GW2: Underwater Done Right

I could spend the better part of my days in GW2 submerged under the sea. It’s like a dream come true for me.

A little historical background to help you understand where I’m coming from. That MUD I used to play, the equivalent of first MMO ever?

It had a fairly unique fantasy race for player characters, the sea-elves.

Call it chance, fate, destiny, whatever, the character I ended up using to make a big name for myself on the MUD was a female sea-elven cleric. She ended up leading the Guild of Clerics for a time, and was heavily involved with roleplaying with a bunch of other sea-elves in a certain golden age.

Along with several other players, we co-created a lot of sea-elven lore and history and even language, based a little off D&D, but putting our unique spin on things (since in D&D, sea-elves tended to be primitive naked warriors, and our MUD allowed for sea-elven clerics and mages, so presumably, our race was a lot more sophisticated than that.)

I also co-built a racial hometown with a fellow sea-elven player, which in those days, involved a lot of text to describe each “room.”

Suffice to say, I spent a lot of time thinking about being underwater, looking at undersea and ocean pictures of both the real and fantastical variety, and trying to put that into words.

It’s a little ironic that now I’m making the cat spend so much time underwater. But he’s a weird cat that uses magic and likes rats, so I guess it’s par for the course for him.

One of the things that always struck me was how different each undersea landscape could look, and how sea-elves would doubtless use varied things as landmarks and have their own subtle set of descriptors to describe in detail things that we generalize together and call it coral, or seaweed.

More than a decade later, Guild Wars 2 has brought that aesthetic into a fully realized 3D world. You have no idea how deliriously happy I am.

(I’ve spent so long reading every scrap of underwater fantasy resource I could get my hands on, most of them D&D based. It’s a world that deserves so much exploration. And in the real world, it’s like our last unexplored frontier, so there’s so much fantastic potential to be imagined up there. It’s like the Moon and Mars before people really got there to see it was just a lot of rocks.)

Again, words fail me. I could say awesome, spectacular, fantastic and keep repeating it, but it’s probably easier to just show you what I mean.

Ok, I cheated, this is a end of beta weekend pic. Everyone turned into Branded, and if you went underwater, you became a Branded fish. Focus on the shallow water, dirt and sand, if you can.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the lake and river bottoms by now. They’re fairly normal, what we expect from going underwater, that sort of thing (if underwater had that many barracudas and drakes and sharks, that is.)

I’m a big fan of the seagrass. The oh so pretty seagrass.

The sea bottoms are deeper and sandy and full of crabs and that kind of stuff. So far, so good, it’s a bit like what Rift did, if I recall correctly. Possibly WoW too.

Then you plunge into the arctic ocean of Frostgorge Sound and your breath is taken away by how DEEP it gets.

No doubt, it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing, but it’s the comparative effect. Divinity’s Reach is not as big as a real city, but for an MMO, it’s certainly huge on that relative scale. And the ocean floor is quite a ways away. You have to actually swim downwards a bit and feel the light quality changing and you hit the dimmer rocky bottom to see undersea wurms making their home there. Ick.

I love the depth. It makes it feel so real, that there’s a underwater world on par with the land one, full of mountains and gorges that you can swim through.

The most cavernous dark depths seem to be reserved for the krait-infested waters, full of decaying ship wrecks.

The verticality is very thrilling.

Light at the top and dark below, and closed in on both sides. Awesome underwater canyon effect.

And guess what, because everyone and their mother hates going underwater, and never attacks yellow mobs that don’t aggro on them, this is what you can reap from an arctic jellyfish (with an xp booster I threw on for the hell out of it, it came out of one of those chests the personal story key unlocked.)

Me, I love underwater combat. I like the three dimensions fighting, it makes it feel different from the usual landlocked combat we’ve always had in MMOs. I’m already used to flight and fighting aerial stuff in City of Heroes, so underwater is pretty much a slower version of that in a liquid-feeling medium. Perhaps some don’t like that slowness, but I’m ok with it, I’ve spent too long a time imagining how sea-elves fought, and it adds a bit of strategy to the positioning.

(There’s an underwater boss at the end of the Font of Rhand mini-dungeon, and pretty much the moment he throws a fireball at you, you have to be swimming out of the way, so that you don’t regret it 3 seconds later when the water boils around you. It’s a little too late then to think “ouch” and -start- swimming away.)

Then there’s the people who think underwater combat is slow in the sense that it takes a long time to down mobs and the bosses. Yeah, because everyone is using a RANGED option.

Guild Wars 2 is truly revolutionary in the sense that they made melee combat higher damage over ranged combat (in general.) Typical MMOs allow the cloth wearing spellcasters to sit comfortably at the far end of the room raining down death, while the plate armored warriors just spend their time plinking away doing nothing significant in terms of damage, but all in terms of keeping the mob facing away from the clothies.

It makes a lot more sense that melee combat involves higher risk – you’re going near a mob that can whack you back – and thus, higher reward in terms of damage dealt. Bursty close combat. Meanwhile those sitting at comparatively more safety far away can do sustained moderate dps. Control and support abilities are everybody’s responsibility.

Underwater combat works in the same way. As a Guardian, I have an option of a spear and a trident.

The trident is a long ranged weapon that fires a chain of light that bounces off mobs and allies, damaging mobs and healing allies. It doesn’t do terribly fantastic damage, it does some, but it’s primarily a long ranged support weapon. I use it when I want to remain at range, when I see allies meleeing near an underwater mob (so that it’ll bounce off the mob and heal them some) and ironically, I use it up close for myself when I want to out-tank a mob and dps it down uber slowly. (The light bounces off the mob and into me, healing me, so I sit there facetanking it for a while. Ordinary mob, mind you, not bosses, those are un-tankable. It’s my secondary killing option when using a spear does too much damage to me.)

The spear is the close range option. It’s pretty much the equivalent of melee, except they were kind enough to give some range on the thing so it’s not too aggravating fighting in three dimensions and trying to position just right. I’m a Guild Wars 1 paragon player, so I’m very used to spear chucking at mid range. It’s what to use to deal loads of damage fast. I use it for most normal underwater mobs, and the odd boss or two if I see the opportunity to get up close without getting whacked too hard. It actually has a retreat option (spear wall) that I don’t use often enough, so there’s still a long way to go on mastering this weapon.

I haven’t looked at the other classes (or Professions, if you’re a stickler for nomenclature) much, but it strikes me that most of them have a spear as the close range high damage option. The only two exceptions are the engineer and the elementalist, and as far as I understand it, an engie with grenades and bombs underwater is a beast, and elementalists have high damage ranged spells as an option all the time anyway.

