CoH: Just Can’t Find the Joy

Issue 23 hit today. I was intending to go check it out. Maybe get a Magisterium Trial in since it was the newest big thing. Get exploring First Ward (which I never got around to) and then segue my way into Night Ward.

Well, I did check it out, for all of two hours.

I spent an hour in Dark Astoria, getting more and more upset inside, as I got reminded again and again why I hate raids. About 15 of us sat around spamming the broadcast channel going “LF Magi Trial.” No one wanted to lead. Can you blame them? I didn’t either. No one knows the trial, unless they did it in beta. Everyone expects the trial to be hard and be extremely unpleasant without proper leadership. And proper leadership is hard to come by if no one knows the trial. It’s the old raiding catch-22.

And of course, those who know the trial and are willing to lead are also well aware that it’s hard, and therefore they are going to pick and choose the people who will give them the greatest chance of success. People they know, ATs they’re missing (like support), and they sure won’t pick any Tom, Dick or Harry standing out in the streets announcing forlornly “lf magi” unless they just needed them to make up the numbers. So we have an exercise in playground unhappiness as people get picked and others get left standing on the sidelines.

Eventually, I got pissed off enough to ask myself, am I having fun here? And the answer was a big fat NO.

(Plus some additional cussing at devs who thought this sort of thing would be fun. Aren’t we into the new generation of MMOs who know to design for better player behavior by now?  And cussing at myself because I -knew- this would happen and I still got tempted to attempt it anyway.)

So I got onto my sub-level 20 hero and meandered into First Ward.

(While I’ve been in the area before, and think the zone looks gorgeous in terms of graphics, my first impression of it left a bitter taste in my mouth because it so happened that I wandered in on a Praetorian loyalist villain – the type that the level designers forgot when writing First Ward. It turns out that the mission writers assumed everyone would be pleased to help the Resistance because it’s the right thing to do. I did one and a half arcs and got very disconcerted over my character’s motivations. That character was supposed to be a Power Loyalist villain, out to get power for himself, and following Cole’s regime to do it till the point where he got overly tempted by power and made one moral choice to destroy the Olympian instead of reporting it to Cole.

I was already a bit upset that that choice appeared to flip me entirely to Resistance. I rationalized it off as saying, well, maybe Cole’s regime found out and declared me Public Enemy Number 1 or something along those lines. So the next sensible choice would be to go to Primal Earth and the Rogue Isles and keep seeking power for oneself. But somehow, in First Ward, all the contacts were treating me like a caring, helpful errand-running puppy and that simply wouldn’t do. I decided to do what my character would, get uncomfortable and abandon First Ward to its own devices and go find profit over in the Isles.)

I took some time to explore and take screenshots. Which was fun.

But then some guy decided to recruit a team to defeat the Seed of Hamidon. And I have never fought the Seed of Hamidon before, so it seemed like an opportunity I shouldn’t miss.

So I went. Then I got salt in the wound as my lowbie face was rubbed in the fact that these things are better fought at lvl 50, exemplared, in IOs, as all manner of the devs’ newest favorite type of attack – targeted player or mob or ground-based impending damage aoe, READ THE LETTERS ON THE SCREEN AND RUN AWAY (OR HUG EACH OTHER CLOSE) NOW started exploding, oozing and in general splooging all over the screen per seed we attempted to attack.

And the whole phase thing got fairly tedious as we kept running around killing seed after seed in the hope of keeping the seed numbers low while working on the Seed of Hamidon.

And it was further aggravated by unfigurable-outtable targetting of the Seed hitbox for my melee character. I could target the Seed fine, but was forever out of range. If I hit F to follow and hug the Seed wherever I could attack it – which seemed to be sort of from its flank and underside – about 2 seconds later, I ate a 800 hp Seed of Hamidon attack which also deactivated fly. It was survivable, but it left my lowbie character out of the fight, on the ground, with 1/4 hp left and no self-healing skills in the build yet to recover quickly. Aggravating, in other words.

I don’t supposed it was helped by me being on a Titan Weapons character, which is notable for exceedingly slow ass wind-up animations. So extra long rooting also got in the way of being able to quickly react.

Eventually the Seed died. Through very little effort of my own.

So I saw the content, but didn’t feel very good about it.

As that wound down, I considered my original plan of working through the First Ward story arcs, and didn’t feel too thrilled either. I just felt exhausted and unhappy. So I decided to let it keep for another day and logged off.

30 more minutes of hanging out on my pathetic one and only Incarnate, who was only made to actually see the content, rather than grind for umpteen slots… with no success of getting into a league, and I got fed up enough to log him off too.

I dunno. Maybe it’s just me overreacting. But I can’t believe all the things that I felt were a pain and thus tried to avoid seriously playing any raid-focused game… have ended up in City of Heroes.

