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Design Conundrums: 1 HP vs 0 HP

The difference between a character with 1 hit point and a character with no hit points remaining is immense. Obviously, right? But as I was musing on the extreme nature of the binary state, I started wondering if there was not some better way to handle the situation.

After some reflection, I am not sure that there is.

First, is there a problem at all with the conventional binary system? I’d suggest there is, at least enough of one to go through the thought exercise. One issue is that there isn’t much of difference between 1 HP and 100,000 HP – you are just as powerful and dangerous at one as the other. Some games might have “Execute” abilities that cause you to care about how many HP you have left, but all that is really doing is making the 1 HP “range” larger or simply making it more ambiguous as to your actual HP state.

The more salient problem with the 1 HP to 0 HP divide is what I’d term the Fail Cascade. Card Hunter (out of beta!) provides an especially stark example of this phenomenon. If one of your characters is reduced to 1 HP, they can still drawn 3 new cards each turn, can still attack at full strength, and can otherwise contribute meaningfully on the battlefield (limiting enemy mobility, being the target of spells, etc). Conversely, a dead character contributes nothing: all their cards are discarded, their body is removed from the battlefield, and you are left with potentially 10 cards to kill the remaining enemies instead of 15 cards. A character’s death is especially brutal in Card Hunter because the abilities you have access to are randomly determined from the cards in your deck. Instead of six chances of drawing an attack card to win the game, you are left with four.

Of course, sometimes the sacrifice of a character can turn out to be a winning strategy. In a 3v3 Arena game in WoW, it might be worth losing a DPS to take out the enemy’s healer in pursuit of an stalling game. In Card Hunter, taking out a Goblin Brute or other dangerous foe is worth it if the enemies remaining aren’t as immediately deadly in comparison. But under most circumstances in just about any other game (including the two mentioned), losing one character is an immediately 33% reduction in fighting capacity, and possibly more painful from a synergy point of view.

Is the alternative really that much better though? We could imagine a game where your health as a percentage is tied to your damage as a percentage; if you are are at 10% HP, your attacks only deal 10% of their normal damage. Personally, I recoiled at the very thought of such a system. Whereas the current design is a hard binary, it at least leaves open the possibility of a come-from-behind victory. If taking damage reduced your ability to deal damage in return, the outcome of most battles would be forgone conclusions within the first minutes of any engagement. Indeed, it is arguable whether we would be trading the binary at 1-to-0 HP for the same binary at the other end of the spectrum (whoever dealt damage first).

Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Downed State solution in games like Guild Wars 2 and Borderlands 2. Having played both for a while, I definitely appreciated the extra little window it offered between 1 HP and dead. It is certainly better than the alternatives we have currently.

At the same time though… how different is it really? I can still perform at peak capacity at 1 HP, so my HP totals are 1, 0, and -1 instead of just 1 and 0. The other issue is that I felt as though the Downed state started being an excuse for adding in more “sorta instant death” attacks. If a raid boss in WoW has a mechanic that kills you instantly, it has to give you reasonable warning given how powerful it is. Conversely, an attack that instantly sends you to a Downed State is common in both Borderlands 2 ¹ and GW2. It is a “safe” mechanic to use because it can (usually) be recovered from while still retaining a sense of awe/fear from the player.

Perhaps this isn’t even an issue at all, from a design perspective, as the devs rely on the player to gauge his/her own sense of danger. Personally, I don’t really glance at my HP bar until I start dipping below 80%; once at 50% or so, I start actively playing defensive and looking for ways to replenish HP; at 20% or below, I generally stop caring unless victory is in sight, as I see my demise as inevitable. Thus, my reaction is tailor-made for my play-style, rather than dictated by the devs who might want me to care at X% HP when I don’t, and vice versa.

I dunno. Realism rarely makes for more engaging gameplay, but I sometimes think HP is too abstract.

¹ Technically, there is “health gating” in BL2 which prevents any one attack from killing you instantly as long as you have 50% HP + 1. So, I suppose BL2 has both the tri-HP state plus an execute range.

Guild Wars 2 is Fastest Selling Western MMO

During my futile hunt for Hearthstone Beta keys (c’mon Press™, don’t fail me now), I stumbled upon this GameBreaker.tv article about Guild Wars 2 sales:

With over 3 million units sold in the first nine months of availability, Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO ever in the western market.