If everyone chooses to use their long range support or control weapons to nickle and dime an underwater boss beastie down, then yeah, it’ll go slower than usual. But on the other hand, it’ll also go a lot safer and more supported/controlled and it’ll still go down in the end. Being used to tanks and outlasting a mob by carving away at it really slowly, I can’t see anything wrong with that strategy either. Want it to go faster cos you’re impatient? Then take some risks and get up close.

And some days, the mob comes close to you. (My beta weekend lowbie engineer with a harpoon gun who would much rather it didn’t.)

Back in my MUD days, we made ourselves Five Kingdoms of the sea-elves – Coral, Pearl, Gold, Obsidian and Ice. From what I remember, the Coral Kingdom was the ruling political entity with a Queen on the throne and the cosmopolitan one, Pearl was a secondary shadow of Coral, a farming region and noted for its pearl products, and Gold was a kingdom of merchants and wealth-obsessed folk.

Obsidian and Ice were the most unique. The Obsidian Kingdom was a city of spellcasters, who raised up towers by causing undersea lava vents to erupt and cool in the ocean to form spires of black volcanic glass. The Ice Kingdom was the most seemingly primitive of the lot, known for warriors and hunters up in the arctic regions, but maintained a culture of ice shapers and city crafters who carved their homes and beautiful architecture right out of glacial ice.

I always used to imagine at least one city carved right out of an iceberg, both below and above sea-level, and sea-elves being able to enter from both directions.

Kodan sanctuaries come pretty close. Not entirely, of course. There’s a lot more man-made architecture (that looks flavored by an eastern Factions vibe) and sails on these kodan city vessels, and there’s obviously less of an elven aesthetic. But the general idea is pretty thrilling enough.

And here’s a super-mini-version of what I imagine the Obsidian Kingdom must look like. Lava and black rock.

Then there are the kelp forests. The beautiful towering kelp forests.

And the bioluminescent lights.

Finally, one of my favorite poems is Edgar Allan Poe’s The City in the Sea.

All I can say is, wait until you get to Orr. I won’t spoil it for you here.

COH/GW2: End of an Era, Start of a New

This post is going to annoy folks who are still in pain and angry about City of Heroes’ closing down, and would much prefer everyone to boycott NCsoft and all its products.

I’m really sorry for stomping all over your hope – I too would much prefer if CoH always remained around as an Ol’ Reliable backup for me to return back to – but let’s face it, if rescue efforts fail, people will be dispersing to the four winds.

Some will be hurt too much to ever attempt playing an MMO again and will fall out of the MMO player pool. Some will make their way to Champions Online or DCUO, because the superhero setting or an intricate character creator (in CO’s case) is what they most prioritize. Some will drift to The Secret World by virtue of its modern day setting and nonaffliation with anything Cryptic or NCsoft (Just be careful, Funcom also has its own notoriety. *wry grin*) Some may go to SWTOR for the stories, cutscenes or familiar Star Wars setting, a Jedi is pretty much like a superhero, isn’t it? Some may find themselves visiting panda country and returning to or trying out WoW for the first time as the big gorilla on the block revs up to launch their latest expansion (by Nov 30, it should already be in place.)

And some will be headed to the next big thing, the at-present still newest MMO launch, MMO version 3.0 or whatever you call it, Guild Wars 2.

Yes, even if it’s still being published by NCsoft.

We all very know NCsoft’s reputation by now. Can you name all the games in their stable NCsoft has cut? I see Tabula Rasa mentioned frequently, Auto-Assault an afterthought on most sites. I’ll tell you that I also gave Exteel and Dungeon Runners a try in their times too.

To be honest, I expect Guild Wars 1 to wind down in a year or two, assuming GW2 continues to thrive, possibly with a big marketing push to say, “Last chance to get your HoM rewards!”

There is no way GW1 can end just yet, when GW2 is making news headlines and there’s still the prequel/sequel continuity there, so unfortunately, CoH had to bite the dust. (If I’m not mistaken, they also televise GW1 PvP tournament matches in Korea, so they have to wait until all the e-sports teams migrate over to GW2 and find it solid and balanced enough to compete on.) I bet they’re waiting to see if GW2 interest will get a few more box buyers of GW1, curious to see how it all began. If sales pick up, it may last a little longer. If it doesn’t, well, NCsoft is really good at wielding an axe.

With all fairness to them, they’re good businessmen, exceedingly ruthless, but focused on the bottom line. None of the games they cut were exceedingly good. I still think Auto Assault had potential to be a fair and middling game if they weren’t so fixated on a sub model, but in all honesty, when you got out of that car and walked around the town a bit, it was the most horrific thing in the world. The only bit I liked of Tabula Rasa was fighting for control points and getting kill streaks, which was ripped right out of any standard FPS. The rest was a carbon copy WoW quest clone. Exteel was a tiny robot FPS-y game with very little reason to spend NCsoft coin on, and Dungeon Runners, while funny, was a Diablo clone that would be completely overshadowed by Torchlight and Diablo 3 by now, if not cut.

(City of Heroes though, -was- exceedingly good. Stress on the past tense, alas. There is a reason while the game lasted so long, and even why NCsoft stepped in to -save- the game from Cryptic when Champions Online came out. Never forget, it could have been gone much sooner. NCsoft pumped enough money into the team to build up Paragon Studios, give them a chance to work on Going Rogue and Freedom. Presumably it was a gamble, and it presumably they were looking for a decent payoff that never really came. GR was not as successful as hoped, Freedom kept the game running, just about, but an objective observer uncolored by nostalgic memories of CoH would have to predict that entropy was going to catch up with this MMO sooner, rather than later.

The news, of course, dropped like a bombshell and it’s awful, but we all did get 3 month’s notice of the studio’s eventual closing. It’s not like everyone went to work, got kicked out on the curb the same day and the servers just got turned off in 24 hours. It could have been handled a little better, PR-wise, SWG closed with 5-6 month’s notice and had a solid plan and schedule on how subscribers would be treated, closing day events, etc, if I’m not mistaken, I didn’t pay attention to the news much then.)

The trick is, as Aardwulf suggests, not to get too attached.

To any one game. Which, as you can see from the variety I cover in my sidebar, I explore a great many of them, so I have a backup or two or three standing by to break the fall.

And I take plenty of screenshots, and try to document my stories and fun experiences,  knowing that nothing will last forever.

If it’s your first, it’s going to hurt, and hurt bad. I know. My first ever MUD took me ages to get over, I had a good 3-4 year run with it, and I clung to it for a good 4-5 years more than I should have, to the detriment of my happiness and mental health. I ended up attaching to City of Heroes to get over the MUD and ultimately realized the era of text gaming was moving past the general Zeitgeist, so to speak. There are still holdouts for text MUDs, and some good communities of a couple hundred or so in various places, I wish them well and hope they’ll keep the banner flying proud and high for a while more yet, but y’know, numbers, 100,000-200,000 is on the shaky side of what a small triple A MMO needs to operate with in contrast.

