GW2/NBI: Dungeon Soloing Is A Lot Like Writing

Wurms, wurms, they're everywhere....

Dear Reader,

You will not believe how many times I have pressed backspace or delete on this post.

I have a half dozen false starts and zeroth drafts of things I could say, and things I might want to say, while maybe these other things that I did type to myself should be left for my personal viewing.

I tried coming at the topic from a million and one angles, all of them maybe sort of potentially viable, yet somehow not yielding up a complete post.

Not yet. Not quite.

In the end, I just went back to my blog and forced myself to hit the “Add New Post” button and told myself I am just going type the first (but hopefully not the last) post on this topic directly into the post editor.

(If you could call continually pressing backspace to erase a turn of phrase and retyping a new one “directly,” that is.)

So, prior warning, this post is going to be rough around the edges. Not slick. Not smooth-sailing and superbly easy to read. Rough. Blocked. Start-and-stop and probably just as much struggle to read as it was to write.

The act of writing this post has been amazingly similar to my attempts to learn how to solo dungeons (or a dungeon – let’s keep our goals modest here.)

False starts, lots of deaths, intense frustration at certain ‘stuck’ points, a lot of thinking and trying and maybe some success and an equal or greater amount of failure and surrender (for now.)

You know, it’s not something that is often publicized.

Writers hide the struggle against the blank page, generally proffering only the finished product for an amazed public to ooh and aah over – unless you talk in-depth with writers on their craft or read books specifically on the art and craft of writing to begin to understand how the whole process works.

(And bear in mind, that process is different for different writers, of course. Some plan every last scene, some type by the seat of their pants, and so on. Whatever yields a ‘readable’ product at the end – I can’t even say ‘finished’ because it never is finished, for some writers.)

Looking into the art and craft of the GW2 dungeon solo reminds me a lot about the above.

Solo dungeon runners proudly show off their final product, a beautifully cut-and-edited video of their best and most impressive speedruns. Who can blame them? Watching flawless victory is a lot more entertaining for an audience than sitting through the many hours it must have taken them in real time to perfect their technique to the point where they can record their final product. The point, after all, is to show that the mountain can be conquered, not the many many falls it took to get to the peak.

The ordinary layperson tends to fail to grasp this concept.

They see the finished product and they think, “All right, I want to write the Great American Novel! In a month! Cos Nanowrimo is a thing!” Or they expect flawless nuggets of verbal gold the moment that they begin writing. Or they demand that their favorite authors churn out books like a factory for them.

Basically, they expect perfection in a multitude of unrealistic ways, and it’s a bit of a letdown (understatement of the year) when they don’t quite get what they expected.

Confusing the whole damn affair further are the bystander comments, some of which may very well be true for them (“yeah, I finished my novel during Nanowrimo! It’s awesome! I’m getting it published next month!”, “I just sit down and start typing every day and I got 50,000 words! Actually, 100k! Cos you know, I’m naturally a member of the wall-of-text club!”) or just internet exaggeration, who knows… but may very well not be true for you in specific.

So here we have a big morass of maybe helpful and well-meaning advice, some of which may or may not work for you, mixed with a quarter-pound of just plain look-at-me-my-prowess-is-better-than-you trolling and a lot of ill-formed personal expectations about how long it might or might not take, how successful or not it’s going to be, and somehow, from there, you try to sift through and eke out some information, some strategies on things you might possibly try, and then the bottom line is… you’re just going to have to sit your butt in the chair and try it out for yourself and see what works or doesn’t work for you.

Yeah.

Writing is a lot like that.

Dungeon soloing is a lot like that.

The stuff you read on Reddit asking about dungeon solos tends to come from innocent yet ambitious individuals who think it would be cool to be all super-elite and solo things like Arah and oh yes, make lots of $$$$ in the process, because selling Arah paths is a thing. How can they start learning how to do that?

(I’m sure writers have smashed many a forehead – theirs or the askers’ – against a hard surface when yonder innocent yet ambitious individual lets out that they think that writing a book would be a great way to earn royalties, make money and become super-famous and awesome like their favorite celebrity writer, and what would be the fastest and most efficient way to do so?

Of course, confusing the issue is that there do exist exceedingly prolific writers who write by a set formula and churn out bestsellers or the next bodice-ripper with a regularity you could set your watch or calendar by, and novices of their particular subset of craft can and do successfully join them in their $$$$ accumulation.)

