Tuesday, 8 July 2014

[GW2] 5 Glaringly Obvious Omissions from Guild Wars 2

There have been a lot of improvements to Guild Wars 2 over the past (almost) two years (!!), but there are still those few features which - if they were in the game - you would not even mention to a friend who you were trying to convince to play the game, because they would probably think they are in the game already. These are features which, for some reason or another (time, the engine, finances, goblins disrupting production), ArenaNet refuses to introduce, despite them being either heavily requested or absolute no brainers.

1. Filtering the TP for Wearable Armour
Seriously, why doesn't this exist?
Currently, when you search for armour about your level in the trading post you get all of the armour around that level, regardless of whether you're able to wear it. My Guardian is sick of having the silly caster skirts and endless trenchcoats suggested for his wardrobe - he simply doesn't need them. It makes searching for armour a complete pain.
I see the TP as like a spreadsheet and, surely, amongst the metadata for each wearable item there must be an "armour class" column - light, medium, heavy? Right? Just give us the option to select one of the three by which to filter.
Or better yet just give us a "Filter for items I can equip" button. That way all we would need to do is set a lower level limit and all of the wearable items for our level would be shown - jackpot!

2. Filtering the TP for Back Items
Whilst we're at it - why can't we search for back items? They're a wearable piece of gear, yet the TP offers no support for searching for them. Instead you have to be a master in the dark arts to find the special combination of search terms to find them. Muchos confuso.

3. First person mode.
This is the first of a few "we had it in GW1" features. Completely different game, I know, I know - but every other MMO seems to have a first person mode, so Guild Wars 2 seems to fall just that little bit short. You zoom and zoom and zoom until finally - BUMP - you hit the back of your head and can go no further.
The screenshot takers amongst us are at a loss.
"Nice screenshot - it would be a shame if someone were to, I dunno... get their fucking head in the way"
And don't tell me to buy a tonic to change into an air elemental and zoom right in - its not the same!

4. Guild Capes
Or capes in general. Maybe the server would explode if it had to render 300 fluttering mantles during a WvW zerg, but considering the avalanche of back-gear we've recieved over the past couple of years its incredible we haven't yet recieved the item no self-respecting guild warrior would leave home without - the humble cape.

5. Hiding the Quest Log
I did a survey last year for my ergonomics class. I surveyed 400 GW2 players to find out their opinions on the UI. The absolute top requested feature was the ability to customise it further, and out of the many suggested customisations - the ability to hide the quest log reminder in the top right was absolute premium.
For those altaholics amongst us, sometimes we don't want to be reminded that it's time for us to take back claw island, or to assist a Queensdale resident, or Dwayna forbid - tackle Zhaitan. We'd like to put that little bit of the game out of our minds for now and focus on other things, but noooooOOooo we have to be constantly reminded with flashing and obnoxious green stars everywhere we go.
At the community meet-up I went to a while back Colin Johansson said that this was to ensure that newbies knew where they were going. Well, thats all very well and good Colin - but give us more experienced players the option to turn it off, please? Put it on by default, sure, but just the option would be nice.

Honourable mentions for glaringly obvious features now implemented after far too long: minis not depositing with materials, wardrobe for our gear skins, TP text size actually readable, last log-in date for guilds... etc etc

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

[Hearthstone] Dreamhack Final Controversy

Over the past few days the biggest (to date) Hearthstone tournament at the Dreamhack festival in Sweden. With a $10000 prize going to the winner, it was a pretty big deal in the community, and it was all the reddit and other community sites could talk about for the days preceding and during the tournament.

The final boiled down to two very good players: the popular Korean streamer Amaz and the less well known, but no less skilled, RDU.

The set was a best-of-three series - throughout both matches RDU seemed to be receiving a lot of innocuous messages "hi mom!" etc. But during the final few turns of the second game the messages changed in nature:

At the bottom left is RDU, and at the top is Amaz. The message reads (roughly): "he still has a bow and a hunter's mark"

It's worth putting this message into context for those who don't know Hearthstone, because that small amount of information is very important for how the match progresses.


At the bottom of the screen is RDU, his hand of cards is laid out in front of him, in front of his hand is his Mage hero (with his HP indicated by the red "1"), in front of that is the board (with an Azure Drake in play) and then on the other side is Amaz's Hunter hero (29 health) with 2 secrets in play (the green "?"s) and a single card in his hand.

RDU knows that Amaz has very few options, with only a single card in hand. But Amaz has a substantial health lead on RDU - being almost at full health with 29, with RDU on the verge of death with just 1.

