State of the Game: Post-Weekend Coverage

“Content” and “chugging” seem to be the watchwords here, through the weekend.

gw2-sw1

Over in Guild Wars 2, I’m noticing increasing evidence of social loafing in the Silverwastes. More and more, people aren’t bothering to work on the entire zone properly, and are looking for shortcuts to the good stuff.

Taxis advertise 80%, 90%, 95% to Breach maps, possibly out of kindness, possibly from enlightened self-interest where more people = more chance champions die and the pac-man maze succeeds and gets everyone more crests.

I posit that there’s both a lack of transparency / visibility as well as a sense of lack of control at work here.

In the Marionette event, it was in a small localized area with one convenient waypoint leading right to all five paths, and people could quickly run to each path and observe for themselves the distribution of other players and if there were enough people that seemed to be taking the event seriously enough for a chance at success.

In the Silverwastes, you don’t know how many people are at Blue fort if you’re at Indigo, for example, or Red, or Amber. You could always ask on map chat, but chances of getting an answer are unlikely.

The Indigo bosses are also somewhat difficult for a PUG map to defeat, discouraging people who actually want a successful Mordrem part extraction from going there. Ditto Red and the Copper husk sometimes, if not enough conditions or damage are in play, or if someone just keeps AoEing all the poison bubbles, causing massive healing to occur.

I mean, I personally make a point of just hoofing it over to Amber and killing the Iron troll. That seems to be the boss that most PUG maps can manage. Maybe Blue and the Platinum boss IF there are enough people hanging out there. If not, better scram.

This turns into a somewhat depressing self-fulfilling prophecy, where only 1 or 2 bosses succeed.

Not that you can really do anything about it anyway, because the Mordrem faction mostly seem to be on a difficulty scale that the under average cannot manage. In nearly every defence or boss fight, there are nearly always about 3-5 dead bodies lying on the ground at any one time, cheerfully scaling up the fight but reluctant to waypoint because it’s so far away.

I’ve honestly given up any hope of teaching where the Silverwastes and Mordrem is concerned (whereas the Marionette seemed to have an embarrassment factor that whittled out those who couldn’t cut it eventually), mostly because I keep thinking of the couple of people that I’ve seen in my guilds that simply CANNOT manage the Crab Scuttle guild rush.

Mind you, we are standing there right beside them, killing off anything threatening we are allowed to kill, looking at their buffs/conditions status bar while in party, telling them over and over in text and in voice to DODGE (at least once) to REMOVE the RED KARKA DEBUFF (or condition) so that they can actually get out of combat to heal up.

I honestly don’t care if they don’t understand the last three-quarters of that sentence. I just want them to press their dodge key once, or even click the yellow endurance bar over their red health pool.

If they do that, the debuff will go away and they will be able to heal up if they just stop running.

Trust me, they never do.

Do they even stop to ask, “How do I dodge?”

No, they do not.

They continue to press down on their W key, running headlong into every trap and crab along the way.

Three seconds later, they’re dead, having run into something, and they have to start again and again, showing no ability to learn from what they stepped in the last time, or willingness to communicate with those -trying- to guide or help them, until they just sigh and go “this is too hard” (if they even dare to speak) and slink and sneak away, utterly defeated.

(Let’s not even talk about how you try over and over to ask them to come to you, see this secret tunnel here? Press F and you’ll skip all the traps in the tunnel ahead. Guess what? They’re downed, in said tunnel ahead, by the time your say chat disappears, having charged in gungho without, presumably, even attempting to dodge through.)

I honestly cannot imagine how these players would fight Mordrem. One charge by a wolf, terragriff or thrasher, and they’ll be downed, having never found their dodge key.

Whatever.

I’m mostly taking the Silverwastes map very slow and steadily, because I suspect it’s going to be around for a while in a similar fashion to Dry Top, where we will keep revisiting the zone with each Living Story content drop.

After all, there’s a lot more Luminescent and Carapace armor locations left.

On the to-do list are getting two more characters through the storyline to pick up the other two weight classes of Carapace shoulders, because spend 1000 crests sounds prohibitively expensive, given how cruddy cooperative crest-earning opportunities are, with the current zone structure.

(It’s not very obvious, for one, as to the best ways to earn crests. I -think- the crest reward at the end of each defense event either increases with time/zone progress, or with the fort’s defense level going up, but I frankly don’t know which is the right conclusion. The removal of loot from the mobs also just encourage tapping the event, and then running off to tag another event, hoping that there are enough suckers remaining around to finish it. This tends to yield a prisoner’s dilemma where everyone defects and ends up worse off.

To most people, it’s all the stuff at the end that yields the best rewards. The breach. The labyrinth. The shiny obvious loot that fills bags. The significant 8-25 size of bandit crest rewards. So everyone tries to get to the end, preferably by taxi’ing, without doing any of the grunt work at the start.)

I have not gotten a SINGLE fang to drop yet, but have about 6-8 tendons from the attempt. With my crap luck using a green extractor, I suspect that I’ll have better luck just waiting for the next update, then using a white extractor to choose a fang later.

On the bright side, a carapace glove box dropped for me while opening up the Greater Nightmare key chest in the labyrinth, so I’m 2/3 of the way there. I -could- spend 1000 crests to get the last weight class, but I’m sitting on it for now, sorta hoping I’ll get another lucky drop while trying to farm/grind up the other things.

Plus I need to get around to the ‘hardmode’ achievements in the Living Story for the Plague Signet.

Marvel Heroes is putting me into all sorts of interesting dilemmas.

I logged on today, and saw the announcement that they’re doing some kind of Black Friday sales.

