Low-Energy, Easy Fun

Apparently, Halvorson’s latest book “Focus” was not as objective as her prior summary, skewing more heavily towards the advantages of being promotion-focused. So I haven’t bothered to read it yet, preferring to use the ideas in the summary as more of a springboard for my own thoughts.

(Fortunately, I’m not a career psychologist, so I don’t have to substantiate my hypotheses with research and evidence, and can just play around with thought experiments and musings for fun.)

I find myself drawn to the portion on “energy.” To recap:

When your goal is an achievement, a gain, you feel happy—joyful, cheerful, excited, or, in the vernacular of a typical teenager, totally stoked. It’s a high-energy kind of good feeling to reach a promotion goal.

It’s a very different kind of good to reach a prevention goal. When you are trying to be safe and secure, to avoid losing something, and you succeed, you feel relaxed—calm, at ease, peaceful. You breathe the sweet sigh of relief. This is a much more low-energy kind of good feeling, but not any less rewarding.

When you are going for gain, trying to accomplish something important to you, and you fail, you tend to feel sadness—dejected, depressed, despondent. As a teen might put it, totally bummed. It’s the low-energy kind of bad feeling—the kind that makes you want to lay on the couch all day with a bag of chips.

But failing to reach a prevention goal means danger, so in response you feel the high-energy kinds of bad feeling—anxiety, panic, nervousness, and fear. You freak out. Both kinds of feelings are awful, but very differently so.

I wonder if it might not help to explain why some gamers prefer more sedate types of gameplay – be it grinding for progress slowly, or a strategic challenge, or slower overall pacing.

In other words, we’re seeking the low-energy kinds of good feelings. We want to relax, be comfortable and content, be relieved, feel peace.

(Whether this has any correlation with being prevention-focused on a particular goal, or introversion-favoring, I’ll leave it to others to figure out and do the research.)

We -hate- being overstimulated by high energy feelings, especially when they tend to be the bad kind – aka being a fearful, anxious, nervous wreck, and are liable to either run away from the situation (avoiding/escape/flight) or take constructive steps to address said situation producing the bad feelings until the situation or feelings go away. (fight?)

The spot of good news, as mentioned previously, is that one has the high-energy motivation to take action and do either of those.

Other gamers, by contrast, probably loathe the low-energy bad feelings. They feel down, depressed, de-energized, bored. They’re liable to quit if they have *horror of horrors* “nothing to do.”

They’re looking for gameplay that excites them, gives them high-energy good feelings.

Hence the litany of constant demands for moar adrenaline-pumping “hardcore challenges” where they can earn deserved rewards, racking up one gain after another, addicted to the euphoria of achievement.

(I dunno. Sounds a bit like extraversion to me.)

It’s not easy as a game designer if you have to keep both camps happy, huh?

I don’t think they’re necessarily diametrically opposed, though. The perceived level of challenge is likely to prompt different energy levels of feelings.

The trick is, how do you get those looking for low-energy easy-fun to “be better” than those looking for high-energy hard-fun, so that they can look at the same mob and the former feels “okay, I can do this, easy peasy, no sweat, I’m having fun” and the latter feels “wow, this is so hard, this is so fun!”

The nature of practice being what it is, the adrenaline junkies are liable to be more practiced and experienced than the chill hipsters… so you tend to end up in an escalating situation of the former demanding more hits, while the latter stresses right out.

(Hrm, creative suggestions / solutions welcome.)

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Anyway, I find myself having a blast in the new Bloodstone Fen map.

That is, low-energy definitions of a “blast.”

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I trundle around, gliding and bouncing here and there and everywhere (bonus points for recognizing the phrase), collecting and harvesting all the things.

Every so often, an orange dynamic event comes up and I evaluate, “is this node more interesting or is that event more attractive?”

(Usually, the node wins, for the ten seconds it takes to harvest, and then I’m running over to spam 1 and dodge orange circles until the bouncy reward chests pop up.)

Rinse and repeat.

It’s a nice compact map, with high frequency of orange dynamic events, many doable solo or in small loosely assembling groups, and that seem to be less linearly linked to pushing some overall map wide meta.

