The Mistakes of the Past

2.5 Things City of Heroes Did Wrong

I wrote this almost five years ago.

As I re-read it, besides a little mild nostalgia for CoH, my mind kept going to the GW2 of today.

*sigh*

Think that’s about all I can say.

Moving on.

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theHunter: Call of the Wild

Yours truly is a product of the urban jungle, having grown up and lived for decades in a place much closer to Asian cyberpunk than medieval countryside.

The weather here is hot and humid and muggy, the actual rainforest jungle full of secondary undergrowth (and snakes), not to mention potentially disease-carrying biting insects (or other creepy-crawlies), and god forbid it rains and turns the whole place into a slick muddy uncomfortable (and still stiflingly warm) canopy of misery.

As such, most sane people who can afford creature comforts do all they can to stay within safe climate-controlled air-conditioned entirely man-made cool zones of underground or mall environs.

Actual camping experience: Close to nil, mostly unvoluntary.

Actual hunting experience: Nada.

Actual desire to expend that much physical effort or risk getting seriously injured or slain by a wild animal (those stingrays are dangerous, man): None.

That said, there is something rather captivating about the romanticized aspect of hunting, as described in books like The Hunter’s Way by Craig Raleigh or humorously alluded to in Bill Heavey’s essay collections.

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It’s the idea that hunting is 95% about getting touch with nature, meditatively flowing back in tune with the old animal rhythms in our bones or planning, practicing, anticipating without seeing a living creature, 4% actual animal encounter of which one may never get the opportunity to press a trigger, and 1% or less all-factors-line-up-just-right-for-a-gun-shot-to-ring-out and if and only if everything was planned and prepared well, will you have the satisfaction of seeing the animal drop and have venison for dinner.

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(We will skip over the messy butchery parts and the required preliminary practice to realistically fire a gun so that it doesn’t kill anything – including yourself – that you don’t intend it to, and all the study involved in being able to track and find real life deer and navigate in countryside without being lost forever and dying of exposure.)

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TheHunter: Call of the Wild captures the essence of the romanticized notion remarkably well.

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So well that I’ve been essentially addicted to a virtual walk in the woods these last few days.

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Quests come in via your cell phone, if you choose to heed them. Else you can just roam around as you will. Or deliberately set up somewhere in anticipation of animals traveling to a rest area, or somewhere to eat or drink.

If you’re more inclined to moving about like I am, you might come across animal tracks, or hear an animal calling, or detect some movement or sound. Binoculars help to locate said creature (don’t ask how long it took for me to discover the zoom function.)

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Then begins the slow and deliberate stalk, crouching or going prone and endeavoring to approach as close as possible for a good shot, without spooking the target. And yes, they have a sense of smell, so don’t be upwind of them.

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Once you determine that you’re close enough, up come your gun sights, complete with breath wobble and you need to hold and still your breath long enough to steady your aim and shoot well.

My first tutorial deer was not at all great. (I did say that I had no clue for days that one could zoom, right?)

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Once you pick up the dead animal, it will actually tell you where your shot landed. It hit a shoulder bone, despite my prior vague knowledge from watching a Youtube Let’s Play roughly where the deer heart was located.

Shot placement still is a work in progress and mostly luck. I suppose the starter gun and bullet’s accuracy and recoil, potential game bugginess, and whatever wind or bullet trajectory simulation is in play all do not help.

Still, there is something immensely satisfying when a gun shot shatters the previous silence of the woods and the animal you’re aiming for drops in its tracks, as opposed to bleeding and running and forcing you to follow its trail until it drops dead from blood loss. (The kindness of the game is such that you can usually follow it until it dies, so there are no wounded virtual animals left in the virtual woods to die a slow death from a lingering injury from bad aim.)

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My first such shot broke the neck (completely inadvertently, of course.)

Such moments are few and far between.

One’s enjoyment of theHunter: Call of the Wild is primarily the immensely immersive experience of a walking simulator, set in some of the most realistic environments I’ve ever seen in a video game, complete with ambient sounds like crickets and leaves and rocks crunching underfoot.

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In an almost GW2-like fashion, there are lookout points that act like combination vistas and scouts that point out nearby landmarks.

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The act of visiting each landmark by foot allows you the chance to stumble across local wildlife, if any, and go haring off your intended point A to point B destination to follow deer and boar and fox trails.

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A fox regards me warily from a ways off.

There are also unmarked landmarks to stumble across and just admire.