Apparently the first sale which I missed, was a 15% or so increase in cash shop currency for the real money you pay. That’s always a nice enough offer to catch, if you want some game’s cash shop currency.

The current sale, takes 25% off the price of all the heroes, and throws in a random hero box to boot. So you get to buy a hero for cheaper, and then get another random hero (or a repeat of your existing one, which has some kind of endgame bonus, I think.)

This was, of course, somewhat tempting, even for miserly old me. Nor would I really begrudge Marvel Heroes 5 bucks. They didn’t pressure me into it, for one thing, making me feel like some kind of second class citizen for not subscribing or whatever.

I did a quick back of the envelope calcuation. $5 plus the 250 free Gs they offer you to sweeten the deal is enough to get pretty much any hero I’m interested in, but with some stuff left over.

$10 is even more interesting, because I can pick up a 325 and 675 point hero, and presumably get two chances at random heroes.

Except I’m not sure if I begrudge Marvel Heroes $10. Is it a $10 game?

At the moment, my experience says no. It’s more a $5 game.

Part of the frustration is that I have just been perpetually moving around trying to find a sweet spot for combat and experience.

The last two days, I’ve been trying to get through the storyline, which is at least mildly interesting in a cartoon plot sort of way, but I’ve been forced t o wade through thousands of grey-con mobs to do so.

This is utterly boring. All I do is press F to Osmium Charge (aka a leap skill) my way through the maps, ignoring all the enemies that do zero damage to me, and give me no experience whatsoever, and tend to just fall over and die if they happen to be under my landing zone. It doesn’t even feel visceral when they die, so it’s just me going “clong clong clong”, leap frogging through 1/4 of the screen at any one time, wandering the map until I find the correct exit to take me to the next stage.

Or until I run out of spirit (aka mana), then I stop being able to leap for a while and have to run for a few seconds while it regenerates. Then clong clong clong again to the next point.

I really really miss GW2’s scaling.

Why am I so outleveled, by the way? Three days before, I was running around in the Midtown Manhattan instance, while there was some kind of double xp thing going on. That felt like an Edge of the Mists map, in the sense that it’s a farm map used by veterans to very quickly power level their alts through.

It was fun for a while, but then got repetitive.

So I tried going back to the storyline, to find everything grey to me.

Gah.

I have yet to figure out the art of matching myself to a zone appropriate for my level. It doesn’t help that I don’t have any waypoints or am gated from it until I finish the prior zone, I suppose.

Still, word is that they will be repeating ALL the Black Friday sales on the actual Black Friday weekend.

Add on an extra 150 Gs from the first sale, to the free 250 Gs, and we’re talking the ability to pick up potentially three heroes, and get three randoms. For 10 bucks. Dayum. That’s pretty tempting, all right.

I… just need to figure out whether there’s actually something fun to DO with all these heroes first.

I am pleased to announce that I have graduated from Prison Electrician to Prison Architect.

For realzies.

prison-architect1

Probably still not a very -good- one, but at least I figured out the art of putting capacitors next to the power supply, and even roughly how to ‘read’ the power supply.

Each capacitor appears to increase the ‘grey’ bar on the power supply, and the red stuff seems to indicate total amount of juice being used by the circuit.

With that finally working, I could actually start making other rooms.

It’s a really cramped canteen and yard for now. And the shower pretty much floods most of the time (had to install wall and doors there in a hurry to at least stave off -some- of the water.)

BUT I managed to finally read my reports and figure out “grants” which are like quest-giving missions to supply you goals and more importantly, advance cash, for accomplishing those goals.

I also figured out how to shut off prisoner intake, so that I didn’t have to deal with an onrush of prisoners every morning while trying to just figure out how it all works.

Slow expansion plans are in the works.

As well as trying to figure out how to get my prisoners busy actually -cleaning- the jail, rather than dirtying it up.

So far I’ve had to hire two janitors as a stopgap measure, but I’d really like to make them clean instead.

At least they’re mostly well-behaved so far, because my prison ain’t very securely built to begin with.

pw-mr-man

I -am- watching Mr. Man rather closely though.

They say he’s a volatile sort.

I’ve also popped my head back into Agrarian Skies.

Earlier on, I took a vacation (of sorts) in the Crash Landing mod, but frankly, didn’t quite know how to share my experiences with it because they mostly consisted of dying in various hardcore permadeath world-delete fashion, until I figured out how to get Sync shells working and make clones of myself…

…which then consisted of me dying in various cheap fashion (usually from spider attack from behind or above) and getting resurrected…

…while manually creeping a basic cobblestone tower/bridge/walkway structure towards the nearest city, because I was scared of walking through the dangerous desert.

(Explored one building or two, after that, found mostly nothing but various causes of death over and over, and got quite tired of the mod. One -was- hoping to find pieces for a smeltery, but it was looking like less effort – if more grind – would be involved in slowly melting down pieces of stone in a crucible for seared stone to pour over brick to make one seared brick.)

Agrarian Skies is a little less brutally hardcore, in that it doesn’t penalize you with multiple deaths, and everything is a lot more under your control, since you pretty much get to design your base and set your light levels and where mobs will or will not spawn. (Mostly “will not.”)

The inspiration has been googling up “modern homes” in Minecraft and seeing some really lovely building designs by people far more talented than I at this building thing.

I’ve always wanted a bigger and prettier house/base in Agrarian Skies – just never quite figured out how to get around to it or where to start.

The concept suddenly came together.

Try to make a modern house exterior, and pair it up with functional insides that use the ME storage system and have room for more industrial/machine/automation expansion.

Much more easily said than done, of course.

