Surprising as it may seem, this round of blog silence isn’t exactly due to it being Slacktember after Blaugust (well, maybe, just a little) but mostly due to a sudden and urgent need to diagnose an intermittently disconnecting Internet connection.
For the last couple of days, the connection has taken it upon itself to cheerfully break for the space of 1-2 seconds, before reconnecting, at frequent yet irregular intervals ranging from pretty durned often in the space of a half-hour to once every hour or two.
In essence, it appears artfully calculated to drive me up the wall as it’ll give me problems when playing games and then promptly vanish (but not entirely) while trying to troubleshoot and nail down the culprit.
Needless to say, the past week’s GW2 game time has been less than satisfactory since disconnecting for two seconds is long enough to break the client’s connection and cause me to fall off maps – including organised Triple Trouble and Teq maps -, not to mention somewhat aggravating to dc from a fractal run and then relog and zone back in dead and be forced to beg your party to get out of combat for a sec so that you can respawn and rejoin them.
Ditto Trove, because it’s really annoying to lag with awful ping prior to a dc while mid-fight with a boss and realize that the boss is going to sucker punch you into next Tuesday while your latency is in the 1000ms-3000ms range (that extra digit is not a typo, mind you) or be midway through a challenge and dc right off the map, knowing you’ll log back in and the group doing the challenge is miles away and/or you’ve lost enough time reconnecting to make the challenge impossible to complete before the time limit is up.
So the past few days have been filled with a series of swapping between the Intel and Killer NIC ethernet adapters on my computer, deinstalling and updating drivers, deactivating antiviruses with real-time protection, going into safe mode with networking and physically changing various LAN cables in a colossal attempt to determine the root cause of the intermittent disconnections.
Fortunately, before I got to the stage of trying to unroll meters-long ethernet cable to directly connect my computer to the cable modem, I ended back down a previously researched avenue of overheating routers causing intermittent internet.
This has been a point of contention between me and another family member; said family member maintaining that the router’s position in the house is perfectly fine and that it is at a perfectly acceptable temperature, while I lightly touch the top of the router and point out that the surface feels just a bit shy of a boiled kettle of water that has cooled down sufficiently to touch, but not sufficiently that the water inside can be considered “lukewarm” yet.
Since the poor abused router has already been moved out of a shoe closet some time ago (after one of those little familial wars regarding optimal router temperatures conflicting with aesthetics), there are, unfortunately, limitations to where it can be moved. (Basically, it’s not.)
Its current home is in one corner of a room that is only intermittently air-conditioned (depending on if a family member is inside or no.)
Now, if you consider that our ambient air temperature in this tropical country can reach up to 33°C, as opposed to that of a temperate country usual temperature ranges when it’s not in the middle of summer, and that the router is essentially sitting in a pocket of still air in the corner of the room, and that it has to deal with a network where every family member has a desktop or laptop PC, a cell phone that connects wirelessly and several tablet devices, a smart TV and a small, personal NAS, well…
It’s unfortunate that I lack an easy way to objectively measure the temperature of whatever is going on inside the router. Nothing like evidence to solidly win a family argument, eh? Ha.
Short of starting a screaming match by absconding with a fan that is not “supposed” to be placed in an unsightly position, aka aimed directly at the router, I hit upon making off with a less used device – a bargain-priced laptop cooler belonging to another family member less likely to make a fuss, and sliding that under the router.
It’s not the best cooler out there, I’m sure, but at least it’s actively cooled and has a fan that can (sort of) move a little air around.
After a day, I note that the router is noticeably cooler, having dropped to a temperature that can now be considered “lukewarm” by touch.
Best of all, since doing that, I haven’t had a single dropped connection (*touch wood*) and only one heart-stopping incident of horrible ping during a GW2 Mordrem invasion event… which amazingly managed to hold the connection through about five seconds of lag, something that would have previously been impossible, I’m sure.
Hopefully, my guess as to the source of the problem was the right guess, and this state of affairs continues… (Note to self: Buy a better laptop cooler, if so.)
As for the Mordrem invasion in GW2, the current hooha around rewards strikes me as a little bit of an overreaction to an event that seems cobbled together for just a little fun with veterans and newbies…
…but then I have to admit that my judgment is a little colored by actually receiving a reward the first time (aka not bugged) and then opening the Scarlet’s box/bag/thing to receive an Enameled Jungle dye – which I unfortunately wasn’t daring enough to sell for 64 gold at the time. Ah well. (I used it, after logging in the next day and seeing prices had fallen to 30 odd gold.)
…plus not actually needing any of the higher priced rewards/skins, that would require an insane amount of bloom grinding. (Minis? Check. Toxic skins? Already bought with gems. Scarlet skins? Bought with gems. Thoughtless potions and what not? Already taking up room in my inventory from the last time around.)
I intend to attend an event or two a day over this weekend and be fine with whatever I get from that.
Personally, I suspect that the costs are meant to be high enough to not devalue the rewards – because, you know, some of those skins were worth $5 USD when I bought them the first go around… while I have no issues with letting other people enjoy them after I’ve already had the opportunity to use them, and applaud them also being alternatively available through in-game earning, I would feel a little bit of cost/effort disparity if people could just attend one invasion and then voila, buy up all the skins just like that.
