Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Sky Is Falling! : GW2

Pai was ranting, quite rightly, about misleading CGI trailers for MMOs.  I feel the same way about over-excited press releases. It's "under-promise, over-deliver", guys! You're all getting it the wrong way round!

The opening of the first installment of GW2's new Living Story had hundreds of players running around Wayfarer's Foothills asking each other in Map chat "Where's the Event?". Being told that they were standing in the middle of it did little to calm an increasing atmosphere of irritation and disappointment.

To quote the Press Release:

"The sky falls and the ground shakes in the lands of the north. Charr and norn refugees crawl from the wreckage of their homes in the Wayfarer Foothills and Diessa Plateau, struggling to find shelter in the south. The call goes out for volunteers to assist the victims in this time of need, when earth and sky seem to have become the enemy…"

No it doesn't! No they don't! The earth and the sky are just the same as they always were except for some sporadic, localized blizzards, handily placed out of anyone's way. The refugees are walking along the same paths we've all been using, the ones that pass by the same lodges and settlements that are carrying on the same business they've been carrying on for months.

Exactly which homes have been wrecked? If the refugees are struggling to find shelter, why don't they stop in that big lodge over there where they have more ale than they know what to do with? Or maybe just nip across the border to Diessa and warm up with a beer and half a roast ox at Meatoberfest?

I begin to lose patience with Map chat
Why die of cold and exhaustion in the snow when not fifty yards away happy, laughing, joking Norns are drinking beer by a massive fire? Did anyone think this through? Doesn't look like it.

Bobby Stein, an ANet developer, eventually popped up on the forums to clarify:

"The Flame and Frost story content progresses over time. You will not see everything today, tomorrow, or even the next day. Expect subtle changes at first." 

Fine. I'm more than happy with that. It's a good approach. It might have worked better if you'd said that in the Press Release so we were out there looking for small, incremental, unspectacular changes, not The Apocalypse as advertised.

MMO players are horribly impatient these days and very hard to satisfy, let alone impress. Under-promise, over-deliver and you're in with a shot. Maybe someone'll try it one day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sitting On My Laurels: GW2

"Flame and Frost: Prelude" GW2's elegaically-named January update arrived last night. ArenaNet tell us it's the smaller of the two updates they're working on at the moment and if that's true then February's must be a real monster.

The official Press Release gives the flavor, the forums have the Patch Notes and Dulfy has the detail. What I have is a few hours of puttering about and a lot of unanswered questions.

It's quiet. Too quiet...
As soon as we logged back in Mrs Bhagpuss and I set off like a pair of hyperactive Kate Adies, charging past the incoming refugees to gawp at whatever dangers they might be fleeing. Except... what refugees? There were none. All through Wayfarer Foothills and Diessa Plateau Norns and Charr continued their obsessive beef&beverage-based activities amid the usual small wars.

Prelude to nothing yet, then, and as I write this early afternoon of the following day, to nothing still. No sign, either, of the Heralds that

"will begin appearing in cities across Tyria shortly after the January 28th update to keep adventurers apprised of the events currently underway that are driving the Living Story forward"

Depends how you define "shortly" I guess. Probably means the same as "Soon". Although:

"Persistent world content related to the story of the refugees has been added to Wayfarer Foothills, Diessa Plateau, the Black Citadel, and Hoelbrak."  

Past tense, not future.

But then, time is out of joint in Tyria. It must be because although we couldn't find any refugees we did finish two dailies in a single day. After months of pleasurable permanence the familiar Daily routine got a hefty shake-up yesterday. From now on we should see a different set of tasks each day, with a handy checklist in the top-right corner of the screen. I'm not entirely clear yet on how these will rotate; whether it's seven sets, a randomized five from a pool, made up on a whim by a bored Dev or what. Time will tell.

Last night's set included 25 underwater kills, which I was happy to see since I had, not fifteen minutes earlier, bought both a Rare Spear and Speargun on the Trading Post for cheap and was itching to try them out. The requirement to complete ten Combos with an Ally was more problematic. Much conversation ensued, both between me and Mrs Bhagpuss and the general population of Diessa Plateau as everyone tried to remember what a Combo was and argued about who counted as an "Ally".
Timing. It's all in the timing.
That one took a long time and it was never really clear what gave an update and what didn't, but it got done in the end. All that was left was to craft ten Green Wood Planks and the first of what I expect will be many Laurels was mine.