That’s no small feat right there. Riding a wave of acclaim and accolades, Guild Wars 2 has set a high bar for quality, and it has earned them a spot in MMORPG history according to an official ArenaNet press release. 3 million units sold in the game’s first nine months of availability puts it at the top of the record books in Europe and North America according to DFC Intelligence, a strategic market research and consulting firm focused on interactive entertainment.

Technically, it may have been 3 million by January 2013. Either way, this news was mildly intriguing, considering how distant from GW2’s actual release it came.

Still, it got me curious about some other numbers and figures. For example, here is an article from VG247 parsing the latest financials that indicate GW2 box sales are down. Which… shouldn’t exactly be surprising given that that is exactly what happens with any box game, right? Then there is the admittedly anecdotal Digital Dozen feature that NoizyGamer puts out every Tuesday, measuring the Xfire hours logged. The latest pretty much show a 50% decline from December, but it’s still roughly half that of WoW today, hour-wise. So, it is probably safe to say that the game’s population is doing alright and ArenaNet deserves the accolades for its legitimate record-breaking, even if the timing is a bit PR-ish.

I was trying to find numbers on how WoW did by comparison back in the day, but it turns out Blizzard doesn’t like giving out those numbers. The best I could find was this old article from 2009, which stated Blizzard sold 8.9 million retail boxes to date in the US alone. As point of reference, MMOData.net (thank god they’re back) shows that halfway through 2009 the Western numbers were steady at ~5.25 million subscribers. There is no way to know the breakdown between US vs Europe, or even whether the numbers are even intelligible given how it counts both box and expansion sales, but there it is.

Just for giggles though: the 2010 census states there were 205,794,364 Americans aged 18-64. A Pew article says 62% of American adults aged 18+ owned a desktop circa mid-2009. If we do a bit of rounding (a couple ten thousand) and assume that every desktop computer could run WoW (no possible way that’s remotely accurate), we have a pool of 127.6 million potential MMOers of which WoW reached… 6.98% of. Back in 2009.

Take away the people whose computers couldn’t handle WoW and then further reduce by those who have no interest in RPGs (let alone online ones) and then the people with PCs but no broadband and… well, you can start to see why market saturation is/was a legitimate concern.

Outmaneuvered

The one two bright spots I have encountered thus far post-Patch, is the reputation gain from the first heroic dungeon/Scenario of the day. The interface changes which governs this is pretty slick and straightforward. After finishing a Klaxxi work order on the farm, I took my warrior through a quick Scenario, which resulted in decent Shado-Pan rep (due to Commendations) and an actual 463 blue from the bag at the end. From there, I chanced a heroic dungeon as DPS and was pleasantly surprised at a 11 minute queue. Best of all, considering I was already well into Honored with Shado-Pan from leveling with their Commendation, it appears likely that I will hit Revered over the next few weeks without doing a single Golden Lotus daily (as it should be).

The other bright spot was also Reputation oriented, and it has since rocketed up to be one of my favorite parts of the expansion: the Zandalari Warscouts. If you have not been following along, there are now new rare spawns across Pandaria that have a 100% chance to drop Bind-on-Account +1000 reputation tokens for various factions, and sometimes loot bags. I am not talking about the 5-man, 21 million HP rares, but rather the easily soloable 7 million HP ones; they do usually spawn in similar areas. I spent the better part of 2 hours off and on flying around, and ended up with tokens for August Celestials, Golden Lotus, and Shado-Pan x4. The spawn timers for the Warscouts is probably less than an hour.

And this also happened:

I got ganked by Horded before I could kill the 2nd one.

I got ganked by Horded before I could kill the 2nd one.

Remember my quaint hope of getting to Revered in a few weeks? Ain’t nobody got time for that:

42/3000 Neutral with Golden Lotus. Screw those guys.

82/3000 Neutral with Golden Lotus. Screw those guys.

The new daily island on the other hand… good lord.

