CoH: Screenshot Nostalgia Trip #3

The City of Heroes character creator was always the most flexible of its day, having completely untied the concept of gear & looks with each other.

I was never one for making characters that reflected the Golden or Silver Age of Comics, y’know, your typical superhero dressed in spandex with big abstract striped color designs all over them and their capes.

Instead, I found myself trying to extend the character creator to its limits, using blends of costume parts and strategic colors to reflect other archetypal characters.

Besides the dwarf, which was an amusing exercise in “does this character creator let me do that?” I also decided to attempt bringing a little WoW or Warhammer into CoH.


Gruthak was one of those joke characters I never took too far up in levels, but he was memorable to me for one thing: I always roleplayed him in character. He never broke out of it. It was always one grammatically incorrect “Gruthak crush puny human” or “WAAAAARGH!” after another.

I played him with a friend who also roleplayed and he was a big help in keeping me honest, with cynical eye-rolling and out-witting of the dull orc into charging headlong into the next mob spawn. (Yes, I made him a tanker, I’m not suicidal.)

So I like to think that the pair of us greatly entertained whichever random PUG would join us in our missions – though there’d usually be this /pause/ as the player took in our dastardly duo – and we’d just keep up emoting in character and fighting stuff while “rofl’ing” and basically cracking up in out-of-character whispers to each other.


Why, yes, I was pretty big on skirting copyright infringement.

This was my attempt at bringing a little Warhammer 40k into CoH with a Dark Angels Space Marine, prompted after hearing about other guilds who had tried to create whole teams of space marines.

I was also trying to find a ‘main’ that resonated with me enough to take to max level, and it turned out that giving my character a Latin name and pretending to be a space marine in my head did the trick. (To anyone else outside: “No, I’m a robot, in tech armor! Really! No copyright infringement! Honest!”)


He actually looked remarkably good with the Invincibility powerset effects on, and swinging around a fire sword.

(Also, this is one of my only background pics of Perez Park, which I recall fondly for being a crazy maze that was really hard to navigate, at least until you got to the center and the tree cover relented enough for flight.)


If one space marine worked, why not another one?

Alas, I didn’t play this one long. I decided it would be too distinctive and probably wouldn’t make it to max level without getting called out for infringement.


On the villainous front, this was a character design I was pretty happy with, enough to take him up to max level and become one of my mains.

I wanted something monster-y, and to use the Alien helmet but make it seem like it was an actual head. So I shuffled around a whole bunch of armor until I found some insectoid-like armor that seemed to blend well, and I tinted much of it white with darker grey or black shadows, even using a zebra striping pattern.

Why white? Well, Aliens were dark and black and it seemed a bit of a cop-out to just turn the character into a dark abyssal blob. So I tried the opposite (maybe albino?) and it worked out rather well.


This was my other villain main. I wanted to use the pirate-themed costume bits, but meh, ordinary pirates are so boring. Demon zombie ghost pirates are where it’s at!

The forums were all ablaze with the concept of macro’ing costume changes at the time, and some fellow came up with a sweet idea to trigger a costume change whenever their dominator toggled their Domination mode, which increased the power of the class tremendously.

Of course, I just -had- to make myself a glowy green ectoplasmic ghost form to signal my Domination mode switch too.

NBI Writing Prompt: Did you ever try an anachronistic costume or cosmetic look that didn’t quite fit the genre of your game? Or if -you- didn’t, did you ever meet someone in game who did? Show ’em off!

(eg. I distinctly recall seeing Marvin the Martian,  Ronald McDonald, asura Power Rangers, Super Saiyan charr, Assassin’s Creed assassins and Halo-like or various power-armored characters in GW2, just to name a few.)

GW2: Picking Apart a Pick – Your Help Needed Evaluating the Fairness of a Cash Shop Item

And here, we have shining examples of "haves" and "have-nots..."

I need a variety of outside perspectives on this one.

I fear I’m a little too close to the issue and conflicted to know what’s right and what’s wrong.

There are three items in the GW2 gem shop that I’m eyeing this month.

My cash budget would very much prefer that I only spend RL money on two of them, and either forgo the last, wait till next month or when it comes around on sale again, or convert in-game currency into gems to pick it up.


