Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Sincere Christmas Message ep3

I've wrote a few of these now. And, regardless of the content of the preceding year - I always seem to return to the same message. I hope that I don't sound too pretentious with it, because the message is pretty much the same one you've probably heard from every single person you've met over the past few weeks.
It's been a big year for me, a happy one - but one of major change. I've now started down a road which I've had my eyes on for a while now, and have finally taken the chance to try to travel. I've gone from a 9 to 5 grind, to being a student again, working for myself and trying to find inspiration. I couldn't have done it without the love and support of those around me, especially my partner, so for that I am truly thankful.
So, here it is: whatever this year has been like for you; I hope your Christmas was Merry, and your New Year is happy.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

[GW2] Moving Forward from "When it's Ready"

Before the release ANet's philosophy was always "When it's ready". They would never even show us content until they were absolutely sure that it was ready to ship, that's why we didn't see the sylvari for ages, and we learned about each of the professions with, usually, a few months in between each reveal.

But, during the recent AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread hosted by Chris Whiteside (Studio Design Director at ANet) Chris has admitted that:

"Personally i feel that aspects of the game ARE too grindy and we are working through these areas to correct our overall direction moving forward as well as taking some of our current progression systems and rewiring them for want of a better term for example different methods of acquisition related to the way different players like to play their content. 

 To be frank the ascended gear was designed to be earn able outside of the FotM and unfortunately we were unable to deploy this prior to the update. This (i hope) will not happen again"

What happened to "When it's ready"? If Ascended items were designed to be earned outside of the Fractals of the Mists then surely they should have been shipped to be earned outside of the Fractals of the Mists. Otherwise, you aren't going to please anyone: the horizontal progressioners will be angry you've gone back on your promise not to add a "gear grind", and the vertical progressioners will be disappointed that the progression is so flimsy and requires hours of grind over the same few instances.

Did ANet panic as the dreaded 3-month threshold loomed?

ps. Also, for the love of all that is holy - stop using the phrase "Moving forward": it absolutely smacks of business speak which I think you should always avoid when talking to plebs like us.

EDIT: Just going through the summary of last night on this page and came across this relevant piece of info:

Q: I am impressed you are participating in this for so long. I commend you.
Two questions: -If Ascended Gear and the Fractal of the Mist leveling system was not rolled out in the way you intended(being that theres only one way currently to obtain the gear, and the leveling system fragments the playerbase), why was it rolled out in the first place? I thought Arenanet was big on "When its ready", however this sounds like it was not ready but rushed out the door.
-Ive seen, and agree with, some posts concerning the aesthetic look of Medium gear compared to Light and ultimately Heavy(which looks the best hands down). Honestly, medium gear while leveling is terrible looking and there are only a small number of dungeon sets that you dont look like a pirate or something from MechWarrior. Are there plans to specifically overhaul the MEDIUM armor looks?
A: If you don't mind i will just answer the first question as the second is something that would be discussed at work. And thanks for taking the time to submit the questions.
So in regard to question 1: We had/have a plan to seed ascended through the game. It affects many many areas and systems and we wanted to essentially rewire aspects of reward progression. This is an ongoing priority. However this is a multi phase plan and during the creation of the FotM I wanted to roll out a subset of the plan to the community. The progression/reward system was not correctly deployed but the Dungeon was, at least in my opinion as i think the guys have done an amazing job. The reward system that was rolled out was also not 'as designed' due to some dependencies in other areas of the game. I made the decision to continue with the roll out and here we are today.
This is my responsibility, it was a bad call, but i have to say that whilst this could of been handled better i am still truly excited for what the future will bring and i wouldn't be doing this job if i didn't want to learn from extreme challenges and work with amazing people.
I very much appreciate the chance to connect with everyone not just in regard to this issue but the game as a whole. I am hoping to do this once a month with more team members and keep up more meaningful communication channels.
I hope this answers your question, going into anymore detail would take time away from answering other questions.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

[GW2] Fractals as Mash-Ups in Play-Space

The beauty of the Fractal of the Mists dungeons is that they allow ArenaNet to push out wacky and off-the-wall ideas which they might not necessarily be able to knit together into a full dungeon - but are nonetheless fun enough to work as a 20-30 minute instance. Fractals support ArenaNet's half-baked ideas (and ANet are the kings of half-baked ideas - hello "personality system") and give them leave to do... well, pretty much whatever they like.

The current Fractals are a mash-up of lore-based historical events, trendy pop-culture references and funky new mechanics. The Cliffside Fractal (also known as the Colossus Fractal) obviously came from someone saying: "Wouldn't it be cool if we had a dungeon with a gigantic living statue?" - this idea was probably slammed together with "I've got this idea for a mechanic with a powerful weapon which hurts you the longer you carry it." and mixed with a bit of Dr Manhattan from Watchmen. And out of this mash-up of crazy and interesting ideas pops a really fun little vignette (one of which I've yet to find a single detractor). Some Fractals might have been inspired by something as simple as a piece of concept art which never got realised in-game.

Also, because the Fractals occur "in the Mists" rather than in the tangible world of Tyria, they aren't truly bound by lore, space or by time. Sure, they're often significantly influenced by these factors - such as the "Urban Battlegrounds" Fractal which seems to take place during the Searing of Ascalon. But others seem to have little basis in anything we've seen before - such as the "Aquatic Ruins" or "Snowblind" Fractals. There is no need for ANet to justify where or when these events are happening, because they're occurring in a vacuum - a totally separate universe to the rest of the game world. The Mists is a true "play space"; unbound by many of the rules which ANet would have to abide by if they tried to play these stories out in the wider world.

So, they have the freedom to mess about, play and mix up just about anything they like. Imagine a Fractal which is a mash-up of Hogwarts (moving staircases, hidden doors behind paintings, ghosts on horseback riding through the halls*) and the historical event of the Foefire! Or festival themed Fractals such as a Dwayna vs Grenth battle for Wintersday (the withdrawal of the Gods from Tyria wouldn't matter in this instance, it's a Fractal, after all!)! Or, even, imagine they took the swimming animations and just stripped away the water and then stuck you in some ethereal limbo world or even accompanying Snaff through Kralkatorrik's mind.