When an era ends, it may just be in one’s best interest to move on and try something new. It might just open your eyes that there’s a really big wide world of gaming out there.

I too am more than a little dismayed that the hammer of judgement has come down on City of Heroes and said its time is up.

But objectively, if we look at the game as is, free from any nostalgia or memories that color it, it’s a game that has brushed up against the limits of its technology and its engine more than once.

That the devs at Paragon Studios have managed to hack into it, pretty much rewriting stuff from scratch, and give us things like choosing difficulty scaling, power customization with all colors of the rainbow, a build-your-own superhero base creator, a mission architect editor, a graphic engine upgrade that gave us the likes of the zones in Going Rogue, First and Night Wards (and OMG, real-looking trees) is a credit to their passion and dedication and hard work.

Statue of Atlas, 2004
Atlas Park carpark, 2004 (Have fun contrasting with the featured image in 2012 at the top of the post)

But today, as I logged in to screenshot all my characters from the character creation screen, I bumped into an issue that I realized meant that I would never again quite be able to fully enjoy playing City of Heroes, even if the servers were left on to the end of time.

It’s a long meandering story, so sit tight (or skim read at will):

Y’see, I dropped to Premium membership sometime back in July after the Summer Event and I’d gotten all the mileage out of Incarnate raids I wanted. Before the bitter ones scream at me for not supporting the game with a constant subscription, I’ll dangle a six year veteran badge (I lost a year or two protesting the stupid raids), a 33 reward token badge and I think my actual reward token count is 39 because I bought some points and managed to get some of the Celestial, Fire and Ice and Mecha armor pieces I wanted.

I’ve paid my dues, thank you.

Because of where I sit in the reward tier, I lost very little privileges dropping down to Premium when not actively playing the game, though of course, I appreciated being able to log in any character I wanted, the signature story arcs and morality missions and new zones open to me when I did pay a month’s sub to actively play the game.

I’m under the impression that subs have been deactivated for the time being, but I didn’t bother trying to see. I can log in two characters per server, and about 9 on my main server on Virtue (a couple free slots and I bought a few slots, I think), and that’s plenty for me for now.

What I did check was the Paragon Store, to see that I had 830 points left over still.

Gee, those better not go to waste.

It’s enough to buy a powerset with, and after some deliberation, I picked up Street Justice. It’s melee, and I like melee. Despite the new and shiny of Nature Affinity and Water Blast and all that, I was a lot more curious to sample the set that was made more punch-y and less kick-y than Martial Arts.

I also realized that despite unlocking all three components of Mecha Armor with reward tokens, I never got around to actually making a Mecha Armored character, so that had to be rectified.

And I greatly enjoyed the I22 stalker changes, so a stalker he would be. And Elec Armor seemed a good bet for being decent out of the box and just in SOs (since I certainly am not wasting time fooling around with Invention builds any more, sheesh. Funny how an impending game’s end changes your priorities around to focus on what you really enjoy and away from what you’re just putting up with in the hope that things will get better later, eh?)

Then I decided that since the game was ending, and my goal was to get up to at least 35 or so to try out all of the powers, screw morality and taking my time, let’s abuse the hell out of what the game provides.

Like many CoH players, I’ve sneered at those who keep repeating the trial Death From Below ad nauseam in order to level quickly, as it doesn’t show new players the much richer aspects of the game and storyline. Using ‘lfg dfb’ to level all the way to 50 may help you rush to max level quickly, but is entirely missing the point. Of the whole game. It may even help you burn out faster.

Well, like that’s a concern to me now. The game’s flame is flickering off, whether I like it or not. Maybe it’ll even help me move on from the game by over-dosing on xp. And I really don’t have much time to spend on playing CoH per se, I would much rather spend more time later flying around, screenshot zones and work on demoediting for posterity.

So I decided I’d see how far and fast I could get with just Looking For Trial, dfb all the way baby, at least until I hit Drowning In Blood level range, which is a trial I actually haven’t done.

There’s really nothing difficult about the lowbie trial DFB. Throw 8 players at it, assuming you have one brave fool to absorb the alpha which may or may not kill them at such low levels, and the rest of the team’s damage will very quickly eliminate the entire spawn.

However, I did notice that I was having a couple problems fighting. A lot more of the team were killing more than me and I found myself standing around like a fool, more often not, or finally managing to queue up an attack to have someone else’s ranged blast wipe up the mob before I could fire mine.

WTF was going on?

Some observation and analysis of what I was doing later suggested the couple points:

  • I was trying to start attacks a little too far from the mob and standing out of melee range. So, absolutely nothing was happening.

Guild Wars 2 has gotten its hooks into me. Sword range is 150, and greatsword range is 130, scepter range is 600 iirc. I’m no longer used to approaching so close to the mob that I could kiss it in order to trigger an attack.

And it took me a while to figure out that nothing was happening because the combat offers no feedback. In GW2, your sword attacks still go off, you just don’t hit the mob if you’re out of range. In theory, CoH is supposed to fire off an ‘out of range’ message when this happens, but it wasn’t. I’m not sure why, maybe too many players’ attacks going off at once.

  • Having to press 2-3 times to begin winding up a hidden Assassin’s Strike was a pain.

This is a classic CoH issue, when you want to AS something, you can’t just stand in range, hit the AS button once and wait for it to go off. Sometimes the first button press doesn’t work. Why? I don’t know why, it just is. So after a while, all stalkers get used to spamming the AS button in quick succession when you really want to AS something and one of those presses will eventually send the message across and start your AS animation. Except I’m out of the habit and it was a minor annoyance to return to doing that.

  • Even after doing everything perfectly and your attack fires and you go through the animation, you may miss.

Because all combat is based on a dice roll. Because lowbie accuracy sucks, in the standard vein of MMOs that give you all the skills of a peasant janitor at the beginning of the game so that you can “work” your way to achieving unbelievable cosmic power by the endgame. Because you need to slot accuracies, preferably DOs or SOs in order to start approaching reliable hit rates, and when you’re running a trial repeatedly with no time to break and slot the stuff, you don’t have ’em. (Nor do real lowbies have the money for this stuff unless they play the auction house, most are alts fueled by the first sugar daddy main to reach the wealthy levels. I would get around to mailing myself the cash later.)

