2.5 Things City of Heroes Did Wrong

Ok, besides PvP. That's too easy a target. Here's the most amount of players in a CoH PvP zone ever. Attracted only by killing a dev in giant spider form.

As linked by J3w3l, Reports From the Field wrote a post on 7 Things They Felt City of Heroes Did Wrong.

Since I’m an idiot who can’t seem to figure out how their comments system works, and have a ton of CoH screenshots that are looking for an excuse to be shown off, I decided to do a blog post in reply instead.

I’m a little less picky.

I think they only got two or three things wrong.

Sadly, I think the biggest problem was a fundamental baked-in issue that the existing devs didn’t quite know how to solve.

Repetition

I’ll narrow this down further to non-varying spawn sizes in instanced tilesets that were reused over and over.

Because frankly, a lot of what we do in games is repetition, over and over, and we can still find repetition fun.

City of Heroes had no problems with replayability in terms of alts – the insane number of character slots, classes, powersets and customisation was unparalleled.

The main problem was that each alt had to level up by entering an endless set of corridors masquerading as missions, which were optimally filled by a spawn meant for an 8-person team, and every combat encounter pretty much looked like this:

2007-06-16 22:05:10

2 Bosses, a couple of Lts. and a whole bunch of minions.

Repeat encounter 14-40x depending on how many spawn points were set in that mission, and how big that map was.

Very soon, players figured out that the most efficient way to mow these things down was via AoE attacks.

To let AoE attacks hit as many as possible, get someone to group them up for you.

(Enter the ubiquitous AoE target limit – but still, hitting 10-16 is better than hitting one at a time. And cone attacks hit 5 but need them all neatly stacked up anyway.)

There were only two main ways to do this:

Option A) Herd to a Corner

A sturdy character, usually a tanker or a brute, or in a pinch a scrapper, would initiate, aggroing the spawn and dragging them all to a handy dandy nearby corner.

Once in position, everybody else opens up with whatever they’ve got.

Riffs on this include the more skilled defender or controller with debuffing options who could set up some debuff anchors, turning a nasty spawn’s alpha strike (ie. retarded AI’s initial response of firing a salvo of attacks at the first person to aggro them) into some wimps trying to beat you with feather pillows, which by default, makes anyone a sturdy person. Pull to corner as desired.

Option B) Corners, Schmorners, The Spawn is ALREADY Grouped Up

Well, it’s true, ain’t it? They spawn in a clump to begin with.

Tank runs into the center of the group, taunts by skill or combination of aggro generation powers. The group turns inward on the tank, voila, please be to kindly open up with pewpew now.

Riffs on this include those with control options – usually controllers, dominators or the odd defender who would just alpha strike the alpha strike with an “everybody freeze” power, nullifying the usual retaliation, and then the beating things up began.

There was rarely any tactical variety required, beyond the odd variation of dangerous target to be prioritized or controlled due to faction. Yes, Malta sappers suck. Literally. Draining all endurance from players tends to make powers crash and ineffectual. So hold ’em or kill ’em fast.

Others just tended to be annoying nuisances that took forever to kill. Carnival Master Illusionists summoned a bunch of annoying decoys, and phased out for 50% of the fight, making them a time-drain to even hit. Rikti Drones projected so much force field defence that you needed pretty high accuracy or to-hit to pierce through their shielding – but if you did have enough, they were pushovers.

But by and large, it was see clump of enemies, group clump of enemies, fireball (or insert choice flavor of attack here) clump of enemies. Debuff or control if you had the options to, and yes, everybody loves buffs, buff all the time plz thx bai!

AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.
AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.

Soloing, it tended to be even worse.

You were guaranteed three minions or one minion and one lieutenant. This was somehow scientifically determined by a lead game designer as the appropriate amount of challenge for any player or powerset.

Before long, you had your skill rotation down pat.

Repeat over and over as you carved your way through numerous spawns to the end of the mission.

Skip the mobs in favor of mission complete?

Well, you could… but the mobs were a big source of xp anyway. Would you prefer to go through 3 maps of unending spawns of enemies repeating the same skills in the same patterns, or would you prefer to race through 10+ maps ignoring all the enemies except that required for completing the mission to get the same amount of xp?

“……..”

Over time, I ended up street sweeping in order not to have to choose between either mindless option, forgoing the tasty mission complete xp in favor of actually feeling immersed into a world that had NPCs interacting with each other, spawns that varied in size and had to be approached differently, more space to move around and fly and tactically pick off enemies, and feeling like my actions actually had some impact on NPCs that needed rescuing or terrorizing depending on if I was playing a hero or a villain.

Not everyone was as motivated by immersion as I.

The achievement and rewards-driven folk eventually took things to their natural optimal efficiency point.

As Task Forces became more streamlined and rewarded better loot over regular missions, they became the go-to set of missions to run. As fast as possible. Gogogogo.

Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless spawns of Longbow in background.
Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless unvarying spawns of Longbow in background. (And yes, this is why one barely blinks an eye at particle effects in GW2. It’s a miracle we knew what all these things meant, with the powers customisation that allowed you to change the color of your powers.)

