GW2: Tower of Nightmares – First Thoughts

I really wanted it to be more spiky and less...flowery.

Scarlet?

Again?

*sigh*

And Toxic Alliance? Really?

Could no one have come up with a better name for them? The Venomous Court, fer example.

Toxic this, toxic that, anti-toxin everywhere… I need a round of detoxification by the time I’m done with this update.

Well, so now that the hope of getting some pure krait and some Bubbles-related non-Scarlet contaminated stuff is no longer a reality, we are at least on track with the thorns/evil nightmare/Scarlet-related themes and continuing the storyline of 1001 Alternate Alliance Nights.

The biggest vibe I get from this is a Molten Alliance do-over. How Flame and Frost should have started.

  • Foreshadowing.
  • A noticeable change in the landscape.
  • Two relatively likeable characters to follow the story with. (So how many people are shipping Marjory and Kasmeer by now?)
  • Obvious dynamic events across the zones involved, not just repairing signs. Putting the bulk of activity back into the open world where it should belong.
  • Decently achievable achievements.

The new faction, besides the puke-inducing name, looks well-built.

The new krait models look good (I’m always partial to glows) and the coiling animations are sweet.

The nightmare court offshoot follows the twisted clockwork pattern of having a downed state and requiring a finisher, which kills a number of birds with the same stone – PvE folks get to show off pretty gem store finishers if they want, it ups the sophistication level of the PvE fight to something a bit more PvP-like and increases the theoretical difficulty of the faction somewhat (though with the amount of enthusiastic zerging on, it’s hard to tell as yet. We await the dungeons.)

The dreamthistle weapons are pretty sweet as well. I’m glad I’m still sitting on a Black Lion ticket, though I still have the issue of who to put it on and what weapon to upgrade. If not for being broke from regearing my thief, I’d consider upgrading my sylvari necro beyond functional althood. Oh well, always another month of accumulating more gold.

With everything so smooth and comfortable, why is it that I can’t seem to work up the enthusiasm to care very much this week?

I log in, try and get a little bit of the way towards some achievement or other, do a few Toxic Alliance DEs in Kessex, log right back out again while still telling myself that I’m not done with all the doable dailies yet and that I’ll do them… later.

Perhaps it’s having too many goals spreading my attention.

  • I’m not done with the WvW season 1 achievements, and I really hate them hanging over my head like that. I logically know they are supposed to last for 7 weeks and that I can take my time with them, but but…
  • There’s one more Mad King Says achievement that should thankfully be checked off by tonight.
  • I still haven’t decided if I should give up on the Bloody Prince mini or not. Not would mean that I should direct my attention more towards dungeon-running and gold-making, which would also conveniently increase my familiarity with more dungeons – something I do want to do and expand my repetoire beyond the CoF comfort zone.
  • There’s still Tequatl. There’s ALWAYS going to be Tequatl. Goddamn, I want that mini so fucking much. (On the bright side, I did get -one- rare aquabreather once that is for heavy armor users, which is awesome. Except I have two guardians and a warrior and I haven’t decided who to put it on yet. It’s decent gold and rares every day, regardless, for someone who can’t be arsed to use timers and chase world boss spawns.)

Maybe it’s just the other things going on in my life occupying my leisure time attention.

Playing Terraria requires a good bit of goals-planning and wiki-reading, not to mention actual building and adventuring time that would distract from GW2.

I’ve also been working on a semi-secret project that is still a work-in-progress that I hope to be able to share soon. It’s sort of GW2-related, but involves more work with the hands and time away from a computer. As it takes shape, I keep wanting to sit down with it more than grind out the next 5 pristine toxic spores.

Oh well, all in good time. I need more patience with this sort of gradual progress. I keep wanting to have everything done and finished, rather than left open and steadily worked on.

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GW2: Echoes of Historical Warfare in WvW

The whole structure of WvW doesn’t exactly lend itself to tests of PvP prowess.  And why should it? There’s an entirely separate part of the game given over just to that after all.

Bhagpuss

I’ll have to disagree to the lack of PvP prowess. There is a lot more going on there than most think in a coordinated group, more so than sPvP, I believe.

Imagine organising 20-30 instead of five through complex manoeuvres; each turn is called, every feint, when and where to bomb.

J3w3l / Eri

Everyone’s been talking about WvW lately. The leagues and season achievements seem to have revitalized some interest in the game format and plenty of discussion as to the pros and cons.