Two of the items leave me with absolutely no moral conundrums or philosophical issues about whether one should support further development and production of more similar items with real life money talking.

The first is the musical harp. It’s a toy. It’s a luxury vanity item that happens to be a musical instrument. There is absolutely no gameplay advantage that a “have” has over a “have-not.” There is merely a cosmetic and “trivial fun” advantage, skewed very much to the personal, as the person paying the most attention as to whether one has this item is oneself.

Much like vanity costumes, colors/dyes and looks, this has been accepted as a perfectly reasonable use of a cash shop across many games. If you like the look, and want to pay RL money to support the developers in making more such options, everyone is generally happy with this state of affairs and accepts it as fair and reasonable that “haves” may get to look a bit more fancy than “have-nots.”

I love music. I love music in MMOs. I’m a big fan of more MMOs introducing such toys and musical instruments in the vein of LOTRO, in the hopes that more Weatherstocks will one day appear. The harp is a no-brainer must-buy, just like how I grabbed every other musical item that turned up.

Now, one could always be paranoid and point to a slippery slope scenario where the developers decide they need tons more money and release five musical instruments onto the cash shop in one month – and while one would definitely not be pleased, choosing to buy only one or two favorites, wait and get others later, or not buy at all are all valid alternatives.

The second is the quaggan finisher. It, too, is a luxury cosmetic item. It changes the animation and look of what your character does when performing a finishing move on a downed foe. Whether or not you enjoy the visual effect and choose to buy it, the finisher is still functionally the same and takes the same amount of time gameplay-wise.

One might argue that perhaps the emotional effect on an enemy player is different, whether he or she is trolled to death by cuteness or executed by a sinister assassin or merely impaled on a generic stick. There are, however, free alternatives that could produce similar effects – such as a bunny finisher that everyone has access to.

Anyway, finishers very much fall under the same category as other cosmetic designs. Fancy art assets take paid manpower hours to develop. Want more? Support with dollars, then. Game-wise, a player that goes without is not at all disadvantaged when compared to a player that has one.


It’s the third item that gives me a headache.

Infinite harvesting tools have been sold in the gem shop since the beginning of the Living Story updates. They are functionally equivalent to in-game-available items except that they have unlimited charges.

A few people did the calculations a while back and basically, you would have to mine a ton of nodes over several years to make back the gold equivalent of the gems put into the harvesting tool over just buying many many many sets of orichalcum tools at 4 silver a piece.

Your RL money then, essentially, paid for two things.

Looks: Each infinite harvesting tool has its own unique animation and generally looks fancier than the plain-jane generic harvesting animation. This, we have established, lies in acceptable cash shop territory, selling cosmetic advantages.

Convenience: Time is saved by never having to stop to look for a vendor when your charges run out. Less inventory slots are sacrificed to the necessity of keeping a bunch of tools in one’s bags and thus potentially one has more bag space for valuable loot, or at least cuts down on the need to keep stopping and selling stuff to free up bag space.

Convenience has always been a bit of a grey area where cash shops and the doom-ridden phrase “P2W” are concerned.

Too much convenience for paying customers, and rest assured those that do not partake in the cash shop will keenly feel the difference and begin to evaluate if it’s worth paying up or just quitting.

For some games, this does not disturb them. Non-paying customers are basically freeloaders anyway and do not really need to be catered for. The ‘free’ portion of the game merely serves as an extended free trial and once you cross a certain boundary, you’d better have paid up a minimum amount or look out, you’ll bash headfirst into a paywall.

By choice, I do not like paying for or supporting those games and that payment model. It reeks of exclusion, and my more regular readers are well aware of my eccentricities regarding games that promote rampant exclusion and elitism via their design. I generally do not like to play or pay for a game where it is culturally “understood” that one has to pay such-and-such amount to be among the hardcore hoi polloi and that the free players are merely content and fodder. I believe this model eventually shoots itself in the foot when they run out of free players that are willing to convert, and certainly, snooty attitudes from the paying elite would not at all help this conversion rate.

By choice, I prefer games which keep the playing field level between payers and non-payers, and leaves it up to the players to exercise their option to spend $0 – $100+ in the cash shop as and when they feel like they can afford to pay. Naturally, I understand that this produces a game where developers WILL dangle very tempting and very nice-looking options in the cash shop every month to appeal to player vanity and desire for convenience, while possibly preying on a player’s lack of self-control and leads to potential tragic stories about addiction (to game-playing or gambling).