I wonder if the Blizzard devs truly understand how outdated, archaic, and downright stupid their questing design philosophy looks in a post-Guild Wars 2 world. While running around on the new island, I encountered a group of five Alliance players also doing the daily quests. While all of us were able to get credit for killing certain mobs, the other 95% of the time I did nothing but stare slack-jawed while they tapped and cleared out the rest of the mobs in the area, while occasionally ninja-ing the vases (or whatever) we needed to break for another quest. Had there been 1-2 Alliance, I could have manually invited them to a party so we could actually share in the completion of objectives. Since they were already in a 5-person group however, they became nothing more than annoying obstacles in my way.

Do you remember the response one of the blues gave to the question of why you can’t complete quests as part of a raid group? “Because then the correct way to level would be to join the rolling STV (etc) raid.” Oh, yes, of course! That makes perfect sense. We cannot possibly allow organized grouping in an MMO, lest the player come to the mistaken conclusion that players of their own faction are a welcome sight, there to enrich their lives and make it more social and enjoyable. Heavens no! All other players are competition for limited resources, and two is a crowd already! Can you imagine the anarchy that would reign if each individual player did not kill their full allotment of 13 gnolls? Five people sharing the credit is bad enough!

What a joke.

I can understand that ArenaNet outmaneuvered Blizzard so resoundingly on this issue – seriously, folks, I don’t even play GW2 anymore but you can’t go back to tapped mobs afterwards – and it takes time for an oil barge as large as WoW to turn around. Hell, sometimes the blues indicate they don’t even know how some shit even works, like the original programmers died or translated the vanilla code from alien hieroglyphics or something.

I will even grant that the GW2 system could not simply be implemented wholesale, provided the Blizzard programmers were up to the task in the first place. A lot of the underlying systems would need to be changed, and not even ArenaNet thought a lot of it through. In WoW, for example, even though a 5-person group gets credit for shared kills, only one person ever gets loot, be it round-robin or rolls. The big issue in GW2 is that one mob can drop 5+ pieces of gear (one for each player that damages it), which rapidly inflates the volume of items floating around. By the time I stopped playing, the GW2 marketplace was identical to the Diablo 3 AH disaster wherein both crafting and mob drops were pointless due to the vendor+1c priced goods flooding the market. Then again, it would be much less of an issue for WoW considering 99.99% of all mob drops are useless vendor trash, up to and occasionally including the epics (beyond ilevel cheesing).

To be perfectly honest, I do not know if I ever want to go back to the Thunder Isle. The Isle of Quel’Danas and Tol Barad were fine for what they were, but they were also products of their time. This mob-dense, poorly-routed, arbitrarily designed, anti-social hellhole is two years two late. I had time to ponder all these things as I blithely soloed a 7.8 million HP rare elite on the ilevel 455 warrior (Second Wind is overpowered), watching one, two, three Alliance players go skipping by in pursuit of solitude. After picking up my loot, I sought to join them… only to have the bitter irony collapse in upon itself from the sheer weight of poor design.

Also! Who was the fucking genius who decided to implement crafted PvP gear for a new season, only to hide it behind once-a-day random research, the plate gear of which cannot even start being learned until Stage 3 of the island? Who is the crafted gear designed for? The new PvP players starting three months from now? You can purchase 470 ilevel gear for Honor right now! In every possible scenario you are better off getting farmed to hell and back in random BGs than A) waiting for the myriad of crafters to auction their individual pieces at 1000% profit margins, or B) unlocking the recipes yourself. You are going to replace this crafted gear with Honor pieces anyway, so… what the actual fuck?

Christ on a cracker, I feel like I’m watching a version of the Washington DC bullshit playing out between Blizzard devs and common goddamn sense.

LFR is a Better LFD

A few days after my friend ran me through some of the MoP heroics, he asked what I thought about them. To be honest, I did not think about them much at all. They are much easier than Cataclysm heroics, of course, which should be a reason to like them as much as I did the Wrath heroics; I am solidly in the “random pug content should be easy” category. At the same time… something felt off about them. It was not until I queued for LFR that I realized what it was.

LFR is everything that LFD strives to be. It is the final evolution of the LFD process, if you will.

Like many people, I was annoyed to find out that Blizzard backslid on reputation gains with MoP, removing the two-expansion precedent of running heroics with tabards. On one level, their argument makes sense: daily quest hubs are one guaranteed way to get people back out into the world. And while Blizzard has a long way to go with their stubborn “strangers are competition” design – Guild Wars 2 fixed it so thoroughly that anything less feels archaic – the daily quests became a quasi-guild event for my group for at least two weeks.