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This circular ruin feels transposed right out of a fantasy game.

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One has not experimented with night hunting much. Given the amount of verisimilitude the game has, it seems fairly implausible. Tracks can only be seen if you use a helmet lamp, and somehow, I have a feeling that most animals are going to startle and flee at the sight of a bright light pointed straight at their faces (or even stumbling around in the woods at a distance.)

The downside of theHunter is that many conveniences come as DLC, and the Midweek Madness sale on Steam is now over. I refuse to pay full price for anything, especially not DLC that has had mixed reviews from players indignant that such features are buy-for-convenience and not bundled into the full game, and some reporting that the sold DLC features are also somewhat buggy.

The many roads suggest and hint that one should go get an ATV to zip around in and travel from locale to locale – except that vehicles also apparently scare off animals and aren’t very responsive, getting stuck in terrain and all that. It’s okay, I can walk for added immersion until stuff goes on sale.

I would love to have a tent to add to my simulation experience of traveling cross-country, then settling down for the night to have a sleep in, then waking up and beginning from that locale. Except that you apparently still have to pay in-game money earned from hunting animals to own more than one tent, after paying for the DLC. So er, I’m not buying that until it goes on sale too.

Instead, I have to break my immersion and just use a fast travel option back to an Outpost, where one can sleep for the night… or I have to break my immersion and just walk on with no rest through the night until enough time passes for it to be daytime. Either way, immersion doesn’t win here, though gameplay-wise, either is fine.

There are three other reserves that come as DLC, and those seem perfectly fine to pay for eventually, if ideally at a sale price. An African savanna, a snowy wilds and what seems like a South American park of some kind. The base game comes with two reserves, one European and one North American, and given the amount of gameplay I’m getting out of the one European zone, I think those will last me for a bit.

Bugs-wise, there are a few. Some folk are pretty annoyed about this on the Steam reviews, given that this game has been out for two years now. For instance, the waypoint placement on the map is fairly infuriating in its inaccuracy. I’ve been settling for getting a waypoint in the general vicinity as a direction finder and map navigating.

Then there was the time I heard a noise and found a fox dashing around in furious circles in a grass field, completely ignoring me as I approached.

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I presume something went wrong with its AI and pathfinding.

(Heck, I stood in its path and it just shoved me aside and continued in its merry circular way. Classic bot-like behavior. Not at all simulation fox-like.)

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My lore justification is that it was rabid, and thus I put it out of its misery.

Then there was the time I heard this mad and LOUD continuous rustling of bushes. I approached, binoculars-out, wondering as to the source of the sound and saw a deer bouncing vertically up and down in the air, next to an overhanging tree. (WTF? Is this some sort of strange programmed deer antler rubbing behavior?!)

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Turns out, as I got a lot closer, with no right to be up this close, that the deer had gotten stuck in some scenery, despite it madly attempting to run, presumably from me being up this close.

Lore justification for this one was pretty easy. I just Googled “deer stuck in a tree” and found a decent number of instances of real life deer getting their antlers (not to mention whole body) tangled up in a tree, and ethical kind-hearted humans helping them out to live another day.

In this case, since I was roleplaying a hunter, I think this one is a little too stupid to let live and be allowed to breed the next generation. So it got two bullets at almost point blank range, at which point the game managed to free it, and a third bullet right through its fleeing rear and it eventually died and contributed to my xp.

At other times though, the AI feels spot on.

I shot a wild boar at a distance, and while the rest of the herd fled, there was one individual who seemed like it refused to leave the dead female, yet stayed warily far from me. It kept a healthy distance from me, seemed to stare and call plaintively to the boar that I had dropped with a shot that went through lungs and heart, trying to get it to move and come and follow.

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As I walked up, it fled into the surrounding bushes and stared out some more, hanging around for a good two or three minutes, while my heart broke and I guiltily felt like I might have killed his mom or something. I half-decided I would go into the bushes and put it out of its misery if it refused to leave, but it was a rather half-hearted attempt, and my tromping around finally encouraged it to leave.

My most recent stretch goal is to take down a red deer. These fellows seem mightily elusive and skittish, staying mostly out of sight and keeping super healthily distances from anything vaguely human.

It was with some amazement that I watched a gigantic (8 or 9 individuals) herd of them run across the road from my right to left, and race up the ridge in the below picture, naturally, too fast to even consider a shot.

