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. 🙂 )
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GW2: The Secret of Karka Island

…is that it’s a really good farming location.

yeoldetropicalparadise
I should farm to some reggae music. Monkey Island flashbacks…

At least, there’s where I was in the last days of the Molten Facility, having suddenly realized that karka shells were going for 8 silver a piece and passionfruit flowers for 50s(!)

Barracudas for Armored Scales was always popular (with the bots, especially) and Skelks for Blood and Mosquitoes for Sacs. Reef drakes and reef riders are generally too annoying to bother with.

I had assumed that when the Southsun patch launched, the sheer amount of people on Karka Island (that’s my pet name for it, I’m a Monkey Island fan) would send the supply ricocheting up and the prices tumbling down, so I was striking while the iron was still warm, at any rate.

Turns out that the devs had noticed the same thing much earlier than I did, with the introduction of Blooming Passiflora and a 200% magic find for supporting the settlers. (Well, that’s a good argument in favor of the refugees, unless and until a dungeon or similar pops up, I guess.)

That's a 20s harvest right there!
That’s a 20s harvest right there! (For now, anyway. Prices to drop more soon, no doubt.)

I think the hope is that a few more or a lot more people look into farming at Southsun (instead of Orr 24/7) and bring some of the prices back into balance.

Whether this will last after the month is out and the buff goes away, I don’t know, it depends on how many people decide they like farming mats here, I suppose.

Some people really detest fighting karka.

I used to be one of them. But I took my experimental spirit weapon guardian even further lately, and bought him an entire set of Berserker’s gear since my other cookie cutter was doing so well on Knights/Berserker’s. (At first I wanted the same, but I wanted to see how much total damage output was possible. Turns out it was a good decision as I drop aggro to pretty much anybody and anything else – including the spirit weapons who now serve as decent temporary minion tanks.)

The new berserker set was also a good excuse to buy myself a rhino helm and dress up like a real Blood Legion soldier. But cooler. (T1 helm, shoulders, armor, T2 leggings and boots. Wrath, Lava, Celestial and Midnight Rust.)
The new berserker set was also a good excuse to buy myself a rhino helm and dress up like a real Blood Legion soldier. But cooler. (T1 helm, shoulders, armor, T2 leggings and boots, Flame and Frost gauntlets. Wrath, Lava, Celestial and Midnight Rust.)

He now cuts through karka like his sword is a real fiery dragon sword, rather than a lukewarm butter knife. Casually comparing my performance with two other random parties who were also farming at the time, I was pleased to note that I killed a karka in about half the time they did. (One was halfway through a karka, and I started a new one and finished at the same time. Another two were in a duo and attacking one karka, and I started a new one, and again finished at the same time.)

Swapping either the armor or trinkets with yellow magic find gear drops the dps a bit, but ups the magic find. I’m still experimenting with the best mix. I found stacking pure magic find up to about 169% to be a bit more pointless, possibly because my kill rate was slower, or I was hitting DR faster, I didn’t know. Maybe it was a weird case of RNG.

Anyhow, I certainly plan on more experiments in Southsun during this new Living Story phase and have been contemplating how wacky it would be to invest in an exotic/ascended magic find set. Perhaps that can be a new stretch goal after I finish my arbitrarily decided goal of reaching 200 gold banked and the Golden title. (Without CoF farming, because the fastest way to personal burnout is repeating dungeons ad nauseam for me.)

And what do I think of the new Southsun content?

Stole this picture from the wiki, since I wasn't clever enough to screenshot it myself.
Southsun Before: Stole this picture from the wiki, since I wasn’t clever enough to screenshot it myself.
Southsun After: It's nice to see the permanent changes to the map.
Southsun After: It’s nice to compare the permanent changes to the map. Big obvious new jungle settlement enroaching into the reef rider vent area. New bridge linking Owain’s with the main part of the island – thank goodness, so tired of climbing up that cliff to get Anders for guild bounty. More developed Captain’s Retreat area. New Crab Toss arena. Pearl Islet with more new resort hotness.
So happy to see this new bridge.
So happy to see this new bridge.

For the most part, I like it, though I have some nitpicks.

How Many Alternatives for Achievements?

I was really pleased to see a lot more options and alternatives for getting to the rewards here.

Some people have a moral stance against ever participating in any form of PvP? Great, don’t do Crab Toss, you still won’t miss out on the reward (assuming you catch and do the later Canach’s Lair bits.)

Some people can’t do the jumping puzzle and have some kind of moral imperative against interacting with a mesmer portal? Don’t get the Islet sample then, but you can still get the pretty flower backpiece.

