Blaugust Day 19: Gone Home? Not Really…

Artsy fartsy title screen for an artsy fartsy game...

As part of my optimistic attempt to work on my Blaugust To-Do List and clear 0.1% of my Steam games list, I got around playing Gone Home tonight. Finished in 2 hours – 116 minutes, to be exact.

I have to say… I didn’t really like it.

I admit I was a little spoiled by glancing through reviews that basically said: “Nothing really happens.”

Therefore, I did not allow myself to be the least bit scared regarding the 1001 horror movie tropes that Gone Home attempts to inflict on you. Flickering lights, creaky noises, coincidentally well-timed lightning, the works.

I think that part of it was the major let-down, so to speak.

It feels like the game was purposefully trying to pull your strings, show you a horror movie trope, let you imagine for a breath or two something stereotypical and dramatic had befallen… and then way too quickly, it also shows you the “logical” mundane explanation for what’s going on.

It just makes me wonder… why bother then? A good story should have rising action leading to a climax…

Conversely, Gone Home is filled with vignettes that let you briefly think /something/ might be approaching rising action, and then just as quickly, it lets you down and you deflate again back to mundania.

Gone Home is not
Gone Home is not as crass as to -actually- let any dramatic violence occur, stereotypical appearances to the contrary…

The central plot is okay, very prosaic in the larger scheme of things, the clues all support it… even if they end up rather “coincidentally” arranged so that you wander from room to room in a channeled linear fashion, picking up one key after another that unlocks a room with the next revelation (and the next key.)

I guess that was my main problem with Gone Home.

I just couldn’t stop from thinking meta and design thoughts.

At no point, did I really immerse into the simulation.

I started out blind and amnesiac, not even knowing who “I” was, with regards to this Katie person, whom “I” apparently am, says my luggage tags on the doorstep of this house.

That made it supremely hard to feel fearful, or indeed, even know how “I” was supposed to feel. A little more background at the beginning might have helped, perhaps.

I know I personally felt a lot more spooked in Vampire: Bloodlines’ haunted house – I had made and named my own character and chosen her vampire clan, I “knew” who she was, her background and could roleplay/immerse how she would feel. Furthermore, in the supernatural Vampire setting, -ghosts- may very well be very real creatures that might do horrible things to my health bar…

In Gone Home, the game seems to go out of its way to imply both super-mundanity (real life setting, absolutely nothing paranormal is going to happen, even if some characters believe some occult stuff) and game immortality of your avatar (she’s not going to get hurt, unless stumbling into a specially scripted event, right? And there can be no specially scripted events if the game is so hell bent on being mundane…)

So yeah, no fear. Just methodical turning on the lights, one after the other, and casing every room in a left-to-right systematic fashion, trying not to get lost.

Ha. Ha. Too clever by half.
Ha. Ha. Too clever by half. Is that a meta commentary on how the player has been acting so far? I’m still not laughing.

Oh yeah, the other “meta” thought that I couldn’t shake? “This damn house is too fucking big. Awfully convenient of this fellow to die and will this monstrosity of a manor to the family. Where’s my ‘run’ key? Why don’t I have a ‘run’ key? Surely simulating panic ought to be important, if you want the player to pretend like they’re worried at any point? Also, convenience factor and all…”

gh-stars

Oh, here’s one thing I -did- like. Playing with glow-in-the-dark stars that do actually glow after you turn out all the lights you turned on.

Well, glad I got it finished, anyway. One more game off the “maybe should try” list.

Bottom line: I didn’t find it as spectacular as some other people might say.

Verisimilitude-wise, it is very very good. If you like an old house simulator where you can pick up and rotate various modeled items like soda cans, tissue boxes, potato chips and toilet rolls… none of which actually contribute to gameplay or story and merely a little to the atmosphere… Gone Home is good in that regard.

Story-wise, it makes sense. It doesn’t cheat you in that respect either. It’s just a very ordinary and mundane story, that unfortunately appears to be hiding under the cover of being some kind of ghost or horror story.

Problem is, you can go from mundane to supernatural themes, and overall tension and interest rises.

Take it the other way around, and it mostly ends up as a giant yawn.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 19.

GW2: Lost Shores – Part 3

In all honesty, the thought did occur to me that I should maybe skip phase 3, phase 1 and 2 having sucked as much as it did.

If I had, no doubt I would have joined that group of really unhappy people over yonder.

But… in for a penny, in for a pound and all that. I want to experience it all. (Even if it’s just to complain bitterly later. Or ahem, provide -informed- feedback.) That’s just how I am.

Before phase 3 began though, I had some time to explore Southsun Cove at leisure, and I did. It was fairly enjoyable.

I killed a bunch of karka, working towards completing the monthly achievement. I picked passionfruit. Did a DE or two. Mined some ore, even orichalcum. Attempted the steam platform jumping puzzle for five minutes before deciding to do it much much later.

And overheard a group of people exploring the karka hive and oohing and aahing over the rich orichalcum node there at the top.

Eh?

That sounds… intriguing.