Possibly, some of the stress is from it being such a time-limited event.
I’d personally have no issues if the event just continued on to October 23, and then people who wanted all the stuff could slowly and steadily earn them until the expansion launched. (Bonus: cheaper dyes and minis, yay!)
Well, whatever, we’ll see whatever Anet adjusts next and go with that.
Such is the advantage of having all the stuff I want already. *phew*
This morning, I woke up with my mind buzzing from a certain amount of worry.
At first, it was just the expected personal problem of wondering how the hell I was going to fit my personal schedule around the concept of raiding in GW2… especially since I’m in the GMT+8 timezone, making essentially all NA and EU guilds verboten, and even OCE guilds start raids about two hours earlier than I can really afford to be present while holding down a job.
Especially since the intent was to make sure said 10-person group undergoes repeated headbanging failure before maybe succeeding, after a great deal of build tweaking and coordination and practice.
That means a relatively regular group is needed, no?
Then I started wondering about how TTS was going to handle the introduction of raids…
The habit has always been for about 90-120 people gather up for Karka Queen, Tequatl and Triple Trouble Wurm. That’s about the most OCE/SEA critical mass that can be pulled at any one point in time.
Would they do the same, then split them up into groups of ten?
But wait, there might be a problem of lack of organized leadership… which means the number of each potential group that can be formed shrinks…
…which means there’s going to be competition for the desired raid spots… and resultant ill-feeling if you don’t make it in… sorta like how the 160th person sulks if they can’t manage to get into a Triple Trouble map… (except that we almost never hit that kind of number with TT, and we’ll definitely exceed that with a ten person raid)
And what if a huge chunk of leaders decide that they are just going to go form their own specialized raid group instead…
…what happens to the inclusivity of the Teq/Triple Wurm schedule?
And then it hit me, and my commenter Athie also drilled down to the root of the problem, WAIT, NO ONE IS GOING TO GIVE A DAMN ABOUT TRIPLE WURM ANY LONGER.
Why? BECAUSE RAIDS NOW OFFER COMPARATIVELY THE BEST ARMOR IN THE GAME.
Fractals? Fucking Ascended rings, right? And now reduced to one fractal each time. Meh, that’s for casuals.
Triple Trouble Wurm? A lame ass chance at Ascended armor with stats you probably won’t be able to use, and more likely, 5 lousy champion bags and some blues and greens.
EVERYTHING will be shoved aside, and the ALL IMPORTANT GODLY RAID will be placed on a pedestal of awe and desirability.
THAT is going to be a problem. The lack of any other alternative to get one’s mitts on Legendary armor, making raids highly desirable and causing everything else to fall by the wayside and look bad in comparison.
What’s going to happen to our friendly community guilds that welcome any influx of new players cos it means hitting critical mass then?
Torn apart, that’s what. You won’t want new players to learn the complicated raid dance if it sets your group back by weeks. You want the same regular group of 10, period. That forms exclusivity. That forms elitism if that pack of 10 gets all the shiny Legendary armor that no one else can get.
Now I have a sunken pit of dread in my stomach that isn’t going away.
I hope Athie’s right and GW2 makes a dramatic and unpredictable direction swing several months later, because the extrapolation from here is not looking good at all.
You see, I just spent 18 hours of the last Saturday, literally every waking moment not devoted to food or personal hygiene, seated in front of a computer…
… not having ANY fun at all.
Because the darned thing was malfunctioning, and all leisure activities had to be put aside, with troubleshooting the sudden new priority.
At that point, I would have traded a good many things to get back to my simple regular non-stressful routine of dabbling around doing dailies in a “comfortable” game, in a comfortable chair.
The trouble began Friday night, when I logged in for my usual Teq and Wurm runs.
GW2 was freezing on me.
As in, a complete hang with mouse cursor frozen, inability to ctrl+alt+delete and the only way to get out of it was a hard reset.
This was, of course, not good for any semblance of normal blood pressure since rebooting would -obviously- mean I fall out of the correct megaserver map instance and have to try my luck spam taxing back in.
Before long, I stopped worrying about even getting into the correct map, because I was consistently triggering a freeze every time I opened Teamspeak alongside GW2 and switched into a channel with people talking.
This was fine yesterday, and the day before that, and the months before that!
I’d changed nothing with my computer between yesterday and today!
Utterly bamboozled, I decided that maybe I was straining the RAM on my computer by having multiple programs open at once and gave up Teamspeak as a lost cause for the night (which didn’t bode well for any future fun with TTS until I could figure out the issue) and just sat in Sparkfly Fen on a pug Teq map brooding on possible causes and solutions.
10 minutes in, the system froze again.
Hard reset, retreated from the crowded map, sat in Lion’s Arch to get some crafting and TPing done – some secondary productive activity anyway, though I really wanted to be killing Wurm – while trying to see if the problem still persisted.
I bought a mass of sigils from the TP for a little experiment, and the “Take All” triggered a freeze.
Hard reset again, log in, try not to do anything more strenuous than stick stuff, jigsaw-puzzle like, into the Mystic Forge.
30-45 minutes into this, freeze yet again.
YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME.
Completely unable to enjoy any aspect of the game in a normal fashion, I ended up giving GW2 up as a lost cause for what remained of the night (not very much) and started basic troubleshooting.
Maybe it was a memory issue? The Resource Monitor did seem to indicate that having both GW2 and TS running was exhausting the “Free” memory, but there was still a lot of blue-colored “Standby” memory remaining – I’d already switched to Win 7 64-bit to combat the problem…
…maybe I was running out of swapfile? I was admittedly a little low on the free HDD space, so I ended up on a mass transfer-data-to-external-hard-disk deletion spree.
Temperatures of the CPU and GPU were all normal, so that couldn’t be it either…
Then with a sinking feeling in my chest, I suspected I had a real problem when the mouse cursor froze up on the desktop with nothing more strenuous open than Windows Explorer and Firefox (plus regular startup programs.)
Maybe it wasn’t a GW2 specific issue after all.
There was more disk space free on both drives than had ever existed in the past month, the pagefile had plenty of room to play with…
I shut the computer off for the night because I was tired of hard resetting (and worried about how much strain it was putting on my ancient PC) and just overall tired and sleepy, and was rather hoping to wake up in the morning and find that it was all a bad dream and that everything would be back to normal in the morning.
I got on to GW2 just fine, gingerly stepping into LA, expecting a freeze any minute now.
It didn’t come, so I logged onto Mumble in preparation for WvW reset. As I switched into the guild’s channel, I heard our comm say someone invite Jeromai to a group…and then yep, the computer froze.
Cue hard reset. Cue all the attendant stress and obligation that comes from having social networks and connections and expectations online – though fortunately, this was pre-battle and not like, a dc in the middle of a raid or something where your not-being-functional could cause an immediate wipe of a mass of people counting on you.
Went through the slooow loading Windows, loading GW2 process and finally logged in, to explain why the party invite and I was just sitting there unresponsive (and probably greyed out and offline) and then backed out of any WvW reset parties to grimly face a morning’s worth of troubleshooting.
Little did I know.
Sure enough, just sitting there in LA and switching into a Mumble channel where folks were talking produced fairly consistent freezing. It wasn’t -just- Teamspeak. It seemed to be all VOIP.
Goddamn it, was I doomed to a future in-game life with no contact with the VOIP-using player subset?
Hell, I didn’t even need to be running in GW2. Just sitting in Mumble could cause the freezes. (Silver lining, WvW reset goes for over three hours, so there’s lots of time to find channels where people are talking to stress test my system while troubleshooting…)
Googling up “computer freezes” in relation to VOIP presented a whole smorgasbord of possibilities:
There was something apparently called DPC latency, which had an impact on whether computers could handle real-time data streams, and may be the cause of audio-drop outs and a couple seconds of freezing. (Except my freezing was a LOT worse than a couple seconds.)
My RAM could be failing.
My hard disk drives could failing.
My power supply could be failing, and so on.
(None of the above were particularly incredible possibilities, since my computer IS 7+ years old by now, with all the hardware inside likely way past their warranties.
These were all not fun possibilities to consider. The RAM failing wouldn’t have been a matter of just going out to buy new ones to slot in.
It’s DDR2 RAM – who sells DDR2 RAM these days? My mobo is too old for DDR3 RAM. I’d have to switch the motherboard, which meant the CPU as well, which meant pretty much embarking on the whole new computer adventure at a time when my budget still can’t really deal with an SGD $2000 purchase. Besides, new computer would mean reinstalling Windows and all the programs, a day of intensive effort I never look forward to.
A hard disk failing would mean potential data loss, having to copy over stuff from the last not-terribly-recent backup, more reinstallation of stuff, and oh, cracking open the case to swap in a new one. Still not fun.
A new power supply would cost about double the price of a hard disk or two sticks of RAM, and still involve an opened case and lots and lots of rewiring and computer surgery.)
Or it could be a virus.
Or maybe… could it be some kind of driver or IRQ conflict?
Cudgeling the memory suddenly revealed that I -had- changed one thing between yesterday and the day before that.
I’d absent-mindedly plugged in my phone to transfer some photos, and this was apparently the first time I’d done so with my new-ish Windows 7 operating system, because it did its usual automatic “installing drivers” schtick.
They weren’t the ‘official’ drivers from some CD loaded with plenty of branded bloatware, just whatever Windows 7 had decided of its own accord was worthwhile to use. It had worked for the purposes of transferring pictures… but had Windows 7 been too clever and rearranged something it shouldn’t have?
Or it could be the anti-virus itself getting too smart of its own good.
I’d been running Avast antivirus, with its multiple shields, and I couldn’t help but notice in the stats provided that its File System Shield seemed to be scanning a lot of files, at roughly the same time I was having all the freezing problems. Coincidence?
So many possible angles. No real clue of where to start.
Suffice to say, there was a lot of scanning.
That terrible boring activity of watching a progress bar creep slowly up percent by percent while listening to your hard disk spin away, hoping not to hear any funny sounds or see any errors pop up on screen.
There were a lot of freezes mid-scan attempts. It is not a fun thing to attempt to surf to Malwarebytes’ website and have the computer freeze on you. VIRUS? TROJAN? ROOTKIT? are all things that go through your mind.