Some people refuse to do anything that sounds like a dungeon ever? Well, you can already get both rewards even without ever setting foot into Canach’s Lair. (Which, I am hoping is more like an open-world dungeon or a mini-instanced hotjoin dungeon that brings in 15-20 people, but you never know, it may just be the same old 5-man dungeon schtick again. Guess we’ll see at the end of May.)

How Spoiled is the Story?

Some people have criticized the spoiler-ific quality of the achievement text and descriptions on the rewards. I don’t really think it’s a very big deal personally – if you catch a certain DE in the settlement at the center of the island, a settler instigator pretty much confesses to Ellen Kiel that a sylvari put her up to it, and the Inspector names him outright – a sylvari with a beef with the Consortium? Oh, it MUST be Canach we’re looking for!

And there’s all the weird yellow-green flowers that are springing up, and if you visit the karka hive, it’s full of yellow-green explosions of yucky spore-like stuff that personally aggravate me just looking at them, let alone aggravating wildlife…

It's probably my graphics settings, but god, is this hive ugly. (I'll get better screenshots in the next two weeks, promise.)
It’s probably my graphics settings, but god, is this hive ugly. (I’ll crank it up, risk crashing and get better screenshots in the next two weeks, promise.)

Okay, so the story is being told in a non-linear fashion with a decidedly heavier hand than the slow linear time-constrained dripping trickle of information that Flame and Frost got us accustomed to, but whatever. We get the message. I’d actually posit a lot more players get the message than the ones who had the patience to talk to every last NPC (often screenshotting every dialogue because we’re anal that way) and watch the change happen over geologic time.

Different teams always produce different content. (See Call of Duty: Treyarch vs Infinity Ward, and for an example closer to home, GW1: Nightfall vs Factions.) You just roll with it if you like the overarcing game/universe.

How Chic is Conversing?

Welcome to Pearl Islet resort! Home of many easy achievements.
Welcome to Pearl Islet resort! Home of many easy achievements.

Ok, so it was a little startling to simply earn an achievement for talking to some of the named NPCs who are part of the Southsun story. Talk about your giveaway ‘chievos, sorta like talking to a Laurel Vendor for a daily.

But you know what? Who fucking cares. I do not need to feel special through artificial exclusivity. I feel special through having an eye for unique fashion styles and color, and being skillful at what I do. I feel special when I help other people and welcome and include them in my community, teach and learn from them.

You wanna be really special? Be Dulfy. Be a good WvW commander on your server. Be a regular mesmer portaller. I guarantee you that all these people helping their community have a lot more respect than you showing off some artificially scarce item that only proves you have plenty of RL money to spend (well, granted, thank you for supporting Anet and the survival of our game with your gambling addiction, I’m glad in the long term sense that you’re a sucker) or are lucky at the RNG.

But I digress. It’s a short sweet simple way to get people locating the starring NPCs and making sure they at least encounter the words that comprise the story, even if they skip past it all and fail to read it.

And judging by the questions over mapchat like “Where is Subdirector Noll?” it is apparently challenging enough for some. (Never over-estimate your audience, I guess. Or maybe he’s just too short to be noticed. /end Asura joke.)

Besides, some of it is pure fun if you do them serendipitously.

I was just wandering when I dropped into the water, and got a skinny dipping achievement at the same time that I noticed nearly all my clothes had fallen off. (At least I got fur.)

I surfaced to find the beach party and chat with Lady Kasmeer and Lord Faren, chuckling at the conversations, and hung out for a while to add to the eyesore factor while watching several lil ugly Asura running around ruining it further. (Apologies to the two sylvari lying down together by the beach and probably having ERP in party chat.)

I think the crab has evil designs... (There are two female Norn players bar-top dancing in the background. Don't you love Tarnished Coast?)
I think that crab behind me has evil designs… (Besides folks chilling on the beach, there are two female Norn players bar-top dancing in the background. Don’t you love Tarnished Coast?)

How Delicious are the Dynamic Events?

centersettlement

Pretty good, I’d say.

The difficulty and scaling seems fairly spot on.

The aggravated wildlife did teach me once that it was a bad idea to be standing at a settlement entrance and lost in scrutinizing one’s map while in berserker gear. And going AFK safely has been a bit more challenging (climbing up to the huts is a good bet, imo.)

I enjoyed running around doing various DEs. The achievements for supporting either side were completed in a timely fashion. There were lively crowds around to assist, but not to the extent of so crowded that there was skill lag or being utterly unplayable.