Of course, not every individual asking on Reddit is exactly like that. Some of them do recognize there is a serious learning process involved and are merely trying to get any helpful advice they can from individuals or experts that have already walked the paths they’re hoping to travel on. Anything to make that very challenging learning process a little easier or a little more structured or just a bit more scaffolded, like out of the many dungeon paths there are, instead of blindly throwing oneself at all of them, are there any that are more doable or slightly easier to learn than the rest, and so on…

…except the answer may apply to the individual that suggested that X is easy, but not to the person receiving the answer… (maybe due to the class being used, maybe just due to individual player differences, whatever)

…well, they recognize that too, but they just want some guidance or a direction they can try, regardless. Which also makes perfect logical sense.

So you have people trying to be helpful, and people earnestly receiving that helpful advice, and then they go ahead and try it and…

…well, I don’t know if there’s a gruesome car wreck or if there’s great success, because again, this totally boils down to the individual yet again.

Which leads me to the interesting problem of trying to decide how exactly I should blog about my attempts at dungeon soloing…

Trust me, there are a lot more car wrecks at this present moment.

There’s no way I’m writing an ‘expert guide to dungeon soloing,’ as much as some people might like, because a) I’m definitely not expert status at this point in time, and b) I guess I lean slightly more to the exploratory school of thought that kind of cringes at the thought of people rote following a preset solved-by-someone-else tactic without real understanding.

To me, that seems to contravene one philosophy behind trying to solo a dungeon, which is to test yourself and your understanding of your class and the game mechanics and how best you might arrange things so that you can get through a particular encounter.

(Obviously, other people may have different philosophies in play. Some may enjoy purely the execution / reaction aspect of the exercise, and see no problems with imitation being the best form of flattery. Some may simply want to give themselves the best chances of success by being as optimal as a number-cruncher has calculated for their class. Some don’t give a damn about any glitches or exploits because lol, it’s up to the devs to fix the bugs in their game, if we can break it, we’ll use it, that’s what players do, we’ll do it fast and easy and painless.)

To be frank, I’m still trying to figure out where I stand on the various spectrums of these philosophies, which leads to a great degree of confusion in planning.

My life would be a lot simpler if I prioritized fast, efficient, painless like some other players. Ape everything – class, gear, traits, movement and positioning strategies – and just practice understanding fight mechanics + reaction time, everything else has been solved for me.

I think the problem is that I’m curious about too many damn things at once.

I want to know how it feels on the builds that I already have. I want to know how it feels on the ‘optimal’ builds. I want to adapt and customise new builds to solve various encounters.

I kind of want to figure out how to adapt various strategies for a different class (because look, every class has ranged and melee attacks and lots of blocks and evades and there’s always dodging) or to figure out other viable strategies (a warrior might dps and evade but maybe my guardian can reflect), yet I don’t have an issue with imitating a strategy that works either, especially if my attempts at new solutions aren’t working out that well.

Then there’s my damn morality about glitches and exploits. They make me cringe, in more ways than one. I don’t like the easy way out. I don’t like breaking the game or an encounter just to do something painlessly. And I sure as hell don’t want to get banned for an exploit.

It makes me bloody frustrated to go look up a video about how someone else has solved this problem and oh, the answer they’ve taken is to glitch something. Argh. Of course, they glitch it because the alternative is utter painful hell, and I find that out the hard way, and then I wind up stuck and dead-ended and frustrated.

Yet I’m sure that I’m not an extreme on the glitch morality scale, because I don’t have issues with things like skipping encounters by running or stealthing past, or using corners to block line-of-sight and pulling and leashing or constantly readjusting and making use of AI pathing to reduce damage taken. Those seem to be normal things that most everyone does in dungeons.

And frankly, I don’t have personal moral issues with using height and ranged attacks to get past an encounter (done it before in other MMOs, the system is supposed to declare the mob invulnerable or let it regen back tons of hp if that’s not kosher, standing on a rock or tree to shoot things feels like a natural human thing to do, the very point is that I’m trying to be hard to reach here, mobs could be given a ranged attack or some kind of cc to get us off the perch, it feels good and intended to outsmart a melee mob) but since Anet appears to feel that abusing the Z axis ventures into exploit territory, I avoid using that as a valid solution in GW2.

Kite around the mulberry bush, it is. No standing on the mulberry bush. Pft.

And I’ve followed the mulberry bush entirely off the point because I’m no wiser about how I should blog about my turtle-slow learning process.