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Can’t see ’em above? Me neither. Here, have a zoomed in view through the binoculars.

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I’ve been patiently tracking them all across creation in this region and they seem to have some kind of migratory pattern to food and drink and eventually to a rest area. I might consider a stake out using the nearby hunting structure, which one purchases with in-game currency to put up.

In case all this talk of killing virtual animals raises your hackles and seems terribly unsavory, theHunter: Call of the Wild also has a camera mode in place of a gun.

So it does seem also pretty viable to roleplay as a nature photojournalist and do all the nature-walking and stalking hunter behaviors, and finish with a snapshot instead of a gun shot.

This side quest teaches you pretty early on about the camera, which eventually clued me in to the zoom functions on -everything-. I had a devil of a time trying to get a photo that counted for the quest, scaring off a herd multiple times by getting too close.

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Much to my chagrin, zooming in was so much easier and it immediately checked the quest off as done.

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Overall, I find the game amazingly relaxing. It checks off a great many of the boxes I like from my games. Immersiveness, the awe of beautiful surroundings, meditative, rewards exploration and a little care and planning.

No regrets. Now to wait for a DLC sale.

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Path of Exile: Designed to Be Played Forever

Watched Chris Wilson’s GDC2019 talk the other day:

A lot of eye-opening insights in here:

  • the standard population decline of any online game when they first launched and how they got it to spike consistently and even grow over time through their league seasons
  • a quick look at their custom tool for procedurally generating interesting map levels in really short time frames
  • the importance of marketing and having enough content to market to different subsets of players to make a big enough impact to prompt returners to return
  • the importance of consistency and predictability to cultivate a customerbase (or else they will look elsewhere and get distracted and then you’ve lost them.)

A couple of his points I don’t necessary agree with, or think might work for -every- game out there, but perhaps are more game and population specific:

  1. The idea of investing time to design aspirational content for the 5-10%, knowing full well the majority of their customers will not reach it, but creating this content for the 5-10% to feel special because no one else can get there, and those 5-10% tending to be the more hardcore influencer types who stream and thus draw in hopefuls and additional player numbers
  2. Economy resets so players can start on a fresh playing field periodically
  3. Layers and layers of randomness to create interesting variability
  4. Avoiding day-night cycles so that assets can be re-used
  5. Designing spare assets to sit around in a warehouse/library so that they can be pulled out when there is a need
  6. Avoiding pipelining releases so that people aren’t distracted working on two things at once, or tempted to avoid dealing with a tough problem in favor of something easier

Point 1 always raises my hackles. My opinion is that it works for games that start out designed that way, so they attract a playerbase that accepts that premise from the get go.

Something like Warframe apparently attempted large group raids and later removed them because apparently too few of their playerbase was interested, they seem to be doing better investing effort into content that both groups and soloists can do.

As for GW2, well, their “little” u-turn and about-face during Heart of Thorns introducing aspirational raid content lost them the better part of their initial playerbase, and attracted a newer, more competitive, and hostile sort of player in lieu. Hopefully they pay more. Else it was a really really bad strategic decision, no?

Path of Exile on the other hand is built around the idea of competition, of races, of getting to level 100 and feats of getting somewhere “first” broadcast to all and sundry. It has a hardcore permadeath league mechanic for the challenge seekers. So yes, logically aspiration works for a primarily competitive, challenge-seeking, numbers-crunching playerbase that can deal with that PoE skill tree. Somehow, I don’t think playing PoE to “relax” is a majority motivation here.

The solo self-found playstyle was more of an underground subset of players who chose to remove themselves from this competitive economy and create their own fun – it’s only recently they gave a nod towards it by delineating a separate group to declare oneself that way. The stated rationale is for bragging rights, and they are very careful to assure players that you can jump back into the economy any time you want; separately I suppose it is also a way for them to keep tabs on just how large or small this hermit-like player subset is. (SSF all the way, huzzah. Fuck yo’ aspirational content.)

In theory, I really like the idea of Point 2. I was first introduced to the broad principles of resetting in MUDs that had something called ‘remort.’ You reach max level (ie. near immortality), then you ‘remort’ (become mortal once again) to level 1 and get to level up again, but with some bonuses for choosing to reset yourself that way.

For some games, this works and comes as part of the game. Kingdom of Loathing is a browser based game that uses the remort mechanic. A Tale in the Desert has an extended long reset with new Tellings. There’s that One Hour, One Life game I never tried, but the reset concept is right there in its title. You can choose to reset almost every single piece of gear in Warframe with forma and level it up again so you can cram in more and better mods to make it even stronger.