Some of my guildies are already making plans for leveling up lowbie characters in Southsun this month, since things are upleveled to 80, the pace of events is good and there’s a current population focus here. I might try that out too at some point.

How Satisfying is Sample Collecting?

Mixed opinions about this one.

I liked that there was an obvious and suspicious looking flower serving as a sample right near where you got the quest and the scanner. That gives a wordless clue as to what to be looking out for.

It was slightly non-obvious how to bring up the scanner again once you put it down. Another person and me spent a while conversing with Researcher Levvi trying to get her to cough up another gun because we’d thrown ours down when some rampaging Veteran Karka attacked the camp. I did eventually think to check my inventory again and figured it out (and told the other person having trouble) but I don’t think we were the only ones initially puzzled.

I ran around randomly scanning and pinging and found maybe half of the samples that way before I started getting frustrated. The yellow glow should have been a little taller and more obvious, imo. The achievement clues weren’t that much of a help (do you know how many shipwrecks there are on this stupid island? Vents and geysers?! At least Cave I knew, and Sandpit was unique – though I didn’t put that one together until after the fact.)

Found the hive samples by myself. It just made evil sense to make players have to go there. Here's the "I was there" flower for players to tell others about how they took down the biggest karka of them all...
Found the hive samples by myself. It just made evil sense to make players have to go there. Here’s the “I was there” flower for players to tell others about how they took down the biggest karka of them all…

So it was back to Dulfy. I’m sure a lot more people just went straight to using her guide and had a lot less pain that way.

Even so, I had a bit of a time trying to find the Vent one, there was just too much steam in the way. I had to try and match my minimap to pixel perfect correspondence with that on Dulfy’s before I finally saw it.

The completionist urge to get the Islet sample also got me to finally attempt and complete the Skipping Stones jumping puzzle, something I’ve put off for a very long time. All that SAB practice paid off, I think. And it was nice to see a resurgence of interest in the puzzle, be able to observe people who knew where to go and where to jump, and have friendly mesmers around as insurance. (One was portalling in stages as they attempted it too, which was handy for folks who wanted to do the jumps but got tired of having to repeat what was done before through a slip of the foot.)

How Crappy is Crab Toss?

Also mixed opinions on this one.

Me off ruining someone's Crabtacular hopes by not being anywhere near crab or karka.
Me off ruining someone’s Crabtacular hopes by not being anywhere near crab or karka. (And also playing miserably.)

If it wasn’t for the ludicrousness of the Crabtacular achievement, I’d actually peg it as a decent enough minigame of ‘fun-in-the-sun’ themed non-serious no-consequences pvp with a very decent reward structure (a karka shell and a loot drop for participating, 5 karka shells and two loot drops for winning. And I’ve gotten greens and yellows from it, others did get exotics while I was there.)

First, it’s not very clear what is required for Crabtacular. Many people seem to have the impression it’s being the last one holding the crab at the end of the game. Some have even claimed that they scored the achievement that way. Okaaay. I dunno, I got mine by being the only one alive while everyone got rolled by a veteran karka. But achievements have been known to bug, so who knows.

Secondly, if your opponents have ANY clue what they are doing, and the goal in any PvP game is after all to attain and compete against others with at least a minimum of skill, they will not all courteously die at the same time for you to attain the achievement. There’s usually at least one or two people sensible enough to stay the fuck away from a karka roll, instead of zergling along chasing the crab carrier.

That makes it a stupid very luck-based achievement if you try to attain it normally. Or you could try the patient route and stay in a game endlessly until other people get tired and the number of participants whittles down to a more manageable number which might reasonably be expected to get unlucky and perish together. (Except those staying tend to be pretty decent at the game, decent enough to tolerate staying at any rate.)

Or, since the game unwittingly creates a Prisoner’s Dilemma for GW2 players who have been trained by other aspects of the game to cooperate together, the easiest way of finishing up this achievement is for no one to defect, and everyone to cooperate.

This was how I ended up getting Crabtacular and the last bit of my Crab Carrying achievement done. Simply hung out in a game until there were three people left, and one of them broached the subject of cooperation. I jumped onto the idea in support, and while it did take a while to get the last party speaking and cooperating (I suspect he was winning and wanted to get the Crab Toss Champion done, he didn’t say anything until he won that match – we’d stopped competing and were trying to get him on board), then we all took turns the following few matches to get each other Crabtacular and stuck around to get the last party his Crabgrabber and me my Crab Carrier.

