Monday, June 18, 2018

Keeping Myself Occupied : OWW

I am still playing Occupy White Walls. More accurately, I am still playing around with Occupy White Walls. Cautiously. It has that indefinable "just one more" factor that makes for addiction.

It's something I'm quite wary of. Landmark had it in spades and I imagine it's the reason Minecraft is the global success it is. There's something about construction kits...

Even as I was writing this, just tabbing back in to take another screenshot, I found myself buying more art, placing it, framing it and then buying lighting as well. I lost half an hour in a blink.

What happened to the metallic avatar I used to have?
OWW is a curious pastime. It's all about art but the tidal pull for me is the clicking together of pieces. Other building and decorating software I've used has required either a great deal of technical knowledge, considerable creative ability or, more commonly, both. This is much more forgiving.

For a start it comes with the aesthetic baked in. DAISY (now 35% faster and 50% more accurate, apparently) doesn't merely offer thousands upon thousands of artworks (including a fresh consignment of two thousand just in from Washington’s National Gallery of Art). She works with you to give your picks a coherency that will probably surprise you.

The building materials also come conveniently categorized by style - Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Industrial, Baroque and so on. You're on your own to make the right choice, but if you stick to a category or two it's fairly difficult to come up with the kind of clashing mish-mash that's all too easy in other building MMOs.

Never mind. Bought myself this fine brass job instead.

My own first gallery is surprisingly convincing as a space. Well, it surprises me. Considering I began by plonking things down to see how the controls worked and let everything happen from there, it does look oddly like somewhere you might imagine visiting.

It's also getting bigger. When I logged in today I saw a loading screen tip about the option to extend. I already had a staircase that went nowhere so I took the opportunity to build out from that into a small, upper annexe.

That led to my putting in a ceiling, meaning the whole gallery no longer ressembles some crazed alfresco dream thought up by Escher and Dali after a night on the absinthe.  With the ceiling came a floor and my gallery is now two storeys proud.

Surprisingly dark in here, isn't it? Especially given all these windows. I wonder if there's a day/night cycle?

I kept the view although there's nothing much to see except clouds and sky. I have more windows than walls. I wish there were some skylights. It got a little gloomy when I put the ceilings in, compared to the blue skies and sunlight I'd been used to, so I bought a lot of lights. With all the tiled floors the reflections are awesome. And blinding.

The decor is so powerful it doesn't really leave a lot of attention for the art. And so much of the art is...well, tiny. Miniscule. The pictures come in - presumably - the correct relative scale to their real-life versions and there doesn't seem to be an option to scale them. Most of mine look like postcards stuck to the walls.

There are also bugs. It's only alpha after all. I managed to make two of my small end-rooms upstairs inaccessible. I think it happened when I deleted some doors. Nothing seems to fix it but I can jump over the railing from the top of the stairs to get in if I really want to.

Think the tiles could maybe be a tad bit busy?

The controls are going to need some fine-tuning. It's clunky to have to delete things every time you place them incorrectly. And expensive. It would be a lot better to be able to move them properly before you place them and to be able to pick them up and re-position them without having to destroy and re-buy them.

Even so, for such early days there's a huge amount of playability. And playing is the goal here, it seems. A recentish interview at Rock, Paper, Shotgun implies that the finished product will very much be a game, not just an educational toy or a shop-window.

I do love me a little Mondrian. Goes with the flooring, too.

I hadn't realized until I read that interview that players will be able to upload their own art into the game. That does begin to make things sound disturbingly like some kind of unholy hybrid of Second Life and Deviant Art. When asked, repeatedly, about the software's possibilities as a marketplace and marketing tool for living artists, the StikiPixels representative was reassuringly definite:

We don’t want the game to become a marketplace at this stage. We want to be more of a game than Minecraft... We’re not in the business of selling art and we don’t want to take any commission from art sales. We’ll do what we’re best at, making games!

"More of a game than Minecraft" might be a bit of an ask. More of a game than Landmark, though? I think they're there already.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Classic Progression: Beating The Drums Of War For WoW

As a somewhat casual, uncommitted, occasional WoW player I haven't been paying the closest of attention to Blizzard's ongoing discussion with their extended community over whether, when and how to meet the demand for a rerun of the "classic" World of Warcraft experience. I read the various news items and blog posts about it that pop up in my feed but I don't follow on with the kind of primary research I'd do if this were a Daybreak project.

I do, vaguely, recall writing something, at some point, about the way Blizzard might have adapted EverQuest's Progression Server model to their own ends but that would have been back when Blizz were still in denial about the validity or value of doing anything at all. Once they abandoned the increasingly untenable position of "you say you want this but really you don't" and moved to "okay, fine, have the damn thing, then" I mostly stopped thinking about the what and moved on to the when.