For other games, I don’t know if their playerbase would recoil in garlicky vampiric horror at the concept of being set back to square one and starting anew. I understand that World of Warcraft tries to reset gear every expansion – from an outsider’s POV, it seems to be a 50/50 mix of acceptance and frustration among its populace. GW2 resets WvW in varied intervals and it seems most players have gotten numb to the resets over time, as winning means very little. Still other games are all about the collection and character/account progress, and I doubt those players would be happy with a reset – does Monster Hunter World or Final Fantasy 14 reset anything?

Point 3 I also like on a personal level, it’s a very roguelike foundational concept, and I love me a whole bunch of roguelikes that can offer me procedurally generated layouts that allows me to have a different and strategically interesting time each playthrough. Playing through City of Heroes near identical and unvarying tilesets and fixed predictable spawn size for 4 years will do that to you.

But not every game can be a roguelike/sandbox type of game where the player is expected to react with the resources available and create their own story. Some games are more linear, more dev-created story-oriented, and handcrafted, hand-placed content still has that level of uniqueness that can break the pattern recognition of players reacting to procedurally generated stuff. It’s just that handcrafted stuff takes a lot longer time to create.

Some games do try to mix the best of both worlds. Don’t Starve has handcrafted set pieces mixed in with procedural generation, and a bunch of Minecraft mods also do the same thing, sprinkling in handcrafted stand-out pieces and allowing the general landscape to be procedurally generated.

Which I suppose point 3 also covers, this idea of mixing and overlaying random stuff atop of random stuff, so that it is harder for players to discern predictable patterns.

Point 4-6 sound very much studio-specific and game-specific decisions, so I won’t comment there.

Still, it is interesting to learn what he feels works well for Path of Exile.

And I really want to sit in on a three hour talk to hear what he thinks about loot and itemization.

Outward: No Use For Adventures – Nasty, Disturbing, Uncomfortable Things

Venturing outward may have been a mistake.

I’d earned enough coin from one terrifying adventure to avoid being evicted from my humble lighthouse in Cierzo.

For days I rested and hunted pearlbirds in the relative safety of the shadow of Cierzo’s palisade walls, careful to steer well clear of less feathered two-legged foes. Harvesting and cooking brought humbly modest coin into my pocket as I pondered my next steps.

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Once, one of those bandits came up unawares and it was too late to hide, so I engaged in a furious scrum for my life. Victory was won by a thread.

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Then there was the time I came upon the corpses of two such highwaymen, who had lost their own battle. The bloodied bedraggled hyenas who had won jumped me before I could salvage anything from their bodies.

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That haul was pretty good, though it near cost me my life once again.

Tiring of such pursuits, I set out further afield to seek other settlements.

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I met a strange hermit in a cave.

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I was near savaged by two hyenas who ambushed me shortly after. A strange man rescued me and left me to recover atop a mountain by a campfire. Nearby was a door.

I sought to enter, thinking him further within, but a terrible ice witch froze me and left me for dead at the entrance. I gathered up the scraps of myself, my dignity, my torn apart gear and body, and assailed her once again. This time, I was victorious.

A rope led deeper down into the mountain. But I dared not venture further and left instead to find more peaceful environs to set up my tent, generously gifted by the hermit, and rest.

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The view was… really something.

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Since I was already on the mountain, I thought to climb to the peak to see if my erstwhile rescuer could be found there.

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He was not. A strange stone-like mantis creature guarded the summit, beside a rusty sword in the stone.

Perhaps one day they will tell the tale of how I courageously stood my ground against the creature and traded blow for blow against its uncrumbling hide, until I pounded it back into the earth and took my prize.

The truth of the matter is… I ran. It followed.

I ran in a circle around the stone, and it chased me.

I ran behind the stone and it chittered angrily at me, trying to decide if it should climb the rock or go around. I took advantage of its hesitation to snatch the sword, wondering if I should attempt to use it against the monster.

Then its pincer claws were upon me and I thought the better of it.

I ran further and it came after me.

Somehow, it lost my trail.

I doubled back and crept past it, as stealthily as I could. It had left the peak unguarded, and I searched the rest of it, greedily stuffing whatever I could salvage into my backpack.

Then I turned around and snuck ever so quietly past it again.