Lag, latency or ping also seems to be a bit of an issue with this minigame. Against certain opponents, especially playing during NA prime hours, they simply seem to slip away too fast to ever connect with a melee steal or tackle. Playing during Oceanic hours, and I seem to do much better. It could be random pairing with someone skilled, but I’m willing to bet that there’s noticeable performance difference between someone with 30 sec ping vs 300 sec or 500 sec ping.

Still, as a no consequences sort of minigame, it isn’t too bad, though I found previous games like the Lunatic Inquisition a lot more fun. It did help me learn how to predict someone’s movements a bit more and plot how to intersect their path, rather than chase aimlessly behind them. But with seemingly random melee targetting once you get into a scrum, and hard to control facing and a dash that changes distance based on how long you press it (and possibly affected by lag), it’s just not very predictable nor or the skills very reliable – that takes away a good deal of the fun in having control of one’s character.

It might have been nicer as a fun game you could play with one’s guild or with teams rather than a chaotic FFA, but no doubt that will lead to (true) accusations of collusion and match fixing very shortly.

How Fast is it Finished?

A couple hours if you’re really focused. A day or so if you’re less intense about it. Maybe longer if you’re really casual.

Some people think that’s too fast.

I don’t really care. I think it’s fine to err on the side of too easy for something that’s only going to last two weeks.

Somehow the incongruity of this tickles the hell out of me. Brave macho Blood Legion charr with a flower on his back. Maybe growing OUT of his back. Parasitic infections ftw.
Somehow the incongruity of this tickles the hell out of me. Brave macho Blood Legion charr with a flower on his back. Maybe growing OUT of his back. Parasitic flora infections ftw. It’s great that it’s account bound, I can swap the look between characters much more easily without buyer’s remorse.

At least this way, the content locusts will be done quickly with whatever they want to achieve in Southsun and be back to their regularly scheduled activities. WvW will see less PvE event disruption as people can quickly take time out for the event and get back to fighting their endless mist war. Time-starved or very casual people have a chance to reasonably participate and complete the content in a couple hours or a weekend without being expected to be online 8 hours a day for 14 days running.

And people who are still interested in what the island offers are not prevented from still staying after the achievements are all done and ticked away, and the shiny backpieces collected. There’s still dynamic events and materials to farm, xp and karma and loot galore if you want it.

Now to await May 28th and whatever Canach’s Lair has in store for us…

(…and speaking of store… I have $10 waiting for the Consortium harvesting sickle right here. I might drop another ten for a character slot this month too because chronic altholics can’t stop.)

ATITD: Papyrus Power

I’ve been trying to find an interesting angle in order to talk about Papyrus. Trying to describe why someone would stay in place for 1-2 hours on the same activity clicking 500 times an hour seemed extremely boring. I normally put on music or a video on the other screen to make growing papyrus more enjoyable.

Then I realized my “veteran” blinders were on. I’d mastered how to deal with Papyrus and was only looking at it from that angle.

In truth, Papyrus is a uniquely ATITD resource. Its learning curve is front-loaded. It’s a resource that can pose several challenges to newbies, with their only out social interaction with more veteran ATITD players. It gives some needed tension, suspense and excitement to new players as they work at learning and mastering the art of growing and managing it.

And even veterans have to engage in social interaction, thanks to the properties of Papyrus (henceforth shortened to “papy” in ATITD parlance), to the point that they’ve developed an unspoken culture of “expected polite behavior” around papy planting.

And yet, there’s still some unknown (or left unsaid by true pros) about papyrus, which opens up a gap for even new or intermediate players like myself to develop their own alternative growing strategies that may work better than the methods used by some older players who have never bothered to think outside of the box and continued to grow the way they are used to.

Challenge #1 – How do I get Papyrus Seeds?

Papyrus is not a naturally occurring resource. Way back at the start of every Tale, says the wiki, is the only time papy shows up ‘naturally’ along the banks of the Nile.

Personally, I suspect they are actually hand-seeded by ATITD staff, GMs or world-builders who have access to spawn the seeds, until such point where they see enough players have collected sufficient papyrus to begin the entire papy distribution cycle.

If you happened to have missed collecting enough of these “ancestor” stalks of papyrus, you would have to wait for those that did to dry the papyrus properly for seeds, grow enough papyrus to dry again properly for seeds until they had enough spare seeds to give away.

For a short time, there is a “haves” and “have nots” division, but this is quickly mitigated by the social culture that has evolved around papy. Drying papyrus properly yields plenty of extra seeds, and players will cheerfully give away small starter sets of 15-30 seeds to other players who need them to get started.