Not only do I have to find some nice smooth colored blocks with which to put the exterior walls together, I also need a cobblestone island / foundations -large- enough to support such an expanded base.

I couldn’t take the thought of putting together any more cobblestone islands block by block manually, so I decided it was time to get a Builder’s Wand.

That’s 8 diamonds.

That’s a LOT of gravel to sift.

I ended up digging through all my stuff and sacrificing 6 diamonds to make three more autonomous activators, so that gravel sifting could go faster, increasing my rate of diamond gain in the long run.

I also needed dirt to create grass to put on top of the cobblestone island foundation. Wandering over to my composting barrels, I found zero dirt. Which led to another period of growing oak trees for leaves to put into the barrels once more.

While that was going on automatically, it was rather obvious that all that gravel sifting was causing a backlog in terms of ore starting to clog the hopper and collection chest. So there was a need to start processing ore into metal too.

Before I knew it, a couple hours had gone by again.

Well, that’s Minecraft for you. Maybe some day, I’ll have some semblance of a modern house to share.

GW2: Social Dilemmas in the Ruins of Lion’s Arch

To take this screenshot, I had to be a bad person and not rescue any citizens...

I wonder if Guild Wars 2 players ever feel that they’re just taking part in one grand ol’ economics experiment?

Be it by accident or design, the devs who created the Escape from Lion’s Arch activity of this latest update seem to have stumbled into another one:

The Public Goods Dilemma

The Public Good Game has the same properties as the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game but involving more than two individuals. A public good is a resource from which all may benefit regardless of whether they contributed to the good. For instance, people can enjoy the city parks regardless of whether they contributed to their upkeep through local taxes. Public goods are non-excludable: Once these goods are provided nobody can be excluded from using them. As a result, there is a temptation to enjoy the good without making a contribution. Those who do so are called free-riders, and while it is rational to free-ride, if all do so the public good is not provided and all are worse off.

— From “Social Dilemma” on Wikipedia

Citizens rescued are the public good in this case.

Selfless individuals who choose to lower their personal reward (of bags collected, and potential rare/exotic drops) in favor of reviving and escorting citizens to safety contribute to a collective counter of citizens saved.

A communal reward is given to all in the map at 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved.

The arguably best reward is at 1,500, where one received an Ultimate citizen’s bag that has a chance of producing items from a previous Living Story update.

So far, I’ve managed to get a Recipe: Superior Rune of Antitoxin (valued at 14 gold if anyone ever buys it off the TP) once, and 4 pieces of Salvageable Aetherized Metal Scraps (worth pretty much nothing) another time, plus all the extra goodies of the current update (found heirlooms, children’s drawings, dragonite ore, yadda yadda.)

Meanwhile, thoughtless individuals who act in rational self-interest are liable to glom onto zergs, seeking the highest reward achievable for the least effort and risk, spamming 1 to win the standard flow of bags and loot, while benefiting from whatever level the citizen counter happens to hit.

Or they’re running around by themselves, skipping past mobs they either can’t kill (elites) or can’t be bothered to kill (everything else), rummaging around in rubble piles for found heirlooms, creating a stunningly realistic simulation of looters profiting from disasters.

This is the problem of the free rider.

I played for over 2 years in A Tale in the Desert. Social dilemmas fascinate me.

It’s been interesting to observe how devs and players are responding to this turn of events in GW2, though I have a distinct feeling that the casual time-starved are the group of players losing out in this particular situation.

For instance, the update launched with what appeared to be a bug for citizen count reward as opposed to what was released in the patch notes. Rewards were being given out at 100, 500, ? (probably 1000), 1,500 and 2000 citizens.

Players managed to rescue 100 and got a small reward that didn’t seem worth it. Zerging around never got past 300-400 rescued, and thus 500 seemed impossible, prompting pretty much the entire populace to drop citizen rescue like a hot potato and spam 1 to win instead.

I’m sure it didn’t help that the standard scaling for events was creating a wealth of veterans and champions with their standard loot drops, while unintended bugs were doing odd things to the citizen counters in main maps (first never resetting per attempt, and then resetting completely unpredictably.)

With the immediate feedback of immediate loot, and completely unreliable feedback of what one might achieve by hitting 1,500 citizens, the bulk of players responded appropriately.

ZERG ZERG ZERG 11!111111!11 ZERG ZERG !1111!111

Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I'm carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots.
Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I’m carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots. This was merely downtime between dolyaks.

Probably to the immense horror of the less cynical designers involved in the effort.

Oh, it’s not that other players couldn’t see the intent.

It’s just that the long-term reward was too slight and far-off a chance of gaining something really good, versus the larger chance you’ll get nothing worth mentioning, plus the attractiveness of the short term reward.

Stealth tweaks were made as patches popped in to fix the more egregious bugs.

The most obvious is that the citizen counter went back to rewarding 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved. A zergy overflow map now has a better chance of hitting the level 2 or level 3 group effort communal reward, though the later two rewards are still pegged at a level that requires cooperation and coordination and organization from at least half to a majority of players on the map.

Less obvious is that the number of mobs produced in response to scaling has dropped on particular dynamic events. The Black Lion Dolyaks used to produce an incredibly insane number of veteran aetherblades in response to a big population gathered in the vicinity, and spawned quite often. That has now dropped a tad.

It’s still been interesting to note that a percentage of players are simply quite blind to these subtle tweaks. They gather together because numbers = safety in their mind, and because big bright orange circles on the minimap called them to the area, regardless of what is actually happening.

Only 10 mobs spawn? Nevermind, we’ll try to tag them anyway! Some will win, others will lose out.