To others, this is an ethical slippery slope that they can’t condone. I fully understand and respect their decisions to not even come near this sort of payment model.

For myself, I watch carefully for extremes, absurdity and slippage. How much is a player expected to spend every month? I think it is reasonable for such games to operate on a $0-$20 a month basis, equivalent to most subscription games, with more extreme hardcore players paying $30-$50 (similar to say, 2-3 subscription accounts) and the really crazy whales spending lots more (which the onus is then on them to determine if they can afford it or no.)

As for convenience via cash shop items, a little advantage seems to have proven acceptable enough to most.

Boosters tend to give accelerated rates of some kind of in-game currency gain. To me, the key here seems to be that the same thing can be still earned by non-paying customers, but at a slower rate.

The degree of slowness and “time grind” involved ends up determining the acceptability factor. Too absurd, and the non-paying customers give up before they even begin. Have it at a reasonable pace, and then ramp it up and/or double it for people willing to pay for and rent a temporary boost, and it seems to be relatively acceptable to many.

In GW2’s specific case regarding the infinite harvesting tools, the established precedent seems to have been that the infinite tools are an acceptable convenience item, providing mostly peace of mind to folks that choose to buy ’em for their mains, while those that choose to go without do not lose anything by merely relying on the in-game vendor tools.

In fact, they save money, and lose some time.

Which seems to be a bit of a refrain with the better-balanced microtransaction games. Money gets traded for time, and vice versa. The use of player exchanges ends up regulating this via the economics of supply and demand, and players get the option to choose on which side of the scale they lie. Do they value their time or their money more?

Throwing a massive clockwork spanner into the works, is the release of the Watchwork Pick, which suddenly ups and CHANGES the established precedent.

(We previously had a change of precedent when the infinite harvesting tools rose in price from 800 gems to 1000 gems, but this was due to them becoming account bound as per player requests. Previously, they were soulbound, which made switching them between characters impossible. Turning them account bound was a big bonus for players who might have wanted to switch mains or just play a lot of alts and were willing to spend time via bank slot juggling. There was some grumbling at the increase in price, but by and large, it makes acceptable sense to charge a little more for account bound convenience.)


Despite the in-game tool tip looking exactly the same as all previous infinite harvesting tools, it was advertised on the website that this new pick had a chance of producing a Watchwork Sprocket item when mining. Exact details have not yet been revealed by ArenaNet, but player experiments have suggested it appears to be a 25% chance of getting one per node strike.

This is extremely disturbing to me, in more ways than one:

I was previously minding my own business and cheered up immensely by the thought of being able to buy another nice-looking infinite pick for another one of my alts who dearly needs one for the convenience factor. Except now I have to stop and evaluate all over again whether I should be supporting this chain of affairs with a wallet vote or no. Pragmatically, I want it, but I’m a person of fairly strong philosophical values and would like to conduct myself consistently according to them.

It truly annoys me that the in-game tool tip does not mention the new gimmick this pick has. Someone less fanatical about keeping track of websites and Reddit might have simply bought it via prior precedent, and has now accidentally skewed whatever statistics their marketing department has about whether this gimmick is useful in increasing sales. Meanwhile, I am stuck agonizing over whether I should or should not contribute to those statistics.

That someone may also now have a potential advantage over the have-nots.

Some prior purchasers of the other tools are outcrying over the perceived +1 ramp up and vertical progression of the infinite tools. What they now own is no longer “best in slot.” Instead, this new pick is. Surely, they say, is that not “forcing” us to buy this tool?

This argument doesn’t completely apply to me. For one, I didn’t buy it for a “best in slot” aspect. I’m just not motivated by such things, but I can see that for some other players, this perception would indeed lead to a very insistent pressure to buy it in order to feel like they’re staying ahead.

What I AM concerned about is the have / have-not disparity. Is this a level playing field?

There is no functional equivalent of a limited charge pick that has a 25% chance to produce sprockets, available for in-game currency. The playing field has tilted, ever so slightly.

