GW2: Disconnected Ramblings

I finally finished the Heart of Thorns story today. The last chapter’s flight phases were a humongous PITA between 250ms latency and having to replay a considerably lengthy fight of multiple phases if one failed to dodge a single hit while in the air.

Granted, I voluntarily chose to make it harder by deciding not to group up for this fight.

But I just found it nigh impossible to find a reliable means of dodging said hit, the hitboxes just didn’t feel or seem right from one’s gliding camera angle. I tried strafing with lean techniques, speeding up and changing vertical angle with said lean techniques, stealth dodging and it all seemed 50/50 as to whether it would work or not. I suspect the distance traveled by the object which hits (oh, how roundabout we must speak to avoid spoilers?) is just too short for our laggardly latency to react to reliably.

The only thing I didn’t try was undeploying the glider to drop and redeploying it because duh, that’s nigh guaranteed failure at our kind of ping. I’d just crash feet first into the floor, which is the equivalent of lava here.

Anyway, it was a mixture of sheer dumb persistence, a little luck and developer tweaks (they put a second essential object on the other side, where the floor hopefully has not fallen away and left you a flying unreachable essential object – assuming it didn’t glitch out, at which point you just have to die and try again and hope it’s there this time) that got it done.

Also, Canach. Canach is my bro. If I got lucky enough to evade the first two hits of the stupid flight phase, but got murderized out of the sky just as the phase is ending, my bro braves a ridiculous amount of shit in order to rez me while I’m downed. I narrowly scrape through the bloody aerial phases a number of times that way.

Glad that’s over. I liked the ending. I got to do something that felt rather appropriate on a Hero’s Journey sort of narrative, while satisfying some meta player urges.

While watching the cutscene, I couldn’t help but think back to Scarlet and “Someday you’ll see. Tyria needs me.”

In other news, can someone please explain to me what “antisocial” means in an MMO context?

I’m starting to think that it’s a blame-others phrase slung around by people who either don’t have the time / priority to invest socially into an MMO (but would like to, because nostalgia) or a euphemism for “Woe is me, no one is willing to help me get what I want done at this very moment NOW, or magically reads my mind to know that I am lonely and want someone to talk to.”

By nature, I’m quite a lone wolf.

I enjoy soloing mobs the Bhagpuss way a lot. (And throw in lots of shameless harvesting/gathering and selling, because ka-ching.)

But by my count, I’ve done -so- much socializing in my MMO of choice that I find it hard to understand when others claim it feels friendless and antisocial.

Random example:  the past weekend has been spent in a Teamspeak filled with 120-130 people for hours on end. I don’t talk but there are plenty of others chattering away. We’re practising / trying for world first on the Tangled Depths meta event, which seems to be a mite overtuned on the early days of Triple Trouble Wurm sort of scale. Said meta event happens every two hours, so there is at least one spare hour of time in between, before set up and preparation of groups and all that.

You can see every range of social and asocial behavior going on. People have the freedom to AFK for that one hour, some in a big clump at the waypoint and some hiding away alone in corners, while others choose to group up and “explore” the map that way, aka beelining from one marked point to another following the one guy with a clue as to where he is going. Still others choose to solo explore and spontaneously come together for events or just when crossing paths. Some talk in say chat, some talk in Teamspeak; some talk constantly, some sporadically and others not at all.

I have helped two guilds claim their guild halls, aka group sizes of 20-40+. I tried a guild PvP mission, aka group of 5. I did a fractal, aka a PUG of 4 other strangers. I ran into random people while on my solo wanderings about the Heart of Thorns maps and helped them, rezzed them, communicated or coordinated with them to defeat (or make relatively good tries on) at least three separate Verdant Brink night time champions multiple times. I joined others asking for help at hero points, I start soloing hero points and sometimes someone joins me spontaneously and we get it done…

…I’m not even -trying- to interact with anyone here. I just keep bumping into them. (Or they fall down at my feet and it feels bad to walk away without Fing them up.) Halp?

Finally, really quickly, a discussion on MMO spoilers.

I get the spoiler thing. I do. I don’t want to be spoiled myself, so I don’t open stuff marked with spoiler tags until I’m done with whatever it is.

But here’s something I still don’t get, that maybe my readers can help me with: is there an expiry date before something is no longer considered a spoiler?

If someone wants to talk about the ending to Harry Potter or discuss something re: past seasons of Game of Thrones, isn’t there a time when one should assume it is either public knowledge by now, or whoever still doesn’t know probably doesn’t care about it to begin with?

Do I have to spoiler tag what happens to Macbeth?

In the storyline context, Guild Wars 1 is ancient history by now. A bunch of heroes slay Abaddon. Kormir takes over. It’s known fact. It’s part of the timeline.

Sylvari are Mordremoth’s dragon minions. Used to be a spoiler. If you don’t know by now, then none of Heart of Thorns will make sense, especially when the dragon starts whispering sweet nothings to your sylvari character.

And so it goes. Time moves on. The story is going to progress and it’s going to operate based on what just happened in Heart of Thorns.

So… expiry date? When?

Aka, “Please please tell me when I can start discussing all the cool story revelations and sharing all the delicious screenshots without having to muck around with HTML formatting and spoiler tagging nonsense that I’m very very bad at.”