30 Elites have spawned and are pwning the zerg together with extra anti-zerg AoE effects? Obviously, we need to throw MORE bodies at it to defeat them! Meanwhile, I’ll just lay here dead and beg for a rez from people busy struggling to stay alive themselves, and whine that no one cares about me.

Of course, it’s been interesting as well to note the other side of the equation.

For whatever reason moves them internally, a few people are choosing to act altruistically, rezzing players and citizens alike, either doing their best in whatever zerg they find themselves in, or seeking out an immersive solo or small group experience in the disaster zone that is Lion’s Arch.

Others, driven to frustration by the rapacious hordes, and most likely motivated by greed for a potential big payoff, respond by seeking out their own organized collectives and communicating for better coordination.

Most notable is a lovely map created by Rainwhisper and posted on Reddit, which clarifies visually for those who are willing, but running around lost looking for citizens, as to where the largest groupings are.

I snuck in my party of five strategy in that thread, formulated by many instances of fighting to build continous citizen chains at the Crow’s Nest Tavern/Coriolis Plaza and White Crane Terrace, where one or two people could be overwhelmed by stray elites, but five can easily clear mobs (thus still maximizing personal loot) and rescue swiftly.

Someone else also made a grouping map that covers the obvious areas, though folks haven’t really taken to using it yet.

TTS has made their own forays onto the map. The first few attempts got close at 1200 citizens twice, another scraped close at 1451 citizens (with 1/4 of TTS stuck outside the overflow griping at those noncontributers taking up space within), and the last three rounds have cleared 1500, albeit on a less populated server map at off hours.

1535 citizens
1535 citizens and counting, my group stationing themselves at the Crow’s Nest Tavern
1544
1544 citizens and counting, this time in another group at the White Crane Terrace

I find it quite intriguing to read Reddit reports that the EU equivalent of TTS, TxS, has apparently gotten more closed off as time passes. It seems to imply what I’ve always maintained about game difficulty rising to ‘raid’ level. When the coordination and organization required rises beyond casual levels, it’s super easy to slip into an elitist and exclusionary attitude.

Personally, I have been guilty of it in this update.

Stuck outside on one TTS attempt, I spent much of my rising blood pressure alternately cursing out the damned noncontributing PUGs and PUGmander trying to zerg on an overflow going for a 1500 citizen attempt, spamming my mouse button to death to try and get in, wishing one of the free riders would crash the hell out of the game, and wishing for a private overflow that only our megaguild could access.

While being as much use as a block of wood in the overflow I was sitting in, spam clicking “Join Party Member in Overflow” by the entrance.

Me, the champion of inclusion.

If this isn’t an example of slippery slope, I dunno what is.

An even more interesting development has been the formation of a new guild, MEDx, dedicated to saving 1500 citizens. Their success rate has been improving as their ranks start to fill, enabling them to squeeze more of their number onto one overflow…

…despite a seriously broken overflow accessing system.

It’s hard to know the proper solution for these dilemmas.

Give us the private instances we want, and you’ll never see us again interacting with the hoi polloi.

People would end up feeling forced to join up to progress their goals, as opposed to the current system which allows for chance encounters and the instilled desire to join up based on a good experience with the guild.

Yet if we go without, the designers are limited to only creating encounters for the lowest common denominator, zergfests of loot pinatas that crumble to 1 spamming, fun in their own way, but whose novelty wears off fast.

(I remember how I ultimately got bored of City of Heroes’ standard mob distribution: 2 mobs 1 lt. or 3 mobs per solo spawn, big clumpy mass of 2-4 bosses and lt./minion mix for 8 in a team. No variance = yawnfest.)

I suppose it’s never a dichotomy.

In a way, it’s nice that the two can exist alongside each other. Coordinated attempt giving a different type of payoff as compared to a more zergy casual style. The trick is making sure neither side feels like they’re losing out or being affected overly much by each others’ choice of playstyle co-existing on the same map.

I mean, I play both ways as and when I feel like it. Some days, you just want to zerg. Or spend an overflow hunting rubble locations for the once daily heirlooms. Some days, you want to make a serious attempt at 1500 citizens. But it would be way too stressful to HAVE to play that way all the time, in order to get any reward whatsoever.

With some irony, I note that in between my first drafting this post and going off for a nice extended weekend breakfast/lunch outing, a patch has apparently been released to once again ratchet down the number of civilians required to: 100, 300, 600, 900 and 1200.

Is anyone else getting the feeling that they started with the goalposts at a very hopeful and optimistic distance, and are now adjusting it incrementally downward until they hit a sweet spot?

Still, time will tell whether this lowered number will prompt more people to step up on their own, and seek out and rescue citizens by themselves as the counter creeps closer to a good reward, or whether it encourages more folks to sit back and engage in social loafing, presuming that someone else will do it and they can reap the extra rewards from farming and the group reward to boot.

I suppose part of the problem is random overflows. All the servers are mixed together as strangers, who may never meet again, and thus owe no allegiance towards each other. Iterated prisoner’s dilemmas can never happen, since no one might encounter each other again, and the rational choice becomes to defect all the time.

Within an organized guild, or with familiar people, more people are inclined to cooperate, as there is a larger guarantee that the group will be working together as a collective towards the big payoff, rather than being the one poor sap taken advantage of by free riders.

Perhaps a nice first step before any more “social coordination” challenges are made might be the introduction of better tools for organizing a map of random people.

Different colored commander tags… Ways to see and assign various parties, or see and direct different squads of people to certain areas… A district system a la Guild Wars 1 where specific numbers are assigned to overflows and people can queue up in orderly fashion like in the new and improved WvW maps of today… Less fanatical map channel suppression for people actually trying to give directions to a map…

…Alliances and alliance chat…

… maybe the ability to ACTUALLY SEE CHAT FROM ALL THE GUILDS YOU’RE IN, AT THE SAME TIME?