But there is a longer con going on here, and Blizzard is being a bit more clever than I thought. Put simply: Blizzard is intentionally marginalizing heroic dungeon content. The decreased difficulty is irrelevant compared to the fact that there isn’t really ever a reason to run heroics anymore. When tabards gave reputation, you always had a reason to run X number of dungeons far beyond the possibility of upgrades. When (BoP) Chaos Orbs only dropped from bosses, crafters had a reason to run dungeons. When Valor was only easily capped from heroics, you had a reason to run them every day (or at least 7x/week). None of those things are true or relevant anymore.

Raid Finder as a solution to the endgame problem is goddamn genius. The biggest problem with the raid scene in WoW was with how low participation has been; no matter how awesome raids like Ulduar are, it gets hard to justify the expense when less than 25% of your players see the first boss. Solution: LFR. No matter how much they bribe tanks to queue for heroics, I do not think I have seen a DPS queue less than 40 minutes long. Solution: LFR. Seriously, I had an 8 minute DPS queue for LFR the other day to possibly get gear 20 ilevels higher than heroics. Random jerks that you can’t kick harshing your vibes in heroics? Solution: LFR. People Need-whoring your drops? Solution: LFR. If there was ever a clearer indication that LFR is in and LFD is out, it would be how LFR has the new looting system and LFD is stuck with “mage won the healer trinket.” Once they start letting you win off-spec gear in LFR, there won’t be a reason to do anything else.

Oh, and how many new 5-mans are coming out in 5.2? Exactly.

So if you are wondering what I think about the Raid Finder system, I think it is fantastic. LFR is not perfect by any means, but it is probably the biggest improvement in WoW’s endgame structure since LFD. It provides practice for the “real” raids; it provides complexity in a somewhat more forgiving environment; it provides something more substantial than endless heroic runs; there are/will be enough of them to take up a good chunk of your playtime if you wish it; better loot with less grinding; and, finally, LFR offers an elegant solution to DPS over-representation.

I sometimes question the decisions they make over in Blizzard HQ, but whoever designed the integration of LFR into the game proper deserves a raise.

Bend It like Bachmann

WoW:

Update!

  • Entry into the brawler’s guild is by invitation only. Invitations can be found on the black market auction house, by invitation from somebody within the guild, and occasionally as drops from certain Horde and Alliance NPCs.

GW2:

As we watch Guild Wars 2 mature in its Live environment, we have found that our most dedicated players were achieving their set of Exotic gear and hitting “the Legendary wall.” We designed the process of getting Legendary gear to be a long term goal, but players were ready to start on that path much sooner than we expected and were becoming frustrated with a lack of personal progression. Our desire is to create a game that is more inclusive for hardcore and casual players alike, but we don’t want to overlook the basic need for players to feel like they are progressing and growing even after hitting max level. Adding item progression is a delicate process normally undertaken in an expansion, but we feel it’s important to strive to satisfy the basic needs of our players sooner rather than later.

As the occasional¹ connoisseur of a nice bottle of Schadenfreude, I must admit: this week has been delicious.

While I kind of hoped that the Blizzard folks would have stuck to their guns with the Brawler’s Guild, the original plan always seemed more informed by the source material (“The first rule of Fight Club is…”) as opposed to good top-down game design. Creating “tight knit, underground” communities by throttling access makes the non-instanced, spectator-sport aspect feasible? Sounds like double-win efficient game design… on paper. But as we all know, things that feel good conceptually have a way of not working out in practice.

Speaking of that… whoo boy, ArenaNet.

I think my favorite part of this development is seeing all the mental gymnastics. This thread on Reddit, for example, tries to turn the question around and ask “what is a gear treadmill really?” Part of the OP’s reasoning is that the proposed new tier of gear will be easier to get than, say, in WoW, where you have to contend with random drops and competition between players over what gear does drop. So… if the treadmill is slow enough, it isn’t a treadmill at all!

Seriously, at one point the OP suggested:

O… k? All I see from that quote is that there will be more stuff later. That doesn’t make it a treadmill, just another flight of stairs, if you will.

