A Good Kind of Explorer Problem

It’s not escaped my notice that the latest trend in GW2 has been to shuffle a little towards Explorer content once more.

Clues to solve in order to find Bloodstone Slivers; a detector object to ping five locations on a map; the discovery and feeding of hungry cats.

It goes by largely unremarked (on my part I’m up to my ears in busyness,) but I think it’s making a good amount of people happy, with less corresponding -unhappiness- from other camps (they’ll just wait for dulfy or reddit, if they care about it at all.)

Running around trying to catch Pokemon has reminded me of my roots. Which is Explorer-dom, in a mapping sense.

I’m not Silph Road spade-standard when it comes to systems – following after and reading up about IVs and making a note-to-self memo about finding some free time to sit down, cross reference trainer appraisals with a web IV calculator assistant and organize my Pokemon is about my limit…

…but I’ve been enjoying the nostalgic feeling of knowing where special hidden secrets or resources are, that other people don’t know, or haven’t found yet.

No doubt, someone out there is playing at a higher level than me and has hooked into some API or third-party cheat program that displays the location of every single Pokemon as they spawn, but at my prosaic level, I have just been delighting in going to commonly frequented locales or landmark places of interest on my teeny little urbanized island and taking note of the types of Pokemon that spawn there and what tends to keep showing up.

I’m putting together a personal map of available resources and it’s fun.

It’s like what I used to do in MUDs when wikis and third-party sites were not established yet, or more sandboxy games like a Tale in the Desert where the world is just too big for any one person to know it all.

You build your own reference of “good places to go for this or that,” maybe you share some of it with others to expand each other’s maps, maybe you keep some of it a private secret for yourself… it’s something you don’t see very much of, in this day and age of “everyone must have a chance to experience the same content” plus “someone out there has expert programming knowledge and can write a third party app to get info on demand, directly from the source.”

Watching people attempt No Man’s Sky and being reluctant to buy into it yet has also reminded me of my extreme fondness for a very old, very little-known game called Nomad or Project Nomad (depending on which continent you knew it from.)

I don’t think it’s procedurally generated per se, but the amount of lavish worldbuilding and text that went into simulating a believable sci-fi spaceship trading universe has to be experienced at least once.

(It’s available for free at Abandonia.com. It takes a bit of DOSbox wrangling, but it’s worth it to play with sound.)

It really plays to the Explorer soul.

There are a bunch of well-characterized different races, much more memorable than No Man’s Sky’s, I’m willing to wager. They’ll tell you different things about a whole bunch of trade objects, which are bartered back and forth and valued differently among the races – no common universal currency here.

Ask the right NPC about certain facts or objects or people and they’ll reveal even more intriguing secrets that were not apparent at first glance. It’s easy to go down an explorer rabbit hole of following one interesting clue after another.

There are guided quests to follow, if you so desire, but also the freedom to play it like a sandbox and just fly to a random number sector of unknown and unexplored space – where you might find more danger than you bargained for, or an uninhabited planet, which can be mined for resources with the right tools. (No getting off and walking, but then, this is a super old game from 1993. It has its limits.)

Every time I play it, I intend to map it for good, making proper notes of all its secrets. Somehow, I never quite manage.

I’ve been re-inspired to play it again, after watching so many No Man’s Sky streams and seeing Syp get a such a blast out of playing retro games like Quest For Glory…

…I managed an hour, but am still struggling for free time.

Besides the Quest For Glory series, which I’d revisit if I had more time, fondly recalling my days of intense mapping of rooms on paper, the name “Skyland’s Star” popped into my head out of the blue.

This shareware text adventure game was one of my most patiently mapped and almost-completely comprehensive. (Not entirely though. Somehow I never quite finished. Some puzzle or other must have stumped me.)

I googled it for fun and found that it actually still had a webpage reference.

I definitely want to play it again and try to recreate and better my map from the past.

(What’s even better is that it only costs $5 USD and has a Paypal link, so I can actually toss the creators a two-or-three-decades belated thank-you, and get a walkthrough to crosscheck my exploration once finished.)

Assuming I ever find the time to -get started-.

Speaking of getting started, don’t get me started on the vague desire to pull out aged handheld consoles and replay old Pokemon games, or to revisit or play for the first time Final Fantasy games on a modern day device like a smartphone or iPad (they’re available, they’re just mindblowingly costly for an app, and will probably generate enough heat while playing to cook an egg.)

That’s probably just a pipe dream though.

The Catch-Up Post

12 days later… welp, so much for the short format post experiment this last fortnight.

I knew there was a reason I didn’t dare to Blaugust this month.

Or more like, multiple reasons.


