GW2: Heart of Thorns Beta Screenshots

gw2-masteries

Masteries are now in a more readable UI.

One has to select a mastery that one wants to level up, and earn experience towards that goal. Seems to be an alternate advancement system for those who love the leveling aspect of an MMO. Presumably after you unlock it with experience, you can then spend a mastery point to purchase it.

I got to within an inch of gliderhood but unfortunately didn’t quite get it before the first beta closed. Let’s see if they save character progress in between each stage.

gw2_verdantbrink

Much more of the Verdant Brink map was opened up, though only a few areas were heavily populated by Mordrem so far.

Map has a day/night zone cycle, day apparently set to 75 minutes and night at 45 minutes or thereabouts. I logged in to about 15 minutes of day, and then it quickly switched to night.

There seems to be an overall zone goal of holding/defending Rally Points, escorting Pact Soldiers to said Rally Points and bringing Pact Supplies to build up each Rally Point to eventually unlock more (unknown) stuff. So far only one or two Rally Points got defended consistently, so there will be more to do when it finally launches, I’m sure. I’m looking forward to more organized attempts at this zone goal.

(A beta map is naturally not a place for massive map coordination and organization, everyone’s squirreling off to see the new things, and about 85% of the people were Revenants unfamiliar with their skills and all that.)

After a first hour of intense battlefield Mordrem fighting, I found myself getting tired of the endless war going nowhere (need my organization fix) and wandered off to the quieter and probably still unbuilt areas.

I do hope that the designers don’t forget in their excitement over playing with complex and sophisticated dynamic event chains to look after the little guys, the solo explorers and casual levelers that need a calmer exploration fix from time to time, those surprisingly numerous players who enjoy and miss the feeling of leveling in their starter and intermediate leveling zones – more pastoral surroundings, less tightly packed and threatening mob densities.

Personally, I do suspect we will still have some of these areas, even in the Heart of Maguuma. Even the Silverwastes has its peaceful jumping puzzle, to take a breather from the constant combat chains.

From my short glance at the zone and the spaces and scenery therein, there seems to be a goal to pack a lot into it – something for groups (PUG or organized), something for achievement-oriented soloists, something for explorer-oriented soloists and so on.

But I dunno, I have no words to argue or defend the Vision that others seem to hate so much.

If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t.

So instead, I will just post the screenshots that -I- had fun taking.

gw2-purple

I remembered to take a PURPLE one for Eri’s theory of depressing endgame maps.

gw2-skyrim

I think this one is GW2’s claim to a Skyrim look-alike. The treetop textures, the lighting, the photo-realism just kinda blew me away.

gw2-itzel

I have… no words to describe the Itzel stare.

gw2-moreruins

More of those Maguuma Wastes-style ruins we’ve all come to know and love in Dry Top and Silverwastes. Dying to know more about the origins or creators of these structures.

gw2_pit

They weren’t kidding about the verticality of this zone. (I briefly considered spectral walking my way down – I played a necro rather than a revenant this time around – then in a brief fit of sanity, managed to find the NPC that teleported you into the pit.

Apparently it’s one of those new soloable “Adventures,” which usually challenge you to achieve some sort of task, except that it was either nonfunctional because it wasn’t done yet, or because we hadn’t unlocked the Rally Point that would unlock it, or I was just missing the whole point of what one had to do for the event.)

gw2_drop

The cloudy ominous drop that awaits clumsy glider-less travelers.

gw2_caves

There were some nearly empty caves under the Wyvern Cliffs, save for a few new Mushroom mobs, which were quite cute, in a nightmarish Mario Goomba sort of way.

And then I crawled through one snaking tunnel and went down another and stumbled into the as yet unpopulated Temple of Ameyalli. (Ameyalii possibly being to the hylek as Mellaggan is to the quaggan, an interpretation of the human god Melandru. Or maybe not and she’s just an unconnected animistic goddess of nature. Who knows, at this point.)

gw2_ameyalii

gw2_lights

gw2_shrine

One moment of perfect beauty.

That’s all this explorer soul needed.