Oh to be a psychic vampire capable of feeding off this boundless optimism/denial²; I would never go without.

To be honest, I think ArenaNet’s shift is both warranted and necessary. The cessation of reasonable progression is the natural Game Over screen for me, and you run off that cliff the moment you hit 80 and load up on inexpensive Exotics from the AH. This new tier of gear both reintroduces progression and gives players a reason to play the new content more than once.

Really, it is only bad news if you hold the ArenaNet devs up to some impossible standards like:

  • “We didn’t want the endgame to be something you could only experience after a hundred hours of gameplay or after you reached some arbitrary number.” (source)
  • “If you go into a dungeon in a traditional MMO and you, you hit a wall that you can’t pass and you need better gear, you have to go to a different dungeon and play and get that gear, whereas in Guild Wars if you encounter that, you could get better gear by going to World vs. World or expanding your crafting skills or several other ways,” said Millard. (source)
  • “We don’t need to make mandatory gear treadmills, we make all of it optional, so those who find it fun to chase this prestigious gear can do so, but those who don’t are just as powerful and get to have fun too.” (source)
  • “Because, like Guild Wars before it, GW2 doesn’t fall into the traps of traditional MMORPGs. It doesn’t suck your life away and force you onto a grinding treadmill; it doesn’t make you spend hours preparing to have fun rather than just having fun; [...]. It all gets back to our basic design philosophy. Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward.” (source)

So everyone just relax. You’re going need your strength for this extra flight of stairs anyway.

¹ Shut up.
² Shut up.

Megaserver

In the recent The Elder Scrolls Online preview video, the part that piqued my interest was when they started talking about the “megaserver,” e.g. going serverless. Incidentally, this topic was something I wrote about just over a year ago:

  • Eliminate named, permanent servers entirely.

Essentially, set up the servers like an ice-cube tray and as each server fills up, it spills over into the next server, and divide it all into game regions. One huge benefit of this would be to allow there to always be a steady population of people leveling in every zone for group questing, etc.

Example: if I went to Borean Tundra right now, there may be 1 person questing there on Auchindoun, and maybe 5 on Maeiv, and 50 on Tichondrius. Under this methodology, there would be 56, up until an arbitrary cut-off. And if the cut-off is 100, I would have it start transferring people to a second zone instance at around ~70 so the 101st guy isn’t off by himself. The key would be to make it subtle, with no load-screen or anything. With phasing technology it should not be a problem.

Obviously, my Nostradamus-like predicting skills failed to account for the very real structural problems WoW has with Cross-Realm Zones (people = competition, etc). But as is demonstrated with games like Guild Wars 2, it is quite possible to foster a more-is-merrier environment with a few tweaks to the formula. And, indeed, the TESO video goes on to say a lot of GW2-esque things in terms of everyone getting equal credit for kills, no competition between players, and so on.

With the formula issue settled, and provided there are methods available to get into the same “instance” as your friends, are there really any good arguments against going serverless?

Keen’s soft criticism of TESO likely being all “instancing and lobbying” falls a bit flat to me when he graded GW2’s “Presentation of a MMORPG World” a B+; not only is GW2 pretty heavily instanced already (plus Overflow servers), there is literally an in-game PvP lobby as well. As long as the frequency of load screens is kept to a minimum, I don’t think many people will be able to tell any difference. And, hell, if the TESO programmers can engineer some WoW-level seamless map transitions instead, it will be a major design coup.

In any case, the Megaserver deal was the only actual thing that piqued my interest with the TESO gamble thus far. Some people are flogging the “real game begins at endgame” statement, but that is arguably true in any MMO with finite levels.¹ Design musings aside, I am much more concerned about whether it would be fun to play, which is something we will not be able to see until the inevitable beta buy-in.

¹ Yes, including GW2. Unless you managed to complete your Story or jump to Orr straightaway, content was gated by your level. To say nothing about how one’s behavior² likely changes at the cap in regards to farming explorable dungeons, legendaries, and vanity gear in general.

² Bhagpuss notwithstanding, of course.

Once More, With Feeling

Allow me to revise my previous post a bit. The fundamental question I was asking was:

“Is it a good use of designer resources to specifically construct one-time events (in MMOs)?”