I dunno, I'm just throwing these out there (though if any of these ideas appear in the next patch, I'll be expecting some sort of recompense). My point is that if they're going to use Fractals to let their imaginations run wild, then I think we can expect some pretty freaking awesome experiences in the future.

*this always confused me. You've got the Necrotic Horsemen from GW1, but I never saw a single horse in the entire game.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

[GW2] It's a Karka/It's Karka-lackin'

The Lost Shores release event has polarised... ok, not polarised - I'd say largely pissed off the community in a number of ways. I think people appreciated the concept, they liked the scenery and liked how the Karka were actually a challenge. But there were several elements of it's implementation that people felt were either inconvenient, frustrating or just downright wrong. I disagree with some peoples' gripes and agree with others.

The fact that it was a one-time event seems to be one of the biggest gripes. Before the game was released I stated that I actually like the idea of one-time events to create a feeling of epicness:

"Imagine instead a game where the developers accepted that if they were going to have a truly epic story, then it is going to have to have truly epic consequences and that means substantive changes to the landscape to reflect this. They would have to accept that with these changes to the world, player’s experiences would change and those who are tardy to the party are going to miss some elements."

That was my opinion then, and it is my opinion now. It sucks that the event was at an inconvenient time for some people - it really does, and I have sympathy for them - but if this was another event which was to be repeated a number of times throughout the day it would decrease its epicness: "I battled hard, and through sheer grit and determination I defeated the ancient karka and sent his heart burning into the depths of the earth! ...and then I did it again at 6, 9 and 12pm" . 

Making the event one-time means you can give out meaningful loot - loot which reflects the 3 or so hours effort, countless deaths and respawns, consumables, repair cost etc. I liked that they gave out significant exotic weapons as a reward for our efforts - I played hard for that loot and I don't think a cosmetic hat would quite have cut it. If the event was to repeat every 3 hours, you simply wouldn't be able to give this kind of loot - we'd have to go back to the (admittedly nice) festival cosmetic items and such (and ANet really don't want to give this stuff out for free - they want to sell it on the gem store, and rightly so). 

I've seen a few complaints that the players who were able to attend the event gained an advantage over those who weren't able to attend. 
I can't see how this is the case; people who attended the event and played through to the end received their rightful reward, but ultimately these rewards were no better in terms of stats than anything which is available to every other player in the game. Exotic items of exactly the same stats are obtainable through numerous methods - karma, gold, drops, chests, tokens, crafting, trading post. You aren't going to face an opponent in WvW and get beaten because he was able kill the ancient karka and you weren't. Just as ANet said - a hardcore player should not be able to get significantly better gear than a casual one.
Further, people who received a legendary precursor were no more or less advantaged than someone who spent those 3-4 hours grinding dungeon explorable modes - they got lucky on a chest roll. Myself, I got a unique exotic pistol (Master Blaster - not a precursor, which I put on the TP but hasn't sold yet) and an exotic shield (which I'm now using). I don't feel like I should have got a precursor, that's just the luck of the roll. Ultimately, what people got out of that chest should have no impact upon how other players play their game, apart from bringing the price of the items to a more manageable level in the trading post (which, for those looking to pick up a precursor - could only be a good thing!). 

Finally, we get to the gripes which I do agree with: the technical problems. There were those who played for 3 hours - got to the final chest, and then disconnected. Not cool man. Not. Cool. Thankfully, ANet are working on rewarding those players who missed out on their hard earned rewards:
It won't be an easy fix. It has to be handled delicately because you don't want to go rewarding those people who don't really deserve it (ie, at what point during the event do you say that the person has earned the right to access the chest? 5 minutes in? 1 hour in? etc - not easy). I think the fault for these problems has to fall equally on ANet and the player involved - if your connection/computer isn't quite up to scratch then yes, it is going to suffer in large events such as the other night's. But, equally, if ANet's login servers actually worked properly then those players might have been able to log in and claim their rewards on time. It's a difficult situation, and I think that ANet are good to try to address it, when they could have just said "tough cookie".

The only technical problem I encountered (other than continuously teleporting into the landscape and having to be portaled out (thanks Tasha and Elmo)) was the dreaded culling. We would be climbing the hive (for the first or second time) and suddenly great swathes of us would fall down dead - seemingly crushed by some invisible boulder. What had actually happened is that the game engine had prioritised loading the players around us, but not the gigantic veteran karka which had taken the chance to roll us up like marzipan on Wintersday. What this meant is that the event probably took about twice as long as it should because we were constantly having the respawn or spend half our time resurrecting our fellow players. 
ANet are, apparently, working on a fix for this. It will be some major changes to the fundamentals of the game, so I can't see if being within the next couple of weeks - but hopefully it won't be too long.  

ps. Oh, and I guess the "reinforcements" bit was a bit excessive.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

[GW2] How the Fight with Zaitan SHOULD Have gone down

This is a somewhat spoilery post if you haven't yet completed the campaign, you have been warned!

The way that the Elder Dragons were sold to us pre-release suggested that they were not typical "scaly-fire-breathy-big-toothy" dragons, but more embodiments of extreme hate, hunger, lust and greed. Whirling tumults of death and destruction whose very presence can send people mad, corrupt the souls of lesser beings and burn a river of pain onto the landscape.

These are the beings which roamed Tyria before even the human gods, before any of the current surface dwellers were even scratching glyphs into cave walls, even before Trahearne was hatching his scheme to recruit a young player to come and save the world so he can take credit. The Elder Dragons are primeval in the truest sense.

Similarly, anyone who has fought one of the Elder Dragons champions would surely attest to their power. The Claw of Jormag summons great waves of ice and pain, and springs shards out of the ground which impale unsuspecting players. It takes 40+ players and half of the pact army just to bring him to the ground. Have you seen the size of the laser we have to use to take down Tequila Sunri... I mean Tequatl the Sunless? The Shatterer - well, the less said about the Shatterer the better really (can we ramp up his difficulty plox ANet? Kay. Thanks).

