For Extra Difficulty, Struggle With Controls or Concepts

The best way to empathize with complete newcomers to the MMO genre who are not so much concerned with high level concepts like ‘levels’ and ‘xp’ but are struggling with the more immediate concerns of “how do I move” and “how do I look around” and “why can’t I hit this thing that is hitting me, halp” is to put yourself into a similar situation.

Like trying a sports game, for example, only to find out that each NPC is separately modeled to have different areas of strengths and weaknesses.

I guess that’s why my attempt at one of the Madden games when I was in a mild fascination with American football phase failed rather miserably.

Mind you, I live in that majority of the world where football means kicking a round ball into a net at one end of the field. I did always find ‘soccer’ rather boring and individualistic, where the art of falling down and making it look like you’ve been fouled horribly was generally more exercised than teamwork. Watching the goalkeepers was the most interesting thing of the interminably long match of running up and down a field after a ball for hours as they at least had a role different from the other men on the field (Stop the ball, not kick the ball.)

So it was much more fascinating to discover that American football had teams with an intricate breakdown of many different roles – people who caught the ball, ran the ball, threw the ball, kicked the ball and those that didn’t even have the primary role of doing anything with the ball but blocked and interfered with people trying to do stuff with the ball.

It did, however, take some homework of reading the highly intricate rules online, slowly deciphering out scoring and everything else, before I could turn on the TV and not have a match be complete gobbledygook. I did eventually puzzle out enough to develop a casual fan’s appreciation of the game.

The PC game, though… Well.

Plays defeated me.

I could manage controlling one player on the easiest setting and bullrush my clumsy way through ten yards, more or less. Then all these complicated pages of the playbook would pop up with no explanations, Xs and Os and dotted lines and there would be a time limit to select one of them. Randomly picking plays and going ahead with whatever the hell I decided to do in the moment worked about as well as you might expect.

This month’s infuriating difficult game attempt is another go at Dark Souls.

I’m not much of a console player. A long time ago, my ISP had a free PS3 promotion if you contracted with them for 2 years, and well, one was -already- paying for internet monthly anyway. It was a well-timed promotion because Heavy Rain was a PS3 exclusive, and god, did I want to play that game badly. While haunting the local games store for a copy of Heavy Rain, I saw a decently priced copy of Dark Souls and decided, what the hell, let’s see what the difficulty hype was all about.

That very first attempt was pretty much a disaster.

First, there was the encounter with the Abyss Demon, armed only with a broken sword hilt. Yes, I am aware in retrospect that it is meant as a lesson in running away being the better part of valor. I can see the design now, what with the brightly illuminated doorway and all that.

At the time, I had bought into the hype that you could defeat anything, as long as you reacted properly. A dozen deaths feeling out its patterns later, I had indeed found the exit door, but dammit, I didn’t WANT to run away.

I’m doing 4 damage to this thing each hit! If I keep behind him, he doesn’t hurt me! Surely there must be some kind of masochistic achievement award for actually defeating this thing earlier!

Several more dozen deaths later, rubbing in the fact that I didn’t have much skill with the controls and that it was damned difficult to consistently stay behind this boss without getting clubbed into nonexistence, I was getting motion sick and very tired of stone textures.

With the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth, I finally ran away to continue the rest of the tutorial. Except that didn’t get very much further besides killing a few skeletons, and then running in circles, completely lost and unable to figure out how to get past a bunch of locked doors. I couldn’t even go back to play with the Abyss Demon again because a locked gate had slammed down behind me.

After the better part of half an hour or more, I may have finally googled for help, only to realize that I’d missed a new hole in the wall that had been knocked open by a round boulder rolling down some stairs. Good grief, was this a game I was going to have to play with a walkthrough constantly in hand?

Talked to NPC, unlocked door, killed more skeletons, killed Abyss Demon at properly intended time, zoned to next zone.

Where one was promptly greeted with arrows and flaming projectiles and proceeded to plummet to my death trying to dodge them.

I stopped that play session there, having had enough motion sickness and repeated deaths for the day. And never quite felt compelled enough to power up the PS3 specifically just to play it again.

Cycle forward in time to now.

I like to think that playing GW2 has given me a new appreciation for watching mob animation tells, trying to understand their combat patterns and practicing getting the timing right on appropriate button responses (like dodging or parrying, etc.)

I do also own a copy of Dark Souls on the PC, having picked it up for cheap during one Steam or bundle sale or another.