When Mission Architect released, of course the most popular missions would be the powerleveling xp farms with as many xp packages clumped together as possible, with the gimpiest powersets for doing the least damage to players possible.

farmmaps

And what did you do once you hit max level as fast as possible?

Either do it all over again with another alt, or go through the same set of missions at the end for… I dunno, kicks or something, or bitch and complain that there was nothing else to do and that the game was too repetitive and quit the game because you were done.

Each alt you went through, the chances were more likely that you’d eventually hit the more jaded last option at some point when you finally hit your repetition limit.

If only they could have varied the spawn sizes and positioning in each map more dynamically, I think it would have gone a LONG way towards ending the feeling of repetition.

But I suspect the mob distribution was sadly so baked-in that they couldn’t do anything about it without totally wrecking the game’s code.

The Incarnate System

Oh gods.

Words fail to convey my loathing for this system.

The solution the live team of CoH designers hit upon to prevent this burnout from repetition scenario from occuring was the ye olde raids system.

Vertical Progression. Ever Increasing Power at Max Level. Raids Involving Massed Numbers of Players. Forget Your Alts, You’ll Only Have Time to Build Up Phenomenal Levels of Cosmic Power on One or a Few Characters.

You know, City of Heroes launched at around the same time as World of Warcraft.

WHATEVER MADE THE DESIGNERS THINK THAT PLAYERS WHO CHOSE TO PLAY COH OVER WOW -=WANTED=- RAIDS?

Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames, more UI than anything.
Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames and more UI on my screen than anything else.

Wanted to be FORCED kicking and screaming into adopting and adapting to the system by virtue of exclusive loot/power that could ONLY be gotten by participating in this brand spanking new system that the designers were so proud of spending their time on?

Personally, I was attracted to the game initially because it didn’t have all of the above.

Because it had a nice friendly community that were inclusive and open to anyone teaming up with anyone, who even gave away scads of in-game money to newbies just to help them out and feel like a hero, a holy trinity flexible enough that no one had to wait around LF tank or LF healer unless they were really really picky, because I could make all the alts in my head that I wanted look and feel like how I wanted, because I had options to solo or group as I preferred.

When the game no longer felt like it was supporting this style of play and when all the brand new shiny content went a way I disliked (which has some lessons that GW2 might be well-advised to heed, given the histrionics I’ve been seeing in my comments from certain players who are perceiving the direction of the game changing in a way they dislike – though I still maintain one piece of content offering nonexclusive rewards is -different- from ALL the content in an update offering exclusive rewards that can be only obtained by playing a certain way…)

…I quit.

I canceled the sub I had been faithfully maintaining for six years, through a few minor burnout episodes that I knew would recover from taking a month or three’s break time, and quit supporting the game with cash.

I sat around watching the game lead their remaining players on from 2010 to 2012 from one piece of group content to another, grinding the same set of missions repetitively for incremental currency to build the next piece of ‘gear’ that would make their characters more powerful, and played another game instead.

Because my preferred playstyle had no viable options for obtaining the same reward.

Because the designers were so insecure in the fun level of their content that they felt they had to sneakily ‘encourage’ participation in their massed group content by making it the only non-absurd way to earn that level of power.

I only came back to check things out when the Dark Astoria zone released, making it -finally- viable for solo and small group players to start earning Incarnate levels of power.

And yeah, I chose to jump into a few raids then, because it was a -choice- on my part to see whether I found it fun (not really, beyond seeing what the fuss was about) and not because I had no other alternative.

Still, there’s a fundamental problem about vertical progression systems that only drag out the death knell.

You separate the playerbase.

You really do.

Those attracted by phenomenal levels of cosmic power and don’t mind clumping together into a group become one subset. Playing at a much higher level of power.

Why yes, I am an Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.
Why yes, I am an Inventions-kitted Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.

Those who ignore the content because they don’t like it and continue doing their own thing end up on an uneven playing field of merely ‘blue and green’ level of power compared to ‘purple and orange.’

How do you balance future content for these two different groups of players?

You don’t.

It becomes skewed to one group only.

Applying more and more pressure to the other group to conform and learn the stuff they’ve been ignoring, or they quit.

You better gamble that the group of players you’ve designed that content for is big enough to support your game via cold hard cash.

(Which is another interesting parallel to GW2 – though its fundamentals are different – exotics baseline, Ascended better, no more power increase or they’ll regret it – and the payment models are different. Who’s paying the most in either game? Casuals or hardcore, y’think?

Also, Wildstar is gambling that their hardcore base is big enough, and that their casuals will be content to be strung along with housing and some solo options.

WoW, you’d think, has managed to get by with producing endless series of tiered raids, though I do note that every expansion they keep changing things up, making things easier and easier to access and ‘catch up’, with different levels of difficulty to appeal to different groups, and generally playing a very good balancing act of continually laying treadmill track in front of their carrot-seeking audience.)

Loot / Inventions

The last factor is one I feel mixed about.

It could very well be that City of Heroes could have collapsed sooner without it.