…Stuff like that.

GW2: The Secret of Karka Island

…is that it’s a really good farming location.

yeoldetropicalparadise
I should farm to some reggae music. Monkey Island flashbacks…

At least, there’s where I was in the last days of the Molten Facility, having suddenly realized that karka shells were going for 8 silver a piece and passionfruit flowers for 50s(!)

Barracudas for Armored Scales was always popular (with the bots, especially) and Skelks for Blood and Mosquitoes for Sacs. Reef drakes and reef riders are generally too annoying to bother with.

I had assumed that when the Southsun patch launched, the sheer amount of people on Karka Island (that’s my pet name for it, I’m a Monkey Island fan) would send the supply ricocheting up and the prices tumbling down, so I was striking while the iron was still warm, at any rate.

Turns out that the devs had noticed the same thing much earlier than I did, with the introduction of Blooming Passiflora and a 200% magic find for supporting the settlers. (Well, that’s a good argument in favor of the refugees, unless and until a dungeon or similar pops up, I guess.)

That's a 20s harvest right there!
That’s a 20s harvest right there! (For now, anyway. Prices to drop more soon, no doubt.)

I think the hope is that a few more or a lot more people look into farming at Southsun (instead of Orr 24/7) and bring some of the prices back into balance.

Whether this will last after the month is out and the buff goes away, I don’t know, it depends on how many people decide they like farming mats here, I suppose.

Some people really detest fighting karka.

I used to be one of them. But I took my experimental spirit weapon guardian even further lately, and bought him an entire set of Berserker’s gear since my other cookie cutter was doing so well on Knights/Berserker’s. (At first I wanted the same, but I wanted to see how much total damage output was possible. Turns out it was a good decision as I drop aggro to pretty much anybody and anything else – including the spirit weapons who now serve as decent temporary minion tanks.)

The new berserker set was also a good excuse to buy myself a rhino helm and dress up like a real Blood Legion soldier. But cooler. (T1 helm, shoulders, armor, T2 leggings and boots. Wrath, Lava, Celestial and Midnight Rust.)
The new berserker set was also a good excuse to buy myself a rhino helm and dress up like a real Blood Legion soldier. But cooler. (T1 helm, shoulders, armor, T2 leggings and boots, Flame and Frost gauntlets. Wrath, Lava, Celestial and Midnight Rust.)

He now cuts through karka like his sword is a real fiery dragon sword, rather than a lukewarm butter knife. Casually comparing my performance with two other random parties who were also farming at the time, I was pleased to note that I killed a karka in about half the time they did. (One was halfway through a karka, and I started a new one and finished at the same time. Another two were in a duo and attacking one karka, and I started a new one, and again finished at the same time.)

Swapping either the armor or trinkets with yellow magic find gear drops the dps a bit, but ups the magic find. I’m still experimenting with the best mix. I found stacking pure magic find up to about 169% to be a bit more pointless, possibly because my kill rate was slower, or I was hitting DR faster, I didn’t know. Maybe it was a weird case of RNG.

Anyhow, I certainly plan on more experiments in Southsun during this new Living Story phase and have been contemplating how wacky it would be to invest in an exotic/ascended magic find set. Perhaps that can be a new stretch goal after I finish my arbitrarily decided goal of reaching 200 gold banked and the Golden title. (Without CoF farming, because the fastest way to personal burnout is repeating dungeons ad nauseam for me.)

And what do I think of the new Southsun content?

Stole this picture from the wiki, since I wasn't clever enough to screenshot it myself.
Southsun Before: Stole this picture from the wiki, since I wasn’t clever enough to screenshot it myself.
Southsun After: It's nice to see the permanent changes to the map.
Southsun After: It’s nice to compare the permanent changes to the map. Big obvious new jungle settlement enroaching into the reef rider vent area. New bridge linking Owain’s with the main part of the island – thank goodness, so tired of climbing up that cliff to get Anders for guild bounty. More developed Captain’s Retreat area. New Crab Toss arena. Pearl Islet with more new resort hotness.
So happy to see this new bridge.
So happy to see this new bridge.

For the most part, I like it, though I have some nitpicks.

How Many Alternatives for Achievements?

I was really pleased to see a lot more options and alternatives for getting to the rewards here.

Some people have a moral stance against ever participating in any form of PvP? Great, don’t do Crab Toss, you still won’t miss out on the reward (assuming you catch and do the later Canach’s Lair bits.)

Some people can’t do the jumping puzzle and have some kind of moral imperative against interacting with a mesmer portal? Don’t get the Islet sample then, but you can still get the pretty flower backpiece.

Some people refuse to do anything that sounds like a dungeon ever? Well, you can already get both rewards even without ever setting foot into Canach’s Lair. (Which, I am hoping is more like an open-world dungeon or a mini-instanced hotjoin dungeon that brings in 15-20 people, but you never know, it may just be the same old 5-man dungeon schtick again. Guess we’ll see at the end of May.)

How Spoiled is the Story?

Some people have criticized the spoiler-ific quality of the achievement text and descriptions on the rewards. I don’t really think it’s a very big deal personally – if you catch a certain DE in the settlement at the center of the island, a settler instigator pretty much confesses to Ellen Kiel that a sylvari put her up to it, and the Inspector names him outright – a sylvari with a beef with the Consortium? Oh, it MUST be Canach we’re looking for!

