GW2: Finding Something Else to Do (Origins of Madness update)

Raids give me that "played like a puppet" feeling...

Thanks to the two new bosses added in the latest GW2 update, I no longer loathe raids with extreme prejudice.

I have now reached a state of indifference.

I guess that’s progress.

See, one of my most major issues with the concept of raids was exclusivity.

I’m just philosophically opposed to the idea that some players get automatically rejected due to whatever they’re wearing because it’s a convenient shortcut to judge player ability, or the simple capacity of a character that has sufficient stats to meet the challenge.

Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)

In the case of Guild Wars 2’s new approach to raid bosses, aka more challenging world bosses that require a significant amount of coordination and organization to succeed, it’s been comparatively more inclusive, mostly because individual groups of people can’t control 100% who shows up in a zone.

One can still attempt more coordination and organization by joining and following along with an organized group, such as various server groups, or megaguilds. TTS, for example, is the primary NA example. I’m aware of AARM doing weekly Tequatls on Tarnished Coast these days. Unsoweiter.

The fact that it is not at all possible to reject players out of hand skews GW2 raid bosses significantly towards a more philosophically palatable direction for me. (As opposed to say, the propensity of some people to get kick happy with their party in certain dungeons.)

My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.

I ranted about this in City of Heroes, which was rather inconsistent about this in its Incarnate Trials, whereas the few I encountered in RIFT were distinctly clearer to me.

mines

So far, the Guild Wars 2 indicators resemble RIFT a lot more. This I like.

The first champion in the marionette fight also has a rather elegant indicator for facing, which is handy since the goal is to hit it from behind.

What I’m not liking is the speed at which these are appearing and disappearing. Between my slow framerate and latency, there doesn’t seem to be sufficient reaction time sometimes to dodge. Presumably as one learns the encounters more, one might possibly be able to use animation cues to get a few more valuable split seconds but well… it’s been a little hit or miss at times.

Some of my other issues regarding raids are unfortunately still not resolved.

There’s the waiting.

I’m making significantly more progress on my browser games in the other screen, and my audio CD digitization project since there’s a good half hour between each wurm or marionette attempt.

Standing around in a game doing nothing annoys me.

Well, I -could- jump around waypoints catching energy probes, but then that would make commanders trying to physically count people and get organized sad.

Catch-22.

Since I can’t be arsed to even conceive of leading such a cat-herding endeavor, my most meaningful contribution during the waiting phase is to be an obedient charr and stand on the blue dorito.

There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.

Living in a not-so-popular geographical area means making compromises with one’s day and mealtimes to match the more populous NA and Oceanic times, during which there’s more people, more organization and thus a higher chance of success.

This is, of course, insolvable without migrating, but it does wear down on my personal level of interest for raids, especially over time. I haven’t attended a single Tequatl for weeks, there just seemed to be better things I could be doing with that two hours.

And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.

Yes, I understand that is somewhat the point (or a major component) of raids.

That it is somewhat like a sports team where people need to practice together, learn how to work with each other in tandem, trust and rely on each other, etc.

A situation set up so that more complex societal behavior can be exercised, such as leadership, organization, division of roles, teamwork, good sportsmanship, yadda yadda.

(Naturally, where one has the opportunity to demonstrate positive behavior, one ALSO runs very easily into the opposite toxic and negative examples, fueled by immaturity and ingrained habit of certain game cultures. But y’know, tradeoffs, can’t have one without the other.)

Call me a hermit, a misanthrope or a control freak, it’s just not a preference. 80% of the time, I’d much rather be challenging myself or relying on me, period.

I actually find the mechanics of the marionette champions rather interesting and look forward to learning more with each time I enter. Except there’s all the in-between that just feels like time-wasting.

And there’s that omnipresent situation where four platforms manage to finish and the last has unfortunately encountered some kind of problem. It’s a bit of a letdown when you feel you’ve played the best you could, and victory (or even partial success) is taken out of your hands because somebody else screwed up somewhere. Locus of control? None.

Perhaps one could keep repeating the strategies over mapchat and just patiently wait until everyone learns them. Perhaps some really creative leadership and organization could fill a separate overflow with more hardcore players and better communication.

Perhaps an individual might just indulge in blame and name-calling because they can’t do anything else besides spew abuse at others to make themselves feel better. (Protip: Shit-talking to ‘motivate’ only works on a certain subset of the population. Everyone else thinks they’d rather not have a victory confirm your behavioral hypothesis that toxicity results in a win.)

But really, for most people, the only thing left to do within one’s locus of control is shrug, feel disappointed and try again another time.