Just ignore it, go the advice of some people. You don’t have to do it at all. Just continue to play the game your way.

But I can’t.

I finished the game my way quite a long time ago. Got some lvl 50s, saw all the old content and storylines, and the only thing that’s new is the new stuff.

It’s not a sandbox. There’s a storyline to this themepark, and now all the storylines are going right through the big group raids and the umpteen task forces that I’ve lost track of. The design of a good number of the new mobs and zones are built on the assumption that your toon is well-built, kitted out in IOs, maybe soft-capped defense, and possibly sporting Incarnate levels of power.

Why tell me to keep playing old content, when all the new stuff that is advertised is centred around being able to understand and play through these storylines and mechanics?

And then I try to do them, and somehow I don’t really find them fun, and I don’t know where I fit in this game anymore. Not too much of the community seems to understand either, so it and me seem to have diverged paths some time back.

I dunno. It just makes me sad whenever I think about it.

It just doesn’t feel like the City of Heroes I used to know a long time ago.

Why You Game – Think About It

Today, I’m going to advocate the unthinkable, I’m going to suggest that more people should emulate griefers.

WHAT?

In one important aspect at least: to have examined your own motives for play, and be clear about your own objectives.

We get angry with griefers because they spoil our fun. They’re not playing the way they’re supposed to. They’re not “following the rules” of the game, and their objective is often diametrically opposed to most other peoples’ goals in the game. They’re out to make people angry, frustrated, ragequit, or get some manner of reaction in some way, because they find it fun to mess with people like that.

But one of the things they subconciously (or purposefully, if they’re the type to think through and articulate their reasons) do  is become very clear about what they want to get out of “playing” the game (their way,) and defined their own victory conditions (number of people getting angry or ragequitting or comment threads or attention paid to them or whatever.)

Of course I morally disapprove of griefers for two main reasons – I don’t think their chosen behavior is healthy for themselves, and certainly not for other people either. It doesn’t seem like a long term strategy for getting along, just a short term “one-upping” that has to be constantly repeated for kicks, and turn into a bad habit or addiction. For me, it’s a real world philosophy seeping in – I think it’s dysfunctional and small minded for people to be happy when they are making other people unhappy. I meet some people in the real world like this – they need to put others down in order to make themselves feel better, they demand attention and get loud and strident when ignored – and it just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Essentially, they’re playing a very zero sum game. I win, you lose. In their minds, they can only get ahead of others if you’ve lost. If they lose and you win, then they just get more furious and pissed off and try even harder to shift the balance to the other side of the slider.

Thing is, the world isn’t so two-dimensional. There’s another side of the matrix. Too much of the above kind of fighting and it all becomes “I lose you lose.” In which case, no one wins, no one had fun or a good time, and the net misery level of the world went up (which is all very well if that’s specifically your goal, but I’m not that nihilistic, even if it’s 2012 and the Mayans tell us we’re doomed.)

The old prisoner’s dilemma thing – which we will touch on more in ATITD related posts – and the trust factor.

There’s also “I win you win,” the last corner of the matrix,  and “I get by, you get by” which is sort of the middle path, an emergent property from the win/lose matrix.

Griefers are an extreme case. If we dial back several notches from chaos (from not respecting other players or the game’s rules) and into lawfulness, we land in the territory of competition.

Now competition is a necessary and healthy counterpart to cooperation. Without that drive to be the tiniest bit better, to improve one’s self, we’d probably be back in the Stone Ages or likely dead as a species. The force of evolution works by only keeping those that are a bit better than the rest, so it’s no wonder it’s ingrained in us to not be the last guy that gets eaten by the sabre tooth cat.

Looking at the amounts of Achieving going on in MMOs, of  in-groups of raiders or PvPers, matches and tournaments and leaderboards, suffice to say that competition is well and alive in MMOs, reflects much of our real world competitive psyche, and is a source of fun for many people.

But I’d like to ask everyone to pause here and reflect for themselves if this really is the case for them specifically.

Why am I so obsessed with this? It has to do with my prior history in games.

When I first began playing online games in the form of a MUD, I fell hook line and sinker into the stated premise of the game. Get more levels and hit max level. The faster you can do this, the more “pro” and hardcore you are. The more characters you have at max level, the more respected you are, you must apparently know so much about the game and have so many tools you can use to overcome game challenges. Join newbie guilds to get to know people, and you might get invited to a more elite guild type known as an “Order” if you are a promising young padawan. At max level, and with groups of people, you can go on “runs” to defeat big bosses (essentially raids in simplified form) for better gear, which would help you to kill bigger mobs until you get to the (current) ultimate big bads of Seth and Merlin.