This seems to have stemmed from a sort of reciprocal altruism. As mentioned before, ATITD is a social game and over the long-term, there are plenty of opportunities to keep interacting with each other. If I help you with this, you might be more liable to feel friendly towards me and aid me in some other aspect of the game later.

And there’s the “what if I were in their shoes” scenario – every Tale, everything resets. In the next Tale, maybe you have papyrus at the start of the game and I don’t. I wouldn’t want to be stranded without seeds the entire Tale either. And the cost to me is practically zero because the seeds rain down like manna from heavens if you have sufficient papyrus and take the trouble to dry them properly.

(Once I graduated out of newbiehood and learned all about the papy cycle, I’ll confess to now being one of those ‘hardcore’ individuals who make it a point to scour the Nile at the beginning of the Telling until I have at least 20-40 Papyrus. Mostly from paranoia and control-freakiness. I don’t like the feeling of being dependent on another, and I rather start the cycle off and dispense seeds than vice versa. Others couldn’t be bothered because it’s so easy to get seeds from friends anyway.)

Challenge #2 – Drying Them Properly, What Does That Entail?

A spiritual pilgrimage up to the top of the highest mountain to cleanse yourself properly… Ok, ok, I kid. But not about the altitude.

Drying papy at sea level (or rather Nile river level where almost everybody lives) yields a grand total of zero seeds.

Choosing convenience means you trade off the ability to propagate more papy. As long as you remember to check your seed stocks, you can still get away with it now and then and only go up to that high mountain when you need more seeds. But yes, this means papyrus is one of those resources where you can screw yourself out of the ability to plant any more if you make a mistake.

And when we say high mountain, we mean HIGH mountain. This one is decent.

At least for the first few times drying papyrus, as you’re trying to maximize seed yield. The higher the better.

Common newbie mistake is to go up a small hill like this one and think it’s enough. It’s not. Our concept of altitude as shaped by other MMOs makes our judgement a little off.

Until you hike up mountains like this one in ATITD and realize just how high things can go.

The reason why we go up as high as possible, for the first few precious handfuls of papyrus, is because papy seed yield is random. On this moderately middling sandy mountain that I use on a casual basis because it’s nearest to my home compound and gives decent (but not maximized) seed yield, I got an average of 0-56 seeds per 20 Papyrus dried.

56 seeds is great, of course, but Murphy’s Law being what it is, getting 0-4 seeds on your only handful of 20 Papyrus might not be what you want to see at first. Once you get more stocks built up, then it’s easier to get more careless about things.

You also have the choice of drying papy in two things. A Drying Rack or a Flax Hammock. Drying racks are cheaper to build (18 boards), but take longer to dry papyrus (22 minutes for a max load of 20.) Flax hammocks are more expensive (8 boards, 4 rope, 2 canvas), but papy drying time is 4 minutes.

I’m a distinctly impatient sort, so I make it a point to get flax hammocks up as soon as possible to dry papy.

One of the things you’ll find that some people do is to build drying equipment on the commonly used highest points of the region, and then setting their permissions to allow anyone to use them. (The rationale: It isn’t being used 24/7 by me, why not?) A huge collection of stuff will typically accompany a good drying spot, and it’s perfectly ok to ask the region to point you to the coordinates of such spots. Some players will have such information in their /info as well.

There are also some who don’t bother with opening their permissions, or want to keep their things for themselves (rationale: it’s their materials cost after all, and they can leave their stuff in there and come back later) and seeing their equipment hogging the highest point can be mildly annoying.

On a very micro-scale, this demonstrates the conflict in ATITD, which is all about conflict between player philosophies rather than combat against NPCs. Share for the public good or keep resources for yourself?

By late into the Telling, there’s usually publicly available drying equipment up on that mountain peak. Earlier on in the Tale, bring your own materials to build some, in case you get up there and find no usable equipment. Walking to and fro would be a pain.

Challenge #3 – How Do I Grow Papyrus?

Papyrus doesn’t grow just anywhere. Officially, papy is grown along the banks of the Nile by sowing seeds along the shore about 100-150 coordinates south of where you want it to come up.

(The seeds float downstream towards the mouth of the river, which is in the northern part of the Egypt map. Yes, the ATITD map does resemble real world Egypt in broad strokes, the Red Sea and Sinai is where you’d expect it to be, etc.)

This ties papy growth to a geographical location. If you live along the eastern side of Egypt in Sinai or along the Red Sea or in the land-locked deserts to the west, you’d have to make a special trip to the Nile in order to grow papyrus. Or trade for it with someone who lives closer by the Nile and likes growing papy (the first is easy to find, the second not so much.)