The traditional sort of knee-jerk response would probably be “Yes.” My answer is No.

A one-time event is essentially the most extreme example of planned obsolescence in MMOs. If you get upset at the idea that nobody does Tier N content when Tier N+1 is released, then you should be grabbing pitchforks at the very mention of one-time events. Were you upset when ToC made Ulduar irrelevant? Were you sad when Cataclysm redesigned the entire leveling experience, including removing your favorite quests? Do you support attunements as a means to make all raids relevant through the duration of an expansion? Are you sad about how fast leveling has gotten in WoW, or how many dungeons are being “wasted?” If you answered Yes to any of those questions and yet still enjoy the idea of the AQ gate opening just the one time ever, then you have some serious cognitive dissonance going on.

A raid being rendered moot by the next patch’s 5m heroics is just another form of planned obsolescence; it is another form of one-time events, same as the leveling speed changing, dungeons becoming empty, and so on. The only difference is one of duration, e.g. months/years versus an hour on a Sunday afternoon.

There is, however, an important distinction to make here.

When ToC made Ulduar irrelevant, Ulduar still existed. In fact, you can still zone into Ulduar today and go have fun. Will it be the same experience as it was when it was the new hotness? Of course not – you can never cross the same river twice. The difficulty changed quite a bit following the months of its release, to say nothing of the changing abilities of players, the higher level cap, and so on. But fundamentally the place is still there and still capable of generating new memories. The planned obsolescence was social in nature, not structural. Blizzard did not simply remove the raid portal, or leave all the bosses dead. Few people wanted to do Ulduar after ToC was released because better gear was available elsewhere, they had gotten their fill of Ulduar content, they wanted to tackle new challenges, or whatever.

This brings me to a smaller point I was trying to make yesterday: social obsolescence happens naturally, automatically, and inevitably. If ToC was released with just sidegrades available, there still would have been fewer people raiding Ulduar; the exodus might not have been as abrupt, but it still would have occurred. Even in horizontal-progression games, you do not see an evenly distributed population. People generally crave novelty, and will mob whatever new content is introduced, leaving barren ghost towns in their wake. Nobody cares that you have got the Kingslayer title yesterday.

And so now we have arrived at my larger assertion: making events only occur once adds little to nothing to the experience.

Liore and Syl in the previous comments said that the AQ opening would have been less epic/less people would have showed up if it were repeatable. Based on what? Did those people know, for sure, that the gong would never be struck again? Would the significance of the first opening have been diminished in any real way if the event was available the very next year? Or weeks later? I have a hard time believing that could be the case, because Firsts are always special. Neil Armstrong is the first human to step on the moon; his accomplishment is in no way diminished by the fact eleven other dudes have also stepped on the moon. Have you heard of Eugene Cernan or Harrison Schmitt? Those are the last two people to have rung the gong on the moon, so to speak, but no one really cares. Neil still is/was the man.

Ultimately, to me, it comes down to a question of where best to utilize limited designer resources. When new raids and dungeons are released, there is always a special moment attached to it. A camaraderie that exists as thousands and thousands of players try something for the first time, race to the top, and otherwise share an experience. Undoubtedly that is the same goal of one-time events, to evoke those same feelings and perhaps pretend that this is a game world that is always changing (at 12:00 PM Pacific Time/19:00 GMT this Sunday only). The difference is that with the latter, the content is thereafter removed, generating no new experiences, no new memories, and no lasting history beyond the recollections of an ever-dwindling veteran playerbase.

I want game worlds to get bigger by having more things in them, not less, and not temporary things. Designers should stick with making the tools and toys; let the players bring the dynamic themselves.

And if you need something to only happen once to enjoy it the most, 1) I feel bad for you, and 2) the first time only happens once already. Enjoy the feeling as it lasts… don’t just take the ball and go home.

Every Moment is a One-Time Event

Is something you never experience special to you?

Is something you experience only special when few other people experience it?

I have seen a lot of praise for ArenaNet’s one-time Halloween event. I cannot be sure whether said praise is coming from the same individuals that lament the obsolescence of last year’s raids, but nevermind. ArenaNet’s tortured logic is pretty well deconstructed elsewhere, so let us set that aside as well. What I am curious about is this fanciful notion that it is a good use of designer manpower to specifically construct one-off events.