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The Newbie Quitting Point: A MUD Experiment

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not know, MUDs are often considered the early precursors of our modern day MMOs and exist in a distinctly more diverse variety than the branch (diku) that inspired and spawned the graphical games we play today.

There is also the common perception that MUDs are either dying fossils that few people play today, or very niche games with even tinier communities still clinging on like barnacles – an image which presumably might contribute to that decline in popularity.

A number of people just shrug and say “Oh, nobody plays a text game anymore,” which appears to be used as a handy excuse to do nothing about this state of affairs.

This is in interesting contrast to another genre of text games, the text adventures and choose-your-own-path and interactive fiction corner of the web, whose community, niche though it might be, really tries to promote the hell out of their favourite interactive medium with hobbyist websites and community competitions and active academic research and addressing usability issues with newer and different coding/programming languages and parsers and clients to enable the writing and playing of said genre across different platforms.

A friend of mine and I got into a little debate and discussion the other day about MUDs and their perceived decline.

He’s curious as to whether this is really the case or no, and is driven by this curiosity to do a little research about it.

a) Does the decline exist?

and b) if it does exist, why?

As for myself, I’m rather convinced that most MUDs are very much in decline (with perhaps a very few commercial exceptions really making an effort to market themselves and reach out to new audiences, on new platforms.)

We brainstormed up several possible contributing factors:

  • Is it the fact that most MUDs are pure text, with little to no graphics, making them immediately unappealing or inaccessible?
  • Could it be the control scheme? Typing out commands and navigating in cardinal directions is very much a DOS-like holdover.
  • Is it simply the lack of advertising and marketing, meaning that many people may not even have heard about many MUDs out there, or know how to access them, or what features they may offer over graphical MMOs?
  • Maybe it’s the archaic look of many MUD websites, which look like they were made during 1997 in the Geocities’ heyday?
  • Perhaps it’s problems with the client? These days, Windows doesn’t even come with Telnet. So scratch one mode of access. It’s usually a downloadable client – which may make some people pause – or a web browser client, which may have its own host of issues?
  • Or maybe there are so many small, hobbyist MUDs out there that the population of people who are willing to play a text-based game are all distributed among them and spread out too thinly? That they all feel they owe allegiance to only their one particular MUD and view the rest as competitors, thus presenting a disunited community face to the world?

It may very well be all of them are valid and contribute to the overall problem (though it’ll be interesting to know what the percentages are and what primarily turns many people away.)

While we don’t have access to all MUDs, and thus can’t do an overarching survey, our prior history with one MUD did give us a little insider access to an immortal/developer source, whose game logs and metrics register that on the average, 1-2 new players try this specific MUD out -every- day (a game that tends to lack heavy advertising or promotion, and yet new players do stumble across it), but just as quickly, around level 2-3, they quit, never to log back in again.

Since newbie retention is one end of the funnel that determines whether a game faces growth or decline in population (the other end is veterans dropping off from attrition,) this subject is what we’ve narrowed down to exploring for now.

My particular interest is in how similar or dissimilar this might turn out to be from factors affecting newbie retention in MMOs – we see developers scrambling to provide more guided experiences, as in GW2’s latest New Player Experience, which caused a certain hue and outcry among its veterans, or as Bashiok remarked regarding WoW’s barriers to entry, “Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a moveable camera,” suggesting the control scheme might be an aspect to consider as well.

Problem is, neither of us are exactly newbies to MUDs, especially not -this- MUD in particular, even if we did stop playing it for a long time.

What we really need are fresh perspectives and new eyes to take a quick gander around and simulate a newbie (even better if you have zero MUD experience) and then share with us the point at which you might quit.

http://www.realmsofdespair.com/play-now

My assumption is that you’ll only spend 5-30 minutes of your time at the most.

Log in, look around and explore, and at the point where you feel that you might close the client and never return, come back here and post a comment as to where that point was, and why it irked you to the point that you might quit.

No obligations. Wherever the stopping point was for you, is what we want to hear about.

You needn’t even have to make it into the game. It could be “I looked at the website and it was butt ugly, so I stopped” or “I couldn’t find one bit of useful info about wtf the game was, or how to even start playing” or whatever gut response made you give up.

Could be “the client didn’t run” or “I couldn’t get a name I wanted” or “there was too much reading I had to do” or “I got lost and didn’t know where I was” or “I didn’t even know how to navigate or move around” or “it was too overwhelming I didn’t have a clear objective as to what to do” or “I wandered somewhere and died” or “I met someone and they scared me away” or “I never even saw anyone to talk to and got bored” or “levelling up was too slow” or whatever it was for you that prompted a quit response.

Maybe you didn’t get such a response and would be perfectly okay playing the game, and/or it was simply lack of time and too many other games on the plate competing for your attention – we’d like to hear about that too.

If you can’t spare even 5 minutes of your time to play a text-based MUD, I would also like to beg one favour from you:

To leave a comment here stating why it did not seem worth your time to even try a MUD out for 5 minutes – whatever it was that ran through your mind, be it “eesh, text games, I don’t play games without graphics” or “I’m already playing X game, I don’t have time to start another” or “I don’t want to download a new client” or “this is just a sneaky way to promote and advertise this MUD and I’m not falling for it!” (full disclosure: I quit this MUD in 2004 and have zero interest in its health or lack thereof, my friend may be a little more fond of it and I’m mostly doing him a favor with this outreach to my supremely limited blog audience) or whatever it was that prevented you from even clicking on the link and cranking the client up.