Pokemon Go (finally) launched last week in multiple Asian countries, and one has been caught up in some of the madness.

Though I’m not crazy enough to suit up with multiple power banks and camp out at a popular hotspot from 8pm-2am with a hundred other people, the tactic of catching whatever the hell happens to cross my path is fun enough to do, and leads to a stealthily increasing motivation to leave the house and walk around for an hour or two at a local park / nature trail / public attraction (dotted with dozens of Pokestops, thanks to prior enterprising Ingress-playing citizens who snap pictures of -anything- and submit them as statues and “murals” and works of art.)

While this no doubt increases my risk of catching dengue fever from a stray mosquito, and whiffs of haze suggest that outdoor walks may have to be limited when the PSI rises too high, I have to admit that anything that motivates physical activity on my part (in hopefully good weather) is to be humored and encouraged, rather than fought.

So I’ve not been saying No to Pokemon Go.

I’ve been chilling at a very casual opportunistic-weekday semi-purposeful weekend play level 17, and finding it a fun enough mobile pastime.

Just… no longer in my university student days with tons of free time (who are probably all level 20 somethings by now and showing up at local gyms), nor one of those slimy APK downloaders or botters (which were doubtless the only ways they could have a pokemon of several thousands at level 29+ at the gym, when everybody else in the country just officially downloaded the game three days ago – as witnessed in the first days of official launch.)


This, though. This happened last night. I cried myself to bed.

Let me count the ways it sucked.

It screwed up my perfect seen/caught Pokedex record. The circle was a deep red, so there was probably no way I was going to catch it, regardless of what I did. I tried feeding it Razz Berries and using the highest tier balls (Great Balls, at my not-so-great level) I had. *helpless*

And there’s nothing like being perfectly aware of the psychology of loss, sunk-cost fallacies, and microtransaction game design gimmicks (like stuff being harder to catch and prone to running away the higher level you are), and still being susceptible to them.

(At least I haven’t spent any real money yet, but *sob* I wanted it so bad, and it was not to be. I chanted “easy come, easy go” multiple times last night, trying to convince myself it was okay…

it’s not.

It’s the one that got away. You’ll always remember your first.)


Moving on to more stationary pursuits, I’d have to call the Keep-Track-Of list a pretty decent success.

What was put on the list got done, more often than not.

There were a few times when I just wasn’t up to doing something (often out of sheer exhaustion and need for sleep – gotta prioritize that y’know, tired is tired), but I liked that I could visually see and renegotiate with myself (striking it out for the day.)

It also served as a reminder to try and prioritize it the next day so that it got done and didn’t continue as a habitual streak of not-doneness.

You’ll note that I started improving my color coordination as time passed. I discovered I liked looking at a nice burst of color to indicate that all these tasks were done. Makes the week look pretty as an overall visual record.

The one outlier is “One fractals rise,” which is my short form phrase for indicating the vague and optional (as signaled by italicized text) hope of incrementing my overall fractal level daily until I got to Tier 4.

I really like that it’s possible to tell that trying to complete it was a problem on multiple fronts for me, given all the strike-throughs where I just de-prioritized it for the day.

A lot of it is the vagaries of PUGs. I’m not terribly keen on pugging group content to begin with. I’m lazy to form my own group. The times I’ve tried, it takes forever to fill – not sure if there’s still lingering prejudice against a solo necro, or just lack of interest doing non-fractal dailies. So I just check LFG now and then and see if someone’s advertising a fractal I could use to bump myself up one level higher and glom on.

Nearer this week, this got more and more tricky because I was sitting at fractal level 69-70.

Most people doing Tier 3s will do it in a lower range, and people who can do Tier 4s are busy advertising in the proper 75-100 LFG tab… which I -can’t- see, because my fractal level is too low and locks me out.

The good news is that having it as an optional item on the Keep-Track-Of list keeps it on the front of my mind, so to speak.

I check LFG every now and then to see if I can get it done.

It encouraged me to stop procrastinating, take advantage of the recent patch changes, buy the necessary +1 infusions and craft +9 infusions to round out my AR from 133 to 150 so that I’m Tier 4 ready.

Then yesterday, opportunities fell into place and some guildies were advertising Tier 4 fractals in guildchat.

I’m usually too nervous to join these (gotta get some more experience pugging first, tends to be my mentality) but then they offered “free carry, don’t even need sufficient AR,” and then I thought, when opportunity knocks, let’s not refuse.

As fate would have it, I zone in to them doing Thaumanova, and while nervously following the one other late zoner and trying not to die to stray mobs, I watch the other three up top wipe in sequence to the random clusters of mobs there.