With a WoW expansion imminent it seemed unlikely we'd see much movement on WoW Classic this year. Blizzard has historically had something of a hammock problem with WoW. Subscriber numbers, which they don't tell us any more, slump between the tentpoles of expansions.

That's been a consideration for a lot longer than I realized, as I discovered when I googled "WoW expansion cadence". As far back as 2013 Blizzard was talking about moving to an expansion every year. Greg Street aka Ghostcrawler expressed that desire very clearly when he said

"We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft. Really good patches will keep them, but they aren't as good at bringing players back to the game. We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate".

That never happened and the problem of account retention remains. This being an expansion year, and with WoW expansions still generally appearing bi-annually, it would clearly be handy to slot the one-off project into an off-year.

To this end, work has to be done, not least in nailing down what the end product is going to look like. It has, after all, been a bit vague up to now. Not Star Citizen vague, for sure, but still more than a bit misty around the edges.

Significant clarity arrived yesterday with a decision on exactly what "Vanilla" means in the context of this project. Wilhelm reported that the Classic Server will specifically replicate the WoW experience as it stood on the day Patch 1.12: Drums of War went live in August 2006.

Which is interesting for a number of reasons, not least, as we all know, that no two people can ever agree on what constitutes the "Classic" period of any MMORPG. Deciding to bore down on a point as specific as this risks being seen as both arbitrary and partial.

It also strongly suggests that the WoW Classic server is going to be a timeslice. MattH in the comment thread at TAGN (actually it's the only comment as I write this...) makes it plain: "It’s certainly not a progressive one within classic/vanilla, which indicates that they are probably aiming for a “get done and get out” experience".

I'm so used to "Classic" servers actually being "Progression" servers it hadn't really occurred to me that Blizzard might be planning on a frozen slice of time that never changes. If that's always been their conception of the demand then their longtime position - "you think you want it but you really don't" - makes a lot more sense.

Progression servers, particularly the first time they appear in an MMO, have dynamism. They go some way to scratching the itch we all have to go back to the good times in our past but they also offer a clear and present path to the future. Not only do they offer the greatest chance of hitting everyone's individual Golden Age at some point during the run but they provide a number of jump-on points, each of which is a potential surge in membership and revenue.

A server that simply locks at a specific snapshot of the game risks stagnation. There is a market for an unchanging experience as can be seen by the number of "maintenance mode" MMOs that still hold some kind of population but it's easy to see why a company as large and successful as Blizzard might not consider that audience sufficiently large or profitable to encourage.

There is precedent, of course. As mattH says, "the most popular private servers are vanilla". And the most popular EverQuest private server is Project99. Some people want what they want. It also makes the Official Classic WoW server very much easier to maintain and operate. All the work is upfront. Once it's done Blizzard could literally say "there you go - enjoy!" and walk away, never touching the thing again except to make sure the server stays up.

What I expect might happen is this: the Classic server will run as a sop for the "Vanilla was best" crowd. You want Vanilla? You got Vanilla. Go play it and stop bothering us. At the same time it will provide a testbed for demand. If it makes money and holds a significant population, future calls - and there will be plenty of them - for a version of Classic WoW that doesn't just remain static but progresses, will be heard with sympathy.

WoW has always had a very competetive playerbase. The concept of Server and World Firsts, both individually and for guilds, is deeply embedded there. The game has possibly the best structure to support "race to the top" competitive play of any PvE MMORPG. With the base game and six expansions it has a progression ladder that could very comfortably be tweaked to run for two or three years, long enough for interest to accrue to allow the whole thing to begin all over again.

WoW was made for Progression Servers. Almost literally. If Classic is a success - and it will be, commercially at least - we will come to see it as the dry run for what will become a major - perhaps the major - income stream for the aging MMO in the 2020s.

So long as Blizzard can continue to swallow their pride and think of the dollars, that is. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

World In Your Pocket

Apologies for the abrupt loss of signal. I did mention a few times, in passing, that we were going away, but I neglected to put up a Service Interrupted message. Always bad form to go afk without warning.

Mrs Bhagpuss and I got back yesterday, around tea-time, having thoroughly enjoyed another excellent holiday. While we were away we had a number of lengthy philosophical discussions  - long drives will do that - about the way the world has changed in our lifetimes. Getting older will do that, too.

One particular observation occurred to me as we were traveling that seems almost emblematic of where the culture finds itself now. It's is not anywhere I - or most people, probably - expected it would be. We all grew up expecting a science-fiction future but who expected to go on holiday carrying no fewer than five computers, any and all of them probably more powerful than the mainframes that filled rooms when I was in college?