This isn’t an official academic social research project of any kind, it’s mostly to sate our curiosity and get a small sample from the group of MMO players that also happen to read gaming-related blogs.

The more responses we get, the more we’ll be able to get a grasp on some of the possible issues, so your help and your time is very much appreciated!

This World Ain’t Big Enough for the ____ of Us!

Over at Healing The Masses, J3w3l (or Eri, as I’m going to use from now on because it’s a lot easier to type!) has been singing the praises of multiplayer Terraria and what this may imply for sandbox MMO worlds, such as EQNext Landmark.

I’m here to give you the other perspective and the potential pitfalls, in a semi-serious, semi-tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Insufficient Lebensraum / Resources

Of all the things that could plague a sandbox MMO, I worry about this one the most.

The first pioneers get the best locations.

In A Tale in the Desert, areas near the chariot stops for convenient travel later get taken up very quickly. In fact, the crowd is so great that veterans tend to stay a little further away because they know they won’t have space to expand later when all the beginners are off squeezing in their little buildings near each other to form a sort of ghetto.

In my brief time with Wurm Online, anything near the spawn point was over-worked to the point of ludicrousness from the horde of new players zoning in, and I walked for miles and miles finding settlements all over (many seemingly abandoned) and I wouldn’t even dream about peak waterfront property along the coast. This was, of course, on the free server so overpopulation woes would be expected.

Over in Terraria, as the first players, Eri and her friend Grish have taken up the spot that most people in single-player games will build on. On the surface right near the spawn location. (The game’s design encourages this as the guide needs to be housed in a building, and between hostile mobs and his pathfinding AI… let’s just say we want a roof over his head pretty quick.)

They built themselves a massively grand castle.

bigasscastle

(And it just underwent a recent renovation to make it even grander. It’s lovely to behold.)

Now, being that I’m a guest and don’t want to be rude, it makes little sense to try and settle in the same space they’re using. So I looked around, found some real estate near them but off to the west a little and decided to go mostly underground.

If you’re a new settler coming by to the server at this time, your only other option nearby at this point is probably a base in the sky overhead. (The east side is over-taken by corruption.)

Or you’ll have to move a little further off to the west – though you’ll have to contend with a small lake and our sky bridge highway in the vicinity.

I did find two fairly creative buildings – a treehouse and a small obsidian underground lair – in my explorations, but I’m not sure if they were made by the starting pair or natural spawns or by well-equipped visitors popping by.

As for resources, well, suffice to say that you’ll be picking up after our leavings.

I had to do a much deeper and expansive exploration to find copper and lead (iron equivalent) as I’d started a new character. Fortunately, I like exploring and the other two seem more in favor of long highways and tunnels, so I managed to sneak into a niche of going around all the naturally formed caves, breaking vases and grabbing the abandoned ore that the two were no longer interested in after a while via progression.

For anyone coming in now, my suggestion would be to travel along the well-lit areas and venture further out. Just like the other two, I’ve now stopped digging out every last copper and lead ore I see, I only stop for gold and higher.

Chests with equipment in them? Haha. I didn’t see any for a while, until I started venturing into the unexplored caverns.

Luckily, like a number of players, underwater does not seem to be a hit with the two.

I wandered over to the East Ocean, struggled with trying to learn the new changes to the biome, made a makeshift survival elevator down into the water to get easier access to the bottom without drowning by being too gung-ho, and discovered it doubled up rather nicely as a shark trap. Rampant OCD farming for a while yielded a Diving Helmet and Jellyfish Necklace. (Fortunately, mob spawned resources are forever.)

Eventually, I made it over to the West Ocean to find that there were still two water chests left there – one with a Breathing Reed and one with Flippers inside! So now I have Diving Gear. New niche: Underwater Warrior Extraordinaire.

If you’re looking for those items, you’re now outta luck when it comes to the oceans. Maybe you’ll find a water chest randomly while digging underground.

As for the dungeon, I’m sure a good part of it has been picked over, as I dared (screamingly underleveled) into the place with them for a time until I got insta-gibbed.

World Progresses At Speed of Fastest Player

Which brings me right to my next point. Both of them had 400hp and were decked out in many shiny objects. I was waffling at around 140hp and had lead items then.

Out of pure screaming survival, I rapidly revised my goals (which were originally to explore and progress up the tiers and slowly read the wiki to catch up on changes) and did not protest when they found Muramasa in a chest and chucked it at me, because OMG, a sword that can kill things in here! (A nice sword at that.)

After which, it was an easy slippery slope to accepting the extra life crystals that were thrown at me, then picking over what seemed to be the ‘donation room’ chests to grab a better pickaxe, the first hit of demonite ore, and spare shadow armor, which immediately catapulted me several tiers ahead and expanded my exploration range much more rapidly.

donationroom

If you’re coming in now, help yourself to the stuff in the chests here. We three have been overloading it with things. I now keep finding life crystals, which I no longer need!

Last night, I got another free upgrade courtesy of Grish, who threw Palladium stuff at me. (Palladium, what the hell is palladium? Some wiki-ing later revealed it to be hardmode stuff, apparently.)