In addition, the MUD had ‘quests’ which were human-created, they were essentially competitions run by volunteer player staff known as “immortals.” These often comprised of answering trivia knowledge questions about the MUD and its areas and mobs and lore, or running around the world killing special quest mobs or picking up special items – whose locations you would put together from given clues and also tested MUD knowledge. Again, I fell into this by chance. It so happens that I type quite a bit faster than most people, and maybe pay a bit more attention to the words on a screen that formed MUD ‘rooms.”

As a newbie, I started winning these competitions, and started gaining a reputation to the point that some people would see my name appear and go, “Dang, there goes my chances of winning.” As I got into more runs and joined an elite Order, my gear got better and better, making quest mob kills easier. I learned from my idols and heroes at the time, veterans of the game who were better than I, and strove to emulate them. I started leading runs for newer players, then leading quests, and even leading a guild (while maintaining my connection to the elite Order so that we could feed in the promising players into the Order.)

Our Order in turn took off from the ground up to become pretty much the ultimate (or penultimate, there was one more secret Order that never let on what they were up to, and contained a lot of old immortal player alts – they kept themselves to themselves, and stayed out of the MUD grapevine, possibly because they didn’t want accusations of cheating with their immortal characters) guild. We had our own ‘server first’ by being the only guild that could get to and kill Merlin for quite a long period of time.

I basically bought into the fame and the image that others had and expected of me. I had responsibilities, and expectations to live up to. And winning has its dark side.

This article in particular – How to Lose at Golden Demon – spawned my post today because it resonated so much with me.

After you win, and have a series of wins under your belt, comes the fear. The fear of one day losing. Of not being good anymore. No one wins forever. One day, some new and younger person turns up to upstage you. Your limelight is gone. Your self-image, which you constructed from the surface impressions of other people, shatters or at least takes a heavy beating.

Every loss makes you more focused to win once again. And danger of dangers, you end up focusing on the goal and the end results, rather than the means or the present activity. Therein lies “grind.” Therein lies the threat of not respecting anything or anyone other than the altar of first prize. I turned pretty ugly in those days when a guy showed up who managed to upstage me a few times. Though I tried to control it, I have been guilty of lashing out once or twice at fellow guildmates whom I thought “slowed me down” at the time and let the other guys win. Temper and obsession do not a pretty picture make.

My ruthlessness even shocked a fellow guildmate when we were having a friendly in-guild PvP tournament, and when there were three of us left, I concocted an alliance with the other person to defeat him first because we knew he had the best gear of us all. He never quite got over the revelation of how calculating I was and focused on “playing to win.”

Competition can change you. Take a look at these Neptune’s Pride epic diaries from Rock, Paper Shotgun and Electron Dance. It’s interesting to see how different people react to competition. One or two simply shut down and become avoidant (Me, I don’t think that’s a fair way to go about it, because I would respect the rules of a game if I decide to play it, but hey, it worked for them.) Some just do their best but balance their real world and game time. And a few gamers (and I empathize with them because I have those tendencies) get really deadly obsessive and they can even frighten themselves in retrospect.

There are positive aspects to competition, don’t get me wrong. It makes for high drama, and good memories and a grand story to be told at the end. There is an adrenaline rush that can never be replaced. It makes you push yourself further than you would go on your own, left to your own devices. It offers a good challenge, the opportunity to test one skills, etc.

But it’s also easy to glorify competition in our society. Which then leads to getting carried away by competition – it’s the nature of the beast. There’s a very male monkey hierarchy thing going on.

And in the end, it behooves us to take a step back and examine ourselves to see if that’s really the way we want to keep going.

We don’t have to go to extremes either way. I’m not saying that oh, all competition is bad, and we should become communists and hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” together. That way doesn’t work either, not all of us are cut out for hippy commune living.

But we aren’t -just- monkeys all the time. Life works on a balance of competition and cooperation. Human society succeeds with a fair share of altruism, connected groups may get ahead better. (In later posts about ATITD, we’ll touch more on this, ATITD reflects life in microcosm really well.)

Brian Campbell from the Escapist Magazine suggests we might be able to let up once in a while and be a little altruistic even in our competitions (as long as it’s not a professional tournament where folks have to be serious and such.)

Even Sirlin quantifies that playing to win doesn’t have to be ALL THE TIME, ALL-OR-NOTHING. There’s also putzing around for nonproductive fun or experimentation with strategies that can be a balance point to being competitive.

And he also acknowledges that for many people, playing to win isn’t everything in life. He writes his stuff for those who have decided and articulated the goal they are striving for, to improve themselves and win tournaments, which to me is fantastic – all power to them, and it gave me insight into a way of thinking that is personally quite alien for me.