Laurels? Oh, they're the new currency. We seem to get a new currency every month. Unlike Ugly Socks, though, Laurels look like something worth hanging on to. A Charr going by the unambiguous if unimaginative name of "Laurel Merchant" has appeared next to Craxus the Karma vendor in Fort Marriner and even a brief perusal of his copious stock suggests Laurels are going to be highly worth collecting.

For a start-up business operating out of a wagon he has one hell of a range. I barely know where to begin describing it. Mini-pets, crates of Exotic armor for all classes, superior crafting tools, unidentified dyes, Ascended jewellery, Infusions, it's quicker to list what he doesn't sell. He even sells WvW siege blueprints, although buying those with Laurels would seem to be the equivalent of using £20 notes to start a fire because you fancy a slice of toast.

My name? You don't need to know my name.
There's a good range of prices. There are things you can get for just a day or two's work: boosters for xp, magic find or coin, the crafting tools and suchlike. Less than a week gets you ten dyes or a box with two pieces of Exotic armor. If you want Ascended jewellery you can figure on getting around one piece a month from dailies alone. With five slots to fill, that's not unreasonable, and there's another 10 Laurels for doing the Monthly to shave a month or so off that schedule.

If you want Goedulf or the magnificently-named Chauncey von Snuffles III, an overweight cat wearing a Derby hat and a bow tie who "placed second in the Divinity’s Reach Fanciest Cat competition" it's going to take you a couple of months. Still, why buy a cat when you can be a cat? Top of the shop is the Endless Mystery Cat Tonic, yours for just 100 Laurels.

It's a lot to take in. For now I'm going to keep my Laurels in my pocket. I'd like to see what this Exotic armor looks like, for one thing, not to mention what stats it has. And then there's the "level 78-80" thing. Who wants level 78 Exotic armor, other than a level 78? Then, too, this is just Phase One of the Achievement revamp. There may be other ways to earn Laurels in future.

It's no time to be blowing them on Arrow Carts, that's for sure.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Bushes Scream

Inspired by Syp's recent spate of housecleaning I have taken out the flamethrower pruning shears and tended to my own garden. Out go all the Places We Go that we don't go to any more because there's no-one there. In come new places to explore.

Blogs that have been silent for three months or more have been removed to make space for a bunch of new ones, some of which I came to by browsing Syp's unfeasibly long list and some of which, shamefully, should have been there all along.


Get The Girl, Kill The Baddies
Fluff Factor
The Wild Boar Inn
Casual Is As Casual Does
Journeys With Jaye
The Common Sense Gamer


Game By Night
Critical Hit
Healing The Masses
Stabbed Up
The Egg Baron
Tish Tosh Tesh
Why I Game
Stylish Corpse

All the out-goers remain in my Reader and if any of them show signs of life they'll be back in, pronto.  The auto-shuffle of recently-updated blogs to the top of the list should mitigate its slightly ridiculous length. I hope. Now all I have to do is find time to read them all.

Also, following a very enlightening discussion at Hardcore Casual about barriers to commenting on blogs, I have set the bar for commenting here as low as Blogger allows. That includes Anonymous comments, on which I am not keen, so we will have to see if that causes a problem. If anyone reads Inventory Full and would like to comment but has previously been put off by Blogger's hoop-jumping, it may be worth taking another run at it. If it's still doesn't work for you, let me know in the comments... oh, wait...

Enough blogging about blogging. Back to pontificating and rambling. Oh, and if you're wondering about the title, here you go. No need to thank me!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

One More Time, With Feeling

Keen has an interesting post up about repetitive tasks in MMOs, wondering why they are fun in one game but not in another. He has some good suggestions why this might be the case for him but me, I struggle to think of any MMO in which repetitive actions aren't fun.

MMOs are built on repetition. As pastimes designed to be open-ended and unfinishable, they have to be. SynCaine, with his enviable flair for the Naming of Things, has taken to describing certain MMOs as "Play-to-Finish" but I remain to be convinced that any such thing exists. "Play-until-Bored", sure, but that's a different issue and one that says more about the player than the game.

Am I playing an MMO or reading Raymond Carver?
Adding finite, narrative-driven structure to MMOs was last year's Big Idea and it certainly helped to create an impression that games like SW:TOR, The Secret World and even Guild Wars 2 have a  beginning, a middle and an end. They don't, though. The stories devs  shoehorn into them do, but beyond those arbitrary, linear paths the same kind of worlds open up within those games as in every other MMO. (Well, I shouldn't make presumptions about SW:TOR. Still haven't played it, still not likely to, but I guess it's true even there in the Home of the Fourth Pillar).