Did wonders for my nerves, I gotta say.

(I mean that in all seriousness. Seeing other people fuck up (ie. prove to be human and err) relaxes my paranoid perfectionism, and makes me feel less inferior in comparison.)

Then the Thaumanova patroling wolves (first one pair, then the other pair ten seconds later) finally get to me and the other guy and we start a duo battle for our lives, where we throw conditions back and forth and epidemic all the things and eventually whittle them down.

One of the three dead stooges then wisecracks, “By the way, when we advertised free carry, it means -you- carry us, for free.”


At least I didn’t look like total shit – which I usually do when I try to run swampland wisps or the damn Thaumanova heat room. (I am aware practice makes perfect and deliberate practice would help, I’ve just never found it a priority to do so because I run fractals so damn infrequently most of the time.)

It also made up for the really unfortunate PUG memory where I -tried- to do Thaumanova with someone with a smarmy elitist-sounding name, attempted to run past the first set of mobs and promptly died.

Ten seconds of bamboozled troubleshooting later revealed that my ping had shot up to 1800ms, and that network issues were apparently happening between me and the servers managing the fractals instance and login servers (nothing like seeing GW2 report 0 ping in the options and struggle to load Lion’s Arch),  but not the fractals lobby server. Go figure.

I still have no idea if my typed explanation of dc/lag went through, or if Elitist McSmarmyPants just saw me dead/offline and votekicked me off, but that was just annoying, from a “helpless to avoid being thought ‘bad'” perspective.

Oh well. That’s PUG life for you. Can’t please ’em all.

If you gotta give someone ulcers, you may as well do it to someone who thinks enough of themselves to name their character in a self-styled elitist manner, right?

Anyhow, the rest of the fractals went by fairly uneventfully, though I have no standard of comparison to know whether it was slower or faster than usual (aka if I was slowing them down in some way through noobness.)

The best piece of good news was that I jumped 3 fractals levels, from 70 to 73, and that apparently now makes me FINALLY eligible to see the Tier 4 LFG.

The world is now my fractals oyster.

Pugging up more levels should be easier again, for the time being, until we maybe cross the 90s.

One more week, and I should be able to remove Faction Provisioner from the list and replace it with something else. Probably PvP, because I’m going to need that special currency for Legendary tier stuff. Hoorah. Time to grow even more of a thick skin. It’s apparently gotten even more toxic now.

I might just spend all my PvP time looking at my combat log, rather than my chat tab.


Something else that has been on my mind, and clogging up my blogging ability because the thought is still too ill-formed, is the theme of deliberate practice.

I first encountered the phrase bandied about in real life, in relation to teaching, and some googling brought me to James Clear, who offered one definition of it, but also referenced the original popularizer, Anders Ericsson, who apparently wrote about it in his book, Peak, Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

So I followed up with that book, and with dissenting arguments to that book, and am still trying to digest it all and figure out what it means for me.

Ericsson basically offers more gradated definitions of practice.

There’s naive practice, which is just performing over and over again and unlikely to actually help improve anything.

(In raiding speak, this would be the casual raiders who just attend raids every week and do the same thing over and over again and never seem to progress, because they’re not actually identifying any mistakes, receiving feedback or choosing to practise aspects to improve on.)

There’s purposeful practice, which Ericsson defines as having well-defined specific goals, is focused and intentionally chosen, putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer term goal.

It involves feedback, you have to know if you did something right or wrong, and getting out of one’s comfort zone in order to see improvement (it has to stretch you, you can’t relax and coast when you’re practising in a purposeful way, though of course, for easy fun-lovers, relaxing and coasting is also a worthwhile goal to pursue during performance…it just can’t be done at the same time as purposeful practising.)

This concept has been swirling around in my mind a lot, but not really coalescing into any real talking points per se.

On one hand, I keep seeing the failure of many so-called “training raids” to properly address raider improvement through purposeful practice.

A lot of it is hopeful naive practice. “Let’s just run this over and over again, in the hopes that everyone is intelligent and motivated enough to self-analyze and improve in between raid attempts.” Works for some people, no doubt. But not all, I don’t think.

And oftentimes, it’s easier for raid leaders to just skim from those who -do- self-learn, and label the rest as “will never improve – do not take on raids.”

But maybe what they’re missing is simply a less naive form of practice, and proper feedback.

(Which then begs the issues of a) Well, they may not be ready to take this feedback, ie. still a hopeless case, and b) Just who is expert enough a coach to give this proper feedback? And are they really that good, or just -think- themselves good?