I took my new 6" Android phablet, my elderly iPod Touch and my dual-OS 10" tablet. Mrs Bhagpuss had her Kindle Fire and her iPhone. This seemed normal. It probably is normal.

That surprises me almost more than anything. It was only a few years ago that I was pontificating on the way digital ecosystems would compete with and devour each other, the way previous technological revolutions had taught us they should.

We drove deep into the country to see the Chufin Cave. It was closed. We never saw a single Chufin.
I found it difficult back then to imagine why anyone would want to own - far less carry - a variety of separate devices, when a single machine could do the work of all them. I thought tablets would eat laptops, mobile would consume desktop and who would want to bother lugging around a dedicated device that just read books or only played music?

Plenty of people, apparently. The death of the laptop, which was widely predicted by far more widely-read pundits than I, seems further away than ever. The airports were filled with folk nestling clamshells on their actual laps, most of them branded Apple. Every child had its own device playing Peppa Pig or Postman Pat. I also saw plenty of people reading text from screens although, speaking as someone whose livelihood depends on it, a comforting number of people were reading actual paper books.

Scanning through the many hundreds of unread posts in my Feedly feed last night, it appears that another technological extinction, widely predicted a few years back, has failed to arrive on schedule. I remember reading any number of reports in the quality press not so long ago, predicting the then-current generation of Gaming Consoles would be the last. Gaming would thrive but the specific devices associated with it would not.

Then again, if this is the size of a Chufin egg, it's probably just as well.
Hasn't happened and, if the reports coming out of E3 are to be believed, it's not about to happen any time soon. The success of The Switch seems to confirm that hardware designed specifically to play games is still in demand and console technology appears determined to keep up with increased audience expectations.

I certainly wasn't alone in believing the technological future was going to be more streamlined, more minimal and in some ways it is. The days of traveling with two suitcases per person are gone. We both managed happily for almost two weeks with a bag each not much larger than the one I used to carry to school every day in the 1970s. The devices themselves get smaller and thinner and lighter, their physical footprint dictated only by the size of screen you prefer to watch.

We travel the world with a freedom that would have seemed dreamlike even in the 1950s, when mass tourism was getting started but, more than that, the world travels with  us everywhere we go. It's still possible to leave it all behind but to do so takes a concerted effort these days.

Every hotel and cafe has wifi and usually it even works. Many cities pipe free connectivity into the air. Vehicles come with charging points for your devices built in and the mobile signal carries almost everywhere. It's an opt-out life we live now, not opt-in.

Who would win in a fight between a Lion and an Eagle? Unless that's a Chufin...
And for a short time I did indeed opt out, if only partially. I gave myself a complete break from the kind of thing I do every day at home, at least. I declined to check Feedly or post on my own blog. I had MMOs on two devices but I played none. I didn't watch YouTube or read Pitchfork or even listen to music on my iPod.

What I did do was use the phablet or tablet every day to check the weather, book hotels and plan the route for that day's drive. Oh, and I started reading an eBook on the last day. I didn't consciously decide to avoid anything non-traditionally holiday related - mostly doing anything like that just didn't occur to me.

Mrs Bhagpuss stayed more connected. She managed her business via her iPhone, taking bookings by SMS and email, giving me the tremors every time she held it out over a bridge or a sea wall to take a photograph. She also used her Kindle Fire to play various games of the Candy Crush variety and we played Eggheads together on my phablet most evenings, just like a regular late-middle-aged couple.

I certainly don't eschew the concept of playing games when I'm away. Gaming has always been a part of going on holiday.  We used to take cards or dominoes or travel board games but with the streamlined luggage, gaming on the phone makes more sense.

When you pay two Euros to see inside a small castle in a small village in the mountains you don't expect something like this. Chanting, lights going out, screams, 1930s radios playing torch songs, rocking chairs, faded newspapers, mysterious men in black... I wasn't sure whether we'd time-slipped into a 1970s Hammer Horror or portalled into The Secret World...
Sticking to games I never play at home maintains the break in continuity and that separation is essential, I think. Or, at least, it is while I'm still working. When I retire and we can - all being well - go away for longer periods and more often, maybe that particular firewall can come down. Then, I can imagine taking a laptop and both playing MMOs and blogging about them in the long evenings.

Ironically, having read - or at least glanced at - something like three hundred news items and blog posts since I got back, I'm not entirely sure I'd be able to find enough to write about anyway. Not a lot seems to have happened. I certainly don't feel I've missed much.

I notice Daybreak Games hasn't gone dark with the coming of sanctions so I guess that was all a storm in a samovar after all. ANet has fallen even further behind on their self-imposed schedule for The Living Story. There was some gimmicky special week in WvW to take our minds off the absence of new content. Glad to have missed that. There was the Steam thing...