Which again, personally, is not something I’m playing a game for. Life already throws sufficient repeat disappointments one’s way, y’know?

Of course, the other 20% of the time, I can deal.

I’m quite enjoying the coordination and strategies involved in working out and learning the jungle wurm fight with TTS. (Save for all that time-wasting between attempts, egads!)

I like that different skills and builds have been stressed this time around – such as condition builds for the husks, and good running, jumping, speed-boosting abilities.

It’s just… that I’m somewhat puzzled at myself, that I’m not feeling as compelled as I used to be.

Sometimes, I look at the clock, and think, hmm, in the same hour, I could give the wurm or marionette another go, or I could cook myself a nice meal and have a proper sit-down feast, or I could watch something on the telly…

And I choose the latter options instead. (Hell, I’ve been tempted by the thought of giving Dragon Age Origins another go, or playing Skyrim again.)

It’s like I’m suddenly in no hurry to experience the content.

Was it just the three week break from GW2 that gave me a certain distance?

Is it just because I suspect it’s going to take a few days anyway for the general population to learn the fights, for information to filter down and so on, before the bosses will become more enjoyable like Teq on farm? (I certainly didn’t enjoy the first few days of Teq, super-stressed out trying to squeeze into the main server, wiping repeatedly, AFKing for indeterminate periods of time, etc. World firsts mean absolutely nothing to me.)

Is it just a personal disinterest in raids in general?

Who knows.

I do still harbor a slight worry that I need to catch the marionette fight at the sweet spot intersection between too many people -trying- to do it but not knowing how, and no one interested in doing it ever (like a successful Scarlet invasion – anyone actually manage that recently?) Being tied to the Living Story, it may be a two week thing.

The wurm is less stressful, since TTS is both organized and inclusive. One will get all the boss achievements there in the end.

Well, whatever the case, it’s… something else to do.

When one feels like it.

While it’s new and shiny.

For now.

P.S. Opinions on the story aspect of the update are a little better. Nice instance, more in-game storytelling, even if the bit with Kasmeer and her father sounded like clumsy exposition. I haven’t seen Scarlet’s lair yet, but looking forward to discovering it slowly.

One immediately gets the unsupported hunch that players might just end up with another cutthroat politics vote where it turns out Scarlet has a grand design to defeat the dragons and wanted to be a good guy after all (with Taimi and Braham and whoever else may be on her side) while Rox wants her dead because Rytlock said so.

Or maybe not. As a player, I’d probably let Primordius burn Divinity’s Reach and Lion’s Arch in order to see Scarlet dead. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Advertisements

GW2: Queen’s Gauntlet – Punishing vs Difficult

I’m sure everyone has already seen the Extra Credits’ video “When Difficult is Fun” that creates a distinction between games that are difficult and games that are punishing.

(In case you haven’t, I embed it here for your reference.)

We will be using “punishing” and “difficult” in that context in today’s discussion of the Queen’s Gauntlet activity that is part of the Queen’s Jubilee update.

Difficult Aspects

(Good, if you like that sort of thing)

  • Each boss has a mechanic or gimmick that is consistent and generally plays fair, so defeating them is mostly a matter of picking the right traits/build/gear/profession and playing the encounter long enough to learn their patterns. (One may, however, argue regarding the possibility of players not being able to afford the correct conjunction of characters and the secondary requirement of having sufficient arcade/action reflexes for certain fights. But I suppose for optional challenging content, such are the boundaries that are already laid out.)
  • Some of the bosses’ attacks are well-telegraphed. (Halmi Hammerfell, the first hammer boss, has a very clear hammer windup and frontal cleave, Dead Eye’s laser shot is decent if a zerg isn’t under you.)
  • The bosses are generally quite well-arranged to ramp up steadily in difficulty (tier 1 is fairly doable, tier 2 is more moderately taxing, etc. T3’s last boss spikes upward pretty hard though.)

Punishing Aspects

(Not so good, even if you masochistically persist past them)