You know what? It’s bloody frustrating to see the animation wind up, and the “miss” floating on top of the mob’s head. Followed by someone’s else blast (that didn’t miss, thanks to the vagaries of the RNG) knocking them into a bloody heap before you even got a chance to hit them. Some hero I feel like.

  • Every single attack that you fire roots you while the animation finishes playing.

I just came from one of the most mobile, stress-on-positioning games ever. It was beyond aggravating to keep pressing the A and D keys and realizing that they wouldn’t work and you were stuck in that position until you finished hitting something (that maybe wouldn’t hit, see above.)

Despite the beautiful animations of punching and winding up to hit things, overall combat felt extremely stilted and interspersed with a lot of start/stop pauses. I’ve never felt this way in CoH before. I’ve tried WoW, whose combat I readily admitted was smoother and more polished than CoH or LOTRO, but I adapted equally well to all their combat quirks and didn’t find it a problem moving from game to game. It only goes to demonstrate how incredibly fluid and polished GW2 combat must be, that by comparison, I’m now finding CoH combat (something I used to always like for being fast, furious and full of fire and fury and VFX) lacking.

Either that, or there’s something severely wrong with the Street Justice powerset. Or Titan Weapons where I also ran into a bit of this problem (but I always assumed TW was meant to be slow and clunky.) I’ll try out my smoothest level 50 dual blades incarnated stalker later and see.

  • I was a lot faster noticing and getting out of the green stuff.

Despite CoH’s best efforts to keep me rooted in one place, when fighting the two Hydra Heads, I noticed that I was much more observant of dangerous green effects forming around me, or at my feet, and would quickly stop attacking and haul booty elsewhere. GW2 training in effect, no doubt. I must actually be looking at my character more and what’s happening on screen around him.

  • The UI? It stinks.

Okay, part of this is obviously my fault, since I arranged the CoH UI around, moved trays here and there to suit me, etc. And much of it is still a holdover from when I needed all this overlay of information, especially while doing Incarnate raids.

But wow, how badly is my view of the actual world blocked?

I need five power trays open to hold all the powers I’m likely to end up collecting – three for the main powers and most commonly fired veteran/temp powers, two for the teleports, periodic buffs, bonus things like clear the fog of war from a map, self-revive, etc.

I need inspiration trays open so that I can quickly eat a consumable in an emergency. I need a minimap open to tell where my teammates went in a mission. I need a chat window open to see my teammates talking and communicating. I need the enhancement bar open so that I can see what drops mid mission and delete unnecessary ones to free up slots.

Strictly speaking, I don’t need the big wide global chat tab at the bottom of the screen, but I used to have it there when I was deep into playing and needed access to five global chat channels at once to overhear general server chat and catch up on badge calls, giant monster calls, TF calls, etc. And in theory, I can probably shrink the chat window and teammate bars more – except I’ll have problems reading the text and the buff icons – I can compress the buff icons and/or ignore them, yes, but I’m used to having them there so that I can read the situation better – knowing who is buffed and by what lets one have an idea of who is likely to lead into a spawn  (and still survive), who still needs buffing, etc.

And I don’t even have the combat monitor on, which I’d be more inclined to turn on for mid to high level characters where I need to monitor the exact level of their defenses and resistances, regeneration or recharge rates at any given moment.

This is a beta weekend screenshot, where my UI is already pretty stretched, max sized minimap, obscured background chat window (on Live, I’ve made both smaller). Alas, I forgot to take any partied up shots in a dungeon, so I don’t have the party/team UI, but it goes in a vertical row on the left.

Welp, what can I say?

Both UIs serve their purpose, and fulfill their function, so neither is broken per se, but one blocks the view and is a lot more obtrusive than the other. One has a much better aesthetic than the other.

Four DFBs later, I was at level 14, the group broke up and it was way past time for me to make my way to a DO store to slot up or whiff and miss even more while doing little to no damage whatsoever.

I got there, having a little bit of fun street sweeping by myself along the way (I still love doing that, no one snatching the mobs from me or anything) and faced with the necessity of logging out, switching characters, typing in a mail to send influence to myself, logging out again, switching characters, picking up the influence and figuring out what to buy and slot, and maybe burn a veteran respec because I was sure I made cruddy choices in the haste of rushing through a DFB…

I just logged out instead.

And logged into GW2.

Red Sand, Black Moon: Dwarf vs Elf, Playtest #1

Go figure, I said I was tired of combat as a conflict resolution mechanism but in my search for narrative across solo roleplaying blogs (the Solo Nexus is a good place to start), the following ideas gelled together in my head.

  • Until Fantalonia talked about it, it never occurred to me that I could print cardstock and paper miniatures at a reduced scale of two pages to one sheet of paper and that would approximately shrink it down to 15-20mm scale.

I’ve always been used to the 25-30mm scale, which looks great, but is a bitch to set up on the dining table with your family giving you dirty looks because that’s where one is supposed to eat, not arrange a giant diorama (that cannot be moved) on top of it.

For solo wargaming, 15mm is much more portable, easier to find an undisturbed surface to play on and easier to store. Pretty compelling reasons for giving it a try.

  • Here’s another blog that uses Red Sand, Black Moon rules in a post-apocalyptic setting. Gorgeous looking paint jobs on the minis.

I’d previously flipped through a couple of cheaper old and free rules from their website. Their main differentiator is what they term a Chain Reaction mechanic, which allows for both sides to react and exchange fire in the same turn, rather than passively waiting for each other in standard “I go, you go” turn-based fashion. There are generally also mechanics for a sort of “NPC AI” which allows a solo gamer to play one side and make decisions for that side, while letting the rules and random dice control the movements of the opposing side.

But until now, I never seriously bothered to learn any of their rulesets or playtest them because learning the rules involves a fair bit of flipping up and down pages, referring to a lot of tables, and cross-checking like mad, hoping you didn’t miss a crucial sentence and screw up the reactions or NPC AI, wondering when the hell you’d finally internalize the rules to make them second nature and reduce the frequency of all that checking.

Two gladiators now, that seemed easier to get a grasp on, rather than multiple squads of people.

I had an earlier version of their ancient gladiatorial combat rules, Red Sand, Blue Sky, but after flipping through it, it looked like the newer versions had undergone some serious refinement. New arena and zones of movement concept, instead of measuring inches, and so on. So I bit the bullet and bought the Red Sand, Black Moon rules, which would offer guidelines on adapting fantasy figs, rather than cleave faithfully to Roman gladiatorial combat styles.

(To be honest, I’m not terribly in favor of the lethality of vanilla RSBM fights though, so I might pick up their new RSBS rules some day or try to figure out based on the old rules if there’s a way to shove in some defeated/yield/surrender mechanics. But that’s a project for another day.)

