GW2: Marking Time

You shall not pass! (At least, not while I'm hiding in this building here.)

This is my third attempt to form something readable since the last time I posted.

In the middle of last week, when Isle of Janthir was in their first T1 matchup ever, I wrote a little rant about how boring certain key tasks in WvW were, but why it was necessary to do them anyway – like supply running and defending (or at least leaving a scout in a tower or keep.)

Pretty much all I was staring at the whole week.

Seeing as I could count the number of people doing abovementioned jobs in the map on one hand,  me being one of them with only NPC guards to keep the dolyak and me company, I had a sudden attack of enlightened self-interest and decided not to report on the weaknesses of my server in an ongoing matchup – I was already getting steamrolled by an organized guild or two as it was, though now and then, a helpful militia member or two would wander by to assist in staving off the solo yak gankers.

I also rather enjoyed the delicious irony of my last post being one about if players had sufficient long term patience.

A week later, distance has made me largely indifferent. Halloween has been a good excuse to cut back on WvW time this week and go back to my PvE roots for a while. Probably a whole lot of IoJ folks are doing the same, if our current abysmal score versus Sea of Sorrows is anything to go by. I’m just going to wait it out and see if the organization improves the following week.

I was already burning out by voluntarily doing all the not-fun things last week (including putting a personal fortune into the supply camps to keep them upgraded, despite regular flipping and the lack of any structured, organized defence) and frustrated at the lack of visible support from the majority – who were far more keen to rush headlong into offensive charges, and usually wipe with insufficient siege, feeding the defending side points.

I only took time out to screen cap this extravagant insanity.

Long story short, there was a plan to build 10 golems to attack some place. Map crashed. All 10 golems lost. In a fit of high spirits (but not terribly wise tactical sense), someone contributed 20 golem blueprints and nearly everyone enthusiastically rushed to build them. (Using bay keep’s entire supply, mind you, which made me wince a little since I’d been the one shoving nearly every scrap of the 1300 supply in there, one dolyak at a time, and I’d have to begin all over again. But what the heck, it is sort of one of the reasons why we run supply, to provide a stockpile for offensive pushes, though it was no doubt serious overkill and most of the golems wiped after a keep and a tower or two.)

This week, it is officially Halloween break week for me. I’ve even essentially switched my guild channels off for a couple days by swapping into a personal guild. It’s been rather relaxing to roam around in normal-for-me MMO solo mode and immerse into the maps and the world.

I’d write about Halloween, but who hasn’t done the same things already? I’m enjoying sampling them all, the two PvP game modes, the clock tower, the Halloween events (when they aren’t broken, which ain’t saying much) and the Mad King specific maps. I’m relieved that the dungeon is both soloable and groupable, which is the perfect balance to strike, imo. It takes around 20-30 minutes for a level 80 to solo it, and 10-15 minutes in a group – which can accomodate lower levels. Fair enough.

I’d write about my thief alt, who has made it to level 42, exploring parts of the world I purposefully left blank on my Charr, so that my alts have new stuff to see. But I’m still trying to get to grips with him, the immense mobility and need for evasion and active mitigation in order to stay alive is quite different from the tanky self-healing blocking and reflecting guardian. Perhaps another post later.

I think what I’ll do is just leave you with some screenshots from the best bug ever in GW2. After doing the Mad King dungeon, you can zoom your camera back quite a bit more than usual.

I really wanted all the statues with the black citadel in the background, but alas, couldn’t manage it.

Glorious view of all the tanks, chuggers and so on in the Iron Legion’s vehicle park.

I’d do more running around the world taking screenies, except I tend to crash out of memory after loading a zone without mininum settings alas. And on crashing and relogging, it gets set back to its normal view, which is like having horse blinders on.

Divinity’s Reach is on the to-do list, fer sure.

GW2: Do Players Have the Patience for Long Term Strategy?

I wonder if this is what many players think strategy is...

This week, I had another one of those small revelations. Natural Selection 2 is launching on October 31, in case you didn’t know, and it suddenly hit me that there are some significant similarities between it and GW2’s WvW format. (But there are also some big differences.)

What is Natural Selection 2? Well, it’s an FPS mixed with an RTS basically. It’s the long awaited sequel to a now-very-old Half Life mod which I used to play very heavily. It’s human Marines with guns and armor versus bitey, clawy, flappy, spitty, goring aliens known as the Kharaa.