  • Each iterative try is gated by a decent chunk of time – by the run back from a waypoint if someone isn’t standing by to rez you (cue money sink, don’t forget repairs), by waiting for one of six cages to be freed up, by needing to farm the group zerg event for tickets.
  • One shot kills for making a mistake – either tactically misreading the mechanics or just not being physically adept enough – lead promptly to the above repeated time-waster.
  • A few bosses are not sufficiently well-explained in their tips – leading to either trial and error or out-of-game reading to learn their mechanics. (I’m thinking of Salazan and Liandri in specific. “Lethal fire circle” produces an instinctual response to dodge out of dangerous looking circles, much like the rest of the game has taught us. This produces the feeling of a dev busy trolling players when one finally realizes that one does not, in fact, have to dodge out of the ring, in order to survive. As for Liadri, well, talk about ridiculously complex and requiring someone to spell it out in point form out-of-game.)
  • Some of the bosses’ attacks are NOT well-telegraphed, possibly due to small model size and/or camera angles in the dome. (Suriel the Blazing Light? She’s a female human, holding a book most of the time. How the hell are you supposed to see her Solar Flare attack? Someone told me she makes a cross with her hands or something. I’m at 1200 range, how the fuck would I be able to see that? I just used her pausing and staying still as a cue, mixed with lots of guesswork. As for Liadri’s AoE, it is obvious it is made to exactly blend in with the floor grating. Trololol, I think a dev would be saying.)
Seriously, look. The woman's less than an inch tall on my screen. How to see her animation?
Seriously, look. The woman’s less than an inch tall on my screen. How to clearly see her animation? While circling like a madman and trying to kite her into a hard-to-see dark patch and doing one’s best to not die. With 13k hp. I ended up hogging the patch more often than not and just being all heal-y guardian over the damage.
  • The zerg below can produce lag, visual culling or significant drops in framerates – which make reading animations and dodging in time extra-challenging, particularly to those with higher latency or playing on toasters.
With FPS like this, who needs enemies? It's probably a miracle I've gotten as far as I have,.
With FPS like this, who needs enemies? It’s probably a miracle I’ve gotten as far as I have.

Ambivalent but Interesting Enough to Note Aspects

  • The time limit creates an interesting juxtaposition between trying to balance survivability and damage. It serves to ensure the wait time for each individual encounter is not too long. But it would be much better if the time limit were actually clearly ticking down somewhere in the UI, similar to the Aetherblade instance, so players have a better sense of how long they have.

(And really, no one gives a shit if you fall down from the cage or not, no one in the zerg frankly gives a fuck, there’s a hundred and one dead guys dying arbitrarily from the “anti-zerg” mechanics, there’s so much visual chaos and culling going on, and everyone is really looking at the right side of their screen watching the loot to pour in to care about some stranger dying.)

  • Enabling spectators also leads to a curious juxtaposition of interests, On one hand, it could give rise to a small friendly community of players exchanging tips, sharing frustrations, cheering each other on and helping each other rez. I’ve seen one or two guilded parties occupy an arena this way, enjoying a group outing even if only one person is fighting at a time. On the other hand, for introverted soloists, some may not care for being spectated or find it embarrassing. Plus for self-centered loner types, they really don’t give a fuck either about some other guy’s fight, good or bad, they just want to find an -empty- arena to try -their- personal fight again ASAP.
  • That quick update development time? Yep, there’s a few bugs.
This cage had oozes that didn't go away. Liadri + oozes providing AoE healing = difficulty that breaks any measuring scale you use. Wasted ticket there. (Well, I had to try to see if the oozes would hit her. They didn't.) This guy is now finding out that the first boss with oozes ain't so fun either, I suppose.
This cage had oozes that didn’t go away. Liadri + oozes providing AoE healing = difficulty that breaks any measuring scale you use. Wasted ticket there. (Well, I had to try to see if the oozes would hit her. They didn’t.)
This guy is now finding out that the first boss with oozes ain’t so fun either, I suppose.

Personally, I don’t mind a hard fight or repeated tries at it. I appreciate that this has been sectioned off into its own minigame tab for achievements, which at least puts it into a different category in my mind, though this would be much nicer as permanent content so that one could come back to it at leisure, without worrying about queues or not being good enough or equipped enough at this point in time.

I’m not fond of the “farm this first in order to do what you really want” delaying mechanic, but because the group activity is so mindlessly rewarding, I am willing to forgive it.

In a sense, it serves to enforce a change of pace so that things do not get too frustrating. (But lowering iteration times would also minimize frustration and reduce the punishing aspect, while maintaining the difficulty of a solo fight as a challenge.)

I do wish however that the fights were instanced, I can’t shake the sense that I’m fighting at an extreme disadvantage between my toaster computer’s specs, my high latency due to geographic locations, plus throwing in a WvW-sized zerg arbitrarily underneath me at times. I barely break 20 FPS at the best of times, and have hovered around 10-12 at peak hours – which made attempts rather costly and eventually resulted in me just zerging and saving tickets for tries at more friendly off-peak timings.

I don’t know if I’m going to manage all the Queen’s Gauntlet achievements, but I’m still generally quite calm about the whole affair.