Still, if I was going to learn the rules, best to play it as directed.

Browsing One Monk Miniatures yielded up some free paper models from their Forum Hoard that inspired the arena setup and narrative setting. We’d start simple, mano a mano combat between two characters and ramp up the complexity from there.

First off, a very simple tournament of four. Two fights of 2 vs 2, and the victors will fight each other.

A prisoner’s dilemma it wasn’t. The goblin capered and cackled as he translated the orc shaman’s guttural speech into the common tongue. “You step in magic ring, we give you back armor and axe. You fight. For glory of Blood God. Last one who stand, we let go free. Dead ones, we eat.

If you not fight, then you useless and we also eat.”

Kordan Stonebreaker glared back at the creature through the bars of the cage as he cracked his knuckles, thick fingers knotting  as he imagined wringing its scrawny neck. Not only did this orc tribe have goblin hangers-on, they had three very big ogres to back them up. Still, the only way they’d caught him was cos he was stone drunk and napping at the time.

“That’s fine by me,” he rumbled. He’d seen the other three prisoners. A pair of humans and a stinking elf. None of them looked to be much trouble, his freedom was pretty much there for the taking.

It figured, they’d match him up with the pansy elf first. Kordan threw on his helmet and his chainmail in a hurry, watching out of the corner of his eye the elf putting on some leather armor and testing the weight of a short sword.

The orc shaman had drawn a circle of blood demarcating the boundaries of the fight. Palpable dark power emanated from the clotted liquid, making the hairs on the back of his arms stand on end. The dwarf resolved not to go anywhere near it.

“Fight fight!” screamed the little goblin as he waved a spear much too big for him.

“Let’s get it over with,” Kordan said, hefting his axe with both hands, and marching toward the centre of the circle.

The elf didn’t move, just frowned with furrowed brow, his sword slack in his grip.

(Round 1: Dwarf wins initiative and moves toward centre of the arena. Elf stays where he is.)

Kordan again took the initiative and stomped dead centre into the ring. “Come on, elf. Whaddya afraid of? I ain’t gonna ‘et you. They are!”

The elf met his eyes and walked steadily forward. “Look, dwarf, I don’t want to fight y-”

(Round 2: Dwarf wins initiative and moves into centre of the arena. Elf approaches one zone towards dwarf.)

“Too bad, cos I do,” Kordan charged, axe raised. It clanged against the elf’s swiftly raised sword. They circled, the elf easily matching the dwarf’s movements. A few exchanges later, Kordan moved back, unable to find an opening.

The elf pushed into the centre, angry now, raining down a flurry of blows, which Kordan blocked adroitly with the haft of his axe. Unable to press any advantage, the elf also backed off.

(Round 3: Dwarf wins initiative, moving into elf’s zone. Rolling for maneuvering, adding the successes to speed and other modifiers, they both end up with an equal number of successes. The Maneuver Table indicates the result as the active player unable to find an opening to attack and moving back to the zone they started in.

Elf’s turn, he moves up, maneuvers, equally matched success again, and he moves back to where he started.)

Breathing heavily, the elf told him, “Don’t you see, this is f-“ He broke off in mid-sentence to dodge the dwarf’s charge yet again. They exchanged more blows, the elf steadily increasing the speed of his attacks to a point he hopes the dwarf cannot match.

Panting, Korgan appeared to slip. A triumphant lunge by the elf became an expression of shock as the dwarf neatly sidestepped and brought his axe down. It came down on the elf’s left arm, and bounced right off the suddenly-appearing sphere of blazing energy with a shower of sparks. The shield saved the elf from harm, but the force of the blow sends the elf sprawling facefirst into the ground.

(Round 4: Elf wins initiative, and catches his breath where he is, regaining one bonus dice. The dwarf charges in, the elf wins the maneuver by 1 success and attacks. He scores only 1 success higher than the dwarf. Attack Table indicates the result is to re-take the Attack test, discounting weapon reach and the previously used bonus dice. This time the dwarf wins the attack, 4 succcesses to the elf’s 1 success.

Attack Table result – attacker lunges aggressively, defender steps aside. Attacker is forced into the movement zone directly behind the defender and is now knocked down. Defender scores hit on attacker as he goes by.

Rolling for hit location yields the elf’s left arm, which is conveniently his shielded arm, which protects him from damage.)

“Pah, magic-user,” Korgan spat. Before the elf could recover and get back up, the dwarf ran at him and aimed a series of attacks at his back. It took all of the elf’s agility to block and counter, as he flipped over to face Korgan, just in time for the dwarf to find a way past his defences.

The axe bit deeply into the elf’s chest as the elf threw himself back wildly, narrowly missing the blood barrier of the fighting ring. His nimbleness spared himself a lethal injury to the heart, but Korgan could see blood soaking into the leather regardless.

The elf scrambled upright, his breath coming in pained gasps. He paused to catch his breath, sword in a guard position.

(Round 5: Dwarf wins the initiative. He moves into the elf’s zone.

I had a moment of puzzlement here as I tried to figure out if this meant the dwarf had rear facing on the elf. If the elf fell forward, it would make sense that the dwarf could attack his unprotected back. This was quite important as attacking someone’s rear meant discounting Speed successes, which normally add on an automatic success per point of speed. The rules were also a little unclear as to whether just the rear attacked victim had to discount the speed successes or both.

I eventually decided to allow rear facing and discount just the elf’s Speed, which made for a very lethal maneuver in favor of the rear attacker. 8 successes for the dwarf, 3 for elf. Winning by 3+ successes meant you could bash attack, bite or tail attack, as well as attack an unshielded side. Despite Korgan’s bar-brawling habits, I doubted his bite attack would amount to much, and there was no point to bashing since the elf was already on the floor and would regain his feet on his turn. So attack unshielded side it was.

Luck of the draw, the elf rolled 1 dice and scored 1 success. The dwarf rolled 7 dice and scored only 2 successes. Re-attack again, but this time the elf turns to face opponent.

His luck runs out, the dwarf has 5 successes to his 1, pushing him into the next zone against the arena’s wall. Rolling for hit location and damage, the dwarf scores a serious wound to the chest (-2 to that location, the elf has essentially 3 hitpoints there, equivalent to his strength, narrowly avoiding getting killed outright) and would have knocked down the opponent, except he was already down.

Elf’s turn, he jumps to his feet and catches his breath, having run out of bonus dice defending madly while knocked down.)

Korgan flung himself at the elf again, hewing mightily as if trying to chop down a tree. But the elf defended well, with a fast one-handed movement of his blade, and forced the dwarf back once more, leaving himself yet again a space to recover.