Anyway, my point is that once you've fought your way through these dragon peons you'd be forgiven for quaking in your boots at the prospect of having to fight the big cheese! The big-cheese turns out to be more of a Baby-Bel. Less of a "whirling tumult of death and destruction" and more of a "spinning top of farts and disappointment".

The encounter with Zaitan is 15mins of work at best, most of it spent sitting on a mounted cannon and hitting 1 - hoping that you're actually doing some damage (this isn't really that clear). Zaitan clings to a mountainside and just takes it, like an abused triceratops plushie tied to the front of an articulated lorry. "Stop iiiitt, owweee, Stoooop iiit - guys!".

It just wasn't as epic as I thought it was going to be. He's an Elder Dragon for crying out loud - if it takes a whole army of us to take down one of his minions, we shouldn't be able to take him out with a flying boat and rag-tag group of adventurers (particularly if said adventurers keep throwing themselves off the flying boat  just to see what happens - "weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee splat").

I think ANet should have taken a leaf out of Squeenix's book in an attempt to make the battle more epic. The way they framed the antagonist "Sin" in Final Fantasy X was fantastic, you felt genuine dread thinking that you would soon be facing an enemy of such an epic scale, and that is because they approached the battle with delicacy. The stories are relatively similar - gigantic embodiment of evil emerges from the ether, begins destroying world, spawns "Sinspawn" minions, group of adventurers take to the skies to take him down (obviously FFX has extra layers: the origin of sin, the history etc - brilliant game, btw).

Sin is so fantastically epic that the players cannot face him head on, they would simply be annihilated - so you have to whittle him down - facing his eye, his fin, his arsehole etc. Before finally travelling inside Sin himself to destroy the essence inside. Now - I'm not saying that ANet should have followed this process exactly but they could certainly have learnt some lessons:

1) You cannot just plop the big-bad on a shelf and allow us to take pot-shots at him. This just cannot happen, this is the big-bad - he has to be so big and so bad that we cannot comprehend him. Yes, the twisting mass of snakes which Zaitan turned out to be was pretty cool, but he looked pretty small clinging to the mountainside like that. The cannons should have been Phase 1 of the battle - have us fire blindly into a cloud of dust which occasionally erupts with fire and lightning - with the odd snake's head or scaled tail whipping out to attack us. Tease us with the big reveal - don't just stick him out there for all to see.

2) He has to be a constant threat. Even in his weakened state, we should always feel like he might just be biding his time. I never once felt like he might win the battle. Give the poor guy some balls, for pities sake.

3) The killer always comes back for one last scare. Just when we think we've killed him, Zaitan should have leapt at the airship (possibly wrestling with the ship in a Gandalf vs Balrog style battle) and tore us to the ground. Then, emerging from the dust groggy and confused - he should have reared from the wreckage, weakened, but angrier than ever. This should have been the big reveal - rather than sticking him to a mountainside, have him rear up out of the ground and tower above us - forcing the player to crane their necks upwards to even get a look at his slavering muzzle.

4) If you're going to have us fight from an airship - at least keep the battle moving. We can both fly, there's lots of mountaintops to stop on - keep it active and interesting.

5) Finally, someone has to die. This is just a given. After the length of campaign which we endured, someone has to pop their clogs. That's how you scale the battle from 40+ people down to 5 and still maintain the epicness. As if you're saying this person made the "ultimate sacrifice" and that's why the battle was won. I think we all know who I mean here. Bloody leafy-freeloader.

Monday, 12 November 2012

[GW2] A Proposal to Increase Population of Home Cities

Just as ArenaNet intended, Lion's Arch is the most populated city in the game. And rightly so - it has free transport (though currently convoluted - but hopefully that will change), all the amenities in easily accessible locations and access to the Mystic Forge, WvW/PvP areas, portals to all other cities and finally the jumping puzzles. It's a fantastic city.

However, as a result of LA's popularity - each of the racial home cities is relatively neglected. Even at peak times you'd struggle to find 10 people wandering around these superbly constructed metropolises. This is a shame, all that effort made by the designers really shouldn't be going to waste. We need to encourage a sense of ownership of each city for the equivalent race. So, here's a few rough thoughts about how ANet might encourage people to return home.

1) Add in certain inherent bonuses for races when they're in their home cities. Buffs such as increased crafting critical or increased chance to salvage armour successfully would really bring the people home. This is a tough one, because you don't want to intentionally split the community down racial lines and essentially force people to city-hop when they're doing tasks (ie, craft the armour in LA, hop to the Grove to salvage it for ectos). So, perhaps these could be on a cycle? During the day in the Grove sylvari huntsman have a higher chance to critical due to sunlight aiding in their tree-singing. Asuran artificers have a higher chance to critical during the hours of 9-5 in Rata Sum because of their fantastic work ethic. On Sundays in Hoelbrak norn cooks have a higher chance to critical because the weekend is for feasting! By making the bonuses relatively short-term it would mean that if people choose to craft in LA they wouldn't be significantly disadvantaged - but it would draw some of the crafting crowd to home cities.
Perhaps you could even do away with the racial element entirely, and just say "Huntsman in the Grove gain a crafting critical bonus during the day" to draw in the tourist crowd.

2) For the love of all that is holy - free.fricken.waypoints. The current process to get to Divinity's Reach is: "click crossed swords at top of screen - travel to the mists - run across the courtyard into the portal to LA - reach LA - waypoint to city portals - run through portal to Divinities Reach - arrive at destination". This is ridonkulous - just give us free travel to LA for everyone, and free travel to our home cities for the equivalent races.

3) Add in more city-based events. Currently the only thing which gives anyone a reason to travel to another home city is keg-brawl in Hoelbrak. Give us a Sunday market in Divinity's Reach selling cut-price "food-in-bulk". Give us bar-crawls in Hoelbrak on a Friday night, pit-fighting in the Black Citadel every Wednesday and Polymock in Rata Sum (get that portal working for crying out loud). Give people the chance to say "Hey, *insert guildmate name here* it's Saturday, we should go to the Grove and watch the Tree-singers!".