Without loot, without Inventions, without something shiny to chase and look forward to building up and improving and giving room for theorycrafting of various intricate builds, we probably would have lost a great number of Achievement-oriented players who needed the shininess of a gear upgrade to wrap their minds around.

But catering for this group of players had some fundamental repercussions on how the community ‘feel’ changed over time.

In my opinion, a great deal of the friendly community aspect of City of Heroes was lost in the later years due to this focus on loot.

It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good.
It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good. Together.

Originally, City of Heroes was about getting together with a bunch of friends.

And everyone was a friend  and welcome on teams because everything scales up with more people, giving more xp rewards to everybody.

No one needed influence (in-game money) beyond those necessary for Single Origins, bought from vendors at a very cheap price compared to how much influence was being given out from missions. So level 50s had so much influence they didn’t know what to do with it, and ended up going back to Atlas Park and sugar-daddying newbies with it, running costume contests and lotteries and fun social stuff.

Once loot came in and an auction house, well, influence had value.

Better hoard it now. Some heroes we were, accumulating large wallet amounts that would then be spent on more upgrades for more power. We turned commercially-minded and mercantile.

Rikti Boss farm - earn large amount of tickets, buy loot.
Plus Mission Architect absurdity: Rikti Boss farm – earn large amount of tickets, buy loot. Yes, handy dandy NPC buffers standing by.

Let’s see, help a newbie or buy a Luck of the Gambler for more defence? We’ll take being godlike, thanks, the newbie can fend for itself. (Of course, not everyone did this, but by design, loot encourages selfishness and self-interest over selflessness.)

Suddenly it didn’t matter so much if the team was just having a good ol’ social time hobnobbing it up while fighting bad guys, but more about xp and loot earned/hour. Fast runs plz. We r wastin time. More missions complete, more chance for shiny loot drops.

And what was the loot for?

For making yourself powerful enough that you didn’t need a team to take on a spawn size set for 8 players.

Who needs a team when I have bots?
Who needs a team when I have obedient bots with better names?

Your ubercharged Inventions-kitted out player would feel free to run off and separate from the team and take on spawns by themselves. Why not? They weren’t punished by faceplanting. In fact, they were helping you clear the mission twice as fast!

They were soloing while ostensibly on a team.

(Which, eventually made teaming pointless to me, and drove me into soloing because I couldn’t stand associating with those players any longer.)

Eventually, an update sealed the deal by allowing any player to control the spawn sizes they wanted to fight by themselves.

Yes, this made farming easier.
Yes, this made farming easier.

And now, there was no more need for teams. Or for much of a community. Or getting to know your fellow player or bother to be nice to them.

Just set your spawn size to 8, and run your endless series of unvarying missions as quickly as possible to keep earning more influence and more loot drops and getting more powerful.

godlike

Farm it, in other words. Farm it to death and world’s end.

Or burnout from repetition.

Whichever came first.

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The MMO Cycle – A Cento About Missing the Magic of MMOs

Beauty in a swamp...

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

The happiest day — the happiest hour
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels

And yet that spirit knew – not in the hour
Of its own fervour – what had o’er it power.

chievos

But he grew old —
This knight so bold —

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!

And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.

forums
And the people — ah, the people —
All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
A play of hopes and fears,
It shall not be forgot!
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”

suchzergmuchpower

And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow —
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be —
This land of Eldorado?”

anya

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw
That motley drama- oh, be sure
In spring of youth it was my lot
To haunt of the wide world a spot
The which I could not love the less-

fountain

‘Twas noontide of summer,
And mid-time of night;
And stars, in their orbits,
Shone pale, thro’ the light

grove

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around.

wildlake

At midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody-

moon

For the heart whose woes are legion
‘Tis a peaceful, soothing region —
For the spirit that walks in shadow
‘Tis — oh ’tis an Eldorado!

bamboo

cento is a poem made up of lines from poems from other poets.

Long time readers may be familiar with my complete and utter adoration of Edgar Allan Poe, though I leave the precise poems from which I have “borrowed” the lines an exercise for the reader.

I use GW2 out of convenience, since it’s the MMO I’m currently playing and most readily accessible to me, though I believe the poem is relevant to MMOs in general.

In no way should you assume anything about where I am on the MMO burnout cycle with regards to GW2 from this poem…

…though I will say that I -was- bored with the lack of change and Living Story, going through the motions seemingly out of habit, still a little turned off by the megaserver’s effect on the community I was used to…

…and that watching the Chinese “Fear Not This Night” music video that they’re releasing in preparation for the launch in China (the first video embedded above) and going pretty screenshot hunting suddenly reminded me of some of the things I truly love about this game.

This poem was also brought to you by the letters S Y L via the poetry slam sponsored by the Newbie Blogger Initiative 2014.

(Which I hope to talk about more later this month, but just haven’t had the time to get my act together yet. Long story short: Wanna blog? Blog! Now is good!)

It’s stretching the theme of magic by a considerable amount, but well, it’s what wanted to be written.

GW2: These Goals Are Not My Own – How to Have Fun Again

Readers may have detected a touch of ennui and frustration in my last post.

