Here We Go Round the Grindberry Bush

You’d think I’d learn by now.

I don’t know why I even try to expect consistency from myself.

Not a few days after changing my blog layout to favor bigger pictures, in the expectation that I might be playing more simulation style games with lovely scenery like theHunter or new games where screenshots would help to illustrate the experience, I have suddenly decided that NOW is the perfect time to re-focus on the same old games and make a concentrated push for long term goal projects.

This mostly means that I’ve traded off staring nightly at stuff that looks like this:

lake_deer

To this:

legmedss

Well, in the case of Warframe, I know why.

At the end of April, they announced the Prime Vault was unsealing to make Loki Prime earnable once more, as well as Volt Prime.

I have neither of them and I’ve been enjoying the basic Loki’s invisibility for certain missions of late, so this was very motivating for me to declare “farm relics to get the unvaulted primes” as a long term goal until July 3 or done (Preferably done way before that final vault sealing date.)

The less fantastic news is that relic farming is always intentionally grindy.

So I thought I may as well stretch it into a long term project rather than burn out attempting to farm 12 hours without stopping the first few days. (Yeah, right, who has that kind of game time any more? Dang college students/unemployed/retirees.)

I guess these things come in cycles.

Having indulged the inner Explorer for a couple months, now the inner Achiever demanded to be let out to do its thing.

The problem with the inner Achiever (or at least with mine) is its intense desire to have whatever it’s aiming for -now-, stat, with very little clue about just precisely how it’s going to get there and very little tolerance for how long the whole process will take.

I get very very antsy.

In my befuddled brain that is the usual state of affairs, it tends to imagine that whatever it wants will somehow magically be presented to it, if it thinks about it hard enough, repeatedly enough, and keeps chasing after it like an overenthusiastic dog.

Project planning is a skill I seem to have largely missed the boat on.

Traditional project planning, much like traditional outlining, has never worked for me.

In the old days, it was pretty much do it that waterfall way or the highway, and I usually just opted for careening down the expressway flying by the seat of my pants and winging it by dealing with the loudest and most urgent thing and proceeding from there via subconscious guilt and nagging brain prompts.

In this enlightened Internet day and age, there are apparently more options than the two extremes, as consultants and professionals attempt to describe what the more average folks -actually- do to get by in their day to day lives, and then give it shiny new names and a marketing buff and polish to sell the technique back to us.

One such methodology that I randomly stumbled across is the Improvement Kata, something purportedly based on what Toyota’s management culture practices.

Beyond the business speak and filler for packaging into a format that can be sold as training to corporations, it seems to be based on a core common sense (which is never very common) concept of iteration.

  1. Have a direction that you want to head towards, and an idea of the challenge you’ll need to overcome
  2. Have an idea of where you currently are
  3. Define a reachable “next target”
  4. Experiment your way from 2 to 3
  5. Repeat 2-4 until you reach 1, if ever

Besides the useful and common concept of breaking down your goal into smaller realistically achievable parts, I really like what Improvement Kata brought to step 4, where it is explicitly diagrammed as not a straight linear path, but a series of winding experimental steps where the path zigzags

This helps to assuage my perfectionist mind that it is okay to have backward progress or sidetreks in the course of attaining the target.

That like Edison’s light bulb, you may have to try a whole bunch of different things, fail, realise and learn what -doesn’t- work, in order to finally hit upon something that -does-.

That chasing up side avenues is fine.

That whatever gets you motivated to just keep making starts is good, you’ll learn more as you experiment your way forward.

That it’s more important to just check in now and then on where you are, on what you’ve learned since the last check-in and to keep refining those plans based on what you know now until you get where you want to go.

I tried out the practice on the Relic Farming project.

1. Overall Big Picture Target – Own Loki Prime, Volt Prime and maybe Odonata Prime

2. Where Am I Now – originally nothing; now, see below

wf_relicgrind

I am almost there on Loki Prime, just missing the rarest and most annoying to obtain component. I got lucky cracking open relics, so I’m a little further along on Volt Prime than I’d dared to hope. No progress on Odonata, but that’s fine as it is the least priority.

3. Next Target – Loki Prime Systems

4. Experiment

Experiment-wise, I’d already conducted a bunch in the previous week to find out the best sources of relics and what tools I had at my disposal to obtain them, given my quirky limitations of preferring to solo, not wishing to buy stuff outright with platinum and being more limited than a max MR player

Several false starts and some time measurements later, it has boiled down to running through Void, Marduk – Sabotage with a Loki at my very average and not extremely fast pace of ~5min per mission to have a 6% chance of popping the correct Axi L4 relic.

I am collecting a great deal of other relics in the progress.

When bored of the former, the secondary fallback is that I can also do a Void, Mot – Survival up to 20 min for a 13% chance at the Axi L4 relic with a Nidus.

But survival with void enemies doing 4x more damage and needing to stay for an uninterrupted 20 minutes tends to be a little more nailbiting than running around mostly invisible.

So I wind up by preference going for 4 chances of 6%, as opposed to 1 chance of 13% to get what I want.

Is that better? If I remember my math classes more, I could probably figure it out.

(My hunch says: the combined probability of -not- getting the relic I want each time is 94%, multiplied by itself 4 times. So 0.94 x 0.94 x 0.94 x 0.94 = 0.78. So the chance I might have popped the relic after 4 goes is 1 – 0.78 = 22%?)

Dunno. I await someone better at math to correct me. Intuitively, it kinda feels better, so we’ll run with that for now.