I thinking that I may not want to show pictures and strategies and a breakdown of each encounter, because doh, that leads to blind imitation, right? (Or some bastard leaving me a note in the comments about how I’m doing it ALL WRONG and you should DO IT THIS WAY INSTEAD cos GLITCHING IS FASTER.)

And yet, I have a piss-poor memory and if I don’t make a record for myself about how far I’ve gotten through with each dungeon, and the strategies I figured out for how to get through it, I’m liable to forget what the hell I did and have an utterly miserable time the next time I try to make progress or practice.

And yet, maybe leaving some kind of record of the process is valuable for those that want to come after, in the same exploratory spirit, since what works for me may not exactly work for them, right?

And maybe it would be helpful to get comments and suggestions on areas where I am stuck, or having trouble. (Yet well-meaning comments can sometimes be helpful and sometimes infuriating – like trying to get someone to comment on or edit your writing. Maybe they have a valuable point. Maybe they should just go stuff it instead.)

And yet it would be kind of exceedingly stupid to publish a thorough solution that an ArenaNet dev can look through, decide they don’t like something about it, and proceed to get it fixed in the next patch, causing mass consternation (no small amount of it from myself either since that would invalidate a hard thought out strategy.)

I think “conflicted” and “confused” are good words to describe my present state of mind, yes.

Dunno, no real answers. Can’t decide.

If anyone is curious, at this present point in my experience, I would recommend AC story as a good starting point to learn dungeon soloing.

After all, it’s the only one I’ve managed to get through, start-to-finish.

Did have some deaths while learning, but they seem to be easily avoidable deaths with practice. My guardian main gets through it pretty easily. I tested it on an older guardian alt for fun, and that character also managed to get through it while in knight’s gear and berserker trinkets.

The upscaling makes it fairly forgiving to somewhat wacky, not quite optimized builds, with zero food or consumables.

Tried it on a sinister necro for fun, and wow, it hurt a lot more. It’s probably my lack of familiarity with the class and precise dungeon mechanics (which tend to get masked on guardians since they’re so block-filled and heal-y) but it was also eye-opening to try and figure out how to solve it from another perspective.

No, Eir, -I- need help. Your job is just to be a meatshield.
No, Eir, -I- need help. Your job is just to be a meatshield.

(Got super-duper frustrated when the Lovers bugged out on the necro. They became immune to conditions. Vs a NECRO. In SINISTER gear. It was fucking awful and repeated massacres for a long while. Nearly wanted to quit and decided to just give it a few more shots, switching over to zerker and a stabby dagger. Had to essentially waypoint kamikaze to get past the bug.)

Rate of return, beyond satisfaction in completing a dungeon by yourself, is not very high though.

No real NBI prompt for this post. Just this one thing: Give yourself permission to write a sucky post and get it done. All just part of the process.

And yeah, this advice may or may not work for you.

Only one way you’re going to find out.

NBI: A Behind-the-Scenes Example of My Writing Process

Ok, the truth is that I write a lot of these posts off-the-cuff and in the browser form because I usually have something I’m dying to say.

I’ve also been using a very similar tone of voice and writing style for a long time now, and used to do a great deal of freewriting before.

So I know I can backtrack and edit a word here and there to make things read more smoothly, and then get back to where I was without missing too many beats.

I don’t do a lot of revision on this blog because I enjoy the rawness that seeps out from something fairly -close- to freewriting, with just minor edits for readability. It’s a stylistic choice.

Other blogs are more formal and you can expect that they did quite a bit of clean up and formatting to get to that point. Write how you like.

But when I struggle, that’s when I pop open the word processor and start typing up a document’s worth of junk that will probably never see the light of day, but serve as a crucial link in the writing process.

Today, I want to share with you all the behind-the-scenes stuff that people sometimes don’t tell you they go through before that perfect-looking piece on the page:

As an example, we’ll be taking the sonnet challenge that Syl gave me for the poetry slam.

1) Research. Google. See what others have had to say.

Petrarchan sonnet? What the hell is a Petrarchan sonnet?

My old high school literature teacher would probably be very sad that everything had returned to her, but in truth, I had no idea. Google to the rescue. Some research later, I figured, okay, I can do that, and accepted the challenge.

teq-landscape

2) Take screenshots. Formulate preliminary ideas.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I had anything more to say about Tequatl.

