Blog Archives

Scaffold

Official reviews are coming in regarding Fallout 76, and almost all of them are universally bad. Like, real bad. In reading them though, it’s very clear that Bethesda did not live up to games these people invented in their head:

The collision of Fallout and multiplayer sparks all sorts of exciting ideas in my mind, most of which have to do with post-apocalyptic role-playing. What if I ran a town, hosting elections and keeping the peace? What if I opened a shop, selling exotic items to other players in a desperate bid to raise enough caps to survive the harsh wasteland? What if I worked behind a bar, serving drinks to other players, passing on gossip and words of wisdom? What if I was the head honcho of a group of raiders, ordering other players to attack camps and loot the corpses of our enemies? What if I founded my own faction, something like Caesar’s Legion from Fallout New Vegas, perhaps? What if I wanted to infiltrate a player-run faction I didn’t get on with, befriending their leader before stabbing them in the back?

Unfortunately, Fallout 76 does not facilitate any of those fantasies. What it does instead is facilitate boredom, frustration and game-breaking bugs.

Like, what the shit, Eurogamer? “Bethesda didn’t make EVE/Star Wars Galaxy mashup, 0/10 stars.”

The rest of that review is slightly less ridiculous. There are complaints about the tutorial quests that ask you to boil water and pick up bottles:

Most missions are little more than fetch quests. Go here, get the thing, bring it back, interact with a robot, job done. It’s mind-numbing in the extreme. It’s Fallout at its worst: basic, monotonous and lacking nuance.

Of course, that had me trying to reach back and remember the quests in Fallout 4, New Vegas, 3, and so on. Replace “interact with a robot” with “talk with an NPC” and… does that not describe basically everything, in any game? A lot of people post memes about how Fallout 3 was finding your daddy and Fallout 4 was about finding your son, and yet here we are lamenting about being free from such mundane burdens.

To an extent, that’s an unfair comparison. Fallout’s best stories were always side-quests, with the main narrative basically acting as a vehicle to drive you around the wasteland looking for them. While holo tapes can be poignant, they just aren’t the same when you can never affect the world.

At the same time… I don’t know that I miss any of that.

I want you to remember all the things you did in Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Fallout 4. Think about what was fun for you. Was it…

  • Striking out and going wherever you wanted to go
  • Exploring ruins, caves, and cities
  • Collecting junk to craft gear
  • Leveling up skills, getting Perks
  • Shooting things in the face
  • Solving moral dilemmas among various NPC groups

Hey, what do you know, Fallout 76 has five out of those six things! And arguably does those five better than any Fallout has before.

I am not trying to denigrate story and narrative here. I’m just saying that I don’t miss it in Fallout 76. In fact, the whole thing is making me question the cohesiveness of the prior games. For example, how much does the ability to strike out and roam around really improve, say, New Vegas’ narrative? Back when I played, I didn’t give two shits about finding Benny beyond the fact that I had a quest entry that wouldn’t go away otherwise. As I wrote back in 2013:

But the overarching narrative of revenge never felt personally compelling, and the coming clash between NCR and Caesar’s Legion seemed a digression. This game was Fallout when I was just wandering around, eager to scavenge what I can out of crumbling ruins I see just on the horizon. When I was the Courier just trying to make a final delivery for no particular reason? Not so much. […] I wasn’t protecting my home, my family, nor was I my own person. I was… the Courier, a stranger in familiar skin, following a past everyone knows about but me.

This is the same problem I had with Witcher 3 – the setting and the story were at complete odds at each other. Your motivation is to find Ciri before the Wild Hunt can, but oh hey, look, there are 40 hours of sidequests you can do over here first. All of which are a hundred times more interesting and immersive than the main, ostensibly racing against time one.

I appreciate the fact that you could kill just about anyone in New Vegas. Or kill next to no one. It is fairly uncommon in gaming to be able to resolve conflict in many different ways. But you don’t need the Fallout scaffolding to do that. By which I mean the wandering around, the looting abandoned buildings, the Power Armor, the Fast Travel ferrying of dozens of pipe rifles to sell to vendors for Caps to buy new shit. I was not “the Courier” when I was hunting for Wonderglue in a half-collapsed shack. I did that for gameplay reasons and because it physically felt good to do so.