I finally realized this, based on examining my experiences. When I bought into the goals of the masses on the MUD, I became another person. It was someone with all the trappings of success and had reached the top, but secretly, inside, I was not happy. I was proud, fearful, and most of all, lonely. There’s awfully rarefied air at the top. You push away connections or they push away from you. They put you on a pedestal to be admired and become distant. Your in-group becomes very small, as you stomp on others to get up there, and everyone else is out-group to be despised or feared or hated or looked upon as a threat. And in turn, they don’t like you much either.

For some, while I’ve been saying is probably unthinkable. “Why -wouldn’t- you be happy when you win? -I- love winning!”

Possibly it’s like winning the lottery, you won’t know until you’ve been there. Turns out we’re poor estimaters of our own future happiness as hedonistic adaptation kicks in.

Or maybe you really are different from me, and your brain is structured in a way that really enjoys those kicks of winning and you love the spotlight of fame and it would never make you lonely or miserable or sad. In which case, all power to you, if you’ve examined that for yourself. There are games out there that really suit you.

But please, do take time to examine your motives and goals to see if they are your own, or someone else’s or what society (in-game or real world) thinks you should be doing.

It’s too easy to get caught up in what the game says you’re supposed to achieve, or what other people expect of you, and end up striving to match those expectations. Ultimately even if you achieved them, they may end up feeling quite hollow if they don’t match with your internal compass.

For myself, I feel happier when I’m helping others, teaching them, expressing understanding and loving-kindness and patience. I feel happier when I’m improving my own skills and learning at my own pace, rather than feeling obliged to keep up or match some standard of achievement. I feel happier when I’m playing for the sake of play, to experiment, to wander, to wonder, to discover and marvel.

Striving against obstacles (people or computer controlled or inanimate) to achieve a victory state is core to many games. But I treat this Achievement or rather the act of achieving (we too often focus on the end result these days, and that leads to “grind”)  as just a subset of my play. Now and then, I indulge it, because that’s also a part of myself that I must acknowledge. I enjoy the dings and the progress bar increments and even team-based PvP match “wins” from time to time. The sense of fiero as a reward is fun, but I remain aware of it and am careful to avoid jumping down the pit of the dark side. Been there, done that, really didn’t like it.

ATITD: The Clay “Grind”

And now for Clay on a slightly more personal scale.

I’ll also take the opportunity to talk a bit about economies of scale and macros, which are some things that are decidedly uncommon for many regular MMOs.

More Planning for the Raeli Oven Project

Previously, I shared my hopes for working towards the building of my own personal Raeli Oven. Among other things, I’m going to need 3000 Clay Bricks and 20 Clay-Steeped Wool Cloth for that grand project.

Just how much total clay in raw materials is going to be required?

I already have the Wool Cloth, so I just need to soak it in my tubs. This requires:

1 Wool Cloth
10 Clay
20 Water in Jugs

The Jugs themselves are not consumed, just the water, so it’s no biggy. That’s 20 x 10… 200 Clay for the cloth.

12 Wet Clay Bricks are made from 8 Clay and 4 Sand.

This -is- a desert, so sand is essentially free. Just wander over to an area with sand, and pick up as much as you can carry, any time you like.

That makes 3000 Bricks / 12 * 8 Clay = 2000 Clay

In total, 2200 Clay will be needed.

*gulp*

By the way, as previously mentioned, if not for this blog, I really wouldn’t plan as much. I’m more of a go-with-the-flow kind of person, so I would probably just log on, work on making as many Clay Bricks as I possibly could until I got bored, and then proceed to change up activities or log off. Repeat until one day I count 3000 Clay Bricks sitting in my warehouse. Point is, it doesn’t matter if you lean towards being Type A or Type B, it is still possible to play a sandbox in the manner which you enjoy.

However, if you’re more of an obsessive Type A planning sort, A Tale in the Desert will definitely feed your penchant for plans and to-do lists, and you’d probably get there a lot faster than the laid back Type Bs. (The Type Bs would probably enjoy themselves a bit more though and run less risk of burning out.)

Clay Automation

In the usual paradoxical manner of ATITD, if you have an upgraded Raeli Oven, you can actually set it to automatically dredge up clay for you.

Obviously, we don’t have one yet.

(Grrr.)

The societal shortcut route is always possible in this game. It’s how latecomers to the Tale can catch up. Those that came before had it harder, and their work can make things a lot easier for those coming after. It is always possible to get into a Guild with upgraded Raeli Ovens, earn enough trust to be allowed to operate them, and get your Tiles that way, or Clay, and the guild probably already has a ginormous stockpile of Clay somewhere. Or you could trade for it, etc, etc.

I do have social ties to some very nice veterans that I can always ask for help, but you know, it wouldn’t be as fun. Often, I find I like having those ties for the company, the community, and just reassuring backup that if all else fails, there’s always the guild option and asking for a loan. Continually begging would wear down on one’s social reputation, diminishing trust (it’s all interrelated in this game) and worse, I would always feel so inferior and needy and never learn and improve. That’s one of the things I love in ATITD, coming up with one’s own personal methods for generating resources.