I think it helps that this was introduced at the start, meaning four weeks to work on it, rather than two. In a month, I find it realistic enough a goal to level and gear a specific character to 80 if one was really determined on getting through this, whereas two weeks would be a hectic rush. A number of people have also managed to conquer the last boss in a day or two, so it seems there will be sufficient time to spread specific gearing and trait strategies around.

And there have been hints that it is likely to return, possibly on a yearly basis – so it does not seem like this will be arbitrarily forever out of reach if not achieved this go around, which really helps the OCD.

Full disclosure: I’m currently still stuck on Liadri. Nearly all the bosses were done with a berserker guardian.

Except the penultimate boss of the Norn and Chomper, which gave me a majorly hard time on the guardian, which led to a rage-spending moment of buying my new level 80 necromancer (yes, in the past five days before patch, that’s another personal goal that got done, whee) shiny berserker gear, haphazardly traiting for life-leeching high damage minions and brute forcing my way past that encounter.

I would like to return with a later post with tips, but we’ll see. The framerate lag and necessity of farming tickets makes repeat tries for screenshots and the task of learning the encounter well enough to provide suggestions extremely challenging. I might just settle for copycatting a better player and lucking into achieving stuff once – which already sounds difficult enough to me.

Not Merely Solo Quests in an MMO World

So, I got carried away with a wall-of-text comment reply and I’m -still- not done mulling on the issues brought up. Best to post this on my own blog, no doubt.

Spinks over at Spinksville expresses frustration over facing solo quests in an MMO world. It’s a bit of a rant that covers a number of game design topics and I just keep feeling that they’re not being properly broken down into their component bits to be examined properly. “Solo quests” is too general and may end up going down to the old and stale solo vs group debate road all over again.

Spinks conflates a number of issues into one, I think.

There’s having problems with:

Badly Designed, Unfair Challenges

That do not clue you in on the correct solution or offer good feedback towards this.

Or that are unfairly skewed towards a particular aspect of combat – eg. if you can’t dps this down within a certain time, you’re screwed. Fuck healers. Fuck tanks.

Or if you can’t heal this squishy escort NPC, you’re done for. Sorry, all classes without a heal. DPS moar and pray. Taunt it a second time, maybe.

This is especially bad in MMOs that aren’t designed for character classes to be flexible or re-specs to happen easily. If one is say, in RIFT or some such, one at least has the option of completely changing up one’s character to tune it to solve the challenge (though some would still complain that this is “forcing” them to play in a way that contravenes their preference. One could argue though, that proper mastery of a class means knowing how to play all its aspects.)

On the other hand, if the correct solution can be arrived at by reading the quest text, or by taking some time out to readjust one’s skill build (eg, in TSW or GW), or if there are multiple solutions to overcome the challenge that all classes have some access to, then that’s a lot more reasonable design in that any one player on any one character might possibly be expected to manage this.

Then there’s the challenge that doesn’t really offer any learning opportunities for the player. It’s really a time-gate. Grind this much repeatedly so that you can earn this set of gear with incrementally higher numbers that will now allow you to pass the challenge that you couldn’t manage before because the punching bag’s hitpoints are really that high.

I’m prejudiced, yes, I find this boring. But I suppose if you’re playing a game where nearly all the challenges are set out this way, then that’s how that particular game works. If you play it, you’ve accepted its premises. The challenge has to be consistent for that particular game.

Which leads us to…

The Bait And Switch

Seriously, stop this one. It’s dumb as fuck.

Here’s a trail of breadcrumbs on how to steadily progress with my game…

Now whoops, here comes something completely different, involving a diferent playstyle which may not be to your preference, WHAP, do it and enjoy!

The player is left blinking, going, hey, where’s the game I was enjoying before this blindsided me? Am I going to find more of the stuff I liked after finishing this weird shit, or do I face a future of this? Maybe I should be re-evaluating my future with -your- suddenly new and different game.

Don’t plunk a solo quest in the middle of a whole bunch of group quests. Don’t plunk a group quest (haha, fooled you, go spam LFG now!) in the middle of a solo quest sequence.

The ‘real’ game is raids. Now let’s spend the next five years trying to fast-forward raiders through the leveling game that they don’t appreciate going through to begin with.

Oh, the leveling through quest experience that you enjoy? You can still do it, but you’ll never be as strong or powerful as those playing ‘the real game’ and be forever looked down upon.

I have no idea what they’re trying to pull here. Give me a game where the PvPers get to PvP in peace with their separate progression and arenas, and the PvErs do PvE stuff, and everyone progresses in their own way, any day. For those who enjoy both, well, hooray, lateral progression paths! Do both!