So when I hear people say things like this:

To be fair what the hell is Fallout without the story and the player options/personalised quests/interesting world side of things beyond a clunky shooter.

…I feel like I’m going crazy. Open the map, walk over there, kill something along the way in an alternative-history post-apocalyptic 1950s. THAT’S FALLOUT (since 2008). You sure as shit aren’t playing New Vegas for 300+ hours for the storyline alone, son. You play it for that long because it’s fun walking around in that world, fun interacting with things, fun immersing yourself in the wasteland life.

Fallout 76 has systemic problems. The main one being the random server system, from which all other problems follow. All that glorious made-up shit Eurogamer was pining for could become a reality if there is a Moonguard-esque server that people specifically sought out and congregated on. Always-on PvP servers could also be a thing, with forced respawn areas and such. Pretty much everything is solved with servers, actually.

But all these people talking about the gunplay and the “emptiness” of the world? Clunky compared to what? New Vegas? Empty compared to what? Human NPCs with relatable human stories are fantastic, I agree. I just don’t need them to push me over the horizon and into the ruins – the hunt for Gears and Ballistic Fiber is motivation enough. There is still map to see, still ever-stronger enemies to face, and more guns to shoot them in the face with.

Fallout 76 is like when you finish (or ignore) the main story in a Fallout game but you just keep playing anyway. If you don’t do that sort of thing, then yeah, this game is not for you.

The Real Issue of Fallout 76

Played an unhealthy amount of the Fallout 76 Beta this weekend. I’m now convinced of a few things.

FO76_Farm

Oh country roads…

First, PvP and griefing will largely be irrelevant. Some people may have claimed the same thing before the beta even went live, but having now experienced the game for myself? Yeah, it’ll be no biggie. My one “PvP” experience was inside the Morgantown Airport “public instance,” one of the locations the game funnels you into for story purposes. While trying to access the computer, some guy with a shotgun was shooting me at point-blank range (for like 1 damage). As I looked at him, I saw what presumably was his buddy nearby, naked and holding an axe. At first, I misinterpreted the red “50” over his head as being his level (it was actually the Caps reward for killing him), so I decided to walk calmly to the exit and left the area. They did not follow me outside the instance. I came back later and completed the quest.

Now, yes, their shenanigans caused my behavior to change. It’s also possible to find yourself in the middle of a fight with actual enemies, which would prevent you from Fast Traveling away to wherever. It’s also technically possible for dedicated griefers to Fast Travel to wherever you Fast Traveled to… unless it’s your own CAMP, in which case your Turrets would do your dirty work.

But the real reason none of that matters? Because you get a random server every time you log in. You will not see the same people ever again.

Incidentally, random servers is also the real issue with Fallout 76.

At first, the idea seems liberating. There will not be any “alpha tribes” in Fallout 76 who systematically take over everything. There will not be any sort of administrative busywork in finding servers with the lowest ping or whatever. There is no concern about picking the wrong server, or being left on a dead one, or being on one that is overstuffed. People will pop in, people will pop out, and life will go on.

The impermanence cuts both ways though.

FO76_Workshop

Junk might actually be the most valuable out of those.

One of the big features in Fallout 76 are public Workshops. These are locations that you can capture and claim for your own, and have to periodically defend from waves of enemies. In exchange, you can use Workshop materials to craft basically a 2nd (or 3rd, etc) CAMP to your liking, including being able to Fast Travel back to it for free. Build walls, traps, turrets, crafting stations, and so on. Most importantly, you can craft Resource extractors on specific nodes in the Workshop area, and these extractors will produce 25 whatevers per hour. This is really good if you’re looking for a specific resource, of course – concrete, gold scrap, acid, titanium, to name a few that I’ve seen.

But guess what: the moment you log off, for any reason, for any length of time… poof. You’re on a different server the moment you log back in. I have heard it claimed that your Workshop setup will remain for the next person to have to clear, but you personally will never see that specific Workshop again. Now, you could certainly head back to that same Workshop on a new server and set everything back up. But… why? Even if you blueprint your setup such that you don’t have to fiddle with placing all the turrets over again, the impermanence makes such a task a bizarre sort of daily chore.