I joined TTS. I have him on farm. (For now, till I or critical mass gets bored.) The waiting sucks. All themes I’ve covered before.

I did know that I wanted some better quality screenshots than the low-res ones I get in a hundred man zerg. Maybe that might spark some ideas.

So I camped out at odd hours on the main Sparkfly instance, when as predicted, barely a soul shows up any longer, even on the Tarnished Coast and got some nice ones.

(You can skip this if you don’t need screenshots in your blog post, but I personally find it fun and part of my creative expression.)

Unfortunately, after looking at the screenshots (of which I take a bunch and pick the nicest, just like freewriting and revising), I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about Teq.

In a bloody poem too.

teq-landing

3) Preliminary poem phrases, structure and format.

Fortunately, poetry has restrictions, and Petrarchan sonnets have quite a bunch. So in my Word document, I wrote out the rhyme scheme.

a
b
b
a
a
b
b
a

c
d
e
c
d
e

The sonnet is also separated into two parts, an octave (first 8 lines) and a sestet (last 6 lines.) A change from the first rhyme group to the next is supposed to signify a change in the subject matter or the tone of the poem in some way.

Then I scribbled my first ideas, completely ignoring rhyme schemes or iambic pentameter, just trying to solidify some sense of theme.

First verse, herald his majesty (stuff we love about Teq)
his animations – his rock jumping, the clarity of his attacks
the awesome splendor of multiple embers popping
the incredible surge of a hundred names all commited on the same task
beating on a shatterer that ignores you just isn't the same

Second verse, do a heel turn about him (stuff we hate about Teq)
alarm clock camping and all that waiting is boring
can only see in low pixels or I'll crash
where's mah LOOT, dammit
still no mini
the home server sparkflies are emptied

As you can see, ridiculously messy. But we are comfortable with messes when creating.

I started a list of phrases and images I liked. Maybe they could be fitted in later. (Once your brain starts working on a problem, have notepaper handy, some of these turned up while half-asleep or in the shower.)

the spectacle draws crowds from servers all / far

Surely better rewards so endless the wait
As time wears by, that love doth turns to hate
the longer the wait
hark, the dragon, it is swiftly brought low
the players eagerly race to the chest
mass dis appoint ment reigns, still not hing good
with/in time, the more that love doth turn to hate
Shall I compare thee to a starless night?
'Gainst the Shattered dragon, crystalline blight
there is no wait but no risk
just punching bag the foot
be still, my heart
and how one charr can turn the tides
the more that love abides

the loot dismays
eclipse
cool
Majesty
cruel
low pixel
luscious
swamp
poisonous caress of thy fingers
thousand embers burning
the roar of a hundred embers
lava fonts blossoming
champion of Zhaitan

4) Freewrite

I was still having problems figuring out what I wanted to say. Peter Elbow to the rescue. Skimmed the chapter “Poetry as no big deal.” Decided to do a verbose dump instead.

Today I'm trying to freewrite and figure out what I want to say about Tequatl. I've gotten a number of somewhat satisfactory screenshots, though I am still unable to get a single good quality picture in a big zerg. So Teq is still gonna look shitty in combat pictures. Now what I want is some power, rather than fakeness in my writing.
I like Teq's design – their model, the fight mechanics are nifty, the animations are clear and well signposted as to what to do and when. There's a lot of small things that people can get better at. Dodging, killing hypnoss, maintaining repair focus, etc.

The camping around for hours is fucking annoying though. For a good hour, I'm busy looking for things to do in the other screen. I've web browsed till I'm sick of it. I've been trying to play games on my mobile phone.

And we do all this for what? The hope of a good lottery reward. Ok, the consolation prize is not bad. A bunch of blues and greens for magic find and some paltry amount of gold for your time.

The experience of it was nice the first few times. But now it's just an obsessive habit. Eventually I suppose I will have to stop. But it's just hard to stop because you're scared of losing out, and since there's such a huge demand and overflows filling, you just kinda feel like you have to get in on it or lose out to everyone else.

The fight itself is pretty fun and exciting.
The wait is NOT. It is anything but.

I like the fight. I like being in the zerg and supporting and being supported. To see the might stacks going. The trickle of healing keeping everyone upright. The ability to plunk a warbanner down and see a bunch of people rezzed. I like being able to watch Tequatl's animations, his foot slam down and dodge a second after, and the satisfaction of seeing evaded pop up at the right time to avoid his shockwave. I like seeing his hands plunge into the ground, knowing the fingers will be poping up and dropping a wall of reflection in a square or triangle to protect the zerg. I like that all this just gels and synergizes without having to state exactly how.