You see, it’s all about those economies of scale again.

With 1 Jug or 10 Jugs, collecting 2200 clay is going to suck pretty hard. You’d have to repeat the “Get Water into Jugs” step too many times and interrupt the process of clay collection.

Typically, players have already made themselves upwards of 100-500 Jugs, depending on how much you can and feel like carrying.

Rummaging around in my warehouses, I eventually locate my Jugs (haha) and find I have 360 to hand, which isn’t too bad. Remember, it’s that whole finding your personal balance point thing again. It’ll take a much longer time investment to create 1000 Jugs rather than 100 Jugs, and only you can decide when enough is enough, or when it isn’t enough.

I pop over to the nearby water source (this is why many players live by the River Nile, and a nearby water source is something new players should bear in mind when looking for a site to call their own) and fill them up.

Quick recap: With 360 Water in Jugs, position oneself over a clay patch, and click on the red clay icon.

“Clunk” goes the sound effect, and 1 Clay pops into your inventory. The icon disappears.  Now you’ll have to move a few steps until the red clay icon appears again, and click once more. Rinse and repeat until you run out of Water in Jugs.

Moving a few steps can be done in two ways:

  1. Click a spot to move there, aka click-to-move.
  2. Minimizing chat channels, then using the arrow keys (not WASD) to move left, right, up, down.

Pop quiz for the math inclined. How many clicks (and key presses) is it going to take to collect 2200 Clay?

Frankly, I don’t know. I’m really poor at math. And Diablo, this game is not.

But it -is- hardcore, in its own way.

It’s a sandbox. You COULD choose to manually click your way to 2200 Clay. No one will stop you. (Though they may point and laugh.)

(Just kidding.)

On The Care and Feeding of Macros

One of my most favorite things about ATITD besides the nice, welcoming community with a small-town feel reminiscent of MUDs, is that the use of macros are legally allowed.

The only thing that is illegal is UNATTENDED macro’ing. If a GM or staff member catches you unable to respond and your character busy botting away, then you’re looking at a ban. There goes your character, your sub and your everything, permadeath essentially. Who says ATITD isn’t hardcore? Moral of the story: Sit and look at your screen and be able to respond and all will be well.

Macros are something that all players should try giving a go with. It’s like a minigame of its own, sitting there planning out your scripted moves, testing, re-testing, until sweet success, stuff works as desired and all that prior time and effort invested will save you time and make it more convenient for you later on. (Sound like the rest of ATITD to you? Yep.)

I have the fondest, nostalgic memories about doing similar things with the MUD I used to play. Some MUDs ban the use of macros and scripts, but mine was always okay with them. So I’d sit and play around with speedwalks (a quick list of n, e, s, w directions to quickly move from place to place), aliases (shortcut abbreviations expanding out to whole word commands), macros and triggers. I was supremely competitive at the time, and found that all this stuff gave me a significant edge over those who didn’t use such things, and won plenty of contests as a result. These things are not just plug-and-play add-ons though, the user is also important in identifying the things that are best shortcutted, customizing all the inputs so that it becomes second nature and knowing how and when best to use the tools.

In many of those old MUD contests, they’d test your knowledge of the quirks, trivia and lore of the MUD too, and that’s not something macros can help with. You yourself the player must have the knowledge and the skill. The machine, the macros, are your tools. I coined my own term for this interrelationship of human input and macro response to produce results quicker than most people can conceive or attain – I called it “cyborging” and it’s an exceptional experience. For me, it hit a flow state very quickly, and all those expressions of “How the fuck?” “Wow” “Goddamn, you’re good” just added egoistical icing on top. Until the burn out, but that’s another tale.

So, back to ATITD. Can we macro clay?

You betcha. In the community spirit of ATITD, people come together to help each other out, and many exceptionally skilled people (far far better mathematicians and programmers than I) have written things for others to use. Macro scripts and even whole programs or macro engines specifically for ATITD. Convinced that ATITD is hardcore yet?

There’s plenty to pick and choose from. As these blog posts progress, I’ll show you the ones I like to use. Who knows, maybe it’ll be helpful for a new player looking for tips, because a lot of this stuff is NOT obvious at all. When I first started playing ATITD as a newbie, I remember feeling absolutely amazed, out of my league, and unable to conceive just how other players were so gosh-darned productive. Even now, I observe a lot of people logging in, trying out the game, encountering stuck points, and then giving up and disappearing for good without making the leap to a level they can be comfortable at and contribute to the community.