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Laden with my haul, it was time to return to civilization and sell some of the goods I had uncovered.

I could have taken the path back to Cierzo.

Oh, how I wish I had.

Instead, I took the other path to a stern and rich-looking fortress, hoping to find new merchants and trainers.

“Hello?” I looked about the castle furnishings, hoping to find live people, rather than the walking bones of unquiet undead. To my relief, there was a black-armored dwarf or a short human sitting back in a chair, and he made no hostile move.

I tremulously approached and conversed with him. He welcomed me heartily.

I told him I sought a place to rest, and he cheerfully replied that I had found it.

Then the world went black.

And I woke up. In a bed. Fleabitten. Iron bars formed one wall, and rock the other three.

Confused, I checked my gear and found nothing but tattered rags. I stumbled out and realized we were ‘guests’ all right. Guests who would be working in the mines for our daily loaf.

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The two other slaves I talked to were wryly accepting of their lot.

The main exits appear to be closed and guarded by armored men. I fear I might be here for a while.

New Plains of Eidolon

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Completely unexpectedly (at least for me, since I don’t follow Warframe devstreams religiously – something I should endeavor to change eventually, given the phenomenal effort of Digital Extremes communication – stream + summary on their -own- websites, wot is this, I don’t even… I’m not used to actually checking an actual game’s own website for useful information, dammit) I logged into Warframe to find out that the Plains of Eidolon had been remastered.

Honestly, the Plains already looked so good before, that I can barely tell the difference. The trees look better. I think. Possibly the water.

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More relevant are probably the changes on the game side of things to apply lessons learnt from Venus’ Orb Vallis and make things more equivalent. Missions can be run from inside the Plains entire now (though this change seemed to have gone in before the full remaster).

The Arcanes are now just bought straight up like how Venus does it, rather than through extra grindy earn-blueprint-earn-resources-craft-actual-arcane sequences… something that should eventually matter to me, but not just yet since I don’t own a single Arcane.

There’s a new Tusk Thumper enemy roaming about, that is slightly annoying to solo because two of the weak points are always on the back and the Thumper desperately wants to face forward on the only player around. Blowing it up drops PoE specific resources, which is a nice alternative/extra bonus to -having- to do all the requisite mining/fishing/crafting activities to progress.

Animal conservation has also apparently made its way into the Plains. Not something I’ve tried yet, but I did find the activity semi-enjoyable on Venus, so it should be fairly fun here in prettier and less snowy surroundings.

My focus in Warframe is still razor beelined onto earning enough Nightwave standing to make it to the very end.

It’s had me be a little more hardcore than I’d like (aka not sure how much interest will be left to do the same thing in a future Nightwave), since the really hard missions beyond my level and do shit with friends/clan are automatically out for me.

But I am appreciating the first time attempting such a medium to long term goal in Warframe because like any good daily/weekly system, it encourages a player to branch out and possibly try things they haven’t done before.

In prior weeks, I’ve had to learn about the whole animal conservation thing, and do Sanctuary things for Cephalon Simaris and earned enough standing to upgrade my scanner.

I’ve done spy missions, something I normally deeply dislike attempting on account of being unfamiliar with map layouts and usually triggering an alarm 80% of the time.

Every derelict vault task is a good excuse to saddle myself up with handicaps and run a few vaults, thus making decent progress earning new corrupted mods. (I actually got Heavy Caliber for my Ignis Wraith that way, huzzah.)

This weekend, it has been trying to find and learn the Halls of Ascension on Lua. There were a lot of failed attempts. I finally gave up and decided to use Loki, which I’d had to brush up and improve for animal conservation purposes and spy missions. I spent about 3 missions just running around invisible LOOKING for the correct rooms and trying to match them against fuzzy video guides, trying to feel out patterns in room connection.

After finding them, there was actually attempting to do them. The cunning drift one murderized my Loki repeatedly. Like a stubborn fool, I kept trying to do it and failed a mission once after dying four times. Then I found and did it again in the next mission and somehow lucked into a completion after 3 deaths. The agility drift one took around 30-40 mins of sad attempts at jumping, repeating it over and over until each new phase was more or less mastered. I screwed up attempting to cheat at the endurance drift one with spoiler mode, and did not screw up the spoiler mode shortcut on the stealth drift one (yay!).

Suffice to say, some completely new drift mods were obtained, after a great deal of pain. Presumably the next time this task turns up, I will be just a tinge better at it. Eventually. Over time.