I’m not going to talk about NS2 any further, though I’ve bought it long ago to support it. I’ve had too much fun with the free NS1 to regret it.

You see, I do have to admit that I am disappointed that I can’t seem to run it very well. Like 1-3 FPS on a self-created map, then crash. I can’t even join a server without stalling and hanging. Part of it may be that the beta has not yet been graphics optimized, or maybe it’s just poor coding, or most likely, it is the first reason colliding with my ailing ancient computer – I’ve mentioned I crash out of GW2 WvW habitually if I’m not on the rock bottom graphics settings, right? Other people get like 80 FPS in WvW while FRAPSing, the lucky bastards. Still got to wait until my budget stabilizes some, alas.

Instead I’ll talk about Natural Selection 1. The first game had a Marine commander calling the shots, placing structures for his fellow players to build, supporting them with medpacks and ammo dumps and basically giving them a set strategy to focus on and move toward taking out all alien hives on the map. Sound a bit familiar? That sort of coincides with WvW commanders in the sense of pointing out the long term strategy and giving direction. And yes, if the commander was bad, it made for a fairly short game, though folks would give some leeway to commanders still trying to learn the ropes.

Aliens had no commander in NS1, but they will have one in NS2, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. The alien hivemind in the first game was pretty much a sum total of the general intelligence of all the players in the field. Hopefully, some people would contribute their resources to building necessary structures and new hives (by turning into a builder alien, called the gorge) and at the same time, you needed some people who were very good at killing Marines to keep them occupied, reap resource, and eventually change into a hit-and-run assassin alien known as the Fade. Generally, if the aliens lasted long enough to have two good Fades, that meant the backline was doing well enough to have 2 or 3 hives and the aliens would be on their way to victory.

If insufficient players worked together well, or ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, the aliens would be massacred in short order. Sound like certain PUG zergs in WvW, perhaps?

NS1 had some interesting evolutions through its lifetime. In the patch version that I first joined in, it held at a fantastic balance point that could see 2h+ long games. This was a massive human versus aliens war that would rage on and on, with humans ending up bottlenecked at their last base, guarded by so many turrets the aliens couldn’t get in to seal the deal. Humans could have fun playing “Last Stand” for a long time, mowing down lots of aliens, holding out, while desperately guarding and waiting for their one last lone resource collector to earn enough to buy one or two jetpacks, for the most skilled of the team to sneak out of the vents and try and blow up the alien hives as quickly as they could with upgraded shotguns (aka a ninja.) It was tremendously exciting to watch your guys on the map and win as the underdog like this.

However, I’m not sure how fun it was from the alien perspective. On one hand, they are undoubtedly winning the strategic game. If they stayed on guard to end the ninjas, and kept pushing and pushing relentlessly, eventually, through sheer attrition, they might take down enough turrets and bleed the other side dry of resource long enough to break through and end the game by mauling the base and the commander’s chair (aka the victory objective.)

WvW arguments for giving underdogs a chance and hope for victory sound a lot like the above scenario, actually. I’m not sure if this would be a good or bad thing. Certainly it would get more people in fighting if they had more hope, there would be longer protracted raging battles (which some people really like, and I’m one of them, to a point) but if the battle rages on for too long, people also hit a certain satiation point and get bored. Then the next round of complaints would be, “Oh, it’s a perpetual draw. We can never really win. Why bother?”

Eventually, NS1 decided to move away from the huge tableau of unending perfectly stalemated battles. (I do kind of miss them, to be honest.) Instead, they took a larger page from RTSes and made resource point control more important and the higher tier upgrades slightly more game-changing. What this meant was that if one side played better than the other, and capped more resources, they would steadily accrue a larger and larger tech advantage. Past a certain point in the mid-game, eg. one or two Fades for the aliens or zero Fades for the aliens, it was possible to predict with nigh 98% accuracy which side was going to win.  The losing team could only hope to hold out as long as possible, if they were honorable, or they would quit or jump sides.

Does that also sound familiar from a WvW perspective?

Yes, it’s morale draining and heart breaking to be on the losing team, but quite a number of strategy games seem to have this period where the winning side is obvious, but they still have a “finish the cleanup” phase and the loser just has to sit there and take the lumps and wince as everything of theirs is demolished.