RDU himself has a single secret in play - an "Ice Block" which, when he takes fatal damage, will protect him from dying till the end of that turn.  He is holding an Alexstrasza card: a big minion card which can bring a hero to 15 health immediately - he can choose to use it on himself (to bring himself up from 1 to 15 health) or use it on Amaz (to bring him down from 29 to 15 health).

This card is vital for RDUs deck: the aim being to use Alexstrasza on the enemy before the turn you intend to kill them, then pass the turn to them knowing that you cannot die during his turn due to the Ice Block protecting you. You then burst them down with spells the next turn for the win.

BUT the Hunter, in his arsenal somewhere, has a card called "Flare" this single card is unique in Hearthstone in that it removes secrets from the board. If Amaz has this card in hand then the win is his - he waits for RDU to play his Alexstrasza and pass the turn to him - then he plays his Flare, removing the Ice Block and he swings in for the lethal damage and the $10k prize. Its important to emphasise that this play would not be uncommon and, indeed, we'd already seen it earlier in the tournament - in an earlier game Reynad held a single Flare in hand the entire game (holding off on numerous chances to play it earlier) in order to play it after his opponent played Alexstrasza and to swing in for lethal damage.

The safe play then, for RDU, is to use Alexstrasza on himself - bringing himself up from 1 to 15 health and allowing him to attempt to win the game in the long-run.
But with this new piece of information - Amaz only has a "Hunter's Mark" card as the single card in his hand - RDU doesn't need to worry about Flare. Consequently, he is free to reduce Amaz to 15 health and pass the turn - safe in the knowledge that he can do 15 damage to him when the turn is passed back to him (double Fireball (6x2) and a single Ice Bolt (3)) and there is nothing Amaz can do to stop him (unless the single Flare card in his deck is pulled off the top of the deck that turn - which is unlikely) - and of course that is what happened.

The Upshot

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly (because this contradicts message that Artosis and other guys surrounding the event have been saying) regardless of whether RDU arranged the message - there is absolutely no way you can guarantee that the information did not effect the way he played out that turn. 

Granted, whether Alex'ing himself or Amaz - RDU still had a very good chance of finishing the match off. If he did Alex himself then he'd still be able to deal 24 damage to Amaz next turn through spells and the minions on board (likely taking only a couple of points of damage in response), before doing a possible 10 damage with Pyroblast the next turn. So it was unlikely to alter the outcome of the match - but you simply cannot guarantee it, you cannot account for the longer turn leading to possible miss-clicks (particularly because this was one of the, if not the, first pro gaming tourney to be played on a tablet), you cannot account for Amaz potentially getting a really lucky draw and being able to cycle his cards till he gets his Flare and enough damage. Stranger things have happened, and whilst it is very unlikely, I don't think you can argue with absolute certainty that it wouldn't have happened this time. So making the argument that "it doesn't matter" is incredibly short sighted, it absolutely does matter if a player is receiving outside help which influences their decision making process, and how it came to happen needs to be investigated.

I'm not saying RDU in any way organised for this message to be sent to him: it would be pretty stupid of him to tell someone to just obviously blurt out the contents of his opponent's hand during the turn. It is being filmed, after all, with thousands of people watching in the arena and countless others watching the stream, it would be utterly ridiculous for him to even consider attempting to cheat in this way. I believe it is more likely that he has some pretty slow people on his friends list who don't know how to act appropriately.

So my second point is: unlike Trump, I believe that RDU is absolutely responsible for the kind of people he adds to his friends list. He's not responsible for their actions, but he is absolutely responsible for adding them in the first place, and if they are going to act like complete idiots during one of the most important moments of this guy's early gaming career then perhaps he should reconsider their place on that list.

Finally, the community's response has ranged from dismissing the incident as inconsequential to the outcome of the match, therefore not worth debating. To calling for disqualification for RDU and the awarding of the prize money to Amaz (who, incidentally, still received a $5k prize for second place). Disqualification or even a replay seems unlikely now - the tournament is over and even Amaz has asked people to drop this particular path, which I think is wise.

But I think it is important for a few things to be learned:

For Blizzard - we need an observer mode to allow easier access to both sides of table. Hearthstone, in the short few months it has been running, has evolved into one of the biggest pro-gaming scenes out there. Eclipsing Magic the Gathering as an eSport at least. An observer mode is absolutely vital, not only for the big tournaments such as Dreamhack and the upcoming Blizzcon Tourneys, but also for smaller scale community driven tourneys such as Deckwars and iHearthU's King of the Hill.
We also need a "tournament mode" for the friends list, which will block all incoming and outgoing messages whilst it is active. I think that's a no-brainer.