The second attempt post umpteenth hard reset worked… so maybe not…
DPC latency checker or watching resource monitor was consistently triggering a freeze about a minute or two into watching the info display.
There were scans of the hard disks for functionality. Seemed ok.
There was writing MemTest to a CD to boot from so that the RAM could be checked. Seemed ok.
There was lunch sometime between scans and brooding, barely tasted.
If anything, it’d gotten worse.
I was only getting into normal mode Windows for about 2-3 minutes before the whole system would freeze, which isn’t much diagnostics time at all.
The one saving grace was that safe mode Windows (with networking even) seemed to work fine… and was even pretty stable.
No freezes there.
So it -probably- wasn’t a major hardware issue, was the afternoon’s conclusion.
What was intensely weird was that taking out all the startup programs and services using msconfig in safe-mode, and then starting up normal mode with that very selective startup of absolutely nothing worth mentioning… was still producing freezes.
There was a battery of virus scans in safe mode, all coming up negative.
Seeing those results, I uninstalled Avast to see if that would help the problem any. Still no go. Still plenty of freezing in normal mode.
In the evening, I took a break in safe-mode to make some backups of my recent data (like screenshots!)… just in case it really was a failing hard disk, I’d regret it if I had time to salvage stuff and didn’t, after all.
NO FREEZES IN SAFE-MODE. FOR THE HOURS IT TOOK TO TRANSFER GIGABYTES WORTH OF STUFF.
WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON.
During the enforced break, I discussed the whole perplexing issue with a friend, and we started leaning towards the possibility of a driver conflict and/or IRQ conflict.
It was weirdly suspicious, I told him, that the IRQs for safe mode and normal mode were differently assigned. My Creative X-Fi soundcard was sitting on IRQ 3 on safe mode, and IRQ 20 on normal. A bunch of various USB hubs on the mobo were seemingly chaotically arranged and sharing IRQs on normal, but looked a little more organized on safe mode. My graphics card had a negative IRQ on normal mode – was that usual? Sadly, I didn’t know, since you know, one never bothers to look at these things when the computer’s running smoothly. Did I really scramble something by plugging in my phone and letting Windows 7 have its way with things?
Annoyingly, there appeared to be no easy way to manually re-assign IRQs with Windows 7. The operating systems have gotten too smart to allow that kind of thing.
The conclusion reached was that it was time to crack open the case and try to isolate the problem from there.
Did I mention the dust in the case?
And that I’ve lately figured out that I have a dust allergy from a) developing a seriously runny nose and congested lungs from inhaling dust thrown up in the air and b) symptoms subsiding when I swallow an antihistamine pill?
If things were normal, I could have been just happily mining for iron and platinum ore instead, I thought mournfully, as I opened the screws and tried not to inhale.
Or static discharge anything into valuable components. (There’s one plus for living in a country with high humidity. Not many static shocks here, if you don’t spend your days rubbing across carpeted flooring.)
Swapped and reseated the RAM. Turned the main power back on. Booted up. Still freezes. No go.
Turned the main power off. Removed the soundcard. Booted up.
No freezing. Or at least… for five minutes and counting, which is about double the improvement already.
Googling up “Creative X-Fi” and “freezing” brought up an inordinate number of hits, especially in relation to Windows 7 and 8 and driver issues, and plenty of complaints about Creative being slow-ass sons-of-bitches who don’t update drivers quickly, or write competent ones to begin with, and that folks were having freezes that required hard resets to get out of in virtually every game you could name.
It was officially night, and one had finally narrowed down the possibilities to the probable culprit.
It made a certain kind of sense, it had been two voice programs triggering audio issues, after all, before things escalated to freezing any time it felt like it.
But but… it’d been acting fine for the months since I’d switched to Windows 7, and installed all the official drivers (last updated Feb 2014, for Windows 8) from the sad little page labeled with “End of Service Life.”
And I really really liked the sound my X-Fi produces. On-board sound just isn’t in the same league, by far.
Further study revealed that the motherboard had a second PCI slot. Friend suggested swapping in the soundcard into that one instead.
Yadda yadda long story short, booted up, well, hey, still no freeze… checking the IRQs showed it had reassigned itself to 19 instead of 20… maybe that helped?
Friend headed off, celebratorily triumphant, thinking we’d licked the problem.
I sat down to some well-deserved and much-delayed GW2 dailies… when the computer froze again.
SERIOUSLY. FUCK THIS.
Suffice to say that I essentially skipped dinner, and went through many permutations of safe-mode and normal-mode, doing everything I could to first disable Creative X-Fi (which resulted in stability long enough to finish GW2 dailies, giving me at least some stress reduction in that department) and then wiping clean every trace of Creative drivers and programs and registry traces that may have been producing conflicts with each other and other drivers (Driver Sweeper was pretty useful) and then crossing my fingers and reinstalling cleanly the official ones again.
(I would have gone to the unofficial ones next if the official ones failed. I was pretty much operating on a whole “If this… then that” systematic list by that time.)
