Monday, April 14, 2014

The Coming Of The Megaserver : GW2

If Year Zero can have a Day One then, for GW2, tomorrow is it. Just another twenty-four hours, give or take coffee and do-nuts, and we'll know everything there is to know about Megaservers.

Except we won't, will we? It was all quite clear at first - start at the beginning with the 1-15 maps, see how that goes, work upwards from there. Then there was a hoo-hah, retrenchment ensued and we were told the least-populated maps would get Megaserved first. That didn't stick either.

The current position appears to be...fluid. From the most recent Dolyak Express thread:

Q: Since the megaserver changes will initially affect a few areas, will the World Boss schedule table be true just for the light yellow bosses or are the rest of the World Bosses also going into the new schedule even if their areas are still not part of the megaserver?

Samuel Loretan: No, the World Bosses schedule will be released globally on April 15th. Note that the order of rollout of the MegaServer system may still change, as we’re still conducting tests, and as we will be adjusting the parameters depending on our monitoring. While I know that it isn’t what was in the blog post, we’re adjusting this to ensure the best experience for everyone, and the smoother possible rollout of this feature, which has a very large scope and requires careful operation.

I just bet it does.

It's behind you!

Anyway, all this got me thinking about World Bosses (horrible descriptor that it is, although possibly not as horrible as World Metas, which is what they often get called when the Train is running). For the first few months of GW2's existence the big ticket events like the three dragon lieutenants, The Maw, Shadow Behemoth and Fire Elemental, had no specific rewards attached to them. A chest would pop but inside it you'd find just a litter of blues and greens, with a low chance of a yellow rare, a vanishingly small chance of an orange exotic and the purely theoretical possibility of the Pre-Cursor to a Legendary (are they purple? I wouldn't know).

Even though there was very little in the way of tangible rewards people still did those events. I did Claw of Jormag any time it happened to be up and I knew about it, which wasn't as often then as it would be later because if there was any equivalent of GWStuff or its predecessor the Dragon Timer, then I hadn't yet found it. Everyone moaned bitterly about the vendor trash but there were always enough people to get those dragons down.

You can criticize his spelling all you like but you can't fault him on his accuracy.

Then Fractals came and overnight it seemed like half the population had vanished. For a while the Claw of Jormag became all but unkillable and even the Shaman at The Maw scoffed at the feeble turnout, although I notice he never actually managed to summon that Elemental no matter how long he hung around.

For many, though, the fractal attraction didn't last and people were soon back at the large-scale set pieces that were supposed to be the jewels in the crown of GW2's dynamic events system, doing what they enjoyed most - complaining bitterly about the terrible loot.

Finally ANet bowed to the pressure to make the Dragons "worth doing", added guaranteed rares, fixed a few bugs and juggled the RNG. The Risk vs Reward ratio suddenly looked an awful lot better (as well it should, seeing that with the numbers turning up there was now no freakin' risk at all!) As I wrote here , by February 2013 a World Meta Train was already in place, although no-one back then was calling it that. anyone else still here?

Reading my own words, I'm quite surprised to find just how disenchanted and cynical I already was, just six months or so after launch. I guess that, since I thought even then that "Each event has a margin of error, presumably in an attempt to create some spurious sense of spontaneity but in practice all of them pop at numbingly regular intervals." it's hardly surprising the upcoming change from fake-spontaneity to an openly fixed schedule has had less impact on my sense of immersion than might have been expected. That fragile vessel shattered into fragments long ago.

The details are hazy now but somehow that first iteration of Guaranteed Rares got out of hand. I think you got one per character per day per boss and take-up was so great it was crashing both maps and the economy. By mid-March the train had picked up such momentum that the tracks were beginning to melt and ANet took the opportunity of the beginning of the Living Story to add some brakes.

Things calmed down after that and we all settled into a routine. I even put up a series of guides for the lackadaisical  that still work to a degree, although a number of much-needed passes on difficulty in the following months have meant that almost all the events now take a lot longer to complete than they did when I wrote the guides and the possibility of failure is now a lot higher.

If all these people are here, how come the only paw-prints in the snow are mine?