And there’s all the weird yellow-green flowers that are springing up, and if you visit the karka hive, it’s full of yellow-green explosions of yucky spore-like stuff that personally aggravate me just looking at them, let alone aggravating wildlife…

It's probably my graphics settings, but god, is this hive ugly. (I'll get better screenshots in the next two weeks, promise.)
It’s probably my graphics settings, but god, is this hive ugly. (I’ll crank it up, risk crashing and get better screenshots in the next two weeks, promise.)

Okay, so the story is being told in a non-linear fashion with a decidedly heavier hand than the slow linear time-constrained dripping trickle of information that Flame and Frost got us accustomed to, but whatever. We get the message. I’d actually posit a lot more players get the message than the ones who had the patience to talk to every last NPC (often screenshotting every dialogue because we’re anal that way) and watch the change happen over geologic time.

Different teams always produce different content. (See Call of Duty: Treyarch vs Infinity Ward, and for an example closer to home, GW1: Nightfall vs Factions.) You just roll with it if you like the overarcing game/universe.

How Chic is Conversing?

Welcome to Pearl Islet resort! Home of many easy achievements.
Welcome to Pearl Islet resort! Home of many easy achievements.

Ok, so it was a little startling to simply earn an achievement for talking to some of the named NPCs who are part of the Southsun story. Talk about your giveaway ‘chievos, sorta like talking to a Laurel Vendor for a daily.

But you know what? Who fucking cares. I do not need to feel special through artificial exclusivity. I feel special through having an eye for unique fashion styles and color, and being skillful at what I do. I feel special when I help other people and welcome and include them in my community, teach and learn from them.

You wanna be really special? Be Dulfy. Be a good WvW commander on your server. Be a regular mesmer portaller. I guarantee you that all these people helping their community have a lot more respect than you showing off some artificially scarce item that only proves you have plenty of RL money to spend (well, granted, thank you for supporting Anet and the survival of our game with your gambling addiction, I’m glad in the long term sense that you’re a sucker) or are lucky at the RNG.

But I digress. It’s a short sweet simple way to get people locating the starring NPCs and making sure they at least encounter the words that comprise the story, even if they skip past it all and fail to read it.

And judging by the questions over mapchat like “Where is Subdirector Noll?” it is apparently challenging enough for some. (Never over-estimate your audience, I guess. Or maybe he’s just too short to be noticed. /end Asura joke.)

Besides, some of it is pure fun if you do them serendipitously.

I was just wandering when I dropped into the water, and got a skinny dipping achievement at the same time that I noticed nearly all my clothes had fallen off. (At least I got fur.)

I surfaced to find the beach party and chat with Lady Kasmeer and Lord Faren, chuckling at the conversations, and hung out for a while to add to the eyesore factor while watching several lil ugly Asura running around ruining it further. (Apologies to the two sylvari lying down together by the beach and probably having ERP in party chat.)

I think the crab has evil designs... (There are two female Norn players bar-top dancing in the background. Don't you love Tarnished Coast?)
I think that crab behind me has evil designs… (Besides folks chilling on the beach, there are two female Norn players bar-top dancing in the background. Don’t you love Tarnished Coast?)

How Delicious are the Dynamic Events?

centersettlement

Pretty good, I’d say.

The difficulty and scaling seems fairly spot on.

The aggravated wildlife did teach me once that it was a bad idea to be standing at a settlement entrance and lost in scrutinizing one’s map while in berserker gear. And going AFK safely has been a bit more challenging (climbing up to the huts is a good bet, imo.)

I enjoyed running around doing various DEs. The achievements for supporting either side were completed in a timely fashion. There were lively crowds around to assist, but not to the extent of so crowded that there was skill lag or being utterly unplayable.

Some of my guildies are already making plans for leveling up lowbie characters in Southsun this month, since things are upleveled to 80, the pace of events is good and there’s a current population focus here. I might try that out too at some point.

How Satisfying is Sample Collecting?

Mixed opinions about this one.

I liked that there was an obvious and suspicious looking flower serving as a sample right near where you got the quest and the scanner. That gives a wordless clue as to what to be looking out for.

It was slightly non-obvious how to bring up the scanner again once you put it down. Another person and me spent a while conversing with Researcher Levvi trying to get her to cough up another gun because we’d thrown ours down when some rampaging Veteran Karka attacked the camp. I did eventually think to check my inventory again and figured it out (and told the other person having trouble) but I don’t think we were the only ones initially puzzled.

I ran around randomly scanning and pinging and found maybe half of the samples that way before I started getting frustrated. The yellow glow should have been a little taller and more obvious, imo. The achievement clues weren’t that much of a help (do you know how many shipwrecks there are on this stupid island? Vents and geysers?! At least Cave I knew, and Sandpit was unique – though I didn’t put that one together until after the fact.)

Found the hive samples by myself. It just made evil sense to make players have to go there. Here's the "I was there" flower for players to tell others about how they took down the biggest karka of them all...
Found the hive samples by myself. It just made evil sense to make players have to go there. Here’s the “I was there” flower for players to tell others about how they took down the biggest karka of them all…

So it was back to Dulfy. I’m sure a lot more people just went straight to using her guide and had a lot less pain that way.

Even so, I had a bit of a time trying to find the Vent one, there was just too much steam in the way. I had to try and match my minimap to pixel perfect correspondence with that on Dulfy’s before I finally saw it.

The completionist urge to get the Islet sample also got me to finally attempt and complete the Skipping Stones jumping puzzle, something I’ve put off for a very long time. All that SAB practice paid off, I think. And it was nice to see a resurgence of interest in the puzzle, be able to observe people who knew where to go and where to jump, and have friendly mesmers around as insurance. (One was portalling in stages as they attempted it too, which was handy for folks who wanted to do the jumps but got tired of having to repeat what was done before through a slip of the foot.)