4) Improve the home instance. Currently the place is pretty pitiful - most people don't really know where theirs is, and if they do they might have been there only once or twice in 300 hours of playing (speaking for myself). Improving this feature could be the subject of an entire post in itself. But I've got a few quick suggestions:

  • A noticeboard showing your friends'/Guildmates' stats.
  • Buffs for visiting certain NPCs you encountered along your storyline. "Go and visit the orphanage you saved and get an hour long 5% speed boost (to get away from those snivelling little... *cough* bundles of joy)"
  • Weapon/Armour racks. What am I going to do with my Mystic Battlehammer once I (a long way off) get Sunrise? I want to display it!
  • Allow us to waypoint directly into our instance. 
5) Jumping puzzles. I love these things, I do the ones in LA a few times a week compared to the ones in the wide world which I might do once or twice during my entire play time. Give us one or two JPs in each city and you'll draw the lazy jumper crowd at least once a day. Divinities Reach has some brilliant opportunities to add a rooftop-trotting puzzle, and Rata Sum is in dire need of a puzzle which could take us either under or above the city on floating cubes.

Those are just a few of the ways we could improve the home cities. I think even one or two would improve them immensely.

EDIT: Or you could just fill Lion's Arch with scaly monsters from the deep. That might encourage people to visit the other cities.

Friday, 2 November 2012

[GW2] I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles - Mordramoth: The Deep Sea Dragon?

With The Lost Shore coming later this month, significant speculation has begun as to what the "monstrous" threat to Tyria might turn out to be. Seeing as the threat appears to be coming from the sea, the general theory is that we are going to see the emergence of the "Deep Sea Dragon" or, more affectionately: "Bubbles".

Bubbles is the only one of the elder dragons not to have been named in any way, we've seen Kralkatorrik burn the Dragonbrand across the land of Ascalon and he is assumed to be lurking somewhere in the far north of the land, Primordius has awoken his Destroyers and is tearing into the stone dwarves deep below the surface of Tyria, Jormag and his Sons of Svanir are terrorizing the Far Shiverpeaks, and of course Zaitan is eating dirt after getting a heavy dose of cannon fodder to the belly. Some of these antagonists have had cameos in the novels - most notably Kralkatorrik in Edge of Destiny. 

But Bubbles has remained a relative mystery. We know that his awakening has forced the krait, largos and quaggan out of their deep-sea homes and into shallower waters around Tyria. However, one crafty Redditor has also been able to take a guess at his name:

Tracewyvernthe Wish Granter 
Is it possible that "Bubbles"'s true name is Mordramoth?
Subject Alpha (the Crucible of Eternity final boss) uses the skills "Teeth of Primordus", "Tooth of Jormag", and "Teeth of Mordramoth"... makes you wonder.

Damn you people are crafty...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

[GW2] The Lost Shores

We all knew there was something big coming in November. I don't think the anticipation has quite had the chance to peak - considering we're still riding the Halloween wave.
But now it's here:

The Lost Shores

November 2012

Something stirs in the Sea of Sorrows…
Unravel a mystery of monstrous proportions in The Lost Shores, a massive one-time world event that will change Tyria forever! 

Oh my LORD!

The screenshots don't give too much away - a ship (possibly undead) lurking in the background, strange anemone and coral-like structures. It looks like a totally new zone! "Monstrous Proportions" suggests massive world-bosses on a dragon-scale (pun totally and utterly intended)! If this event will truly "change Tyria forever!" then I will be very happy!
Perhaps this could also coincide with the very eagerly anticipated third novel "Sea of Sorrows" by *sigh* Ree Soesbee (sorry B). So excited!

Also worth noting the "December 2012 - Coming soon!" part at the top - suggesting an equally exciting update will be dropping in December (though this could just (and I just the word "just quite wrongly here) be Wintersday).

Sunday, 28 October 2012

[GW2] The Mouse Ran up the Clock

I have to disagree with some of my lovely fellow bloggers out there about the latest piece of GW2 controversy - the Mad Kings Clock Tower. A jumping puzzle so devilishly difficult that the creator - Josh Foreman - has stated that he anticipated only 5% of players would be able to beat it.

I think if you're going to make a very difficult piece of content then it is perfectly reasonable if some people are not skilled enough to complete it. That is the very nature of difficult content - whether it's for a festival or not. The fact that people are able to legitimately complete it at all means that it isn't too difficult - ie, unbeatable. And I think some of the hate (particularly from those standing in the lobby waiting to try again) comes not from the failing in the design, but simply from it's high skill requirement.

I had a torrid time getting the puzzle done - and it took me well over 2 hours of constantly trying. But I had a heap of fun doing it. For once it was a jumping puzzle which truly challenged me, and not just making it to the end after a long-haul and a couple of deaths and thinking "Phew, that was tough!" but rather getting to the end and taking all my clothes off and dancing like a madman screaming "YES, I CAN SLEEP! FINALLY, I CAN SLEEP!". I have not encountered any other single piece of content in the game so far which has evoked that kind of reaction from me - not even defeating the mighty Zaitan (please, really?).

I didn't have any trouble with the camera or unclear edges. At least no more than with any of the other jumping puzzles. They were factors I knew I would have to take into account before I even started the puzzle. They are factors that anyone who has done any jumping puzzles before must have known they would have to take into account.

Click to enlarge
I will concede that it can be difficult when you've got some fattie norns and charr obscuring your view. But really that is only for the first 20 seconds of the puzzle and I can't help but feel the entire thing would lose some of it's appeal if it was the only JP in the game to force you to do it alone/with a party only. I liked the social element - waiting at the bottom to see who would come back, and who made it to the top, hurling abuse at the chubby norn up front - it was part of the whole madness of the experience.