I love turret defence. I love being on guard for the finger and getting ready to hack it down. The satisfaction of knowing that you're the one interposing themselves between a turret operator that is relying on you and a risen ready to bite their face off. I love the pleasure of being able to go all assassin and precision strike down a hypnoss, and watching all his summons fall apart and explode, removing targets from others flailing away wildly, not knowing who to properly kill. I love moving the mouse to scan all three of the turrets' health – they are my babies, and I will grab a hammer and repair them if they're the slightest bit dented or scratched. A job well done means turrets firing in uninterrupted unison, scales kept down, cleanses going, the zerg functions because things went right here.

I hate the wait. It is a bunch of standing around doing nothing. Of listening to obnoxious dribbles of what passes for small talk over mapchat or teamspeak. Words cannot describe how boring it is. Of being chained to your computer, afraid to afk for too long. The compulsion to check the screen every so often. It is a major turn-off. It is something to be endured. A marathon of dead soul boredom.

Creativity tries to arise by looking for a million and one other things to do. Maybe I can watch a video in the other screen. Read a book. Play a browser game. Pick up my phone and play a mobile game of tower defence. Side procrastination. Doing anything but playing the actual game. Enforced period of non-gameplayingness. I'm getting ridiculously good at Bloons TD5.ss

You see? Freewriting is messy. But this could be cleaned up very easily into a proper blog post.

I -did- have more to say about Tequatl, after all.

One of the more important revelations for myself was that I actually reveled in the fight. The combat was a thrill. I liked dodging at the right time based on his well-signaled animations and NPC chatter. The simultaneous charge of zerg and embers to and fro from the megalaser has to be experienced to be believed. And I could do turret defence a thousand times and not get bored, it just checks all the protective tank aspects of my soul.

I tried another love/hate verse to get the theme down.

I like the Teq fight
The experience in the moment is unmatched
The charge of the foot zerg back and forth
The blossoming of embers during the burn phase
Turret defence sings to my tank soul

I hate the waiting for hours to get to it
I'm getting so good at not playing GW2
The loot sucks
It has become an obessive habit to camp Teq
I want to stop but I'm scared of losing out

Wasn’t quite it either.

The last two lines are also pretty significant to me, but they just didn’t fit into the structure of the poem, and so were cut. (For now.)

But from the false starts, I determined that I liked the ‘sunless day’ and ‘starless night’ lines, that I had Shatterer screenshots that I wanted to include, and that I liked the repeated wordplay of ‘love turning to hate’ and ‘love abiding.’

So suddenly I knew there had to be TWO sonnets. (Dammit.)

The first verse of the first sonnet would be relatively eager, turning to disappointment and ‘hate’ by the second verse. The first verse of the second sonnet would continue from that mood of dismay, then twist back to love (which for me, would be love of the fight.)

5) Edit. Prune. Revise. Fill in the Blanks. Repeat. Iterate.

I had enough to get started on an actual draft of the poem. (If not, I would have freewritten some more. Maybe put on some music for more ideas and tap into one’s emotions.)

I placed the lines I knew I wanted into position. Began counting syllables and making sure they (somewhat) fit iambic pentameter. Ten syllables. Unstressed, then stressed. da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. (As much as possible, though I got lazy in parts.)

I very knowingly chose words with LOTS of rhymes for my a b b a lines. Then decided to get all fancy and do an echoing b a a b twist for the second sonnet.

And tried to fit in as much of my prior generated imagery as possible while going line by line and trying to tell some kind of story with the whole thing.

shattererfoot

6) Format. Add pictures. Ruthlessly cut pictures that were nice but couldn’t fit.

The final round of revision is via the blog post preview.

After all my trouble with the verses, I didn’t want them separated line by line with screenshots. So I only had room in between the verses to fit them in.

I had too many screenshots.

I DIED to take some of those screenshots.

I tried to fit two screenshots in between the verses.

Looked terrible.

I cried a little inside (and my asura who gave his body is surely not happy about it) but ruthlessly cut them anyway. (Note to self: write new blog post so that I can show them off.)

You can see them here instead. Because they’re still pretty. (Oh hey!)

teq-clawstrike

TL;DR:

Writing can be messy. And that’s okay.

Whatever gets you to the final product in the end.