I had the good fortune of meeting some very nice veterans every Telling I played and joining guilds where I could observe how better players play. Plenty of wiki reading, people watching and experimentation paved the way for me to talk about this. Fair warning: I am by no means as skilled as most of the veterans in this game, I’m probably not as efficient as it’s possible to be, but I’d like to share all the same.

Do bear in mind the central theme of ATITD – “finding your own balance point,” what works for me may not work for you or someone else, but it’s nice to see what other people are doing and learn from them and find what works for you.

Sorry. Clay now, I promise. I’m fond of the first program I used way back in Tale 4. Rogarian’s R-Cubed. (Yes, you can truly attain fame in this game, this sandbox gives plenty of opportunities for people to specialize, shine, and put their names on things. Like programs. Are you tired of me saying this word yet? Hardcore.)

It’s very simple to use. Still gives you plenty of control – I’m not fond of full automation, I find it either has a tendency to break or you get so bored of watching the program play the game for you that you either ask yourself what’s the point of me being in the picture, or you walk away from the computer… don’t come crying to me later if you get banned then.

And R-Cubed will stop the moment you alt-tab away from the active window, so it has honesty built into its very core. You -will- be looking at the screen and at the game (unless you walk off AFK, but see above.)

It’s fun to see how ingenious players can get, by analyzing how each macro or program works. R-Cubed looks for the clay icon (or grass, or slate) by periodically checking the color of a pixel on your screen, location and color selected by the player. When you start the macro, hit ctrl and your mouse cursor turns into a cross and acts as a color picker.

Move the mouse cursor over to the red clay icon, check the eye to make sure the pixel color is something unique to the clay icon, and not the surroundings, and release ctrl. That’s it.

R-Cubed checks, and whenever it sees dark red (in this case), it moves your mouse cursor over the icon and left-clicks for you. Clunk, 1 Clay collected.

What it doesn’t do, is move your character for you. But it’s good, in this way, you have more options!

  1. You can opt to move yourself. Just click to run to the start of the clay patch, and your character will move slowly to that spot, picking up clay thanks to R-Cubed as they move.
  2. If you’re like me and crave a bit of twitch every now and then, or want fine control over the way you move, you can minimize your chat channels and use the arrow keys to move up and down, left and around, in circles and in stripes on your clay patch amusing yourself while R-Cubed does all the grunt work of getting clay.
  3. Or you can layer a second macro program with R-Cubed that will actually move your character about.

There’s nothing as boring as repetition, so I actually use all three options for the sake of variety.

In the case of the third option, I make use of my Logitech G25 keyboard because it’s quick and easy and I need an excuse to use it).

But one can always find another macro program that will press up (or left) for a set number of seconds, and then down (or right) for a set number of seconds, and repeat X times, or a program that clicks a location on the screen for you, or whatever. Personal choice and all. It often isn’t worth the trouble unless you really think you need to spend hours on obtaining Clay.

I actively regulate the amount of interactivity I have with ATITD tasks. I believe it’s part of the efficiency/finding your own balance point game. Fully automating it takes away the fun for me because I like some twitch and some input every now and then. For others, they may enjoy looking at the end result of their work in scripting the macro, but I still think it gets boring after just passively watching your character pick up the 300th piece of clay.

So I went back to clicking with the mouse every 5 seconds or so to indicate where my character should run and meditatively listening to the *chunk* *chunk* *chunk* of Clay being picked up and reading public chatter on various chat channels. (And taking screenshots and composing this blog post in my head while my hands were occupied.)

40 minutes of idle clicking later, I have my 2200 Clay.

Again, if I weren’t blog posting, I’d would honestly break gathering up into chunks so that it doesn’t feel too much like a marathon. 5-10 minutes of one activity, do something else, putter about, switch up the variety, and then go back to it.

It just makes it really hard to organize or write a blog post about how you’ve partially done 8 different things. 🙂

On “Grinding”

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

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

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

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

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

RotMG: The Godlands

…And I’m right smack in the middle of playing Realm of the Mad God.

Realm of the Mad God is one of those games that defies conventional classification. It’s sorta kinda an MMO (in that there’s lots of people playing it at one time), and it’s also a Flash game (which follows the pattern of quick bouts of gameplay snuck in whenever you want), and it’s definitely in the bullet hell arcade shooter genre (plenty of projectiles flying about, but not too extreme.) It has Roguelike permadeath. But you know, it has classes and levels and grinding over and over for better stats and gear in order to get buff enough to kill bigger bads, and that’s gotta make it an MMO, right?

I really like the game. Steam says I’ve got 44 hours logged in it, and before that, I was playing it a fair bit on Kongregate.

I also probably suck at it. Because I’m nowhere near to being “expert,” “pro” or “hardcore” at this game, going by the level of all the leetspeaking folk on the game’s forums who seem to wander around casually in maxed out stats and amazingly good gear. But you know what? I don’t really care. I like playing the game and learning it on my own time.