This is very distressing to me because what it implies is that someone is carefully testing the waters of what players will accept. How do you boil a frog? Increasing the temperature very very slowly and hoping it doesn’t notice.

It’s a precedent. I don’t know if I’ll call it a dangerous precedent yet, but it’s definitely striding into murky grey territory here.

We’re left with the very difficult task of trying to evaluate something that isn’t trivial, and isn’t absurdly extreme.

Some players will tell you that this IS trivial and that other players are making a big to-do about nothing. The watchwork sprocket is a crafting material commodity that has previously been released into the game in large quantities via prior Living Story updates. The TP price for the sprocket as the pick released was around 34 copper. It’s a pittance.

Oh yay, you get an extra 34 copper per node strike 25% of the time. Doing a quick dungeon gets you 1 gold (plus extras.) That’s 294 sprockets you could buy. How many nodes do you have to mine to get that equivalent via the pick?

Of course, what they seem to be overlooking is that TP prices are not constant over time. They fluctuate according to supply and demand.

Enter the guessing game. The fear of the more paranoid is that watchwork sprocket sources might eventually dry up as the Living Story updates progress. They drop rarely from the Twisted Watchwork faction, dropped like candy during the Queen’s Jubilee update, and at a more moderate amount during this season’s Origin of Madness / Marionette boss. Folks who complete this season’s meta-achievement get a mining node that produces sprockets with any tool (including in-game ones) but only at a rate of 6-8 a day. Someone owning the infinite Watchwork Pick can definitely exceed that daily cap via hitting the many ubiquitous ore nodes out there.

Just how valuable might these watchwork sprockets get?

A prior example commodity are the pristine toxic spores, used in a fairly popular consumable recipe. It’s much harder to obtain these now that the Tower of Nightmares update is over and the bulk of the crowds have left Kessex Hills. They’ve gone up to 3 silver 74 copper as of today, which is admittedly quite extreme.

How many sprockets can a watchwork pick harvest? Since I don’t own one as yet, I have to resort to theoretical math based on possibly incorrect reporting. Assuming 0.25 chance of mining a sprocket on a node strike, and that each node gives three strikes, each node visited yields a 57.8% (1 – 0.75 x 0.75 x 0.75) chance of yielding at least one sprocket. The gathering daily requires 20 node strikes, let’s just waffle and say a player has to hit 7 nodes to complete their daily. That’s possibly 4 sprockets from completing their daily.

If a player had a gathering pattern that resembles mine a lot more, which visits quite a bunch more nodes in a day, I feel safe enough doubling or tripling that number.

Now let’s say watchwork sprockets do follow the pattern of pristine toxic spores and rise to 2-3 silver a piece, I personally wouldn’t turn down an extra 8 to 36 silver a day. For some, this may still seem like a pittance, if they’re earning a ton more from the TP or from multiple dungeons. Certainly, it’s still not going to make back the price of the pick in a hurry, considering the rather astronomical exchange rate of gold to gems these days.

The problem is, it’s really quite impossible to speculate on how watchwork sprocket prices will go. We simply don’t know. If a future update introduces a zone with permanent spawns of Twisted Clockwork faction, one might arguably say that sprockets may still be available from an in-game source that won’t be daily capped. On the other hand, they may not, and it may become a rare resource.

Sprockets at the moment are used in a number of recipes, but nothing as popular as the toxic sharpening stones that utilize pristine toxic spores – but that’s going to be hard to predict once again when the critical damage nerf hits. Sprockets are used in Zealot’s and Keeper’s recipes, which produce Power Precision and Healing stats. Those favoring the current meta presently laugh at these stats. Healing, yeesh, right?

On the other hand, my City of Heroes background argues, damage/support hybrids have a lot of team potential and may become much more favorable if critical damage becomes less important and mobs get tougher to survive as pure zerker, especially if ArenaNet decides to tweak healing coefficients once again in a balance pass somewhere.

But there’s simply no predicting whether we’ll get a new meta or not. Celestial stats certainly haven’t turned out very popular. Considering how many people love to DPS and see big numbers, even nerfed zerker may still be considered better than everything else.

Finally, with the utmost irony, I also have to note that people seeking to P2W may end up canceling themselves out via the TP and supply and demand. If many people buy the pick and produce lots of sprockets, supply goes up, and prices will fall.