To spread out the papyrus along the shore, the common recommendation is to plant a seed every 5-10 coordinates as you run north (approaching the point where the first papy will start growing.)

10 minutes after the seed sowing, the papyrus from that seed will spring up. Since the planting is staggered, there is a slight lag time between one seed growing and the next, and depending on your camera angle, you may actually observe the papy sprouting up and covering the shoreline with yellow flowers. Personally, I find it a beautiful sight.

The Culture That Evolved Around Papyrus

What’s not so beautiful is the fact that any Tutankhamun, Darius or Hatshepsut can come by and take your papy by clicking on it. As you can imagine, the community very quickly evolved a sociological solution to this dilemma as set up by the game’s rules of papyrus. It is generally considered rude and crass to take someone else’s papyrus. It’s a big warning splashed all over the wiki that any papyrus found not at the very start of the Telling comes from some players’ seeds.

Culture-wise, many players will also announce their papyrus growing in regional chat. There are a couple reasons for this. One is to announce your intentions, so that you don’t inadvertently overlap with anyone else currently in the midst of growing.  You also get to sort of ‘book’ the area that you say you’re growing in for the duration, and it gives you backup corroboration in chat later should you catch some classless guy stealing your papy making you have to call him/her out on it over regional. The only thing is you’ll often have to put up with jokes from players who will insinuate they will steal your papy over regional. 🙂

On the other hand, some players also don’t announce their papyrus growing. Rationale: why would you want to tell people where you’re doing something and make it easy for them to know where exactly to rob you? Or just the whole non-exhibitionistic factor, why do I have to announce my movements to everybody on regional? Disadvantage: Some players may intepret the lack of announcement as an indication that the grown papy is a free for all – some people do forget or miss spots of their papyrus after growing and while some players will never touch it, others will clean it up so as not to waste it.

I’ve done it both ways. There’s no right nor wrong.

There also seems to have evolved an understanding that papyrus found in lakes and ponds away from the Nile is generally free for the taking (as long as no one has announced their growing papy currently, in which case you give them a while to see if they come by to pick it up later.) For some reason, few people ever do pick up their papy from lakes and ponds.

I believe this is because most people either don’t truly understand papy growing – and thus do not realize that some of it may filter off into lakes and ponds, or they’re just too lazy to make the walk and are content with trading off not needing to walk a distance for low papy yields. Probably the former.

The Secret Undercurrent of Individual Player Knowledge

There was a point in a past Tale where I observed the habits of certain players and realized they were growing across a ‘dead region’ (a spot which filters any seeds sown there into a lake or pond east or west of the Nile) and were only picking up papy from the shoreline. Call me evil, but I took to planting an alt in the nearby lake that was getting a good third or half of their papy yield and siphoning it all off every time they announced they were growing. 😛 Secretly. No one was ever the wiser.

I -could- have just sent the players a tell and told them why they weren’t having as great papy yields as they could be, and shown them where to look. But why should I? It’s not my fault that they were unobservant. Where is my benefit from sharing that sort of high-level game knowledge to someone who doesn’t have the skill to return valuable tips back to me?

Instead, I chose to be a little subversive, and give myself a little sneaky adrenaline thrill, by swiping the papyrus from under their noses and scanning the horizon very very carefully in case any player names showed up, in which case I’d figuratively shove all the yellow flowers behind my back, and start whistling innocently – who me? Not doing anything, just harvesting wood and herbs… No one ever did, but that’s besides the point. 🙂

And that’s the undercurrent of ATITD, the part that I think few talk about openly. Player culture and society are not cast-in-stone game design rules. It benefits most people to be seen to be following the unsaid social rules, just like in the real world. Openly deviant behavior is usually not profitable, and can be punishable by social sanction. But I do not believe I am the only person to independently figure out that there is always a certain amount of flexible give to ”rules,” especially since there are plenty more competitive and political players than I hanging about in this game.

It’s rude to build stuff near other people’s compounds, but some people do. It’s rude to hog or monopolize resources, but you bet some people do, especially in the name of competition. It’s rude to ignore queues for obelisks and what not, but some people couldn’t care less about some other people’s made up rules (which, undercurrent again, may be made expressedly for the unsaid purpose of getting themselves ahead) and do it anyway. I’ve seen political animals and drama queens take over guilds made ostensibly for the good of helping others, but secretly siphon away resources for their own personal profit.

It all happens. ATITD isn’t some communal crafting paradise, which is what newbies tend to think on viewing the game at a surface level. It is a microcosm of human society. The bad parts, as well as the good. And the other thing you’ll find out is that there aren’t good people and bad people, they’re one and the same, sometimes they’ll do self-serving things, and sometimes, they’ll do very selfless things.