Perhaps it was time to give it another go.

The PC port of Dark Souls has received some criticism for being a rather lazy port. The default screen resolution isn’t great, all the in-game tutorial messages are hardcoded to still show you Xbox buttons rather than whatever controls you’re really using (which makes everything a fun guessing game of hmm, which key represents the green B or the yellow Y?) and the default mouselook camera is alarmingly wonky.

Best played with a gamepad, say the majority of forum commenters.

No problem, I have a very functional Logitech Dual Action gamepad that has stood me in good stead playing PC ports like Indigo Prophecy and various Japanese RPGs.

I gamely chop, run, spin, block my way through the first zone, slowly dredging up from the recesses of my memory all the moments I remembered from my first playthrough. I notice with some pleasure that my GW2 experience has given me better observational skills with regards to combat animations, but this increased observational prowess also applies to myself… and my failure to appropriately press the buttons my brain is telling me to tactically press.

Dodge now! Strike now! No, not -that- strike, the other one! Block. BLOCK! Not parry! Oi, what buttons are your fingers pressing?!

The struggle extends to navigating menus. Firstly, the default controller keybinds are not mapped intuitively to my particular gamepad. The instructions on screen say ‘press start’ or ‘press select’ to bring up some menu or other. I hammer away at my start and select keys, button 9 and 10, and nothing happens. Trial and error reveals that I have to press down on my right thumbstick to bring up the menu.

I’m used to PS3 controls where pressing the bottommost button selects and the rightmost button cancels. Except here, the rightmost button selects, and trial and error again reveals a different button cancels.

I flip open the keybind settings to see everything is mapped onto keyboard keys and doesn’t apply to the gamepad. Aaaargh.

Now, of course, I could slowly and patiently use the Logitech provided profiler to remap all my gamepad buttons to match whatever twisted configuration Dark Souls is using, and then tweak it again so that it feels more intuitive for me.

But it also occurs to me that I’m not that in tune with a controller either. While I can coordinate movements using the left thumbstick while controlling camera with the right thumbstick, they’re not as smooth as they could be with WASD and mouselook. Surely some of that lurching causes accidental hits that might be avoided, not to mention increases my motion sickness queasiness when the camera isn’t acting like I expect it to.

So I put down the gamepad and try it with mouse and keyboard.

Which actually has potential. I move better and more confidently.

Except the mouselook is jittery and I’d like to block with -this- mouse button but the in-game keybinds don’t seem to support that, and a dozen other key binding niggles interfere with any more enjoyment of the game and desire to progress.

On the bright side, players have come up with unofficial fixes for this poor PC port.

Except now I have to stop the game, figure out which fixes I want/need, download the fixes, apply them, test and troubleshoot problems and so on.

One fix, DSfix, fixes the poor screen resolution.

But oh, remember to turn off AA first or you’ll get a black screen. So I start the game, turn off AA, then stop the game. Then apply the fix.

Another fix, DSmfix, fixes the mouse camera issues for those who like to use mouse/keyboard controls. Note the M for mouse. Small, but crucial difference.

I start the game to test again, and while the screen resolution fix is working beautifully, the mouse fix doesn’t seem to have kicked in. Stop the game. More forums and readme.txts later, it turns out I have to edit an .ini file to have it included as well.

Start the game. Ahh, now the camera is moving at a more suitable speed for mouse look. And the mouse fix has also provided a nice customizable GUI for mouse keybinds and an intuitive default setting.

Except… I run dual monitors and my mouse is escaping from the Dark Souls full screen window when I look to the right. When I left click to attack, I end up alt-tabbing out to desktop, with rather fatal results in the now minimized window.

Wut. I try windowed mode, but the cursor still runs off and I have to keep moving it back to the left again. It’s almost playable already, but for this last little niggling detail! I gamely try to progress a little further in the game this way, but it’s distracting and throws me off. *sigh* Stop the game.

More forums searching and reading later, I finally find a fix that involves editing the dsfix.ini and enabling a ‘capture cursor’ setting.

Phew.

Now I can finally start PLAYing the game, right?

I’m putzing around in the Undead Burg, finally feeling like all my deaths are at least fairly earned mistakes and experimenting with various tactics to deal with differently armed skeletons.

An invader has arrived in your realm!

