Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Zing! Went The Strings Of My Explorer's Heart : ArcheAge

Both Guild Wars 2 and WildStar make a particular play for what they appear to perceive, inaccurately, as the Bartle Explorer archetype. ArenaNet sprinkled Points of Interest across Tyria like hundreds and thousands  , raised scores of flags in high places and called them "Vistas". Then they slapped on a few rewards and titles and wrapped the whole mess up in a nested set of tick-boxes they called Achievements. Carbine went the extra mile and created an entire Explorer "Path".

This is all well and good. Following these breadcrumb trails can be fun. I enjoy a little of it myself when I'm in the mood. As has been observed by many before me, however, it has about as much to do with "exploring" as Painting By Numbers has to do with Fine Art. It's Exploring for Achievers, basically, and Achievers are a much easier target. Rewarding  Explorers can be something of an existential challenge.

If that doesn't make you want to go and explore you may have chosen the wrong hobby.
The first time I ran across an actual in-game "Achievement" system was, I believe, in Lord of the Rings Online. As I remember it, you'd be out and about, doing some important task for a puffy-faced Hobbit farmer down in The Shire, and right in the middle of killing some oversized gnats a great message would pop up announcing that henceforth you would be known as "The Crop-saviour". It was quite the novelty at the time.

Looking at the LotRO wiki I see that the Deeds system, as it's called, also breaks down into four quasi-Bartle categories, one of which is called "Explorer". I have no memory of that at all. Mostly I remember killing stuff for titles. They call those "Slayer" Deeds. Why they didn't go with Bartle's "Killer", who can say? Perhaps they thought it didn't sound sufficiently Tolkeinian.

Whether they use his exact nomenclature or not, however, Western MMO developers seem to be big on Bartle. How far East the Professor's influence extends is less clear. Jake Song and XLGames certainly didn't consider it necessary to kit each character out with a Book of Adventure or Tome of Discovery, nor even to add a plain old Achievement Panel to the UI.

Photo opportunities are few and far between in an ArcheAge sewer.

That doesn't mean there's no Achievement system in ArcheAge. There is. Sort of. Or rather there used to be. This Reddit thread explains it in detail. The gist is you used to get rewards for doing various things that might be called "Achievements" in other games. Later those rewards were removed but the triggers weren't.

When Trion localized the game they used the version with the triggers but without the rewards and guess what? That turns out to be the best way to reward Explorers for doing what they do naturally that I've yet seen in any MMO so far.

In all the palaver about overpopulated servers, queues, bots, hacks, PvP, farming, naval warfare, housing shortages and all the rest, one thing that's easy to miss is that ArcheAge offers something that approximates a virtual world. Granted it often feels like you're exploring the half-finished set for a movie, what with all the (NPC) houses no-one bothered to furnish and the (PC) houses no-one bothered to finish building, but, still, there definitely is plenty of "there" there.

Yes, I'm doing the backstroke. I'm in a sewer. So would you.

With no zone boundaries and reasonably unrestricted movement - if you can see something you have a better-than-even chance of being able to get to it - ArcheAge demands to be explored. If you're that way inclined, that is. Which I am.

The world of ArcheAge (I wish they'd give it a name) has reminded many an ex-Vanguard player of Telon for this reason as well as for the textural familiarity and the occasional musical memory. I spent an unconscionable amount of time exploring Thestra, Qalia and Kojan for the sheer fun of it and it's going much the same way in ArcheAge. Cantering from quest to quest I'll spot a cave or a windmill across a field and off I go.

The difference between Vanguard and ArcheAge in this respect is the zing. In Vanguard I felt it in my bones. In ArcheAge I can see it in the air. Literally. And hear it too.

One  part pony, three parts mountain goat.

I'm not having flashbacks. It's not my temporal lobes flaring up. Not this time, anyway. It's those leftover triggers. Occasionally, when I poke my nose into somewhere that looks interesting, there's a shimmering sound from the speakers and a scatter of sparks on the screen. That's where I would have received one of Nui's Tears had that currency not been removed.

It's perfect. Most of the time when I go exploring the reward is just as it should be - satisfied curiosity, occasional adventure, incidental terror. Props to Two Crowns for having a proper sewer system. That was a scary half-hour in the dank dark. Now and again, however, often when I do something a little out of the ordinary, like riding my horse up the side of a carnival marquee, I'll hit one of those disconnected triggers and...Zing!

Its a gift that you can't keep or covet. It happens too fast and unexpectedly even to snap a screenshot. It's a virtual pat on the back, a nod of the head, as if the game is offering you a wink and a wry smile. It feels great.

They may have got there by accident but XL and Trion may have come up with the perfect way to reward Explorers just for exploring.

8 comments:

  1. My favourite Explorer moment so far finsing a couple dozen turkeys our in the wild... Reward lots of meat.
    The reward I'm looking for though is that elusive thunderstruck tree. Someone in the guild has already found two while exploring.

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    1. Now that would be a reward. Although as a dirty F2Per I'm not sure I could sell one if I found it.

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  2. Yea, and you haven't even covered the whole sea exploring thing. Islands and underwater treasure. Even though even that does not necessarily have any substantial reward, i really enjoy sailing around the high seas, spotting a little island and finding 2-3 lone inhabitants (players) living on this island tending to their farms in the middle of the ocean.

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    1. Oh and another interesting factor, due to the F2P aspect forcing players to create "illegal farms" , it is an exploration heaven that is totally dynamic and player generated. Nothing like gliding over that mountain top for the 100th time and suddenly spotting an entire player created tree farm (a player thinking he found a secret spot for planting them) .

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    2. Could be a while before I get anything more seaworthy than a rowing boat I fear. The lure of the open sea is strong though and of course its another tick on the list of why ArcheAge seems so familiar to ex-Vanguard players. Getting my sloop in VG was one of the biggest days of my whole MMO "career" and I never tired of sailing it around.

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  3. You could say I've been here and there....

    Here is my list so far. I'll be adding on to it soon... I've been exploring the under the oceans & lakes...looking for sunken treasure. Yes, I know there are maps online that show every location of every treasure chest underwater...but where is the challenge in that, I ask you! -)

    http://i.imgur.com/bYO2lxj.jpg

    TQQdles™

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    1. Hermit's Grotto is one of the coolest hidden locations i have ever found in any game. Props to you, man. This is quite the list!

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    2. So far, I've found 152 "achievement" spots. [img]http://i.imgur.com/HOSBGkJ.jpg[/img] As you can see, I've left space at the bottom for more additions.

      As for the "hidden wild farms" outside the normal protected farming plots, my character (Elondra) is an Elf but explores in the East continent a lot. When I find those groves planted by the Easterners, I can harvest them without incurring any "crime points" since I am the opposing faction. But I also leave a "calling card" by planting black pepper or roses where I've harvested.

      TQQdles™

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