Landmark: First Thoughts

For the game formerly known as Everquest Next: Landmark, and now merely known as Landmark… I have a new name suggestion.

Landmark: Pothole Simulator
Landmark: Pothole Simulator

Okay, okay, I’m being unfair.

I know it’s Beta, and I know caves are coming.

Soon, there won’t be these nicely convenient ore veins just glimmering on the surface, ready to be attacked… and we’ll all want to slit our wrists hunting for ore, just as in Vanilla Minecraft.

Minecraft: Mineshaft Simulator
Minecraft: Mineshaft Simulator

But in the meantime, since it’s there, and gravitating to the path of least resistance like the stereotypical gamer , one hammers away at the soil, creating ugly little scars of devastation that presumably heal at some future point when one is not looking.

tropical

When it’s working, Landmark really is quite pretty.

Even on my toaster, though its Core 2 Duo processor comes in under the minimum specs for CPU, and my ATI 4870 GPU apparently just didn’t make the cut either.

My screenshots are nowhere near as pretty as those of you with more modern machines, but they’re not bad, and to be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised that the game’s working at all.

The performance of the Landmark Beta client has apparently taken a sharp drop downward from Alpha, which I suspect is due to the increased number of entities since they introduced flora and the sickles to harvest them, plus the player load of all us freeloaders jumping in via the 4x Founder guest invites, and thousands of other keys being given away by various websites.

This has led to the initial uncomfortable experience of loading into a crowded Player Spire and freezing at 0-1 FPS, risking a crash or viewing most of the world as a slide show. My mistake was jumping into the Medium loaded Serenity server, whose 7+ player names in view completely hung up my system.

Well, that’s one way to encourage players to spread out.

I chucked my GW2-bred zerging tendencies out the window, put on my hermit hat, and tried to guess the least popular server name ever.

I settled on Confidence, mainly to shore up my lack of it.

The 1-2 player names on the island I randomly ended up on slowed me down, but I waded through molasses sufficiently far to get to a more quiet locale where I could actually experience the game a little closer to what is intended.

Moving also seemed to worsen the effect, causing framerate drops to 0 for a couple seconds before it bounced back up to whatever was presumably normal. My CPU and GPU took turns being the bottleneck, as indicated on the helpful display on the top left of one’s screen.

This led me to suspect that both were being slowed down when rendering new areas beyond the visible map, similar to how my Minecraft occasionally lags when procedurally creating a new chunk.

When I had the time later, I quit out of the game and edited the UserOptions.ini in the Landmark folder, and altered the RenderDistance from a very optimistic 999999.000000 to 1000.000000 – which sounded a lot more like what my toaster could handle.

(Basically, I followed a number of the settings tips from this website, also tweaking down Lighting Quality and Texture Quality to even more minimal than recommended, and turning off Shadows altogether.)

It didn’t completely get rid of the issue, but it did mitigate it significantly enough to be felt.

I now hovered around 35-40 FPS when stationary, instead of 20-30, and the framerate would only plunge to 0 for a split second when moving, or worse case scenario, pause for a few seconds when rendering the next part of the map.

Going near other players or their creations was still a little luck of the draw though, along with going near the Portal Spires to swap islands and entering the loading screen.

(Caveat: Altering Render Distance to such a short distance will make the map brought up by the ‘M’ key look fairly ugly, as it doesn’t render the landscape in its entirety. But you know, when you’re a desperate player with a low-end machine, you get used to such tradeoffs.)

There was also very regular falling out of the map for a couple seconds, before the game bounced me back up to solid ground.

falling

I’m curious to know if those of you located in the US also experience this, meaning it’s the Beta client’s unoptimized nature at work, or if it’s due to my 220-240ms latency from being on the other side of the planet disagreeing with the server on just where my avatar is. (Fair warning for those of us in Europe, Asia, Australia or the other continents anyway.)

I’m probably an atypical Landmark player.

Maybe it comes of having prior construction sandbox experiences in A Tale in the Desert.

Maybe it’s just that the GW2 WvW league is starting in a day or two, and thus I’m keenly aware that I only have a limited amount of time to play in the Landmark sandbox before my gaming priorities call me elsewhere.

Setting down a claim flag and hogging some land for myself was not the first thing on my mind.