Wut?!! Okay, I sort of had the impression that PvP was possible in this game if you were connected online (and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to shut off Dark Souls’ connection either) but I also had the impression that it would be LATER, not when one was in the second zone armed with starter gear.

I knew that I had one item of some kind in my inventory that had text along the lines of send an invader back to their realm, but it was the only one I had and hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to use.

So I just waited.

In strolls some burly guy outlined in red with the LARGEST FUCKING hammer I have ever seen, and probably all kitted out in ‘finished the game’ gear.

*sigh*

I just hold down block and wait for inevitable death.

It’s not like I really have anything to lose. I’d already been dying twice in a row repeatedly to second zone skeletons.

Guy gestures a few times, tries to say Hello.

I haven’t the heart to tell him that I don’t even know how to use the gesture menu. Just kill the noob and get it over with, eh?

He circles me, probably wondering if this is some kind of elaborate trap. Or maybe just laughing too hard to fight. Or taking pity on me. Whatever.

Eventually, he hits me twice with the hammer (hey, holding block prevented me from getting one shot!) and then casts some kind of massively pyroclastic spell that fills the whole screen in flames.

Well, it’s a change from getting stabbed to death by skeletons, I guess.

After getting shot in the back by various archers, then getting gibbed by the Taurus Demon, which solidifies the suspicion that I’m really going to have to play this game with heavy reference to a walkthrough, it occurs to me that I don’t even have the faintest clue what the enigmatic words “Reverse Hollowing” and “Kindle” mean when I sit down at a bonfire, and what does Humanity do anyway?

I quit and save the game, then start googling for a Dark Souls manual. I find some player tips and a wiki instead, which are likely more helpful.

It is then I actually learn that I managed to invite the invader in by having experimented with Reverse Hollowing once, which had the effect of making myself look human. Well, that was totally obvious.

Not.

I’ll be playing Dark Souls again. But not until I read several website’s worth of information, tips, advice and walkthroughs, I suspect.

I was really just expecting execution and reaction sort of difficulty, rather than all this homework.

GW2: The Nightmares Within the Tower

The calm before the toxic storm...

A sucking chest wound is Nature’s way of telling you to slow down.

Murphy’s Laws of Combat

No, really. Stop running. Start fighting!

Ok, so I did contribute about four blue skulls’ worth of zerker guardian trying to do the “I don’t need to run faster than those two Elites, I just need to run faster than YOU” thing, following the zergling impulse of go fast, rush past “trash” and trying to group up with those further ahead.

All of it on the death trap known as the third floor, where everybody but me seemed to -not- see the air canister “safe zones” and continued dashing ahead while I slowed down and was torn between trying to catch a breath and fight off a zerg-spawned worth of mobs by myself (not happening) or catching up with the panicked mob of players milling around lost and hallucinating while twisted clockwork spawned in, eager to take vengeance for all those prior failed invasions and trying to survive with blown cooldowns and not many more heals or blocks or invulnerable left (s’ not happening either.)

It took about that length of time to realize that every event was locking the doors and preventing forward progress via running, and that all those screaming over mapchat that this was too awfully hard were doing so because we players as a group were applying the absolutely wrong strategy to navigating the Tower of Nightmares.

Selfishness leads to a healthy chance at dying off by yourself. Teamwork gets you up. (Both up from downed and literally up to the top.)

I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though...
I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though…

At one point, I tried a group recruitment message and got a total of two people joining a party, which worked right up to the midway point where they decided to fall behind and jump into a nightmare chamber (cancel popup) while the immediate collective of individuals I was following was still pushing on.

I gave up with formal grouping after that, since it wasn’t any guarantee that the group would stick together. The public informal groups of whoever was in the vicinity did just fine. (For the record, that collective made it right to the top.)

Besides, killing everything gives you more chances to pop neat stuff. Like key parts, a recipe for an infinite krait tonic, and so on.

One day later, when I decided to have a change of pace and bring my zerker necro in, it felt like more people had figured this out and had started to spontaneously group up and kill stuff. (Or maybe they mistook all my minions for a zerg. Whatever works.)

I'd watch the dodge key there, if I were you.
I’d watch the dodge key there, if I were you.

I like the Tower.

I really do.

Ravious says GW1 players are comparing the Tower of Nightmares to the Underworld and Fissure of Woe instances of yore.

Really? I felt those instances were a lot harder and more time-consuming, possibly because I was trying to solo them with a not-at-all min-maxed loadout of heroes and had to take my slow and steady time with them. (One death means you’re out, when you’re the only player on the team.)