How Crappy is Crab Toss?

Also mixed opinions on this one.

Me off ruining someone's Crabtacular hopes by not being anywhere near crab or karka.
Me off ruining someone’s Crabtacular hopes by not being anywhere near crab or karka. (And also playing miserably.)

If it wasn’t for the ludicrousness of the Crabtacular achievement, I’d actually peg it as a decent enough minigame of ‘fun-in-the-sun’ themed non-serious no-consequences pvp with a very decent reward structure (a karka shell and a loot drop for participating, 5 karka shells and two loot drops for winning. And I’ve gotten greens and yellows from it, others did get exotics while I was there.)

First, it’s not very clear what is required for Crabtacular. Many people seem to have the impression it’s being the last one holding the crab at the end of the game. Some have even claimed that they scored the achievement that way. Okaaay. I dunno, I got mine by being the only one alive while everyone got rolled by a veteran karka. But achievements have been known to bug, so who knows.

Secondly, if your opponents have ANY clue what they are doing, and the goal in any PvP game is after all to attain and compete against others with at least a minimum of skill, they will not all courteously die at the same time for you to attain the achievement. There’s usually at least one or two people sensible enough to stay the fuck away from a karka roll, instead of zergling along chasing the crab carrier.

That makes it a stupid very luck-based achievement if you try to attain it normally. Or you could try the patient route and stay in a game endlessly until other people get tired and the number of participants whittles down to a more manageable number which might reasonably be expected to get unlucky and perish together. (Except those staying tend to be pretty decent at the game, decent enough to tolerate staying at any rate.)

Or, since the game unwittingly creates a Prisoner’s Dilemma for GW2 players who have been trained by other aspects of the game to cooperate together, the easiest way of finishing up this achievement is for no one to defect, and everyone to cooperate.

This was how I ended up getting Crabtacular and the last bit of my Crab Carrying achievement done. Simply hung out in a game until there were three people left, and one of them broached the subject of cooperation. I jumped onto the idea in support, and while it did take a while to get the last party speaking and cooperating (I suspect he was winning and wanted to get the Crab Toss Champion done, he didn’t say anything until he won that match – we’d stopped competing and were trying to get him on board), then we all took turns the following few matches to get each other Crabtacular and stuck around to get the last party his Crabgrabber and me my Crab Carrier.

Lag, latency or ping also seems to be a bit of an issue with this minigame. Against certain opponents, especially playing during NA prime hours, they simply seem to slip away too fast to ever connect with a melee steal or tackle. Playing during Oceanic hours, and I seem to do much better. It could be random pairing with someone skilled, but I’m willing to bet that there’s noticeable performance difference between someone with 30 sec ping vs 300 sec or 500 sec ping.

Still, as a no consequences sort of minigame, it isn’t too bad, though I found previous games like the Lunatic Inquisition a lot more fun. It did help me learn how to predict someone’s movements a bit more and plot how to intersect their path, rather than chase aimlessly behind them. But with seemingly random melee targetting once you get into a scrum, and hard to control facing and a dash that changes distance based on how long you press it (and possibly affected by lag), it’s just not very predictable nor or the skills very reliable – that takes away a good deal of the fun in having control of one’s character.

It might have been nicer as a fun game you could play with one’s guild or with teams rather than a chaotic FFA, but no doubt that will lead to (true) accusations of collusion and match fixing very shortly.

How Fast is it Finished?

A couple hours if you’re really focused. A day or so if you’re less intense about it. Maybe longer if you’re really casual.

Some people think that’s too fast.

I don’t really care. I think it’s fine to err on the side of too easy for something that’s only going to last two weeks.

Somehow the incongruity of this tickles the hell out of me. Brave macho Blood Legion charr with a flower on his back. Maybe growing OUT of his back. Parasitic infections ftw.
Somehow the incongruity of this tickles the hell out of me. Brave macho Blood Legion charr with a flower on his back. Maybe growing OUT of his back. Parasitic flora infections ftw. It’s great that it’s account bound, I can swap the look between characters much more easily without buyer’s remorse.

At least this way, the content locusts will be done quickly with whatever they want to achieve in Southsun and be back to their regularly scheduled activities. WvW will see less PvE event disruption as people can quickly take time out for the event and get back to fighting their endless mist war. Time-starved or very casual people have a chance to reasonably participate and complete the content in a couple hours or a weekend without being expected to be online 8 hours a day for 14 days running.

And people who are still interested in what the island offers are not prevented from still staying after the achievements are all done and ticked away, and the shiny backpieces collected. There’s still dynamic events and materials to farm, xp and karma and loot galore if you want it.

Now to await May 28th and whatever Canach’s Lair has in store for us…

(…and speaking of store… I have $10 waiting for the Consortium harvesting sickle right here. I might drop another ten for a character slot this month too because chronic altholics can’t stop.)

ATITD: The Sticky Problem of Clay

Clay is an interesting resource in A Tale in the Desert, seemingly simple at first glance, but with a lot of hidden depth and interlinked relationships that can be talked about.

Basic Steps for Obtaining Clay

1) Find an area with clay. It looks like dried cracked earth, often near water.

When standing on top of clay, a red clay icon will appear in the upper left corner.

2) Have Water in Jugs in your inventory (created by going to water and filling a clay Jug)

3) Click on the red clay icon. Voila, 1 Clay gathered! (and perhaps a piece of Flint if you’re lucky.)

Simple, right?

Did you spot the chicken and egg problem yet?

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.

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You need a jug made of clay to get clay.

A Virtual History of Clay

To make things even more interesting, at the start of every new Telling in Egypt, all players start with a blank slate. No skills, no technologies, no property, nothing.