Anything else? Don't think so. Given the choice I'd rather have stayed on holiday but failing that I guess I'll just log in and slip back into the old routine. Roll on retirement!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Attention To Detail : EQ2

When Daybreak Games decided to offer everyone yet another free Level 100 character in EQ2, Wilhelm voiced what were no doubt the thoughts of many. He wondered just how effective such offers are. The answer would seem to be... quite effective.

Wilhelm also kinda, sorta answered his own question by making a new Level 100 Shadow Knight and actually playing him. I made a free Level 100 on the couple of accounts that turned out to have a character slot left. I even paid for an extra slot on my currently subbed account. The rest that were full I left. For now. No doubt there'll be another offer along in a while.

These offers do work - at least to a degree. There were plenty of people on fresh hundreds, asking questions in general chat, commenting that they hadn't played for a while/ages/in forever. It was the chance of a free high level character that drew them in.

I hadn't been playing EQ2 much recently. Not by intention. I got distracted, first by Wizard 101, then Pirate 101 and the KingsIsle pair pushed EQ2 onto the back burner. The free 100 dragged me back, not so much because it was a chance to skip the levels but because I was curious to see how good the offer was.

Very good. Very good indeed. The gear provided is, for once, more than powerful enough to make the experience of playing in the latest content a pleasure rather than a pain for the uninitiated and inexperienced. And, indeed, for those of us who have been around the park before.

I took my new Wizard out for a stroll around Plane of Magic the other night and as a brand new Level 100 in the gifted gear she seemed about as effective as my Berserker had been at 105 or so. It will certainly make the first few dozen quests a heck of a lot less hard work than they were back in the Autumn, when the expansion was new.

That said, a lot seems to have changed, both incrementally as the expansion beds in and suddenly with GU106. All of it for the better, at least  to my way of thinking. As well as the quality of life improvements they announced, I wonder if they've tinkered with the xp curve?

My Inquisitor has been hanging around for weeks, tapping her fingers and twiddling her thumbs, waiting for me to get on with finishing her last four levels. I took her out the other day to get the final faction she needed to complete the first section of the Signature Line, which in turn opened the first Solo Dungeon in Plane of Innovation.

I remember doing that as soon as it became available with my Berserker. It wasn't particularly hard, but Telwyn, who has been doing the same thing on her Inquisitor, reported a lot more difficulty than I'd had. Still, I wasn't expecting much trouble when I took my own Inq into the instance for the first time. At Level 106 she was higher than the Berserker had been and better equipped, not least because she was wearing some of his spare armor.

She died on the first pull. It wasn't even a fight. I think the mob hit her twice. Clearly something was wrong. I tried once more to make sure it wasn't some glitch . It wasn't. So I went and did some research.

A lot of research as it turned out. I read all kinds of advice on all kinds of forums and websites. I tried a few things but nothing helped much. Without going into too many details, the "solo" dungeons in this expansion work by means of a buff, which is intended to let a single player plus an NPC Mercenary handle the same mobs as a full group.

If the buff is working, you should have over 100k Potency and over 20 million hit points. My Inq had the potency but her HPs were stuck at around 3-4 million and nothing I could do would shift them beyond that. Even grinding a few more repeatable faction quests to hit 107 didn't help.

Eventually I found out what the problem was, from the twelfth post in this thread on the official forums. I hadn't maxed Enhanced Vigor in the Prestige AA line. Actually I hadn't set any Prestige AAs, but that's the one that matters. A lot. With that done my HPs went to just over 20m and instead of me dying it was the mobs who fell over.

Telwyn, to whom I commented about my discovery, confirms that it did the same for his Inquisitor. Just in case anyone else is struggling, or if anyone has made a new Level 100 and wonders why someone seems to have built a wall between Level 105 and 106, this is the reason.


Ahem. Anyway, with that done the rest of the instance was a breeze. So was the second part.

Another design feature of the expansion is that almost all xp comes from quests, meaning you don't really see the fruits of your labor until you exit the instance, go find whoever sent you there (usually Druzil Ro) and tell her you've done the business.

Based on my previous run as a Berserker I knew I'd get a fair chunk of xp. I know he hit 110 before he'd done all the instanced dungeons in the Sig.line. He did not, however, hit 110 after he finished the first of them.

My Inquisitor did. She went from 107 to 110 in a single hand-in. I couldn't believe it. At first I thought it must be because of the double XP event but that had ended days before. I checked. What I did have was full vitality (110% bonus) and a 20% Veteran Bonus from the 'Zerker having hit max level.

That should not have turned a single quest into three full levels (I'd barely started 107) but it did. Something's up but I'm not complaining.

