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No Thanks, I’m Good

One of the events coming back in Guild Wars 2 is the Twisted Marionette encounter from early in the Living World days. You know, when the devs thought it would be super clever to spend tremendous resources on unique events and then literally delete them from the game after X weeks. That sort of nonsense has been a bad idea forever, so my interest was piqued when I heard ArenaNet is bringing back some of the Season 1 content.

Then I came across a helpful guide to the encounter on Reddit:

New drinking game: take a shot every time it mentions an ability will one-shot you. And prepare to be downed yourself.

I slid off Guild Wars 2 towards the beginning of Season 1, so I have no attachment to this “fan-favorite” event. And, granted, I led raids in WoW for many years which had the same sort of one-shot, “wipe the raid because one person didn’t dance correctly” mechanics. Perhaps that was the idea of the time, to craft an encounter similar to those of its peers, even though I don’t think anyone ever actually thought it would be a good idea in GW2. Sure, put on some zerg protection for X number of bosses to shake things up. But this sort of thing? Yikes.

So, anyway, Twisted Marionette is back for whomever still enjoys that sort of thing.

It was interesting feeling my physical revulsion bubble up just from reading that guide though; a sort of literal gut check of where I am in 2021 regarding group content. I do still log in very occasionally to GW2, sometimes seeking out the world events and killing dragons. The zerg is much maligned as mindless, and I suppose it is, but that has always felt more core to the GW2 experience than anything else. A big pile of people and particle effects, working separately together, without competition or ego, achieving great things. I never felt bad seeing another player beside me, or was concerned about their DPS performance or general competency. The more the merrier!

I have been out of the raiding game so long that it’s difficult to imagine ever enjoying the opposite experience. Highly regimented, strictly choreographed, tightly tuned… school group projects. Wherein your personal aptitude is diluted in a pool of randos who very much care less about the final grade than you do. Sometimes it’s even worse when you know everyone else, because now you have worry about letting them down, or worry about pretending you aren’t annoyed when they let you down.

Is there a sense of pride and accomplishment when you finally defeat the difficult encounter as a group? Sure. Although it’s more relief than anything, as I get to avoid the awkward, weekly debriefing in which I try to delicately tell our best DPS that her healing boyfriend needs to step up or he’s getting benched. And even though we succeeded, there are those who wanted both gone due to drama.

I used to do this sort of thing for fun? Christ almighty. No thanks, I’m good.

[Fake Edit:] For the complete opposite take, look no further than Bhagpuss.

The next two lanes also killed theirs but after that it was fail time for everyone, and we wiped. Second time around we did even worse and then I had to go to bed. It was a great introduction all the same.

He’s not being facetious. Dude is clearly an (inter)national treasure and we should all aspire to be this excited to still fail through no fault of our own, instead of considering that being literally the worst possible outcome.

Specialization is Key

I was reading Syl’s Monday post on GW2 when a particular section leaped off the page:

Some people still doubt that GW2 will manage without any holy trinity, but I actually do – and if there’s ever going to be more “dedicated” healing or tanking going on in a specific encounter, it will probably be a situation in which everyone must take turns or decides on a random player.

If you have attempted group content in WoW at any point in the last two years, you probably recoiled in horror as I did at the thought of looking forward to shared group responsibility. We have a term for that now – The Dance – and every indication that it was the principle cause of the nearly 2 million subscriber exodus.

After all, by making every player vital to the group’s success (e.g. everyone must Dance correctly), the strength of the group is reduced to that of its weakest member. And if we follow the “down with the holy trinity!” argument to its inevitable conclusion, we end up in Dance Dance Central.

When I asked whether Syl really wanted shared responsibility, the response was:

You mean, would I rather have groups share the responsibility of control or be flexible about it, rather than putting the entire responsibility and blame on just one person? of course I would. I think this is one big reason why WoW pugs were so horrible.

The sentiment is interesting to me, because I approach it from the 100% opposite direction.

There are some responsibilities that I do not trust other people to accomplish. I was the guy in school/college that would do all of the heavy lifting in the group project – picking the topic, doing the research, writing the paper – while you sailed to an easy A by reading two (of 10) paragraphs in front of the class.

Actually, “trust” is not even the operating word I am looking for, as that implies an uncertainty of contribution. It wasn’t a question of whether you would perform, or even how. It was a matter of your capacity for performance, and whether the final outcome would be better or worse with said contribution.

Is that arrogant? No.¹ Ability brooks no morality. Being better at the “game of school” did not/does not make me a better person, or someone else worse for their lack. The unilateral determination of the value of the contribution might be construed as arrogant, but the final grade was always a true arbiter. Just as the death of the boss is an arbiter of a raid strategy.

Which segues me back to raiding and the following claim: specialization is better for group-based activities.

People are NOT experts at everything, nor should they have to be. If the content requires precise movement at specified times, who do you want in that position? Probably a person meeting the following criteria: A) best internet connection, B) the most experience, and C) someone who wants the responsibility. Maybe you’re thinking long-term and want to get another guy trained and battle-tested. Maybe someone wants to branch out and test the tanking waters. That’s fine! Do what works for your team.

What no one wants is for the person chosen to randomly be the easily excitable, newbie friend raiding on WiFi. It’s not fun for him, it’s not fun for you, it’s not fun for anyone. It creates friction in group scenarios, even when you are raiding with good friends.

This brings me to Guild Wars 2, and two conditional claims/predictions.

1) Trinity specialization will be required to succeed at endgame content; or
2) Endgame content will be mostly trivial.

The “everyone can pitch in” group content philosophy is simply zerging. The “trinity should die” desire is the desire for Dance 2.0.

Syl goes on to mention:

combat that revolves around tanking and aggro, is different from combat that revolves about shared control and therefore needs less dedicated healing, too. tactically speaking it’s an interesting approach you can already find in many FPS online games where every player is carrying some type of rifle and team strategy, self-sufficiency, quick reactions and improvisation are where it’s at. okay, you can distrust the average MMO players currently out there to be any use at this type of cooperative game – a fair point, but not exactly a good argument against improving combat design. to ME the current combat is boring.

Putting aside the question of the actual value of teammates in CoD/BF/TF2 games (and the fact that a lot of FPSs are in fact class/role-based), I want to talk about improvisation. The ability to change strategies, to adapt to changing conditions, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat… that was actually my favorite part of raiding in WoW. The Mimiron kill video was one of the most epic experiences in the game for me. Same with our first Yogg-Saron kill.

The rub is that improvisation requires room to screw up and not fail. In other words, improvisation requires a lower difficulty. It requires mistakes to not matter as much. I am not at all a fan of pass/fail mechanics, so I actually DO hope there is room for improvisation in GW2. But if a group of 5 Necromancers can clear all the content, chain rezzing each other, swapping weapons to “be the tank” when they are randomly the target of the boss, requiring no specialization at all (or worse, requiring everyone to “specialize” in everything)… well, have fun with that.

A certain continuum exists between the two extremes, but it is not as wide as many believe. The only way to reliably hit that mark, IMO, is to require specialization in tasks – specifically being able to choose the 1-2 people around which an encounter pivots – and extend the margins of victory for everyone else. Think the ooze-kiter in the Rotface encounter, or the two portal healers in Dreamwalker.

Allowing those 1-2 people to be anyone (tanks/healer/DPS) would be an amazing innovation, but I’m not entirely convinced that is what will be going on in GW2.

¹ Although it’s probably arrogant saying it.