However, it does seem safe to say that sprocket prices will probably remain within the 30 copper to 3 silver range, and that someone earning 12 sprockets a day from the pick will get the bonus of a green (3.6 silver) to a rare (36 silver) daily. Escalate up and down depending on your estimation on how node crazy someone is willing to be per day.

Is this acceptable or no?

And if I do buy the pick, am I going to regret my contribution to the slippery slope later down the road – either seeing the gem shop spiral out of control into something resembling LOTRO’s present nightmare and ending up quitting the game when it gets too absurd, or becoming one of the elite “haves” that the “have-nots” are going to jealously look upon and abhor, with the eventual result that I run out of people to play with?

(Both scenarios being something that I would never wish upon my dear and beloved game…)

GW2: The Controversy of “Grind”

208 hours later on a single GW2 character, up creeps a growing pressing need to switch things up a little. I’ll be doing a short post on what else I’ve been playing soon.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still intend to play a lot more hours on GW2 – I’m barely at 47% world completion, there are about 75% jumping puzzles still unseen and unsolved, taunting me, and I basically still enjoy wandering around the world, soaking up the lore and the scenery and grabbing screenshots of everything, plus WvW and sPvP. I like ’em all.

I can’t help but notice that there seem to be a ton of people who have retreated back to the GW2 Guru and official forums to start bitching and whining about everything under the sun, though, and most of those complaints seem to have to do with “boredom” and feeling “forced” to “grind” for endless hours to get to the uber max of uber maxness.


I don’t want to swing that ugly word of “entitlement” around because it’s too easy a cop out.

Also, I can’t help but notice a certain similarity of protest and reaction with my rabid loathing of what City of Heroes did with their Incarnate raids, even though this time I’m on the side of the “fanboys” and apt to just shrug and ignore it.

However, I do want to point out that my issue was more of a lack of alternative choice/option for a different playstyle (not liking mass group content) who would also like to be an Incarnate.

Conversely, the big PvE issue of max stat exotic armor has a ton of alternative choice. Enjoy the DEs? Karma will get you there in the end. You can also craft exotic armor. You can buy exotic armor off the trading post, which is the fastest and easiest shortcut method. Like dungeons? Enough tokens will also get you there. I haven’t looked, but I suspect WvW may also have an option handy.

The next issue that this argument always segues into is a disagreement on the amount of TIME it should be taking. Way too long, is what the unhappy are complaining about. On this, I have some sympathy. Back in CoH, a bunch of us were fairly rabid for a while regarding the pathetic exchange rate of solo Incarnate earning power versus someone who just jumped into a group and closed their eyes and pressed random buttons for 15-20 minutes. Though I think the most galling thing was the perceived lack of respect for our preferred playstyle and a distinct disparity of faced challenge/difficulty level versus reward.

Honestly, I don’t really feel that disparity in GW2. Crafted exotic armor is basic, looks okay and works. That’s the baseline. Karma exotic armor is going to take a longer time to accrue, but not at that high a difficulty challenge, so that seems more or less fair. The sobbing mostly comes due to the dungeon exotic armors – which appear to be meant to take a pretty damn long time, and involve a high level of challenge in group coordination. The additional cosmetic aesthetic reflects that.

I think it’s intended that you feel pretty special when you get one piece of exotic armor (and over the moon if you ever get a legendary) but the baseline of these unhappy players seem to be set at a much higher level. Being decked out in exotic armor from tip to toe seems to be the expected thing, so correspondingly, they get upset when they learn it’s going to take at least a month or more.

(Me, on the other hand, I’m carrying a set of decent stat yellows around for dungeons and WvW and slowly upgrading it with crafted or karma exotics, I got the shoulders swapped out and nuthing more. I also wander around in PvE zones in an el cheapo blue and green magic find gear left over from crafting, studded with slightly less cheapo major runes giving magic find, with omnomberry bars to hand (whoever thought of that berry name is awesome) and manage just fine, with a yellow weapon or two.  I -just- swapped two of the pieces to yellow rare Explorer’s yesterday after checking my bank and going, oh hey, there’s 30 sharp claws in here! Yes!)

