Monday, September 6, 2021

Taking Heart by Snargle Goldclaw Is Currently Out On Loan

When we talk about the writing in mmorpgs, all the attention tends to focus on two things: the overarching central narrative and the accompanying zonal, regional and miscellaneous side quests. It's the quality of the former that tends to dictate how the game is perceived in terms of overall quality. The rest at best contribute to an impression of the game's depth and range.

What generally doesn't get much of a mention at all are the in-game texts - books, scrolls, notes, journals, diaries, inscriptions, broadcasts, computer files, scraps of paper blowing on the wind. In some games these might be few and far between. In others they make up entire content streams.

There's a whole post in that. A series, perhaps. This isn't it. Not yet.

At this stage it's no more than a passing thought, inspired by a single entry in Guild Wars 2's most recent update notes:

  • A new achievement, The Goldclaw Holiday Collection, has been added to encourage discovery of a hidden series of festival-themed novels, each available only during their associated festival. Progress in this achievement is not retroactive.

That sounded intriguing and since we have a festival going on right now, the Festival of the Four Winds, it seemed like a good moment to investigate.

Ironically for an achievement predicated on in-game writings, I'm not at all sure how I would have got on if I'd limited myself to the information available inside the game itself. I took it from the "not retroactive" note that the books, or some of them, had been in game for some time already but I'd never happened across any of them so there was no chance I'd be able to go back to where I'd found them and pick them up again for credit. 

I wouldn't have found the one that's currently available to collect without doing some fairly extensive research out of game. I began by googling Goldclaw Holiday Collection, which took me to this wiki entry.  

From there I learned the names of all the collectible books and at which festivals each can be found. Clicking through the links, I was able to establish that, yes, these are all books that already exist in game, albeit only quite recently. They seem to have been added at the last occurences of Wintersday, Lunar New Year, Halloween, Superadventure Box and now the Four Winds festival, during 2020 and 2021.

Even though I play every day, attend all the festivals except SAB, have map chat on the whole time (it's busy in festival maps) and generally have my eye open for this sort of thing, I had no idea any of these books existed.

What's more, as I pursued my investigations, I discovered all the books were written by Snargle Goldclaw,  a Charr NPC who was introduced in the Icebrood Saga and who already has three other achievements associated with him. I finished the whole of the Icebrood Saga and I have absolutely no memory of ever hearing of him, much less meeting him.

That may say more about my memory than the quality of the Icebrood Saga, which by and large I generally enjoyed. I do tend to remember a lot more about the beginning of it than the middle and the end, though, which suggests whatever engagement I had with the story faded as it went on.

I did eventually track Snargle down. He's in Eye of the North, the miserable, characterless hangar ANet are trying to foist on us as the new central hub for the game. I only go there if I absolutely have to so I hadn't seen him until then.

Before I found out I needed to talk to Snargle to get the whole thing started, I went to Labyrinthine Cliffs, the map where the Four Winds festival takes place, and spent half an hour running around trying to find the hidden book in an organic, naturalistic, roleplaying fashion. I looked in all the places a sentient, rational actor might reasonably be expected to hide a book and found nothing.

That turned out to be because it's actually out in the open, exposed to wind, rain and sun, on a ledge half way up a cliff out in the middle of nowhere, a location absolutely no-one would ever visit for any sensible purpose. For certain sure, no-one would go there to read a book.

I certainly wouldn't be telling you where it is if someone on YouTube hadn't told me. And even when I knew where it was I still couldn't get to it until it occured to me to go to the very highest point in the zone and glide down. 

That got me to the book but getting there wasn't enough. I couldn't interact with it in any way. Yet more research revealed that in order to begin the new collection I needed to go speak to Snargle, the snag being he'd only speak to me if I'd already completed a previous quest collection achievement called "Out of the Cold", part of the Icebbrood Saga from over a year ago.

As I can now attest, having been to talk with him on two accounts, I must have done that achievement, even though I can't recall anything about it. My Necromancer, on the account with which I do Living Story, was able to engage in a lengthy and intermittently amusing convesation with both Snargle and his long-suffering assistant, after which I was able to go back to Labyrinthine Cliffs and collect the book. My Elementalist, on the account that doesn't do Living Story, got not much more than a hello.

This speaks to the innate complexity of both GW2 and most long-running mmorpgs. There are too many optional opportunities in these games for even regular players to be fully aware of, far less take part in, all of them. At some point we all, either by choice or by default, settle for a subset of the things we have to do, the things we like to do and the things we happen to do by accident.

I like activities like this collection. It's easy (when you work out what the heck you're supposed to be doing), doesn't take too long and builds nicely over time. Having a book to find at each festival as it appears is a pleasant addition to the routine and I only need to do it once.

The problem is, had it not been flagged up in the patch notes and had I not chanced to read them in full for once, I'd not have known it existed. Going back to where this post started, think of all the hidden texts that don't have collections or achievements attached. What are the chances I'll ever read all of those, in GW2 or any mmorpg I play? 


Does it matter? Not really. Most of these texts, when I do discover them, aren't all that interesting. Some games pump thousands of pages of lore into the world through in-game texts that read like the dullest, driest of textbooks. Some come across like self-indulgent in-jokes, others like writing excercises by designers whose natural forte is not the written word. I don't feel I'm missing all that much.

And yet I'm happy they're there. They do fill out the world. Wilhelm has an ongoing series on immersion that's made me think about all the minor, unsung, uncelebrated touches that add to the sense of place that's so central to the immersive expreience. In-game texts are just one of those touches.

What are the others? Ah, that's another post, or even a series, as yet unwritten. If this was fifteen years ago do you know what I'd do? I'd write up that post and paste it into one of EverQuest II's player-made books. Then I'd place that book in a publicly-access house in game (maybe in Stargrace's EQII Library if it still takes submissions) and post the access details here on the blog.

That's the kind of metatextual, postmodern, self-referential, tricksy thinking I thought was pretty darn clever back then. I'm older now and wiser. I understand it's even more pretentious to theorize about how you could do these things, then not actually do them and it goes without saying, I'm sure, that maximum pretension is always the dream.

Still might do it anyway, though...

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