In order for players to create clay Jugs, most crucially, they need to be able to build a Pottery Wheel to spin Clay into Wet Clay Jugs.

One can learn to make Pottery Wheels by learning the Pottery skill from a School in Egypt, who will request a payment of 10 Clay to teach it to you.

(…but but…)

Once your head stops reeling from the paradox, rest assured there is a way out of this. If you try to learn the Pottery skill without 10 Clay in your possession, the School will take pity on you and give you a single clay Jug. (My precious!)

This only happens once for each character.

There is no fooling the game by getting rid of your Jug and asking again. There is no such thing as making lots of throwaway alts to accumulate multiple free Jugs because the rules of ATITD state that you can only have one free trial account ever. I suppose you -could- pay $14 a month for each paid alt you decide to have, but that would be a really silly way to get Jugs.

With this single Jug, you can patiently accumulate 10 Clay by walking to water, filling the jug, walking to clay, collecting 1 clay, and walking back to water to refill the jug and repeat.

And then you can build Pottery Wheels!

In theory. Because what they neglect to tell you is that the materials list for Pottery Wheels is as follows:

Most of the materials are not inconceivably hard to get, though leather is a comparative rare resource in the early game. Leather is a bottleneck for the individual, limiting the number of pottery wheels they might want to make then.

But there is one more hidden bottleneck for the entirety of Egypt. Flystones are made on Rock Saws, which in turn can only be created when the Technology of Stonecutting is available.

(Quick terminology explanation: Skills are paid for and learnt by individuals. You bring the fee, pay it, get the Skill from a School. Technologies are meant to be paid for by groups and by the community of Egypt as a whole. Once it is paid for, it is unlocked for any individual to freely request from the University where it was unlocked.)

Since Technologies are a global unlock, the payment sum is often exorbitant when looked at from an individual’s perspective. Therein lies one of the major conflicts in a so-called combat-less game. The Good for the Self versus the Good of All. Work to benefit yourself, or work for the community’s improvement?

In the case of Stonecutting, among other things, 200 Flint is required.

But but…Flint has only a ~10% chance of dropping when clay is collected!

With a single clay Jug, let me assure you, trying to obtain Flint is not at all fun. One has to continually stop to get water per clay you dig up, and you probably won’t even strike Flint most of the time.

Of course, there is no requirement that 200 Flint must be collected by a single person. Ideally, if 200 people just took the effort to dig up 1 Flint and contribute it to the same University, the agony would be spread out through division of labor.

Anyone who’s ever tried to organize a raid or even a pick-up group in MMOs can probably see the futility of that line of thinking a mile away. Cat herding, anyone?

Well… maybe if 20 people took the effort to dig up 10 Flint and contribute it, we might get somewhere!

Pretty much something like that happens. The slider between Self and Public Good hovers back and forth, trying to come to some sort of balance point, some equilibrium – if less people contribute as a whole, then more dedicated players end up working harder to get the Technologies unlocked. Which may lead to drama – implosions by people who feel put upon, tantrums by those who feel left out or locked away from a resource, etc.

Things are further complicated because each local region in Egypt has their own University. Region pride, as well as selfish convenience in having less distance to run, means that people would much rather have the Technology unlocked at THEIR local University. So effort overlaps, and inefficiencies abound, and lots of entertaining chatter happens on public channels.

Player Ingenuity

But never underestimate player creativity. There is another social solution to the thorny Flint problem. It’s the single jug that makes it a pain, right? So we’ll go get multiple jugs!

Hang on, isn’t that why we wanted Pottery Wheels in the first place? Where ever can you find more jugs?

Remember, each player has a single jug.

So can you convince another player to give (loan) you their one and only jug?

(In order to get Flint more easily, so ultimately down the road, everyone can get jugs more easily.)

Conversely, what if he logs off and -never comes back?- Your jug (your only present means to get clay and flint for yourself) would be GONE.

No one said this was an easy solution, mind you.

Different players try this with varying degrees of success. If you’re in an established guild with members that all know and trust each other, then you’d most likely be able to pool your jugs together without fear of loss. Name recognition, charisma and dependable reputation becomes important in building up to folks being willing to loan the stuff out. In general, it ends up possible for a few people to get 5 to 8 or so  jugs together, while taking down names so as to reunite singular jug with owner later.

And they end up being the ones to still painfully, if less so, dig out the Flint required for Stonecutting, required for Rock Saws, required for Flystones, required for Pottery Wheels, required for Jugs of clay.

Public Works for the Public Good

Another example of player ingenuity stems from the leather bottleneck of Pottery Wheels.

1 Pottery Wheel takes 1 minute to spin 1 Jug from 1 Clay.

In the early game, normal non-fanatically-hardcore individuals can realistically afford to make zero or one or two Pottery Wheels. Give or take a couple.

It’s going to take a really long time to spin 100 Jugs from two dinky little wheels. It’s simple economies of scale.

This arrangement would be much better:

And if you were really ambitious, this:

Pottery wheels don’t break from overuse. And you aren’t going to need to spin jugs 24/7 either. So what if we put the first few Pottery Wheels together and made them a public shared resource?

Thus were various regional Public Works born – a group of individuals deciding to come together and altruistically create equipment and machines for anyone to use.

Mind you, the balance between self and public interest is happening all the time, and reaches equilibrium differently in different individuals. Some prefer their own fleet of wheels which is always available when they need it, instead of having to wait their turn if the wheels are in use. Some will contribute some materials for the public wheels, and keep back some materials for their own private personal ones. Some will give all they own to the creation of public facilities. There is no one right answer for all, just the right answer for yourself.