For players: you are absolutely responsible for who you add to your friends list. Particularly at the moment when there is no way to block messages if you're in a competitive setting. It shows a lack of maturity and forethought to add random people to your friends list who might act in such a way as to compromise your reputation - as has happened at Dreamhack for RDU.
I honestly don't think the community will let RDU forget this particular event, even if this all blows over he will always be remembered for this particular incident, simply because it was so public, there was such a large amount of money on the line and his opponent Amaz is such a popular player in the community. His lack of forethought will have long-standing repercussions for the perception of him in the community for a long time to come.

EDIT: Turns out Amaz is Chinese, not Korean, my bad - *slap on wrist*

EDIT 2 (the Salt Continues): So the third placed competitor, a popular streamer called Reynad, who was beaten in the semi-finals by RDU, has straight come out and accused RDU of cheating (in both his semi-final game and the final itself) and agreed to put his own money on the line in a one-off match to win the title from RDU.

First off, he needs to grow up. He can't throw his money around and essentially lay down a gauntlet that a 17-year-old RDU can't really afford to run. That leaves Reynad in a pretty comfortable position to say "well he won't play me because he knows he will lose" - that is the arguement of a bully and regardless of RDU's actions during Dreamhack, Reynad should be pretty ashamed of himself for that.

On the flip side, this is further evidence against the Artosis arguement of "all the pros agreed to drop it". And, unlike some of the people Artosis is likely to referring to - Reynad is one of the players directly effected by RDU's supposed cheating. I don't think, at this point, it can be just "dropped" - and the organisers of Dreamhack really really need to take a look at the games and their set up and consider a course of action. If, ultimately, this comes back to "drop it" then so be it, but Reynad needs to let other people take care of this rather than starting some kind of one-man schoolyard bullying campaign against RDU.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

[GW2] Living Story Season 2 Thoughts

My fellow Brit WoodenPotatoes put up an interesting (and very well researched) video about what he expects (and in some cases, kinda hopes) to see in Season 2 of the Living World. There are things I agree with and things I don't and I've been tossing this particular post around in my head for a while, so when WP posted his vid I thought it might be about time to try to coalesce those thoughts into some kind of cohesive word structure.

I think there are three main threads ANet are going to have to address in the next season, simply because it would leave far too many questions open if they didn't touch on them. In addition to these three main ones, there are innumerable other questions which still remain unanswered from Season 1, and even more which persisted even before the Living World was introduced. I'm only going to cover the biggies in this post though, and they are Lions Arch, Mordremoth and the Black Market Traders.

Lion's Arch

At the end of Season 1 Lion's Arch (LA) is kinda like the ruins of Zanarkand in Final Fantasy 10: a ruin of its former self, it feels more sad than dangerous. Lion's Arch is such an icon for many Guild Wars players, and has been right from the very start of GW:Prophecies all those years ago. LA has been a focal point of trade, community and celebration.
Unlike WP, I don't think they'll wait too long before starting the process of rebuilding. For one, I don't believe they could justify it lore-wise: LA has already been re-secured and wrestled from Scarlet's forces; the many thousands of people who lived there and the numerous traders and factions who operated out of the city simply wouldn't stand for it staying a ruin much longer - it's bad for business!
But, as WP rightly points out - the Captain's Council, those responsible for running LA, are in ruins themselves. They are without a base of operations and they're battered and bruised. They will probably require assistance to get the city back up and running.
Obviously, they'll get help from us, but I think that there will also be other interested parties:

I think the rebuilding of Lion's Arch will likely involve some interaction with the Consortium. This shady conglomeration of traders have been actors in the Living World from the start, they were heavily involved with the early parts of the story, but their involvement dropped off as Scarlet became the focus of our attention. I think this kind of operation is exactly the kind of thing they'd like stick their grubby little hands into, and the Captain's Council, under pressure from the traders and factions of LA and without the man-power to do it all themselves, will have to cede a little power and give the Consortium control of the project.
I believe it will be up to us as players to gather resources, artisans and, most importantly, gold and bring it to the Consortium who will put it all to work in rebuilding the city. I don't believe this will be plain sailing, and I think this will eventually lead to us discovering a lot more about the Consortium's motivations and ultimate end-game. Additionally, I think that LA will still suffer from the aftereffects of Scarlet's drill boring a hole in the centre of the port and into the ley-lines beneath.

