The SAD Project – Day 4 – Random Panda Bravely Dungeon

randompanda

First off, here is your nifty screenshot of the day.

I haven’t been visiting the guild hall to harvest random materials in a bit, but today, while idly looking for stuff to do, I hit the “visit Guild Hall” button.

Our guild recently (and when I say recently, I mean maybe 1-3 months ago, I live in geologic time when it comes to GW2) swapped over to the Lost Precipice guild hall area.

This is generally a very rocky, arid, barren, cliffside landscape, so I was rather surprised to see some decorator had gone plant-happy across the entire guild hall, presumably cleverly making use of strategically placed trees all over to act like bushes and hedges.

It makes the whole hall look great. But my favorite is this lil panda in the bushes, seemingly assembled from snowballs and chak gerent eyes.

ar-rip

I start with that, because the alternative is screenshots that look like this.

I’ve been spending the last two days mostly staring at various characters’ equipment screens, wondering if I can consolidate agony resistance into some characters’ up to the point of T4 fractals and wondering -which- characters and also wondering if I can stand making the effort.

The first point: consolidating agony resistance.

Previously, I had a 150+ AR necromancer, cobbled together with some mix of the +5 versatile infusions and +8 to +10 agony infusions. I’d also been working on bringing a PS warrior up to 150, but ran aground somewhere around the 87s.

Some patches later, necromancers are see-sawing in status, no longer quite masters of the epidemic bomb and undisputed sole rulers (except for one druid) of T4 fractals. Power PS warriors have also taken a massive hit in perceived popularity, and at T4, condi is king, anyway.

Since I run a condi PS warrior for raids, you’d think it’d be easy to just transfer AR over to him, but a) staring at my old characters, I realize that half of their infusions are the old type of +5 infusions and probably don’t work anymore / have to be traded for the new type or something, and b) I really want to min-max this guy and work on upgrading him slowly with infusions with +5 condi damage stats – which cost a bomb, compared to the normal type.

Then comes the second point: -which- characters should I consolidate them on.

I’m regularly terrified of and/or loathe fractals and most group content.

This reaction is mildly amusing to me, considering one of the recent topics in the MMO blogosphere seems to be a general nostalgia towards running dungeons and missing the feeling of contributing in some role (healers, mostly).

I figured it out though. There are a couple things I really really -hate- about group content.

One is the unpredictability of PUGs.

I like my group content runs smooth. Now that my raid group full clears regularly, I find I am actually enjoying my weekly raids in GW2. I like the predictability of the encounter. I know my teammates, I know -this- healer will regularly save my bacon when I run out of health doing a mechanic, I know to expect certain things at certain times, I know when I am supposed to do my part pulling other peoples’ bacon out of the fire with a well placed rez banner and so on.

Try -that- in a PUG.

O. M. G.

Seguing into this is the disparity of skill levels in a PUG. I hate it.

I am not super keen on having to carry some helpless barely contributing folk through an instance, though I can tolerate it if the overall run is smooth and easy.

At the same time, I am also keenly aware that I have zero skill level when it comes to higher level fractals and the mechanics therein, particularly the newer ones, so to others at a much higher skill level, they are no doubt keenly aware that they are carrying ME and the embarrassment is unpleasant.

(It is a catch 22 that you will gain no skill if you do not even make the attempt though, so the only alternative is to suffer embarrassment, risk being kicked or singled out/be carried, and try to suck less with each go at it.)

Then also, if you lack the critical mass of competent people to carry the less competent, the whole encounter turns into a roiling, time-wasting mess of wipes, silent leavers, and waiting for more.

Which brings me to point 3: waiting to play a game.

Maybe I’m old or something,  but it has been blowing my mind lately when I watch Twitch streamers play various games like Player Unknown Battlegrounds or Friday the 13th or pretty much -any- multiplayer game.

They sit in a lobby for an amazing amount of time, waiting for sufficient players to fill up the team.

Thereafter, there is like a 45 second countdown before the match even begins.

During the match, there seem to be interminable amounts of waiting or quiet periods where absolutely nothing happens, interspersed with a couple life or death seconds of combat.

If you’re on the losing end, welp, you can now watch other people play the game until the match ends, or you can join another lobby to wait for another match to begin.