To me, it’s redundant.

When I think about one-off content, I remember back to the plague event that lead into Wrath’s release. Players could get infected, eventually turn into zombies, and the go infect other players. The griefing in Shat was immense. As paladins, a friend and I decided to roleplay/grief the players actually trying to infect themselves and/or start those zombie raids against Stormwind. Never before has someone raged so hard at being targeted with Cleanse. “The power of the Light compels you!” Turn Evil was also liberally applied. Around this same time, there was a special boss in Kara that dropped the Arcanite Ripper, and I believe there was only the one reset where it was available. In any case, I was the only person to get it in my guild. I busted it out pretty regularly all the way up until I unsubbed.

Here’s the thing though: how different was any of that from, say, completing Ulduar when it was current?

The Wrath lead-up event was fun because it was fun, not because it was never going to happen again. Similarly, it would not bother me one iota if the Arcanite Ripper was mailed to every player that logged in once in the last four years – nor, incidentally, does it bother me that the Arcanite Ripper is now on the Black Market AH. In many ways, I consider Ulduar (or any raid) to be more “rare,” because while these places still exist, it will never been the same as when it was newly released. Even if Ulduar was still relevant to current endgame progression somehow, it would not be the same as it was when it was new.

It is not the item or the event that matters, it is the zeitgeist. And the people. ArenaNet could have looped the Mad King event like they loop everything else and it still would have been exactly as meaningful for those first players as it is now. Every moment is a one-time event. Ergo, I see little reason to layer artificial scarcity on top of temporal scarcity. The devs could have safely shared their work with a wider audience with no lack of impact to anyone worth caring about.

But, whatever. If you consider content you never see as content, then GW2 has enough content to keep you busy for quite some time.

Low-Information Gaming

Logged onto Guild Wars 2 today after about 2+ weeks of not playing. Decided to be lazy authentic and not read anything, to better simulate the Joe Q Casual experience.

After a 500mb download, I appeared to be on an island near Mount Something-or-Other, five feet from a Personal Story portal. What was I doing again? Oh, right. I had spent a number of missions getting extra-special explosives to destroy one of those bone ships. I guess no one can be bothered to bring a cannon or trebuchet up in here? It worked last time. Whatever. All I need to do is… swim underwater… past a whole bunch of mines… with Risen all over the place… as an Elementalist.

Heavy sigh.

I am downed almost immediately, surrounded by the most banal MMO mobs ever created, and oscillating rapidly between my ineffectual real attacks, ineffectual downed abilities, and having no abilities being so close to the surface.

By the way, has anyone actually used Water Ability #5 as an Elementalist in anything approaching a useful manner? Even if you aim correctly, it always seems like you hit them 1-2 times and pass through them, dealing less damage overall than you would have just auto-attacking. Oh, good, that Water #5 launched me into a mine. Christ, this gameplay is worse than I remember.

Next step: clear the area of undead.

Err… looks clear to me.

I am not trying to be cute with the picture – there is literally zero mobs of any sort within the green circle. After trying fruitlessly to climb aboard the bone ship and then determine if there are mobs underneath the weird coral formation, I eventually encounter a Risen shark on my way back to the island. Apparently satisfied that a stationary shark 1000 meters from the boat was killed, Tonn decided to plant the bomb. We swam back without much incident.

At this point, the detonator does not appear to be working, and the murlocs naga krait are attacking. Tonn says he will repair the connections, give us the signal, and then says to push the button when the detonator goes green. Now, I am no explosive expert, but won’t the detonator go green the instant the connections are repaired? Nevermind. I kill some extremely small waves of mobs with the help of four other NPCs. “That’s the signal, hit the detonator now!” After a lame explosion, the following happens:

It’s not a spoiler if it’s dumb.

Did my game bug out, or did they literally just show me a bunch of water and haphazardly say that the dude died? No body? No explanation of how or why? I get that the “impact” was probably lessened by the time between I last played GW2 and today, but come on. This is exactly like when What’s-His-Face died at the Place “defending” the Thing (if you played GW2, you know what I’m talking about). There is simply no sense in it. I do not find pointless, off-screen deaths particularly compelling.