That's not to say that MMOs shouldn't have stories, nor that narrative is a total dead-end. After all, it's just another form of developer-created content. As SoE's John Smedley has become so fond of telling us recently, user-generated content is the future. It just isn't economical to produce new, discrete, unique dev-crafted content at high-enough speed and in sufficient volume to stay ahead of even the average player's ability to consume it.

Remind me, what was in this corner last month?
About the only producer attempting the trick in the last few years has been Trion with Rift and while they've received praise for the efforts they've made they certainly haven't made such a success of things that anyone's rushing to emulate their business model. Anyway, Rift's fast-flowing content stream itself is built on repetition. The frequent events bear a marked similarity one to another. There's a very distinctive pattern, format and flavor to them that hints of the cookie-cutter. The sprinkles and spices they add to each new batch do a good job of disguising the familiar crunch but after a while even different-colored sprinkles begin to look like just what they are - more sprinkles.

Goodbye flophouse, hello penthouse!
"Everybody is content for everyone else" is Smedley's new line, and that's fine as far as it goes. I've been playing a lot of World vs World in GW2 these last few weeks and there surely wouldn't be much content there without all the other players lining up to kill me and /dance on my corpse. Other players aren't reliable though. Sometimes too many turn up, other times not enough.

For truly reliable user-generated content you can't beat resource nodes and what you make with them. As I write this I have DCUO patching in the background. It's a huge download because I last logged in the best part of a year ago. What's brought me to update it today is the upcoming "Home Turf" DLC that adds super-hero housing to the game. Forget fisticuffs - let's decorate!  Oh heck, why not do both?  Let's build houses and then fight in them. Just mind that lamp!

Watch it feathers, you're next.
Repetition and user generated content aren't the same thing but they sit closely beside each other. In a complete system you might source all your raw materials through time-consuming gathering, take ages learning the skills to craft them into components and longer still designing and building. In the end there'd be a fresh resource in the world, created by you, usable by others. Then you start again and so the wheel turns.

What the two concepts have in common, and what makes them both key to the long-term health of a true MMO, is self-determination. There's a qualitative difference between chopping at an imaginary tree for an hour because you want to make something from the logs and spending an hour getting logs to give to an NPC because he needs them for some project of his own.

Another 500 guards should do it...
It's much more palatable to spend a few hours slaughtering orcs so that the guards at the gate of a city nearby will only sneer as you sidle past, rather than charge out with halberds raised, than it is to run errands day after day after day after day (and only once every day, mind you) to collect enough tokens from the very NPC sending you out to work just so you can turn around and spend your wages in his company store. One is private enterprise, the other is wage-slavery.

Rabbits? They're just rats with good PR.
I learned to how to "play" MMOs from Everquest. It might not have been the full-on sandbox experience Smed is promising (threatening?) to bring us with EQNext but the fundamentals were all in place even then. "Here's a stained shirt and a blunt sword - go find your fortune". As I step out into each brave new virtual world it's just another step on that same journey. Exploring, discovering, building, creating, what matters is that I'm the one making the choices and (within the terms of the EULA at least) I'm the one setting the rules.

So, if I want to spend six hours logging or six days decorating, I will. And if I kill ten rats it's because I want ten rats dead and that's no-one's business but me and the rats.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Like Buses: EQNext, ArcheAge

News isn't my thing here but sometimes the news fish just slaps you in the face so hard you can't help but yell.

Yesterday's announcement that Scott Hartsman was leaving for unspecified pastures new would have fulfilled most quotas for Trion Story Of The Week, but it wilts in the heat of today's press release quoted in full over at Massively: Trion is going to publish ArcheAge in the West, handily definied for us as "North America, Europe, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand".

When they will publish it they aren't saying, yet, but ArcheAge launched in South Korea just last week after a much-hyped six-year development cycle and what seems like several lifetimes in beta. I haven't mentioned it much here because there was no obvious prospect of being able to play it any time in the foreseeable future. Now there is.

A stream of stunning videos released over the last year or two (all available to watch on YouTube, I'm sure, if anyone hasn't already drooled over them) show a graphically beautiful game that also appears to have the potential for deep, complex sandbox-style gameplay. In common with most sandboxes there is a strong PvP element but as far as I can gather much of this is optional, in that there are several very large continents and some of them are "safe", or at least as safe as monster-ridden wildernesses can be. They'll still kill you but at least they won't dance on your corpse and steal all your stuff. Probably.