For myself, I’ve always been a “Knowledge is power” type of game player. I’ve always prided myself on knowing secret knowledge others don’t. That’s my edge to get ahead. Naturally I will hold back from sharing all I know to everyone. As an intermediate sort of player, I share and trade my insights with players I see as veterans and having knowledge that can benefit me. That’s gotten me an inroad more than once into a guild in-group where more secrets are shared than in public and mutual beneficial learning can take place. At the same time, I like training promising newbies, those who are actively learning and ask questions and don’t expect to be hand fed everything.

Others find their own edges. A lot more people are more social than I. Being cheerful, friendly or funny company can get you into a guild as well. But I digress badly, let’s get back to papy.

Challenge #4 – Optimal Efficient Growth

So here’s the thing about ATITD. No one really knows for sure how the real game mechanics work unless you come up with theories and do lots of experiments to corroborate or disprove them and those that stand the test of time are generally accepted as fact and proceed to be common knowledge. (And the ‘you’ that come up with the theories are usually the math or programmer people that can think like a computer.)

Papyrus yield can go all the way up to 20 papyrus to 1  seed, according to the wiki. Reasonably good, achievable yields range from 5:1 – 12: 1. And the yields may differ according to the time of day.

But is the wiki right?

I don’t know. I have my doubts about the time of day hypothesis. But I certainly couldn’t be arsed to do multiple tests at specific times of day and calculate the averages in a spreadsheet to support or disprove that theory – so, that’s still open for anybody to work on if they so choose! Beuller?

Certainly my anecdotal experience with papyrus growing has gotten ranges of 5:1 – 8:1 along the Nile, so that matches up.

And here’s another theory. My pet theory, which I haven’t bothered to prove or disprove, but I believe in general, papy yields seem to decrease the further north you go. Or at least, when I was living way down in the south of Egypt in a previous Telling, I was getting 8:1 – 10:1 yields of papyrus. In another Telling, I lived in the middle of Egypt and got 5:1 – 8:1 yields. And in this Telling, I live up near the nothern part of Egypt and got colossally bad yields of 2:1 – 3:1 papyrus, going up to 5:1 if I searched all manner of lakes and ponds.

Now this could simply be an artifact of how the regions are laid out, and people tending to plant papyrus along the Nile near to where they stay. One thing is for sure, there are good areas to plant papyrus, and areas that aren’t. And only experimentation will tell you more and help you decide where you prefer planting it.

If you’re planting along the Nile, it is generally convenient to find an area with land bridges that will help you easily cross to both sides to pick (as papy grows on both sides of the river), that gives decent yields, and has few to no ‘dead spots’ where you’ll find no papyrus growing along the shore (having drifted inland to a lake or pond.)

If you do encounter a ‘dead spot,’ consider taking the time to wander 100-300 coordinates east or west of the Nile to check ponds and lakes and see where the papyrus has gone. They tend to turn up in the same area. If it’s just one big lake or pond, consider if it’s worth the tradeoff to walk there later and go round to pick up the inland papy. If it’s a lot of small ponds that look like an archipelago or are difficult to run to, then you’ll have to decide if you want to keep growing in that place and whether you’ll put up with the running inconvenience to maximize yield, or write off those inland papy.

If you run two accounts like me, (or just have a friend, like I don’t,) it is also possible to have one character along the shores of the Nile, and another character sweeping up the inland papyrus. Or one character on either side of the Nile shore.

For three people papy growing for the really sociable, it’s easy to have one person keep planting the seeds and two people running up and down the river shore on either side to hoover up papyrus.

And here’s your secret reward for reading all the way to the end. This was something I just discovered this Tale, after deciding that I wasn’t going to put up with the crappy yields of my home region (the papyrus was going to ponds and lakes everywhere, it was insane. I could barely track down where most of them had gone.)

The method is slightly adapted from the one I learnt from a guild, “power papy” – which is to park a character in one coordinate location and have it drop papyrus every 5-10 seconds, and have other characters stay 100-150 coordinates north from the seeding spot to keep picking papy. This method negates the necessity of too much running up and down the Nile, but you need multiple characters for this.

In fact, I was trying to learn and master “power papying” with my two alts when I stumbled by accident onto something with much much better yields.

The alternate method to growing papyrus is to take advantage of the ‘dead spots.’