That promptly extended my range downward and I ventured into Hell to find it pretty darned survivable, as long as one didn’t try to take a bath in lava. So now I’m amusing myself collecting hellstone… for fun, I guess.

hellforgesgensandmore

It’s not like we have a shortage of hellforges here.

(Also in the background, two obsidian generators that off the scale for anything I would ever make, and a large sign pointing out the west highway.)

This is something a lot of sandbox MMO players are going to have to come to terms with. There is very little point reinventing the wheel.

In A Tale in the Desert, the first pioneers suffer through some exceedingly tedious grind with primitive technology, and proceed to unlock much better technology for all players to come.

The bottlenecks that are designed in place can be quickly overcome by making use of communal public resources, or becoming friends with a veteran player, who will usually not mind chucking resources like leather, papyrus seeds, better flax seeds to get a new player coming in late to the Telling started with a much easier time.

If you try to solo it all, you’ll probably drop out after a month or two, tops.

Obnoxious people will now proceed to throw the ‘this is a -multiplayer- game, after all’ line in your face.

As a solo-preferring player, I’d just say that one needs to be open to social interaction and opportunities that arise and adjust your niche accordingly, and use the presence of other players and communal resources as desired to get over humps that are designed into the experience.

You’re never going to come in cold and be just as good as the vet player who’s played since Day 1. Be patient with yourself, adjust your expectations, work your way through the wiki in sections, learning one aspect of the game at a time.

I started one Telling as a complete noob, and ended up sharing the resources of a nice guild that befriended a newbie. With that experience, I began another Telling solo and worked my way through that, learning additional aspects of the game. Which made the Telling after that a very easy powergamer start – I was now an intermediate-level player and probably could claim some vet-hood (but not as much as the players who had been around for all the time.)

Player Creativity May Affect Experience

Back in Terraria, I have to confess that I would never build the structures I’m seeing the pair create. They’re of a scale that is quite beyond me.

I tend to just build ugly functional rectangles.

undergroundfarmexperiment

(Underground farm experiment in perpetual state of under construction)

In a single-player game of Terraria once, the most creative thing I probably did was to balance my wood tower on top of a single door. Because the idea struck me on a whim and looked highly amusing.

In Minecraft, if I manage to make a two or three floor rectangular cottage with corresponding mine shafts and a rail line highway, that’s already a big accomplishment for me. I tend to just tunnel into a stone wall and set up operations there. Decorative architecture? Large bases? Expansive castles? Not at all likely to happen.

In a multiplayer world, -I- benefit from seeing the structures other players create. They’re a lot more beautiful than I would be able to make, I get to wander and explore and get creative inspirational ideas that I would never have come up with on my own.

Other players, however, would have to contend with my corresponding lower aesthetic sense impacting on their designs.

Differing Player Goals

Which brings us to how player goals may end up clashing in a sandbox MMO and lead to either compromises or drama.

Eri’s friend, Grish, is a veteran Terraria player. He runs around being very familiar with everything, and his goal appears to be to finally beat the hardmode bosses with the benefit of extra hands in multiplayer. Progress is dizzyingly rapid as a result. Goals clash: I compromise by inwardly shrugging and saying thank you whenever the next set of equipment I don’t even recognize is thrown at me. I can always learn at my own pace in a single-player world another time.

Eri seems to be a big decorator. The castle is her baby. A very lovely looking place it is too. Her appreciation of aesthetics is evident. Also, expansive highways tunnels for convenience. She’s taming the wilderness one straight line at a time. Goals clash: I’m just guessing, but she probably winces every time she walks past the eyesore that is my permanently-under-construction no-time-for-decorating-yet base, or the many torches I dot around the place because I’m blind as a bat and prefer all the places I go to be clearly lit up. 🙂

needmoarlight

The problem with turtles is that they can’t see worth beans.

In this case, I’m a guest. I just try not to be too annoying and go with the flow of whatever the plan seems to be.

In a sandbox MMO, what this has a tendency to promote is each person (or group of players) spreading out far enough away from another to develop their own homestead the way they like it and do their best to live and let live. Until some idiot builds too close to them – whereupon the drama starts.

Take home message: Remember plenty of lebensraum. If you’re a designer, try to make the world large enough for many players to settle in with sufficient resources not to end up fighting over them (unless that’s what you want players to do.)

Property and land ownership and access rights are going to be very important to get right, including what players are able to do with aesthetic eyesores (especially those that are abandoned.) In A Tale in the Desert, the player-arrived solution is to allow other players to remove them after a certain number of days have passed if the owner has quit the game. In Wurm Online, they appear to be left to rot slowly, I’m not sure. In Terraria, anyone can modify anything apparently, which involves a fair amount of trust and compromise.

If you’re a player, try to settle sufficiently far from other players if at all possible. One potential problem, of course, is that one’s idea of ‘sufficiently far’ is never really accurate when one is new to a game. The room needed for expansion can always end up surprisingly large.

And finally, let us not forget the griefers.

I am sure there are worlds in Terraria where friendships have been broken because some guy’s idea of fun is to go around being destructive and troll-y. Even while not trying to, we run into opportunities for potential problems.