You’d think that project is sufficient to keep me occupied for the present, but between ArenaNet’s slightly improved communication and the anticipated release of the final Living Story 4 episode, my attention has been somewhat drawn back to GW2.

charmingmug
Not to insinuate that the game is some sort of many-armed monster, but… maybe.

To be honest, my relationship with GW2 was in a very bad place at the beginning of the year.

Some of the words that easily came to mind were “frustrated” “bored out of my skull” “burnt out” and “pushed beyond tolerance at the change in community sentiment.”

(Call me paranoid, but I rather suspect that similar emotions were running through a number of ArenaNet staff pre-layoffs.)

I just hadn’t reached a “quitting” frame of mind yet.

I was just stuck in a weird limbo of “I still kinda like the game, but I don’t like where it is nor where it seems to be going.”

Eventually, I decided that I’d delay reacting to it and give ArenaNet sufficient time to get their last few story episodes out and reassess what I felt about GW2 in April-May.

I guess I’m finally getting a little smarter with age and figuring out that delaying decisions can sometimes be a way forward.

The ArenaNet layoffs seem to have been a wakeup boot for the company. Not a great thing to happen to anyone, but making lemonade out of lemons is about the best one can do with a bad situation. Communication has stepped up a little (possibly due to certain policy makers voluntarily leaving). It’s a fire under them that forces a re-focus on what they’re trying to achieve with GW2.

From a steadily dropping and close to zero percent confidence level in the future of GW2 pre-layoffs and pre-communication, it at least feels like there’s a 35% chance now that there might be somewhat interesting future things for GW2. (Note: I’m a cynical pessimistic person by nature, so these are pretty decent numbers for my skewed viewpoint.)

Pursuant to figuring out how I will feel about the whole GW2 franchise once Living Story 4 draws to a conclusion, it occurred to me that regardless of me quitting or continuing, I should finish some of the long term goals that I always wanted to complete.

The biggest bugbear on that Unfinished Tasks list was Legendary Medium armor.

It is with some irony that I note that the raids part of it was completed long ago and by no means a bottleneck.

It was more a lack of motivation due to it being ugly as sin (and that’s giving sin a bad name), and the eternal time-gated nuisance of faction provisioner tokens which requires serious organized diligence to remember to feed various NPCs daily with the required objects for weeks on end. 25 days if you’re rich and go for 12 tokens a day, and for cheapskates like me, 42 days going at a 7 token a day pace.

That and the crippling cost of helping to sink a shipload of crafting materials by buying them with gold from other players.

Hence the spreadsheet, keeping track of what I have and still need:

legmedss

The Step 4: Experiment stage of this has been surprisingly more entertaining than first anticipated.

Mostly because my miserly soul refuses to buy outright expensive things off the TP if there’s another way I can obtain them at a decent enough clip.

I’m time gated by provisioner tokens anyway, so it’ll be early June before I can be done.

The question is: what activities can get me more of what I need?

grindberry

The various experiments in answering that have led me to do long ignored HoT metas, chase down the Winterberry farm once more for Unbound Magic to open bundles to see if their contents were worth anything, and learn more intently about the Living Story 4 maps that contain Volatile Magic as a reward, as those can be exchanged for trophy shipments.

It’s gotten my not-quite-raider self out of closed instances with my ego continually frayed by ever-excessively competitive people (not that it’s wrong, but type As exhaust everyone else around them – especially when they decide type B aren’t worthy of respect, or would be better off dragged up the mountain and would appreciate it once they see the view at the top)

TypeATypeBCartoon
Cartoon taken from https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html

and back out into the open world where things are either slightly more chill, or where I can solo in peace.

I finished most of the crafting and mystic forging. I ran through a HoT meta or two and picked up most of the tokens I’d need.

I bought stuff I’m not likely to be able to farm for myself in good time from the TP.

My timing is terrible, as the legendary greatsword is coming and prices are no doubt rising in response already. I rationalized it by my supposition that prices will rise and stay high for at least the next month once the legendary launches and everyone realizes they need the stuff I also need for legendary armor, so I may as well get what I need now for peace of mind, and any extras I earn I can sell at the presumably more inflated price later.

The last step is T5 and T6 trophies. They’re in sync because there’s two major ways I figure I’ll get them.

One is mystic forge promotion. I buy the T5 and then convert them on my own penny crystalline dust and spirit shard-wise for T6. That economy is generally sensitive enough that it should always be somewhat cheaper to do so than buy the T6 outright, barring a sudden glut of T6 drops from some event or another.

The second is volatile magic converted into trophy shipments. The return seems to be fairly decent. So I’ve been all over the LS4 maps harvesting nodes, killing stuff, doing hearts, buying daily stuff off vendors, collecting glowy magic objects on mounts, doing dailies, doing metas and trying to figure out if anything gives a decent return and is hopefully more personally interesting to me than doing a million Great Hall/Palawadan meta cycles.

It’s still pretty grindy though.

In that I’m repetitively doing a whole lot of things mostly to get the end result. I’m not not enjoying it (if you can parse that.)

As in, it’s not something I would just do for fun (it takes a bit more focus than relaxation), and it’s not something I outright hate either (those I wouldn’t do. I decided to buy the fractal stuff I needed off the TP, all 140g of it, because I still loathe that game mode and the dislike deepens further with every new fractal I’ve never tried and ever-divided PUG scene. What’s gold for if not to trade with, right?)

It’s more a focused reason/excuse to repeat some things I might not repeat otherwise in order to get to a final goal.

In the repetition, I have a reason/excuse to actually be playing the game, and you know, it’s not half bad an activity to be doing.