I made my way over, and it turns out that this enterprising group of people had found a little hidden gap in the webbing blocking the entryway into the karka hive and were having lots of fun peeking at it. They’d wiped on a champion karka, and enough of them went back again for me to follow the group into the hive.

It was one of my most exciting Lost Shores experiences ever.

Why? The total number of players we had with us was only around 10-15. This is enough to have an adventure with, to have more than half get wiped by a karka barrel roll down the slope and still be picked up by the survivors, but not too many, so that we can actually see the karka and react to its animations, keep track of the other players with us, and fire our skills with no lag whatsoever.

We made it to the top of the incredible structure, went pick-happy on the rich orichalcum node there, joking about the orichalcum price dropping after this, then attempted the champion. Alas, we wiped too, thanks to a well-placed barrel roll that knocked out way too many of us, but it was a fun attempt.

Later, this sneak peek at the karka hive gave me a little foreknowledge at where phase 3 would likely end up, and a nearby waypoint to port to, rather than run around lost and confused.

It so happens I got in at 8 minutes after the noon hour (server time) for phase 3 of the one-off event.

To my surprise (after the previous debacle of phase 2, my expectations weren’t very high), the event had already kicked off. Not a problem. I was actually quite pleased they had apparently managed to get the event to start on time.

I waypointed to Southsun Cove, read the event text in the corner that said the Lionguard was advancing on the karka nesting ground to place explosives in the karka hive, and waypointed again to rush quickly to where I knew the hive was.

The hive assault was distinctly laggier with more people participating, and I couldn’t help but reflect back to my sneak peek experience and think how much more fun that was in a smaller group.

Still, it wasn’t too bad. Skills were firing with not that much lag time, we were able to move upwards through the hive at a good pace, following the lionguard explosive team (which thankfully did not bug out – after phase 1 and 2, I was almost expecting that to happen or something else to go wrong…)

There was even enough leisure time to get into casual groups with people (for better loot, or xp, or support, and what not) and invite in some lowbies who weren’t getting much xp by themselves. (Gogo guardian greatsword or staff farmers…)

The explosives were set. And then we went down the hive again, working on getting them exploded, with some hilarity – apparently the lionguard aren’t too concerned about friendly fire where bombs are involved.

The Ancient Karka came out. There was a brief period of disorientation as folks milled around a little lost, with nothing in their immediate vicinity but lots of veteran karka to shoot at. Being somewhat more situationally aware, I spotted the symbol on the map (what the hell was it doing all the way over THERE?) and made my way towards the Ancient Karka with others who were equally more alert.

We dropped a tree or two on it. Which was amusing. And a well-paced part of the event chain.

Then we fought the first set of karka reinforcements, which was anything but.

You may wish to note the timestamp. It’s half an hour into killing endless waves of karka. Reviving people. Focusing down a single karka to break its armor again and again, to the point of each veteran having, oh I dunno, three health bars? And then repeating -that- for the next veteran karka. And the next. And the next.

And oh, they’re back, with a group of young karka and hatchlings to burn down. Pity the first guys who went too far ahead and took point or aggro. My prior experience in dealing with young karka on Southsun Cove taught me I couldn’t tank a group of them rushing at me – at least, not without a well placed wall of reflection to reflect their ranged spikes back into them. In that kind of crowded lag, you’d go down before you even register that a bunch of karka had rushed you.

I made a point of being the oh, sixth guy there, or something. Near enough to staff attack them down, not at all in the vanguard to be bumrushed down. Then revive the sacrificial meatshields who -were- downed.

Now we rinse and repeat to focus down the big ones x 3 health bars.

Somewhere along the way, I think people started getting bored and losing focus. Some backed off to AFK for a bit. No doubt plenty of people like me gave up using skills and just went to autoattack as the combat dragged on and on and things got laggier and laggier. Those that had died, rather than just merely downed, just lay there and waited for a revive, rather than waypoint rush back. The progress bar crept upward steadily, but at a snail’s pace…

…then the champion karka popped and wiped out pretty much everybody.

Except a few of the more alert players who managed to retreat to the bridge to hold it off, a la Gandalf or the 300.

On the whole, it was okay. A bit long, but a decent enough fight, and one phase of it would have been sufficient and gone a long way.

Eventually, we finished this and chased the Ancient Karka back some more, to the steam vents. This was pretty creative and well-paced too.

I appreciated the inclusion of the in-game hints, so that you could figure out what to do by reading, and carry boulders over to the vents and thus solve the DE.

The Ancient Karka broke and ran…

And everyone had an “Oh shit” moment as we realized there was a second phase of karka reinforcements and yet another bar that would only ever creep its way slowly up again.

This was the worse part of the entire event chain for me. Probably for a good many others too. I’m not sure if it’s because all of us were online for too long, or that particular location with all the steam vent massive wall effect consuming either graphical or CPU resources, but the lag that hit me here was phenomenally incredible.

It took a good FIVE seconds (I counted, there was nothing else to do) for a single skill of mine to trigger. Yeah, my autoattack… wasn’t. It just sat there blinking and only five seconds later, it would fire one little ball of light. Wait another five seconds… then the next.