I’m not sure there’s that much to worry about. In dungeons, how well you play and your build and how cooperatively your entire team works together will help you survive a whole lot longer than slightly better armor. I’ve successfully gone through explorable modes in yellows (and before that, in blues and greens) and no one can “inspect” you to be all huffy about it either. (If anyone ever demands for linkage, I’ll group them with the groups who keep on chatting LFG guardian/warrior on my avoid-list, thanks.)

In WvW, while you may very well have an advantage 1 vs 1 or 2 decked out in very shiny armor at level 80 versus some random lowbie in blues, all that orange glamor is not going to help that much when a zerg of 10-20 or 60 rushes into you. It’s a lot more about group organization and coordination. Some siege equipment would do a hell of a lot more damage to that wall or door, fer instance.

Perhaps it’s just the style of game that promotes a mindset of acceptance in me. Guild Wars 1 has a long history of long-term goals, some of which should be attempted only by the most insane or the most completist. GWAMM, fer instance. Legendary Defender of Ascalon wasn’t that easily achievable either. To this date, I have neither of those, nor does many of those who played GW1, I’m sure. But some have achieved them. That scarcity makes it all the more special to them, no doubt. And I don’t have a problem with that, I can still enjoy the game without those titles.

I guess the problem for some comes when you layer a cosmetic skin on as a reward, rather than a title. For some reason, words are easily dismissed, but something so visually shiny is harder to bear for them. (I do fine looking el cheapo in Glitch, but judging by the number of players who have paid money for credits to dress up their toons, there’s a huge pool of folks who love customization and self expression and possibly keeping up with the Joneses.)

I can’t really help there because I have the ultimate cosmetic cheese-out solution in the form of the HoM. Whatever the hell I’m wearing, if I hate the look, I can make it look shiny enough with those bonus skins. (And I still get tells about that flaming dragon sword.)

But I think some examination of the cheaper crafted armor skins and mix-and-matching with cheap stuff bought off the trading post and free transmutation stones would probably work as a stop gap measure.

Perhaps things will get better when they finally start selling costume and transmutation skins in the gem shop.

Oh, don’t gasp, GW1 has a history of that too. And lemme tell you, those skins can look absolutely gorgeous. I wear ’em in preference over armor any day. I look forward to all the bitching and whining about unfairness that will start up when that happens – little tip, save up those gems if you can’t convert spare irl cash readily!

Finally, there’s the issue of just not liking the style of game. Seriously guys (and gals), if the lore or the environment or the aesthetic just leaves you cold, don’t bother following the hype and being disappointed later, you just won’t want to play it. Period.

I got nothing invested in WoW lore. I disapprove of the holy trinity and the endless raid/gear grind and achievement mechanic. I only fiddled with it up to level 60 during Cataclysm because I was bored and wanted to experience the fluidity of WoW combat, but I knew it wasn’t going to last. Two months, mild entertainment, no hard feelings. Done. Got my money’s worth.

If you got nothing invested in GW2 lore, disapprove of the control/support/damage trinity and the explore/wander time-based grind mechanic and don’t like DEs, jumping puzzles, dungeons, WvW, PvP – then… why keep playing?

On that note, I’m going to repost my thoughts on “grinding” from an earlier post, which I’m sure barely anyone read, because it was a wall of text regarding A Tale in the Desert:

On “Grinding”

I believe there is no such thing as “grind” as long as you are aware of your own feelings and reactions and honest with yourself.

1) Are you taking any pleasure in the -present- activity you are doing? (Not looking forward to what you’ll feel when you reach the end, but actively, what you’re doing, do you like it?)

If you’re neutral, or just tolerating it, that’s a warning sign. Do ask yourself if the long-term gain will be worth it or if you might regret it later. And be on the lookout for emotional progress to…

Actively loathing is bad. Stop, stop now, before it’s too late and you ruin the activity for yourself for good. Take a break, go do something else. Come back only when you can honestly answer yes to the question, being neutral isn’t good enough once you’ve ever started hating the activity before.

2) Whenever you start feeling bored with the repetition, even though you do think the activity still has its positive sides, stop and do something else. Don’t ever try to ‘work’ through it or push yourself through a bad spot. It doesn’t work. Burnout lurks behind that self-rationalizing corner. It’s a game, it’s not meant to be a chore or an obligation.