Speaking of dailies, there are Daily Quests in Fallout 76 as well. Unless it’s weird beta behavior, these are reset every time you log into a different server too.

Speaking of logging into different servers, a lot of items exist out in the world for you to pick up. For example, there are many known locations for Power Armor that are just laying around. You can’t really equip the Power Armor until level 40, but you can certainly scrap it or sell it to a vendor. And guess what… another copy of that Power Armor is going to exist on a different server in the same place, unless someone just happened to have picked it up before you got there.

As you can see, the real issue with Fallout 76 is its random server situation. It’s not just the potential exploits of farming the same location across multiple servers. It’s the fact that random servers also removes Workshops as being worthwhile to own over time in any capacity. And later down the road? What happens if you spend day/weeks finding all the nuclear codes, launch a missile to create a high-level nuclear zone, and then… disconnect. Oops. Is this why Bethesda was stating the nuke thing is a team effort? So that if you disconnect, you can (presumably) get back to a specific server by joining a friend who is still there?

Ultimately, these are solvable problems. Somewhat. Todd Howard states that eventually there will be private servers such that you can control who or who is not allowed to play with you. This permanence will make taking over Workshops mean something, even if it’s a bit OP in the equivalent of single-player… although waves of enemies do attack the location periodically. This will not stop the ability of people to server hop to farm resources, and I’m not sure how Bethesda will solve that issue. Maybe they won’t. Maybe a baseline level of exploitation is acceptable – people have been crouch-sneaking into a corner for hours in their games for a long time now.

Other than that teeny, tiny systemic issue that impacts every corner of the game’s design? Fallout 76 is great. I want to be playing the game some more right now. And I guess in a week I’ll be able to.

Split Baby

Have you ever seen a friend or coworker make a terrible decision in what felt like slow motion? Like they asked for your advice, you said “No, that’s a terrible idea,” and then they do the thing anyway? Then they stop back by, tell you the terrible result, and then detail their even worse plan for “fixing” things?

Welcome to the Fallout 76 PvP Show. Todd Howard is your host, and tonight he’ll be splitting a baby.

QuakeCon just ended, and there was an entire panel on Fallout 76. A transcript/summary of sorts is up on Reddit and that’s where I’m getting the following information:

Question: PVP. People are concerned. What’s the deal with griefing? How can we we enjoy our own game or ruin somebody else’s?

  • Todd jokes, “This is why I don’t go on reddit!”
  • The game is designed to be both PVE and PVP as part of the core experience. They want you to have a sense of danger around other players, but (and he muses here that it’s weird to say), they want that sense of danger without griefing.
  • When you shoot another player, you do only a small amount of damage to them, not full damage, akin to an annoyance or an invitation to PVP. If the other player shoots you back and engages, the kid gloves come off and everybody is doing full damage.
  • There’s a cap reward for killing another player; the higher their level, the bigger their reward. After you die, you can choose to “seek revenge”, which doubles the cap value that the enemy who killed you is worth.
  • Even if you do not engage the enemy, they can eventually kill you with that reduced damage. “Which sounds terrible…” but if you do that to somebody who doesn’t want to fight, you get no reward, you become a wanted murderer.
  • When you become a wanted murderer, a bounty is placed on you and is sent out to every player on the map. When a wanted murderer is killed, they pay the bounty out of their own cap supply (there was a large applause here).
  • A wanted murderer loses the ability to see other players on the map.
  • A wanted murder is always visible on the map to every player, even when sneaking.
  • Their goal was to turn players who are trying to ruin other players’ experiences into interesting content, and they are really happy with how it works.
  • As a side note, when you see other players on the map, you don’t get their exact location, only the general area.
  • Jeff shares that during the last play session, somebody became a murderer. He had just finished building a high-power sniper rifle when he got the notification of the bounty, and set out to take him down. He stalked the area until he came across the murderer exiting a building, where he popped his head clean off with his sniper. He looted some of the junk used a dance emote, took a picture over the body, and logged off.