The way EQ2 works now, max level is only the start. As well as your AAs, which you probably have alreeady, you need your Ascension Levels. The xp that would have gone to Adventure Levels transfers directly to Ascension instead, although there's a convoluted gating process to make sure you keep at it most of the year until the next XPack arrives.

My Berserker has been slacking on Ascension so I thought I might try the new Solo version of Shard of Hate that came with GU106. He could do with the gear, which would be sure to be upgrades or else why would anyone bother? Even if he didn't get anything good, the xp would be useful.

It was a mixed experience. The Solo Shard of Hate is brilliantly designed. There are two dozen Named mobs, split into several groups, each with a method to spawn them. Every time you create a new instance you get a subset of the total. It differs each time, which strongly enhances replayability.

All of this is explained on this wiki page...which hadn't been written the first time I went in. I went in blind, floundered about, found a Named near the start and killed it after a very long fight which ended with me flat out of power. I autoattacked it to death!

Emboldened, I pushed further in until I ran up against a cleric mob that I simply could not kill. It was only a regular mob, not any kind of boss or sub-boss, but it easily outhealed what I had thought was my respectable solo DPS. Eventually I gave up and left.

On my second run I had the wiki to work from. I killed the Mimic-style chests and spawned the Trapped Bellhop. Then he killed me. It was a DPS issue again. That and he has fiddly mechanics that meant I wasn't even doing any DPS half the time.

I didn't give up. I was pulling regular mobs by the roomful and AEing them to death in short order and the xp was coming in so I carried on. I picked another Named to spawn - this time the Anarchic Obscenity. I killed a load of what looked like skeletal spiders and he spawned. And I killed him.

I ran out of Power again but for once I had the presence of mind to drink a potion to restore it. I never remember there are potions in EQ2. It took two full bars of Power and I was flat out at the end but the Obscenity was on 1% health and again I auto-attacked him to death. I clearly have a lot more work to do on improving my DPS. And my Power. And my Health pool. And my resistances.

Two nameds out of three down, though, and each dropped an upgrade, so that's a start. It was hard work, I died a few times, and reading the strats suggests most of the Nameds will take more effort than I'm likely to want to put in, but I have to say this is an excellent piece of solo content. I look forward to picking away at it until the inevitable day when power creep means I can waltz in on a whim and kick the backsides of the lot of them.

If the next EQ2 expansion really is the last, as the rumor has it, it's a shame. The quality is still top-notch. Oh well, enjoy it while it lasts...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Ain't No Mountain High Enough : GW2

As I may have mentioned a few times in passing, I am not a fan of the mounts that were added to GW2 as a major feature of last year's Path of Fire expansion. My issues with them, which are manifold, include the way they were introduced, what they look like, how they work and how they have been merchandised. There isn't much I do like about them.

Despite the company line for many a year holding that mounts neither fit the game nor were necessary, I wasn't one of those who felt aggrieved when I heard that ArenaNet had chosen to add them. I like mounts in MMORPGs. As well as their obvious utility, I think they add color and flavor for the individual characters that ride them as well as providing a visual spectacle for everyone else. They also represent an additional form of content for players who enjoy collecting things.

There are drawbacks. Although most MMOs begin with relatively straightforward mounts that fit the milieu and the lore of the world - horses, camels, perhaps wolves or large lizards - it's never long before surrealism and hyperbole set in. The sight of a dozen players clustered around the banker, mounted on everything from smoke-belching motorcycles to thirty-meter long fire-breathing dragons can be somewhat immersion-breaking, not to say antisocial.

Even entirely lore-appropriate mounts can be intensely irritating. One of the reasons I moved from a Live server to Test in EQ2 was the introduction of flying carpets with the Kingdom of Sky expansion. They were so annoying - not only visually but in the way everyone insited on talking about them all the time in general chat - that I felt it was worth moving to a far less-populated environment just to get away from them.

Then there's the way mounts affect gameplay. Those carpets didn't actually fly - they just drifted along a foot above the ground - but eventually all MMOs face the decision on whether to introduce genuine flying mounts. The argument against them is that they trivialize content. The argument in favor is that they make content easier to access.

I lean very much towards the latter. I love flying mounts. My experience in every MMORPG I've played that has them is that they open up the world, make my time there more enjoyable and encourage me to play more than I otherwise would have done.

Developers, even though they are the people who added the ability to fly in the first place, often have much more ambivalent feelings about it. Sometimes they try to hedge their bets by gating the right to a flying mount behind lengthy questlines or a high monetary cost but inevitably the time comes when almost everyone can fly.

At that point the choice is either to design content around the fact or risk a player revolt by taking the option away. Blizzard tried that and things were ugly for a while before the current, grudging compromise was established.