To me, this update feels like another do-over.

Lost Shores – Assault on the Karka Queen, as having listened to their players and not made it a one-time one-off affair, open-world and encouraging groups of 10-30 to work together instead of having 100-200 players corralled into the same dynamic event fighting lag as the enemy.

Sure, this means that occasionally groups of players who are a little less well-informed or well-versed with the ways of the tower will encounter a chaotic experience of mass deaths, but as Wyldkat, a Tarnished Coast resident, often likes to say, “Live and learn. Die, and learn faster.”

Have I mentioned how utterly awesome the instance scaling is?

Let me correct that, then.

Solo to five players!

I get to feel like a hero in my own story if I want to!

I get to group up and join other people if I want to!

I am deliriously happy that they took the trouble to make this work. Mostly the number of mobs in each chamber you encounter will spawn to a size that matches your party.

I like the small bits of storytelling that go on in each Nightmare instance too. And the randomized aspect of them keeps them -somewhat- novel.

I’ve caught character exchanges between Rox and Braham, Marjory and Kasmeer, Marjory and Braham, Rox and Kasmeer, Rox and Majory so far.

If you pay attention, you learn a little more about some of the characters (and have a good laugh at some others. Braham keeps hallucinating up his mom.)

Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Getting some 'origin' vibes for why she's a necro here.
Getting some ‘origin’ vibes for why she’s a necro here.

I like the little nods that they managed to slip in regarding the personal story and hope they manage more of it in future updates. (Depending on your race, you seem to get an encounter with your respective racial representative, and depending on your order… well, let’s say we’ve had a reunion of sorts with somebody. I need to bring in a character who is Order of Whispers soon.)

It’s made for a few interesting encounters.

Oi. We're both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.
Oi. We’re both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.

And later in this encounter, we fought a hallucination of Rytlock Brimstone and some Blood Legion summons to Scarlet’s accompanying leer: “Rytlock has a special file where he records all your mistakes. They’re adding up.”

Which was immensely immersive since both Rox and my charr are Blood Legion, and we know Rox has an inferiority complex where Rytlock is concerned. (Directed at my charr? Nah, can’t be. His self-esteem and relationship with Rytlock’s far too healthy for that.)

rarrrkillingrage

This little dig got through though. Rarrrrrgh. Must kill insolent leafy things.

Final cinematic cutscene sequence? Verrah nice. Aesthetically-speaking.

I like that they at least attempted to sum up all the threads and factions that Scarlet has been accumulating per update, even if thematically, it feels like she’s cobbling them together out of a junkheap of spare parts.

I did, in fact, kind of miss the Molten Alliance, and was glad to see them back in a small form, including ol’ molten berserker.

maybemorepeoplewillrecognizemytonicnow
Maybe more people will recognize my infinite tonic now when I bounce around in it. (Hey, it cost me quite a bit of gold, I gotta get my money’s worth.)

The difficulty level of the instances felt fine. I’ve soloed them (and the final instance) on a zerker guardian and a zerker necro. Got downed once or twice but managed to rally up from a weakened mob or an NPC came by to help rez.

I did a group version of the final instance to see how the dynamic scaling worked, and it also seemed to match perfectly.

We did make it extra hard on ourselves during the Molten Alliance portal phase because three people were like OMG, killz0rs all teh portals, we vill skip past zis trash, wat, u mean we don’t?! and one person had no clue how to kite the molten protector out of his fiery shield (it’s always the one with the aggro, right?) so we delivered unto ourselves the world’s biggest spawn of Molten Alliance, conveniently made invulnerable 75% of the time. That took ages to whittle down. We had lots of time on our hands trying to convince the one guy to move out of the fiery ring.

Despite that minor fiasco, we only had one person being downed near the start to rushing headlong into some toxic alliance, and while I was thinking that might have screwed up our final no-dying achievement chance, we managed to take down the champion hybrid with no downs, no deaths that I can recall and the achievement popped. So that was good.

Thus passes a god. Poor bugger.
Thus passes a god. Poor bugger. Never listen to Scarlet.

Speaking of achievements, let’s have another round of applause for the continuing saga of more sane numerical levels.

1 time, 3 times, 5 times, up to 10 and 15 only. No 25, 50, 100, 225! (DAMN that 225!)

All in all, good stuff.

I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in here, I think, just for the fun of it.

Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec... *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash levels*)
Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec… *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash-I-can-actually-move-without-slideshow levels*)

My only moderate worry is that if the crowds move off in time, like the Mad King’s Labyrinth, it might be impossible to get to the top at some point.

Still, I have noticed that the dynamic events probably do scale. We had a Veteran Spider Queen at one point, instead of a champion.

And during the free 5 captives from cocoons event, when it was just a ranger and me, we were only facing a veteran and two normal mobs per spawn. When the zerg came over, we started popping champions. (Hey, look, new champion farm, people!)

So I suspect that as long as two or three people work together and take it slow and steady, it is possible to eventually get all the way up even if the rest of the place is deserted. (Unlike certain halloween bosses I can think of.)

I suppose if we ever to get to such a stage of abandonment, that would be the time for coordinated groups to move in and treat the place like an extended dungeon.

On a crowded server, I suspect one can always find another one or two interested people.

(Though convincing them to stick together and not run off to follow their own agenda might be a mite more tricky. Oh well, that’s the open world aspect for you. Win some, lose some.)

The Repetitive Nature of Games and Why Endgame is Elusive

Here we go round the mulberry bush...

Scree’s back! And the criticism this time is repetition.

Here’s the dirty little secret: games -are- repetitive.

One of the points of a game is that it lays out a set of rules and you repeat and iterate on the scenarios it presents you with till you get better at it and “beat it” or “win.” Games have a learning curve.

The nirvana that everyone is seeking is that perfect state of flow, where one’s skill level perfectly matches the level of challenge so that one is deeply engaged.

(Image from Wikipedia.)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Problem is, everyone is different.

One game’s level of challenge may match one player perfectly, while another may find the challenge too difficult and thus end up worried and anxious.

I’m not sure that graph is accurate on the lower scale, where relaxation is graphed at a higher skill level than boredom.

For some, it could be the other way around, where high skill level and low challenge leads to boredom, while a medium skill level and low challenge leads to finding the activity relaxing.

Then again, for others, it’s a lot easier to be bored than it is to really relax – one may need l33t Zen monk skills in meditation to achieve proper relaxation, while nearly anyone can be bored outta their effing mind on a regular basis.

It’s in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

It really comes down to what kind of repetition you find fun (or will put up with) in order to do something that you feel is enjoyable.

Different people reach different answers.

Scree finds that PvP produces a new situation every time it occurs. Those who prefer PvP tend to claim that they are drawn to this because the skills used can be the same, but the opponents are different, creating sufficient variety for them.

I’m especially tickled because I somehow managed to find that WvW was too repetitive and burned myself out from the game format some time ago.

You see, personality-wise, I’m very low on the competitive Killer Bartle scale. I’m just not really interested in the whole metagame of guess and second-guess your opponent in order to get one-up on them and win. So my tolerance for repetition on things PvP tend to be rather low, a couple rounds played for fun and variety… done.

Even in that eden of PvP, Eve Online, the blogosphere has been exchanging a little quote of the day highlighting a core repetitive aspect of the game.

Getting from one place to another apparently involves a lot of the same steps repeated over and over – turn off and on autopilot, manually warp to zero per jump gate. The only variety is what manner of shark awaits you at each step.

For some, that’s enough to consist of quite an adventure, and they willingly acclimatize themselves to the game’s little repetitive quirks to get the bigger experience.

I’ve been playing Don’t Starve quite a bit over the last few days. I easily get to my second winter and often get to days in the 100+ range. But then, I turtle.

homesweetbase

I turtle A LOT. I don’t play RTS games on a competitive basis because I tend to derive more pleasure spending two hours teching up to EVERYTHING and then creeping in the equivalent of siege tanks or battlecruisers to slowly demolish the computer’s bases one building at a time over outsmarting a real life person, who can turn out to be exceedingly obnoxious, win or lose.

I get that a lot of clever people have discovered they can shortcut this process and created dozens upon dozens of other strategies they can use to win against another party trying to turtle, which leads to more counter-strategies to defend against this, which leads to more counter-counter strategies to get the upper hand, unsoweiter.

I get that this is a delightfully deep metagame for some.

I admire it from afar with videos and commentators to help me understand it, but I choose not to spend a good part of my life learning one game to such a high degree of focus.

Back to Don’t Starve. I build a base. Preferably near 5-6 rabbit holes.