What is definite is that I’ve moved on from the newbie stage. The newbie stage, imo, is when getting from level 1 to 20 is an adventure in itself, wandering the roads and rivers encountering all the various monsters is a big surprise, and picking up lower tier equipment is an exercise in glee because you sure don’t own anything better yet.

I’ll call myself in the “learning” stage. After you play for a bit and start regularly killing the Gods (monsters) in the Godlands, you start to accumulate a decent amount of T7-T8 gear. To the pros, this is probably still trash to be thrown into the chipper, but it’s enough for my new characters to walk around fairly unmolested and do slightly more twinked out damage, speeding up the process of getting to the max level of 20.

After having wandered the world sufficiently, one also starts to recognize the various areas and various monsters expected to be found in the various terrains. My favorite spot to level really fast is to meander off solo and walk around in the desert until one encounters the huge morass of Giant Crabs and Sandsman Kings that always seems to over-spawn in there. Some people join XP trains, but it seems slower to me – it’s a preference, I hate waiting around for other people before getting moving, I feel more constructive just regularly killing stuff.

So I’m at the stage where I can field level 20s regularly. The next stage is “potting up” or stat-grinding. By killing Gods in the Godlands, there is the rare chance that they’ll drop a potion with which to raise one stat by one point. (Some other event or boss mobs in dungeons also drop potions, but I still find them fairly rough going.)

Some really skilled guy made this video series where he records himself “potting up” a wizard from scratch. Me, I am nowhere near that confident of my skills dodging bullets. I think I went through 4+ wizards and a couple necromancers by taking silly risks in dungeons trying to learn boss fights, getting accidentally shotgunned by Oryx in the end-of-realm fights, and just lagging or being careless a couple seconds too much.

Having sated most of my curiosity (as I’ve ventured into most dungeons, only to Nexus out screaming from most of them when I find myself low on health, and seen most event mob fights), I’m determined to properly pot up a character.

I’m fondest of the wizard class, it’s the simplest to play (hence why everyone starts with it first), long ranged (giving more time to dodge and react), straight firing (easier to aim) and does a fair bit of dps (enough to qualify for soulbound drops on Gods, aka a good farmer!)

Now, general advice is that you earn pots for one character with another farmer – because hey, characters in active play can have shitty things happen to them – accidentally kicking the bucket and losing all your gear is already bad enough, losing all your stat potion progress would be even more irritating. Ideally, in order to get a truly badass wizard, I’d have another wizard on the side farming the pots for him.

Alas, my altholism also has me nurturing a lvl 20 rogue and lvl 20 archer on the side, and I’m unwilling to kill them off at present, nor buy any more character slots. So I’ve decided to try potting up the archer. He has higher defence than wizards, but slightly shorter range and a wider spread of fire. It’s not my best playstyle, but I get by. I also think his performance might get better if his stats improve, so I’m determined to give it a shot.

I had a bad accident with a lvl 20 huntress just a few days ago, which lost me T9 Roc Leather Armor that was from Oryx, a T4 Demonhunter trap that I had been hoarding up for some time and a free T10 Bow of Fey Magic that a nice random player gave me after seeing me plink away at Gods with a measly T5 Fire Bow. Ah well, easy come, easy go. That’s Roguelikes and permadeath for you.

The silver lining to the accident was that it freed up a slot for a dedicated wizard potion farmer, which I resolved to make, and keep re-making when it eventually bites the dust from another accident.

So… enter episode 1: In Which My Wizard Farmer Goes to the Godlands Again and Shoots up Gods in the Hope of Potions Dropping

Well, no, I lied. A couple careless deaths will teach one the value of proper preparation. I’ve made it a habit to always carry health potions before going to any risky areas. This gives me some reaction buffer time in case my health drops too low in a hurry, and lets me stay around longer before I’m forced to Nexus and leave the server and the fight. Oddly enough, the higher tier mobs seem to drop health potions rarely at best, and most of them are a pain in the ass to fight because they’ve got quite a hail of bullets.

So I wander around for a few minutes one-shotting mobs meant for level 1s. Conveniently, they still drop health potions. Sumos are a good source of health and mana potions when you find them. Well stocked, I teleport over to a group of lvl 20s in the Godlands. (This is always just a little bit risky because they could be in the middle of flaming bullet death, but you know, the 1% risk of inevitable death beats walking over.)

One thing I immediately found out is that it is really hard to get any viable screenshots from this game. It’s an arcade shooter with bullet hell wannabe pretensions. Stuff moves FAST. You must dodge FAST.