Solo or Group Preferences

Are just that. A preference. Stop blaming soloists or groupies (or content designed for them) for all the ills of the earth.

It’s a false dichotomy anyway. Lots of people both solo and group. They do both solo quests and group up for dungeons and raids.

They may like doing one or the other more. That’s preference.

What we more often hate are that we have no alternatives. No options. Backed into a corner because -somebody- decided it would be a good idea to have this solo quest or group raid be completion-required-for-overall-progress or the only content drop in an update with a game-changing, playing field-unleveling shiny attached.

Forcing Players Into a Playstyle They Dislike (or Face Progress Blocked For Good)

No contest here. This is highly unpopular.

Make an “I-only-PvP” player PvE for gear just to be on an even playing field with their opponents, and the howling will be just as loud as forcing an” I-only-PvE” player into a PvP zone in order to get a shiny.

Making it a requirement for people who prefer to solo to group up for the best rewards and to see new content yields a whole bunch of very surly, possibly bad-at-working-in-a-group loners joining PUGs and everyone having a miserable time.

Just as making it a requirement for people who prefer to group all the time to separate and wait for each other to pass a certain solo threshold, “be-this-good-by-yourself-or-your-path-together-is-blocked” yields a very frustrated person who will wield the “M” is for multiplayer stance like a bludgeon.

Devs may still do it, as they may be aiming to lay a trail of breadcrumbs to lead players into trying out a certain activity, or they simply have no time to create alternatives or options but I’m sure they brace themselves for the complaint storm ahead.

Y’see, part of why this is so complicated is the large group of in-betweens who might be willing to do both. If tempted a certain way. And getting them to do both gives them variety. But I do think this should be “soft” encouragement and temptation, rather than “hard” roadblocks and forcing.

A cosmetic item with the same stats, but looking very much special and prestigious and unavailable elsewhere, is one idea. No one is forcing you to get it – in the sense that your playing field will still be level with or without it. Or a reward that can be gotten in a few places, so that players have at least a choice of the least onerous they would prefer. Or extra helpings of a shiny obtainable elsewhere or through other means, so that it’s most optimal to go for one path over another. (As long as it’s not ridiculously hard or lengthy to go the other route.)

Not being able to advance to next level, or get the next quest in the questline, or having no other means to get a reward with incrementally higher stats? Forcing. Bad. Prepare for tons of player protest.

Adjustable Difficulty Levels and/or In-Game Tutorials

Finally, we have the problem that I touched on in the comments but failed to resolve there.

What can we do with players who are not up to the challenge? That, for whatever reasons (some may be good ones – have a handicap, legally blind, ill, etc.), are not performing as hoped?

It’s harsh to have just one benchmark and say, “You must be this tall to pass. The end.”

That leads to elitism. (Though one might argue that in some games, both devs and players don’t give a shit whether they create an elitist community or not. It may even seem like their goal is to glorify the hardcore at the expense of everyone else.)

That leads to people failing to make the grade being miserable, pissed, frustrated, angry, feeling hopeless and all in all, ready to dump your game and move on to a more reasonable one. (Did you want their money or did you not care?)

I think the solution is obvious, but no doubt, hard to implement. Adjustable or scaling difficulty. With commensurate rewards, if you like.

The easiest difficulty is baby mode. Handhold them. Make it easy. Tutorial mode your special gimmicks. Just let players see the nice graphic models your artists spent so much time and hard work on, and maybe the story if there is one. Let any blocking progress be unlocked. That’s reward enough.

(I know I personally appreciated Super Adventure Box’s Infantile Mode before I graduated to jumping the normal course that most just started out with. Whee! Rainbows catch clumsy charr from falling and splattering to horrible doom! Except when charr chooses to keep leaping for sneaky hidden secret room of his own accord! Charr took 7 hours but finally got comfortable with it!)

The idea is to just get shaky players familiar with their surroundings and either content to be “done with it” or comfortable enough to move on to practising a slightly harder challenge now that they’ve managed to grasp a few necessary concepts (rather than learn how to juggle, pull, kite, fight, use strange skills,  heal stuff and not stand in fire all at the same time while getting beat on in completely unfamiliar surroundings that are a maze of twisty passages and getting yelled at by their supposed “teammates” or feeling pressured to succeed alone because someone else has finished and is waiting for them.)

Optional desirable shinies are to be attained at harder difficulty levels. Introduce the more advanced concepts. Bring in the more complex dance routines and gimmicks and so on. If they want them, then they must improve to the standards being demanded of them by the challenge.

