Thursday, September 18, 2014

Run That One By Me Again? : GW2

The Game Update Notes for the Fall Feature Pack that arrived last week bordered on the epic. I fancy myself an aficionado of the form; someone who, not infrequently, visits websites to research and ponder upon the classics; a veteran of the glory days of Everquest, when we'd pore over each enigmatic entry with the focus of a haruspex examining the entrails of a freshly-slaughtered sheep. Even I, however, balked at this Gilgamesh of game changes.

As if the initial torrent wasn't sufficient to drown us in confusion (and map chat and the forums certainly suggest it was) ANet saw fit to shake the fire-hose no fewer than nine more times. Every day is patch day this September.

Each of these patchlets naturally spawned notes of its own but I confess that, in the heat of the intense competition of this first week of the WvW Fall Season, I had been lax in tracking them down. Last night when, during a lull, I finally found a moment to catch up with the ongoing erasing and re-writing of the rules I found this:

  • Fixed a bug that prevented some accounts from having vistas now unlock on an account-wide basis rather than a per-character basis.
  •  Skill challenges now unlock on an account-wide basis rather than a per-character basis as originally intended.

That's phrasing worthy of SOE at the peak of their powers. The great Abashi himself might have been proud of that convoluted, negatively-inflected, self-footnoted delivery. It takes some parsing but the first entry, if I have the right of it, translates as follows:

There was a bug.
This bug affected some but not all accounts.
The bug prevented Vistas from unlocking for all characters on the account.
Vistas are intended to unlock for all characters on the account.
This is the status quo. (implied).
Vistas formerly unlocked per character.
This was the status quo ante (implied).

The second entry confirms that the same state-change that has already been made to Vistas has also been applied, presumably bug-free, to "skill challenges", which I take to be what are generally known as "skill points" in our house. If they aren't then I have no idea what they could be.

Now, if (and it's a very big "if" because I am far from certain I understand what's going on here) that's what these notes mean, then it would represent a major change to gameplay. Vistas and Skill Points are both intrinsic parts of Map Completion, which has always been "by character", much to the disdain of many, although I don't include myself among their number. I would guess that it would be quite feasible, nevertheless, to transfer vista unlocks to ownership of the Account without upsetting too many people or breaking too many systems.

Skill points, however, are not only required for Map Completion but for direct character development while leveling up and as an important form of currency for a number of late-game activities. Granted most skill points at that later stage come from the ever-rolling level counter and those nifty scrolls that Champs drop but even so to move them from character to account would seem problematic to put it mildly.

Well, it seemed easy enough to test so I tested it.

First I checked two characters on the same account - my most map-completed and my least. Had the latter acquired a hatful of vistas and skill points overnight? He had not. Change not retrospective then.

Next I found two characters neither of whom had done a particular vista, the one by the steam bath in the Norn starting area, Wayfarer Foothills. I climbed the hill and opened the vista on one character then logged in the other to see if he had magically received credit for a view he'd never seen. He had not.

Conclusion: either its still bugged or I have completely misunderstood the patch notes. Having trawled both the official forums and Reddit for comments and opinions on what would be, if it were true, a highly controversial change to the structure of the game and having found absolutely no mention of it whatsoever I have to conclude that it's the latter.

The only grasping-at-straws idea I can come up with is that these are changes somehow related to the NPE and therefore only affect new characters leveling up under those rules. I don't have a new character to hand to test that right now but in any case it seems highly unconvincing as a possibility.

I have to conclude that I'm baffled. If anyone has a clue what's going on perhaps they'd care to explain in the comments.


  1. Yeah, I think it's NPE. I haven't leveled any new characters since the patch either, but my reading of those notes is that before you have a character of a certain level, vistas/skill points will not appear as icons on the map and/or not allow you to interact with them.

    But in general, Arenanet's communication about NPE stuff has been pretty awful. There are dev posts on the forums saying "Some of the things you're complaining about are bugs and not intended," but there's no official listing of the intent.

    1. It's ironic and just a little embarrassing to see them keep doing this at the same time they have a huge Dev-created thread running called "Communicating With You" in which they attempt to clarify (and justify) their less-than-stellar interaction with the playerbase. I get the very strong feeling that, as a company, they have some quite draconian rules on this sort of thing although whether self-imposed or top-down, who can say?