Perhaps the biggest difference between games is how long this cleanup phase lasts, and the next match begins.

In the later incarnation of Natural Selection, cleanup was methodical, but it was also fairly quick and over shortly. The marines would move in, upgraded shotguns blowing up barely evolved skulks (with no resource left) in one hit, and smash the hive to smithereens. The aliens would rampage in with all their number, maybe a celebratory massive Onos or two, and wipe everything and everyone out of existence. Match over. GG. Back to lobby. New map.

A reset happens quickly, and the losers forget their low morale by looking forward to the next game where they might have a chance. (However, if a team or guild was obviously stacking into one side, causing a skill imbalance, people would jump ship and leave the server very quickly.)

WvW at the moment lacks this quick game, match, reset. I think the keyword here is “persistence.” They’re going for what makes them an MMO, rather than a lobby game. (They’ve got structured PvP for the lobby lovers.)

I have a feeling that a lot of the people protesting on the forums haven’t quite grasped just how long term ArenaNet may be aiming for here. They may not be looking for their Alterac Valley fix, but there seems to be this hope for 3 or 4 day matches.

On one hand, it’ll certainly make stuff more exciting in the short term. It’ll give those who primarily WvW and don’t PvE or do structured PvP a reason to keep logging on, instead of being bored for a couple days if there’s a blow out victory. But how many people have the earning power to spend so much gold on siege and upgrades that last so short a time? Even I’m not sure how long the hardcore can keep up that kind of pace before getting bored and burning out. Certainly, the employed cannot. The weekend battle is perfect for them.

To me, and I’m speaking directly from first hand experience here, as the Isle of Janthir is experiencing one of those blow out victories for the moment (who knows, maybe the other servers might organize a push later in the week,) yes, it is kind of  boring to have a quiet battleground after so long an exciting battle, but maybe we kinda need these quiet breaks, the slow moments, the changes in pace.

If the borderlands jumping puzzles weren’t broken, we could be reaping a little more rewards of that hard won fight. There’s still the jumping puzzle in the Eternal Battlegrounds, and the Champion mobs that are like mini-raid bosses on an open world map.

And if the server and guilds were smart and organized enough, perhaps this would be a good time to teach fellow servermates where to place siege, or indeed, how to fire siege, or practice trebuchet shots and get ranges for such-and-such a place.

Certainly for myself, I’m exploring the Red Overlook Keep of the Eternal Battlegrounds from the inside for one of the first times ever, and marveling at how defensive its structure looks – like a real castle, tbh. I don’t envy someone trying to break in here.

Problem is, a lot of people don’t seem to have that kind of long term patience. You see ‘em roaming around, looking for a fight, looking for excitement, the next victory, the next kill, deathmatchdeatchmatch, and the next thing you know, there are 20-30 people hovering around some poor demoralized bugger’s spawn, hoping to find a red name target.

My last story about Natural Selection 1 is a sad one. A while after the patch incarnation I talked about, they introduced a new mode for NS called “Combat” mode. This essentially took out much of the strategy and commander-ing from the equation, and made it a team deatchmatch. The better you killed the opposing team, the more resource you would get, the more upgrades and so on you could make for yourself.

The idea perhaps was to ostensibly help people become familiar with the more upgraded lifeforms and tech that they might not see in Strategy mode games except for short bursts of time, so that their play could improve. Instead, it turned out that many players, given the choice, would much rather go for the short term deathmatch kills all night and aim to become the pros of ganking and leaderboard champion, rather than work as a team, fight for resource, and follow a coordinated strategy to eventual victory. Combat mode took over the majority of NS servers, leaving Strategic mode fans mostly high and dry.

That was the death knell of NS for me, and I moved on shortly after – while combat mode was fun in short term spurts, it just didn’t give me the satisfaction of a real team victory. I enjoyed the buildup, the cooperation, and how people gelled together and supported each other. (I also missed the protracted wars.)

(Also, one always had the sneaky suspicion that some players on the top scoreboards were abusing hacks, and without team-based objectives and the attrition aspect of resources/upgraded tech, there was no way to best these guys – whereas in Strategy mode, no matter how well you aim, if you’re just one person, ramboing it alone, you’ll get mowed down eventually by the combination of all those factors that push one team towards victory.)

I don’t know what the fate of GW2’s WvW is going to be.

At the moment, I am just adapting to how it is.