…Hmm… Maybe I still sorta like this game after all.

It’s a strange kind of convoluted thinking that I haven’t quite got my head around yet, but it’s an improvement from -not liking- for sure.

We’ll see how things go from there.

What Do I Have to Gain, And What Do I Stand to Lose?

With so many goals on my mind lately, it probably comes as no surprise that one of the books I’ve recently been reading is a pop psychology one by Heidi Grant Halvorson, pithily entitled “Succeed – How We Can Reach Our Goals.”

What I do like about it is that it’s an easy reading, almost-conversational-blog sprinkled-with-humor style summary of what appear to be fairly crunchy concepts in research, just distilled without having to wade through pages of jargon down to a level where a layperson can grasp the surface and make use of.

One of the more interesting summarized concepts was that a person can have a promotion or a prevention focus when it comes down to chasing goals.

Promotion-focused goals are thought about in terms of achievement and accomplishment. They are about doing something you would ideally like to do. In the language of economics, they are about maximizing gains (and avoiding missed opportunities).

Prevention-focused goals are thought about in terms of safety and danger. They are about fulfilling responsibilities, doing the things you feel you ought to do. In economic terms, they are about minimizing losses, trying to hang on to what you’ve got.

This goes a long way towards explaining my puzzlement at the odd sense of relief I get when successfully completing a raid boss, as contrasted by the elation I see other people experience.

When you set a goal for yourself and reach it, you feel good. That much is obvious. But what does “good” feel like?

When your goal is an achievement, a gain, you feel happy—joyful, cheerful, excited, or, in the vernacular of a typical teenager, totally stoked. It’s a high-energy kind of good feeling to reach a promotion goal.

It’s a very different kind of good to reach a prevention goal. When you are trying to be safe and secure, to avoid losing something, and you succeed, you feel relaxed—calm, at ease, peaceful. You breathe the sweet sigh of relief. This is a much more low-energy kind of good feeling, but not any less rewarding.

When I read the above paragraphs, I was amazed at just how right on the money it sounded.

Some of this subconscious choice of focus might be due to personality, or culture, or upbringing, but evidently I skew a lot more towards prevention where this is concerned.

(East Asians are enmeshed in a culture that revolves around saving face, it rubs off, even if you’d like to be optimistic and gain-focused. Singaporeans have the terms “kiasu” and “kiasi” – the Hokkien root word “kia” literally means “fear” or “afraid.”)

We could share the same goal of wanting to down the raid boss, but where someone else might be focused on the -gain-, on the prize and rewards and prestige and glory and satisfaction of a successful kill, my focus tends to end up on:

  • “I hope I’m not screwing up too badly, to the point that they kick me, cos that will mean more difficulty and obstacles in the path of Legendary armor collection” or;
  • “This group is not doing so well, we’re missing something, what are we missing, where is the flaw in the team that stands in our path of success, how can this flaw be fixed, either by the person responsible -is it possible to communicate this flaw without a drama blowout- or by me covering what’s missing.”
  • “What else can I be doing to ensure success? Am I making mistakes that I need to avoid or not do so much of? Am I fulfilling my roles and responsibilities in a raid without slipping up?”

Little wonder by the time a group I’m in first successfully downs a boss, I’m exhausted and relieved.

As for the opposite feeling, Halvorson had this to say:

The focus of your goal also determines the particular kind of bad you feel when things go wrong. In fact, Higgins first discovered the difference between promotion and prevention when he was trying to explain why some people reacted to their failures with anxiety, while others reacted by sinking into depression.

When you are going for gain, trying to accomplish something important to you, and you fail, you tend to feel sadness—dejected, depressed, despondent. As a teen might put it, totally bummed. It’s the low-energy kind of bad feeling—the kind that makes you want to lay on the couch all day with a bag of chips.

But failing to reach a prevention goal means danger, so in response you feel the high-energy kinds of bad feeling—anxiety, panic, nervousness, and fear. You freak out. Both kinds of feelings are awful, but very differently so.

Suddenly I understand why I ended up keyed up in a ball of nervous thwarted frustration in the early days, without the safety of a static group to fall back on.

I needed that safety, that ego defence of:

a) you have successfully killed all the bosses, ergo you do not suck,

b) you have a static group that can successfully kill all the bosses weekly, ergo your achievement plans are not threatened,

c) you have a respectable amount of face-saving legendary insights, sufficient to make Legendary Armor even if your raid group crumbles overnight (notice the urge to catastrophize)

From afar, it’s a little bit sad that my initial motivation seemed to stem more from a place of fear, of danger avoidance, rather than “fun” or gain-seeking.

It does help to explain why other people seem to get a lot more positive kicks out of raiding than me, though.

(That’s not to say I’m incapable of promotion-focused goals. I find I’m more able to focus on that kind of stuff -now-, after the “safety”/”avoid danger” bits are already resolved.

I’m more able to relax and look for gains and “fun” now that a lot less is “at stake” – even if the stakes only really existed in my head.)

The silver lining to this ever-so-slightly neurotic cloud is that prevention-minded pessimists like me are apparently very good at self-monitoring and future improvement. We can’t help but keep thinking of “what can be done better next time” and picking apart our mistakes like it’s the end of the world to commit one.

Optimists, on the other hand, are more liable to say, “well, it could have been worse if I had done this, or if that happened…” in order to make themselves feel better, which according to Halvorson, means they tend to blind themselves more to their own faults to protect their ego, and thus improve at a slower pace than worry-wart pessimists, if at all.

True, all the above is a simplification and a generalization. Optimists vs Pessismists or Promotion vs Prevention dichotomies don’t exist only in black or white terms.