  2. I see you are on board with allusional Thursday.

    I love those cryptic line items in release notes, at least in a perverse sort of way. There is the reading, the awkward end where things clearly do not compute, the re-read, and eventually the "What in the hell does that even mean?!?" moment of complete lack of clarity.

    As somebody who actually has to write and review release notes though, I never let that sort of thing pass. But, then again, our customers pay a lot more than $60 for our software and the monthly subscription fee (for maintenance and support) would make you weep.

    1. In certain MMOs I've sometimes had the feeling the patch-note writer was amusing him or herself at our expense but generally it seems like the traditional farming out of what is actually quite a difficult job to whoever is low-status enough not to be able to dodge.

      I always particularly enjoy the parenthesized (For real this time!) emphasis when noting a change that's been unsuccessfully patched several times already. Especially when it still doesn't work!

    2. "... a lot more than $60 for our software and the monthly subscription fee (for maintenance and support) would make you weep."

      LOL! I bet.

      I imagine that could be a whole other discussion elsewhere regarding different standards in the various the software industries, but, uh... for here and now, I'm just amused.

      -- 7rlsy

    3. We were warned this week that our color printer at work was now out of warranty and in future the minimum call-out fee would be £150. So basically it better never go wrong ever again. Just throwing that in there.

    4. @Bhagpuss - Yeah, some of the humor is appreciated, though I do get a bit cranky when the release notes start to get targeted at a specific sub-set of the player base, usually the forum crowd. There have been times where I wasn't sure if SOE realized that the forums were not their entire player base.

      I do enterprise software, where the customer tends to pay 5-10% of the software price every year for maintenance and upgrades. And we'll cover you for older versions if you don't want to upgrade, but that will cost you extra. Unless you're friggin' Walmart.

  3. Only brand new accounts are subject to the layered unlock system introduced by the NPE. Vistas will not appear on the map until level 7; you can interact with them prior to this, however. Once the ability to see vistas on the map has been unlocked, any new characters will be able to see where vistas are on the map (account-wide unlock) - vista view unlocks are still done on a per-character basis.

    Skill challenges will not appear on the map for characters before level 13, at which point the ability to acquire skill points is unlocked and characters are given one utllity slot unlock (e.g. Null Field for Mesmers). The ability to see skill challenges on the map then unlocks account-wide but you will not be able to interact with them on subsequent characters until level 13 which can be somewhat off-putting. Skill challenge completions also remain per-character.

    1. That's crystal clear, thank you. You should offer to run training courses for their patch-note writers! Now that you remind me I did see some people complaining about not being able to see skill points back when the Feature Pack first arrived.

      It all sounds very odd when you read it flat on the page but maybe it feels different when you are actually doing it. The early levels have been speeded up so maybe you're level 7 or 13 so fast it hardly notices that you can't do certain things before then. This is why I really wanted to make a new character and play through the early stages, just to get a feel for how it had changed before I jumped to conclusions.

    2. I believe that has been changed now.
      I've done a skill challenge with a level 4 today.

  4. What Mystical Mesmer said.

    Basically, it's a sneaky way to stop veterans whining bitterly about the vista and skill point changes, while leaving the level locks in place for completely new accounts.

    I think it's fine for the vistas, but the skill point one doesn't make sense given where the early skill challenges are located. (And no, they shouldn't be moved even further off. They've already wrecked the early zones sufficiently between press F to entertain cow and the removal of golem chess.)

    1. They appear to be in the middle of a full-on drive to retro-fit GW2 into exactly the game they spent several years and a lot of PR money explaining to us was The Past and So Over. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

      Most MMOs go through something like this at some stage but this is one of the most extreme examples I can remember.

  5. what they meant by vista and skill points unlocking account wide is simply that they will show up on the map for your alts once you've progressed to that level on one character, not that they will be completed... in the NPE it takes a bit of leveling to see them on the map, i'm at lvl 30 on a second account (wifey decided to get an acct :) ) and i cannot see map icons for the majority of NPCs yet; crafters, merchants, armor repair, banks, karma vendors, asura gates... NONE of that is on my map yet, though they were visible from the beginning on my first, pre-update account... the language in the patch notes in unclear, but all they are saying is simply that once you reach a lvl where you can see these map icons for skill points and vistas on one character, you can see them on any other characters you make...


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