That long, rambling, inaccurately-recalled  trip down memory lane brings me up to yesterday, when, as is my wont of a Sunday (and most other days of the week come to think of it) I did several of the Dragon Events on both my accounts. I say "Dragon Events" because people still call them that once in a while. I didn't, of course, do any of the three actual dragons. What would be the point?

Tequatl, who so impressed me waaay back in September 2012 now needs an organized raid of a hundred people. Claw of Jormag and The Shatterer mostly work out their anger issues unobserved except when the train runs at Reset, the extended time taken to kill them being widely considered no longer commensurate with the rewards.

Even at a busy time on a Sunday a good turn-out is no longer guaranteed for the easier options but that scarcely matters because of one of GW2's dirty little secrets: barring the very biggest, almost all Dynamic Events are at their best when seen with as few people as possible.

Should have stopped half way through that sentence.

I did The Maw twice yesterday, the first time with four people and the second with about ten. It was exciting, well-paced and fun. People got knocked down and picked up, people kited the Shaman around, pets tanked. For a while it was touch and go but in the end we won in good time. I'm not saying either was as thrilling as the two times I've completed it with just two other players but sometimes you just have to share the fun. As I was glad to do at Fire Elemental, an event that's often hard enough to complete even with a good turn-out, but which we managed to knock off successfully with just four of us.

When the Megaserver beds in, extending its tentacles across all maps, there should be some definite benefits. It's been weeks since I last did Jormag or Shatterer and I miss them both. It'll be good to see a crowd gather for those. On the other hand, though, I wonder if there will ever be another Three-Man Maw. Melting the Shaman in seconds with a massive zerg may be a spectacle but it's not going to create many "I was there" moments, is it?

And maybe if no-one does turn up there could be consequences? Oh, silly me. 

I hope that, despite ANet's promise (or is it a threat?) that "the MegaServer system is just the beginning, and we are exploring all sorts of approaches in creating meaningful and solid social units for the system to use" there will still be the odd empty map here and there. They may have designed Dynamic Events to scale for scores of players but I get the distinct feeling that the  playtesting was carried out by an individual or a small group, because that's really where the detail and the love and attention that went into them all shines most brightly.

However it turns out, though, I'll still be doing the Maw every chance I get because I know another of GW2's dirty little secrets: you always get a Rare in the Big Chest at The Maw. Okay, almost always. I do it every day, often several times a day. Last time I didn't get a Rare was back in November. Often I get two. Or three. None of the other World Bosses pumps out the Yellows like the Svanir Shaman. I probably owe him for about a quarter of my Ecto Mountain.

Only being able to do him once every two hours is going to cut my income considerably so I just better make sure I don't miss any of my limited openings from now on. See you at The Maw, every other hour on the quarter.


  1. I always thought the excessive outdoor boss farming in GW2 was somewhat weird or even offputting; I totally get the source of income but essentially making the big baddies so trivial in a game takes away much of the glamour for me. reminds me of my dragon topic a while back where someone commented that they don't want dragons to come a dime a dozen in I wonder if it wasn't you in fact who commented that :D I'll go check now!

    1. Pretty sure that was me! I completely agree about the World Boss Phenomenon, too. Ridiculous. But that's just what GW2 has become and, as people are prone to say, it is what it is. It could have grown into something very much more but apparently that's not what the majority of players wanted so there you go. At least what it has become is is still fun - in a way.

    2. I suspect people like giant loot pinata bosses because they remove personal responsibility. I am not trying to be subtly superior or insulting here either, I totally understand it. When you can just show up to the 'raid' whenever you feel like and don't have to worry that you're letting everyone down when you screw up and die or do subpar dps because your gear is kinda sucky or whatever, it's a lot more appealing.

      Maybe the key to making big group content more alluring to people is to stop making it so that 'one person screws up, everyone gets punished' and make it more 'the group will almost certainly succeed, but you get out of it what you put into it. Die five times because you can't avoid the fire and your loot is downgraded, but no one else's is'.

    3. I completely agree with the theory behind this. It's clear that a large number of MMO players love the look and feel of big, spectacular "raid" content but for whatever reason don't enjoy the logistics and/or responsibilities of raiding. To some extent I'm one of them.