A little thinking helped to narrow down the cause.

It is a basic case of: These goals are not my own.

The past week has been spent in very “reactive” mode. See new update, respond to new update. See achievement to be gotten, rush to get check box completion. See enemy zerg report, rush to defend against enemy zerg.

That is not to say that new content is not welcome, or achievements are no good. It is a question of degrees.

A two-week update period gives me very little time for anything else. The first week is spent !00% focused on the new content and achievements, leaving the second week as emergency back up and farm/grind of content I like that will be disappearing. I’ve maintained a three week schedule would be less hectic (see comments) and failing which, I would be fine with the four week Flame and Frost style stuff too (but I know this sentiment is not shared by a good many Reddit and GW2 forum frequenters.)

As for achievements, they have their place and purpose. Achievements can provide direction and guidance. Achievements can focus player attention and crowds in the places where ArenaNet feels would be more fun with more active players.

But let me ask you, taking a recent specific example, why 2,500 points in Southsun Survival? Why not 1,000?

A thousand points would still serve the same purpose of having players hang around playing the minigame. “Proper” play generally yields 30-50, with a 50 point bonus if you win. “Point” play yields 50-100. That’s anywhere from 10-20+ games played still.

The Aspect Arena achievements felt more attainable. 2,500 points just feels grindy as all get out. It ends up making what is intrinsically fun a chore and an obligation.

Obligations lead to burnout.

An interesting quote from the researcher mentioned in the article above is “It may be that, in the absence of an emotional bond with the organization, commitment based on obligation is experienced as a kind of indebtedness — a loss of autonomy that is emotionally draining over time.”

The phrase I’d like to key in on, in our particular context, is loss of autonomy.

These goals are not -my- own.

I feel obliged to do them because I have chosen the higher level goal of being a completionist with seasonal achievements (for which, one might say there is also some external reward prompting with the new Achievement Reward system) but it does not mean that I’m actually enjoying the in-between steps if they get too insane.

It reminds me of WoW raiders complaints about feeling obliged to do a ton of dailies just to keep up with what is expected of them in a raid. They like to raid. They don’t exactly like to do 48 repetitive things in order to just merely qualify. Again, this is a matter of degree. 10 things? No problem. 20 things may be pushing it. 48? Hahaha. How much free time do you devs think we players have anyway?

It is the same with WvW. For me, I hasten to add. (There are plenty of Tarnished Coasters super-duper hardcore about WvW or just feeling a lot more like WvWing than I do at the moment, and they’re keeping the fight going. The benefits of playing on a full server.)

My tendency tends to be, log on, check guild and friend list, see a bulk of them in WvW and go, “Gee, I guess I should join them. I’m sure it’s aggravating for them to see other people online and not WvWing when the whole place evidently needs as much help as it could get. They probably could use more support and hands on deck.” Before you know it, the feeling of social obligation has overtaken my whole night and 4-5 hours are spent reacting to a commander’s orders/movement and engaged in generally outnumbered defence.

Some days I -want- to fight. I’m itching for a scrap, log into Mumble, find a commander I like to follow, and willingly blend into the zerg and have a great time. But regular schedules get to me and I have guildies and commanders that spend every single night (and possibly some mornings too) in WvW. That wears me down after a while. I just don’t have the personality for that sort of orderly routine.

The cure for this, is both simple in theory and hard to execute.

Start addressing your own goals.

Having been Skinner-Box conditioned to follow achievements as quests, when I posed myself this question, I sat around stumped for quite a while.

What -did- I want to do in GW2?

Ever so slowly, like drawing blood from a rock, came tentative answers from a hitherto ignored portion of me.

  • How about, go explore bits of the open world again, find cool stuff, and level a class you haven’t played yet.
  • Collect all the ranger pets!
  • Maybe tweak your charrdian’s build again, give up spirit weapons and see just how much damage you can put out as a berserk army of one.
  • You wanted an asura thief, and maybe a charr thief at some point.
  • Hell, make that one of every class for asura and charr eventually. Cos they’re just too awesome.
  • There’s an experience scroll to level 20 that is unused in your bank. And an empty character slot that was intended for Black Lion Key farming.
  • Your guild bank is sitting on a pile of unconsumed celestial crafting recipes. Because they’re level 80 and your weaponsmith/jeweller is not yet 80.
  • You need gold, like always.
  • You had the urge once to watch a few PvP videos and learn how to sPvP properly, and read up on builds and such. Oh, there’s a PvP monthly you might also try to finish for points…
  • Just how long can you sit at 199/200 fractals done in your achievement summary and not do anything about it anyway?
  • Speaking of which, you always wanted to learn the other paths of dungeons you haven’t done and work on obtaining the Dungeon Master title.
  • Your human storyline is not yet done. It’s the last one. Your human mesmer is rotting somewhere.
  • Your elementalist needs attention. It feels complex, yes, but I bet it is capable of doing some crazy things once mastered.
  • Perhaps peek back in on GW1 someday and see if more progress can be made on the HoM.