Sometimes I over or under-jumped and went headfirst into the soup. Sometimes I got flustered because the vortex was on my tail and mistimed a leap. At the time I might have put that down to bad design, but really I know that they were the parameters of the puzzle - a difficult jumping puzzle with the added pressure of a timed element.

I know this won't be a popular opinion. But I can't help but feel that this puzzle is fiendishly difficult, and that is the main reason it is receiving such a large amount of bad press.

It is a puzzle which requires significant practice, a lot of patience and a sliver of luck - but once you get it, it is perfectly achievable and uniquely satisfying. Not every single piece of content should be easy enough for every player to complete straight off the bat. That would be bad game design.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

[GW2] Something Wicked this way Comes - Halloween 2012

A redditor put it quite rightly earlier today when they said "Oh, you're in for a treat - holiday events are ArenaNet's specialty", they couldn't be more right! Halloween, Wintersday (Christmas), the Dragon Festival, Chinese New Year, St Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving and Tasty Treat Weekend (Easter) all got the ANet treatment in Guild Wars 1. Halloween and Wintersday were particularly big events which affected every major city with decorations, events, games and countless holiday-themed quests to do. Almost all of the events also affected the world at large through special holiday drops such as candy canes and snowman summoners at Christm... sorry, Wintersday.

First on the agenda with ANet's latest baby is Halloween 2012 and historically, as good as Wintersday is, I think Halloween is most peoples' favourite Guild Wars festival. From the ghoulishly brilliant Halloween masks, to the Mad King's abysmal jokes (lord help you if you don't laugh) it's a great chance to take a weekend break away from the grind to partake in some light-hearted pagan ritual-ing.

ArenaNet have promised us a whole heap of freakily-fun stuff to keep us entertained for the whole week, including new jumping puzzles, quests and events (you can sort of see a fiendishly difficult jumping puzzle in the above image). I'm hoping we see the triumphant return of the Mad King (complete with terrible jokes), some tasty treats to munch on while adventuring, and a funky new outfit in which to prance about and be mischievous. I'm sure it won't disappoint.

22nd - 30th October. It's going to be wicked.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

[GW2] Long Term Goals

The subject of "End-Game" is a polarising one in the GW2 community at the moment. Part of the population seems to say that with only a handful of high-level zones and only so many times you can run the same eight dungeons before you start tearing your hair out, the GW2 end game is pathetically lacking. Another part is arguing that the sidekicking system turns the whole game into an end-game, potentially, and with the numerous paths available in each dungeon - you have far more than eight dungeons-worth of content available.

I try to stay out. I've only really just hit level 80 on my first character within the past week, and only just reached the final personal story mission (it is rather satisfying to see "Kill the Elder Dragon Zaitan" as my quest objective). I've never done explorable mode on any of the dungeons, and I don't have a single exotic item (except the spear I just got from exploring the whole of the Cursed Shore). So I'm not too worried about exhausting the end-game content quite yet.

However, in terms of long term goals, rather than "End-Game" content, for me, the Legendary Weapon saga seems to be the pinnacle of what I could hope to achieve in the coming years. Requiring vast amounts of wealth, karma, skill points, PvP killing and sheer dumb luck, the Legendary Weapons are exactly what I would hope they would be - reserved only for those who put the time and effort into achieving them.

Right now, I'm just looking at accumulating the wealth to craft myself a set of exotic armour (hit level400 armoursmithing last week). The insignias alone will require 30 large scales (roughly 1.5s each - 45s), 30 ectos (15s each - 4.5g), 30 Gossamer (1.5s each for scraps, x2 = 90s), so we're looking about... ALL of my money and that's without the Orichalcum, Gossamer Scraps and Gossamer Thread required to put together the actual armour components.
I've just hit 10g for the first time, so I'm going to look to accumulate the required coin by exploring and farming high leveled areas. Hoping that I can gather some of the above ingredients for myself while building up my capital and hope that the two streams meet somewhere in the middle.

So, end-game isn't really a worry for me at the moment. And anyway, I can't bring myself to enter Arah to complete the final mission alongside the newly reunited Destiny's Edge without first completing each of the story missions in the preceding dungeons (Still missing Sorrow's Furnace, Citadel of Flame, Honour of the Waves and Crucible of Eternity). In  my eyes DE won't have properly reformed until I've FORCED them to do so.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

[GW2] It's Big, sure, But I've seen Bigger

A few days ago my brother, in one of his typically off-the-cuff ways, said to me - "it's good, but there isn't as much to do as Guild Wars 1 is there?". I grunted, not necessarily in agreement, but not totally in disagreement either.

It's not a criticism of the game, as such, just an observation of where we stand right now. Guild Wars was a reasonably big game when prophecies came out - with the PvE campaign and numerous PvP formats to get to grips with (TA, HA, RA and GvG). Each year following the release the game was further expanded - Sorrow's Furnace, Factions, Nightfall, Eye of the North and the Guild Wars Beyond features added substantive content to an already jam-packed game. Hard mode effectively doubled the amount of PvE content available in one fell swoop and PvP has expanded to additional game modes such as AB and HB.

There isn't as much to do right now in Guild Wars 2 as there was at the end of Guild Wars 1. But Guild Wars 1 had the benefit of almost three quarters of a decade of updates, expansion and fine-tuning. If the new game starts off with even half of the current content that the original game has, then, after a year or two GW2 will end up being a game world of absolutely mind-boggling proportions.

ps. that last sentence was a bitch to write.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

[GW2] Monetization

Phew-ee honestly, I put my head down for a few hours and the internet explodes.

Last night a GW2 YouTuber posted to the official forums stating that his videos had been flagged for using copyrighted content. This means that the YouTuber has chosen to "monetize" his videos which, it seems, is against the GW2 terms of use and the video has subsequently been requested (by whomever) to be removed.

ANet's official response was:

"You cannot use the monetization system for YouTube or other services. In order words, you cannot make money from our products. YouTube will often note that someone has monetized copyright content, and they will summarily (and properly) close the videos or close the accounts of those involved. You don’t mention if you were using the monetization system, but if you were, you should close the video and re-upload without monetization, or you should disable monetization through the YouTube interface. Now, I should say that this policy may be adjusted in some ways, in the future. We will be sure to let people know if the policies change. But at the current time, that is what is stated in the Guild Wars 2 Content Terms of Use and that is what should be observed."