The GW2 devs have tried to avoid the flying problem by offering mounts that almost-but-not-quite fly. The Griffin can stay aloft for a good while - if you find a high place to start from and work the keyboard effectively. Most of the time it doesn't do that. It bunny-hops in way that's both jarring and embarrassing.

Even though they have, so far, avoided the issues that arise from giving players the unfettered power of flight, the combination of powered gliding on a Griffin, vertical ascent on a Springer and the ability to treat water as though it were solid on a Skimmer has rendered much of the original content of the game, if not obsolete, then at least avoidable. With the right mount you can go over, around or through just about anything in Tyria these days.

I don't use my mounts very often. I enjoyed getting the Griffin but it's fiddly and unsatisfying as a regualr ride. I pop it out if I need to keep up with a zerg when running dynamic events in PvE, but that in itself is something I very rarely do these days. Indeed, the reason I don't is because to do so now you pretty much have to be mounted or you get left behind. Rather than mount up I've opted to bow out of that content altogether.

One of the few things I do occasionally enjoy doing with my mounts is scrambling up mountains to see how high I can get. I took my Springer and Griffin out in Timberline Falls a week or two ago, when I happened to be down there hunting Krait, and I was amazed just how high I was able to get.

The sad thing is, there isn't all that much to see in Core Tyria when you get that high. Unlike Heart of Thorns or Path of Fire, which were designed as three-dimensional spaces from the get-go, the original maps were built with the expectation that they'd be seen on foot. All you get when you climb a mountain there is a lot of flat, featureless rock and a view that looks like a schematic.

GW2's implementation of mounts seems to me to have benchmarked against just about all the worst aspects of the feature. With particular irony the designers have contrived at "realism" while simultaneously embracing the wildest fantasies of fashion.

The base offer is exceptionally small at just five animals. They are all somewhat bland, supposedly consistent with the game's look and lore, but "skins" are available (at a cost), which provide a seemingly never-ending stream of carnival costumes. The result is an eye-gouging display, seemingly unrestricted not just by lore or realism but by any sense of taste or aesthetic judgment.

The fatuous adherence to an imagined authenticity reaches its nadir with the momentum added to the mounts' movement. Unlike the slick, smooth, satisfying travel possible in just about every other MMO I've ever played, GW2 mounts insist on lurching and skewing like drunken teenagers in a stolen car. Leaving aside the propensity this has to cause motion sickness, it baffles me that anyone could find the experience in any way enjoyable, let alone convincing.

People do, though. My dislike of GW2's mounts is very much a minority view. It has, nevertheless, contributed in no small part to the reduced amount of time I spend playing GW2 these days and to my diminished interest in the game over the last six months or so.

When I do play, I mainly restrict myself to those areas of the game where mounts are either less relevant (Core Tyria, Heart of Thorns) or banned altogether (WvW). I barely ever visit the Path of Fire of maps. As I anticipated, my interest in that expansion, which was never strong, ended the moment I completed the main storyline and finished the Griffin quest.

If I never go back to those maps it will suit me very well. The Heart of Thorns maps, by comparison, I still thoroughly enjoy and frequently visit, to explore or hang out there just for the fun of it.

Had Path of Fire been designed without mounts in mind, with maps intended to be seen on foot and from the air while gliding, I most likely would be exploring them happily even now. Unfortunately, not only are those maps dead to me but they have likely killed off most of my interest in whatever comes after them. Once introduced, mounted travel is in an MMO for ever.

All I can really hope is that, when the next expansion is announced, it will have a new sales driver that ANet want to prioritize. If so, mounts will take a back seat as the designers attempt to direct cash flow into whatever new idea they've come up with and perhaps that might be something more to my taste.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair: GW2

Yesterday MassivelyOP  dropped the bombshell that we'd all been dreading. The next chapter of GW2's Living Story might be slightly delayed! Oh, Noes! How will we cope? Is there counselling available?

I was unable to stop myself from commenting on the thread (which has mushroomed in just a little less than twenty-four hours to an astonishing six comments) that I'd personally be happy to see ANet drop the Living Story altogether. I would, too.

I've been playing GW2 for six years, give or take. I have three accounts and I play each of them, every day. I long ago stopped caring whether we get any new content. I'm quite happy with the content we've got. I do my dailies, I run around in WvW and if I'm in the mood I pick away at odds and ends I haven't done yet - which is pretty much everything.

Can I help you? Spit it out, man, time is money!

I have thousands and thousands of hours played. I have nearly twenty characters. I've never done Map Completion or finished the Personal Story on any of them. I've never crafted (or bought) a Legendary Weapon. There are dozens - maybe hundreds - of Achievements I don't have and Collections I haven't finished. Or, for that matter, started.