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Every now and then, a big “world boss” type of event triggers, and then folks are drawn in to a centralized location, naturally congregating into a big zerg to defeat it.

Feels good. Feels like a bit more like Core Tyria (with less NPC settlements or friendly NPC interaction.)

I am greatly reminded of my relationship with City of Heroes’ Incarnate Trials and Dark Astoria zone.

That is, I was deeply uncomfortable with Incarnate Trials (to the point where I canceled my subscription, not being as motivated in CoH as in GW2 to play the raids – my ego is a lot more vested in accomplishments in GW2, whereas I was already getting bored with CoH and not at all tempted by gear-improvement rewards) and only re-subbed and tried out the Trials when Dark Astoria came into the picture.

Dark Astoria was the alternative, the philosophical recognition that people who enjoyed solo content should also have a means to earn Incarnate shards and achieve Incarnate levels of power, albeit at a slower rate than those who played the trials in a group setting.

Now, of course, if you -wanted- to speed up your rate of shard earning and could put up with a raid group, then yeah, go ahead and raid. It becomes an option, not a necessity.

We’re not quite 100% there yet with Bloodstone Fen.

The big thing GW2 is still missing is an alternative means for Legendary Armor.

Given that a normal set of armor apparently takes them 8 months to make (ie. Legendary Armor takes even longer) and that this batch of experimental Envoy armor seems to be inextricably linked to PvE raid progress (and a bit of PvP and WvW) and is still far far away in its arrival, it’s little wonder that they’re keeping very very quiet about any possibility of a second set of Legendary Armor, gained by some other means.

Maybe if we’re lucky, ArenaNet will come up with an elegant solution involving build templates and resolving the rune/sigil problem, and nip the issue of extra functionality with a set of purple-named armor and then the whole lack of an alternative will be moot.

(Raiders having prestige cosmetics is okay, bonus functionality is not okay. To me, anyway. Philosophically. Ideally. Speaking from a better part of me.

In practice, if we wanna be pragmatic about things, up yours. I’m on the side with the shinies. Don’t we love Chinese pragmatism? Embrace the Dark Side, baby.)

But I digress.

Bloodstone Fen is a step in the right direction, a step that was missing and ought to have been there as the raids came into the GW2 picture.

(Too bad the raid team works so damn fast, as compared to the rest. Or so damn slow, if both Bloodstone Fen and the raid wings were -meant- to arrive during HoT launch. If only Anet had slightly better scheduling/project management…

On the other hand, Bloodstone Fen looks like it was cobbled together using a ton of re-used assets and specifically addresses a number of reaction feedback from HoT, so it does also look like a mad iterative stopgap scramble to band-aid fix some issues. All those elder wood nodes and leather/cloth salvage reward drops are no accident, for example.)

It generally functions as the soloer’s alternative, just as Dark Astoria did.

There is stuff to do. Stuff to earn. Aerial combat skills being one of them, and apparently there are now means to get HoT stats that were previously only found in raids (big philosophical no-no, there) in Bloodstone Fen.

It helps the soloer understand the White Mantle storyline, that was previously only being told in raids.

It puts easy-ish world bosses that utilize raid-like mechanics -just less punishing ones- into the open world, so that players have the safety of a zerg (aka people around to rez them) and uses it to introduce/scaffold raid-necessary concepts – like the use of the new special action key, break bars, dodging orange circles, running to specific defined locations aka non-orange circles to achieve some objective, etc.

(It’s a start. Then certain buffed up fractals take over the teaching, by ramping up the necessity for increased group coordination and communication and personal movement/dodging ability. More on fractals in another post later.)

Bloodstone Fen gives me my “easy fun” back.

And I’m happy about that.

In a totally chill, relaxed kind of way.

GW2: The Pigeon-holing is Real

This is fast becoming a pet peeve.

I’m going to quote Reddit user isaightman:

“The stat difference isn’t so great that the raids are actually balanced around ascended, however the perception of other players and ascended-elitism will be the real barrier to entry.

As has been seen in basically every game ever, “LFM link achieve/gear” will become the norm.”

And also echo the commenter under him who mentioned that ArenaNet didn’t do the playerbase any favors by suggesting that players will need full Ascended to kill the final boss. (Naturally, this becomes, in playerspeak, “Entry requirement to the raid: full ascended pls.”)

So not only do newer players have a catch-22 gearing problem (Ascended gear can be earned in raids, but they have to be accepted in raids in the first place), it also is bankrupting veterans who are considering switching roles / builds to help raids along.

The perception of the players is the problem.

I was busy gritting my teeth when a raid leader took a look at the two guardians in the raid group and went, “Gee, I hope one of you can tank.”

There were revenants in the raid group, but nope, the leader didn’t look twice at them (I guess their new pigeonhole is passive might stacker), and even a reaper who actually volunteered to tank, and there was sooo much hesitance on the leader’s part to say, well, ok.

(For the record, the reaper did great. That’s what I’m planning to run when I eventually figure out, practice and can afford a tanky build. There is even video proof of another successful Vale Guardian kill with a reaper tank. The amount of damage he can output, coupled with his survivability makes me drool.

I’ve played zerker guardian and zerker necro, I can tell you which one is naturally tankier while still doing decent damage and it ain’t the guard. You can make an unkillable guardian for the tradeoff of him hitting like a wet sock.)

Condi somehow equates to engineer. Well… maybe necro or ranger or mesmer if someone is feeling kind. But really, they’re all second-best, that 47-skill rotation engineer is king, never mind if it’s actually humanly possible to perform the rotation consistently or no.

“We need a healer!” All eyes suddenly look at the rangers in the raid hopefully. (It’s as if the concept of blasting water fields died with WvW now in decline. And I am honor-bound to point out that just off the top of my mind, eles, guards, revs, necros can all put out healing, that engineers have a healing turret, rangers have a water field self heal and warriors have banners that can be traited to pulse regen… just sayin’.)

*sigh*

It’s just too easy to take shortcuts and label classes into roles, when really, we should be asking the players themselves what role they are comfortable playing and what build they’ve chosen. (And if there’s too much of one, then yeah, see if someone can swap.)

Our ragtag group of castoffs actually managed to get as far as bringing the Vale Guardian past 33% health, which wasn’t too shabby for what was essentially a training raid and getting people familiar with the mechanics.

(Just the third attempt for me personally, and each attempt has seen more progress, admittedly with different people. This time the strategy was sound and we had a consistent tank – which I must point out again was a REAPER *coughs*, so stop pigeonholing, sheesh.)

What tended to end up causing group wipes was that the circle running dps group hadn’t quite figured out a strategy to either consistently push the red seekers away and/or heal up the damage from the distributed magic lightning strike.

If that can get solved, then the last facet of the puzzle is improving dps to the required amounts before the enrage timer hits.

Which frankly, is a rather questionable design decision by Anet, because the need to improve dps means things like a) a call for dps meters (Syl has some great rants about them), and b) more pigeonholing of classes that can produce all the required boons and still do great dps before c) getting individual players to work on their builds and rotations, not to mention d) might be somewhat susceptible to ping.

Try as one might for class balance, players are going to find the ones that fit their perception of what is “best” and run with those. No one has ever kicked my warrior from a fractal or dungeon. I’m sure the same cannot be said for necros or rangers once upon a time.

This casual prejudice really annoys me.

That is not to say that I don’t know how to circumvent or make use of it. When in Rome do as the Romans do and all that. If some people want cookie-cutter, then it’s easy to blend in by just shrugging and going cookie-cutter.

But it’s just the dumb ignorance that makes pigeon-holing such a pet peeve.

(eg. Toughness-based aggro has been in existence since the beginning of the game. I picked up on it ever since trying out an anchor guardian build – and getting chased in circles by Lupicus during my first time in Arah, much to my guild’s amusement. I have personally manipulated it in dungeons like the Aetherblade facility. Somehow it is being heralded as a completely new thing since the expansion. It makes me boggle. It’s about time it became common knowledge, is all I have to say about that.)

I hope more people take up the challenge of proving the ignorant wrong – develop viable roles and builds for all the classes, successfully clear raids with them, maybe even clear Vale Guardian in exotics perhaps.

Prove that it’s player skill, teamwork, coordination/communication and practice that makes the difference, not one set recipe of cookie-cutter classes.

Blaugust Day 28: What I Hope Does Happen When “Raids” Hit GW2

So now that I’ve taken a cold, hard look at my worse fear – being forced to leave the game I enjoy playing, what do I hope will actually be announced in the “challenging group content” PAX announcement happening in less than 24 hours?

Now is the time I put on my optimistic hat and go with the assumption that my favorite devs aren’t stupid, aren’t stomping all over their stated philosophies when they implement “raids” into their game and like coming up with innovative spins on old systems that polish away the nasty bits while accentuating the good bits.

Now is the time I make my best guesses to see just how close or completely far off track my thinking is from the good folks who make GW2… just for the fun of it.

(Black-and-white for people prone to misreading: NONE OF THIS IS REAL. These are just my guesses. We will hear what’s actually going to happen in slightly more than 12 hours’ time.)

1. Open World “Challenging Group Content”

There will be some raid-like monsters present in the open world. Some may be similar to Vinewrath in the Silverwastes, that is, unlocked by a focused/organized whole map effort doing necessary dynamic events, and then consisting of several different fight phases. We might even see the appearance of ‘rare’ world bosses to hunt down- given a prior example of how we appear to have ‘rare’ mobs in Dry Top making an odd appearance now and then – though I’d really hope they tweak the spawn rate up if that is the case.

By placing some of these raid-like stuff in the open world, we will still have the advantage of making some of this content open to all players, that they can stumble into an organized group attempt and then consider joining said guild or community if they are interested – ie. lowered barrier of entry, as opposed to the typical vertical progression barrier scenario of “sorry, your gearscore is not high enough, you can’t do this.”

It is entirely likely that some of the world bosses in core Tyria that are now on timers will get a bit of a challenge upgrade, even if it is merely as simple as including the defiance breakbar that we know is coming. (This may lead to some bitching and complaining from those presently enjoying the mindless choo-choo, but I personally doubt that the challenge will ramp up to horrific levels, it may simply be a sort of “tutorial” mode difficulty levels for raids and make more world bosses Claw of Jormag tedious until the population adapts.)

2. Instanced “Challenging Group Content”

It will not be just fractals, though we know a fractal revamp is coming that will bring fractals to 100, but smooth the difficulty of the lower levels down so that the barrier of entry will be lowered there too.

It will not just be revamped dungeons, though if a whole bunch of dungeon bosses don’t suddenly incorporate the breakbar with a resultant small spike in challenge, and/or have some of the more egregious exploits fixed… then we will know that Anet has pretty much given up with the existing dungeons.

What I am hoping is that instanced raids are tied to being opened/activated by guilds.

Maybe this will be similar to present guild missions, opening out a spot on the map that anyone can enter (which would make it an open-world raid, see 1. above), or just trigger a teleport to an instanced map that only guild members can use, making it a closed raid.

I’m thinking that the most elegant way of producing these raids would be tying the system with the previously announced guild hall maps. It would make total sense to unlock guild hall buildings and trophies and basically a “group” reward each time the group manages to conquer a difficult and challenging boss.

Maybe the personal reward could be guild commendations and/or an odd specific currency or two – mordrem hound head, mordrem wyvern tail, whatever (as long as said guild vendors expand and offer more neat stuff like Ascended armors, unique gear designs, minis, plus guild hall decorations). We’d have our token buy reward system for raids, we’d have some individual benefit, and still channel most of the effort towards the social/group progression aspect which imo, is one of the better aspects of the whole concept of “raiding.”

The inherent exclusivity of a closed instanced raid is much easier to swallow if you tie it to something that is already “limited membership” only, and then leave the players to set their own barriers of entry. Some guilds will naturally put down some very high bars/thresholds to fulfill (eg. I hear some dungeon guilds want you to be able to solo Lupicus in order to coach/teach others, etc.), and some guilds will remain more open for anyone to join.

Some players will not join guilds, period, and those are the people that are probably not interested or cannot make the commitments (time, certain builds, need for organization) that raids/challenging group content tends to require anyway, so that’s already a first round of self-selection done, without any ‘entitlement’ histrionics.

(I’ve never really seen people throw an entitlement fit over Triple Trouble Wurm, for example. The people who aren’t interested/motivated enough simply assume that they can never do it and either give up or never bother to approach a community. Everyone else who wants something from the wurm, be it seeing done it once, just getting achievements, or running it ad nauseam, found a community that got them what they needed.)

Then all Anet needs to do is keep a weather eye out over how the ‘meta’ threshold requirements are shifting, and tweak mob difficulty accordingly so that it meets whatever the plan is.

With guilds, there’s your kicking mechanism and threat to wield to enforce appropriate behavior right there. Act like an idiot? Boot, you’re out of the guild and you can’t do X raids with us any longer.

With guilds, there’s incentive for a longer term social contract and better community behavior, rather than the merry-go-around “easy, press a button, exchange a teammate” of LFG where some people feel there’s no consequence for being obnoxious to easily-replaceable strangers. We -really- don’t need that extra encouragement for toxic behavior in GW2 raids – we’ll have enough of that hostility in the open world “challenging group content” already, given some people’s tendencies to vent their frustrations and run their mouths in mapchat.

3. The Unexpected / Invasions / Raid “Rifts” as Extra Challenging Group Content?

The last bit of speculation may be a little far out there, but given some hints from data-mining and the oft-repeated desire (not mine, personally) for GW1-like Fissure of Woe or Underworld content, where a crack team of people venture into an instance and get a whole bunch of desirable awards for performing well, and can be assembled up spontaneously from whoever’s around at the time…

… one last cherry on top to accompany 1. and 2. would be the introduction of random portals/doorways into a “raid” instance – akin to something we already see on GW2 Halloween. This would be the middle ground between completely open and completely closed, would satisfy the odd desire of something LFR-like, would have the random lottery feel – both one’s PUGmates and rewards would likely be RNG – and probably allow for bringing back some very old and desirable and $$$ cosmetic skins like jetpack, ghastly grining shield, scarlet’s kiss, whatever.

This might even be seasonally turned on or off, to bring that completely unpredictable and unexpected, high risk/high reward bonus feeling.

Between 1, 2 and 3, I think this would catch pretty much nearly all the different types of raids possible, and offer a multitude of lateral progression gameplay activities for people to choose from. They could do some, all, none as desired, and only lose out on the unique cosmetic stuff, while still (hopefully) having alternative avenues to get whatever desirable stuff they want (even if it’s just buying it from the TP as the alternative.)

Account-bound titles, plus some unique cosmetics, would let the prestige-seeking raiders still show off their things that can’t be otherwise bought, while still making a decent gold profit from the stuff they -can- sell to others who don’t like their particular raid activity.

The key is that as long there aren’t artificial barriers of entry that discourage new influx, a wealth of possible raid options catering to different styles, alternative means/options for gaining desired rewards, and no critical story content tied to said challenging group content that some people aren’t likely to want to do, raids in GW2 aren’t likely to be so bad.

Especially since we don’t have vertically progressing stats on gear AND can freely switch our traits and builds on the fly (where’s that build-saver already, dammit), as opposed to other games with more fixed roles.

How can Anet screw it up? Introducing design choices that are opposite to the stuff named above. New infusions that add on more stats. Grind such and such new stat or mastery to qualify for the next tier of raids. Only do this one raid if you want X item, only do that other raid if you want Y item. Tie raid content to Living Story progression. Set difficulty that demands such high performance that people feel obliged to measure every last number and to kick anyone who doesn’t perform in a picture-perfect robotic and macro’ed manner. Unsoweiter.

I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen.

P.S. I’m really only expecting 1. and 2. to appear in the coming announcement, but I’m ready to be surprised by 3. or 4. Something I haven’t thought of / foreseen, just in case.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Birthday, Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 28.