And so the internet exploded - "ANet are killing E-Sports, ANet are crippling the YouTube community etc". It was all very typically theatrical. Woes, blasphemy, oh the pain.

Thankfully, ever the voice of reason, WoodenPotatoes came out with this response:

Allaying most people's fears. The jist being - those YouTubers who monetize their videos (and are the ones who are affected by this policy) are not the ones who make a living from them, and those who do make a living from their videos are usually "partnered" and so are covered to post content such as GW2 and other copyrighted games.

I can't pretend I've known about NCSoft's (and it is NCSoft's) policy against copyright, I've just avoided monetizing the few videos I've put out simply because I know what a minefield it can be, but also because I would make a pittance (I barely hit 50 views on most of my vids). The whole monetizing system is fairly complicated anyway - any legal mumbo-jumbo is confusing to the lay man such as myself so it's entirely understandable that people, up until now, weren't aware of the rules. But I suppose the thing to remember is this:

NCSoft have sanctioned a large scale and very expensive MMO with a financial view to be funded by the original sales alone. This, therefore, is not likely to be a big earner. You can understand if they're going to be iffy about letting people make money off it left right and centre - however small that income may be.

ps. notice my use of Z in monetize. That's for my fans across the pond (*pat chest, point at the sky*) much love my brothers.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

[GW2] Illogical Prices on the Trading Post

I wonder if whether the problem with the Trading Post is that the automatic reaction when you go to sell an item is to hit "match lowest price" - regardless of what that price is. The obvious incentive is to sell quickly, but without compromising on price by listing lower than everyone else.

But if everyone does this the price of items will never change, and some items are vastly overpriced.
Looking at gw2tp, I can see that Copper Ore, even though it is the most "available" item (currently just under 1.2m units on the market, almost twice a many as the second place item - Iron) is also still priced at 20 coins (at the time of writing), this is over 3x the price of Iron.

I imagine the price difference is partly because Copper is one of the items in the most demand - but even with this in mind, with the sheer quantity available on the market - you think the price would be considerably lower.

Even if someone were to start undercutting the price of copper in an attempt to drive the price down, they'd have to have enough other players doing the same thing so that the new price "caught on" with the players hitting "match lowest price" before all the units were snapped up by people looking to buy the cheapest materials.

In practice, the situation is probably unchangeable; Copper will always be in high demand due to the number of people dabbling in the lower ranks of crafting where Copper is so prevalent in recipes. Whereas, the higher leveled materials will be still abundant on the market, but there will be far fewer people who can craft recipes using theses higher leveled materials.
So, you'll get the odd situation where the high level materials are going for dirt cheap, but the most basic materials are extortionate. This will make it a pain for people wanting to get into crafting from the start because you'll either have to pay through the nose for the mats or go out and gather them all for yourself. Compound this with the fact that people are selling their crafted items for LESS than the merchant price (when taking into account the listing cost) and investing my hard earned silver into crafting is looking less and less attractive.

Hopefully, in a couple of months we'll find that the market calms down and starts following some kind of logic (if you can't already tell, I've got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the whole "selling for effectively less than than the merchant price" thing).

Saturday, 8 September 2012

[GW2] Early Impressions

The title of this post is, obviously, a little misleading. We've been beta and stress testing this game for months, but I've certainly noticed that the whole game feels different when you know your accomplishments aren't going to be wiped out after Sunday evening. Nevertheless, I'm going to approach this like this is a whole new game.

As MMO launches go, it has been a mixed bag. I'm going to avoid the negatives so early in the post, (though, believe me, they are there) and instead focus on the positives (of which there are a great deal more).

The world is beautiful, there is no avoiding it. From the sweeping hillsides of Kryta, to the icy slopes of the Shiverpeaks, the whole world shines and screams quality. It is a fantastic world in which to play, and I love every second of exploration, combat and story. I haven't experienced any graphical glitches or even that much lag since launch which even more impressive considering some of the high-population fights in which I embroiled myself.

The combat is, as promised, very active. Even the simple addition of the dodge mechanic makes the whole experience of fighting an enemy much more dynamic and reactive. Add in the skill combos (where one player might lay down a fire wall, and another will shoot through it - imbuing their shots with flame) and ground-targeted healing and you discover that Guild Wars 2 combat is all about movement, positioning and watching your surroundings/target. You will know when a troll is about to unleash his power-attack, it's best to roll out the way!

The dynamic events work perfectly. Easy to follow and pick up, fun and challenging at the same time. I was in one of the mid-level zones earlier today, trying to wipe out a camp of Centaur. Each preliminary quest was nicely signposted, and the main quest NPCs always made their way back to a town in the center of the map before setting off for the next phase - so the whole story was easy to follow and pick up half-way.
One criticism I would have is that it isn't always clear what the impact on the world will be. Take the above quest, once we'd worked our way through all the prelim quests, it was time to assault the main base - by this time we'd gathered quite a crowd, so we swept through the Centaur camp in no time, and then wiped out their Chieftain. We got our quest reward, and... then sort of... wandered off. I couldn't see any noticeable change to the zone at all - no extra merchants, no reduced centaur activity, just a sort of petering out. I think, perhaps, the impact on the world should be listed under your quest rewards "1048 Karma, 2000 Exp, 91 coins - due to the ease in centaur activity, trade routes are now open - Marta the Ale-Hound will now sell her ale at a reduced price!". Just a suggestion.

I'm really enjoying my personal story, and I find that I'm doing the heart quests and dynamic events simply to level up and reach the required level to progress with my storyline. The characters are colourful and believable (particularly fond of the Order of Whisp... *Cough* I mean, Order, what Order?). I'm intruiged to see how my choices will impact upon my experience, I've already met the Knight I saw in my dream - but I haven't yet seen how my choices of "Cycle of Night" and "Act with knowledge, but act" affect it.