In reality, a person can vary between being pessimistic and optimistic from one moment to another, or choose to be promotion-focused for goal A and prevention-focused for goal B, and it’s probably useful to be aware and consciously decide to do so.

But as a high-level concept, I thought it was fairly interesting to be able to categorize our tendencies to think along two major paths that way.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back & The New Year’s Direction

In my zeal for New Year’s spring cleaning and re-ordering my life for the better, I opened a window that hasn’t been opened for the last ten years of living in this house.

The idea was to air out the place, improved ventilation and all that.

Also, I was proud of my herculean efforts cleaning out the window ledge, previously a location for accumulating convenient dusty junk piles, and removing chunks of grime from said window and wanted to keep looking out of it to celebrate.

Then it started raining.

The initial drizzle lulled me into complacency. A couple small drops on the ledge, nothing more, so I shrugged and went to enjoy my lunch.

I walked back into the room with a bunch of stuff in my arms, planning to have a good time sorting and arranging, only to discover an Olympic-sized swimming pool had now taken up residence on said window ledge.

Happily wading inside it, was a table lamp and my $800 Fujitsu Scansnap scanner.

*sigh*

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say there was a great unloading of stuff in my arms on the floor, quick scrambling to shut off all electrical plugs, much rummaging for absorbent rags and dehydration effort implementation on various fronts.

The long and short of it is that my best laid plans for spending the weekend decluttering have now got to be pushed back at least 24 hours (and probably 48 hours would be safer) before I get to find out if I now have to buy myself a belated Christmas present of a newer model of Fujitsu Scansnap.

The shelving that I was -hoping- to sort things out on is now half-soaked and has been carted out to somewhat drier surroundings in the hope that it’ll dry out before mold decides it’s an optimal home.

The PC, thankfully, seems to have been shielded from the brunt of it by the valiant shelving’s sacrifice, but since there was a random scattering of raindrops across all the electrical plugs and wiring and the metal casing, I’m thinking it’ll be safer to give it at least a few hours of drying time.

So now the air conditioner is running, during an already fairly cold day (for the tropics, anyway,) in the hopes that it’ll speed up the dehumidifying process, and I’ve beaten a hasty retreat to the living room, sneezing frightfully with a nose that is fitfully protesting the sequential abuse of dust, mold spores and shivering cold temperatures, typing out this blog post on a laptop, for lack of anything better to do.

Well, it’s one way to get me back to blogging again, I suppose.

On a brighter note, I’ve discovered that serious full-fledged decluttering involving moving books, technological objects and shelving from room to room is pretty good beginner movement exercise for an overweight sedentary person, in that it provokes movement out of me and more importantly, feels more productive than engaging in repetitive motions for the sake of moving.

(If we liked moving to begin with, chances are we wouldn’t be overweight, so it does take a bit of mental gymnastics to find movement activities for a sedentary person that we like and can see ourselves doing repeatedly as a lifestyle change.)

Plans for the year ahead are pretty simple.

I won’t call them new year resolutions, as those seem traditionally broken or forgotten by April or so, but more of guiding principles to skew my life towards in 2016:

1. Pay more mindful attention towards health and exercise.

This cover things like trying to choose healthier foods when possible and enjoy indulgences in smaller proportions. Practice more mindful portion control, we know roughly how much we should be eating, it’s just ridiculously easy to over-eat because the bag of chips is there and we want the sensation of crunch while watching a show or whatever. Make an effort to move more, whenever the opportunity arises, just to get in the habit of -moving-.

2. Actively seek out a variety and novelty of experiences.

I’ve been noticing that I get depressed (or at least slow down, get apathetic or negative) every time I get into a rut and end up feeling like there’s nothing more to life than waking, going to work, eating, sleeping, rinse and repeat, with maybe some gaming in there from time to time.

To combat this, I think the first few words are important, I may need to be proactively looking to switch things up and keep myself focused on experiencing a whole bunch of different things. We’ll see how this works out in the year ahead.

3. Hoard less, use more.

It may be an odd slogan to coin, but I just finished a library book the other day (part of my branching-out-to-do-other-things-than-just-GW2 campaign) by Randy Frost, titled “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.

It was a nice read and a bit of an eye-opener. I mean, sure, we’ve all seen the hoarding TV shows, gawked at the spectacle of extreme hoarding and probably gave thanks that our own homes have not quite descended to -that- level.

But I liked how the book explained that forced intervention usually don’t solve the underlying problem – something within the person that causes them to feel obliged to hoard, and elaborated on various reasons while not being judgmental (one interesting twist of perspective is that some hoarders are very adept at creating connections and imbuing meaning and uses to objects that most people would consider junk, and thus find it hard to throw anything away; or that some hoarders rely on objects to build up an almost encyclopedic memory of stories about each thing, a sort of tangible memory palace to fuel prodigious feats of memory, so asking them to throw stuff away is like asking them to discard their memories or parts of themselves…)

Hoarding, it seems, may also have a genetic basis. Which does jibe when I look around at my life and realize that one of my family members is likely to have at least a moderate hoarding problem (which makes discarding old furniture and bulky household items quite a challenge) and that I probably have a subclinical to mild hoarding one as well. (See the Clutter Image Ratings on the Amazon page, or the full PDF.)

Most of the house hovers around the 2 mark, with one or two rooms (a storeroom and the room inhabited by the family hoarder) at 5.

It’s unlikely said family hoarder is going to change, but at least said family hoarder respects room boundaries.