I expand it. I make a little tooth trap alley to the side to fend off hounds.

icallitthehoundnommer

I engage in tons and tons of repetition, including chopping wood for a day or two, gathering grass and twigs for another day, checking on my nearby spider den with pigs (aka silk farm) to make sure it won’t ever overgrow into a Spider Queen, catch and cook meals for another day or two, spend another day or two figuring out and reaching the next source of rocks and flint – just to prep for an expedition that may extend me into unexplored territory and necessitate a secondary base/firepit or an overnight stay not-at-home-base with a campfire.

When Winter comes, I run back to civilization central and my tooth traps and spend a good half my time just chopping wood and keeping the food supply going. Because I don’t want to starve, thank you. (Or freeze.)

NOT FREEZING.
NOT FREEZING. FIRE LEVEL ABOVE DESIGN PARAMETERS.

On the other hand, Azuriel would probably stab his eyes out from the repetition I engage in with the same game. He prefers forward adventuring progress.

Me, I haven’t even seen Maxwell’s door in many of my worlds, and never stepped once through it. I prefer a slow and steady stable state with some incremental creep.

My guess is that each person’s preference for how much excitement and adrenaline rush and thrill versus relaxation they want in their games is different.

(The old hard fun vs easy fun war again. There’s actually two more types if you follow the link.)

For those who find they enjoy a game that is short and linear but continually ramps up the challenge till the content is all done (like Portal and Portal 2), MMOs are going to be an inherently disappointing affair. Once they’ve mastered every challenge they care to, that’s it, done. Finite content is finite.

Time to go on to another game or another MMO, at least until the devs have enough time to produce more content to devour.

An endless endgame?

Whatever it is, it’s going to repeat -somehow-.

WoW raids are a delaying tactic. Kindly repeat the same fight but with the variation and difficulty of cat herding a lot of players with different schedules and skill levels for an RNG chance of desirable loot. Hopefully, this takes you long enough so that the devs can produce the next raid for you to do something similar till the next patch.

If you think that in Everquest Next, there won’t be players who will be searching for and making a point of repeatedly killing the most desirable mobs… I think that you’re sorely mistaken.

One hope that it has of stretching gameplay is the possibility of player-created content, which provides supplementary content to dev-created content, just like how mods can extend the lifespan of a single-player game.

Clarity of preference is important, rather than just dismissing a game as “too repetitive.”

I suspect that Scree prefers “impactful” games. A game where player actions can mean a great deal. Where player actions form the meat of the content via emergence. Where hopefully the NPCs have enough AI to form meaningful, discernable patterns that can be exploited but not TOO exploited.

Well, we’ll all be watching upcoming PvE sandbox games to see if they manage to achieve this elusive holy grail.

A lot of this stuff tends to break the moment you throw the “massively multiplayer” part of the equation in.

We’ve learned that player-created content tends to give rise to “xp farms” where players design, create and run repetitively an optimized encounter so that they can reach max level (and level alts) at the best possible speed. (Thank you, City of Heroes and Neverwinter. Possibly Everquest 2 too.)

We’ll see how fast ingenious players can map the world sufficiently to determine node spawning patterns (must farm crafting materials, y’know!) or provide trackers for mob movement or spawns to determine the most probable places to head to for xp/loot/combat action.

Case in point: observe niche game A Tale in the Desert – randomly spawning mushroom locations produced a shroomdar. This game barely attracts 1000 players at the best of times.

Do you think the combined brainpower of a popular MMO cannot crack what a single team of developers code? Or at least harness the power of massive crowds via  individual player reports? e.g. see GW2 dragon timers before the API was made available.

If you have xp in a game, players will figure out the best way to get xp fast. Even (and especially) if it means repetition.

Skills-based, not levels, you say? I point you to Darkfall and its stories of skill grind, where at least some players will macro it, or engage in the equivalent of leaving a weight on one’s keyboard a la Morrowind or other Elder Scrolls games.

If you have loot in a game, rest assured players will repeatedly do whatever it is to gather it.

Ideally, they are enjoying the activity they repeat. (Note: level of enjoyment varies based on player personality and preference.)

Whether that activity is combat (versus mobs or against other players), or gathering some form of resource (xp, gold, shiny loot for stats or looking pretty, craftables, luxury collectibles), or exploration and discovery or yes, even travel and commuting from point A to point B.