The common rejoinder of the hardcore fractaler is to say, “welp, make your own group to do X” and you know, I gave it a try, starting a few groups with an easy daily recommended fractal.

Almost immediately, I realized that I was going out of my mind WAITING for someone to join.

It got so bad that after a couple minutes, I dashed into the fractal myself – Urban Battlegrounds, comes with NPCs – and started soloing, because what the hell, right? At least I was doing something.

The NPCs and me had pretty much taken down Dulfy when finally, a second person joined.

I changed the LFG to “31 already in” and we finally had a full complement by the time we were breaking through to the final room.

This is all very well on easier difficulties, but on higher levels, where soloing would be slightly less easy, it becomes a really difficult decision between waiting in the lobby slowly going gibbering mad or slogging through like molasses and/or wiping in the attempt.

It also seems somehow less polite to start first at high levels, when one should -theoretically- begin and work as a team.

So there’s the choice of characters. My condi warrior does -not- solo well. At least, not in the condi PS raid spec, which is built to provide lots of helpful offensive TEAM buffs. It is also pretty darned squishy when the TEAM isn’t quite a team… like one might encounter in a PUG. You know how to look like the weakest link in a PUG? Being the first one to die and/or keep dying.

The necro can solo, but it’s not very group-oriented, and it tends to be slow as molasses, slowing down teams that might actually want to work as a team.

What kind of character might be able to carry a PUG team to victory in fractals? (Remember, I want to -smooth- out my runs as much as possible.)

Caveat: I am not -that- skilled at individual fractals AT ALL. That rather eliminates clever things like mesmer portals and blinks, thief stealth and shadowsteps, and truth to tell, the thought of running low hp reservoir guardians or elementalists in a PUG gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. (Besides, I can only operate a guardian blindfolded.)

So it came to pass that I actually *heave, deep breath* entertained the thought of healing, as a druid.

A bit more research suggested that going full magi would be extremely counterproductive, fractals expects damage output from 5 players, not 4 players of possibly questionable skill and 1 dumb druid trying to spam heals.

A condi druid, though… I already have full viper’s for a condi ranger. It was just a matter of switching some traits and skills…

Oh, and actually knowing how to USE those skills and a druid’s celestial avatar.

I’m still working on that part.

I gave it a spin in a level 7 Cliffside, and only managed to go into CA twice (how the fuck is astral force built again, maybe things died too fast), only managed to put spirits down for the last fight, and all the while, my juvenile lynx was possibly causing absolute havoc with the chanter run because I left it on guard mode until some long suffering soul targeted it, and it occurred to me that “huh, where did my lynx go? errrr, spamming my “follow me” key doesn’t seem to be working so well… hemm…*quietly switches it to passive mode in lieu of any better ideas*”

Somehow, I don’t think I should try to druid in a T4 fractal just yet.

Incredibly, there are even players attempting fractals that are far more worse off than me.

This was the transcript of a level 54 Chaos fractal chat. One player was having some difficulty making the multiple jumps to the first fight.

In a previous run of the fractal, when I was busy fucking up the jump myself, I’d learned that as long as one player makes it there, everyone else can just type “/gg”, kill themselves and respawn at the new checkpoint set. Hoorah, pain avoided.

Player 1 (LFG Leader): ! / gg!

(a couple tens of seconds later, when it was obvious that the struggling blue dot on the minimap wasn’t)

Player 2: just /gg

(more tens of seconds later, the blue dot moving around, getting confusion debuffs, losing health, not quite dying, healing up again)

Player 3 (Me): type ‘/gg’ you will respawn here

(because I totally do not believe in issuing unclear commands without explanations)

(one minute later, with no attempt at communication or typing from the errant 5th blue dot)

Player 4: just die please

(a few more seconds of struggle later… Player 5 quits the team without a word)

Player 1: !!?