Exploring was.

desert

The biomes, by the way, are pretty nifty in how different they all look.

I’m exceedingly partial to the desert one, which is great because barely anyone else seems interested in claiming land on that biome (the crowd seems to have gravitated to the forests.)

Admittedly, the Old Forest biome looks pretty darned good too.
Admittedly, the Old Forest biome looks pretty darned good too, if you catch the lighting at the right angle. It’s downright gloomy at other times though.

In close-up, there’s quite a bit of variance to the objects that make up the biome – though after wading through the same terrain for ten long minutes, thanks to the stuttering framerate, it begins to wear on you.

I suspect this is merely an early Beta thing. It doesn’t make sense to have islands of one concentrated terrain or another, so it’s likely that these biomes will get spread out in more natural fashion across the continent at a later date. (That’s probably going to make it a lot harder to collect resources though.)

There were a number of pragmatic reasons for why I decided to be a nomad and explore first.

For one thing, I was coming in completely cold, having not followed any forums or watched any videos. I had no idea what to expect, what kinds of resources there were, or what would be considered a “good” location to claim or no.

To me, this sort of thing is the privilege of veterans. It’s similar to A Tale in the Desert, where my first Telling ended me up in a somewhat out-of-the-way locale, making it slightly awkward to get anywhere and being a little short on nearby resources (luckily I got adopted fairly quick by a friendly and welcoming guild and moved in with them to use their stuff.)

That learning experience helped me out in subsequent Tellings to land grab locations with desirable resources, and still have sufficient space to expand. One has to see the crowd tendencies at least once to know where the newbies go and where the vets hang out.

For instance, it was very likely that the central hub from which you could portal anywhere would form into a crowded little village / ghetto of a few oldbies seeking convenience, not minding the crowd or wanting to be very social, plus newbies crowding in next to each other without sufficient room to expand.

Landmark does seem to safeguard against this somewhat by reserving some space around the claim for you, so the danger of random players building unsightly stuff too near you is probably a little less.

I personally don’t like those kinds of crowds, and I’m okay with walking a bit to get to the Central portal, so felt very little urgency to plonk a claim down. Worse case scenario, I’d wander out to a map edge or something.

(After you’ve played ATITD, which can take upwards of 2-3 hours or more to walk from one side of the bloody map to another – plus a near-mandatory cross-region run for seed from various Universities if you start the game before chariot stops are up  – I was pretty sure that walking a ways in Landmark wouldn’t take as long. Though I didn’t quite account for the framerate lag.)

For another thing, once you’ve played some of these crafting sandbox games, you learn about community technology bottlenecks and certain resources being gating mechanisms, where players coming in late get the privilege of skipping past some of the early grind through the altruism of community-minded veteran players.

craftingstations

It never fails to amaze me how these public works are bound to spring up.

Have a crafting station or piece of equipment that isn’t destroyed when other players use it, that takes a lot of resources to construct? Only going to use it irregularly yourself?

Well, why should every player waste resources reinventing the wheel, then?

Enter the communal-shared resource. Public goods, public works, call it what you will in different games, the concept is the same.

I got lucky.

The random island I started on when I selected my server had one such industrious individual benevolently building away right next to the Portal Spire.

Seeing him WAY further along the tech tree than I was, I immediately dumped all plans of trying to follow the miserable little crafting chain from the basic work station at the Spire, and tried out all of his crafting stations instead, staring at the recipes to make plans for what I wanted to collect and trying not to drool onto his floor.

In return, he got my verbal thanks, and a Feedback thumbs-up. Not much, but I guess those warm fuzzy feelings make up for it?

Oh, and publicity here, I suppose.

DKonen's claim - Confidence Server - Channel (Tier 1)
Public Use Crafting Stations – Dkonen’s claim – Confidence Server – Channel (Tier 1)

Try not to crowd there so much that it freezes my CPU from too many adjacent players when I visit. That would make me sad.

But visit Dkonen anyway, because there’s a lot of cool crafting stations generously made available for the public to use, and he ought to be one of the first to get a flaming thumbs-up indicator of awesome coolness for his claim.

Since I now had a public works to fall back on for crafting stations, I decided that the nomadic plan would be viable for a while yet, and that I ought to work on the danged vertical progression for personal tools instead.

That’s still a heck of a lot of work, I might add.