      I'd love to see an MMO developer target this demographic and make a whole game based around the assumption that players will flock to big, flashy fights where they are guaranteed lots of loot no matter how badly they perform. As you suggest there are umpteen ways that better performance and participation could be rewarded, but instead of starting at "win or get nothing" you start at "just turn up and get plenty" and move on to "do more than the minimum and get even more".

      On the other hand, as GW2 demonstrates, MMO players are rarely if ever satisfied. I fear that no matter how good the loot was and how little you had to do for it there would always be plenty of people complaining that it wasn't worth the effort involved.

    4. People that actually have work and responsibilities outside gaming aren't particularly interested in more work.

      Work is generally boring, repetitive and dull.

      10-15 years ago, when I was a teenager and after a university student, I enjoyed that kind of thing, but these days I still like to play and I'm not interested in a game about work.

      I like competition and whatnot, but please no competition based in having free time 24/7.

    5. That's true, for a given definition of "work". It's close to my own definition, certainly. Not long after I left University I came up with a definition of "work" that I've kept to ever since: work is anything you wouldn't do if you weren't being paid to do it.

      I have to say, though, that I've met *lots* of people who do not define "work" as anything remotely resembling that. They don't consider work to be "boring, repetitive and dull" - rather they think of work as the better, bigger part of their lives and the things that aren't work they think of as lesser, even trivial concerns. Those people, were they to consider playing video games at all, which in itself seems highly unlikely and yet look, there they are, would most likely be much more comfortable with traditional raiding than the all-pile-on mechanics of post-Warhammer PQ open content.

      It's yet another example of why designing MMOs is such a thankless task; anything that pleases one person is pretty much guaranteed to drive someone else to distraction.

  2. Precursors are just exotics, fyi. :P

    I suppose you're on a small server as the crowds for the Claw never died down on mine. Every world event is crowded all the time, so I'll not see any changes regarding that. Where I'll get screwed over (as with everyone else) is the ability to do quite a few of them in a small amount of time and do Orr temples as well. Also, I may have had my last Tequatl/Wurm runs today (Tequatl 3 times at that!) We'll just have to see.

    But don't worry. The Maw doesn't melt in seconds with a huge zerg. It'll still take a while. :P

    1. Yak's Bend is a well-populated server as far as I know. T3/4 WvW and a much bigger PvE population. People just don't want to do the big events any more because you can do three or four champions in the time it takes to do FE/Maw or a dozen or so in the time it takes to do Jormag.

      Interesting to hear that other servers have made different choices. All our World Bosses were heavily farmed prior to the change to Champion loot but it didn't take long for people to work out the path of maximum efficiency. Which server are you on?

  3. So I finished leveling up a warrior in preparation for this patch. Opening 1400 champ bags in one go is a LOT less fun than it sounds by the way. Using 1000+ Essence of Luck isn't at all pleasant.

    Over the last few days I've been playing Age of Wonders 3. Now I'm faced with the prospect of logging in for the patch and I'm troubled by the same sense of foreboding you get when your girlfriend tells you that she is sick of long hair because it's really impractical and is going to get it all cut off. Sure if I'd loved her I'd have married her so I can't really complain but...

    1. Geez! 1400? Someone in WvW week before last, when we were winning by 200k and all there was to do was run KTrains, linked 500 tower lord bags and I thought that was crazy. I don't believe I have ever had more than fifteen on me at once.

    2. The bag loot scales with your current level so it's slightly worth opening them all at 80 if you are leveling on the train, you get 20 a level more or less, 3 weeks later 1400 bags.

      It really didn't feel like an ordeal, the Champ Train on Deso is lovely, although I'll confess to using a scroll to ding from 79 - 80.

  4. Megaserver, schmegawhatever.

    WARDROBE! I have only eyes for it! *gleefully hopes to free up even more bank space with skins that won't be lost forever with one application*

    1. Well I won't sniff at the extra bank space but are you suggesting there's ever been an armor or weapon skin in GW2 worth applying? If so I must have missed it. If it wasn't that I'm a complete packrat I could have saved myself the space by just destroying them all as I got them since I've yet to see a look I'd use on a bet.


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