Player 4: ok

Player 4: that was nice

Player 4: lol

Player 2: xD

Yeah. I feel for you, unknown player 5. But you are not exactly helping yourself if you don’t communicate, follow well-meaning instructions, or at least ask a clarifying question either.

fractals-rip

Then there was this absolutely mind-screwing encounter where I somehow managed to attract a whole bunch of aggro and conditions, barely clinging to life as the boss dropped in hp, and finally gave up the ghost around 25% of the boss’ health…

…whereupon the other four party members danced around the boss for another thirty seconds or so, with his health bar barely moving, whereupon the last unlucky guardian taking the brunt of the damage that I’d been absorbing finally ran out of his self-heals and dropped dead…

…whereupon the other three party members did a bang up job evading all the mechanics, and slowly hand-rezzed the both of us…

and the dead guardian went: am i onl yperson with any kind of aegis or group heals lol

dead guardian: tf (sic, maybe he meant wtf)

dead guardian: answer yes all necros and a theif

and inside my head, I was like, “well, strictly speaking, I’m running transfusion, so that -is- a group heal” and “but but- there’s another dragonhunter with the same icon as yourself in the party, what the hell?” and “why are you obsessing over aegis and group heals, when we’re trying to break the bar?!”

But anyway, I eventually got hand-rezzed by the thief and the other dragonhunter, the dead guardian got picked up, and we got the rest of the health bar down and the boss died…

…though I still wonder why the other three didn’t just kill the boss, since they were evading all the mechanics perfectly anyway…

…unless they really really needed my dps or cc or something in order to successfully do so…

The more I think about it, the more my brain hurts.

Maybe I -should- install arcdps to get a better read of these various fractal encounters and how much my contribution is, compared to everyone else’s.

Maybe I’m better off not knowing.

But yeah, I really don’t know how to best deal with these fractals. There are randoms. There are people with far more skill than me that think I’m a deadweight. There are people with far less skill than me that I in turn think are deadweights. It is random. It is unpredictable.

I’m really really safe on a necro (which makes for relatively smooth runs), except when I’m not.

My condi PS buffs the whole team and generally provides a lot of offensive power and cc, except when I’m dead.

My condi druid might conceivably make life easier for a PUG fractals team, except I’d actually have to know how to play it well.

*sigh*

I suppose I’ll just have to keep dabbling away at it, dipping a toe in as much as I can stand, until I myself am familiar enough again to jump into a T4 without totally embarrassing myself.

GW2: Disconnected Ramblings

I finally finished the Heart of Thorns story today. The last chapter’s flight phases were a humongous PITA between 250ms latency and having to replay a considerably lengthy fight of multiple phases if one failed to dodge a single hit while in the air.

Granted, I voluntarily chose to make it harder by deciding not to group up for this fight.

But I just found it nigh impossible to find a reliable means of dodging said hit, the hitboxes just didn’t feel or seem right from one’s gliding camera angle. I tried strafing with lean techniques, speeding up and changing vertical angle with said lean techniques, stealth dodging and it all seemed 50/50 as to whether it would work or not. I suspect the distance traveled by the object which hits (oh, how roundabout we must speak to avoid spoilers?) is just too short for our laggardly latency to react to reliably.

The only thing I didn’t try was undeploying the glider to drop and redeploying it because duh, that’s nigh guaranteed failure at our kind of ping. I’d just crash feet first into the floor, which is the equivalent of lava here.

Anyway, it was a mixture of sheer dumb persistence, a little luck and developer tweaks (they put a second essential object on the other side, where the floor hopefully has not fallen away and left you a flying unreachable essential object – assuming it didn’t glitch out, at which point you just have to die and try again and hope it’s there this time) that got it done.

Also, Canach. Canach is my bro. If I got lucky enough to evade the first two hits of the stupid flight phase, but got murderized out of the sky just as the phase is ending, my bro braves a ridiculous amount of shit in order to rez me while I’m downed. I narrowly scrape through the bloody aerial phases a number of times that way.

Glad that’s over. I liked the ending. I got to do something that felt rather appropriate on a Hero’s Journey sort of narrative, while satisfying some meta player urges.

While watching the cutscene, I couldn’t help but think back to Scarlet and “Someday you’ll see. Tyria needs me.”

In other news, can someone please explain to me what “antisocial” means in an MMO context?

I’m starting to think that it’s a blame-others phrase slung around by people who either don’t have the time / priority to invest socially into an MMO (but would like to, because nostalgia) or a euphemism for “Woe is me, no one is willing to help me get what I want done at this very moment NOW, or magically reads my mind to know that I am lonely and want someone to talk to.”