But make the first progress-unblocker doable by all.

Because if you don’t, the player won’t have a reason to even play your game any longer.

CoH: Somewhat Less In-Depth Look at Time Gladiator

Time Gladiator is essentially a Roman Colosseum arena fight. But since the designer couldn’t guarantee that the players’ characters would match the milieu…

Time Gladiator anachronism
Terminator vs Minotaur – Place your bets now

… He embraced the crazy and threw in robots, and ninjas, and monkeys, and cowboys, and I think he even worked in some evil Nazis – if we assume the Germanic name of one of the robots harkens back to that.

One of the nice things you’ll see right off is that the arena cutscene includes one of the groups’ characters to situate the players and build up immersion. (Yeah, that’s my Crey Paragon Protector-inspired robot scrapper being anachronistic above.) There’s probably some kind of clever workaround they did to get this functional, but it’s a very nice touch.

Phase 1 Fight: Cornutus the Minotaur and Two Supporting Angel/Fury Things

The angels’ names also start with C, but I can’t recall them in the slightest. Whatever, they’re non-focal points.

That description matches the standard way players fight this phase. They get a badge for downing the minotaur without killing off the angels first. So everyone zeroes in on the big guy.

This works to set up a measure of challenge that differs from the standard tank-and-spank and AoE mow them down group strategy. If there’s a tank type in the group who gathers up all the mobs safely, then everyone has to mind their AoEs and be careful. If not, then people deal with the spread aggro and just unload on the one with horns.

Ranged taunts also come in handy to make life easier for teammates. Really, you don’t -have- to, because the difficulty level is not that high and the damage won’t one-shot kill a squishy, but it does make life easier and it’s a nice opportunity for group synergy to shine.

On one occasion, my claws scrapper was acting as the de facto tank for lack of anything better. I’d turned the minotaur away from the others for the heck of it, out of tanking habit and the angels were a distance away and near to a controller. Who, I think, decided to try and hold them or control them, but ended up pulling the tenuous aggro and got hit for half his health bar. (My scrapper does not have the ranged taunt confront, that’s just lame.)

What I thought was a really sexy cool moment was me using my ranged attack, Focus, claws powerset has one, to hit the angels one after the other. Zip went the white effect in a neat line to one angel, thud went the claw damage, and immediately each angel swung around to focus back on me. Small movie moment, but made of win.

I’m sure with CoH’s current player power level the way it is, the controller probably could survive on his own with a green health inspiration or have his own tools for dealing with it, but I wanted to saved him the trouble.  I was being all supporty-groupy and player role synergy and it felt good. I’m so tired of players in CoH acting like everyone has their own uber-softcapped defence build and running off to solo on their own.

Phase 1-2 In Between: Ninjas!

Pacing out the battle, a crowd of ninja minions show up to get beat on.

The challenge, kill as many as possible before time runs out, as you can get partial progress on a defeat 75 ninjas and monkeys badge, named aptly as “Ninja Monkey.”

Phase 2 Fight: Frank ‘Hunnerd-Yard’ McCain and his Doggies – Butch, Lee, Petey (and Killer)

Wild West moment. Frank shows up with three squishy dog pets. Killing the three dogs spawns Killer, the bigger somewhat less squishy dog pet.

You get a badge for defeating Frank within 10 seconds of Killer’s defeat. So enter another player skill challenge mechanic. Switching targets to balance out the damage as necessary, given that Frank is tougher than Killer.

Phase 2-3 In Between: Monkeys!

Rikti monkeys, that is. A barrel-full and more show up. Again, the challenge, try and fill in the remainder out of 75 that you didn’t defeat from the ninja phase for the shiny badge.

Phase 3 Fight: Apocalypse, Armageddon (and Gotterdammerung)

Giant killer robots of a possibly Nazi persuasion. The two robots that show up at first are elite bosses, which is a nice change from all the Arch-Villain level stuff being fought before, so they’re a little squishier.

Kill one, and it explodes, dealing some AoE damage if you’re too scrapperlocked to backpedal – high defence will help avoid it. The other A robot puts on a temporary deflection shield so that you can’t kill it immediately after the other. And Gotterdammerung shows up, he of the very very big hammer.

Standard AV boss battle, no badges, typically folks just finish off the other A robot (once the shielding wears off) before G goes down.

Bonus Phase: The God-Champion

There’s a favor mechanic that has been going on in the previous fights. Arena crowd favor slowly wears down over time. Each player defeat destroys more crowd favor.