Enough of that nonsense.

I use the HotM Express to get to Lion’s Arch to check out the Halloween stuff. There are decorations and… an orange circle. I go there. I click on some NPCs, and suddenly I am a bird. I click on some people and get “points.” Okay. I finally find the NPC that gives you an item that runs on Candy Corn. As far as I can tell, I am supposed to find six people/things that can correspond to the four different buttons on my new hotbar. I talk to the first ghost nearby like I am instructed to. The dialog is pretty incoherent, but maybe that is the point? I keep getting feared away from the NPC by what I imagine to be another player still doing the costume brawl thing. Am I still “flagged?” I dunno.

I successfully talk to the ghost by clicking really fast before I get feared away. Not sure if I “completed” this step so I use the device to see if it marks anything in the quest area. Oops, out of Candy Corn. I watch the player grief people at the ghost for a solid three minutes before I head to a strange icon labeled Commander So-n-So, thinking perhaps this is some new NPC to explain what exactly the fuck is going on.

Talk to a Pumpkin-Carving NPC that says I need to carve an unspecified number of pumpkins before I can get a title or join his order, or possibly both. On my way to the Commander icon I see a toilet paper roll go flying through the air. After clicking on a table, it looks like a Candy Corn monster appears, but I keep walking. Ah, okay. The Commander is simply one of those players who bought the Commander book for 100g; this person is simply AFK at the bank, in somewhat cool gear. I right-click them trying to Inspect and… that’s right. ArenaNet built a game with a Vanity-based economy, and included no way to Inspect other players.

About to log off, then decide to take a screenshot with some random person nearby:

The end (?)

Funny story about that armor I’m wearing. You see, I actually got to level 67 and went the rest of the way to 80 by crafting in town. Afterwards, I sort of arbitrarily chose a set of gear off the AH based on stats that might potentially be good for a support character in dungeon runs. As I equipped everything, I noticed that the color was off; this happens occasionally when you equip gear that has three color zones when you had been using gear with only two up to that point. I was having a surprisingly hard time figuring out which zone was not colored right though, so I changed everything to the same color to figure it out.

Not a bug, but a feature! Well… maybe not so much.

The silver bit that refused to be colored correctly ended up being… the boob window. Or underboob window, I suppose. Or just “window,” on Asura.

In any event, pretty sure I am done with Guild Wars 2. It was probably not fair to make a half-hearted attempt to jump back in to check out the Halloween event while so acutely aware of how much fun I could be having with Borderlands 2 instead. Then again, maybe that is a perfectly fair scenario given the realities of gaming today: it is not enough to be a good game, you have better than every other game someone could be playing at that moment.

Counter-Intuitive Insights

While providing a very similar experience, what Rift has going for it is a smaller community.

Keen

At first, I could not help but laugh. There is context for the quote, sure, but it struck me as funny regardless to take what would normally be a negative quality (few people are playing your game) and spin it as a positive. Especially when it is an MMO one is talking about, where the whole idea is the “a lot of people” part.

But… hmm.

It is undoubtedly true that an MMO “community,” such as it is, has an impact on one’s enjoyment of a game. I read threads like these on the Guild Wars 2 forums, and the sort of hyper-competitiveness inherent to the dungeon-running culture presented there makes me not want to bother at all. The people running these dungeons are getting them done in 20 minutes, whereas it will take me hours to get a similar level of competency all while I slow them down (assuming I am not kicked to begin with).

Incidentally, this is why you have LFD tools: there will always be abrasive social encounters when grouping with strangers, but at least with LFD you are not dependent on their goodwill to zone in at all. As long as you have reasonable expectations (i.e. not expect four strangers to wait while you soak up the atmosphere), you will be fine.

I believe that Keen is probably correct that Rift’s smaller community is a positive, assuming you are into that sort of thing. Fewer people means less of an audience for trolling, more reliance on social contacts to get things done, which probably all contributes to a Cheers-esque atmosphere. Or at least a “we’re in this foxhole together” atmosphere. So… yeah. The fewer people that like your MMO, the more you will like it. And the converse – the more popular your MMO gets, the less you enjoy it – is probably true for many as well.

All of which means you can never say bad things about hipsters ever again.