It turned out to be a fairly considerable amount of mining and tree-chopping involved, along with having to cross-island hop from biome to biome, slowly raising Tiers as my tools got better and needed the next Tier’s resource to build the next better tool.

(Still not a fan of vertical progression, but I suppose the game needs stuff like this to give players some goals and the temptation to shortcut it via the cash shop later on.)

These, by the way, are the trees you need for the Thistle Seeds for Sundrop Heartwood.
These, by the way, are the trees you need for the Thistle Seeds for Sundrop Heartwood. Ran around for ages looking for them, suspecting I was following in the footsteps of someone(s) who had already chopped them all down. Finally got far out enough to find plenty.

I started to wonder what the point of claims was, since there was no way you were going to be able to find a good geographic locale with all the necessary resources nearby, when all the necessary resources were separated so widely.

It was beginning to seem as if all a claim needed to be, was a patch of empty land on which you get some space to build whatever pretty object you wanted, having already spent the time (or $$$) to obtain the necessary resources elsewhere.

It took many hours, but I did get to the Cobalt Pick and Gold Axe before getting bored of the grind and deciding the last tier or so could wait and be spaced out a little less urgently.

Good tools -really- make a difference.

The Cobalt Pick is significantly more enjoyable to mine with than the earlier picks, in my opinion. It can even almost completely mine an ore vein in a few artfully chosen single-clicks, rather than having to toggle on clicking and waiting for an endless amount of time, adjusting the cursor every now and then.

Speaking of which, Landmark REALLY needs a auto-attack toggle for their picks and axes.

I got through one vein and one tree holding down the mouse button before my finger started cramping, and I started hunting for other options… including keyboard/mouse hardware macros or writing something in AutoHotkey and braving whatever reception third-party software users got.

I eventually settled for the forums-suggested solution of turning on Windows 7’s Click-Lock, via Control Panel => Mouse. Holding down the mouse button for an adjustable amount of time then locks it on, allowing one to auto-mine or auto-chop without risking RSI or carpal tunnel. Click again to stop.

Along the not-obvious line of things one might be interested to know, shift+mouse wheel zooms in and out, alt-F10 removes the interface, and ctrl+F12 takes screenshots. Who thought these up?

If anyone figures out how to strafe, please tell me. Keyboard turning is weird as hell for many MMO gamers.

Anyway, I’ll be grinding out the rest of the resource-locked tools before seriously experimenting with building. I plunked an experimental claim down and tried some of the basics, but made a pretty lousy job out of it. Maybe I’m just not cut out artistically for voxels.

Walking around to see something like this totally doesn't help the ego either.
Walking around to see something like this totally doesn’t help the ego either.

Still, I could see myself in a nice gathering and exploring niche in the future, selling stuff to the dedicated builders – assuming the rest of the game develops well enough to do that in an entertaining and non-boring fashion.

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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.

A Guild Odyssey – Part 3 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest.”

— G’Kar, Babylon 5

I believe Dunbar was on to something when he proposed that there is a limit to the number of people a single person can maintain social relationships with.

I don’t know if he got that number exactly correct, but certainly, it’s easier to remember 10-20 familiar names in a guild (my memory is very very bad) and the games in which I felt the strongest connections were games where less than 300 people tended to be online at any one time.

A Tale in the Desert is notable for being one of the few MMOs that allow people to be in multiple guilds at one time.

In my opinion, it’s pioneered a number of innovative guild features that other MMOs would benefit from adopting. The game also highlights the interesting push-and-pull between public community interest and self-interest for personal benefit via many design aspects.

Guilds, first and foremost, in ATITD are a means to control ownership and access rights to the property and items that players build.

If you’re a solo player on a single character, you might be able to get away with just having all the stuff you build be in your name and accessed via those, but if you play two or more characters, it becomes convenient to create a guild and give all your characters equivalent high access to everything.

Also, spouses or best friends that play one or two characters each will also favor creating their own guild so that they can share access rights that way.

Evolving up from there, we have the friends and family guilds where groups of friends may want to share communal resources, or come together to build big ticket items that are infrequently used but expensive for a lone player to build.

The nice thing about being allowed to join multiple guild is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a personal guild for yourself to keep your personal items safe, while being part of a larger guild, possibly with more limited access privileges, but still contribute to that community and benefit from the shared resources.

Veteran players tend to develop close relationships with each other and naturally want to stay in contact with each other and chat, so such clique guilds are common. Depending on the group, they may be open and inclusive to newbies joining them as some don’t mind or enjoy teaching newbies, and more players contributing resources tend to make the guild stronger as well.

A Tale in the Desert has one interesting spin on guild chat. (All chat tabs, really.) It’s persistent. As in, the guild chat can be set to be time-stamped and left up for hours if no one scrolls it off the screen.

What this means is that in smaller guilds, or even individual whispers to a player, you can essentially leave messages for each other even when both parties aren’t logged on at the same time. You could conduct a conversation message-board style 8 hours apart, and have the benefit of it speeding up to real-time when both of you are logged in together.

ATITD allows for as many chat tabs as you want to be up at once, so depending on the player, they could choose to leave chat tabs for 10 or 20 or 70 player names up at once to always stay in contact with them, or be in multiple guilds and keep track of all the chat going on in each channel.

This gives rise to functional guilds.

Interested in an aspect of ATITD? Say, wine-making? Beer-brewing? Growing thistles? An expert and want to talk shop with other experts? A newbie and want to pick the experts’ brains while asking questions? Join a functional guild and be included in a small community of other enthusiasts, sort of a hobbyist guild within a hobby, where most chat will be related to the subject of interest.

Regional guilds are also commonplace, often doubilng up as either ‘public facilities’ or ‘research’ guilds.

You see, it’s not easy to travel in A Tale in the Desert. The map is LARGE, the runspeed is SLOW, and so people tend to spontaneously clump together in regions and form local communities, with buildings close by that resemble a village.

Again, for big ticket items, people have found it most convenient to construct shared facilities, that are often placed in a central location of a region – next to a chariot stop – and designated as for public-use.

Ditto for research contribution, which are basically Egypt-wide projects to unlock a technology for all, including future players of that Telling, to use. Guilds are used to indicate interest in contributing to those projects, with the bonus of having a separate chat tab to keep track of everything.

One common mistake newbie players make is to simply join one guild, which is often a public or research guild as those have the widest reach and give their all for that guild. The effort is always appreciated, but sometimes the new players expect a reciprocation (such as increased guild rank promotion) that may not arrive. (Depending on the guild’s leader, permissions for various ranks may be set differently, to restrict certain items from being broken by over-use or abuse.)

Often, it is sensible to keep some resources for oneself and one’s individual progress through the game to gain levels, and contribute only what you can spare. Different people arrive at slightly different balances between self-interest and community good, but extremes at either end tend to be rare, and don’t usually end well.

Which brings us back to MMO guilds in general: are they merely comprised of selfish individuals looking out for number 1?

I doubt it.

But I don’t think it is wrong to say that most people are self-interested.

(Not selfish, not self-centered, because those words come loaded with negative connotations. Even self-interest is used in semantically confusing fashion when one does a casual search on the web. I find this man’s take on the words a decently nice way of differentiating them though – Gerhard Adams on individual self-interest that can lead to selfish, cooperative or altruistic behavior on interaction with another.)

It is survival. Self-preservation. Natural selection favors a self-interested mind.

But what we find is that when circumstances dictate that cooperation and/or organization yields bigger or equally decent returns for self-interested individuals working together, they come together.

Zergs spontaneously form. Leaders create guilds. Humans have a long history of coming together.

At least, for a while.

Until going one’s own separate ways benefits the individuals more, and stuff breaks apart. The age-old cycle repeats itself.

P.S. As for Puzzle Pirates, I’ve decided to talk about that another time. Suffice to say that it’s a game that also has guilds designed -into- the game itself, giving players a need to ‘join a crew’ for better privileges and unlock access to some activities, and a way for newbies to flow into and be introduced to various guilds. Suffice to say that it is -also- an aging game that is past its prime in terms of guilds that are still alive rather than historical artifacts that have seen better times.

P.P.S. I’d like to come full circle soon and talk about guilds in my current game of Guild Wars 2, but I’m finding it a little hard to write about at the moment. Suffice to say that a number of guilds I know are… cycling right now and that’s correspondingly getting me a little bit down as well.

Change is inevitable, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to accept while it’s happening.

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?

.

.

.

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.