And on and on. All stuff I’ve been sitting on because other more urgent things were prioritized first.

Burnout recovery self-time.

I addressed the immersion problem first of all, trying to reconnect back to the GW2 -world-, rather than obsess about the game, meta or otherwise.

Graphics settings back up to crash-a-holic, prepared to memory error per zone.

Went invisible so as not to bother with anyone or anything in my friends or guild lists and switched into personal bank guild.

Logged on runty asura ranger. Went out into the world.

Metrica Province, by the way, is a really excellent place for losing oneself (as long as you tune out the fire elemental calls.) So are most of the Maguuma jungle zone areas. They’re just not traversed very often by many players.

Maybe they don't find the swamp pretty. I think it has its moments. And the yellow fireflies are good xp.
Maybe they don’t find the swamp pretty. I think it has its moments. And the yellow fireflies, like most untouched mobs, are good xp.

Found a giant asura champion that I had never seen before.

The only good asura is a small one.
The only good asura is a small one.

Kited him in circles in an epic battle of level 12 ranger dodging and healing spring-ing, with plenty of inquest respawns getting in the way. Pulled out a blue Mighty Chain Leggings from the Inquest Chest at the end of the herculean fight. I think I need a T-shirt that says, “I can’t wait for the next update and better champion loot.”

Talked to nearly every NPC I could see. There are some crazy asura conversations in Rata Sum. Metrica and Brisban also have some classics too.

Hidden message to someone, perhaps?
Hidden message to someone, perhaps?
Boredom loves company. Also overheard daring each other to stick a finger in a socket.
Boredom loves company. Also overheard daring each other to stick a finger in a socket.
This chap has interior redecoration on the brain.
This chap has interior redecoration on the brain. It’s just a tent!

Somewhere in between, I discovered a Wintersday gift box in my ranger’s inventory. I could have sworn it wasn’t there before when I first started. Maybe a back log in the full inventory queue or something. Opening it yielded 250 mystical cogs, a toymaker’s bag and a bunch of skins. Talk about a belated gift. I’d missed this freebie before, but hadn’t been sweating it due to being fast enough to loot the chest to begin with.

This naturally called for buying some stuffing and glue off the TP (it’s amazing how inflation makes one barely blink an eye at spending 1 gold for a stack of stuffing and 2 gold for a stack of glue months later) and crafting the toy golem. Which makes all the minis I would want from that. (I still think the princess doll is fugly and don’t want it.)

Seeing the current price of stuffing and glue also led to another modest attempt at the endless plush griffon tonic. Five tries later, I was three more gold poorer, endless tonic-less, a mystic forge daily done, and with some spare normal griffon tonics to hand.

A plushie a day makes the blues go away.
A plushie a day makes the blues go away.

It is amazing how one immediately cheers up running around as a cute stuffed animal.

(Southsun, by the way, is nice and peaceful and deserted once more. It’s another of my favorite hangout locales with a TP, bank and merchant nearby, as long as one ignores the settlement of crazed karka just next to you. Just missing a guild bank. Maybe I should look into the price of those guild transport thingmajigs.)

Out of sheer mischievous fun, I made the run south past scary reef drakes and annoying reef riders to the Consortium resort and did the easy jumping puzzle as a plushie griffon.

I believe I can fly!
I believe I can fly!

No one found me before the tonic wore off, but I had a blast just camping out and being cute regardless.

I really wanted someone to come upon this sight. Next time, I shall bring more tonics to wait it out.
I really wanted someone to come upon this sight. I shall bring more tonics next time.

I also did other stuff from that long list of mine (keyword: mine) but I’ll save that for another post.

If you’re feeling the burn, go and do what’s fun for you until you feel better.

GW2: There Goes the Neighborhood

Let’s be playfully controversial today.

Breaking news of the last few hours is that two of the core three Aussie guilds that laid big foundations for the Isle of Janthir server, Southern Cross (SC) and The Kelly Gang (TKG) have transferred off the server and moved on to Jade Quarry.

While I’m a little disappointed that a core bit of the server community will no longer be there, and the logical thinker in me understands perfectly, the cynic in me is chortling.

Say whatever pretty things you like about “commitment,” it appears that there are many different types of commitment after all.

There’s commitment to the server and its community (aka server loyalty,) there’s commitment to one’s guild and personal friends (aka guild loyalty) and there’s also, horror of horrors, commitment to having fun (and all the varieties thereof.)

And it turns out, some are prioritized over others.

It is clear that for SC and TKG, that lately, the Isle of Janthir has not been giving them the level of professional hardcore WvW action that these guilds, regular 7 days a week, rain or shine participants, have been seeking. The Oceanic timezone in particular seems to be a morass of casual leaderless zergs pitted against some huge, well-led, tactically minded teams. Uphill fighting against stupidity is always hideously morale draining.

(Personally, I’ve flipped my hours some on the weekends and been playing more in the NA timeslot which seems to have better tactics and use of siege, so yeah…)

And after, we presume, a carefully considered decision, they’ve decided to prioritize the enjoyment of their guild members and their fun by moving on to a decidedly more WvW-focused T1 server, where the fights will no doubt be a lot more exciting and constant and competitive and at the level which they prefer.