By nature, I’m quite a lone wolf.

I enjoy soloing mobs the Bhagpuss way a lot. (And throw in lots of shameless harvesting/gathering and selling, because ka-ching.)

But by my count, I’ve done -so- much socializing in my MMO of choice that I find it hard to understand when others claim it feels friendless and antisocial.

Random example:  the past weekend has been spent in a Teamspeak filled with 120-130 people for hours on end. I don’t talk but there are plenty of others chattering away. We’re practising / trying for world first on the Tangled Depths meta event, which seems to be a mite overtuned on the early days of Triple Trouble Wurm sort of scale. Said meta event happens every two hours, so there is at least one spare hour of time in between, before set up and preparation of groups and all that.

You can see every range of social and asocial behavior going on. People have the freedom to AFK for that one hour, some in a big clump at the waypoint and some hiding away alone in corners, while others choose to group up and “explore” the map that way, aka beelining from one marked point to another following the one guy with a clue as to where he is going. Still others choose to solo explore and spontaneously come together for events or just when crossing paths. Some talk in say chat, some talk in Teamspeak; some talk constantly, some sporadically and others not at all.

I have helped two guilds claim their guild halls, aka group sizes of 20-40+. I tried a guild PvP mission, aka group of 5. I did a fractal, aka a PUG of 4 other strangers. I ran into random people while on my solo wanderings about the Heart of Thorns maps and helped them, rezzed them, communicated or coordinated with them to defeat (or make relatively good tries on) at least three separate Verdant Brink night time champions multiple times. I joined others asking for help at hero points, I start soloing hero points and sometimes someone joins me spontaneously and we get it done…

…I’m not even -trying- to interact with anyone here. I just keep bumping into them. (Or they fall down at my feet and it feels bad to walk away without Fing them up.) Halp?

Finally, really quickly, a discussion on MMO spoilers.

I get the spoiler thing. I do. I don’t want to be spoiled myself, so I don’t open stuff marked with spoiler tags until I’m done with whatever it is.

But here’s something I still don’t get, that maybe my readers can help me with: is there an expiry date before something is no longer considered a spoiler?

If someone wants to talk about the ending to Harry Potter or discuss something re: past seasons of Game of Thrones, isn’t there a time when one should assume it is either public knowledge by now, or whoever still doesn’t know probably doesn’t care about it to begin with?

Do I have to spoiler tag what happens to Macbeth?

In the storyline context, Guild Wars 1 is ancient history by now. A bunch of heroes slay Abaddon. Kormir takes over. It’s known fact. It’s part of the timeline.

Sylvari are Mordremoth’s dragon minions. Used to be a spoiler. If you don’t know by now, then none of Heart of Thorns will make sense, especially when the dragon starts whispering sweet nothings to your sylvari character.

And so it goes. Time moves on. The story is going to progress and it’s going to operate based on what just happened in Heart of Thorns.

So… expiry date? When?

Aka, “Please please tell me when I can start discussing all the cool story revelations and sharing all the delicious screenshots without having to muck around with HTML formatting and spoiler tagging nonsense that I’m very very bad at.”

A Single-Player MOBA?

Tobold has come up with an intriguing, if heretical, idea: Why not a soloable or single-player MOBA (or game mode?)

It’ll catch a hitherto untapped audience, those that prefer PvE or those that can’t commit to the length of a match with other players (without a pause button to periodically go AFK) or those simply too nervous to learn the depth of a MOBA while facing the habitual toxicity of its regular audience (and provide a stepping stone training mode for those who might not mind PvP but want some extended practice by themselves first.)

The imagined protests that immediately cross my mind are those that shriek, “OMG, the very POINT of a MOBA is to group up to defeat challenges! Teamwork and communication are critical! The very feeling we’re craving is in that practiced coordination and super-smooth execution! Go solo somewhere else, like a singleplayer RPG, and not in MY game!”

Amusingly, it seems to be a similar protest to those who oppose soloability in MMOs, or soloable dungeons, or what-have-you.

There appears to be an underlying fear that they won’t have anyone to play with, if a solo option existed.