In the earlier days of starting out, I had a bad habit of finding uneven holes to fall into, or wooden platforms that weren’t level and thus inadvertently cause a precipitous encounter with gravity and the ground. It’s not hard to extrapolate to intentional pitfall traps from there.

endoftheline

There’s always the risk that each others’ aesthetic designs overwrite or annoy one’s fellow players, and from there, it’s an easy step to intentionally trying to be offensive via trying to destroy another player’s creations or create an ugly eyesore.

In Terraria (and presumably Minecraft), the host can always boot with extreme prejudice someone being a pain.

In an MMO, rules are going to have to be built into the design as to how players can end up affecting each other, and what recourse players have if they feel someone is griefing or harassing them. Be it griefing them back or killing them (a la Eve Online and other FFA PvP MMOs of that ilk), or clear and strong land claim and property ownership rights, or being able to vote out a non-cooperating player, or having a few people with the power of enforcement and authority to turn to, etc. And when the final stage of taking it to the GMs is appropriate.

Emergent Properties and the Right Attitude

After all that, you may ask, why would anyone bother playing a sandbox in multiplayer?

I’d suggest that one should play it for what you can’t get in a singleplayer game. The opportunity for emergence that arises between player interactions and the opportunity to be social..

You can get emergence from NPCs in a single player sandbox, and you can talk to them if you want to, but they’re unlikely to return meaningful conversation 🙂

When two self-interested parties interact, one has the opportunity to choose cooperative, selfish, altruistic or indifferent behaviors.

Depending on one’s viewpoint and goals, this can lead to welcome or unwelcome results. (Someone acting in altruistic fashion may not always be welcome by someone wanting to be left alone. Someone being indifferent can be taken as a massive affront by someone with the expectation of more friendly behavior. It’s not always easy to cooperate at a skill level that matches the other and having a shared goal is often a prerequisite. Selfish behavior can benefit oneself at the expense of others, which may be the primary goal of the individual in question.)

I think it’s important to have the right attitude and expectations that all this can and will happen at different times, between different players when one plays a multiplayer sandbox, so that one isn’t surprised or disappointed when it does. It’s never paradise or utopia. It’s humans, and they bring with them heaven, hell and ordinary earth wherever they go.

notquiteheaven

If this is heaven, there are many holes in it now.

(Aka the effect of player depredation on a limited resource. Most of the building was gone by the time I arrived. I took apart a few more bricks to find out what they were. And added the tunnel to hide from harpies and collect both cloud and rain blocks. I also mined out the gold. Still silver left!)

The actions of one may also randomly impact on the landscape and others around them, which leads to unpredictable occurrences.

One can look upon them as problems / crises or opportunities to take advantage of or tell stories or laugh about.

The recent castle renovations in Terraria have necessitated a moving of the combat arena over to the west. Right on top of my house, in fact, which has now been dubbed ‘the hobbit hole.’

arena

Did I mention that I would never build something so expansive on my own? They took the opportunity to enlarge and prettify it, which is very awesome because I get to use it without expending any effort at all.

It is also really conveniently nearby. I am a very lazy person and hate walking, so all amenities close by is great. I’m big on functionality.

In the process, a water tank/reservoir was set up on top of it to create a waterfall effect. Except… there was a leak.

I was fairly deep underground digging out my glowing mushroom farm at the time, when I saw water cascade into the tunnel just a few blocks away from the farm. (Thankfully, it wasn’t connected.)

Mildly amused and relieved at the close call, I call out: Hey, there’s a leak.

Oops, comes the reply. Will fix it.

Turns out one side was a block shorter than the other.

Chuckling to myself that this exchange was something that wouldn’t happen if not in multiplayer, I finish the farm and in truly lazy fashion, use my magic mirror to port back home, barely one screen away…

Whereupon I discover that I am effectively ‘snowed in.’

frontdoor2

It’s around this point where I just crack up and die laughing because the juxtaposition of the turtle looking at his front door with that expression is priceless.

The back door was also ankle-deep in water, so opening either door would not have been the wisest maneuver. (I did, of course, eventually open the back and have to bail out some water. They came in handy for watering waterleafs later, Silver lining, laziness to walk and all that.)

This would so not totally happen when playing alone.

GW2: Accessible, Approachable – Which is More Important?

Stubborn has been musing about exclusivity and accessibility in WoW, and as usual, I end up seeing parallels in the game I’m currently playing.

He says:

I can pretty definitively say that… you’ll never please all the people, simply because of the players’ feelings about two mutually exclusive desires.  Every player either wants accessibility or exclusivity, and never the twain shall meet.

Those two polar opposites exist on an axis, sure, and people can exist towards the middle of the axis, but in the end, every player will prefer one of the following two options:

A game where everyone can participate in all activities
or
A game where merit earns you special opportunities

Sure, we can have deeper conversations and talk about points at which one opposite might be more important than the other, but in each player’s heart, one eventually trumps the other, and those feelings are what drives the whinefests associated with game changes.

Finding a good balance along this spectrum seems to be something that GW2 is also feeling its way towards with each episodic Living Story update.

Every few weeks, we sway back and forth between hard, difficult challenges with exclusive rewards and accessible content that can be done by most or all, with a veritable whinefest – or more charitably speaking, bountiful feedback – about that update’s activities.