(Round 6: Dwarf wins initiative, he’s low on bonus dice too, but I wanted to press the advantage and charge at the elf again. Maneuvering, they’re evenly matched, the dwarf retreats to his zone. Elf stays where he is and catches his breath again.)

Then the elf moved purposefully on Korgan, attacking him head on. It took all of Korgan’s skill, including some won at bar-brawling, to counter the elf’s rush at him. Their weapons locked together, the dwarf growled and lowered his head, thinking to headbutt the elf.

Oh crap, went through his mind in one swift shocked instant as the elf somehow twisted his blade out of the lock faster than he thought possible, and took advantage of the opening to bring the sword down onto his head.

The clang of metal striking metal was as loud as a hammer hitting an anvil. The dwarf reeled back blindly into the centre of the circle.

Then it was the elf’s turn to look shocked, as Korgan’s eyes uncrossed, and he shook himself like a dog to shake off the impact. He reached stubby fingers up to his battered, dented helmet to feel out the extent of the damage. The force of the blow had sent the edge of the helmet deep into his brow. Blood flowed freely from the gash, but it just looked worse than it really was.

The dwarf spat again, “That the best you can do? I’ve had worse headaches waking up after a night of two dozen pints of Skullsplitters’ finest.”

(Round 7: Elf wins initiative, moves into dwarf’s zone. Maneuvering yields a head on attack for the elf. Evenly matched successes, it’s a draw, both remain in the same zone.

Dwarf’s turn, they maneuver, and the elf wins an attack to his unshielded side. Elf wins the attack roll by 3+ successes, pushing the dwarf back into the arena centre, and rolls a hit location of the head, causing me to stop breathing as I was sure this was the end for Korgan.

Between the elf’s puny strength and Korgan’s armor class, he only manages a Wound of -1 str on the dwarf’s head, and I didn’t even have to bring any dwarf Signatures into play. Korgan has 5 str, so his skull is very thick. 4 hitpoints left. Phew.)

But both fighters were exhausted after that exchange, and they spent a mutual moment breathing hard, their eyes locked on each other, alert for the slightest movement.

(Round 8: Elf wins initiative, and catches his breath to regain a bonus dice. Dwarf is also out of bonus dice, and I decide to let him take advantage of the breather to recover one too.)

The elf, deadly serious now, came at Korgan with a furious flurry, steering the less maneuverable dwarf in a circle. He slid his blade through an opening but it barely scratched the links of Korgan’s chainmail. It left himself open in turn for Korgan to press an attack, but the elf again twisted out of the way in the nick of time. Once more, the elf narrowly just missed scoring another hit, and aggressively attacks yet again.

Which proved his undoing as he fell for one of the dwarf’s feints and lunged forward a mite too far. Off-balance, he staggered and Korgan helped him on his way to the floor as his axe dug deep into the elf’s right arm, tearing into the muscle.

The elf had no time to worry about that wound as the dwarf followed up by jumping right on top of his back and bringing his axe down on the elf’s neck.

The guttural cheers of the orcs and ogres around him heralded his victory as the elf’s severed head rolled to a stop against the blood barrier.

(Round 9: Elf wins initiative, moves up to the dwarf’s zone. Maneuvering, he gets to attack the dwarf’s unshielded side. The dwarf wins by 1 success, re-take Attack test, the elf wins by 1 success, re-take Attack test yet again, then the dwarf wins by 3+ successes. Again the defender lets the attacker lunge past and whacks him as he goes by. The dwarf rolls a hit location of the right arm, which is unshielded, and dings the arm for -2str (aka hitpoints, again the elf narrowly misses having the entire thing chopped off.)

Dwarf’s turn, the rear attack maneuver is like taking candy from a baby – easy, mean and vicious as hell. He rolls a hit location of head, rolls for damage and scores a Killing Stroke!)

“Good! Good! You wait. One more fight, then you fight winner!” screeched the goblin.

The orc shaman was drawing up a new blood circle, the ogres escorting the two humans into it. They flung the fighters’ belongings onto the sand as the shaman finished his chanting.

Korgan looked grimly on from his circle, intent on studying the techniques of his next would-be opponent, the last obstacle to his freedom.

Wow. I’d thought I’d skewed the fight in the dwarf’s favor by giving him Star attributes (5 Savvy, 5 Strength, 4 Speed), since I chose to play him and I wanted a simple fight for my first rules-learning attempt. But the elf (4 Savvy, 3 Strength, 5 Speed), played entirely as an “NPG” or Non-Player Gladiator, moving according to the rules and dice rolls on a table, put up quite a fight.

He’d randomly rolled a Signature trait of Poser, which gave him a 2 dice advantage on maneuvering, but a 2 dice disadvantage on attacking, until he inflicted his first damage. I interpreted it in this context to mean that he didn’t have his heart entirely into the fight at first, as opposed to say ‘playing to the crowd’ posing a typical gladiator might do. His other racially given Signatures, Nimble, Slippery, Strong-Willed were quite effective at simulating how an elf might fight.  That is to say, he was pretty much dancing circles around the dwarf when he maneuvered, especially in combination with his speed.

The dwarf, on the hand, had Signatures of Mass, Resolute and Stout, making him really tough and hard to knock down – though these weren’t really tested in this battle. I picked a Hard as Nails Signature for him as a Star, and his random Signature turned out to be Vicious – giving him two extra Attack dice if he won the Maneuver. Which really made him very nasty when he managed to rear attack the elf twice. The dwarf’s higher Savvy (aka battle prowess) also gave him a slight advantage over the elf when they tangled up in combat.

The bonus dice mechanic was also interesting, simulating a kind of endurance and energy. It really swung the battle back and forth as I had to figure out if I wanted to spend the energy to press the attack or conserve it to defend or attack later, whereas I had no control over when the NPG would decide to spend his bonus dice. There’s an algorithm for that, where you roll all of the NPG’s bonus dice and he will use it if it comes up 1, or 1-2, or 1-3, depending on the situation. There was a round where the elf blew 5 bonus dice and me, having forgotten to declare the dwarf’s bonus dice first, decided to play it fair and say the dwarf spent none.

There’s also a fair bit of luck involved, which yields the element of surprise and emergence for someone playing solo. Just because you get to roll 7 dice only means you might score more successes (rolling 1-3 on a d6). If the dice don’t go your way, you might get less successes than you’d expect. This is adjusted by modifiers here and there to simulate various Signatures and change the probability of something happening.

The whole thing from printing and cutting up and gluing minis, reading the rulebook, assembling the arena and all took the better part of a night, 5+ hours or so, including the fight that took 3-4 hours. But that was me being a big rules stickler and a very slow learner, going backwards and forwards on the iPad with the pdf rulebook. I don’t think that particular racial match up helped either, fast squirmy bugger versus rabid stout rock made for a long back and forth fight.