In the meantime, I have my eye on the rest of the rooms, the bulk of which is either my stuff or family-owned stuff and am motivated to change up some things about myself, if only to eliminate dust allergies, make future cleaning easier, and have rooms that look easier on the eye and -pleasant- to look at and enjoy.

The good news is that I haven’t been really acquiring new clutter for the past decade, having moved much of my life (and my hoarding tendencies) to the digital realm. Yeah, I have somewhat crazy MMO and Steam game collections. But hey, they don’t take up as large amounts of space!

(The “hoard less, use more” slogan also applies in a figurative sense to the digital hoard. I intend to play more of my Steam games and branch out this year. It’s time to use and enjoy what I’ve been stockpiling.)

The bulk of the clutter that has yet to be dealt with is old stuff and once gotten rid of, unlikely to ever come back in such volume. Definitely something to work on this year. Hopefully it doesn’t take up the whole year and I can spend more of the time -enjoying- the freed up space and actually -using- the things that I choose to value and keep.

The latter is a big motivator for me. While decluttering this month, I keep encountering stuff I’ve wanted to do, but “kept for later” (be it books to read, hobbies to take up, games to play, whatever.)

That stuff ends up buried under piles of other stuff, forgotten until unearthed.

It’s way past time to unearth it and enjoy it, before it rots or I pass on and end up leaving it for some other poor bastard to clean up.

GW2: Prioritizing Things To Do, Post-Heart of Thorns

wyvernvsfrogs

We’re about two weeks into the Heart of Thorns expansion. I guess now’s a time as good as any to finally come up for air.

The 64-bit client has worked wonders for me as a stopgap measure to stave off memory leak crashes (at last, upgrading to Windows 7 and a new computer with 16GB of RAM has been rewarded.)

On average, it chomps about 3-3.5 GB of RAM just doing normal things and goes up to about 4-4.5GB consumed during insanely packed meta events where a hundred players are in the vicinity, all sporting their own combination of wardrobe and dyes and particle effects.

Bright side, it doesn’t crash (at least, not yet, *touches wood*)

(I stress tested it the other day by walking into the Svanir Shaman Frozen Maw daily with full default graphics and name tags on. I figure, if it doesn’t freeze up and die then, it’s probably okay.)

Thus I get to see more of Heart of Thorns on a graphical setting beyond potato.

halfabreacher

Granted, it’s rather hard to frame a screenshot sans UI when you’re worried about getting randomly gibbed by a Mordrem sniper, a punisher, or *urgh* a stalker.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become rather relaxed about goals in the expansion.

A seasonal cadence of two weeks/four weeks lent a level of stress that encouraged me to grind out all the rewards I wanted “before it went away.” There was a “limited-time” pressure that was sometimes obvious and sometimes subconscious, which made me more prone to frustration and impatience.

Faced with a deluge of possible rewards to buy and skins to collect, one would think that I’d be freaking out right about now, but knowing its permanence (assuming the HoT zones stay unchanged reward-wise as long as Dry Top and Silverwastes has existed is likely a safe bet), I’ve been looking on most of it as a long term goal. The slow chase will likely last me another year, if not two, and I’m okay with that.

If anything, I’ve been confronted by that age-old lateral progression bugaboo that we veterans keep advising newbies about: “Help! I’ve reached X threshold, and there are so many things to do! What should I be doing first?!”

My usual naggy refrain to these folks is that beyond a certain point (ie. get exotic armor as a baseline, strive towards Ascended trinkets and more,) we can’t really tell you what to do next because it all depends on what you value and want to prioritize.

Like story? Like dungeons? Like shiny skins? Like gold? They all head down different roads.

Similarly, I look at Heart of Thorns and I’m like, “Masteries? AP achievments? Raids (be it prep for the closed ones, or open world ones?) Gold + Relaxation? (So many nodes to hit, so much money players are willing to spend *twitches compulsively*) Shinies? (Like chase a HoT skin collection, a core Tyria legendary, a core Tyria precursor, or prep for a Maguuma legendary?) So many collections? Aaahhh collect all the things? *falls over dizzy like Skritt in Tarir*”

So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and prioritize my own shit:

  • New Stuff
  • Raids (while new)
  • Harvest Nodes
  • AP
  • Certain shiny objects
  • Gold
  • Masteries
  • Collect all the things
  • Raids (when they’ve gotten old)

This totally non-scientific list was mostly ordered by just choosing two things at random, eg. “Chase AP or Harvest Nodes to Relax” or “Chase AP or Gold?” and deciding which one I valued more, or which I’d pick if I could only do one thing that day.

It’s a little fuzzy around the edges, because technically, harvesting nodes is my main gold stream, but given the amount of gold I’m liable to invest into chasing AP or if the gold had to come from other sources like chasing events or doing dungeons, then certainly I’d choose to focus on easier AP goals first.

Yet if you were to ask me if I’d prefer harvesting nodes to chasing AP, I’d only have to look at my still undone Golden Badges in the Silverwastes to tell you that I’ve been hitting all the nodes first over something like that. Eventually I’ll buckle down and shove that priority up a tad, but as a general guideline, the above list works for me.

New stuff goes without saying for me. I was camped out in Tangled Depths over two weekends and quite a number of weeknights trying to bring down the Chak Gerents (all four of them.)

potatogerent

It may be potato graphics, but this reward chest has never looked shinier.

tdhole

The end result of succeeding the meta was mostly a great big hole blasted through to Dragon’s Stand, a couple of crystallized cache chests and a strongbox made accessible. Plus a piece of Mistward something that’s presumably used for making Mistward armor, when I get around to it. (Probably around the time I finally get around to making a Revenant.)