At heart, I’m still a City of Heroes player. The original game was a magical collection of friendly, generous souls who formed a very strong community with a forums presence to match – folks thought nothing of throwing heaps of influence at random passing newbies to help them buy their next level’s upgrades, teams formed with little to nil picking and choosing of classes or levels (thanks to sidekicking and marvelous group synergies,) and the forums was filled with many helpful people writing guides on various effective ways to play each powerset, and relatively calm and rational discussion regarding the value of each class and the game’s various quirks.

That approachability and accessibility drew me and kept me playing.

Years passed, the developer helm changed hands and with the changing of the guard, there was also a noticeable change in design philosophy. Loot happened. Ways to upgrade one’s character to higher and higher tiers of power made hoarding money and items a lot more important. Rising power levels made the concept of “team” more redundant, and more about each individual and how fast missions that made money could be completed. The introduction of raids set a minimum gear level on participation, and even led to forced grouping for a while there.

You know what? In my opinion, the community went downhill fast.

The exclusivity gave rise to elitism. People got more insular and attacked any dissenters on the forums. A subset of players were all about the speedruns and played all group content that way, with beefed out characters that could pretty much solo the entire chain of missions. To heck with the team, and it came through loud and clear in their attitudes.

There is a reason why I choose not to play World of Warcraft.

The game leans too much over to the exclusivity side of the spectrum for my tastes by making raids the primary end-game activity.

To me, accessibility means inclusiveness.

I should not have to pick and choose and reject any person who is somehow “the wrong level” or “the wrong class” or “the wrong something” for a piece of content. I should not have to look upon any player as a potential impedance to my goals (consensual PvP excepted) and feel hostile towards them.

Players should not feel left out or blocked from progress due to a particular playstyle preference (eg. group or solo, easy fun or hard fun, liking a particular class, etc.) as this discouragement tends to lead to frustration and not wanting to play the game any longer, which whittles away at the community and game population.

And it should take a reasonable amount of time (and/or RL money) to reach an even max-level playing field. New (or poor) players should not be left behind in the dust by veterans who started the MMO at the dawn of time (or rich people with more money than sense) because that again leads to rejection of disadvantaged folk and gradual erosion of the playerbase.

So what about Guild Wars 2?

Well, I’m still playing it.

For the most part, GW2 remains a very accessible game.

Take leveling. There are multiple ways of gaining sufficient xp to reach 80 – the PvE open world (also known as hearts, DEs and map exploration, and/or mob genocide), WvW, dungeons, and of course, crafting.

Equipping yourself as you get to 80 also has multiple options – karma vendors, cultural stuff for coin, dungeon vendors, drops from mobs, crafting it yourself or, of course, the TP. One can pick between blues, greens, yellows or even orange, depending on how affluent one is feeling, and even blues will eventually get you through the content, though greens are the best compromise in terms of stats and affordability.

Once you get to 80, there are again multiple options for “max level” gear (here defined as the orange exotic baseline.) Karma vendors, drops, the TP, crafting, dungeons, WvW, pick your poison. If one finds themselves unable to afford this just yet, level 80 greens and yellows are sufficient to get by until one can work towards this goal.

Ascended items (or the max + 1 level) are meant as a medium term goal to work towards incremental improvement of a character. Again, there are multiple options, if more limited in nature. Laurels, or faithfully completing dailies, will yield an item after 25-40 days, depending on if one supplements them with badges of honor or not. Attending guild missions, which normally span a two week period, will yield an alternate means of nabbing accessories via commendations. Completing a fractal above level 10 will allow one to work towards rings, either via a lucky drop or patiently plodding through ten character-days’ worth of fractal dailies via pristine relics.

It is not unreasonable for even a new player starting from scratch today to reach a max level baseline which is functional and accepted by a majority in a month or two, or less.

And the beauty of GW2 is that they don’t even have to hurry to get there. (With some partial exceptions, there may be some discrimination in dungeons or WvW, and the erratic difficulty level that is the seasonal content of the Living Story may be occasionally frustrating.)

Dungeons are more of a mixed bag, though that’s probably partially the attitude of players who prefer the dungeon playstyle. There seems to be a competitive subset who enjoy speedruns and very specialized builds to eke out the very last scrap of optimal – picking and choosing the appropriate tools for the job and tweaking for efficiency is naturally part of the game for them. There also seems to be another group of players who strive to be like their idols but upon failing miserably to communicate or coordinate, turn on their party to assign blame and play the discriminate-without-understanding and kick-from-party games more than actual dungeon running.

It’s still possible to get into inclusive groups who don’t play in the fashion mentioned above, don’t mind spending a little extra time -and- successfully complete dungeons, so I’d classify them as moderately accessible.

WvW is, of course, one of the more accessible player activities to get into, though one can pick one’s level of dedication to the format through joining various guilds and the resultant community that forms on each server has an impact on how approachable or elitist a server “feels.”

If anything, it’s the Living Story updates that are the most schizophrenic.

One previously controversial update was the Mad King’s Clock Tower, that managed to produce unintended player hostility towards players on Norn and Charr characters.

With the Queen’s Jubilee, we have the Queen’s Gauntlet, which has produced conflict between those who want to farm Deadeye Dunwell for an accelerated gold/hour rate and others who are seeking to complete other achievements. Some players are openly being nasty to others in the hope that this will leave them with a personal arena to themselves for the maximum rate of gold earning.