I do, however, have a couple of criticisms: where is my home instance? Do I even need to go there? I've never been compelled to go and have a look around. Ok, I'm being glib, I know I have one and I've seen it, but I wish it were a more prominent part of the story (it is my home, after all!).
I also don't think the personal story is the most inclusive element of the game. I know you can bring your friends along - but unless they are following the exact same storyline, they will not gain any benefit from tagging along and experiencing it with you, and so it makes it difficult to convince people to stop what they're doing and come along to give you a hand. It's not a huge issue for me - the quests are balanced to be completed alone and I quite enjoy the freedom of gallivanting about on my own - but it just doesn't seem to fit with ANet's ethos of inclusion.

I love crafting, and I´m sure I´ll love it even more if the trading post can stay open for more than half an hour. I like the discovery system, and I also quite enjoy going out and finding the recipes held by certain karma vendors - adds a certain element of discovery to the already discovery-heavy feature. I´ve so far invested mostly in leatherworking (simply for convenience, I thought at first, but I´ve far outlevelled my ability as a craftsman simply because you can´t level crafting all that quickly without unlimited access to the trading post.

Anyway, they´re early impressions. I´ve loved my time in the game, can´t wait to get home and play more!

Gotta dash, on my hols and theres 8 seconds of my time le

[edit - home now!]

...eft on this pay-per-minute computer.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

[GW2] Every Damn Time

If this happens with every single MMO launch, and we expect it to happen - why does it still happen?

Surely there must be something which can be put in place to combat the first-day lockout.

I understand that when you build the server structure, you probably build with the average day in mind - and day 1 is not the average day.

I'm not raging, by any means, the question is directed more at the subject of MMO releases generally: why does this still seem to happen every damn time?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Guild Wars - Six Years of my Life

Seven years of questing, fighting, winning and losing, casting, slashing, bashing and bruising, exploring, raiding, running and rupting, capping, crippling, poisoning, dazing, blinding, binding, customising, flashing, clashing, charming, farming, emoting, demoting, promoting, buffing, nerfing, chatting, raging, ascending, befriending and finally reaching the ending... Six years of Guild Wars, and finally I stand on the edge of the next chapter. On the brink of a new plunge into waters (at least relatively) unknown. What better time to turn and take one last look at what lies behind?

Early Days in Ascalon

Six years ago, I bought Guild Wars because I had a little pocket money from working as a lifeguard and was looking for a cheap new game to play during my holidays. As I mentioned to Tasha when we spoke on Split Infinity Radio early last year, I seem to remember thinking that the game was single player – so you can imagine my surprise upon logging in when I saw other people running around my luscious Ascalon. This was back in the days of refund points, no titles, heroes or expansions – the game was much more difficult back then (compounded, I’m sure, by my unavoidable newbieness and utterly terrible computer).

I got as far as Aurora Glade before the family computer finally took a turn for the worse and decided to explode. I tried that mission a hundred times and would always crash just before or after we had to attune each of the pedestals with the crystals. I can’t imagine how annoying it must have been for my teammates! Back then, without consumables, PvE skills, heroes and only the core and prophecies skills, every player counted. So, having suffered one-crash-too-many, I eventually lost patience, deleted my character and quit the game. Guild Wars gathered dust on my shelf for a few months.

With a new computer came the ability to actually complete Aurora without wanting to reach through the screen, fashion a neck for Windows and then throttle it. The game was a joy to play on the new machine. I decided to allow my brother to have two of the character slots on my account, so between the two of us we racked up A LOT of hours. Before I knew it, I had completed Prophecies... literally before I knew it, as in, I completed Hell’s Precipice and then headed off to my first term at University (where the network would not allow multiplayer games) thinking that I still had some missions to go. Incidentally, when I completed Hell’s, I did it using the only elite I had at the time – Spiteful Spirit. On a Ranger.
 Thankfully, by the time I returned home after my second term (around Easter 2006) it was about time for Factions to drop.

Forging the Blades

My early days in Ascalon were spent as part of a guild called “Gods Elite Army”. Side note: I’m not Christian, but I think I always interpreted it as “The Gods’ Elite Army” rather than “God’s Elite Army” (grammar buffs, unite!) anyway, the cape was silver with a spider motif so I never really associated it with any Abrahamic religion. At some point the guild leader left and he inexplicably passed the guild on to me. It was only then that it struck me that I don’t think I could, in all good faith, start wandering through Lion’s Arch shouting “Recruiting to God’s Elite Army!” without being struck by lightning. So I unceremoniously dropped the guild into someone else’s lap and set off to create my own.

So, the “Legion of the Blue Blade” was born. The Blue Blade itself never really existed. It wasn’t a reference to Frodo’s sword in Lord of the Rings, as some people seemed to think, I just thought it sounded kinda cool. Those were the halcyon days of Guild Wars in my eyes. This was when the Blue Blades reached their peak – 70+ members, a forum and website, regular guild events and a democratic voting system to appoint officers, all with me and my brother at the helm. We had epic members such as Litle Healing Monk (a perpetual guild-hopper, who seemed to flit in and out of the guild whenever she pleased, but was someone who was always friendly and helpful), Dragonian Wizzard (who pretty much taught me everything I knew about Guild Wars at the time; if me and my brother were the guild leaders, he was our second in command), the Zurrieq brothers (both avid monk players, snarky and sarcastic, but always game for a laugh), Matt Tiger (one of our longest serving and most loyal members) and the infamous Hobo Mania (infamous for what happened while we were on holiday one year – more later).

In our alliance (one which never dropped below 9 guilds, but the composition of those guilds varied almost monthly) we were known for our weekly Big Blue Blade Race – a group race with prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place on the track shown below.