Once that succeeded once, it was like a great big load fell off my mind and I could start voluntarily choosing to ignore some raid sessions, knowing that more would be organized every day / every week. There would be time to accumulate the zone currency gradually. Now I could prioritize other things with my GW2 play time to catch up on other stuff.

Some of that involves getting more or less prepped for the impending *ugh* closed 10-man raids to hit GW2.

I’m still looking on that activity with a fair amount of dread – mostly because it’s hellish to try and match timezones and turn up at a regular schedule, plus there’s always that rejection feeling from an activity with such small number limits.

(Look at how guild missions have been complained about, when they inadvertently only reward 15 players, leaving the other… oh… 35 people who showed up feeling jipped? Or left repeating the same goddamn guild puzzle over and over until maybe most people get their reward, except a few that seem permanently glitched? Speaking of which, they really need to get around to fixing that. So bloody annoying. I was certainly never one who asked for them to make guild missions closed instances.)

Everyone’s also kinda dreading their reward scheme for raids – many because it seems like Anet’s reward adjustments feel like throwing darts at a dartboard while blindfolded, rather than following any sort of real plan.

Me, I’m bloody terrified that it’s going to be a one-way no-alternate-path “forcing” of players into their shiny new activity that they are so damn proud of and want to collect salty player tears on (What’s going on with that adversarial relationship anyway?)

Take the sudden account-binding of Nuhoch Hunting Stashes and fractal thingumies (I haven’t done fractals seriously post-expansion, I have no idea what’s been going on there.)

I had -thought- it was a clever way to provide players an alternate route to gaining currencies for activities they’d rather not prefer to engage in, while giving players who LIKE those activities an income stream from the players who hate it but want some of the rewards from that activity anyway. Meanwhile, the trade sinks gold via the TP. Win win, no?

No. Apparently, if you want Heart of Thorns zone currencies, you better just grit your teeth and grind events. Vice versa for fractals, though with all the bitterness coming from that front, it doesn’t exactly encourage me to do that activity until everything is given another look.

I don’t know.

My assumption is they’ll keep freaking iterating until they get it right, and we only need to wait until then, but damn, this iteration is SLOW.

In the meantime, I may as well do stuff that’s right in front of me, not get baited by a million and one design traps, and freak out only when there’s solid info to get grumpy about. (Like how I can’t actually prioritize a precursor rifle hunt because some poor bastard who wanted to do it first found out that bits of it were buggy and don’t work.)

One example of those things right in front of me is the revelation that I’m really most comfortable on my charr guardian as a main – I haven’t been playing any other character through Heart of Thorns for any long period of time – so I may as well take some small steps in getting him raid-ready. Like an Ascended greatsword and possibly a mace too – he already has an Ascended sword/focus and scepter/torch, but it’s been super-obvious that Heart of Thorns really really likes you to go AoE in certain scenarios… bottom line, guardian greatswords can do that and my nerfed (but pretty) Fiery Dragon Sword just can’t cut it.

I’ve a warrior and necromancer alt that also needs to be run through Heart of Thorns, and pushed towards raid-readiness, so that’s something to be doing too.

Considering that my warrior still hasn't finished the personal story, that's quite a bit of story chapters to go.
Considering that my warrior still hasn’t finished the personal story, that’s quite a bit of story chapters to go. It’s kinda nice to replay it all again, now that they’ve finally fixed the flow and put back the “greatest fear” arc, after leaving it broken for…how long?

Masteries, thankfully, I’ve knocked out most of the crucial ones, which leaves the nice-to-haves as a slow goal to work toward while doing other things.

Between that, attending open world raids, and maybe replaying the story for achievements, chasing mastery points and hero points for elite specs and harvesting all the things while the guild hall material demand is sending the economy into wild swings, I shouldn’t run out of still-viable things to do while waiting for fixes and iterations to the more egregious issues that have arisen, seemingly all over the game.

Looks like everyone, devs and players alike, will be quite busy until next year.

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Darkwing Tigercharr!
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Darkwing Tigercharr! (God, I love the charr gliding animation. It’s like they’re pouncing on some mice below. Also, winged cats are awesome. Not very immersion-y, but eh, that boat sailed a long time ago. Still awesome.)

GW2: Fractals of Silence and Skill (Or Lack Thereof)

FoOoooO, quaggan is gift-wrapped!

I’m hoping to mark the end of my fractal journey for the time being by this week or the next.

At the start of September, I was fractal level 25ish with 26 AR (after goodness knows how many years) and not terribly motivated to go any further.

Eh, some gold, some fractal relics, lots of blues and greens, the odd yellow or orange, pretty much everything to be salvaged since most of the stats that turn up in fractals – Magi, Cavalier, Soldier – are odd, to say the least. Plus Ascended rings that take up slot space (I am constitutionally incapable of throwing -anything- away in an MMO) and the rare rare chance that something pretty might drop.

Oh, and the same content ad nauseam, alongside questionable PUGs – since I lack that mythical beast known as a stable, organized group within my timezone who can deal with my schedule (or lack of it.)

For the hell of it, in a similar vein to my self-imposed “collect all the Scientific skins” challenge, I decided to try to get to fractals 50 before the expansion hit, with its vaunted fractals revamp that would both make the leveling curve easier and slope it upward ever higher to 100.

After all, it is both satisfying to be able to say “been there, done that” as well as be among that rare opposite breed of player who can play the so-called ‘most difficult’ content in GW2 and yet not be an eager raid fanatic.