That is my conservative estimate about how the rebuilding of LA will go down. If I were being a little more optimistic I might suggest something a little more daring:


We know that the Tengu retreated behind their walls in response to the rise of Zhaitan*, but how long can they stay cooped up (lol, puns) in their fortress now they know that the Elder Dragon has been defeated. It's reasonable to assume that the emergence of Scarlet was further justification (in their eyes) to keep the walls up and the gates closed, but I think now that evil has passed they will be more open to interaction.
The rebuilding of LA will require a fresh look at the place, perhaps new materials and new building techniques will lead to a more defensible and efficient city overall. But where might we get these new materials? Perhaps behind the Tengu wall?

Furthermore, we know that the next big threat that Tyria will face will be the "Jungle Dragon" Mordremoth. It's long been theorised that this dragon will have strong ties to the Maguuma Jungle and so we will be combating this threat in new zones in this area. The Tengu were able to retreat behind their walls because they could shut out the terrors of Zhaitan as he was focused on Orr and the Krytan coasts, but the Jungle Dragon seems to have his eye fixed on Maguuma, which would put the threat much closer to home for the Tengu - maybe even on their side of the wall.

This is more what I'm hoping for, than what I'm expecting: but I hope that Mordremoth begins to threaten the Tengu lands beyond the wall and, seeking help from the rest of Tyria, the Tengu reluctantly open their gates to allow heroes to pass through and assist in the defense efforts. In return for assistance, the Tengu promise to help rebuild Lions Arch with new materials from the Dominion of Winds.

What this would mean is that, at least in the early parts of the Living World Season 2, the story will not push us north-west towards Bloodstone Fen, but instead take place in the Dominion of Winds between Caledon Forest and Lion's Arch. I believe, like WP, that Mordremoth will have some connection to the Pale Tree and Caithe's secret. But, I think this new dragon will directly threaten The Grove and the Dominion of Winds rather than impacting first in Maguuma to the north-west - (perhaps through a new (TBD!!) dragon Champion in this area?)
Later in the story I don't see why we wouldn't progress further towards the Bloodstone (an incredibly powerful seat of magical power - ie, dragon food), towards the dragon's lair - I think that would be a fascinating story, but for the moment, at least, I hope that we will be able to peak beyond the wall.

The Black Market Traders

Right at the end of Season 1, during the celebration at the Dead End Bar in Divinities Reach, we were introduced to a new character: Belinda Delaqua - the sister of the shark-jumping necro Marjory Delaqua. Belinda is a Seraph, and has recently been reassigned to the Brisban Wildlands - a section of the Maguuma Jungle which borders Caledon Forest and Kessex Hills.
She has been reassigned from Fort Salma in order to investigate and combat a group of black-market traders who are headquartered in the Wildlands. You don't just drop that kind of Chekhov's Gun without following it up, one would hope.

The Brisban Wildlands is already a pretty heavy bandit infested area, so it's not unreasonable to expect some nefarious activity to stem from the zone. Bandits in Lionshead Outcrops can be seen building a bridge leading to a currently unreachable portal - if we eventually gained access to this portal it would lead to an area north of the Wildlands (closer to the Bloodstone etc in the north).

It's difficult to say what this storyline might lead to. I think it might eventually lead to an excuse to open up a zone north of Brisban and lead to encountering Mordremoth dragon-spawn further into the Maguuma Jungle. I don't believe, however, that this will happen straight away. I think this will be a parallel storyline to the one leading to the rebuilding of Lions Arch. I think the first parts of Belinda's story will take place in Divinities Reach and Brisban itself, rooting out bandit-holes and secret underground markets. Once the rebuilding of LA has begun in earnest and we start encountering Mordremoth dragon-spawn in the currently existing Maguuma Jungle (and the Dominion of Winds), I think we'll then eventually move through the new portal in the North to combat the HQ of the traders directly.

As to who these Black Market Traders are, and what they actually want. Well, it's difficult to say. Nefarious traders screams Consortium to me, but they tend to work out in the open, with a corporate front, rather than in secret. Perhaps it could be less-than-savoury characters scavenging items from the ruins of LA and selling them on in Divinities Reach? Who knows, I'm quite looking forward to being surprised by this storyline... It may even simply be a filler in order to give us something to swing our swords at while they work on the Mordremoth story.


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