My left hand is on WASD. My right hand is aiming the cursor and my firing arc with the mouse. There is an auto-fire toggle key in this game, your own bullets can shoot helluva fast, especially once you increase your dex stat. Taking the hand off the mouse long enough to hit Print Screen is an exercise in significant risk. To make matters more interesting, my wizard farmer has pretty decent dps, so Gods evaporate in a couple seconds of being hit square on by my stream of bullets. Many times, I ended up taking pictures of Gods that weren’t there anymore.

Still, it’s interesting to note how far I’ve come. When I first started the game and got to the Godlands, I found it a very confusing, scary place with all kinds of unrecognizable monsters shooting all many of chaotic colors. I ended up huddling with the big pack of players that like to shoot up Gods together – most of them are looking for free XP, I suspect, though it is actually faster to kill stuff at one’s level range. It’s a big risk to go too low leveled into the Godlands because your speed stats are slower, so you dodge slower, you have less defence, and that means when you accidentally eat a faceful of bullets, you earn yourself a happy death announcement notice to the server – like that guy in the screenshot killed by a Djinn at lvl 5.

Between reading the wiki and just plain old experience, I can now tell apart the various Gods, and recognize all their firing patterns and colors.

Medusas are fairly nasty in that they have a red AoE attack they like to throw in front of them. The green stuff they fire starts close together, but spreads out, so keeping at range and dodging a couple milimetres works. White Demons are very easy, with the three ball pattern.

Treants shoot an orange shotgun spread too, they do it fairly fast and are a bit annoying.

Yes, there’s Gods in the snow fields as well. White on white, very tricky when you first encounter it, but really, it’s about knowing their patterns when you saw them on the grey rock already. Djinns used to confuse me with their flower like bullets, I couldn’t quite figure out where to dodge them at first. It’s still hard to describe in words now, but there’s a little gap between the fourth and fifth bullets that I usually just strafe left and right a little between, and one can maintain firing on the Djinn pretty much constantly. Djinn also release a circular ring of bullets when they die, so when you see that, you know they’re dead, even if you’ve dodged off-screen from them. Ghost Gods are nothing special, a spread of bullets as in the picture above, just stay in the gaps.

Stuff gets more confusing when there is more than one God at a time. It’s still about anticipating the patterns and knowing where to dodge. There’s a Flying Brain behind the Treant, they like to shoot very fast pink bolts. I’m not terribly good at dodging them but I try. Two Beholders shooting their star shaped pattern. Some of the Gods also shoot those asterisks, which all tend to be nasty debuffs like blinds and slows. I try not to get hit by any of them, period.

The Leviathan is one of the harder Gods. It appears to have higher hp than most, and it has a really complex bolt pattern it fires. Up close, it’s a horrible shotgun that can wipe out a careless character, so I just stay the hell away from the bullet spread and plink it from afar until it dies.

Eventually, you can even tell what Gods are beyond your visual sight range just by looking at the bullet patterns. In this case, at least 2-3 Treants, and a Flying Brain.

Interestingly, I find it easier soloing Gods because you pull them away one at a time or in manageable numbers, and you’re always backing away into a previously cleared safe zone, so blasts are more predictable.

My initial urge to huddle in a big group was actually counterproductive in more ways than one. For one thing, other people can do more damage to the God than you, killing it too fast for you to do sufficient damage to qualify for a soulbound loot drop. For another, various people are attracting more Gods and they are backing toward the big huddle from various directions, causing overlapping fire from different angles, and there’s all these people running about and shooting producing even more visual chaos.

I didn’t expect there to be much more to the story. I killed a lot of Gods. Had a meditative flow experience slightly broken up by the panic of trying to capture screenshots. Alt-tabbing to keep pasting Print Screens into a paint program is more than a little scary when you’re afraid some random guy will drag a horde of Gods into you while you’re not able to react and dodge in time. A few of them dropped stat potions – two defences that I recall. Yeah, miserable drop rates. Brought them back to my bank Vault to give to the proper character. Went back and fought the Gods some more.

Then serendipity happened:

I teleported into a group of lvl 20s who were attempting to break the Mysterious Crystal in the Godlands. Do enough damage, and it releases a special boss. I joined in. The crystal eventually gave way.

The Crystal Prisoner boss was released. I joined in, not really expecting much because I tend to get very hurt and have to back away and lose my damage on the boss or else bite the dust. Turned out there were sufficient priests in the mix that were shooting off heals, and I managed to actually get by and dodge properly. And to my immense surprise, when the prisoner boss died, a white soulbound bag (the rarest kind of soulbound bag, I am given to understand) dropped for me.

Jumping on it in glee, I pulled out my greatest haul yet. A Crystal Wand and an dexterity stat potion.

That’s the RNG for you. Into the bank vault it goes, until I have an open slot for a priest. (Which would, of course, mean me losing the current wizard to permadeath.)