Later on, there were two additional notes of… er… note:

  • You can choose to ignore specific players. If a player kills you, a button prompt appears allowing you to ignore them for that session. If you ignore them, they can’t see you on the map, which makes it pretty much impossible for them to mess with you due to the size of the map.
  • They’re also working on a pacifist flag that you can activate, so your stray bullets will never harm another player by mistake. They mentioned how players who were trying to egg other players on would wait for them to shoot a creature, then run in front of them in order to grief them, and the pacifist flag was born.

So, let’s recap. If you’re out in the world, you cannot be instantly killed by a sniper griefer. That’s good. Griefers can, apparently, keep poking you with bullets until you are near-death though. And if you were in the middle of fighting off a pack of feral ghouls…? Question mark. If they outright poke you to death, the “wanted murderer” status kicks in and they’ll be a big target for everyone else while also losing the ability to see other players coming for them on the map. It’s not specified whether or not this status persists if they log off, or lasts until they are killed, or what. The griefer will also lose Caps directly from their own pocket, although it isn’t specified what happens if they don’t have the amount of Caps available.

Or, you know, what happens if the griefer has a buddy or alt account. Account A kills you, gets Wanted status, Account B kills A, and then hands the bounty reward back over to A.

And just think about this PvP system for a moment. You “poke” them with bullets, and if they return fire, then the match is on. If you’re looking for a fight, there’s no reason not to just fire off a few rounds at everyone you see. I mean, the only way you can even find consensual PvP is by firing at other players. Presumably you would only start fights from an advantageous position, and being ahead on HP is already good. So we’re absolutely in a “shoot first, ask questions later” state.

Plus, death penalties are back. You don’t lose your weapons or armor, but you drop your “Junk,” which I’m assuming means generic crafting materials. Considering that that is probably why you are out exploring in the world in the first place, it’s pretty important. Unless, of course, you want to engage in some PvP, in which case you likely aren’t carrying around any Junk with you, since you drop it all on death.

So, we have two classes of players. The ones who want to fight and will have nothing to lose, literally, for just shooting you several times… and then everyone else just trying to get on with their day. Instead of, you know, just making PvE and PvP servers. This convoluted nonsense is what happens when you split a baby.

None of this is even what really worries me about Fallout 76. What worries me is the incredible lengths Bethesda is going through to prop up this pillar of specific gameplay. Which means this was an arbitrary, top-down design decision that they are willing to bend the whole game around just to make it work. “Every NPC is a human player!” You can still do that in a PvE server. So… why? Why bullet pokes instead of emotes, or raising a flag on your map marker, or just having PvP servers?

The simplest explanation is that they feel there’s nothing else worth doing in the game. Getting more powerful so you can kill your human opponents though? That’s a perpetual hamster wheel that will be spinning until the heat death of the universe, no further dev time required.

Yearly Attempt: FF14

I have resubbed to FF14.

It took a curiously long amount of time to figure out where to download the launcher for the game. In fact, had it not been the fact that I was socially committed to trying the game again, I might have just stopped right there. I understand that things might be confusing if random people were presented with a 25GB download link right off the Square Enix page and then prevented from opening it because they didn’t technically buy the game.

But seriously? I shouldn’t have to Google how to download your MMO.

Once I downloaded the launcher, reinstalled, and resubbed, I logged into my original character from a year ago just to test the waters again. And boy ole boy, do I get what the Blizzard devs have talked about before vis-a-vis not wanting to confuse returning players. Coming back to WoW is an intimately familiar experience. Granted, it is probably moreso because I had been playing that for almost a decade now.

Coming back to FF14 after having played for a month a year ago is a whole other story. Can I teleport around town at will, or do I need to need to be near one of the Aethershards? Where the hell are the mailboxes? What was I doing again? Why can’t I see the armor I have in stock?

When I left off, my character was a level 25 Arcanist/level 13 Thaumaturge on Hyperion. Meanwhile, my friend is on Cactuar. Do I pay the transfer fee? It seems to be a bit silly given the low levels, but it is difficult to tell the value of “skipping” as much of the painfully boring FF14 early game as possible. On the other hand, I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground either, so maybe another go-around in the level 1-40 tutorial was in order.

This time around, I learned my lesson and rolled a melee character (Pugilist). Thus far… things are okay. Level 1: Press 1. Level 2: Press 1, then 2. Level 6, Press 1, then 2, then 3. I am eagerly awaiting level 10 when I actually get a reactionary button (triggers after I dodge), and then level 15 when I get a melee DoT to weave in. It may sound boring – and it absolutely is – but it is worlds better than casting Ruin a million times.