(Where in my usual understating sense, “some interest” = massive game-wide lag and fairly substantial queues during primetime on certain servers.)

I’m less interested in rehashing the same old ground that others have covered, but Bhagpuss’ latest post raises an interesting side issue: WvW isn’t quite the same as sPvP.

To Bhagpuss, he feels there’s more PvE involved.

To Eri, she goes so far as to claim that WvW is -more- sophisticated than sPvP.

To me, I’d rather not raise the ire of the PvPers. I’ll just claim that it’s -different-.

Small-scale PvP is where each individual player can be a Greek hero – Hercules, Achilles, Odysseus, all seeking glory in war.

They can be a Spartan or a samurai or a ninja, a stand-alone warrior who can hold his own against slightly more superior numbers (2 or 3) and defeat them. They can work with their team for a time to accomplish a task, then break apart to do their thing as an army of one.

You can get a little of this kind of thing in WvW if you play with a more roaming playstyle and spec, being a scout or a commando across potentially hostile lands, The situations you’ll face in WvW will involve a lot more unpredictability in the numbers you face, while sPvP offers a more numerically balanced playfield.

But what you can’t get elsewhere, except in WvW, is large-scale warfare recreated on a miniature scale to fit into a playable game type.

If there’s one favorite thing that hooks me and makes me stay for hours in there, it’s when I spy a good (aka tactically adept) commander in VOIP and glom onto his zerg.

And I don’t mean zerg in the fashion that many lower tier servers run (or not-so-good commanders on my server too) – a loose collection of individuals running around together in a big warband that just happen to be going in the same direction and firing at the first thing that moves while karma training, relying only on numeric superiority and safety in numbers.

I mean a zerg-busting zerg. A coordinated group, be it guilded or militia or a mix, organized, with high morale and WvW builds, listening and following a commander on voice.

In zergs like those, you get to see echoes of warfare across the centuries from ancient to medieval to Napoleonic times.

The zerg is infantry, archers and cavalry, acting as each in different situations.

The one thing that never fails to get my pulse going and adrenaline rocketing is the charge. I play a frontline guardian, and in the surge of the wedge through an enemy zerg, I hear the thundering hooves of heavy cavalry. The goal is similar: break the enemy infantry with a resounding charge through their ranks.

Now and then, there are the rare situations, just as in history, when the opposing side’s morale is stronger and their militia better trained in the art of war. The loose collection of individuals move apart just enough to avoid the charge, then unload onto the dumbfounded and not-very-well-built zerg full of casual PvE builds  (note to self: following bad commanders is unwise) who stand there and take casualties, just as infantry have weathered a cavalry charge into their ranks and then proceeded to viciously slash stirrups and saddle and unseat horsemen before they can escape the mass.

But more often, when trained heavy cavalry charge at less trained individuals, they break. You can tell the opposing group is made up of leaderless PUGs when they fall back and scatter to the four winds, or they get run over.

Far more interesting and much rarer in history but more commonplace in WvW are the tactics that arise for cavalry-on-cavalry fighting.

In real life, where collision detection exists, such incidents are costly affairs in the lives of both men and horses and thus always striven to be avoided whenever possible.

In WvW, zerg collision is what some guilds live for.

The maneuvering is spectacular.

Pre-fight, the commander is not just running around in circles because he is a meanie-poo head and wants to see his followers chase after him constantly.

For one, he’s keeping his men (and women) tightly packed together and on their toes. They cannot be picked off individually (those dang thieves), and have to remain alert.

For another, it’s intimidation. A formation moving in unison as a single mass is a scary sight to someone who knows that his side isn’t as organized. A scared individual has a higher chance of being shaken and breaking after one or two charges.

Medieval European knights attacked in several different ways, implementing shock tactics if possible, but always in formations of several knights, not individually. For defense and mêlée a formation of horsemen was as tight as possible next to each other in a line. This prevented their enemy from charging, and also from surrounding them individually. With their heavy and armoured chargers knights trampled through the enemy infantry. The most devastating charging method was to ride in a looser formation fast into attack. This attack was often protected by simultaneous or shortly preceding ranged attacks of archers or crossbowmen.

— From Wikipedia on “Cavalry Tactics”

Then there’s searching for the right time to charge. Both zergs maneuver and try to get the drop on each other, utilizing terrain to best effect. If you can catch the enemy with their backs to a cliff, or draw them into a chokepoint, you have the advantage. If you can get them to fire off their first volleys onto somewhere you’re not, they have to reload while you can unleash upon them.