Each mob defeated earns the group some favor. Each big boss defeated gives a random player the “Inspire the Crowd” temp power, which when triggered, builds favor with the crowd and also gives the player some stat bonus like extra damage.

Earn 500 favor with the crowd and you go into the bonus phase, where the Biggest Ugly of them all shows up.

At some point in his health bar (~70-80% maybe, didn’t really pay attention), all the previous big bosses will spawn (Cornutus, Frank and Gotterdammerung) but you get the “Invictus” badge for bringing the God-Champion down to 33%. So there’s an opportunity for control/debuff/support to deal with the three other AVs running around amok while folks focus fire down the Champion till he’s on his knees.

At 33%, he crashes to his knees and goes invulnerable. Everyone switches targets to clean up the other three, then finishes off the so-called Champion to become the new champions of the arena.

P.S. In retrospect, the fog effect going on in the arena makes for some UGLY screenshots.

CoH: Why I Love This Summer Blockbuster Event

And now for something I do like from City of Heroes, lest you think I am a sour grapes and am just using the poor aging game as a whipping boy.

I know it seems that way. I’m honestly not happy with my sudden ennui and frustration. I joined it in the end of 2004, and my loyalty didn’t waver until last year’s track record shook it badly. (It was obvious the company culture and certain devs had changed hands.)

I have the equivalent of 84 months – 7 years – of veteran rewards. I don’t want it selling out to become the worse of F2P (slippery slide down the slope of lottery and gambling for big profits) and the worse of WoW (slippery slide up the repetitive grind shiny gear-chasing ladder).

It still does do -some- things right. Though sometimes I’m convinced they were happy accidents of fate.

The Summer Blockbuster Event neatly encapsulates a lot of the good things I do like. I don’t know how much of it is purposeful design and how much is just bonus, but there’s a lot to describe and break down.

It’s an event designed for a group of 4 players. It is begun by queuing using the LFG turnstile system and you have a choice of PUGing it (a pickup group) or forming your own premade group of 4 to start.

You begin in a Theatre Lobby, which builds in some breathing space for slow zoning players, getting to know your new group and discuss strategy and tactics or teach anyone if they’re new. The Lobby also sports helpful inspiration vendors, masquerading as steampunk popcorn vendors, and acts as the hospital for defeated players.

Theatre Lobby
The all-important surprisingly non-overpriced refreshments

It also has a nice immersion easter egg, winning player-created movie poster designs for folks to admire. (I believe the vendor is also a winning player costume design.)

From left to right: Magical Dream Unicorns The Movie, Brass Monday (it’s all a Nemesis Plot), Ascension (impossible just got easier), IT Came From Beneath The City
From left to right: The Guard (not all heroes need powers), My User Dave (ever get the feeling you’re being watched?) Hero One (one mission, one chance, one way), DFB (Death From Bologna)

The event comes in two parts, representing the movies Time Gladiator and Casino Heist. Whichever part starts first is random, which brings a small but nice touch of variation to the party. They are covered in detail in two separate posts as linked.

A loadscreen sets up the two movies, aka minigame-like missions

There are so many reasons why I love these Summer Blockbusters.

1) A New Innovative System

This used to be what City of Heroes stood for. Each Issue, they’d experiment with something new, something not seen before, something that pushed the envelope of what they could do with their aging MMO engine. That’s why I kept up a subscription year after year, even if I took a break for several months, because I wanted to see the devs continually surprise us with good stuff.

These Summer Blockbusters are an intricate complex arrangement of mission mechanics that were probably first built for the Incarnate Trials, and all I can say is, it’s about fucking time that they brought some of it down to the small group level.

2) Flexible Paths to Success

There’s one perfect ideal path. The path that gets you all the ten badges in one run in the shortest amount of time possible. When it happens, it is a really good feeling that all the players are in sync with each other, perfect score, awesome team, very nice job, all that congratulatory business. But you know what?

You still get the shiny IO reward at the end as long as you can complete the entire thing, even if people take alternate routes, even if people screw up, even if you don’t get a perfect badge run. And that is as it should be. That rewards persistence, not giving up, forgiveness of mistakes (your own or other people’s). No big loss, it’s just a badge you can get at another time, assuming you didn’t already have it.

Even if people inadvertently disconnect and drop out of the team, the event is completable with less people. I’ve done it with three (from scratch, a dark def, a dark corruptor and a scrapper), and even two (that was halfway through that folks crashed, so it was the casino heist left. The biggest problem was Sylvia’s regeneration rate that my lone stalker couldn’t beat. A scrapper joined up by chance using the LFG queue and that extra damage was sufficient to overcome her and ultimately leave us both walking home with the Universal Damage IO reward.)