I am not 100% convinced I’ll settle on the Pugilist/Monk path. I managed to find a guide or two regarding endgame rotations, and the Monk seemed to be heading in the Feral druid direction of All the Things. Ninja just sound bizarre. The Dragoon looks fine, as does the Bard to an extent. Considering my newly rolled toon is just level 8, I have quite a ways to go.

Overall, things are fine for now. I am not buying Heavensward, as A) I doubt that I make it to the vanilla endgame before the end of this month, and B) it is included for free in the Stormblood expansion. I do not anticipate playing FF14 for even as long as I played Guild Wars 2, but I do plan on completing the main story quest and seeing what all the plot fuss is about. Assuming there is any.

Wildstar: the First 4 Hours

Okay, let’s get started.

Auspicious.

Auspicious.

This screen was a bit disconcerting considering I hadn’t even made a character yet. As it turns out, it was defaulting to the beta server which… still exists? Weird.

Here we go.

Here we go.

I have mentioned it before, but I have a huge issue with character creation in any game. Namely, analysis paralysis:

Analysis paralysis or paralysis of analysis is an anti-pattern, the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises. A person might be seeking the optimal or “perfect” solution upfront, and fear making any decision which could lead to erroneous results, when on the way to a better solution.

Pretty much the only reason I purchased Wildstar and am playing in the Head-Start is because I have some friends who have decided that it was a good idea to get back together. Which is great… but these are largely the same people (with two big exceptions) who quit WoW a few expansions ago, quit GW2 within the first two weeks, and otherwise jump from game to game. In other words, there be issues.

In fact, there were some issues right from the start: one of the friends is gung-ho for PvP servers and already rolled on Warbringer as Dominion, then tagged us all in a Facebook post to let us know. There’s little doubt that if I went with him, most everyone else would follow. So, do I try and keep everyone together? Or do I herd as many friends as possible to a PvE server where the likely 1-month survivors will have more fun? Once that (easy) decision was made, I had to, you know, pick a PvE server. Obviously the Full ones were out, but should I go High or Medium? What is the server known for? And what kind of question is that, on Day 1 of the Head-Start?

Precipice.

Precipice.

Ultimately, I defaulted to Exile on Evindra, simply because I saw a few other bloggers mention it.

While this over-analysis might seem strange, from my perspective few people realize how absurdly critical realm selection is. Had I not picked the Recommended server on Auchindoun-US back in the day, my six-year relationship with these people would have never existed. Hell, I resisted getting a mic for almost all of TBC precisely because I did not want to grow attached to people I would never meet but nevertheless feel an obligation towards. Now? We’re sharing hotel rooms at GenCon.

Maybe I would have met a different set of friends on a different server, and I’d be talking about them. Maybe I would have met no one and quit the game years ago. I’m aware that realm selection was just one step on a sequence of causality leading up to the Scarlet Monastery run that led them to inviting me to Invictus. But, dammit, this right here is where you start collapsing the waveform.

Realm decided, I was immediately presented further dilemmas:

 

How much Dunk in your Bundka?

How much Donk in your Bondka?

Just kidding. That’s an easy decision.

Aww shoot, indeed.

I’d pay someone, like, $5 for that name.

So, as of right now, I’m (steam)rolling around as an Exile Medic named Azuriel. The class is pretty fun thus far, which is quite a relief as it was one I did not have any beta experience with. Mobile and hard-hitting Science? Yes, please.

I’m still interested in Engineer assuming that the DPS/fun issues I had in beta are addressed, and I have yet to try Warrior or Esper. I’m weary about being rooted to the ground for my primary attack with some of these classes, but at the same time you unlock alternate filler attacks later, so… it’s tough.

Two other items of note:

Irony.

Irony.

First, in perhaps the most comical bug fail I’ve ever seen, clicking the Report as Spammer button on any of the numerous gold sellers in chat results in an instant Crash-2-Desktop. The spam cleared up by itself once out of the starter zones, but I’m still laughing at the implicit message being sent.

