

1. a jewel.

2. something small, delicate, and exquisitely wrought.

Etymology: 1660s, from Fr. bijou, from Breton bizou “(jeweled) ring,” from bez “finger” (cf. Cornish bisou “finger-ring,” 13c.)

Welp, learn something new every day.

Despite my ignorance of many things French, the Test of the Bijou produces one of my favorite minigame puzzles to play in A Tale in the Desert.

You are presented with a target gem cut to achieve (top left, on the sticks.) A cuboidal gem sits on the Scholar’s Gem Cutting Table. Your job? Cut the gem to match the target gem cut.

Essentially, bijous (the player-created puzzles) are like training wheels for the skill of gem-cutting.

Similar to blacksmithing in ATITD, which involves actually hammering polygons towards a target shape and allows for true player skill development (unlike typical wussy progress-bar increment blacksmithing in most MMOs – I’ll cover blacksmithing in a future post, in the meantime, you can check out Van Hemlock’s old old post about it which first got me involved with the game), gem-cutting involves cutting (or subtracting) away at polygons until you reach the desired shape.

I find gem-cutting slightly easier than blacksmithing, in the sense that the cuts are more predictable and less pixel-finicky.

What’s less fun is that mistakes cannot be taken back. If you cut wrongly, that’s it, you’ve screwed up, and you’re one cuttable gem down.

Cuttable gems are obtained by waiting around for a water mine to spit one up every ~4-20 minutes (definitely on the longer side most of the time) and there are seven types (that the mine appears to rolls randomly from) so waiting for the exact type you want can be an exercise in significant patience and time.

Gem cutting is also reliant somewhat on luck. The cuttable gem you start out with has a defined set of flaws, and certain gem cuts must have flaws in some pattern to achieve. If the gem you placed on the table didn’t have those flaws, tough luck, you can’t cut that gem, go look for another best possible gem cut to make with the existing gem and try again with the next gem.

Bijous shortcut all that. You’re guaranteed that the gem it presents you with is one that you can achieve the solution at the end. And you don’t need a cuttable gem to start a bijou puzzle, nor do you get any product from it. All you get is some satisfaction and a little better at gem-cutting.

The best guide to gem-cutting that I’ve found so far is on the Tale 3 wiki page here. (This may not be obvious to many new players, but the later wikis Tale 4-6 sometimes take shortcuts with explanations because the veterans are already quite familiar. I find browsing back to the Tale 2 and 3 wikis can sometimes provide a clearer explanation to newbies just gettingthe  hang of things.) There was even a school in Tale 3 that set up a bunch of bijou tables to teach gem-cutting to people, which makes me wish I was clued into ATITD a lot sooner.

But well, we do the best with what we have. Some day, I’ll work through that immense list of gem cuts. For now, I’ve just about progressed to the point of being halfway competent at basic cuts and able to solve bijous like these.

First off, orientation. People normally stand facing Disc 1 like so. There are three discs. Disc 1 does a complete horizontal or vertical slice in the same plane as the saw disc showing.

Disc 2 does a kind of diagonal slice. And disc 3 does the other kind of “angled” diagonal slice.

(The technical wiki explanation for those who find it more helpful: Each disc will remove all the outermost vertices along a plane. Disc 1 removes the left side of the gem. Disc 2 removes the diagonal plane touching on the upper and front sides of the gem. Disc 3 removes the diagonal plane touching on the upper, front, and right sides of the gem. )

Me, I just got turned around by the wiki after a while. You have to try it to get the feel of it.

Rotating the gem is also a “by feel” thing for me. The J and K keys rotate the gem left and right. Technically, this is “rotating the gem along the Z axis” as pictured by my cruddy diagramming above.

U and I rotate the gem up and down, or ahem, “rotating the gem along the Y axis.”

The last set of keys O and L rotate the gem left and right along the unseen faces in the picture above (or “along the X axis” for those more comfortable with 3d modelling terminology.)

Now that we can move the gem around, we can get to cutting:

Step 1 – Find the flaw that matches the target gem cut

The target gem cut as pictured above has that particular shaped flaw. Rotate the cube about looking for it.

Here I’ve already sped things along by showing it in the picture… except it doesn’t quite match up. There’s some other ugly flaws in the way.

This calls for a straight slice from Disc 1.

Tada! That looks a lot more like it. Just um, upside down.

We can fix that. Rotate rotate.

Step 2 – Cut away excess layers to approach the target shape

We don’t need the other stuff in the way, so disc 1 to the rescue again, keep rotating the gem to face unwanted planes to the saw and trim it down to the appropriate size.

Wheeee! Done?

No, I lied. I didn’t show you the other camera angle yet.

This target gem cut actually has 4 symmetrical “angled diagonal” faces behind.

Step 3 – Choose the correct blade and trim the other faces to match.

This always throws me off, I’m just about getting better at it, choosing between disc 2 and disc 3. In this case, I made a guess that disc 3 would be the appropriate one and did a hail mary cut.

Phew. It was the right blade. Now that face matches.

From here, it was a matter of rotating and using the same blade to clean up the other three sides.

In similar vein to the other thought tests, I won’t show the final steps, but it’s quite easy from here. I’ve also gone into a bit more detail with showing you all this bijou ‘solution’ because frankly, it’s a lot easier described than done. A good part of the challenge is in the gem manipulation, managing camera angles,  and the not accidentally over-cutting :)

Here’s a peek at another bijou:

See the flaws and the shape of where the target gem cut should lie?

Trust me, it’s easier when I show the correct face to you here, rotating to look for it from six possible faces is a bit less easy. :)

What disc(s) should be used to chop it to its super duper thinness?

Disc 1 was the correct answer, getting rid of all the stuff behind it essentially. Now which other disc to clear the remaining junk?

That would be last disc we haven’t used in this post as yet.

And soon after that… done.

One more recognized bijou, and one more level.