Minecraft: Wanderlust Reloaded – Magical Castaway

As sheer serendipity would have it, an idly rolled up world to argue the merits of procedural generation yielded a seed that sent my imagination into overdrive.

One turned up on the edge of what appeared to be a modestly sized island continent surrounded by ocean, beach/desert in the vicinity and what appeared to be a jungle or tropical rainforest in the distance to explore.

Surely, this place is tailor made for a survivor-castaway scenario.

But how could I make it different from the ongoing Wanderlust Reloaded game I was playing in a relaxing learn-all-the-mods-slowly fashion?

A few ideas struck me.

I tend to be attracted to tech/modern mods and make a beeline to Tinker’s Construct and Minefactory Reloaded as a comfort zone, since those were the first few I learned in Agrarian Skies. However, setting up a factory goes rather completely against the theme and idea of a sailor or person castaway on a desert island. How would they even make a modern machine?

So, rule 1: Minimal to no tech/modern mods to be used in this particular game world.

It so happened that some initial scouting revealed the presence of some magical NPCs on the island. Perfect. The rationale then would be to use nature and magic-based mods to progress, with the explanation that the NPCs had ‘taught’ these to my castaway character.

I was also somewhat sick of the constant nightly attacks of zombies and skeletons. Wouldn’t it feel a lot more immersive and like I was really cast away on an island if the night stayed peaceful and quiet as well, rather than recapitulate the zombie apocalypse every single time the moon rose?

Setting it to peaceful mode seemed a little like cheating though.

But then really, as I thought further, maybe it would actually make progress -harder- in that I wouldn’t have an easily renewable source of string from spiders, gunpowder from creepers, rotten flesh from zombies and bones from skeletons. In fact, I wouldn’t even be able to make a mob grinder… and that started to worry me a bit.

So I concocted a little trapdoor for myself. The -island- would stay peaceful, but I’d switch it back to normal mode if I changed dimensions. Yep, Nether, Twilight Forest, a Mystcraft age, whatever.

It made a certain kind of immersive sense that I’d crash onto a deserted island, save for a few peaceful natives, learn magic in an attempt to get away, and then eventually cross over into other dimensions that would be more hazardous and filled with hostiles.

Rule 2: Play in peaceful mode on the island. Switch back to normal mode once one crosses dimensions.

I was also a little sick of the common Minecraft tactic to dig a big mineshaft or stairway to bedrock or y = 12, and then dig a whole bunch of straight line criss-crossing tunnels pulling out diamonds, redstone and other valuable bits of ore.

It’s efficient, yes, but didn’t seem terribly immersive to me.

So I came up with another crazy idea, one I’m not sure how far or long it’ll last, as I really don’t know the layout and if it’ll yield enough resources…

Rule 3: There will be minimal manual mining through stone.

The idea is that I’ll go into already exposed caves and ravines and mine the ore that’s actually visible and a block or two around those visible veins. I won’t start hand carving massive dwarf mines through perfectly solid rock with a handful of stone or iron pickaxes.

The little loophole there is ‘manual’ so that later, if I like, create a golem or something that will mine straight tunnels for me, or create some sort of super-efficient magical pickaxe, then it’ll seem a bit more consistent to the ‘realism’ of this particular world that I could then create vast caverns if I wanted to.

Rule 4: We will try to build aesthetically thematic structures consistent with a ‘magical castaway’ theme.

Cheating in decorative blocks to paint textures on say, carpenter’s blocks, is permissible, to both make life easier and make it more aesthetically-pleasing, but cheated in blocks will not be used in functional ways. The carpenter’s blocks themselves would have been made with uncheated wood resources.

Sadly, I haven’t had a lot of real life time to play this particular world, or any Minecraft, to be honest, since I’ve also been distracted by buying the remastered Grim Fandango lately, but here’s the beginning of the adventure:

mc3

Cast away on the shores of a strange island, I try to make my way inland to gather some wood. Shelter, and a signal fire is primarily on my mind. Oh, and food, and a fresh water source.

mc2

I nearly perish when unawares, I stumble into a patch of quicksand. Some frantic digging and scrabbling away at the edge of the pit saves me.