Next, the opposite scenario of a full designer win:

The devs as indeed listening, apparently.

The devs as indeed listening, apparently.

I am a little hesitant to declare total victory, but preliminary reports indicate Skill Trainers have been consigned to garbage bin of bad game design where they belong.

Checkmate, atheists.

Organized PvP

Everyone has heard the phrase “Less is More.” The converse is occasionally true as well.

A few weeks ago, several PlanetSide 2 servers were merged, and mine was amongst them. When it comes to player-generated content, you always need players to be in physical proximity for any of the magic to really occur. So, I should be all for this development, right?

Well…

In games like PlanetSide 2, organized PvP is too often boring PvP. When you look at this picture, what do you see?

Whatever is over there is screwed.

Whatever is over there is screwed.

If you said “a bunch of planes,” you would technically be correct. Each plane is a Galaxy, which is a 16-man troop transport. Dozens and dozens of fiercely-organized players could be spilling out of the sky, with no warning, deftly seizing territory almost behind enemy lines. Cool, right?

Not really. More likely, those dozens of troops will be landing on an empty base, sitting around shooting 1 bullet and reloading to give some free XP to the Engineers resupplying them ammo, until the base is capped and they move on to the next. Capturing anything less than a Bio Lab results in about the same XP as killing 3-5 people. And even if this Outfit lucks out and finds willing defenders, said defenders are likely to give up and respawn elsewhere than throw themselves beneath the tread of an organized zerg. Because… why would they?

When I log into PlanetSide 2, I do so out of a desire to shoot people. Fighting against an organized Outfit does not result in interesting gameplay for me, as I am necessarily foiled at every turn. Unorganized zerg clashes, on the other hand, are fun times – people flock from all around to any given Bio Lab fight – precisely because individual agency exists. It is your individual, focused skill against the seething mass of the average and distracted. Yes, the odds are low that you accomplish anything of consequence given any one of the dozens of enemies can undo your damage. But sometimes they don’t, because, you know, unorganized. And then you feel like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

Which brings me back to the Ps2 server merges. Simply put, since the change I have seen a large increase in organized Outfit activity. Which makes sense, of course, given that there are more people in a smaller space. The result is less interesting gameplay to me, however, as I either face an organized resistance or none at all – the unorganized defenders having been squashed or conscripted hours before. There simply isn’t room for a lone ESF pilot flying around, harassing the odd Sunderer. The landscape beneath my wings is either barren or blanketed with vicious Anti-Aircraft units, both scenarios a reaction to a prior sky full of organized terror.

One might imagine that the underlying design goal was for the two organized groups to meet upon the battlefield, fighting tooth and nail, performing novel tactics that can only emerge from such clashing of focused wills. One might also question what the designers were smoking to believe that such things ever occur naturally and spontaneously. Why struggle and possibly fail (!) when you can instead shepherd your Outfit into empty territory after territory, maximizing XP gains for all? Three kills give more XP than a base capture, but its doubtful everyone will have the opportunity to get three kills, assuming you even find that many defenders still sticking around when the dust of 17 tanks looms tall on the horizon.

No, PlanetSide 2’s organized warfare is the WoW random BG premade, seeking easy kills for the easy Honor. To get these Outfits to clash, SOE is going to have to fashion a similar solution: incentivize Outfit vs Outfit gameplay, ala Rated BGs or Arenas. Changing the hex system to a more linear one is no solution to anything. Scratch that, it’s a great boon to finding a fun, unorganized brawl. It is not, however, going to change how Outfits follow the natural inclination of organized warfare in the preference of soft targets to hard.

If anything, the meeting of strength to strength is the most unnatural result of all.

One Year

A year ago today, I made my introductory In An Age post.

I still laugh at this one.

And it was all downhill from there.

The archives technically go back to December 2010, as I had imported my Player Vs Auction House posts over here when I moved from Blogspot to WordPress and broadened my scope. Looking back, the beginnings of that transition happened when I wrote OT: Firelands, Difficulty, and Cataclysmic Malaise back in March 2011, which remains one of my favorite posts… especially when I established the conjecture as fact nearly a year later.

That is somewhat of a joke.