There were the odd occasional scares between reboots when Windows failed to detect the soundcard at all, then detected the soundcard and installed its own version of an appropriate driver (dated 2011, no idea where it found those) which ironically seemed to work, but of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to try for the 2014 ones, then it couldn’t detect the soundcard again, and then only detected the soundcard partially (playback was missing, but the microphone inputs were there, what?) and so on and so forth.
Eventually, one install seemed to take.
When I screwed the cover back on and righted the case, the most godawful noise started buzzing out of the box. It sounded like a dying jet engine in severe distress. A whining spinning sort of propeller noise with plenty of death rattle in it.
DEAR GOD ALMIGHTY, IS THAT A HARD DISK DYING, OR IS IT ONLY THE FRONT FAN?
Both hard disks and the fan were in the same place, so it was rather difficult to isolate the sound. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was going to tear itself apart any second now.
There was much hasty shutting down, powering off, and un-righting of the computer case back to the horizontal. Reverse those things to boot back up, but nope, even with the case flat, that noise was still unhappily going at it.
Much listening. Much gingerly touching the hard disks with the power on and that godawful noise to check for vibrations, hoping not to zap myself.
It’s the fan, I told myself. It’s probably the fan. All that movement of the case maybe jostled a wire and got it rubbing against the fan blades… or a chunk of dust fell into it and now it’s misbalanced and complaining like a very pissed off mistreated centrifuge.
Well, there’s no way I can operate the computer with that noise.
I had to get at the fan. How am I going to get at the fan with two hard disks in the way? So the front panel came off, with much struggle, and way too much fucking dust.
I guess I forgot to clean that part of it, though I vacuum the rest of the insides once in a blue moon. (It’s a see-through Cooler Master case, one tends to go for the visible stuff and forget the rest.)
It’s the middle of the night, no one sells cans of compressed air at this hour and I didn’t want to drive out and interrupt the troubleshooting process any further anyway. So enter much lugging in of the modest-power vacuum cleaner and much careful hoovering away at the fan, without touching anything (fortunately, static is still not the major issue it is in temperate countries) and without sending the fan spinning too much, which might create unwanted dynamo effects and electricity generated in the wrong places.
Powered back on. Blissful comparative silence. It was the fan after all, and it was now thankfully behaving.
Undergo everything in reverse once again. Move vacuum out of room. Replace cover. Right computer. Boot up. Cross fingers. Load Windows. Still no freeze. So far so good.
I had supper at midnight and went to bed shortly after. Not a great recipe for avoiding acid reflux, I assure you.
The next morning was a case of gingerly tiptoeing around the system, testing out listening to voice programs alone and in conjunction with GW2, getting the startup programs re-enabled and testing if GW2 and VOIP would still work, and finally reinstalling a new antivirus program (gone over to Avira now, not sure if Avast really was being too smart for its own good, but the insistent ‘feature’ ads were getting to me regardless.)
I’m still getting a mild case of audio crackles and pops when someone speaks too loudly over VOIP, but I think I can live with that over freezes for now.
I’ll troubleshoot that ANOTHER time.
Really, sometimes it takes a crisis to appreciate what you had and took for granted.
I’ll happily play with my “boring” and comfortable GW2 that apparently lacks content in relation to other MMOs and attend a daily Teq and Wurm, being actually able to hear VOIP communication, and go from node to node harvesting stuff any day over Saturday’s 18 hour troubleshooting marathon. ANY DAY. ANY TIME.
It gets better the further up in levels you go, they say.
Well, here’s the stuff I found neat on my journey from 15-21.
Mah bike looks cool.
I hear it is possible to upgrade the look of mounts later with rear and front flairs, which I think is a great system for further customization along the self-expression and showing off prestige front, and of course, the endless collection of mounts is a captivating system for collectors.
Mah sword looks cool.
The teen levels appear to be the home of some really neat two-handed sword designs. WTB similar stuff appearing in GW2, just less cartoony and more fantastical.
I also discovered that the warrior sword skills count as a spell cast and were only being performed on button up by default, rather than button down.
Which was probably inducing further delay into the stately swings, between my latency and tendency to press down on keys rather than release quickly.
I heartily recommend going into Combat Options and selecting “Use Button Down instead of Press Twice” and “Hold to Continue Casting” (which should select all three options.)
This allows you to still see the telegraph indicators for range, but also simulates a kind of auto-casting by holding down the relevant key.
(When you’re 200-250ms behind, any kind of automatic casting that allows you to sneak in more attacks is welcome for maintaining dps so that you don’t look like you totally suck on damage charts.)
The Shiphand solo instances demonstrate yet again why storytelling is best conveyed via a solo one which you can traverse at your own pace, and not be spoiled by some other guy in your party having done it already rushing you through it.
I tried the Hycrest Insurrection Adventure at lvl 15, a 5 man instance which is apparently set at a more lax difficulty level for casual PUGing.
There was a vote option of multiple paths to pick and choose, similar to GW2 explorables, except the option came up three times in that one Adventure, leading to presumably more branching possibilities and ostensibly more variation.
I say ostensibly because while my first group was probably entirely new to it and the majority just ended up picking the first option every time, my subsequent group had someone who had been presumably playing since Closed Beta, because that someone matter of factly announced, “2-2-3 is the best xp” and guess what path we ended up doing, by unanimous vote.