There are a number of these differently colored patches of sand around, hazards that I constantly have to keep in mind.

mc4

With some relief, early on, I find a small stream that can serve as a source of fresh water.

After chopping down some nearby trees and chipping away at a rock wall to make some primitive stone tools, I manage to put together a modest survival shelter.

mc5

It is a quiet but peaceful night on this desert island.

I cobble together a small furnace made out of rocks and begin making some charcoal out of the logs I’d chopped earlier.

mc6

Daybreak heralds the start of exploration of this island.

I urgently want to build a signal fire, in case any passing ships draw near, but I realize that I don’t have any flint-and-steel to rapidly start a fire with. So after desultorily piling some wood together, the gnawing of my stomach suggests I need to pay attention to something a little more urgent than a rescue fire.

mc7

Following the edge of the island leads me into a tropical rainforest proper.

mc9

I find a melon patch with some relief – food! – but worry about how long these wild melons would last me. I save some seeds and hastily sow them. Only the gods know how long it’ll take them to grow though.

Merry giggling catches my attention, and I discover that there are others on this island… if these strange nature spirits could be called so. A number of dryads are taking a bath in a cavern fed by seawater.

mc8

For the most part, they say nothing to me, but I notice them paying a great deal of attention to certain flowers, which seem to glow with an almost-mystical light. Surely, these flowers hold some manner of arcane secret. I begin collecting them as I travel.

mc12

As night falls near the dryads, my breath catches in my throat as I realize that these sea nymphs appear to have also been tending a magnificent reef garden filled with glowing coral, like so many ocean-flowers. The constellation-filled sky is a wondrous accompaniment.

But I cannot linger, and I turn away, heading further inland.

mc10

I come across an eerie stone circle, even spookier at night, but nothing seems to stir from it.

mc11

Nearby, I encounter my first sentient being, a human, I suppose, who dresses like a witch. She introduces herself as Shannon Spellman, but refuses to speak of anything of more substance to me, telling me that I am not yet skilled in the Art.

It seems that I may just have to learn, somehow, if I am to find a way off this island.

mc13

And then I find it. A settlement! There are beds of crops – potato and cotton and some manner of berry.

mc14

There are even grapevines strung up in trellises, an old disused smelter of some kind, and a herd of sheep wandering unfettered through it all.

mc15

To my surprise, there is only one human dwelling within this place. A man dressed in what appears to be priestly or mage-like robes. He declines to give his name, but seems open to sharing some of his crops and making small converse.

A hobgoblin is the only other creature keeping him company, wandering about crooning to itself in its hob-like manner, keeping its own counsel. I am not sure if it is merely a friend or the mage’s familiar, but I think it a question best unasked for now.

I will likely have to return to this strange pair later and see if I can befriend them further, but for now, parting as an acquaintance rather than an enemy seems wise.

mc16

I pass by caves and deep ravines, some with exposed veins of metals, which I mark for later exploration, and even a blasted wasteland which I give a wide berth to, for now.

mc17

The forest has given way to some kind of scrubland, filled with acacia trees, and red rocky soil.

mc18

And then, near dawn, a curious sight on the horizon. Is it… could it be… a castle?

mc19

As the sky brightens, I draw nearer. It seems only to be a lone tower of some kind?

mc20

It is fully daytime by the time I get up close, and its skull-like demeanor puts me off from venturing within. Perhaps another time, when I actually have armor and a weapon, and am not starving.

The scrubland dries up, becoming a desert once more, and I realize that I have almost circumnavigated the entire island.

I stumble over one noteworthy feature, a large pool of oil that has bubbled to the surface.

mc21

And am almost frozen in my tracks when I notice an alien sight, some kind of meteor that has cratered onto the boundary between shore and ocean, and whose sky stone is somehow…repelling? the seawater from itself.

mc22

I give that a wide berth for now too.

For now, it is back to my humble shelter, to figure out semi-reliable sources of food so as not to go hungry, and to prepare my signal fire.

And then, I suppose, I should attempt to learn the Art.

To be honest, I think this is a great seed.

mc23

I actually preliminary scouted the whole place out to get an idea of whether the rules I was planning would actually work, or no, and I think there are enough resources and interesting features on this pretty big island to manage it, more or less.

Yet, importantly, it does appear to be largely an island, rather than a continuous neverending landmass.

It’s probably a great place to have all kinds of Minecraft adventures, not just a strictly nature/magic one, so if you’re interested in playing in the same surroundings, this is Minecraft, with the Wanderlust Reloaded modpack and Biomes of Plenty world type, with the seed “Why I Explore” (without the quotes.)

Postcards from Procedurally Generated Worlds

Syp from Bio Break is asking this about procedural generation:

“If it’s a bunch of cobbled together randomness, then why do I want to explore it? None of it is connected to a special narrative, so it exists without purpose, without meaning.”

I would like to counter with a few things.

Firstly, I wonder if we’ve lost the true meaning of exploration after being taught by Wildstar and GW2 that it’s about getting to points on a map and then having an achievement ding.

Or even after being taught by WoW and Skyrim (and Wildstar and GW2) that it’s about going to someplace and having a handcrafted scripted scene or story play out for you.

That seems to me like going for a tour or a guided experience, rather than exploration per se.

(That’s not to say that it’s bad.

The linearity of The Wolf Among Us and the elegant way its aesthetics told a story with a beginning, middle and end made for a wonderfully -immersive- experience…

…but it’s a bit of a stretch to say that one was -exploring- the game, unless one really sat down to map out every last possible branch of story, or even dabbled with exploration by rewinding a chapter or two to see how the story or characters might change.)

Here’s Google’s definition of exploration:

exploration

The highlights are mine, because I think they rather succintly answer Syp’s question.

You can want to explore something because it’s unfamiliar, because it’s new, because it’s novel. Because you’re checking it out to see if you can find any purpose or meaning in a locale previously unknown to you.

(Many games, when they are new and all their systems and geography unknown, draw explorers like magnets. And once everything is laid out in guides and on third party websites, when all the novelty is lost and everything predictable, that’s where explorers start to get really bored.)

The search for resources or information or knowledge that other people don’t know about is a big deal to explorers. It’s one of the things Bartle checks you out for, before labeling you an explorer.

Many sandbox games dangle resources as the bait for the WHY someone would go out and explore what could be merely a bunch of rocks and sand. Eve Online, A Tale in the Desert, Minecraft, Terraria, Don’t Starve, a ton of other games in the survival crafting genres, need I really go on?

And sometimes you just explore because it’s -there-, because you want to be thorough and make sure you’ve seen its every nook and cranny, because the mountain was there to be climbed, and because the maze or puzzle was there to be figured out and solved.

Not every game has to be played for story and narrative.

Not every player expects a game designer to serve each person the same scripted experience.

Part of the fun in a procedurally generated game is that you yourself may not encounter the exact same thing twice. That your next playthrough can be different. That it can be unpredictable, forcing you to react in a different way.

Others have chimed in with additional points, such as:

  • Purpose and meaning being in the eye of the beholder and that it can be up to each player to create that purpose, meaning and narrative for themselves in a procedurally generated game,
  • that player interactions often form the meat and potatoes of story and narrative in such a game and the very fact that they are unique one-off events that will never quite happen again in the same way can be super-appealing for some people,
  • and that designers can actually use procedural generation in a sensible way and layer set pieces or handcrafted content over other layers that were procedurally generated so that the results look a lot better than what Daggerfall produced in 1996.

But rather than quote the entire Wikipedia article on procedural generation which highlights games like Dwarf Fortress and Left 4 Dead and plenty of other games that use it in interesting ways, I’ll just leave these here:

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break
Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Bio Break
Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Procedural Generation
Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Procedural Generation
Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break
Minecraft – Running Red 2 modpack – seed: Bio Break
6-2
Minecraft – Test Pack Please Ignore modpack – seed: Bio Break
Your Loss, Syp
Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Your Loss, Syp
Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break
Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Why I Explore

I barely moved from the spawn location to snap these shots.

I rolled these up simply for the purposes of this post.

And I don’t know about you, but there’s at least one seed I’ll be revisiting again that just -cries- out for a story of a survivor shipwrecked onto a mostly desert island with some jungle in the distance.

What does the rest of the continent hold, pray tell?