Incidentally, up until my Guild Wars 2 prediction post last week, the Established Fact one back in January was the most-viewed page on the site. Posting the GW2 predictions and the TSW subscription numbers (#3 highest) in the same week did fun things to my graph:

Numbers removed to protect the innocent, e.g. my ego.

Not that I write for the pageviews or anything.

To be honest, this website is pretty much my sole outlet to talk about dubious patch notes, tone-deaf dev chats, post funny pictures, and wax philosophical about gaming in general. So if you were wondering whether I had some special Plans for next year and beyond, it is basically going to be exactly what you’ve got thus far.

I enjoy what I do here, and hopefully you do as well. But even if you don’t, well, stick around anyway and maybe you’ll learn something. Or possibly the other way around.

___________

By the way, the Guild Wars 2 headstart went live as I was typing this. My original intention was to jump on the Jade Quarry server because other bloggers seemed to be going there, but it was Full after approximately two minutes of being online. Four hours later, it appears to be merely High, but I wanted to go ahead and jump into the game. So if you want to watch me gleefully man the cannons in WvW, feel free to join me on the Northern Shiverpeaks server.

I picked that server because it was the next largest in terms of guilds that wasn’t Full, or an “unofficial RP server.” According to this page, it may end up being the #6 server in terms of players. I will have more to say about all this later, but suffice it to say, I did not want a repeat of my low-pop Recommended server ghost town WoW experience. We’ll see what happens.

Bold and Spectacular… Server Merges?

This news is technically more than a week old, but there was a blue post made by Zarhym that really struck me as… well, read for yourself:

Having said all that, yesterday we discussed low-population and faction-imbalanced realms with our developers. They have some pretty bold and spectacular plans for addressing this in anticipation of implementing some of the features we plan to in Mists. I just don’t have a lot of information to share with you at this stage of programming and development.

My first reaction is in the title: bold and spectacular… server mergers? Assuming that is not what they are doing, well, what are they doing? What could they be doing?

I believe it was in a recent episode of The Instance that the hosts were talking about the concept of moving towards a server-less solution, or perhaps more accurately a “dynamic server” solution. We can imagine that instead of always logging onto Auchindoun or Earthen Ring or wherever, you simply log into a server. Once that server starts to fill towards capacity, people will start logging into a new server. This essentially eliminates low-pop and/or faction imbalanced servers entirely, aside from very last server booted up.

There are several obvious downsides to such a method. First, everything will be like LFD for servers; the likelihood of you making friends “in the wild” is severely diminished since you probably won’t ever see them again. A possible counter-measure would be to weight the system so that you are nearly guaranteed to be placed in the same “server” as people on your Friends List. Think that DK was a pretty cool guy when you were doing dailies? Add him to Friends, maybe see him again. What happens, though, if your Friends List network splits off to different servers based on their Friends Lists? Even if you make it possible to change servers through the UI or whatever, other issues crop up. For example, how will the AH be handled? One mega-AH, ruled by botters?

Aside from the dynamic server idea, I had the thought about simply moving towards LFR-ifying everything – not with queues, but with phasing. Imagine the following: you’re on a low-pop ghost town (i.e. Auchindoun), and you walk into Westfall for some alt questing. Instead of the place simply being dead, it is fairly vibrant… with people from other low-pop servers. Instead of an empty Auchindoun Westfall and an empty Dragonmaw Westfall, there is a kind of meta-Westfall that both servers share. Their AHs would remain separate, their Stormwinds would remain separate, their Tol Barads would remain separate, but any kind of dead zone would be shared. If a bunch of people congregated in Westfall for some reason, the servers could simply phase out the other side.

Or maybe “bold and spectacular plans” is simply LFD scenarios, or LFR Tol Barads.

All I know is that low-pop and/or imbalanced realms is a huge, systemic problem in two-faction games. In my four years, I never played on anything other than low-pop realms; any time I heard excitement over Sunwell-esque unlocking of vendors or world raid bosses or WG/TB-based PvP objectives, I always rolled my eyes. Those things do not work on Auchindoun, nor on many other servers. Fundamentally, you and I may as well be playing entirely different games.

If Mists is really focused on getting people out of cities and back into the world, Blizzard is going to have a big problem in low-pop realms when everyone is outside and they still can’t see each other.