I was also slowed down by the dice rolling. I went electronic some time back with the Dicenomicon app, but I was getting ready to murder something with all that flipping back and forth between it and Goodreader, where the rules were, so I grabbed the only three tangible plastic d6s I had to hand. Not enough to work with, I’d recommend having a good 10-15 of ’em for faster play, possibly one color for one opponent if at all doable. Gotta dig mine up from wherever they’ve gone for the next time.

With more rules familiarity, it’ll likely go faster, but there is still a lot of tables and special Signature skills to cross-reference.

I am liking the scale. I think by conservative accident, I only shrunk mine to slightly taller than 20mm (it’s about the old Ral Partha 25mm scale mebbe), but with the small arena format, the whole thing fit neatly into an A4 sheet of paper, which these days, is more realistic to maintain and store in the house without mouldering and dust collection than the dreamy ideal grassmats mounted on specialty art store foamcore boards of youth.

All in all, a pretty nice game and a good change of pace. It’s not THE narrative holy grail that I’m still looking for, but I’m glad I tried it. Chalk up one more game in my repertoire.

Learning the Metagame – Personal First Thoughts

Warning: This may turn out to be a very long post on learning the metagame in games.

I’m mulling on two things specifically:

1. How much of this learning should be clued or signaled in-game or given in-game training tools (as opposed to out-of-game tips/guides/walkthroughs from other players)

2. Preferences for learning on a group or individual basis, possibly influenced by extrovert or introvert tendencies

But first, a very long introduction.

As Dusty Monk says, he of the original idea starter,

Every MMO of any complexity has a rich metagame to learn and enjoy beyond the up front “jam on your ability keys until mob is dead” mechanic.  What I think distinguishes a good game design from a poor one is to what extent the game forces you to have to play the metagame, and how soon it forces you to learn it – if at all.

All games have a metagame – optimal strategies for playing the game in a manner that allows you to win, progress or get a high score. That’s generally the point of games, learning the rules and boundaries of the design in order to do better at playing the game and achieving whatever ‘win conditions’ are set by the developers’ design. Make the metagame complex enough, or with enough varied, alternative options and strategies, and you get the often praised ‘depth’ to a particular game. Too simple to master, and players just do it, ‘win’ and get rapidly bored.

Players of MMOs, or virtual worlds and sandboxes in particular, are pretty adept at redefining what the  ‘win conditions’ and ‘playing better’ means to them, which I believe is a good thing. It shows that MMOs are big enough to play host to a variety of people, not all of which have to share the same goal or metagame. Some may enjoy playing the traditional raid progression endgame, which then involve necessary optimisation strategies for one’s character and one’s schedule to play in a group. Some may be content just hitting max level and stopping. Or accumulating one of each race and class of alt. Or the world’s largest collection of pets and mounts. Or costumes. Or screenshots. Or PvPing. Or whatever.

Each may have their own set of optimisation strategies. I don’t need large wardrobe slots, all bank account slots unlocked, or multiple mules. Ye olde hat collector, or auction house trader (with the exception of the wardrobe, that is) might.

I myself have advised people to really examine what they want out of a game, and to either treat the game in a different way or move on when it can no longer fulfill their needs/wants, rather than get sucked down the road of other peoples’ expectations. It’s so easy to, as a commenter over at Spinksville, Boxerdogs, mentions:

The metagame in WoW snuck up on me as it does so many, by my wanting to be a good “contributor” to the raid. But learning a metagame like that is quite taxing. I kinda got suckered into learning one, and I don’t regret it at all, but I have found with SWTOR and Guild Wars 1 that I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to learn a new, complex game.

Now let’s talk about the MMO combat metagame that most folks are thinking of when they say “metagame,” wherein gear selection, optimal builds and skill rotations are often important, a good UI or add-ons can be helpful, may assume basic knowledge of jargon like “aggro,” “kite,” “AoE,” etc,  involves a fair amount of theorycrafting and out-of-game reading/discussion/copy-and-pasting of stuff other people have either mathematically calculated or video recorded to demonstrate easy-to-apply tactics,  may require some muscle memory and practice and maybe quick-ish reaction times (not to mention WASD and mouselook, is that as controversial as whether to use keyboard shortcuts or very quick mouse clicks?), and where combat parsing is often used in the search for the holy grail of efficiency…

That’s… a lot of stuff to learn. Some of it can apply from game to game, and we MMO gamers have actually absorbed a lot of it without realising. (Watch a complete newbie try to navigate an MMO some time.) But the game specific stuff can already be quite tedious a task to take on, as Spinks posits while trying to decide if she wants to join the SWTOR raid endgame:

…there comes a point where if you want to be competitive or complete cutting edge content, you have to stop playing in an exploratory, playful way, and start playing in a more defined and optimised way. Or in other words, there comes a point where you have to decide if you want to look stuff up and learn the metagame, or just move on…

…[there’s also] metagame fatigue where you spent so much time theorycrafting or practicing your minmax spec in one game that you need a break from that intensity of gameplay, or don’t want to switch to a game with another involved metagame.

Sometimes learning too much about the metagame sucks all the fun out of the game and leads to burn out. My personal theory is that this tends to happen if the game isn’t balanced in a way that leads to multiple, viable, interesting, alternate options, or deeper counter to a counter mechanics that allow players to feel a sense of control and personal agency over what they are doing and/or to vary things up, be it for novelty’s sake or to catch an unsuspecting opponent by surprise.

Starcraft’s metagame is notoriously elaborate, along with, I believe, DOTA-like games, though I haven’t much experience with their ilk. I tend to dislike games in a World of Warcraft vein, where there are one or a few good optimal copy-this-cookie-cutter spec and everything else is numerically suboptimal. True choice is limited if you’re playing a metagame which discards all the other options as invalid for the purpose.

Sometimes players are too fast to do this too, though.

There may be better ways and better strats, that don’t get found until someone breaks convention and does something different.

Me, I don’t mind optimising to a limited extent, on my own, under my control, at my own pace. But I do mind having to live up to an external ideal or standard enforced by other people or by restrictive game design that forces you to be ‘this high’ in order to start doing whatever.

I rather enjoyed what Guild Wars asked of its individual players, once I got my head around the entire “Magic: The Gathering” concept and other uniquely Guild Wars schticks.