And of course, you never try to run in front of an enemy. You charge them in the flank, or from behind or from on top. Head-on collisions are not desirable, but could happen, same as in real life.

Those archers or crossbowmen? Ranged dps’ers. “Bomb them here!” “Marks!”

Sometimes the charge doesn’t even happen, in favor of the zerg becoming a squadron of archers firing a hail of arrows across the gap, daring the enemy to charge across a killing field.

They often don’t.

Usually the horse skirmishers advanced in front of their parent squadron or regiment, fired and moved about a bit to reduce their target ability. They were able to prevent the enemy’s troops from hiding behind trees and broken ground, looked for ambushes, or simply observed the enemy’s movements or intent. It was also quite good way to test enemy resolve at a specific point and gather information about his position as well.

They fired upon the enemy trying to take a better position or forced the enemy to move slower or even halt and form squares. Occasionally an odd charge would take place to drive the enemy horse skirmishers away. Sometimes these skirmish combats escalated and involved more troops.

Cavalry Tactics in the Napoleanic Wars.

Recognize the description of havoc groups? Our skirmishers in WvW? They scout, they screen, they have more mobility than the main zerg.

Sometimes an enterprising commander will use a disorganized PUG mass to screen their zerg and absorb fire.

Sometimes two or three commanders leading their own organized zergs act together in sync, acting as skirmisher or charger and pincer the opposing side.

Ambushes are set up. Zergs hide and try to surprise the other. Traps are set, sometimes with siege. (We could write a whole other post about castle/siege warfare, but that’s for another time.)

Once collision occurs, there can be even more maneuvering.

If the enemy doesn’t go down on first hit and be cleared, then it becomes a contest of commanders, and unit morale, cohesion and training. Zergs strive to keep together while breaking the other apart into smaller groups and lone individuals to be set upon and thus whittle the other zerg away via attrition.

How well your commander reads the other team’s movements and moves in turn is important.

How well his followers can -follow- him is also just as crucial. How tightly they keep together, how sturdy their builds are, how good their morale and training is that they keep their heads and don’t break and run at the first whiff of trouble, all contribute to the eventual result,

Each clash is a whole new battle.

It can get crazy addictive.

With more layers of sophistication to be understood the more you play.

WvW zerg “PvP” is a lot more about teamwork than individual prowess (though it still does have an effect.)

It’s more about how each player’s skill at playing their character well affects the whole to form something greater than the sum of its parts.

Builds are made to synergize, to provide group support and group control and group damage.

If anything, I find that after tasting the levels that WvW can rise to, anything less sophisticated is not so fun nor enjoyable and that I’d rather roam by my lonesome or occupy myself with PvE than play in a less organized zerg, doomed to run headlong into disaster and repeat the mistakes that history has already taught us to avoid.

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

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.

A Guild Odyssey – Part 3 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest.”

— G’Kar, Babylon 5

I believe Dunbar was on to something when he proposed that there is a limit to the number of people a single person can maintain social relationships with.

I don’t know if he got that number exactly correct, but certainly, it’s easier to remember 10-20 familiar names in a guild (my memory is very very bad) and the games in which I felt the strongest connections were games where less than 300 people tended to be online at any one time.

A Tale in the Desert is notable for being one of the few MMOs that allow people to be in multiple guilds at one time.

In my opinion, it’s pioneered a number of innovative guild features that other MMOs would benefit from adopting. The game also highlights the interesting push-and-pull between public community interest and self-interest for personal benefit via many design aspects.

Guilds, first and foremost, in ATITD are a means to control ownership and access rights to the property and items that players build.

If you’re a solo player on a single character, you might be able to get away with just having all the stuff you build be in your name and accessed via those, but if you play two or more characters, it becomes convenient to create a guild and give all your characters equivalent high access to everything.

Also, spouses or best friends that play one or two characters each will also favor creating their own guild so that they can share access rights that way.

Evolving up from there, we have the friends and family guilds where groups of friends may want to share communal resources, or come together to build big ticket items that are infrequently used but expensive for a lone player to build.

The nice thing about being allowed to join multiple guild is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a personal guild for yourself to keep your personal items safe, while being part of a larger guild, possibly with more limited access privileges, but still contribute to that community and benefit from the shared resources.