The only issue is that the casino story doesn’t quite line up properly and you’d have to wait for the phases to time out and forgo the chance of perfect badge scoring on that part.

3) Small Group Dynamics

The only thing I do kinda wish is if they managed to scale it down to soloability, just to be inclusive, but I’ll seriously take four-person teams over 24-man Incarnate trial raids ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

It’s small enough to be aware of the role of each person and allows for chances for group synergy (who’s tanking, who’s doing damage, who’s supporting, and hybrid versions thereof.) It’s not so chaotically messy.

I rather like that they chose to exemplar us down to lvl 29. Too high a level is a little exclusionary for those who don’t have higher leveled characters. And those of us with higher leveled characters, well, when we exemplar down to a mid-range,  most of us lose all the gap filling powers and set bonuses that allow people to run around heedless of archetype soloing things tankmage style, and have to fall back a little more on the fun group dynamics of City of Heroes.

As a guy on the forums mentioned, his support characters actually felt valuable, like they could shine in true support, rather than be overshadowed by the thousandth and one uber-Incarnate scrapper. Scrappers and even brutes are squishier at lvl 29. Good support helps them shine. In turn, squishy classes ARE squishy at lvl 29. Proper tanking and holding aggro really makes life easier.

I also really appreciated the lack of purple triangles on many of the AVs and bosses. Control classes have a good chance of stacking enough control to make a visible, noticeable difference. This stuff matters. This stuff lets players feel their characters are effective.

I took my support characters out of the deep freeze (270 days and counting) to play the event and it felt good to make a noticeable difference, something I simply wasn’t feeling in Incarnate trials.

4) It Encourages Alting

There’s a 20-hour limit on one character to earn the desirable IO shiny via the event. I think this was meant more to limit the rate at which the shiny is earned, but it is a happy accident that this encourages the digging up of alts to run multiple playthroughs.

I’ve been unearthing more and more alts to run them through the event and it feels like meeting old friends again. This nostalgic fondness for characters long forgotten, but still up to performing well as muscle memory kicks in.

And with different alts, comes different playstyles. This is the true essence of CoH. People can run the same mission repetitively because they’re playing with different powersets and playstyles, and with different people – which makes you adapt and change to fit what the group needs at that point in time.

I’ve had picture perfect optimum role runs where everyone fell naturally into CoH’s hybrid version of the holy trinity (with extra buff/debuff and cc love!)

I’ve had runs where a secondary class can fill in roles in a pinch, with others’ support (my scrapper was tanking with the leadership buffs from a Soldier of Arachnos), or the more nonstandard but still good combinations (the controller used phantom army to tank)

I’ve even had the eyebrow-raising “ooh er, this is tricky” runs. Namely, one run with all squishies, two controllers who didn’t have invulnerable pets, a dom and a blaster. We all got tossed around and three-shotted over-and-over by the first AV in the arena as we established none of us had true tanking capability as is. At which point, I rolled my eyes, bought a bunch of purple Lucks from the popcorn vendor and acted as volunteer tank by virtue of stacking three of them at once for effective defence and just unloading on the damage till I drew aggro. Things stabilized from there, and yes, we got the shiny at the end.

Or the run with my ancient low-damage stone tank, two lowbie brutes who also seemed not that well-slotted on damage, and an illusion controller. I went in expecting to be all tanky, and then I realized that everyone was survivable, the controller’s phantom army was tanking half the time and one of the brutes the other, and the total amount of damage everyone was outputting was scarily miserable since the three melee types were sucking wind on endurance issues. So three quarters of the time, I ran around toggle-less in order to save endurance and do normal (for a tanker) levels of damage to contribute and everyone stopped for lots of blue candies at the inspiration vendor later. We managed, pretty painfully, but managed.

5) Short and Sweet, Fast and Furious

On the whole, excepting the rare cases above, each event is exactly that, short, sweet instances of fast furious fun and action where you get to beat up some AVs in a small group. It’s like the Imperious Task Force (everyone’s all-time favorite TF) in miniature.

6) LFG Tool is Actually Working For Once

Wait time is minimal. I presume this is because critical mass of 4 people is much easier to achieve than presuming 16-24 people have the patience (or lack of sense) to stand around queueing hoping that an Incarnate trial will start, utterly leaderless and still succeed.

And success is easier to come by and the mechanics easier to learn and more forgiving, which yields positive feedback into the loop and encourages more players to keep queuing because hey, these random groups of people can still  succeed and they’re fast and convenient to get into, and no one needs to lead. Everyone just needs to do their part.