I rest my case.

Fun über alles.

Chase the fun, for whatever definitions you find fun, because anything else leads to burnout.

Chortling aside, it makes me start to wonder if this guild moving phenomenon we’re seeing has been considered by the designers when they made WvW.

Are we seeing something that will ultimately be healthy for WvW, in that these periodic guild shifts provide change and novelty to servers who are moving towards stagnancy in their tiers based on ELO rating?

Some people claim they’re getting sick of seeing the same faces in WvW, the same guilds and the same tactics for the past, oh… 2-3 weeks now. More and more, it’s looking like players -don’t- have long term patience after all and a one week matchup is about as long as ArenaNet can push it. The hoped-for two weeks? I suspect a rebellion would be had and 75% of WvW players will turn up in Orr and in dungeons instead.

Guild movements shake those things up, with a little drama spice on the side. Especially if it’s a big guild shifting territory. Titan Alliance and RUIN in particular have sent Henge of Denravi and Eredon Terrace on a freefall towards the bottom rankings, causing a mad jostling of servers as they inherited pieces of TA.

Alas, all the excitement is to be had on the corpses of two servers.

Personally, if something that drastic happened to IoJ, I would transfer out too. (My own criteria is a crowded server, enough to PUG dungeons with at the timezones I play, enough to accomplish DEs in Orr, and to a lesser extent, enough WvW action going on.)

Or is it unhealthy, in the sense that these multi-game-spanning guilds are more focused on their own communities and less about fostering -server- communities?

One of the constant complaints from players of oldschool MMOs is that these newfangled MMOs simply don’t feel like home anymore, no one recognizes each other, there’s no familiarity and certainly, no such thing as server loyalty.

For a while there, I harbored a little idealistic hope that perhaps we would see something different in Guild Wars 2, that as more level 80s migrated to the WvW endgame, trust and respect would be engendered and there would be more server togetherness.

More and more, it’s looking like this optimism is getting brutally shot in the face. For one thing, WvW is not the only endgame. It does look like a hefty helping of PvE players would never be caught dead (or alive) in a PvP zone, as sanitized and un-trash-talky as WvW is. When I take some time out to farm stuff in Orr, I see a whole bunch of new different faces that I’ve never seen in WvW before.

Trust, respect and server togetherness? Hahaha. Since the week of IoJ’s tier 1 foray, where I think a shit ton of people pushed themselves over and above the limits of human endurance and monetary expenditure, the WvW maps have gotten somewhat worse in terms of armchair commanders, less communication and scouting calls, and an increase in tactical bickering that has led to a minor server implosion. I suspect SC and TKG are not the only guilds to move out, I haven’t seen certain other tags lately either.

I’m only relieved that it’s so far, been a minor implosion. Other servers have had it worse in terms of how much drama surrounded their “tactical disagreements.”

It’s looking more like what’s happening is that there is a WvW community forming, rather than separate server communities. Like professional athletes, some of the more hardcore WvW guilds look to be cycling from team to team, wearing whatever colors suit them at the moment, pitting themselves against the challenges they prefer. Screw the server, they’re all just pretty names, ultimately it’s the guild tags they wanna fight.

And I do have to wonder what this means in the long term for WvW.

PvP is an inherently competitive dog-eat-dog format. What we often see in FFA open world PvP scenarios is a few large guilds clambering on top of everyone else, destroying the will of the majority to even enter the fight. The sheep wander off somewhere else to have fun. The wolves run out of sheep and start preying on each other. And then even the weakest wolves quit and the remaining few look up and start whining that there’s no one left to beat on. Cue the end of that short-lived open world PvP MMO.

WvW is obviously not as bad or as accelerated a death spiral as that. But word is that even the biggest servers are finding WvW participation dropping off, that the outmanned buff has been seen at various timezones and the queues are shortening (except on reset days and weekends.)

Do we read into these guild movements a sign of server consolidation, a circling of the wagons, PvPers seeking out their own kind, a hope that they can achieve the holy grail of three servers fighting 24/7 indefinitely (perhaps six servers was too optimistic, given the forces of entropy acting on a three-month old MMO?)

It’s really hard to say, because a month ago, a lot more guilds dispersed out the other direction to attempt to fill 5-6 servers.

But I really wonder, in the long term, if we’ll see these guilds closing ranks again as attrition takes its toll.

What’s the cause of the attrition? I’m not sure. It could be a combination of many factors. People get tired of the MMO and stop playing, period. Tons of new games to hold their attention with. Or people getting tired of the lack of, ahem, external reward in WvW. PvPers live for the battle, but there isn’t enough of them to fill all the maps, and I suspect PvE folks are discovering that other GW2 activities are a lot more profitable in terms of virtual monetary gain.

I can run a dungeon three times a day and get 75 silver easily in just end-of-dungeon reward, not to mention the spare coins from the items in the chests and the mobs which may drop 5-15 silver.