The champions loot update, while pleasantly rewarding the task of defeating champions across the board, has yielded the unintended ember farm – a dynamic event which produces 20-30+ champions via scaling – whose successful cycling in 5-10 minute intervals is contingent on failing the timed event. This has suddenly produced conflict between those who want the event to succeed and those who want the event to fail, with resultant nastiness across map chat (from non-well-behaved parties of either side) can be more eye searing than the slideshow framerates.

The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

With some irony, I note that the Queen’s Gauntlet is not very accessible (in terms of skills/builds needed) and the ember farm more so (though there’s still calls for grouping and staff guardian preferences,) but both are yielding the same presumably undesired consequence.

An unpleasant community is not an approachable one.

Not being approachable turns people off from wanting to join in and participate in the first place.

And even if they do, thanks to dangling low hanging very desirable fruit, they’re not really enjoying the experience beyond self-centeredly staring at the shinies in their own pocket.

That focus on self tends to lead to exclusive and elitist atitudes – disregarding other people’s preferences or discarding them after using them for selfish purposes.

Which fucks up the community even further in an ever vicious cycle.

I think ArenaNet had the right idea early on in their iterative design process where they tried to make sure that all nearby players’ interests were in alignment with each other. Dynamic events were crafted so that whatever actions players took were working towards completion, and not griefable. Dynamic events are supposed to be completed for the best rewards.

Given a chance, players can and will attack each other. It takes design to create a friendly, cooperative experience where additional players are only welcomed, not looked upon with suspicion.

It’s my hope that future Living Story updates will give a lot more thought back towards their original manifesto. Enough with the individual or dissimilar goals trying to interact in the same space – save those for private instances. Craft us shared goals, provide opportunities for players to help each other, eliminate ways players can grief each other.

And give us back our social cooperative world.

GW2: Name Recognition, Being Social and Shout-Outs

One thing I haven’t seen in an MMO since ye olde A Tale in the Desert is oldschool name recognition.

That is, the ability to become famous or familiar to each other and be known for various things.

If I played Eve Online or Star Wars Galaxy, that might be different, I’m given to understand that such things can occur there. But in most typical MMOs, everyone runs around in a nameless anonymous crowd, barely knowing or recognizing each other.

At most, one joins a guild and gets to know the group of people inside that in-group. Other guilds or what other people are doing, unimportant in the greater scheme of things, let’s just focus on our PvE, our raid instance, our PvP battleground, or what-have-you.

There’s even a current debate in the blogosphere, prompted by Syp’s post on Playing Together Alone Together, about how much GW2’s pro-social measures help this or fail to.

Speaking just for myself, I am definitely encouraged to be more social by the design. Which is quite amazing, given just how antisocial a loner I tend to be in most other games.

A lot of this perception is in the eye of the beholder, I feel. I don’t mind the wordless ‘being alongside’ each other in normal play. Most will stop to help fight a mob, or revive each other and so on, and the rudest thing that happens is someone who just dashes past the veteran mob you’re fighting to sneak a node and dash right off. I just shrug, probably a WoW-trained person.

I’ve had spontaneous friendly encounters on difficult vistas, jumping puzzles and mini-dungeons. Some of them are acquaintances of the moment, that you may never see again. Some others may simply be names that get more and more familiar the more time you spend on the server. I’ll give a named example, since some people are pouting that we bloggers talk along in generalities, but never in specifics.

(If anyone named is uncomfortable with this, and want privacy or some such, feel free to contact me and I’ll edit you right off.)

So. Isle of Janthir. When I was leveling in the Charr lands, I always saw another Charr running about in the same leveling zones. Vanilla Parfait. I was always extremely amused by his name. He and I have never met directly, just perhaps encountered each other in zone from time to time. Eventually, while forums surfing, I realize that he is one of the contact points for the guild Aegis of Janthir (AoJ), a group I see quite a lot in WvW.

Then there’s Malkier, who seems to have paused in his gameplay, but I have him on my friendlist (which is usually empty in most other games save a real life friend or two.) We met in the Font of Rhand mini-dungeon, he was leading an entire flock of followers to the champion boss, but I noticed that no one made a turn for the sword which was the key to a gate later on. Having learned the secrets of the place with another group exploring in beta, I side trekked to go get it and caught up with the group in time for that inevitable question which arises, “Who’s got the sword?” *confused silence* “What, no one’s got the sword?!”

“I have the sword,” I replied calmly, lugging it as I entered the room. And from there, the two of us guided the rest of the new ones into how to take down the crazy Flame Legion Charr boss, whom I personally suspect was driven mad by having to stay in an underwater room all day.

When he finally died, and chests popped in joyous abundance all around us, there was great rejoicing and much exchange of friend-ing each other.

It turns out that despite that burst of goodwill in a mini-dungeon, most of our timezones and gameplay speeds do not match up, which ultimately, is one of the great deciders of how close friends you can become with someone in game, but still, why not? We can have different degrees of friendship and familiarity, can we not? Not everyone has to be a bosom buddy or a drinking pal. Even if it was a one-off experience in the history of my leveling this Charr, it was a positive social experience and unique to his ‘personal’ story in a sense. When I level another alt, I will not have met the same people.

Perhaps this is the curse of the post-launch frenzy. Slower levelers are by definition more casual in their gameplay style and less inclined to be online long enough to constantly bump into the same people. As folks move through the zones and end up in the higher leveled ones, or start new alts and are now stopping to smell the roses in the really low leveling zones of a race they haven’t seen yet, there’s more of a gap in the middle where perhaps, some are feeling things to be… more quiet where they are.