But frankly, that seems to be a completely off-base assumption, given the example of both solo and group options co-existing in MMOs. The social players still party up and complain bitterly about instances that force them to solo, the solo players still wander off by themselves and complain bitterly about instances that force them to group, and if the devs manage to hit that magic “no-forcing, solo or group as you prefer” option, then everyone seems more or less happy, or at least, content to deal with it.

Creating alternative game modes is great for variety, offering choices for people with different preferences.

The danger seems to be mostly overwhelming a player with options (which basically means they need a linear progression path or some kind of signposting or a “do this activity for more bonuses today!” promotion), plus the issue of having to devote sufficient developer resources to tend to that game mode.

Some people might wonder, “Well, in many MOBAs today, you can already play solo, in a sense. What’s he going on about?”

It’s true. Many many people solo queue into a match that contains other players on both sides.

Still others will solo queue into a co-op game, in which players are all on one side and bots on another, which is the equivalent of GW2-like social engineering – everyone on the same side, incentivized to cooperate against a computer-controlled enemy team, essentially PvE in a MOBA.

Anyone can easily set up a bot game in which all other nine players are bots, where they are completely alone and left in peace to do whatever the hell they want, or a custom game where they can tweak some variant of this player-bot formula to however they like.

But I think Tobold is implying something a little more. That developers can explore this as yet unexperimented-with space or niche further.

An easy analogy is that of dungeons in an MMO.

People expect to group up, to have roles and experience teamwork while defeating a sequence of enemies (with complex mechanics to learn) for rewards at the end.

However, we have the example of Guild Wars 1, which turned the concept of dungeoning on its head a little by letting players solo their way through pretty much all instances with henchmen or heroes (and mind you, some players still grouped to do the harder dungeons faster and more efficiently.) Ditto The Secret World, if I remember correctly, some instances were soloable.

We have Guild Wars 2, which has experimented with the idea of the Queen’s Gauntlet, a solo-only series of challenges (with complex mechanic to learn), as well as inadvertently produced a challenging side activity of soloing dungeons meant for groups (which appeals to another subset of players.)

Why not create MOBA game modes with a little twist to them?

One interesting possibility that comes to mind goes back to a MOBA’s RTS roots. Just like you could have one player control a number of heroes in GW1, why not let a single player control multiple MOBA heroes?  That would probably be a great multi-tasking, micro-taxing, control-group practice singleplayer challenge right there. It’s not as if MOBAs don’t embrace that concept already, with heroes that can summon other mobs or illusions.

Something else players of singleplayer modes do expect is some kind of narrative or progression path to follow. Why not throw in a story mode in chapters bookending MOBA fights, perhaps with preset groups of opposing or allied heroes?

It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Duels of the Planeswalkers is a Magic: The Gathering game that some players buy for its PvP, and some of whom merely buy to play its singleplayer chapters or puzzle challenges, unlocking cards along the way.

One might protest that without other players to show off vanity cosmetics to, that the whole revenue stream of a MOBA might break down.

However, one could also offer hero unlocks a la League of Legends or Marvel Heroes, or even content unlocks where each hero has a ‘story mode’ that you could pay for in microtransactions. PvP players who don’t give a damn wouldn’t be nickle and dimed at all, while PvE players who like that sort of thing might be convinced to pay $2-5 for several more hours of unique gameplay/maps/puzzle/story DLC.

Unlocking special achievements or increasing levels are another easy way to keep a singleplayer gamer solo farming or engaging in speed runs or mastering Dark Souls-difficulty challenges to their heart’s content. Get X number of last hits or creep or hero kills, win Y as hero or other, defeat Z mob with some kind of mechanic or finish the match in a set amount of time or whatever.

You could have leaderboards for this version of asynchronous competition too, again akin to certain competitive mode challenges in Guild Wars 1, or even in games like Batman: Arkham _Whatever_, where you have combat and predator challenges for a single player to test themselves against, improve their score versus other players’ scores and so on.

In my opinion, the singleplayer MOBA (or variant game modes thereof) is certainly worth a company’s time to experiment and tinker with. It’ll be interesting to see which MOBA decides to eventually branch or innovate in this direction, or if they think grabbing their handfuls of the competitive PvP / eSports pie is more than sufficient to focus on.