I put on a magic find suit, and go to town spamming staff 1 in certain Orr DEs – I still hate Plinx, it’s over-farmed, but I’m quite fond of the Gates of Arah and Grenth chains – and it’s like a loot pinata of blues, greens, crafting materials and the occasional yellow. (Only still in the 90-100% magic find range. It might get even better with higher.)

I spent an hour flashing blade teleporting into various air elemental sparks, killing them meditatively to music, and I even met two guys in my timezone to party with, and all three of us popped 4, 3 and 2 charged lodestones respectively. You know how much that goes for on the TP? 2 gold each! (I’m still debating on whether I should be hoarding my measly two in an effort to get 250 for a pretty greatsword skin, or if I should just offload the darned things now.)

If we run the merry go around supply camp karma train in WvW, maaaybe we might get an insanely good karma rate and decent gold return, but frankly, it isn’t tactically sound at all. No, instead, most of the tactically sound options are goldsinks. It’s draining, in every sense of the word.

And I think, increasingly, people are wondering, what’s the point?

If you’re a T2 or T3 server, there’s a common goal. Wheeee, we wanna get to T1!

When you get there, the brutal truth is that you find out it’s just more of the same. More relentlessly paced.

Which really starts to differentiate those who love the art of killing and live for the ganks, while weeding out those who don’t really find it fun.

Not to mention, for some people, there’s also commitment to real life, to balance out commitment to fun and all the other types of commitment mentioned above.

I used to push 8-10 hours easily on weekends just WvWing, probably 12-16 when it was really ‘important’ with time out only for meals and an afternoon nap. Weekdays, maybe 3-5 hours in the night. Fun in the moment, fun while it lasted, but nothing lasts forever, eh? It’s like riding the launch wave because those crowds only come around once.

Some rethinking of my priorities later, it seems more personally healthy to me to only commit say, 1-3 hours as and when I feel like it, because obligations lead to burnout.

Surely, I’m not the only one.

And slowly, but surely, the WvW population might begin to shrink.

Let us also expect a dramatic crash next week, as the new and novel PvE content rolls out. Depending on how interesting and rewarding and repeatable the upcoming Lost Shores dungeon content is, I wonder how long it might take WvW to recover, and whether it will ever be the same again.

A Guide For Every Season

This post was sparked by a thread that popped up over at the Guild Wars 2 Guru forums.

(I know, I know, it is a cesspool compared to the official forums, which aren’t much of an improvement either, but drama at a distance is sometimes entertaining and one gets the occasional news/valuable tidbit that one has not heard about.)

Some guy asked for a leveling guide from 1-80 for Guild Wars 2.

Of all the-

I don’t even-

Hello? This is an MMO with a completely FLAT leveling curve! It’s meant to take an average of 1.5h per level.

It is clearly marked on the map which zones are appropriate to which level range.

Which is infinitely more sensible than a list going Plains of Ashford 1-15, Diessa Plateau 15-25, etc. because you don’t even see or know the name of the zone on the map until you venture into it.

The game downlevels you in any zone you’re too high leveled for, so that there is some difficulty/challenge remaining. You can practically go anywhere if you don’t like the proposed paths.

Hell, if you don’t want go anywhere and have other characters to be your materials supplier and gold daddy, you can CRAFT your way from 1-80. (Refer to ubiquitous crafting guides online, I suppose.)

Guides That Are Really Walkthroughs

Of all the ‘guides’ that pop up for various games, I honestly fail to understand leveling guides the most. What kind of person requires someone else to hold his hand, set his goals for him and tell him exactly where to go on each step of his journey to max level? Is it that hard to figure it out for yourself?

This is a rant against those who don’t want to think for themselves, who eschew discovery and learning, slavishly following other people’s instructions on how to do something.

There is an amazing number of them, just going by the number of hits I get on my page that is a simple map and directions and answers the questions “How do I get to Blue Mountain in The Secret World?” I fail to see how someone moving around the map doing quests can miss the Blue Mountain exit, but evidently, people do.

Little wonder why people put up all kinds of crap guides on websites, lace them with tons of ads to generate revenue, and let the Googling masses loose upon them.

Guides That Are Really Cheats

The countering defense to this is that for some people, they say that they are looking for guides that will show them the optimal path. They’re on a search for efficiency, the speedrun way.

A little questioning in the thread I brought up reveals that the original poster really wants, not just a leveling guide, but a FAST leveling guide, a power-leveling method. He wants to get his alt to 80 as uber duper quick as possible. He wants to find those weak spots of a game, such as a continually respawning dynamic event that will yield an abnormally higher rate of xp than the average, or perhaps mobs that return lots of experience to farm, and so on.

To me, it sounds like he’s looking for someone to share (ok, too kind a word, to give) knowledge of a near-exploit or a loophole for rushing to max level as fast as possible.

Putting aside the ‘why rush headlong into boredom and burnout quicker’ retort for now, we run into the ‘how stupid do you think those in the know are, that they will share this with you in a public setting, so that the developers can close it in the next patch?’