If I get too depressed at being endlessly slaughtered, and can’t find it in me to do guerilla warfare, I’ll bow to the force of morale and stay out for the week. I’m human, after all. I’ll confess to taking a break last week to do some PvEing on an alt – had a mild infection that set me on antibiotics, no willpower to try and face two very alert teams without a stealth class, and it was refreshing to just quit worrying about the score or all things WvW for a while. This will allow the victors their map, their rewards, their quiet time to use or misuse as they will, and if others on my side want to practice their guerilla tactics or stay out also, all power to them.

If I feel like jumping into WvW, then I will. Possibly that’s what caused the massive onslaught of Janthir on the weekend, lots of people all spoiling for a new match after a loss, plus the regulars that play consistently.

When it’s too quiet when we’re winning, then I’ll do my jumping puzzles, PvE champion mobs, fool around with siege on innocent bunnies, and then zone out to PvE again, leaving the map in the hands of the fairer-weather players who come out to gank only when their server is dominating (but are fairly disorganized and can be run around) and the consistent players who will be in WvW rain or shine.

I think I’m basically lucky in that I don’t mind most of the activities in Guild Wars 2. (The only thing I’m scared of and won’t venture into alone is paid PvP tournaments, because I’m sure I cannot match that level of build/team cooperation by my lonesome, who knows how the metagame has evolved by now?

As such, this gives me a wide range of choices for stuff to do at any one time. And I know I’ll be playing this game on a long term basis (just like in GW1, I might take a couple months’ break at a time, but I can always pop in again when I feel like it, hooray, no sub) so I can afford a good amount of patience.

I only wonder if other players feel the same way. Or if they’ll be off chasing after the next shiny.

GW2: Fun Need Not Necessarily Come From Winning

A little silliness is good for the soul...

No doubt in my last post, you could tell that I was trying to shake off a significant self-inflicted “demoralized” debuff.

Most of it prompted by possibly too optimistic expectations. Guild War 2’s WvW scoreboard is extremely easy to pull up, and crystal clear on how many points exactly are being accrued by each server, and how much of a lead each one has.

When you play with a goal to try and nudge your server to the top of that lead, there’s a fairly high level strategy that has to be thought about – on how to best take points away from the other servers, how to keep your points, and how, if at all possible, to do this with the force you have available to you and can bring to bear.

When you’re playing solo, the typical state of affairs of an MMO player, sans those already with a regular play partner or group of friends, this can make you feel exceedingly helpless to affect anything on the scoreboard. Mostly you can’t, unless you’re really lucky and patiently try to wear down a supply camp that is unwatched by anybody (and how likely is that?)

When you’re playing within an aimless, unorganized pug zerg (or militia, if you’re feeling kind,) there’s the distinct sense of every man for himself, morale is shaky, and everyone is liable to either stay locked in combat (or spawn camped) for hours or wipe themselves attempting to autoattack a door down while defenders indulge in a happy shower of arrows from carts. I apparently learn faster than some other folk, because the futility of such a tactic becomes too obvious to me, and I end up hiding behind a wall sighing, wondering what now, or breaking off and ending up alone again.

When you’re running with a guild zerg, things get better, but can become just as frustrating if the communication isn’t clear, or if the strategy is poor or ill-chosen, leading to multiple wipes or failed attempts or even counter-productively affecting the scoreboard.

I bet members of raiding guilds would recognize similar problems, I’ve just never really been into the whole raiding scene.

Solutions apparently range from working patiently with the entire guild, teaching and hoping practice makes things improve, dumping them and jumping ship somewhere else, instigating conflict and drama through violent disagreement and anti-social actions, giving up and accepting that one’s guild is simply out of that league, etc.

Of course, the typical suggestion to an individual to make the effort, read guides and strategies, work on oneself, become good, get into a good well-organized guild (that somehow matches your play times exactly), get voicecomms, get a mic, etc. etc. so that one can achieve one’s goals and all that.

I had the luck to listen in on a very decisive leader running a small team out in WvW (he was bringing in pugs because he needed the numbers) and was very impressed with the organization and the plans and strategies. Not all of them worked out, but there was always a goal placed on the table and folks were doing their best to keep newbies up to speed, out of trouble, rescue men down, and basically, it was exciting and purposeful. It was fun.

If only it wasn’t an NA guild 12 hours transposed from my timezone… So attempting to join that on a permanent basis is out of the question.