There was a fair amount of varied mechanics in that one Adventure, from snipers that shot at you from range and you had to dodge *ahem* dash to avoid being knocked down, NPC citizens which you stayed near to put on a disguise and thus ‘stealth’ through certain parts without drawing aggro, a timed portion to stop a moving convoy by defeating all its guards (bit of a vertical fight, one had to jump up on two platforms of a slow moving vehicle, have one person pull a lever which opened a door for others to go through and plant a bomb, etc.)
Bosses were usually two-phase or more, with varied shapes of AoEs to dodge and could move around quite a bit.
And of course, the odd room full of fire and falling rocks to sprint and dodge your way through.
At the end of the Adventure, a little scoreboard screen comes up to show you how you did.
It’s a bit odd, I suppose, in that it’s neither here nor there. You can’t compare how other people in your party did, though I suppose add-ons for that will pop up like a bad penny later.
I’m not sure what staying alive means, beyond extreme cowardice and maybe the least damage taken, which seems a bit unfair to tanks. Certainly -I- wasn’t tanking, I was safe and sound DPS with high armor and an itchy trigger finger on the dodge key.
The first was a group that didn’t really have a clue what we were doing, the following was being shepherded by someone competent doing the tanking. Albeit, a ranged engineer tank, which added some variety to the well-established holy trinity.
A scoreboard does set up a bit of an inferiority complex though. You keep wondering, maybe my warrior isn’t an optimal choice to bring versus say a stalker with much faster rate of attacks or some ranged dps which can spray and pray more sustained damage while dodging.
No doubt, the speedruns will come in due time, and groups who can’t finish in like 15 minutes or less will be considered lousy.
Finally, at level 20, the first dungeon. Stormtalon’s Lair.
People keep singing the praises of Wildstar’s dungeons, for some reason. Oh yay, it’s hard, it’s challenging, the trash mobs are actually scary and a threat!
I feel like I must have missed some super easy dungeons in the interim. Maybe because I don’t play WoW.
It felt like a normal oldschool dungeon where you are expected in a hardcore fashion to spend hours in, in order to complete.
The group finder suggested to bracket 75min for the dungeon, and horror stories talk of 3+ hours and PUGs disintegrating on the first boss, with folks cheering on this level of ‘challenge’ as refreshing.
There were trash mobs. There appeared to be two main varieties of spawns. One spellcaster with two melee animal mobs that could generally be tanked-and-spanked.
Group up, AoE ’em down. The Storm Watcher appeared to have some spells that caused AoE that needed to be either dodged, or a good group could use interrupts to stop this.
The other main type of trash mob spawn was a melee and spellcaster healer duo, a sentinel and shaman of some sort, linked together.
Naturally, PUGs will beeline for the nearest target, ie. the melee one, especially if you have a ranged tank engaging and backing away reflexively. Which then sets up the unending chain of letting the shaman freecast heals and keep Mr Melee up for an indefinite period of time until sheer force of dps burns through it – assuming your own healer hasn’t run out of mana *ahem* focus to support the tank first.
The trick, as some people explained, was to go for the shaman first and synchronize interrupts when it tries to heal. This is, of course, much easier said than done in a PUG without voice comms, but my first not-so-coordinated but seemingly fairly experienced PUG managed to pull it off maybe 75% of the time, while the second fail PUG did not. I was probably the only person with interrupts on that one, whereas the first PUG had two warriors (so 2 interrupts each, plus one more dps with one interrupt. Land 3 at any one time to get stuff done.)
Really -competent- tanks will manage to pull the melee to the spellcaster so that both are grouped up and can be burned down together. (Which I thought was basic competency for a tank, but apparently the people who queue up in a tank position in a group finder are extremely luck-of-the-draw.)
Our first PUG by the way struggled with a middling engineer tank with bruiser bot, who left after three wipes on the first boss, and was replaced by yet another engineer tank without bot who was plainly geared properly for his role and very very competent. The healer remarked on how much more easy it was to heal him, and this veteran of the dungeon explained all the mechanics and brought our newbie group through with only minimal wiping.
The first boss also had a reputation of being a PUG destroyer. (Sorta like Kholer, I guess. Except this one is unskippable.)
He involved three phases. First one was basic tank-and-spank, but he did a plus shaped AoE that needed to be dodged out of. (Or interrupts coordinated, I’m guessing.)
The second one involved him going invulnerable while the four adds that surrounded him went vulnerable. Pick the right one that the tank is also focusing on to burn down. Random people get marked with a bomb AoE that is centered on them. Dodge out of AoE, but pros apparently -move- the AoE to the mob first before dodging out so that it gets caught by the AoE and damaged. A randomly moving static discharge AoE that caused stun would start to plague people as more adds went down.
Last phase was tank-and-spank again, except this time there were a lot more randomly moving static discharge AoEs to avoid or be stunned, plus the boss would do a BIG AoE that covered most of the room except a few defined safe spots. Except since the AoE pattern is -probably- based on the tank’s position, the safe spots may not necessarily be in the same place if the tank wiggles around too much, and the tank does have to move to avoid the static discharge stuns, so it’s fairly reflex based in a PUG that hasn’t coordinated any set way to make his AoE predictable.