Little tip: Follow the bots. The gold farmers know where to be. It’s more than a game to them, it’s their livelihood. They -know-. And because of the way xp sharing works in this game, you can make use of their leet multiboxing hax skillz to kill stuff at a vastly accelerated pace.

Caveat: The above tip segues immediately into the ‘how much do you value your account’ argument, because ArenaNet is pretty fond of the banhammer for stuff they deem as exploiting and 72h suspensions for mere infractions, and they don’t even have to worry about losing your sub fee.

TL;DR: Follow my tongue-in-cheek suggestion at your own risk.

Guides That Are Really Guides (And Those That Are Not)

Ok, we cannot expect everyone to be number-crunchers or systems explorers, so there is some validity to the argument that writing guides that explain numbers and stats, esoteric knowledge, and shares and teaches strategies and general philosophies are kosher on the quest for the holy grail of min-maxing.

I don’t actually have an issue with guides per se. Especially if they are written with an intent to teach, or share, or discuss strategies or builds or what-have-you.

I tend to have a small issue with guides written like they are the be-all and end-all of all possible knowledge and treat-me-like-holy-writ-or-else, but I suppose if authors need that egomaniacal boost in order to get them to write in the first place, we can give them a little leeway for that.

But I do have big issues with people who do take them verbatim and everybody else is WRONG and we must all DO IT THIS WAY or else the sky will fall down and the earth will be swallowed in a pit of hellfire.

And there are an amazing number of people who don’t want to think and just want to follow someone else’s checklist or directions or list of ingredients or goals. Why in the world is that the case?

I don’t understand leveling guides, I think I’ve said that before. I find it terrifying to think that someone needs to be led around by the nose in this fashion. How are they going to manage more complex parts of the game? Find more walkthroughs? Pay someone to play for them?

I’ve taken a look at the odd crafting guide before, mostly from WoW, and some from GW2. A lot are just shitty terse checklists. From X to Y, do this. From Y to Z, do that. The only valuable thing in them is possibly that someone has counted up the number of materials you’ll need beforehand so that you can gather them first or buy them wholesale from an auction house, and one has to block a whole lot of ads to get that one sentence.

Probably the most comprehensive guide I’ve seen on the subject is an LOTRO guide for the Scholar, which besides an FAQ, includes suggested crafting node locations, though there is a hell of a lot of ingredient lists that are probably better off on a wiki somewhere.

I could point to the ATITD wiki for what proper crafting guides should look like, but practically no other game has that kind of complexity. Maybe Puzzle Pirates.

See, the really cool thing about this sort of guide is that even after reading it, it is not an instant “I win” button, you still have to put in time and practice to increase one’s performance, armed with better knowledge.

If, after reading a guide, you could program a bot or get your cat or parrot to do it and still attain 100% success, something is dreadfully wrong somewhere. I’m not sure if one should blame the game’s design, or blame the majority for wanting mindless button-pushing achievement.

A Guide By Any Other Name

I guess part of the problem is that every player’s definition of what is a useful guide differs.

I assume that people write and make the guides that they themselves would prefer. Which doesn’t bode well for the theory of crowd intelligence or humanity as a whole, given the number of cheats and straight up walkthroughs out there.

Either that, or they take the lazy way out and write down the least amount of words necessary, which boils down to a terse laundry list of “go here” “do that.”

Maybe the lazy man’s guide explanation is why there are so many unedited video ‘guides’ which are just playthroughs of a particular sequence. Extracting benefit is left as an exercise for the viewer to manage for themselves, which can be either slavishly aping what has been done, or pulling out the general principles to understand, utilize and possibly apply elsewhere.

Perhaps ‘a magician never reveals his secrets’ may be a reason why some people just write out the bare bones of what to do in order to gain the desired end result. They know that that’s what most people just care about, and in that way, they keep the superior edge of true knowledge.

But it really bugs me that so many people just care about the ends, and couldn’t care less about the means. This is why we have gold-sellers, why we have folks asking ‘where is the loot’ and looking for the next developer created shiny carrot to lead them on to the next, following guides written or filmed by other people.

Taken to an extreme, one may as well sell one’s copy of the game and just watch other people play the game from start to end for you on Youtube. Gaming as spectator sport.

Why? People, why? How special does it make you feel, if none of it is really what you accomplished on your own?

It’s borrowed fame. It’s pretense.

I can understand not wanting to reinvent the wheel from time to time, or even ‘skipping content’ to get to the good bits (though I personally think you’re skipping faster to burnout) now and then, but it’s so easy to run right down the slippery slope of not-wanting-to-do-anything-at-all-without-a-guide-showing-you-how.

TL;DR: Use Guides in Moderation

Ranting aside, at the end of the day, I guess I have to come to one of those Zen conclusions you tend to find on my blog.

Guides, like guns, are tools. It’s how you use them that really matters.

The objective and the intent behind using the guide is a big deal, and can lead to healthy or unhealthy consequences.

A little bit of self-discipline goes a long way to using them properly, and the lack of it leads to lazy dependency and misuse.

When in doubt, anything taken to an extreme is nuts.

Go play, and have fun.