Then again, I’m not sure I have or want to make that sort of commitment either. I avoided raiding because I didn’t want to be locked into a weekly schedule, and it’ll seem more than a little daft to aim for trying to be a hardcore professional on a WvW squad when it may involve much deeper commitment than I’m willing to make.

So… am I screwed? Doomed to an eternity of horribly, depressing losing and getting thrashed by people with more numbers on their side, more timezone than thou or whatever else the whiners claim?

It took some deep thinking to work through this, but a revelation eventually hit me. All I really need to do is work on reframing my perspective.

It’s useless to be upset by the actions of other people or how circumstances turn out, especially if you did your part in trying to make things better.

If you didn’t, and were casting blame elsewhere, then um, time to take a harder look at yourself and figure out what you can do.

Since I can’t affect the scoreboard very much at all by myself, I need to be more focused on the moment and improving my own play in that moment. I win when I do better than the last time, based on my own gameplay. It’s far better than trying to hang my ego on a combined score that changes like the wind beyond my control.

With this perspective, I’ve been having a much better time in WvW.

I asked myself, in the worse possible situation, what can a soloer do in WvW?

Hit and run attacks on dolyaks – better if they were due at some place where supply was needed, but even if not, it is personal practice for how quick you can kill one and be out of there. (Because the organized guilds / zergs will come to check on it eventually.)

Or assassinate a lone reinforcing straggler or two, better if in a spot where reinforcements someplace were needed, but again, practice, and some people like ganking.

Some PvE dynamic events and if you’re really lucky, a supply camp that is unwatched by anybody (barely ever happens.)

I proceeded to amuse myself for a good hour or so in a Borderlands with the Outmanned buff. It mostly consisted of farming nearby PvE mobs (with magic find gear, lol!) while waiting for a dolyak to pop and ninja offing it in between the camp and sentry, and quickly teleporting back to waypoint if things looked too scary (like a horde coming to check on the camp.) Once or twice, I even met a friend and we flipped the supply camp momentarily.

Why not? I’m not blocking anyone from queuing with my random playing around, the outmanned buff said loud and clear no one wanted in, and it was kinda thrilling. Like PvEing on an open world PvP server, where you have to constantly stay on alert. And it was useful for curing my fear and sense of demoralization, sort of like taking some power and control back.

I even made plans to get a more suitable profession, likely thief or mesmer, to do such things more easily when I feel like it. But hey, my chunky Charr Guardian with humongous spikes on his shoulders and a -flaming- sword while fighting managed well enough – talk about the epitome of unstealthy.

Now what about group fighting? Well, it is possible to focus on playing better as an individual even within one.

Yes, the strategy sucks. Yes, we are all going to die in horrible ways. Yes, some (a lot of) people won’t listen and will do stupid things and go off and rambo somewhere. Yes, the score won’t move worth a damn in the direction you really want it to move, and will probably go the other way.

But well, if you’re committed in some fashion, let’s say as part of a group action, why not work on performing your best while you’re there?

This can involve listening to orders better, doing them as quickly as possible, fighting better, dodging better, controlling better, identifying squishier targets and focusing better, not running into enemy AoE better, using friendly AoE fields better, weaving in and out of combat better, trying not to die better, and perhaps even flanking and pushing better (it’s fascinating how effective flanking can be sometimes, people tend to panic when getting hit from an unexpected direction and give ground.)

And even when you’re giving ground, there’s always choosing the next spot to retreat to better. Even as an all out rout, it can be a sort of moral victory if you pull five guys away from their main objective just to freaking hunt you down. Who knows, one day, it could be those crucial few seconds for your team hold out elsewhere because the reinforcements didn’t get where they were supposed to in time because they practiced the habit of ‘chase blindly into everything, omgz0rs, so many krait!’

There’s experimenting with different weapons or skills and learning how to use them best, and playing around with builds and traits in one’s spare time, or steadily upgrading one’s gear.

And when I think like that, I feel happier that I’m getting more personal practice in, even if it has to end up with me faceup on the ground eventually with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

Of course, it’ll be better once more folks get smarter, but that takes time and practice. And one can always begin with making oneself smarter through consistent play.

P.S. Karma count is now at 95k. If only that exotic armor karma vendor I’m eyeing wasn’t bugged this particular patch…