Veteran players tend to develop close relationships with each other and naturally want to stay in contact with each other and chat, so such clique guilds are common. Depending on the group, they may be open and inclusive to newbies joining them as some don’t mind or enjoy teaching newbies, and more players contributing resources tend to make the guild stronger as well.

A Tale in the Desert has one interesting spin on guild chat. (All chat tabs, really.) It’s persistent. As in, the guild chat can be set to be time-stamped and left up for hours if no one scrolls it off the screen.

What this means is that in smaller guilds, or even individual whispers to a player, you can essentially leave messages for each other even when both parties aren’t logged on at the same time. You could conduct a conversation message-board style 8 hours apart, and have the benefit of it speeding up to real-time when both of you are logged in together.

ATITD allows for as many chat tabs as you want to be up at once, so depending on the player, they could choose to leave chat tabs for 10 or 20 or 70 player names up at once to always stay in contact with them, or be in multiple guilds and keep track of all the chat going on in each channel.

This gives rise to functional guilds.

Interested in an aspect of ATITD? Say, wine-making? Beer-brewing? Growing thistles? An expert and want to talk shop with other experts? A newbie and want to pick the experts’ brains while asking questions? Join a functional guild and be included in a small community of other enthusiasts, sort of a hobbyist guild within a hobby, where most chat will be related to the subject of interest.

Regional guilds are also commonplace, often doubilng up as either ‘public facilities’ or ‘research’ guilds.

You see, it’s not easy to travel in A Tale in the Desert. The map is LARGE, the runspeed is SLOW, and so people tend to spontaneously clump together in regions and form local communities, with buildings close by that resemble a village.

Again, for big ticket items, people have found it most convenient to construct shared facilities, that are often placed in a central location of a region – next to a chariot stop – and designated as for public-use.

Ditto for research contribution, which are basically Egypt-wide projects to unlock a technology for all, including future players of that Telling, to use. Guilds are used to indicate interest in contributing to those projects, with the bonus of having a separate chat tab to keep track of everything.

One common mistake newbie players make is to simply join one guild, which is often a public or research guild as those have the widest reach and give their all for that guild. The effort is always appreciated, but sometimes the new players expect a reciprocation (such as increased guild rank promotion) that may not arrive. (Depending on the guild’s leader, permissions for various ranks may be set differently, to restrict certain items from being broken by over-use or abuse.)

Often, it is sensible to keep some resources for oneself and one’s individual progress through the game to gain levels, and contribute only what you can spare. Different people arrive at slightly different balances between self-interest and community good, but extremes at either end tend to be rare, and don’t usually end well.

Which brings us back to MMO guilds in general: are they merely comprised of selfish individuals looking out for number 1?

I doubt it.

But I don’t think it is wrong to say that most people are self-interested.

(Not selfish, not self-centered, because those words come loaded with negative connotations. Even self-interest is used in semantically confusing fashion when one does a casual search on the web. I find this man’s take on the words a decently nice way of differentiating them though – Gerhard Adams on individual self-interest that can lead to selfish, cooperative or altruistic behavior on interaction with another.)

It is survival. Self-preservation. Natural selection favors a self-interested mind.

But what we find is that when circumstances dictate that cooperation and/or organization yields bigger or equally decent returns for self-interested individuals working together, they come together.

Zergs spontaneously form. Leaders create guilds. Humans have a long history of coming together.

At least, for a while.

Until going one’s own separate ways benefits the individuals more, and stuff breaks apart. The age-old cycle repeats itself.

P.S. As for Puzzle Pirates, I’ve decided to talk about that another time. Suffice to say that it’s a game that also has guilds designed -into- the game itself, giving players a need to ‘join a crew’ for better privileges and unlock access to some activities, and a way for newbies to flow into and be introduced to various guilds. Suffice to say that it is -also- an aging game that is past its prime in terms of guilds that are still alive rather than historical artifacts that have seen better times.

P.P.S. I’d like to come full circle soon and talk about guilds in my current game of Guild Wars 2, but I’m finding it a little hard to write about at the moment. Suffice to say that a number of guilds I know are… cycling right now and that’s correspondingly getting me a little bit down as well.

Change is inevitable, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to accept while it’s happening.

A Guild Odyssey – Part 2 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“It is good to have friends, is it not, Mr. Garibaldi? Even if, maybe, only for a little while?”

“Even if only for a little while.”

— Londo and Garibaldi, Babylon 5

In City of Heroes, guilds were known as supergroups.

I didn’t join any for a while.

Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly there was no pressing need to (everyone did pickup groups) and I think I was hoping to get lucky and stumble across a perfect match like in my MUD days.

Turns out that an MMO is a lot bigger than a MUD.

It’s hard to be a known name or recognizable, and you sure didn’t seem to see the same people twice in your pickup groups.

I did eventually end up meeting a rather nice chap on the Justice server, who sent me an invite to his Instant Heroes supergroup, and I joined to be nice about it.

Alas, I started running into the problem that would plague me for the rest of my MMO career. Timezone issues.

Back in the MUD, I was mostly on American soil, playing with hardcore folks who would stay online for 9-16 hours a day (and possibly bot the rest of the time too.)

In an MMO with a larger casual population, more people play more sedate periods of 1-4 hours a night.

My primetime was not their primetime. As a result, the guild tended to be very quiet when I logged on, and they probably never saw me log on either, until the weekends.

Then I ran out of character slots on Justice and moved onto sampling a new server, Freedom, which had developed a more powergamer-type of community.

Around the same time, in 2007, supergroup bases became a thing. The new update was going to allow guilds to earn a currency that could be used to design-your-own-guild-hall.

Supergroup recruitment messages plastered the forums, every group clamoring for new recruits for self-benefitting purposes.

It was also going to be an awful waste if I remained guildless and kept playing, while I could be earning that currency for a guild. Powergamers abhor inefficiency, after all.

And the inveterate explorer in me was intently curious on -seeing- this new content, even if I had no interest in designing or building rights. Just being able to walk in was fine.

So I randomly picked a nice guild recruitment message that appealed and was in the same server that I was currently playing in, and found myself part of the Top Ten supergroup.

Oh, it started out promising as all these things do.

2007-07-16 05:00:16

We had our guild meetings in a brand spanking new HUMONGOUS superbase. We had our guild colors.

We assembled everyone together to take guild photos with artfully arranged emotes.

Memory fails me, but from scattered screenshots, I think we even had guild events where we assembled enough to do a hamidon raid or visit the PvP zones for some random fun.

I’m sure you know the ending of the story by now.

Attrition happened.

People got distracted by other games, Found other things to do. Stopped logging in.

We lost officers. The events dried up.

Day by day, the guild population got smaller and smaller.

Again, I ran out of character slots and the l33tspeak powergamer tendencies of the Freedom server were beginning to get to me as I kept mellowing down further.

I kept the global channel the supergroup was using, as I enjoyed the chatter, but stopped logging the character that was in it since there was nothing much to do but farm for fun after hitting max level. (Loot was still not a thing beyond some supergroup crafting items or what-not.)

I had moved on to the roleplaying server, Virtue, with new characters to level and was enjoying the concomitant increase in community maturity level.

And NOW loot became a thing. Inventions happened. A guild supergroup base made a really good bank storage given that characters only had ten slots to store stuff.

Except that one has no storage rights being a member of a big guild in a server far away.

Enter the family and friends guild.

Well, -one- friend.

They fancied themselves quite the supergroup base designer.

Desk stacking to raise an item to unintended heights. (I had no such patience for it.)
Desk stacking to raise an item to unintended heights. (I had no such patience for it. He did.)

It worked out fine. I left most of the design to my friend, continued to play my way and earn supergroup currency for us, and made use of the amenities – including hogging a bunch of storage containers for my packrat tendencies. He got to put the prestige earned by two very dedicated players to good use, building elaborate architecture to his heart’s content.

Attrition still happened.

This time the guilty party was me. I lost interest as all the raids arrived.

I stopped playing City of Heroes around six months before the end. I think my friend held on till NCsoft booted him out. Though he also had bouts of dissatisfaction from time to time, he held a bit more loyalty to the franchise than I did.

I had other games, and other guilds.

CoH was not the sole MMO I played. I had it on constant sub for years, while jumping to the next newest and greatest and shiniest at the time (and a few odd ducks besides):

  • Guild Wars – Ironically, I joined no guild in this, playing it as a single player game for the most part, enjoying myself thoroughly with my heroes and personal solo challenges.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online – The required grouping and timezone issues killed this one for me at launch even before I could think about maybe being committed to the game long enough to perhaps join a guild.
  • Lord of the Rings Online – I think I did join a random fellowship at one point. You know the sort. Advertised over mapchat. Filled with people doing their own thing and occasional guild channel chatter looking for group while the game was still popular. At the time, I didn’t need much more than that. I attrition’ed with everyone else and must have got booted at some point. I wouldn’t know. I was having more serious issues, like not being able to get out of Moria. Ever.