You know the papyrus will go to a pond or lake from that dead spot. Drop seeds on the dead spot every 10 seconds or so. Find that pond or lake. And the papyrus will have grown in a happy circular ring around it. No river bridge crossing back and forthing required.

This is probably very location dependent. My best suggestion without outright giving away the coordinates to the lake I’m using (though you could try finding it from the featured image and my happy personal prejudice that south Egypt is the place to be when growing papy) is to find a dead spot that filters it all to a very very big lake, no stray papy along the Nile, no other ponds nearby.

Using this method amuses me greatly because it’s so opposite from the commonly accepted method of growing papy. Imagine my initial horror when I used the spot and realized there was none, no, absolutely nil papy along the Nile above where I dropped seeds. “OMG, where did it all go?!” And then I found where they all went, and my jaw dropped at the resultant yield.

With two characters, one dropping seeds every 20-30 seconds (manually, because I’m too lazy to turn on a laptop and macro it, though it is a prime opportunity for macro’ing) and the other running loops around the big lake, I easily get yields of 400-500 papyrus under an hour, with efficiency yields of 14:1 – 18:1. (Yes, it is a fantastic little lake.)

And I just did a one character experiment in which I planted along the Nile for 10 minutes and ran to the lake to collect for 10 minutes and back to the spot again. Yields were 179 papy from 10 seeds, 102 papy from 7 seeds, 145 papy from 8 seeds for the three rounds which took ~25 minutes each. Phenomenal yields, I love it, I’ve never gotten anything as good using the Nile river shoreline.

Tradeoff though, you have to run to the spot. And it’s really far from my home compound. But I don’t really care. I love the yield. It upsets my psyche deeply to get miserable yields. I’ll put up with the run.

On Aquaculture

Lately, there’s been one more layer of complexity to papyrus. In Tale 4, the players voted to support a radical son of Pharoah named Sami (an event/storyline NPC played by staff) over the traditional son Wahim. In so doing, they gave up all the monuments and potential for player-created new Tests for Tale 5, but traded it for the chance to propose and create 7 new skills and technologies for that next Telling.

One of those new technologies, which made it into Tale 5 and carried over to Tale 6, was Aquaculture.

Aquaculture by Nchanter

Our grandparents pass down stories from their grandparents, and so on down the generations of a promised technology from one of the first Pharaohs that would have allowed the growth of papyrus away from the Nile. That promise was never fulfilled. We hope that our modern scientists will be able to, at long last, fulfill this promise. By researching Aquaculture the citizen of Egypt would be able to plant papyrus in buildings at home, either in tubs upgradeable through addition of materials and substances once a citizen has learned the technology from a university, or via a new building made available upon the research of Aquaculture. In exchange for not having to trek to the Nile to plant and gather papyrus, the folk of Egypt acknowledge that they may have to accept a smaller yield of papyrus from each handful of seeds.

Now it is possible to grow papyrus from papyrus tanks at home, once Aquaculture is researched and you pick it up from a university and you make said papyrus tanks which are rather costly.

These tanks aren’t mine, I just took a picture of them to illustrate. I might make my own some day, but the glass cost makes my head spin. (And I’m convinced I get more excellent yields by normal growing.)

The only thing is, the tanks produces Sterile papyrus, as opposed to the Fertile papyrus that grows along the Nile. Sterile papyrus produces no seeds whatsoever.

In other words, it’s a good option that uses up excess seeds, with the tradeoff that it takes longer to grow in the tanks and the tanks being costly in the first place, while not devaluing overmuch the original method of papyrus growing – which is faster but requires active work, and yields seeds. A sort of “Papyrus Automation.” (We will touch more on Automation in later ATITD posts as I work towards those machines.)

In closing, I’d just like to say, ATITD is not the sort of game that is a thrill a minute. (Realm of the Mad God is like its polar opposite. I like balance. You may have noticed.) It’s a more cerebral long term game. And yes, that means there are intervals of waiting and boredom that are best shored up with something external like music or a video on the other screen.

Once you master papyrus, all that’s left is the execution, and the execution is not exceedingly exciting, it’s just click to run around and left or right click on papyrus to pick it up. Over and over. Some people have tried writing macros for detecting the yellow of the flower and automatically clicking, but I haven’t found one that works well yet. I’d like to.

Long term games are not normally my kind of game, especially one with long periods of boredom or doing nothing or relying on set time intervals that strongly suggest I need an alarm clock to play the game properly. But I put up with ATITD’s little quirks because I was curious about all the unique mechanics, and the community and game itself has grown on me. Like a fungus.

But a tasty one.

(I guess I can cover Mushrooms in yet another post later!)