As I've mentioned before, I strongly prefer the uncelebrated efforts of the team that produces the Side Stories and Current Events to the heavily-publicized, usually disappointing, Living Story chapters. Their work is on a scale I can understand and appreciate and the results seem much better integrated, much less disruptive, more "of the world".

I'm not sure who was responsible for Sitting In Chairs. It might have been the Current Events people or maybe it was just part of the regular housekeeping all MMOs undergo. The ability to park your posterior reached Tyria a month or two back. I did register it at the time. I knew there was a collection or an achievement or something. It wasn't until yesterday that I finally got around to looking at it properly.

Whoever hung that painting needs to find another line of work.

That was when I found out the reward was a title - Armchair Commander. Titles are one of the few things that can motivate me to do something I otherwise wouldn't in an MMO. I really wanted that title. Otherwise I don't imagine I'd have had the patience to traipse around forty-two locations, looking at upholstery.

I only had to mention the title to Mrs Bhagpuss, who also hadn't paid it any attention until then, and she was off looking for chairs too. It was going to be a race but somehow she managed to get motion-sickness from all the sudden sitting down and standing up and had to retire to bed, so I finished mine first. (She did later recover to get all forty-two safely by taking it slow and steady. Who knew sitting could be so dangerous?).

As I criss-crossed Tyria in search of seats as yet unsat in, following Dulfy's detailed but not entitrely necessary guide (most of the seats are actually in clusters next to each other), I marvelled once more at how perfectly suited GW2 is to offer full-function player housing and how peculiar it is that instead the developers choose to give us nothing but extremely impersonal Personal Instances. I'm still betting on Housing as a major feature for XPack #3. Possibly underwater.

Locked room mystery solved: they got in through the skylight.

Finding all forty-two chairs took a couple of hours and very enjoyable hours they were. It would have been a lot less if it hadn't been for that one chair in Rata Sum that needs either a glider or a mount to reach. I had to get a Mesmer out for that one to port in one of Mrs Bhagpuss's characters. It did make me wonder why they picked such an obscure location but maybe it's a unique design. Or someone just thought it would be funny.

Like the Othmir holiday I praised yesterday, this is exactly the kind of content I want. Some things to find and a nice present for finding them. GW2 has a fair bit of that kind thing but it's often well-hidden.

Whenever I make the effort and do one of the little scavenger hunts, collections or round-robin visits, I feel surprisingly satisfied - pleased with myself, even. I can't say I ever feel like that at the end of a Living Story episode - more like exhausted, enervated or annoyed.

My Krewe doeshn't unnershtan' me, Joe...

I can say with confidence that I've had more pleasure doing the Krait daily that came with the underwater revamp than I got from any of the recent LS material. I kill ten Krait on each account every day, take my Rusted Key and go looking for a Sunken Chest that works (there's some weird timer on the spawn now). It's fun.

I've fallen out of the habit of doing the Joko Invasions, now reduced to Remnants, but I really enjoyed those for a good while, just like I enjoyed the Bandits before them, and the Ley Energy and all that stuff before that. And it's all still there, too. I hear people every day, calling out Bandit Champions and Legendaries in map chat or trying to co-ordinate a response when The Awakened portal in.

This is what an MMORPG needs, at least it does to my way of thinking. This and more of this and more of this again. This is the true "living story". The quarterly content drop is just a distraction.

No need to fret about those "quality standards", Mike. You go ahead and take all the time you need. We're fine as we are.

I think I'll go for a bit of a sit down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Come On In, The Water's Lovely! : EQ2

In my opinion, EQ2 may not have the most MMO holidays but it definitely has the best. The major events - Frostfell, Nights of the Dead, Tinkerfest, Brewday and the rest - come packed with enough quests and collections, races and achievements to keep regular players occupied for days, if not weeks.

As well as the big ticket events there are the monthly City Festivals and the Moonlight Enchantments that follow the lunar calendar. There's almost always something to do in Norrath so you might think there'd be no need to add any more annual events. The EQ2 team would beg to differ.

I only happened to notice the addition of the upcoming Oceansfull festival when I spotted a single-line entry on EQ2 Traders a few days ago. If it hadn't been for the accompanying picture I might have missed it altogether. The news squib links to a full description of the brand new holiday event, which is currently running on the Test server before it goes Live on June 8, when it runs for ten days until June 18.

Oceansfull is the Othmir celebration of thanks to their god, Prexus:

 "For generations, the othmir have been giving thanks to Prexus at this time of year for all he provides, above and beneath the waves. You are welcome to join any you may find celebrating along the oceans' edge, across Norrath. They say if you search the waters nearby their celebration locations, you're bound to find evidence of Prexus' generosity."