I hate to say it, but the bots are out in force also. That can no doubt make it feel lonelier when your only pals are a bunch of weirdly named guys known as ‘fdhasd’ ‘fadsh’ ‘fdddhst’ running around in a programmed circuit and you end up stopping and staring at them, trying to decide if there’s someone behind them or an AI, and becoming more and more certain by the time they repeat the seventh loop around the same area. The silver lining is it is quite a fun minigame to click on each one of them, right click their names and report. (Because I’m a big stickler for such things and they’re giving multi-boxing such a bad name, to the point where GW2 makes it against the rules *sighs* Oh well, I have other games that are okay with it, and it’s probably a dumb idea to try with such a movement/dodging focused game anyway.)

Then I need to point out one other thing. Proponents of the ‘forced’ group makes you ‘friends’ philosophy are evidently missing, or not playing parts of the Guild Wars 2 game where you do need groups. Or are strongly encouraged to have them.

Try soloing a dungeon, hey?

If you opt to do dungeons on a regular basis, I should think that one would eventually have repeated encounters with similar people with similar interests or the same goals (must have glow-in-the-dark greatsword…) and perhaps even become friendly with them. Or at least, end up finding a guild which feeds that need, and again, ending up with similarly dungeon-oriented people.

I see nothing wrong with leaving the leveling game as the most casual choice, enjoyable and peaceful even for soloers, with the option to play alongside, and even, if you’re feeling brave and want to use /say to say hi, playing -with- someone who responds back in kind.

Then let’s talk about WvW, where I suspect the slower leveling casual folk have lost most of the level 80s to, on the higher ranked servers, at least.

It’s been one of the best places for me to repeatedly see the same faces and get more familiar with them.

Heck, I even get to recognize ‘celebrities’ in a sense, or at least, people that are active in some way on forums, blogs, guild leaders and so on.

I have had the honor of standing beside Isarien (AoJ), guild leader of the above-mentioned Aegis of Janthir, who also posts quite a bit on the forums I read. This was a successful guardian defence on a door chokepoint – line of warding, ring of warding and so on – with no doubt, a ballista or two or more behind us cleaning up the grouped invaders.
Shortly after, the bulk of AoJ burst out for an orb run. Stonewallis, another AoJ contact point, can be seen, as well as other AoJ members. (And a Love and War (LAW) contact, Sara Blackbird.)

I even caught Eriena [TKG] from The Kelly Gang in a screenshot, aka Ausj3w3l of Healing The Masses. How utterly unlikely is it for bloggers to see each other in the wide expanse of an MMO?
I’m also getting shot by an arrow cart. Stupid arrow cart. I have 18k hp, I can take it! Not for long though. I dodged out, I did.
Kingler, my thiefy guildmate of the incredible 2 vs 5 I talked about in a prior post, is also visible.

Ropang [ND], guild leader from Never Die and his guild mates, building up to an orb rush. (I screen cap a lot of orb rushes, it’s one of the only times I can stand still long enough to hit printscreen.)
Guild tags were bugged out in this screenie. Tbox [ET], guild leader of Extreme Team, it was an extreme honor as I got my eyes opened to some incredible small team WvW tactics just listening to how he commanded over his Vent. Buzz Kapow [ET] is also another name I recognize from the forums. Interslayer [SP] and some of his guys from the Sock Puppets were also representing. On a completely conquered borderlands, they refused to give in or give up, and outsmarted Eredon Terrace and took a northern tower, Cragtop, holding out for a stunning 45 minutes against a much greater number. It actually distracted enough spawn campers that the IoJ pug zerg managed to break out and take the two nearby supply camps for a time.
I’ve seen many more people, Kylia Deprigen from Avatar Dynasty, Darkshaunz from Twelve, Flake, Thalantyr, Grishnakk and Yan Weng from The Kelly Gang, and lots more besides. Just no screenshots yet.

It’s got to the point where I, one of the most antisocial people I know, feel at least…positively inclined towards those names, rather than thinking that they are all strangers and unknown and scary. It’s barely been a month.

Trust and friendship may take a longer time or never (I would be that silent and clumsy Charr lunk in the corner – Finder Blazebane [uA] because I can’t type and fight at the same time, falling off cliffs and walls and doing stupid shit until I figure stuff out) but we are at least, for better or for worse, server mates (until someone transfers off.)

If you yourself don’t pay any attention to the names that you are seeing run all about and around you on your own server, well, whose fault is it?

ArenaNet’s? Must they implement a voice-over that reads out the names of those guys you encounter in your play for you to notice them?

Must they be in some kind of party UI in order for you to see them? And which game have you been playing that you’ve been focusing more on the UI than on the world?

If you don’t read forum boards or take the trouble to read the guild list of your own server or notice the preponderence of such and such guild tags around you, then how can you hope to be friends if you didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to begin with?

I don’t believe in artificial friends. I don’t need people fake smiling at me making nice because they reallly need me to tank or heal (“plz plz u’r so gooood.”)

Read between the lines. It says: “I want my loot. I need you to get me my loot.”

That’s not friendship.

That’s just making use of people.

I’ll take playing alongside each other, together, without words, with the people I see around me any day.