Eventually though, a player is bound to get bored of whatever repetition they were engaged in and wander off. Or burn out if they weren’t careful enough. Part of the gaming life cycle.

The real questions are:

  • Do they wander off to another activity in the same game?
  • If they wandered off to another game, do they ever come back to the one they left? (Check things out or pick up where they left off?)
  • And how frequently do they do it?
  • (Oh, and do they give the devs any money for providing such experiences in the meantime, of course. 🙂 )

GW2: SAB – Informal Stats and Iterated Improvements

Over the past couple days, I’ve been watching the stats on my quick reference bauble guides with a good amount of curious interest.

Here’s World 1:

Zone 1

stats-sab-w1-1

Zone 2

stats-sab-w1-2

Zone 3

stats-sab-w1-3

This is all very informally speaking, since the sample size is pretty small, but I found a number of things fairly intriguing nonetheless.

Interest in grinding baubles via dig and bomb locations in the SAB took a steep dive after Sep 18, when the Tequatl patch dropped. Which matches anecdotal evidence of walking into the SAB these past few days and seeing practically no one around. Nearly everyone appears to be doing their best to cram into Sparkfly Fen.

World 1 Zone 2 – The Dark Woods – appears to be the favorite for bauble farming (on normal mode, anyway.) More people appear to view just that page alone, rather than visit all three as I would have expected from the way I use it as a lazy man’s memory aid, following the link from W1-1 all the way to W2-1.

Slightly less people check the page for W1-1, which could be because it doesn’t have too many baubles to offer, or simply because there aren’t that many in what is a small zone, so it can be remembered offhand without needing to refer to a guide.

About 2/3 of the people who check the guide follow on to W1-3, which is also fairly decent in bauble yields.

What I did find shocking was the stats for W2-1.

World 2 Zone 1

stats-sab-w2-1

Yes, less than HALF of the people who bothered to check the guide for the least popular zone of World 1, or less than a quarter of the people who are content to farm the most popular zone, visit World 2 Zone 1.

The drop is THAT noticeable.

Folks, you can easily get 500 baubles from a run through of World 2-1, plus two bauble bubbles from completion. And the rapids has not been hellish since Piranha Bend got tweaked.

If the quantity of baubles and the level of difficulty aren’t turning people away, then… what is?

My best guess is available time and the perceived size and reputation of the World 2 zones.

Some folks may simply not have enough time every night to run through four zones, and find one complete world a nice stopping point, perhaps. Or they simply run just one zone (1-2).

World 2 zones also seem very big on first glance and they might have been once bitten twice shy after having given World 2 a try when the SAB came out two weeks ago.

It almost makes me wish I could be a fly on the wall when Colin Johanson and Josh Foreman ran their datamining stats to see the real numbers frequenting the SAB… just to see if there’s any correlation between mine and theirs.

Funny, huh? I think it goes to show where the bulk of the majority interest lies. Ascended rewards, loot pinata, epic boss fights, the newest content.

The SAB now seems like a has-been – everyone hardcore must have already swept up the cosmetic rewards they wanted, finished their achievements and moved on like locusts.

Which is pretty sad, because some more quality-of-life improvements have snuck into the SAB since the Tequatl Rising patch and haven’t been talked about or highlighted as much.

Only the slowpoke loners like me who chose to give up the first few days of Camping @ Tequila (Only To Fail in Overflows) in favor of peacefully plodding through World 2 Tribulation Mode and finish the last achievements have been able to appreciate them.

fairdarttraps

Dart traps have gotten SO MUCH FAIRER.

Instead of a barely visible extrusion covered by a checkerboard red and black smooth texture that absolutely does not suggest that anything could shoot out of it, the new upgraded dart traps do contain little tube-like protrusions that suggest projectiles.

The less visible sneaky traps are also highlighted by a green glow that significantly improves visibility, especially the evil little ones that were originally hidden between two tall grey blocks, whose only warning of their presence was when they one-shot you in the back, producing many “WTF”s.

I felt that this made the top area of the grey block puzzle a lot more palatable. (Tribulation Cloud was the main pain in the butt, which is as it should be, in terms of difficulty modes.)

Gong pagoda is still slightly annoying, but not unbearably so. I even managed the full gong run on the first try (even though I was prepared to die like Dulfy suggested and wait for the gong to hit bottom), which may have been a lucky stroke of latency and reflexes, or subconsciously helped by the dart traps being ever so slightly easier to see and thus react more appropriately to.