Bad coaches and bad teachers do exist, after all. Being an expert at doing does not necessarily correlate with being an expert at communicating one’s skill and knowledge to others, nor being observant enough to pinpoint and properly address a student’s difficulties with helpful advice or improvement exercises.)

On the other hand, I keep thinking about “Well, if there so many bad coaches out there, how do you find the good ones, or is it possible to -self-coach- and -self- formulate purposeful practice exercises?”

How could I do this for things like raids? Or PvP? Or fractals?

I tried something like this the other day. I wasn’t sure about my rotation as a PS condi warrior. Did I have higher dps staying in sword/torch, or longbow as much as possible, or swapping between the two? What skills should I be pressing to put together output the most dps? Should I do Sword 5, then Sword 2 to leap for a fire aura, and then Sword 4 to set off King of Fires trait; or should I just Sword 5 and Sword 4 like I saw another warrior do on Youtube?

So I sat at the combat golem and tried various permutations and figured out which was most effective from a dps standpoint. Then I tried to execute it again and again until I remembered the pattern.

I’m still not as smooth as I could be. I keep having to look at my skills to keep track of my cooldowns. Ideally, we would want to get to the point where I’m now at on my everyday guardian main, ie. I could fire the skills blindfolded.

So… purposeful practice ideas. I could take my condi PS warrior out in the open world more and do those rotations there, just like I muscle-memoried the guardian without realizing it. I could tape something over my skills bar to force myself not to look there and see anything (or even play with UI off.)  I could just mentally remind myself to look up and away from the skill bar more often, and practice doing so while actually raiding. Unsoweiter.

There’s always something to improve. I could experiment with what combinations of food and runes would still net 25 stacks of might, while giving me as much precision or damage as possible. I could do similar things for other classes and other raid builds. I could get more familiar with raid mechanics so that I’m anticipating the next few phases or things to do, rather than reacting, or expand situational awareness to encompass more of what other players are doing.

But then, what is deliberate practice, as defined by Ericsson?

It’s quite confusing, mostly because he studies deliberate practice in fields of expertise that have a very long history and tradition of quantified techniques and coaching. Stuff like chess and various kinds of sports.

According to Ericsson, deliberate practice requires heavy consultation with / reference to experts and coaches in the field, learning specifically what they do and imitating to approach their levels of skill.

It also involves a very broad term and concept of “mental representations” – which is something like what experts do to chunk information in a way that they can easily retrieve and apply, while amateurs are trying to do similar work with less effective and efficient techniques.

In chess, these would be patterns, often with some fancy names attached to them. Experts use these patterns to leapfrog ahead, while amateurs are still sitting there analyzing each piece individually and trying to think ahead for each piece, so to speak.

In Starcraft, you have things like build orders. The experts have executed and queued up a series of tasks and are thinking ahead to rushes and counters, while amateur old me would still be working out how to get the first drone to the crystal or vespene gas node or whatever.

Thing is, it’s not often very clear just what mental representations are going on in an expert’s head. What is an expert raider thinking, for example?

On a super-basic level, I know I got a lot better at Sabetha when I registered that there was a little red flag on “north” and used that as a compass point (west is “left” of north, etc.), rather than track my head back and forth between minimap and world.

I’ve gotten more or less comfortable with patterns that arise from a relatively consistent level of dps. South, then west, then north will hit just as the first changeover happens, etc. Though I do still lose track further along into the fight if it gets too chaotic.

There are cyborg tools, of course, to help, which an expert might utilize. GW2 taco will apparently label all the directions and upcoming cannons for you. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, mixed feelings about cyborging too much (or add-on reliance, is the WoW raider term, I guess?) and questionable third-party software use. (On the other paw, you could also argue that I’m limiting myself by not giving it a try and evaluating whether it’s helpful, which is not an expert frame of mind.)

Ericsson also offers the caveat that deliberate practice can’t really apply in fields where there are no longstanding traditions of practice and existing experts, where the pathways to success are not that well-trodden or defined, and that purposeful or proto-deliberate practice is about all you can strive to do.

It strikes me that MMO raiding is one such field, perhaps.

How do you identify an expert? Some people put themselves out there as “elitist jerk” expert material. You could watch their Youtube videos and try to see if they are objectively good or not.

What are measurements of objectively good when it comes to raiding? Raid boss dies is one basic measure of success, of course. Time taken to kill said raid boss. Not dying or taking too much damage. DPS done, if measurable. Low man kills.

But there’s also other less measurable things – healing? tanking? figuring out a useful strategy or tactic in the first place? team composition formulation?

Even when you have identified said expert, how do you get into his or her head and figure out their mental representations? If you’re lucky, maybe you’re socially close enough that you can ask and they’ll reply. But maybe they don’t even know how to explain what they’re thinking in the first place.

And then it’s back to square one. Like my mind, mulling over the concept of deliberate practice.

Then there’s the need for deliberate practice. Maybe you don’t need to nor want to practice to the point of expertise.

For many things, I, especially, am very content as a jack of all trades. I’m not really a one-subject deep-diving mastery-seeker expert by nature. I am more often what Barbara Sher typifies as a Scanner or others have termed Renaissance People/Souls like Leonardo Da Vinci or multipotentialite.

The older you get, the more okay you are at being this way. Screw other people or what they think. If I want to rollerblade this month, and do pottery the next month, and play game 1 the following month and drop it for game 2 in the next, then I will.

I can afford it and I have fun doing it.

You can work towards being a badminton master in the six months I spend flitting around from thing to thing. That works for you, and what I do works for me.

But let’s say if I decide that my interest for the next month or so is learning how to apply deliberate practice, in field X or Y, then yeah, I need to think about how I would do so.

No real answers as yet. Field X or Y at this moment happens to be raiding and PvPing in GW2. But I’m mostly still in the “thinking about trial-and-erroring purposeful practice” stage, rather than out-and-out attempting anything yet.

P.S. No Man’s Sky is very tempting. But I don’t think it’s $60 tempting at a time when there’s still so many things on my To-Keep-Track-Of plate.

There are only so many hours in a day and limited numbers of things that can be kept track of and kept up with.

I’m settling for just vicariously living off Twitch streams of NMS for the time being. Maybe it’ll be 25% off for Christmas or 50% off the next summer sale.

Someone Else Should Teach Them

Quick short format post today.

I’ve been amusing myself by reading and commenting on a Reddit thread regarding the level 80 booster and the sudden influx of lost and overwhelmed newbies.

To be honest, I’m arguing in the thread mostly for the sake of provoking discussion and seeing different viewpoints and suggestions.

I still haven’t come to a firm conclusion either way about where I stand.

More developer help and guidance never hurts, but does take away development time and runs the risk of “dumbing things down” to the point of making the newbie zones no longer recognizable – eg. press F to feed cow, and the poor golem chess boards that are now somewhere fairly inaccessible in HoT…

And I don’t actually find a sudden influx of newbies being “dumped on” veterans a bad thing.

For one, it means more new players in the game that are actually buying GW2 HoT.

Not-quite-forced but “encouraged” player interaction where newbies learn from veterans keeps a community going.

The fear of the original poster is for people who are too shy to seek help, be it from speaking up in game, or too inexperienced or unwilling to search for external guides, becoming too discouraged at the difficulty they’re facing or having no linear guidance or goals for what to do next… and then giving up and quitting as a result.

Or at least, that’s what it sounds like on the surface… with an undercurrent of “I am losing patience saying the same thing 10000 times, someone else teach these people for fuck’s sake.”

Let’s take the first issue. Newbies too shy or scared or nervous to speak up and seek help. Why? Because they don’t think they will get a favorable response or a positive interaction.

Now why is that…?

Onus on? Veteran players. To behave better.

Newbies. To just go for it anyway, using whatever medium feels less threatening – mapchat, Reddit, guildchat, a whisper, whatever.

Second issue: Too ignorant or just plain unwilling to find out-of-game resources + too unobservant and un-explorer-natured to figure it out for themselves in-game the experimental way that GW2 encourages

Besides ignorance, which can be helped by someone providing helpful links and references, a lot of this falls back onto the newbie again, imo.

Third issue: Difficulty level where they are placed overwhelms them. That’s dev-adjustable.

Imo, Silverwastes isn’t so bad though. And near enough to the HoT zones where newbies who bought the expansion will immediately ask to go.

I mean, where else would you put them? Orr? Frostgorge Sound? Seems like a terrible no-context idea.

Maybe at most, unlock a few more waypoints for them and include a BIG OBVIOUS guiding prompt to “Besides the Silverwastes, here are a list of places you might be interested to explore!”

Last issue: No linear guidance or leading around by the nose as to  “what next?”

Now this one is controversial. The more you move in a linear, guided direction, the more those who crave freedom and less hand holding are going to scream bloody murder.

I dunno. What more do the linear un-explorers want?

You have a big obvious Content Guide in the top right hand corner of your screen. (That we can thankfully turn off if we choose.)

There is an NPC right in freaking front of your face suggesting things you could check out.

Reddit and other forums answer and have pinned FAQs about the “level 80, what should I do now?” question every few days. (And amazingly, there are a few regulars who will type it all out for you again.)

An exclamation mark and a checklist that pops up in the center of the screen, perhaps. /s