We’re a few days away from the end of September now, and I’m officially at fractal level 45 tonight.

It’s a little bit trickier to rise further in levels via LFG PUG, given the number of highly aggravating mistlock instabilities that make it daunting to open an instance at one’s current level.

Essentially, I’m sitting around waiting on the largesse of someone else who has already reached fractal level 50 to start their group and jump in… assuming they haven’t already hit their quota of PS warriors and are busily demanding eles and guardians, or conversely, in a more haphazardly not-at-all meta compliant group, hoping that the party won’t give up and fragment from one or two players just up and quitting the group one fractal in, because they didn’t like the chaos/inexperience on display or took umbrage at the ranger or necro in the party or something.

In any case, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

If there’s two things I’ve learned from my fractal journey, it’s these:

  1. Other people are not super-skillful gods of competency. There’s no need to be deathly afraid of them, or conversely, looking like a right idiot in front of them.
  2. I am not a super-skillful god of competency. There is always more I can be learning and improving on incrementally, as long as I keep an open mind, stay observant as to what’s still lacking, and am patient with myself.

Where 1) is concerned, I’ve feel like I’ve seen it all at this point.

I’ve seen people fall off the Uncategorized fractal simply from mistimed jumps, not a harpy knockback; fail miserably at running wisps in the Swamp (guilty); get smashed by Jade Maw tentacles or fall over consistently from failing to pick up crystals; completely fail at either kiting Mai Trin or managing the cannon phase without panicking like a headless chicken; mess up on really idealistic plans to output sufficient dps to take down Molten Berserker, Grawl Shaman or Subject Six in one go; splatter all over the Thaumanova fractal trying to manage the heat room or shield room; totally screw up the dredge fractal buttons or kiting the last boss from lack of communication, unsoweiter.

What might rather surprise those who haven’t been there is the capacity of practically all of these groups to pick themselves up (even if they have to peel themselves off the floor multiple times after a total party wipe or log out to repair and return) and -eventually- complete the fractal.

The only kind of fractal group I’ve seen fail is the kind where one person gives up and leaves in silence, followed by one or two more… at which point I’m left staring at one or two more people left in my party and think “fuck it, I don’t want to organize this” and leave wordlessly as well.

That’s generally a failure to communicate, pretty much.

It seems to be the oddly damning sin of most PUGs – silence.

Everybody barely says anything and just kinda hopes that everyone knows what they’re doing. If carnage results, then a slightly better group will start to produce one sentence communication, and a bad group just ups and disappears right there.

On this front, the higher level fractal produces better odds that more people generally know what they’re doing, more or less, though there are a few difficult encounters that can start to reveal flaws in that assumption – most memorably in the Snowblind fractal, where certain groups end up throwing one’s bodies over and over at the elemental source while total party wiping the instant someone accidentally aggros one too many ice elementals while 40-60% of the group either doesn’t know what to do about them or decides they will keep pewpewing the elemental source instead.

Granted, the way that encounter is set up, it becomes almost quite impossible to have a lengthy discussion because you’re either getting chill debuffed, chased by really nasty Svanir, constantly knocked down by the elemental source once you run out of stability, struggling to light the fire before the debuff kills everybody, desperately trying to roll out of one-hit KO ice elemental shards, and so on.

(Yes, there are a few safe zones where one can stand in the fire’s warmth and not aggro anything and swap skills, but really, if your team lacks teamwork and communication to begin with, d’ya really think they can manage that?)

Compare and contrast this with the fractal level 10 I attempted one day, mostly in the hopes of getting a quick daily speedily done, where it became rather obvious that the somewhat cute and somewhat pathetic guardian in our party, who only had 740+ AP, was an inexperienced newbie with no AR worth speaking of.

Not merely because he kept falling off every last Cliffside obstacle – entirely likely that he’d never seen the wind blowing statues or the little exploding knockback thingmajigs before – but also due to his tendency to instantly melt in 4-5 ticks when an agony pulse hit while the other four people remained upright and untouched.

He said nothing about being new, or indeed, anything at all, possibly due to the fear of being kicked for his inexperience or noobness.

It did, however, leave me feeling somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain how best to help.

The group kind of just “selfishly” ran to each stage of the fractal and sat there waiting for the straggler(s) to catch up, though the two who seemed to have the most clue (ie. me and another person, probably the one who started the party) took care/charge of the hammer and we did, more or less, wait for the guy to finally catch up before progressing on to the next stage.

Everything in silence.

Granted, it is hard to know just -how- to help. It’s not like I could portal him past anything, he has to press keys in the proper sequence and timing in order to get past the obstacle, the only thing I could do is either give him swiftness or cure his conditions (not useful in this situation) and/or advise him to take his time getting the timing down and/or suggest swapping in a skill with stability.

As for the AR problem, well, it’s blatantly an artificial stat barrier meant to produce vertical progression grind (one reason why I never bothered much with fractals before this either.)

With something as ‘meta’ as this, it’s really hard to know just what to say or do. It ultimately boils down on each player to have done their research beforehand, figured out just exactly how much AR they need before stepping into the ‘correct’ level fractal, which is, objectively a -weird- expectation that a player would have scrutinized the wiki and/or stepped into the fractal portal to have this all explained to them via NPC beforehand… especially when you think the first way a player is likely to encounter the fractals is via a LFG party, especially when a daily tells them to do a level 1-10 fractal. (Granted, the guy was optimistic jumping straight away into level 10.)

Anyhow, the discomfort was mostly mitigated by the fact that fractals 10 is really quite easy, so we just brute forced our way through most of it and ‘carried’ the slightly more clueless individuals through. Only way they’ll learn in the end, via experiencing it, right?