Ah, those were the days. Questing, racing and lots of Alliance Battles and FoW runs – even one ill-fated attempt at GvG. Halcyon days, fo sho. All was well, until one fateful summer when my brother and I were on holiday with the family. I’d left the running of the guild in the capable hands of Litle, Drag and Hobo – our officers. At some point during the fortnight we were away, Hobo Mania lived up to the latter part of his name – in a fit of madness he kicked all our members, every single member of our 70+ guild was nowhere to be found, just myself and my officers remained. Needless to say I was not best pleased, and I kicked him from the guild immediately upon my return – he protested, stating that it was his little brother, but I was furious and would not be moved. It was closing the stable door after the horse has bolted – the damage was done.

The Blue Blades never really recovered from that set back, and though we managed to regain some of the members we lost, we could never quite push back to the levels of our glory-days. We hovered around the 20 member mark for a good many years, and though I still saw Litle about, and Drag hopped on once in a blue moon the Blue Blades eventually shrank down to its current composition – just me and my bro (now with his own account). About a year ago, to mark the fall of the Blades I changed the cape from the vibrant turquoise blade motif on a royal blue background with a white starburst, to a blue rapier and rose on black.

All of the kerfuffle with the guild happened just a few months after Factions was released.

Factions felt like a totally different world (well, I suppose it was) but every environment we’d encountered so far had been vast landscapes: scorching deserts, freezing mountains, sprawling jungles etc. The land of Cantha had us fighting in claustrophobic city streets and through sewers and ratways. At first I didn’t like it – the learning curve was too steep once you were off the starter island and the towering walls of hovels and shanty-lodgings felt cloying and choking. Finally making it to the open fields of the Jade Sea was a huge relief, I found the vibrant turquoise waves and frothy outcrops to be a far friendlier place than the Petrified Forest or the bustling Kaineng City and after the trouble we’d had with Hobo and the guild I needed somewhere a bit more cheerful to spend my time. Our guild had allied themselves with the Luxons by this point, and it felt right to be fighting alongside the rag-tag Luxon pirates and gigantic siege turtles, rather than the pale and dour Kurzicks and their juggernauts.

I developed my skills as an effective guerrilla ranger in Alliance Battles. I tried to teach myself how to predict the movements of the mob from shrine-to-shrine, and how to read the tide of a battle to know when to press and when to retreat. Without tooting my own horn, I think I became pretty effective! More often than not, I would drop into an AB with a PUG and start directing the team around, whether or not they listened was an entirely different matter, but it was one of the first times since the fall of the Blue Blades that I felt in control of something in the game. Using long arrow strokes to show movement, circles to indicate targets and crosses to show where to avoid I could direct a four-man team around all the maps effectively and with half-talented teammates we could effectively hold off most enemy attacks.

When Night Falls we see who the real heroes are

Nightfall brought with it a whole new set of challenges to play with. I enjoyed the campaign and all, but my real interest was with the heroes. I loved coming up with new and interesting skill combinations, I embraced the new(ish) idea of build synergy and the old idea of energy management to come up with teams which worked as well-oiled machines. Inspired by Sab’s exceedingly popular three necro build and the also prevalent dual paragon and dervish/necro build, I set out to create hundreds of my own builds based on the principles of synergy and e-management. I spent a lot of time discussing new ideas and helping out other players on GWguru Hero and AI Section. I even had a couple of people message me in-game to thank me for my help and to tell me that they used builds I had posted and really enjoyed them.

With the introduction of Nightfall my PvP focus shifted dramatically. I’ve never been one for organised PvP – I’ve never liked using vent, and I don’t like the kerfuffle of trying to gather enough people to GvG or HA, so the new format of Hero Battles suited me perfectly. “A whole team who would follow my commands to a tee without complaining or messing around? Sign me up!” Teams were composed of yourself and three NPC heroes. You picked the builds and set their gear, then entered the fray. Battles were fought on relatively small arenas, where you capped shrines in an effort to accrue more points and gain more kills than your opponent and his team.

Hero Battles were like a game of chess – you had your four pieces (yourself and 3 heroes) which you directed around the battlefield. You had to be aware of where you and your heroes were and the opponents they would be facing at every moment of every match. If you had the upper hand, you had to press like there was no tomorrow. If you were on the back foot, you had to know how and where to retreat. I liked it because it involved a lot of mind-games with your opponent: scaring them with a bold-faced show of power from the start, or holding back and fooling them into thinking that you were weak before unleashing your entire arsenal on one of their unsuspecting heroes all at once – then picking them off one-by-one.

Strangely, I was better at Hero Battles when drunk or... well, “differently minded”, probably because it made me unpredictable. At one point I cracked into the top 100 HB players in the game. But underneath I knew that the format wasn’t getting the love it needed. If it was a stand-alone game, it would have flourished, but every skill-balance was made with GvG or PvE in mind and it almost always negatively affected the HB format (due to certain skills becoming overly powerful when used by a hero). Eventually, in response to dramatically low player populations for the game type, ANet came to the conclusion to shut the format down. I don’t blame them, though I missed it terribly.


One Eye on the Titles, the other on the Sequel

With Eye of the North came the realisation that the game was winding down. The time spent gallivanting around the frozen wastes of the north was mostly spent pursuing titles and scraping together enough gold to buy thousands of points-worth of Frosty Tonics. The same goes for the GW:Beyond project, both were indications that ANet wanted us to start looking ahead to GW2 and gathering the resources to start taking our achievements with us. So, I worked hard. I died a lot. I spent a lot of money. But eventually I got the God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals title. I'd finished.
The game wasn't any less fun, but it had lost it's spark - we were waiting it out. Waiting for Guild Wars 2.
So, here we are, in the present day. 7 years down the line, and what have I learned?

If you want to have something to show your achievements, you have to be willing to work your ass off for them. I didn't get GWAMM by begging, I got it through hard work and perseverance (if you know how many times I lost survivor, you will see where I'm coming from). I also achieved it by having a lot of fun, with a lot of fun people. The people I will spent GW2 with will no doubt be a whole different group of people, but I'm sure they will still be a heap of laughs.

I have a whole section of my life which is punctuated by memories of Guild Wars. I'll carry them with me for the rest of my life.

But now, I think, I'm ready to start making some new ones.


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