The new event seems to have been timed to fill that uncomfortable gap between the final flurry of festivals late Spring and the arrival of Tinkerfest in mid-summer. It's also been timed to make its first appearance almost exactly as I'm away on holiday. I will be back for the last few days, but rather than wait I decided to wake up a few of my old Test server characters and take a look right now.

Niami Denmother describes Oceansfull as "a mellow little festival", in keeping with the well-established gentle, whimsical nature of the ottter-like Othmir race. There may be people who don't like Othmir but if so I don't think I'd want to spend much time hanging out with them.

I've had an abiding affection for the fish-eating, hat-wearing seafolk since they first appeared in EverQuest's Scars of Velious expansion all the way back in the year 2000. I spent many happy hours helping the Othmir protect the beaches in Cobalt Scar, glaring with disapproval at the greedy druids and wizards who chose to slaughter my furry friends for the loot instead.

The Othmir have played a significant, if minor role in EQ lore ever since, cropping up in various contexts in both games. Several of my EQ2 characters have taken on Othmir tradeskill apprentices over the years. I still visit them now and again to give them some more training and copy down the new recipes they discover.

Playing on Test used to require two separate installations of the game but these days you can just toggle from Live to Beta to Test from the Launcher. It works perfectly. I did that, then looked at my large roster of Test characters.

Having played there for five years or so I have a wide range to choose from. I have several level  90s, the cap  when I moved to the Freeport server with the coming of F2P, and plenty more in most deciles down to level 20 or so. I picked my Level 90 Ratonga Bruiser, who was the character I was playing most often when I was a Test regular, logged him in and took him to the nearest qualifying beach, which happened to be at the Commonlands Dock.

I had time to take a single screenshot when the heavens opened and a massive thunderstorm began. EQ2 has some very dramatic weather effects. Freeport goes almost black when rain sets in and even in the Commonlands heavy rain reduces visibility to a few yards. It also leeches the color out of everything, rendering screenshots muddy and miserable. Not ideal for a blog post about a cheerful little summer festival.

Fortunately, travel in EQ2's version of Norrath is quick and easy, especially if you have an All Access Member's right to use the Fast version for free. In a matter of moments I was flying a griffin across Antonica to the Tower of the Oracles, where the handy list of locations at EQ2 Traders told me I'd find Othmir celebrants letting off fireworks and dancing.

I found the otters alright. It wasn't raining either so I was able to snap a few shots as they capered. There was a problem, though. The event consists almost entirely of opening giant clams to collect gifts. Clams live underwater. In EQ2, unlike GW2, you need special apparatus or magical assistance to breathe underwater.

You'd have thought that a level 90, who'd retired at the peak of a highly active adventuring career, would have some piece of equipment that would provide a basic function like Enduring Breath. Or at least a few Totems of the Otter, the crafted consumable that cast that spell. Yes, well... you'd be mistaken.

Five minutes later I was back on the Griffin, heading across Antonica with my Level 60 Inquisitor. Inquisitors can cast spells that let themselves and their groups breathe underwater. So I did that. Then I swam around in the murky waters off the Antonical headland, opening clam after clam.

It's a gloriously soothing experience. The clams are huge and easy to spot  from a distance. There are plenty of them. They have a short timer before you can re-open them, so you can't just stand next to the same one and chain-click, but by the time you've done the rounds of nearby clams the ones you started on are ready again.

There seem to be a lot of items to get. It was a good while before I started seeing duplicates. A lot of the presents are house items in any case, so multiples are welcome. Especially so since GU106 added stackability to most house items.

As well as furniture I got a consumable Othmir illusion and several appearance weapons. It was addictive and fun. In the Test channel several people were saying exactly that, almost purring with satisfaction as the little bursts of dopamine stroked their pleasure centers. I notice no-one ever says developers are scoundrels for including this kind of content - it's ony when they lock it in a box and charge for a key that people begin to claim no-one wants it.

Oceansfull also brings a traditional shiny collection, which takes place on land. I found a few purple shinies but they seemed relatively scarce compared to the norm in other festivals. I didn't really spend long looking - I'll save that for the few days I have when the festival is Live.

All in all Oceansfull looks to be yet another excellent addition to the holiday calendar. It's quite astonishing that the small team left working on EQ2 is able to keep coming up with so much new stuff. This is a simple festival, yes, but it's fun and it fits with the lore, too.

Oceansfull is available on all servers including Progression/TLE from the 8th to the 18th of June. It can be enjoyed by characters of any level at a variety of beaches from starting areas to end game. There are no quests to get - jump right in the water and start opening those clams.

Just don't forget your diving gear!

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide