Saturday, 15 November 2014

[GW2] A Villain with a little Va Va Voom

Lewis over at Ten Ton Hammer wrote a piece recently detailing why he thinks a Guild Wars 2 expansion is on the horizon. I don't want to repeat all the stuff he said about why its coming, needless to say its an argument with which I agree - and I've seen other very clever people saying the same thing, so I'm inclined to believe that we are right.
He also asked what we'd like to see. I think most people's reactions are all stuff that I'd like to see too - new races, professions, armour, weapons and skills. To be honest I took these to be a given, what I'd really really like to see is a good ol' fashioned villain. 

I want a villain akin to Moriarty, Lex Luthor or Doctor Claw (ask your parents, kids!) and I'm going to tell you why the Elder Dragons simply won't cut it this time, at least not on their own.

Think of the baddies who make you squirm, the ones who make you gnash your teeth or slam your book, controller or theatre viewing binoculars down in disbelief  - jaw gaping at the sheer skulduggery of it all.

The ones who betray the hero at the last second, revealing their Machiavellian plan as they slowly wheel him or her towards a pit of lava or into a pool of ill-tempered sea bass. They all have real personalities and lives, relationships to the characters - more often than not they have qualities which the hero of the piece sees in themselves ("we're not so different, you and I"). Some are flawed, others are downright damaged (often by the actions of the protagonist earlier in life) and we get to know them personally and the connections they have to every other character and how our lives are interwoven with theirs and, in a way, how poetic it is that we should be the ones to face them in the end.
In some ways we see ourselves in them, or at least we understand how they reached the brink of madness on which they teeter... and so we hate them, because we know how easily it could have been us.
Given a different circumstance Bruce Wayne could have ended up mad like the Joker, Prof Xavier could easily have used his powers for evil like Magneto, and we even saw it in what I believe to be the best villain in a video game to date - GlaDOS (spoilers) - we see how quick and easy it was for Wheatley, our mild-mannered sidekick, to become corrupted by immense power.


An Elder Dragon does not have any of these qualities. An Elder Dragon is a whirling thunderstorm of hate, hunger and lust. They are elemental. They do not have personalities and so we cannot see ourselves in them, and so we cannot hate them. Our drive to destroy them is simply "they are a bad thing, if I do not kill them more bad things will happen and that would be bad". 

They are a daunting foe, sure, but they are no villain. If we are going to face Mordremoth (and there's no telling if this confrontation will be saved for the Living Story ending or if they might stretch it out to an expansion) then I think another soulless strategic campaign against an enemy which we have no real strong feelings for will not provide as compelling a narrative as one with a truly despicable (and hateable) supervillain at the end.

What we need is a pre-existing character. One who is close to our party. Someone who might betray the group and drag them to their lowest point - just when they think they are getting the upper hand.
No no no - Trahearne is far too obvious, come on use a little imagination. We need someone with a little vavavoom, a little mystery. There are, in my opinion, two main candidates:


Canach has shown a certain ruthlessness, a willingness to do a little bad in order to achieve a lot of good. This is actually a relatively common trope amongst villains, (Bane, Tyrion Lannister, Walter White, Gabriel in Constantine etc etc) and it is easy for the "little bad" to become "lots of bad" as things spiral out of control and the antagonist rationalises ever more evil deeds in pursuit of his or her noble goal.
He hits the "not so different, you and I" quota also. He is a good guy driven bad by circumstance and again that could have so easily been us.
The only drawback is that he is currently on a path of redemption, and I'm not sure the message ANet want to send with his story is "rehab doesn't work, kids". That might just be too much of a downer. I wonder if he could simply be a fall-guy - the one which we all suspect as being behind it all, the one which all clues point to until the very final second when the true puppetmaster is shown to be:



Faolain. She is a character who seems built to make our skin crawl, and we really don't know why yet. She has a past with Caithe, and claims to love her very much. They were close friends once, perhaps even lovers and Caithe still, on some level at least, trusts her. Caithe has always been seen to be stoic, infallible almost to the level of humourlessness but Faolain seems to be able to break down these walls and get underneath her leaves.
She is the leader of the Nightmare Court, an ostensibly evil character, an enemy even, but nevertheless she seems to be Caithe's one weakness and there seems to be the very strong suggestion that "Caithe's Secret" has something to do with her. Something in her past which she has buried somewhere deep inside and hopes will never see the light of day. Scarlet knew it, perhaps as a result of delving deep into the history of the Pale Tree.
I've ruminated on the idea that perhaps the sylvari could be the Pale Tree's natural defense against the Elder Dragons. In light of new information, perhaps the relationship between the dragons and the Tree is not so antagonistic, and this is what Caithe and Faolain know, and what Scarlet saw, on account of being "first born"?

I would like to see Faolain be the Eldritch Horror at the end of Guild Wars 2's first expansion. As a servant of the Elder Dragons - a part of the earth, just like the Pale Tree and the Dragons themselves.

How I'd Like to See it Go Down:

Imagine a story in which we delve deeper into the dream, and the deeper we get the more clues about the connection between the Tree, the sylvari and the Dragons are unearthed. But the closer we get to the truth, the more drawn and distant Caithe becomes - she warns we are digging too deep, and might not like what we find, she argues with Canach and they both disappear into the darkness. The group suspects Canach (and perhaps there is some handily planted evidence to support our suspicions) has kidnapped Caithe and is some kind of Dragon worshipper.

The final confrontation takes place at a bloodstone site somewhere in Maguuma, we face off against our foe - who we suspect to be Canach, he is standing alone shouting fos us to "stay back!". Nonetheless, we march forward, but as we approach to make an arrest a thick vine appears out of nowhere and impales him!
Riding upon a twisted tendril is Faolain and at her feet is the mangled body of Caithe. All these years, she tells us, she had been grooming Caithe for this - this blood sacrifice to bring about the rise of an age of Nightmare. Using Caithe's first-born blood, Faolain channels the Elder Dragon energy from the earth, absorbing it all and driving her mad in the process, she can't contain all that energy in her small body - she explodes into a gigantic sylvari nightmare beast!


We struggle to keep up with the pace of battle, but are no slackers, we persevere but just as we are about to strike the killing blow the dragon takes over, knocking the entire party to the ground and rising up above us - preparing to consume us all!
Off to the side comes a beleaguered groan - the air seems to stand still and silent - Canach claws his way to his knees and grits his teeth, snarling at the dragon beast in front of him. Struggling he rises to his feet but bereft of energy, he stumbles and is caught by a flash of light - the image of the Pale Tree draws him to his feet. Just as the Dragon poured all his energy into Faolain, so too does the Pale Tree pour her energy into Canach.
Enraged, the Faolain/Dragon beast screams of the injustice of a second born being granted such a blessing - drawing up all her hate and spite, the beast lunges at Canach but he swats her away easier than a fly, Faolain smashes against the trunk of the Tree and the Dragon Spirit bursts forth from her body. The love of the Pale Tree is no match for the choas and hate of the Elder Dragon.

We then begin our final battle with the dragon spirit itself, but we are imbued with great gifts of strength and ability from the Pale Tree's blessing and with Canach at our side we fight our way through the spirit and to Faolain's body - the conduit which is giving him form - just as we did with Scarlet, we finish her once and for all.

After the battle we mourn the loss of Caithe and Canach who cannot return to his former life, he must now live as the vision of the Pale Tree, one with the eternal alchemy having restored balance for a while at least. His is truly a story of redemption, willing to sacrifice his own life to save others, but not in such a way that he takes the fight away from us. Faolain is a villain who betrays us, kills our friends in front of our faces but is still ultimately a victim of the draw of the power of the Dragon.

Sales soar. ANet become billionaires. Everyone is happy.

Apart from Trahearne who was killed at some point.

ps. The only drawback is that it would be yet another female sylvari corrupted by dragon power. Maybe they all just look evil to me, I dunno.




Saturday, 1 November 2014

Whatever Happened to the Wizard?

There are, perhaps, three significant stalwarts of wizardry in fiction - relatively evenly distributed across time, they are comparable in a number of characteristics: wisdom (typically they are advisers and guides, trusted by less experienced characters), great big white/grey beards (almost, some might say, essential) and most significantly for this article they are similar in their extremely advanced age. They are Merlin from the stories of King Arthur, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and most recently Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter. 

Its the advanced age (and general wizenedness) which I want to focus on. All three are immensely powerful beings, venerated across the lands and respected as such. There is the implication that their immeasurable power was gained through many years of learning, training and reading dusty scrolls on the arcane arts. So much time and effort has to go into developing their skill that they presumably forget to shave for a couple of decades, leading to impressive beards. Similarly, with time being of the essence, they don't want to waste precious seconds unbuttoning or unzipping flies, so they all go for cloaks and cowls which allow just a quick lift and you're ready to roll. My point is that their training consumes decades of their lives, and by the time they reach the kind of power where they might legitimately call themselves wizards they at least appear to be very old men.


So where on earth is this trusted archetype in modern gaming? The Guild Wars elementalist, the Warcraft Mage, the Diablo Wizard, Amadeus in Trine, the wizards in Magicka... all fresh faced youths in the prime of their lives. Have they even had half the time to develop skills through which they might call themselves spellcasters of note? I say nay. Some games (like Skyrim) give you the option to change the appearance of age of your character, but this is for appearances sake only - to all other agents in the game you will still be a youth of relative inexperience.
In fact, the old wizard archetype is often employed as a secondary character to your own: the greybeards in Skyrim being a good example. Again, they are elderly bearded advisers - though their wisdom could be somewhat questioned. But still I miss the chance to play that character - a character whose staff is not only a deadly weapon, but also an essential walking stick to soothe his aching back! In the future I want my RPGs to include in character creation a slider for "hunchbackedness" and the further I slide it to the left, the more broken and bent my character becomes. Instead of dodge rolling, he could shift or phase out of the way, instead of fizzing out puns like no tomorrow, he can dispense golden nuggets of wisdom ("a wizard arrives precisely when he means to!").

Power does not necessarily need to be communicated through vim and vigour, the kind of boundless energy which the Guild Wars elementalist seems to possess in spades - shooting around, throwing out wise-cracks and one liners like no tomorrow. Power can be like Yoda - old and immense, but with the appearance of being small and inert. These old characters, Merlin, Gandalf, Dumbledore were thoughtful in their movements, slow and steady, their calm masking their immeasurable power because when required to act they act swiftly and decisively, I understand that there are certain examples (I believe the wizard character in Gauntlet is old and beardy) but rarely are we given the chance to factor age into a game which allows character customisation and certainly in MMOs the robe-wearing bearded wizard seems to have been superseded by the young spell-slinger type.
I get that game developers want us to identify with the characters we create, and its easier for us to identify with a character who appears to be of a similar age to the standard gaming demographic. Perhaps I'm getting a little more advanced in age now and with my back I can't see myself dodge rolling much in the near future. Instead, I'd rather play a character who is as immobile as I am, but still gives me the feeling of being old and powerful. 

There is a whole other article about how wizards are venerated, but witches (until the Harry Potter franchise at least) got the shorter end of the stick and largely still do. That's a topic for another time and one I'm sure which is tied up with various cultural views on power and femininity.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

[GW2] Here's your feedback - The Gem Store [UPDATED!]

For a TL:DR (and particularly if you are an ArenaNet dev) see the bottom of the post.

The Guild Wars 2 gem store has always allowed players to convert their in game gold into "gems" which they can use to buy items from the gem store.
This system has worked in tandem with the ability to buy gems with real money.

Before this latest update players could choose the amount of gold they wished to spend to buy items.

Need a key for 125 gems? Then buy 125 gems! Need an outfit for 700 gems? You guessed it, buy 700 gems!

The new system works like this:

Need a key for 125 gems? Buy 400 gems and have 275 left over! Need an outfit for 700 gems? Buy 800 gems and have 100 left over! Because reasons!

Players can now only convert their in game gold to gems in increments of 400. Once again ArenaNet's justification for this change has been: new players found it confusing and as veteran players we wouldn't understand. 

"Hey there,
Here are a few tidbits from the team:
  • A lot of newer players had trouble with the interface. That doesn’t apply to you, you’re veterans who have been around the conversion block a time or two. But newer players will benefit from the updated system.
  • The goal was to make the Gem Store more like other shopping experiences, and if you think about it, there is more of that feel to it now.
  • You may be surprised to know this (I know I was) but very few people bought gems at smaller denominations than the first one offered in the new system. That’s not to say they never did, nor that there wouldn’t be the desire to do so. But overall, the current options were selected based on player purchases in the past.
  • The team is going to listen to your feedback and, if and when it’s practical and desirable, they can look towards adjusting the new system to better meet your needs.
So please keep your thoughts coming on the new system. Feel free to make suggestions but please, keeping them constructive would be very much appreciated."


This is an argument they've used before, and I've written about here.

As one eloquent redditor quite rightly put it: "Bullshit". First off, if the interface is confusing players - then change the fucking interface. This has nothing to do with the ability to convert however much gold you need. The interface is just the way the player interacts with the system, not the system itself.

Second, which "new player" has the gold stashed away to be able to convert gold into 400 gems anyway!? At the current conversion rate that equals 75 gold! I played for a good 6 or 7 months before I had that kind of currency lying around, and even then I wouldn't have thought of converting all my worldly possessions into gems to buy a cheap looking outfit! There is nothing about this update to this system which is helpful to new players, in fact it isn't even a system which new players will have the option to use because they simply will not have the gold to buy the required 400 gems.

I'm afraid the actual motivations for this change are very thinly veiled. Before you might convert a small amount of gold into gems to buy a Black Lion Chest Key from the store, now you are far less likely to have the spare change required - so instead you BUY the gems with real money. That's the reason this change  has been made - the only thing confusing is why ArenaNet are so brazen about it. It is mind boggling.

So, just to spell it out for ArenaNet - feed this back to your team:

There is absolutely no way that a new player will have the in game gold to buy 400 gems, so they will spend real money instead. This is NOT a system which is friendly for new players, it is absolutely the opposite. This is a system to rinse more real money out of new players. You. are. fucking. it. up.

Update:
Kotaku (I know, ew, but bear with me) are claiming that ArenaNet will be reversing the changes to the gem system in light of our "ranting". They don't actually give any source for this announcement but I anticipate a statement from ANet soon if its true. The system works. Rant for justice. All haile the rant.

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