Combined with my latency, this generally meant that I got caught if I was a split second too slow, but fortunately it only hits for around 3k damage with knockdown, around 1/4 to 1/3 my health bar, and eventually healable by a healer when they get around to it.
However, it -is- possible to coordinate interrupts and disrupt his AoE entirely, as we discovered by sheer chance one AoE pattern. (Or rather, someone had spammed an interrupt and I saw the interrupt armor indicator at 1 and -hadn’t- spammed my interrupts prior to this, so I banged down on my keys and got the knockdown through. Which was fairly satisfying.
Though I admit that I wasn’t a god of interrupts at any other time as muscle memory hadn’t set in, nor was one used to reading all the cues necessary while trying to avoid AoEs in a fight one was seeing for the first time. I’m sure it’s learnable though.)
Ironically, one member in my second fail PUG said that the second boss was, he felt, the hardest boss. Well, my first PUG would beg to differ.
Our patient tank explained the mechanics to us. Phase 1: Tank-and-spank. Phase 2, he splits into three adds, burn ’em down. Then he knocks everyone back and we have to run through a gauntlet of tornadoes, reach him ASAP and interrupt.
Perhaps, as I said, we lucked out with two warriors in this PUG. Our leveling bar tends to have two interrupts and we’re very used to spamming kick to knockdown so that we can actually get some decent damage in with our one spammable power attack. We simply cannot level at a passable pace without having learned to use what Wildstar calls a Moment of Opportunity, which is extra damage when the mob is interrupted during a telegraph and goes purple for a time.
While the gauntlet was indeed somewhat annoying – I kinda felt I spent most of my time in the air while running forward at a snail’s pace, we could at least fling our ranged interrupt once we got semi-close and then spam our kick when finally in melee range. Thump, went the boss. Repeat this twice more, and then done.
More trash mobs of the same ilk. One miniboss with some more shaped AoE to dodge and interrupt.
And finally, the last boss. Stormtalon. Who turns out to be sorta shaped like a dragon.
In the words of our esteemed tank. “Tank and spank to start, don’t stand in front of him, has a cleave. He’ll knock us back and stun, gotta break out and rush to him to interrupt. Lastly he’ll target a random member, making a safe zone around them. Rest of the room will be red, we gotta follow that person as they circle the boss. Lightning bolts will constantly target them.”
Which actually went pretty well and was downed in the first go, though two DPS bit it at the last phase, me included.
Oh look, almost exactly 75 minutes.
Since the tank and healer survived, along with one melee dps, they got the other quarter or so of its health down and dead.
As for what killed me: the safe zone in phase 3 was centered around me and I was perhaps a little too anxious about keeping still enough to not accidentally kill -everyone- by running around like a headless chicken, and I must have inhaled some lightning circles by staying too still.
Would I be keen to repeat the fight and get better at dodging all that crazy AoE?
Yeah, I would.
Would I be keen to repeat the whole Group Finder experience and gamble on random PUGs on the offchance that I might eventually reach Stormtalon again to practice the fight?
I’m afraid not.
If I were someone with a regular North American time schedule, had a guild full of friendly regulars to play with, and often ran together with voice chat, such group dungeons would be PERFECT experiences for an established regular party of five.
But since my times are more of an irregular sort, I’m left PUGing it in various games.
My second Wildstar PUG ended up with another engineer tank who was plainly in pure assault gear as the healer simply couldn’t keep him up. He was as fragile as toilet paper.
When he died, I stayed up for just about as long by mere virtue of having heavy armor, a health bar and being able to dodge, although I was no tank at all either, due to not having any tank statted gear, nor any APM or skills slotted for tanking or threat holding. Basically, it was four DPS dying in sync with the healer also biting it somewhere in the middle.
And no, despite my pleading for -someone- to use and slot one interrupt so that I could use my two interrupts to apply knockdown (something I wanted to practice at getting better at), at no time whatsoever did the interrupt armor on any boss drop from 2, leaving my interrupts ineffectual.
Naturally, we wiped three times on the first boss and ended up standing around looking at each other, while the healer tried to explain to the tank that he needed the right gear to step into the tank role.
One DPS ran out of patience and dropped out of the party. We re-queued, and guess what, the engineer wordlessly insisted on the tank role again. With the same healer. When he actually could have taken the open DPS slot.
We stood around looking at each other again, while one more random DPS joined. Then the tank opened a vote kick on the healer.
Since this was the epitome of stupidity, I was driven to sufficient trolliness to reject the vote kick on the poor healer, and then I subsequently opened a vote kick on the tank.
(It’s not like I have a reputation to maintain in Wildstar. This is cross-server Open Beta and I don’t intend to be here for long.)
The tank quit the instance before the vote kick ran its course.
Of course, we then opened up the queue again, but since we were running in off-peak non-NA times, 10-15+ minutes passed with no tank stepping into the role and the party broke up shortly after.
The healer maintained that this state of affairs was NOT a result of the holy trinity but more due to “tanking being hard to learn” and thus no one wanting to be tanks.
Whereas I’m sitting in my chair thinking that if this is the usual state of PUGs in traditional holy trinity MMOs, it’s no wonder that tanks hide, take refuge and tank only in their guilds, and that there is really no need to put up with all the inherent pains of finding the ideal holy trinity group when I could LFG and get a PUG in under five minutes in GW2 because no perfect trinity is required.
You might ask, why didn’t I swap specs and try tanking?
No tank gear, for one.
Nor had I looked at that portion of the warrior tree and skills that involved holding threat yet. But mostly no tank gear in my bags.
(I do note that Wildstar loot looked interesting in that Adventure and Dungeon loot seemed to contain a lot of supportive stats – which makes a certain kind of sense, people who like to group should run their group content and get gear that is relevant and useful for their needs.)
People say that Wildstar dungeons are fun. And challenging.
It really makes me wonder about how and what they define a challenge.
Mechanics-wise, yeah, they’re complex and interesting. But learning how to perform them well seems to be much less of a challenge than assembling a properly prepared (read: gear and build) group together in the first place.
If one considers the random nature of the PUG as part of the challenge in a difficult dungeon, then I could also say that getting a precursor in GW2 is so fun-and-challenging because one is battling a most cruel RNG in the form of Zommoros’ Mystic Forge.
Personally, I’m left feeling less ‘challenged’ per se, and more helpless.
It’s the same sort of challenge as the Marionette. You could teach until your tongue turns blue and ultimately, your progress is still at the mercy of someone else not screwing up. It is RNG.
RNG you could skew in your favor by joining an organized community – a hardcore dungeon guild, or TTS marionette-running instances, fer example, but still RNG, rather than a challenge that one can defeat through one’s efforts.
Maybe I simply over-analyze these things too much.
I’d love to hear from someone who found Wildstar dungeons fun and exactly why they found it fun, for them.
Are they running with a regular group of friends, for one?
Which would imply they could learn and improve together over time, whereas PUGs are forever luck of the draw – you cannot count on running into the same people again.
Or perhaps this is just a foundational mindset difference in perspective.
I enjoy GW2 dungeons because my deaths are my fault. It’s always in my locus of control to not die or to break off and run and prevent a death by letting the mobs leash if the rest of my party has wiped. I might even be able to save the day and rez three dead people with my warbanner and turn the tides or solo the thing if I can perform the mechanics well.
In some cases in Wildstar, my deaths are my fault. I stuck around in the AoE and failed to perform the mechanic correctly. Looking forward to doing better on the next try and the prospect of improving is exciting, yes.
However, needing to rely on a tank or a healer to not suck, or dps to be actually competent, and waiting for the stars to align in the correct position so that one gets a good group are things that are not within my personal locus of control and are a complete buzzkill.
Nor can I turn any tides if I’m set up to be DPS, I traded off aggro generation or survivability. So if the tank screws up, or the healer screws up, I’m paste. I suppose eventually one could have a damage set of gear and a support set of gear in one’s bags, plus two sorts of specs, but that’s going to be way ahead in the future, rather than in the first dungeon.
In the meantime, we end up with a blame game where everyone points fingers and blames another party for not pulling their weight, causing the death of the group.
How this is fun and enjoyable, I”m not really sure.
It’s these sorts of foundational underpinnings that lead me to suspect that I’ll be done with Wildstar by the end of the week, if not sooner.
I don’t really need to play a game that breeds hostility and competitiveness and elitism, and that’s simply what the traditional MMO model does.
I do enjoy the combat system that Wildstar has chanced into creating though.
Maybe one day someone will make a subscription-free single-player or cooperative multiplayer game with the same underlying combat mechanics – fast frequently recharging dodge rolls and sprints and lots of telegraphs to dodge – I’ll be happy to play that.
In my usual vein of being hopelessly uncool and highlighting things a year later that probably everyone has already heard of, I just discovered a crazy good Portal 2 machinima / animation / music video by a very talented Youtuber named Harry101UK.
It’s entitled, If I Were A Core:
(It does contain some spoilers for the story of Portal 2, in somewhat disjointed form that you’d probably won’t be able to piece together wholesale if you haven’t played the story through, but bah, you should watch it anyway and then take it as inspiration to finish the bloody game.
Or buy it, then finish if you’re even more hopelessly uncool than me.)
Especially if you’re interested in gender issues and role reversal like many recent debates about perceived sexism in games have revealed many gamers to be.
(The latest controversy appears to be some very hasty and curt ending comments from Blizzard in an interview running out of time, about hypersexualized female outfit designs in MOBAs, which can either be construed as demonstrating the fairly male-centered mindset and possibly chauvinistic culture that may be part of their company…
…or being hopelessly taken out of context when the poor guy was just trying to end the interview quickly in response to the PR people while the other guy was hounding him like a paparazzi intent on getting something juicy.)
And when you’re done reflecting on the differences between boys and girls and coming to your own opinion about them, you can pop back to Harry101UK to check out his team’s submission for the annual Saxxy awards, a film competition run by Valve for films made in their Source Filmmaker program.
Which is a ridiculously GOOD Team Fortress 2 piece, entitled Lil Guardian Pyro, that is probably up to Pixar standards.
(Oh, and this is actually recent. Uploaded a week ago or so.)