I once bogged down in Thunderhead Keep and for the life of me, couldn’t figure out how to move on from there. It took 2+ years of learning in another MMO (City of Heroes) before the entire concept of aggro and aggro radius became internalised to a point that when I returned to Guild Wars, it was a cakewalk to look at my radar minimap and pull and otherwise pick apart groups that liked to patrol close to each other. This is a key mechanic in GW, btw, your party appears designed to take on one group of mobs well, and if you blindly charge ahead into a chokepoint where 2 or 3 groups patrol into each other, you’re in for a mad fight and probably a walk back as your party shows up at the last rez shrine you crossed.

At the point I was having major issues in Thunderhead Keep, I had no such understanding and would walk straight into such traps, limping out only by virtue of two monk henchmen and blind 60% death penalty persistence if need be. (My ranger’s build also sucked, and I don’t think I used his skills well enough to do him much justice either. I’m not really a long range caster sort by nature.)

With that hurdle down, it was easier to start learning from PvXwiki about what ‘good’ builds were, and after copying a few to learn from, to start grasping the concepts behind skills synergizing with each other, and choosing skills appropriate for the occasion as dictated by the mobs you would be fighting. Most of the time, it was still easier to use the chapter-approved uber builds for both myself and my heroes, but I grew confident enough to swap some skills in and out as needed (as first suggested by wiki recommendations) and later, that fit what I wanted to achieve for the mission or dungeon (eg. extinguish for a monk if burning was going to be flying around willy nilly, remove hex for hexes, etc.)

In fact, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m still fond of going back to the game, I just have less urgency to do so after happily finishing HoM 30/50 and getting distracted by “ooh shiny” games of the month. Guild Wars is a classic that can keep for whenever I feel like it. Thank you, no sub fee.

So with a self-chosen, self-directed goal, it seems I am quite content to do some searching at my own pace, do a bit of experimentation and trial and error with different builds and strategies, and even die alone repeatedly and keep going back for upwards of 15+ absurd repetitions. (See my flailing around in the Moon Bog in the Secret World, enjoying myself thoroughly when I figured out a solution that works for me.)

But you know, I don’t like to do this sort of learning in a group.

Perhaps it’s just me being too sensitive for my own good, or tending to compare others to myself, but as I mentioned before, I both demand a lot of perfection/optimisation out of myself (out of both a desire to pull my own weight, contribute and do well, and fear of embarassment or disappointing others) and it also bugs me when I see others slacking off (out of ignorance or willfulness, the first is forgivable, the second less so) and forcing others to shoulder an extra load. This is also primarily a -performance- issue.

What about learning? I don’t want to have to start the learning process in an ordinary group, which is normally focused on performance and executing well. There’s too much pressure to learn fast and learn quickly… or else.

And worse, to have to learn at their pace, not my own. I’m a poor auditory learner. I hate Ventrilo and having someone talk ceaselessly while I’m trying to focus on doing something. I end up distracted, paying attention to their voice, rather than what’s on my screen. Groups who type also tend to teach badly, because most type in a hurry, in abbreviated form, and are mostly interested in go-go-go and speed. So you’re forced to learn by doing and pray that it’s not too hard and that you don’t accidentally wipe the group from ignorance.

I’m primarily visual and I enjoy reading books and walls-of-text by myself in order to learn something. Wikis and guides are okay, and scanning through forums and blogs. Videos are meh, mostly because of the audio component which means I can’t really fast forward through stuff and have to give up 20 minutes or whatever length of time the video takes to play. Failing which, I’d rather try doing and learning by trial and error. By myself, thank you.

Not where someone will get irritated at me for failing 15 times for being a “slow learner,” or as I like to call it, being thorough, experimental (because I don’t believe in just one true way of execution and must try various ideas) and just plain goddamn stubborn. When I learn something, I don’t like to learn enough to “just get by” or to follow someone else’s method blindly, I like to learn it to the point where I understand the concept and underlying principles and possibly how to apply those ideas/solutions to a different scenario.

Groups by and large just don’t have the patience for that sort of thing. They just want the shiny at the end as quickly as possible. Can’t really blame them, that’s just how it is. Once you’ve done all the learning you care to, then all that’s left is execution, preferably as fast and as well as possible.

It would be indeed nice if more games offered training modes to make the learning curve smoother. Most games are guilty of not getting around to it. Guild Wars has a hero tutorial which is pathetically basic. Why not teach pulling with heroes, aggro radius, corner blocking and such things while you’re at it? (Though albeit in the very first intro missions, they comment on waiting for mobs to patrol away from one another. It goes by so fast, most newbies miss the concept, methinks.)

If dps races and recount and other such combat parsing is going to be an integral part of your game, then by golly, have the combat dummies you provide measure the necessary stats too. If it doesn’t, then don’t have the combat dummies there, and don’t tune your mobs for that sort of thing with enrage timers.

I haven’t gotten around to sampling DDO much, mostly because the build planning appears to involve too much homework in order to minmax your character for the specific function you want (which in my case, would be a worthwhile soloing baseline) but I’m intrigued by the concept of casual mode to both learn the dungeon and see the story, just no/less loot for you.

I also wonder how much of this solo learning preference has to do with my propensity for extreme introversion. On Myers-Briggs type of tests, I tend to break the scale for Introversion and score full marks or close to it for “I”. Hanging around people really tires me out, especially since I have to pretend extroversion to a passable extent to get by in the workplace, and the last thing I want to do when I relax, in a closed room, by myself on the computer, is to hang around with EVEN MORE PEOPLE.

Susan Cain suggests that there’s a fallacy of groupwork being effective, especially where introverts are concerned, in a decent enough book that I just finished reading – Quiet: The Power of Introverts, though she has a tendency to generalize quite a bit.

A quick Google on group vs individual learning styles and introversion suggests I have a lot of meaty reading to do to find out more about this train of thought. I’ll share later if I find anything interesting.

Also, depending on who you ask, introverts make up a good quarter, or third, or even half of the population. We just hide well. And I suspect, a disproportionate number of us are represented in computer games. So why not cater for our learning styles in them? It’ll encourage us to stick around more.

P.S. There’s also a neat cycle of irony going on here in this metagame discussion.

One of the metagames I’m putting off learning is in Orcs Must Die (whom Dusty is apparently a developer of), a generally enjoyable game, but I’m hitting a wall in the later levels on normal war mage difficulty because my trap placements are likely not optimal and I can’t earn enough skulls to upgrade traps any further and I can’t unlock any more levels because it’s getting too hard.

(If I’m forced to backtrack and play through all the levels on novice difficulty with two skulls only, I’ll shoot somebody, no Diablo 3 difficulty level grind for me, thanks.)

On my to-do list is to watch this very promising video that is supposed to teach me about trap combos and maximizing score (assuming it is possible with the basic traps I have unlocked), but egads, it’s so long, I don’t know when I’ll have time for that.