As for World 2 Tribulation Mode feedback, the major nuisances were the latency-sensitive areas as expected.

World 2-2’s trampoline sequence near the end with the red pillars caused a not insignificant amount of rage as I simply couldn’t get sufficient momentum bouncing on the edge and moving forward. I had to bounce in three jump sequence and move forward/twist the camera fast enough and PRAY I got enough height. Many many deaths.

(Don’t get me started on the poison waterfall and lilypads of World 1-3’s shop. I haven’t revisited it since the last patch, but that one was CRUEL to any latency whatsoever. Easily 120+ deaths before somehow getting in. If GW2 tracks player deaths in map locations, I’m sure that would have turned up like a major hotspot like a raging forest fire on a satellite map. I even deactivated virus scanning and firewalls for that, in the hope of not additionally slowing down -any- packets between me and the server beyond geographic location lag.)

World 2-3’s main trouble spot was the area with ice spikes and blowing gatekeepers where there are two bananas and a tricky path to skate/hop across with No Clouds blocking the way. Not sure if it was latency again or just lack of control over ice, but it was very easy to slide a few millimeters too far and not be able to stop in time, or end up with that oh-so-enjoyable experience of dying in mid-air when you -think- you’ve cleared the lethal obstacle but the server tells you, “NOPE” half a second later.

Eventually, persistence got me through.

I’d talk about the zone being nearly entirely dark as one of those fake difficulty schticks, but players learned how to get around that long ago. I took one look, jumped around for fun for a couple minutes with a torch to enjoy the ambience, then promptly adjusted gamma. Turnabout is fair play, after all.

The only downside of that was that I used the in-game graphics options settings for it, which can only be done in full-screen mode, and that screwed up a three-hour first attempt when I alt-tabbed out to watch how Dulfy jumped the clouds to get to the secret shops where Moto’s Finger is available.

I apparently carelessly left myself in the path of a bouncing goat, which promptly must have knocked me off, then pure chance must have left me out of lives and chucked me into the continue screen. Which then must have run itself down while I was still blissfully watching and rewinding Youtube video in complete ignorance.

I switched back to find myself in the lobby of the Super Adventure Box, rapidly gaining a mood that was distinctly NOT as bright and sunny as the surrounding environment. Went to bed completely stumped by what had happened and only put two and two together later.

The next night, I only took two hours to get back to that point, with no need to refer back to the video, so there’s something to be said for practice.

I’m also pleased to report that this slow learner has finally figured out how to dodge the Storm Wizard’s charge after reading a bunch of forum tips. Turns out my issue was being too concerned with keeping track of where the wizard was and always having the camera swiveled to keep him in view. (I have tank tendencies, situational awareness, y’know?!)

Keeping two trapeziums away and staying near the edge, reflecting his attack and then immediately swiveling to run away along the edge without ever looking back is all it took.

It was trickier trying to figure out what to do with a yellow skin. My guardians are fire-Blood Legion themed (never gonna let that fiery dragon sword go) and blue holographic-themed respectively. I was fairly happy with their look ages ago.

Eventually the warrior alt volunteered. He’s -supposed- to be Iron Legion and has blue-and-grey metal themed armor to match, but he’s been moonlighting in a Flame Legion disguise in his berserker gear. Perhaps too much so given the number of times I keep getting targeted when doing CoF path 2 during the assassin-clearing stage.

Maybe the 8-bit axe will help distinguish him a little more from the NPCs.

yellowaxe

Maybe not.

I overwrote a Zenith Reaver skin for that, so it’s really a “too many skins, too few characters” kind of deal.

The green greatsword is still sitting in the bank. I don’t have a real clue of what to do with it. Maybe the asura can use it at some point once I figure out what other stats I can use. I already have two greatswords in his invisible bag… (and two staffs, and a hammer, and a scepter and focus…)

WTB: savable skins and wardrobe/gear switching capabilities.

GW2: Three Year Old Plays Super Adventure Box

This, my friends, is why it is important to have properly graduated levels of difficulty.

There are all kinds of people from all walks of life and ages playing our game. That is one of the awesome things about it.

Some day, this kid is gonna crack Tribulation, but she would not have gotten there without the intervening modes capturing her attention and helping her have fun while learning.

Infantile should not be as hard as Normal should not be as hard as Tribulation.

Stop demanding for difficulty increases across the board just so you can show off how l33t you are.