On the other hand, I’d have to grant Anet the massive feat of engineering that I never once did -crash- out of the game. I just sat there…stalled… for what seemed like an eternity,trying to fight a bunch of armored out the ass karka.

Eventually, reeling around trying to move and rubberbanding relentlessly in place as the server kept telling my client that I was still HERE while my client was trying to tell it that I had moved in several directions at once, I managed to stumble to the edge of the fracas, where I saw some people had found mortar emplacements to help in fighting off the karka waves.

The idea was sound in theory.

In practice, as I found out after grabbing a mortar from someone who had given up with them, a five second delay on your skills means it is fairly impossible to turn and adjust the mortar accurately, or place your shots accurately either as you cannot really tell how long you’ve held the button for.

Still, because the alternative was watching my scepter shoot dinky balls of light five seconds apart, and I’d already done that to death in the first reinforcement stage, I decided to hog one of the mortars anyway because it was a fun change. Something novel.

(There was one more unused mortar next to me, so it wasn’t as if someone with better framerates or response time wanted a mortar anyway.)

And I’d occasionally manage a lucky hit by sheer guesswork and the feel of things, which was fun.

45 minutes of this unending hell later, the expected champion karka popped up to signal the end of this stage.

I think the guy in the screenshot echoed all our feelings when he yelled, “JUST DIE!!!”

A surfeit of refreshed health bars later, it eventually did.

More maneuvering of the Ancient Karka with explosive gas later, which I’d note, only took 10 minutes as compared to the previous stage and was perfectly tolerable and interesting…

…it finally retreated to its hive, where we exploded more stuff on it and finally cornered it and took it down.

Two and a half hours later from event start at noon server time, we were finally staring at the dead ancient karka in the “one-time ever” cutscene.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that I am rather tickled and pleased at the reflection of the ‘lasting consequence’ of this chain right into the scenery of Southsun Cove.

Even now, in Southsun Cove proper, the dead ancient karka still peeks out of that lava crater.

Looking at it, reminds me of Event B in Syl’s little cartoon depiction of how someone can later come across the crater and wonder at how and what created that impact.

But then I think about the guys who were putting aside real life to suffer through Event A, bug-ridden and tedious as it was…

…Add to that my suspicion that more people would really prefer to enjoy a good and fun Event A, rather than stare at Event B and wonder or worse -know- what they missed out on (hi, precursor envy!)…

And I have to ask, are these one-off events really worth it?

My criticism would be that the Lost Shores pace and schedule was too hectic and badly timed. Three days, ending on a frickin’ Monday for some parts of the world.

If stuff breaks, and we know that GW2’s DE system isn’t foolproof (we’ve had skill challenges breaking since beta,) that’s a really short time for Anet to scramble, fix and respond. It’s also an insanely short interval for players to attempt it in. Less players get to see and appreciate it.

My memory of phase 1 and 2 has been mollified somewhat by opening the chest at the end, getting a 20 slot bag and two named exotics out of it. Not precursors, but one of them is a nifty greatsword named Ebonblade, which sounds cool, was worth 4 gold when I last checked, and who knows, maybe they’ll make it a precusor when they have time to make more legendaries? Probably not, but I think my future warrior alt should be quite happy to make use of it down the road.

I’m sure, however, there is a big contingent of people who missed out on this chest at the end who are not at all happy.

What puzzles me is why ArenaNet can’t make “one-off events” that last for several weeks to a month, with event or dungeon instances that help tell the story at a more immersive pace. Once the entire event is over, they are also one-off, in that they’ll never repeat again, right?

After all, with all the overflow servers creating various “zone instances,” it’s not as if defeating the Ancient Karka was really a one time ever event either. There were multiple Ancient Karkas for different folks on different overflow servers. I hear some enterprising fellows even managed to use the partying/guest invite system to defeat multiple Ancient Karkas on alts and get more stuff out of that very nice chest.

So why not limit the group sizes even further to something a little more sane?

Such as that experienced in the Mad King’s Clock Tower, about oh, 15-20 people?

Or go back to dungeon sizes and have it for 1-5 people… I am loving Fractal of the Mists, by the by, and I’ll cover that in a later post.

If we really must, then oh, cap it at 30-50 players a zone or something.

Phase 2 already was showing random staggered timings per overflow instance. On purpose or by accident, I don’t know. But if you’re going to do that, then fer heavens’ sake, stagger it to 3 hour intervals and let folks from all timezones participate, just as in Guild Wars 1.

Lock out the reward if you want, and have it only a one-time claimable reward.

I truly see no functional difference between a limited time event and these so-called “one-off” events except the former is fairer for more parties, and the latter a whole lot more exclusionary for no real meaningful reason.

Story is no excuse. I helped Kormir do you-know-what in Guild Wars 1 after defeating Abaddon. It was a ONE-TIME per character event (unless you joined another player’s party to help them.) It was just staggered off from other peoples’ experiences, and I think that’s perfectly okay and a lot more respectful of everyone’s time.

Trying to make all people at all times in the world share that one singular event?

Guarantees that they will share a laggy crowded un-immersive bugfest.

(If they didn’t miss out entirely, that is.)