(Run in circles, kill ten more goblins, pick up another quest, go back to the same place and kill 10 more different types of goblins. pick up yet another quest and visit the same area to click on some rocks near goblins, pick up still another quest to kill goblin leaders that may have needed a group or to be higher in level…. Yeah. I ended up taking pretty screenshots and logging off.)

  • Age of Conan – Alright. Let’s get serious, I thought. Timezone issues were a massive pain. Let’s take the time to pick and choose my guild more carefully, and if I couldn’t find a local guild – which never tends to last in not so popular games – maybe an Oceanic Australian guild would work. So I shopped around, read all the ubiquitous guild recruitment messages, tried to pick a good fit one that actually bothered to request applicants fill out a casual application survey. (My MUD did that. Good way to weed out the utterly nonserious and the unable to type to communicate to save their lives ones.)

I got in.

Oh my god, it’s full of PVPers.

Ok, I kid, but not by much. It was full of and led by competitive Killer types, with a side helping of Achievers.

In hindsight, I suppose I should have expected that, being that I was playing an MMO that -advertised- itself as FFA PvP, hardcore-realistic battles and what-not.

They weren’t bad people, by any means. Friendly, supportive, band-of-brothers-y. It just wasn’t going to be a guild culture that mapped onto my interests very well.

I stuck with them for quite a while, all the same. Attempted a PvE raid or two, to discover that GMT +10 primetime was still different enough for someone in GMT+8 to have a really bad time trying to make the schedule and be on time (quite a few hasty commutes from work and skipped dinners.)

  • Warhammer Online – This was the period where I think of the three MMOs in sequence. As AoC was drowning from exploits, bugs and laggard development fixes and patches, everyone switched their attention to WAR. I coasted with the same guild into the new MMO, where we had our fun-enough-for-a-time PvP trains and zergs while the crowds were still home.
  • Aion – Just as rapidly, the whole Oceanic population jumped ship from WAR to Aion. I was already beginning to get quite cynical at this point, recognizing that Oceania/Asia seemed to have formed their own community of PvP-interested guilds that were less attached to a game per se, and more attached to each other as voicechat individuals. I envied guilds like The Kelly Gang whose timezones and playstyles matched well enough to stick with each other, regardless of game. (Small world, ain’t it?)

The guild I was in wasn’t bad, but we were leaving a few people behind with every jump and getting a little smaller and smaller via attrition once more. And I was burning out from all dat PvP. Oh, the endless I-kill-you-kill-everybody-dies…

And you know, Aion -was- grindy. Like, really really grindy. Like, I’ve killed so many mobs in the same place and still can’t seem to level grindy.

Not to mention, being an undergeared melee class in a game where players can fucking fly (ok, glide) from floating island to floating island may not have been the wisest choice for successful PvP. (And PvE was turning out to be an unoriginal holy trinity game of spawn camping world bosses for lousy RNG drops, with presumably ugh, raids in the future.)

No hard feelings, guys. It’s not the guild. It’s the FUCKING GAME. I moved on.

  • RIFT – Having gone through all types of guild options at a rather accelerated pace, I though, well, what’s one more? Mega-guild time. There are only a couple of famous, super game-spanning guild communities out there, and mostly via random pick, I tested out The Older Gamers as opposed to say, Gaiscioch.

Which worked fine during the early launch days, providing sufficient chatter and crowds for my not-very-demanding needs, but I was beginning to suspect that the success of each individual game chapter of a mega-guild depended a lot on the shoulders of the leaders and officers that had volunteered to run it. If a community center didn’t develop, that was pretty much going to be it. (And it’s also tiring as hell for the people who are serving as the centers of community. I did it as a guild leader on my MUD once. Never again.)

As suspected, attrition yet again whittled down the RIFT chapter over time. I was losing interest in the game myself.

I never did participate much in the bigger game-spanning community forums. An unfortunate and untimely injected script into an advertisement incident scared me off frequenting their boards too often – valuable game hours are taken up by scanning for viruses, trojans and rootkits, y’know!

You get out what you put into a community. TOG was simply a little too big for me to connect with anyone. I found I preferred guilds that were game-specific, so that at least everyone had some kind of common interest.

To my surprise, it was in the niche games that I found more of a throwback to what I was used to from my MUD days.

Next up, Puzzle Pirates briefly and A Tale (of guilds) in the Desert…