GW2: Fractals of Silence and Skill (Or Lack Thereof)

FoOoooO, quaggan is gift-wrapped!

I’m hoping to mark the end of my fractal journey for the time being by this week or the next.

At the start of September, I was fractal level 25ish with 26 AR (after goodness knows how many years) and not terribly motivated to go any further.

Eh, some gold, some fractal relics, lots of blues and greens, the odd yellow or orange, pretty much everything to be salvaged since most of the stats that turn up in fractals – Magi, Cavalier, Soldier – are odd, to say the least. Plus Ascended rings that take up slot space (I am constitutionally incapable of throwing -anything- away in an MMO) and the rare rare chance that something pretty might drop.

Oh, and the same content ad nauseam, alongside questionable PUGs – since I lack that mythical beast known as a stable, organized group within my timezone who can deal with my schedule (or lack of it.)

For the hell of it, in a similar vein to my self-imposed “collect all the Scientific skins” challenge, I decided to try to get to fractals 50 before the expansion hit, with its vaunted fractals revamp that would both make the leveling curve easier and slope it upward ever higher to 100.

After all, it is both satisfying to be able to say “been there, done that” as well as be among that rare opposite breed of player who can play the so-called ‘most difficult’ content in GW2 and yet not be an eager raid fanatic.

We’re a few days away from the end of September now, and I’m officially at fractal level 45 tonight.

It’s a little bit trickier to rise further in levels via LFG PUG, given the number of highly aggravating mistlock instabilities that make it daunting to open an instance at one’s current level.

Essentially, I’m sitting around waiting on the largesse of someone else who has already reached fractal level 50 to start their group and jump in… assuming they haven’t already hit their quota of PS warriors and are busily demanding eles and guardians, or conversely, in a more haphazardly not-at-all meta compliant group, hoping that the party won’t give up and fragment from one or two players just up and quitting the group one fractal in, because they didn’t like the chaos/inexperience on display or took umbrage at the ranger or necro in the party or something.

In any case, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

If there’s two things I’ve learned from my fractal journey, it’s these:

  1. Other people are not super-skillful gods of competency. There’s no need to be deathly afraid of them, or conversely, looking like a right idiot in front of them.
  2. I am not a super-skillful god of competency. There is always more I can be learning and improving on incrementally, as long as I keep an open mind, stay observant as to what’s still lacking, and am patient with myself.

Where 1) is concerned, I’ve feel like I’ve seen it all at this point.

I’ve seen people fall off the Uncategorized fractal simply from mistimed jumps, not a harpy knockback; fail miserably at running wisps in the Swamp (guilty); get smashed by Jade Maw tentacles or fall over consistently from failing to pick up crystals; completely fail at either kiting Mai Trin or managing the cannon phase without panicking like a headless chicken; mess up on really idealistic plans to output sufficient dps to take down Molten Berserker, Grawl Shaman or Subject Six in one go; splatter all over the Thaumanova fractal trying to manage the heat room or shield room; totally screw up the dredge fractal buttons or kiting the last boss from lack of communication, unsoweiter.

What might rather surprise those who haven’t been there is the capacity of practically all of these groups to pick themselves up (even if they have to peel themselves off the floor multiple times after a total party wipe or log out to repair and return) and -eventually- complete the fractal.

The only kind of fractal group I’ve seen fail is the kind where one person gives up and leaves in silence, followed by one or two more… at which point I’m left staring at one or two more people left in my party and think “fuck it, I don’t want to organize this” and leave wordlessly as well.

That’s generally a failure to communicate, pretty much.

It seems to be the oddly damning sin of most PUGs – silence.

Everybody barely says anything and just kinda hopes that everyone knows what they’re doing. If carnage results, then a slightly better group will start to produce one sentence communication, and a bad group just ups and disappears right there.

On this front, the higher level fractal produces better odds that more people generally know what they’re doing, more or less, though there are a few difficult encounters that can start to reveal flaws in that assumption – most memorably in the Snowblind fractal, where certain groups end up throwing one’s bodies over and over at the elemental source while total party wiping the instant someone accidentally aggros one too many ice elementals while 40-60% of the group either doesn’t know what to do about them or decides they will keep pewpewing the elemental source instead.

Granted, the way that encounter is set up, it becomes almost quite impossible to have a lengthy discussion because you’re either getting chill debuffed, chased by really nasty Svanir, constantly knocked down by the elemental source once you run out of stability, struggling to light the fire before the debuff kills everybody, desperately trying to roll out of one-hit KO ice elemental shards, and so on.

(Yes, there are a few safe zones where one can stand in the fire’s warmth and not aggro anything and swap skills, but really, if your team lacks teamwork and communication to begin with, d’ya really think they can manage that?)

Compare and contrast this with the fractal level 10 I attempted one day, mostly in the hopes of getting a quick daily speedily done, where it became rather obvious that the somewhat cute and somewhat pathetic guardian in our party, who only had 740+ AP, was an inexperienced newbie with no AR worth speaking of.

Not merely because he kept falling off every last Cliffside obstacle – entirely likely that he’d never seen the wind blowing statues or the little exploding knockback thingmajigs before – but also due to his tendency to instantly melt in 4-5 ticks when an agony pulse hit while the other four people remained upright and untouched.

He said nothing about being new, or indeed, anything at all, possibly due to the fear of being kicked for his inexperience or noobness.

It did, however, leave me feeling somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain how best to help.

The group kind of just “selfishly” ran to each stage of the fractal and sat there waiting for the straggler(s) to catch up, though the two who seemed to have the most clue (ie. me and another person, probably the one who started the party) took care/charge of the hammer and we did, more or less, wait for the guy to finally catch up before progressing on to the next stage.

Everything in silence.

Granted, it is hard to know just -how- to help. It’s not like I could portal him past anything, he has to press keys in the proper sequence and timing in order to get past the obstacle, the only thing I could do is either give him swiftness or cure his conditions (not useful in this situation) and/or advise him to take his time getting the timing down and/or suggest swapping in a skill with stability.

As for the AR problem, well, it’s blatantly an artificial stat barrier meant to produce vertical progression grind (one reason why I never bothered much with fractals before this either.)

With something as ‘meta’ as this, it’s really hard to know just what to say or do. It ultimately boils down on each player to have done their research beforehand, figured out just exactly how much AR they need before stepping into the ‘correct’ level fractal, which is, objectively a -weird- expectation that a player would have scrutinized the wiki and/or stepped into the fractal portal to have this all explained to them via NPC beforehand… especially when you think the first way a player is likely to encounter the fractals is via a LFG party, especially when a daily tells them to do a level 1-10 fractal. (Granted, the guy was optimistic jumping straight away into level 10.)

Anyhow, the discomfort was mostly mitigated by the fact that fractals 10 is really quite easy, so we just brute forced our way through most of it and ‘carried’ the slightly more clueless individuals through. Only way they’ll learn in the end, via experiencing it, right?

Which segues me to point 2), in that as the fractal levels rise, the failure of others to ‘carry’ me, or cover for my own lack of mastery, has essentially forced me into getting better.

(Mostly through encountering a really disastrous situation, and post-fractal, asking myself what I could have done to not contribute to that.)

After sneaking by many many fractals without really learning the jumps in the Swamp by either not running the wisp. or helping only with the closest ones and brute-forcing most of them, somewhere in the 30s, I decided it was time to solo roll a Swamp fractal and practice some of the wisp runs under the tutelage of ample referencing of gw2dungeons.net.

I’m happy to report that I can actually take on the spider one now without triggering a million baby spiders (by virtue of *duh* jumping on the rocks without eggs nearby) and can deal with all the near ones with full confidence, having memorized a reliable jump path that will work even if the nearest gates are closed.

(Previously, one just used to run and pray that one got lucky.)

The far ones are still tricky, mostly due to my continual inability to distinguish traps from ground (bulky charr is bulky and clumsy) and tendency to run right into the mossman or fail the jumps, but well, there’s always room for more practice later.

I’ve at least memorized the far northwestern one, whose path seems somewhat easy and clear cut, even if my practical implementation leaves something to be desired in between trying to dodge one-hit-kill skelk, traps and getting tangled in-combat and failing jumps as a result.

The one real take-home from actually attempting some of these runs is that I’ve realized it behooves me – if not actually running – to amble on by to support the person running far with swiftness and condition clears and so on, rather than sit like a lump of lard at the logs and hope for others to magically reach the stumps with the wisps without my help.

Ditto the heat room in the Thaumanova fractal. Most of the time, someone much better practiced at it volunteers to take it on and I see neither sight nor sound of the encounter.

In one particularly memorable fractal group, it turned out that -none- of us knew how to do the heat room very well at all. Since it was an over-40s group, doing it was compulsory.

Rather fortunately, I had previously scanned through that fractal on gw2dungeons.net to learn a few tips for just how it might be possible for my class to manage it (not to mention, what the hell it was all about and how the mechanisms worked) and suggested to the group that we may as well collect and use all the cooling rods first, before attempting it as the final thing.

This was done, and all of us had ample time and opportunity to actually -practice- the room (for once) since the whole group decided to throw themselves at it in the hopes that -somebody- would make it.

After my share of failed theory and implementation, I eventually hit on a personal working combination of stacking swiftness through warhorn and banner, Bull’s Rush (thank you, gw2dungeons.net), Rampage’s number 3 rush, falling over and hitting 4 to regain a bit of health while waiting for vengeance 3, hitting that and powering through the rest of the way, amidst double dodging, spamming 1 and generally cursing Asian latency when it comes to needing to physically spam a button.

While I’m still not going to be the first to volunteer to solo that darned room, I no longer feel completely helpless regarding it. If no one else can do it better, I can at least give it a shot and probably get by.

If anything, I think my fractals journey has suggested that it’s unrealistic to get uptight about ‘the perfect run.’

Is it nice if it happens? Yes. I’ve had super-smooth runs where everyone knows how to use ice bows and strips defiance for near absolutely frozen statues, the dps is phenomenal, and the whole fractals sequence is over in 40 minutes or thereabouts. Countable on one hand though.

I’ve had just as many runs or more where mistakes happen, people screw up somewhere, and no one says anything, just picks people up or peels themselves off the floor, and the team completes regardless.

And I’ve had the odd completely baffling run when there are 3 elementalists and myself in the party and we can only reach about 15 might stacks maximum because not a single elementalist even lays out a fire field for me to blast or use a banner in, let alone appears to know how to stack blasts for might… or conjures an ice bow, and I’m *cough* guiltily not strictly 100% meta compliant either because *cough* have you SEEN the price of those runes of Strength, and was using the then-cheap Pack runes as a not-great substitute… except now they’re not exactly cheap either, leaving me at an impasse where runes are concerned. To leave in or replace? (WHEN OH WHEN CAN WE SWAP RUNES LIKE IN PVP, SHEESH.)

Still completed, despite me being disturbed to the point of re-scrutinizing my runes to figure out what was going on, and having a serious rethink re: whether I really should put in Strength runes some day and/or reviewing my food choices to see if something else can make up for that. The thought of using up food worth 40-100+ silver per PUG run is somewhat cringe-worthy though. (I think, where I’m concerned, there are practical limits beyond the holy grail of theoretical optimisation some folks say we should be seeking.)

I think I’ve learned that the unpredictability of a fractals run can be fairly interesting and enjoyable, if looked upon with an open mindset, and preferably more staggered out to every few days or once a week after this mad rush to 50 ends.

I’ve come to the realization that many many people running fractals are absolutely where I am – still in the process of learning to get better – and so there is very little reason to feel inferior or afraid – what’s the worst that can happen, really? The party disintegrates or you get kicked by some strangers whom you’ll never see again. A bit of time wasted. Group up with the next band of strangers that comes along and have a fresh start. Try not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Eventually, progress gets made.

I don’t know, I find it quite hard to wrap my mind around this associated concept of “prestige” and “showing off one’s skill in an arrogant manner” that some people relate to ‘difficult content.’

My interpretation of most skillful performances tends to be that heaps of patience and lots of practice went on behind the scenes, and what we see on display is persistence finally paying off.

If anything, I should think going through the difficult learning and mastery process would make one more humble.

Imo, the loudest braggarts, quick to find fault with others, are often not the most skilled.

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Ok, Had It With Twitter, Again

I am recently reminded why I never bothered with Twitter or other social media avenues for a very long time.

For Bragtoberfest, I decided to pay a bit more attention to my essentially placeholder account, since some planning and meetups and call out notifications were taking place on Twitter.

Besides a sudden (and rather scary) following of people who just upped and followed me, because that’s what you do in Twitter, I guess, like blogs, except I don’t have to know who’s paying attention to what I say in blogs, it’s just there for anyone who wants to stay and read…

(Assuming they have the patience to get through all that verbiage, which I think neatly whittles out the people I want to associate with from the ones I don’t.)

…which leads to a dilemma of “Do I follow this person back in return?”

It’s not that I don’t like any of you, even if I decided not to follow you or otherwise, but it’s more about how much spam and reading overload am I inflicting on myself?

The answer, as it turns out, is too damn much.

It’s too much of a “push” technology for me.

I may like you, but I really don’t want to hear about everything else you might be reading or doing or deciding that I might be interested in such-and-such topic as well.

I have my own reading list. It’s called Feedly. It caters to my own very customised set of tastes. You probably don’t want to hear about every last RSS feed I have on it, you’re probably just here for the games and MMOs topics.

I’m not going to be so crass as to suddenly stop following a whole spate of people in the hope of blissful silence once more, but I’ve decided the best way is to simply stop paying attention to and checking my Twitter account.

(I’ll make a small exception during the time period of the Bragtoberfest TF2 meetup and other such planned events, but I’m discovering that Twittering daily or more times than that is like asking to be placed on a spam list. Self-inflicted owwie.)

Hermits gotta be hermits. Noise is not conducive to hermitting.

But to be polite, in case someone is trying to contact me and wonders why I’m not responding, it’s cos I’ve stopped checking.

Feel free to poke me here on this blog or over other avenues to “hey, go check it for some purpose or other” and I’ll gladly do so, but I can’t do this “Hi, I’m here to see what spam my friends (or celebrities) have decided to send me this day/hour/second” thing anymore.

The Real Problem with the New Tomb Raider’s Trailer

There’s all manner of indignation ricocheting from about the internet about the new Tomb Raider reboot.

Depending on who you ask, this turns the strong and self-sufficient millionaire adventurer Lara Croft into a victimized young girl whom male gamers are supposed to feel ‘protective’ over, layered with audio and visual overtones of hypersexualized torture porn (tied up, impaled, almost raped…)

…while other folks are decrying the unoriginal trope of rape being the automatic heinous thing you do in female characters’ backstories to *ahem* ‘make them stronger’ for having survived it. (I’d have snuck in a TV Tropes link, but apparently they have collided with the rape content police recently.)

One person quotes another. A paraphrase here and there. Something else taken out of context. And lo and behold, the feminists are up in arms… again.

It’s kinda ironic considering that

a) The new Lara Croft is considerably less sexualized visually in her character design. She looks to have human proportions. For once. She’s not just “oh, boobies!”

b) The intent is to give Lara Croft an origin story. Show her progress from someone ordinary to the extraordinary larger-than-life game superhero we’re familiar with.

c) The real point of the attempted rape scene is to depict a decision point, a crisis moment in Lara’s life, where she actually takes a human being’s life for the first time.

To depict what might conceivably force an ordinary human being to kill another, while still yielding some measure of sympathy for the killer, because she’s the protagonist after all.

Considering how murder is frowned upon in general society, self-defence vs assaulting rapist seems an easily understandable way out. Admittedly, it’s a bit lazy storytelling, but could you do any better?

Give me an “original” scenario where one character is forced to take another person’s life – not in a soldier/sanctioned by war sense, thanks.

(The best one I can come up with so far is that she has to kill someone in order to protect another person. It’s not that big a crisis point considering gamers are used to being the hero and killing rampantly, ostensibly for the sake of protecting another.

David Cage managed it in Heavy Rain where Ethan Mars had to strongly consider the possibility of murder in order to get a clue to save his son (and there were self-defence and various kinds of excuses there too. I’m sure some -still- criticize it for being contrived.))

It all sort of reminds me of the time I spent on a school project ripping apart an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess for being sexist and demeaning to women in its costuming and tasteless ‘damsels-in-distress’ plotting. Our team was on a roll, showing how the camera angles always fall to the level of the female’s busts (ahem, chest) but rise to the male’s heads, making fun of Xena’s characteristic ‘ki-yi-yi-yi’ screaming, deriding the stereotypical fantasy tropes, etc. and our teacher smiled and nodded…

…Some time after which, I discovered that an entire Xena online subculture had actually appropriated the broad tropes and practically idolize the Xena and Gabrielle pair for being depicted as strong women independent of any man, analyze episodes for clever double entrendre ‘lesbian’ subtext, and create reams of the strongest not-completely-teenage-angsty-fantasy fanfiction to grace the interwebs.

Foot, meet mouth. Suddenly, my arguments seemed hopelessly childish and surface-oriented only. I couldn’t see past the bare midriffs to the strong character personalities portrayed beneath.

How can the same thing be two completely opposite things all at once?

From our frames of reference. Perspective. Good to change it now and then to see if there’s any truth to the other guy’s POV. There usually are a few grains.

If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you’ve no doubt had a taste of my philosophy, which runs towards a sort of secular Zen/Taoist ‘balance’ spectrum of greys and I’m fond of espousing the Babylon 5 Kosh saying, “Understanding is a three-edged sword.”

There’s -always- multiple sides to every issue. And I find it fun to dig them up and lay them on the table, rather than see people go back and forth at each other hugging their precious one side to their chests and not listening to each other.

In Tomb Raider’s case, I think I’ve figured it out. The real problem, if you check the E3 gameplay trailer for yourself, is in the voice acting.

Not the plot, not the trigger word of rape, not the unoriginality (so many video games are derivative anyway, didn’t we just play fantasy Vikings with Dragons just a while ago?), not whatever horrible attack on feminism is supposed to have occurred.

If all the audio is off, the action generally looks quite good. Some of the face animation is a little stiff, but well, not everyone has mo-cap faces as a budget priority. Insert your own grunts and sound effects where appropriate according to your imagination.

Turn the audio on, and oh my god, it’s like Lord of the Rings Online female bandits all over again. You know, the ones you keep fighting in Archet and Combe while trying to keep the audio as low as possible in order to avoid awkward questions from any other person in the house about why you’re watching hardcore porn. *gasp* *heeve* *grunt* *uhhhhhh* *aaaaahhh*

Try it when your main character is also female. Oh dear. Anyone like orgies?

(I hear they’ve reworked those voices now. Phew.)

/Someone/ decided to give Lara Croft a voice that is a hair too feminine for the face and body, if you ask my opinion.

And then made it much much worse by making her act like a stereotypical girl, screaming and squealing at every turn of events. I’m not saying she has to be a stoic silent male stereotype either, but does she have to be that most annoying example of femaledom – the one that screeches at everything?

This is supposed to make me, the player, feel ‘protective’ of her?

Apparently I’m not the target audience the designer is envisioning. I’d probably just want to drown her somewhere to shut her up. (That was a figure-of-speech, please don’t kill me, any feminists in the audience!)

Do you hear Skyrim’s Lydia squealing like a girl every time some rocks fall? (Especially since she normally sets off the traps in the first place…)

Zoey is just an ordinary young woman in Left 4 Dead, and sure, she’s going to scream sometimes when confronted by zombies, but it’s not every damn time nor does it sound so… exploitative.

Clumsy characterization is the issue in the trailer. I dunno if it’ll be any better in the longer format game, but her voice is off, and doesn’t gel with the animations. If you want her screaming because she’s wounded, then her avatar has to look like she’s wounded and stagger properly, and the voice has to come with appropriate timing – not just play on as a softcore porn soundtrack with random exhalations just because.

It’s an audio uncanny valley. It doesn’t convey the intent of the storytelling and just makes it comical at best, and disrespectful to the character if you view Lara Croft as serious business.

A little bit of silence would go a long way.