Which segues me to point 2), in that as the fractal levels rise, the failure of others to ‘carry’ me, or cover for my own lack of mastery, has essentially forced me into getting better.

(Mostly through encountering a really disastrous situation, and post-fractal, asking myself what I could have done to not contribute to that.)

After sneaking by many many fractals without really learning the jumps in the Swamp by either not running the wisp. or helping only with the closest ones and brute-forcing most of them, somewhere in the 30s, I decided it was time to solo roll a Swamp fractal and practice some of the wisp runs under the tutelage of ample referencing of gw2dungeons.net.

I’m happy to report that I can actually take on the spider one now without triggering a million baby spiders (by virtue of *duh* jumping on the rocks without eggs nearby) and can deal with all the near ones with full confidence, having memorized a reliable jump path that will work even if the nearest gates are closed.

(Previously, one just used to run and pray that one got lucky.)

The far ones are still tricky, mostly due to my continual inability to distinguish traps from ground (bulky charr is bulky and clumsy) and tendency to run right into the mossman or fail the jumps, but well, there’s always room for more practice later.

I’ve at least memorized the far northwestern one, whose path seems somewhat easy and clear cut, even if my practical implementation leaves something to be desired in between trying to dodge one-hit-kill skelk, traps and getting tangled in-combat and failing jumps as a result.

The one real take-home from actually attempting some of these runs is that I’ve realized it behooves me – if not actually running – to amble on by to support the person running far with swiftness and condition clears and so on, rather than sit like a lump of lard at the logs and hope for others to magically reach the stumps with the wisps without my help.

Ditto the heat room in the Thaumanova fractal. Most of the time, someone much better practiced at it volunteers to take it on and I see neither sight nor sound of the encounter.

In one particularly memorable fractal group, it turned out that -none- of us knew how to do the heat room very well at all. Since it was an over-40s group, doing it was compulsory.

Rather fortunately, I had previously scanned through that fractal on gw2dungeons.net to learn a few tips for just how it might be possible for my class to manage it (not to mention, what the hell it was all about and how the mechanisms worked) and suggested to the group that we may as well collect and use all the cooling rods first, before attempting it as the final thing.

This was done, and all of us had ample time and opportunity to actually -practice- the room (for once) since the whole group decided to throw themselves at it in the hopes that -somebody- would make it.

After my share of failed theory and implementation, I eventually hit on a personal working combination of stacking swiftness through warhorn and banner, Bull’s Rush (thank you, gw2dungeons.net), Rampage’s number 3 rush, falling over and hitting 4 to regain a bit of health while waiting for vengeance 3, hitting that and powering through the rest of the way, amidst double dodging, spamming 1 and generally cursing Asian latency when it comes to needing to physically spam a button.

While I’m still not going to be the first to volunteer to solo that darned room, I no longer feel completely helpless regarding it. If no one else can do it better, I can at least give it a shot and probably get by.

If anything, I think my fractals journey has suggested that it’s unrealistic to get uptight about ‘the perfect run.’

Is it nice if it happens? Yes. I’ve had super-smooth runs where everyone knows how to use ice bows and strips defiance for near absolutely frozen statues, the dps is phenomenal, and the whole fractals sequence is over in 40 minutes or thereabouts. Countable on one hand though.

I’ve had just as many runs or more where mistakes happen, people screw up somewhere, and no one says anything, just picks people up or peels themselves off the floor, and the team completes regardless.

And I’ve had the odd completely baffling run when there are 3 elementalists and myself in the party and we can only reach about 15 might stacks maximum because not a single elementalist even lays out a fire field for me to blast or use a banner in, let alone appears to know how to stack blasts for might… or conjures an ice bow, and I’m *cough* guiltily not strictly 100% meta compliant either because *cough* have you SEEN the price of those runes of Strength, and was using the then-cheap Pack runes as a not-great substitute… except now they’re not exactly cheap either, leaving me at an impasse where runes are concerned. To leave in or replace? (WHEN OH WHEN CAN WE SWAP RUNES LIKE IN PVP, SHEESH.)

Still completed, despite me being disturbed to the point of re-scrutinizing my runes to figure out what was going on, and having a serious rethink re: whether I really should put in Strength runes some day and/or reviewing my food choices to see if something else can make up for that. The thought of using up food worth 40-100+ silver per PUG run is somewhat cringe-worthy though. (I think, where I’m concerned, there are practical limits beyond the holy grail of theoretical optimisation some folks say we should be seeking.)

I think I’ve learned that the unpredictability of a fractals run can be fairly interesting and enjoyable, if looked upon with an open mindset, and preferably more staggered out to every few days or once a week after this mad rush to 50 ends.

I’ve come to the realization that many many people running fractals are absolutely where I am – still in the process of learning to get better – and so there is very little reason to feel inferior or afraid – what’s the worst that can happen, really? The party disintegrates or you get kicked by some strangers whom you’ll never see again. A bit of time wasted. Group up with the next band of strangers that comes along and have a fresh start. Try not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Eventually, progress gets made.

I don’t know, I find it quite hard to wrap my mind around this associated concept of “prestige” and “showing off one’s skill in an arrogant manner” that some people relate to ‘difficult content.’

My interpretation of most skillful performances tends to be that heaps of patience and lots of practice went on behind the scenes, and what we see on display is persistence finally paying off.

If anything, I should think going through the difficult learning and mastery process would make one more humble.

Imo, the loudest braggarts, quick to find fault with others, are often not the most skilled.