Anyway, so that could be the true AAA quality sandbox/sandpark that will give our lives the true meaning they so surely and sorely lack. But wait, what's this? Can it be?

Yes it can. Riding into view on his unfeasibly articulated, slack-backed catamount it's none other than John "Smed" Smedley, fresh from his Damascene conversion to player-driven-content with a bombshell he'd like to drop. In an otherwise unexceptional interview with Gamasutra, talking about EQNext he throws this in right at the end:

"Players will get their hands on an actual release version of what we're doing late [this] year - and I don't mean a beta".

Pardon me? EQNext, you say? In my hands? THIS YEAR??? That'll be the game that, as I said recently, I am most excited about and which I wasn't expecting to see even in beta until late 2014 at the very earliest and realistically a lot later than that.

It's an odd phrasing, though, isn't it? What's with that indefinite article? Is there going to be more than one "actual release version"? Is this some kind of Kingdoms of Amalur/Copernicus deal? Oh, who cares? Whatever the heck it means, it sounds like my Christmas present's sorted.

So, two supposed AAA sandbox/sandpark MMOs could launch in the same year, although we have no idea how long it will take Trion to translate, localize and launch ArcheAge and we don't even know what EQNext actually is. Green Armadillo could still be on safe ground with his prediction that "we're likely to get at least 8-9 months into 2013 without a major event launch" but prospects for the year as a whole just got a lot more interesting.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tread Carefully : GW2

Everyone who cares will have read Colin Johanson's Road Map for the first half of 2013 by now. Like most ArenaNet press releases it's long on generalities and short on detail, so I'll wait to panic when there's something definite to panic about. Which there might be.

Some of it is heading in a direction I like. We're off to a good start with "What Makes GW2 Unique and Successful", and "The Living World Game". Allowing Colin a pass on "unique", I think he sums that aspect of the game up pretty well. The things he mentions are high on my own list of reasons why I've been playing his game for the last five months:

"Through the dynamic event system, every time you log in, you can experience and share something different in the world with other players".

"Open world online games are always strongest when players are encouraged and rewarded to interact as a community". 

My problem comes in what he proposes to do to enhance and expand on this in the months to come. This bit's fine:

"we also need to build on and strengthen our existing open world and its persistent content".

Nice intention. Problem comes with how he proposes to get there:

"One of our focuses is expanding and leveraging our achievement system".

Whoa! Hold on a second...

For my money that I'm not paying the whole Achievement system could just go away. About the only good thing I have to say about it is at least it's unobtrusive and easily ignored. But not for much longer, if Colin has his way:

"We’ll add tokens for your achievements that you can turn in to select from a list of rewards"

Oh fantastic! More shopping. That really is what I come to a renaissance fantasy virtual world for - the shopping. Apparently the sense of achievement from having achieved an achievement isn't enough of an achievement any more - we need to be paid, too. Aside from the underlying philosophical and semantic weakness of this approach, the practical upshot is this: either the rewards are desirable, in which case achievements cease to become reminders of things we have done and become instead pointers to things we have to do, or they are undesirable, in which case why bother?

Nevertheless, I'm not strongly against this mechanism. I'm not incapable of enjoying an MMO in which I do certain things only in the expectation of the reward I get for doing them. It's clumsy, inorganic and artificial, but hey, stuff! What I am quite strongly against is having this mechanism bolted onto an MMO that I feel is trundling on perfectly well without it. The idea of exploring and doing events because it's fun in and of itself will struggle to compete. GW2 already suffers from a surfeit of box-ticking and this can only make it worse.

Whatever happened to natural curiosity?
Much more worrying, though, is how this thinking looks like it might affect the "Dailies". GW2 has the best Daily system I've seen. It's a short list of simple things that you'd be doing anyway. If you play a standard 2-3 hour session you'll finish your Daily without even noticing you're doing it. If you're in a hurry you can knock the whole thing off in 15-20 minutes. It's just about perfect.

It does not need to be made more coercive, directed or structured. Any proposed change to an MMO that uses the phrase "drive players to different areas of the world" should have been shot down in the discussion phase. Imagine the mindset that allows a phrase as toxic as that to appear not just in a design document but in a Press Release!

Let me make it clear. As a "player" the only place you will "drive" me is to a game made by someone who doesn't think of players as cattle.

Moving on, all the stuff about Guilds is fine and dandy but again it's the wrong emphasis for this MMO. Encouraging guilds to be the be-all and end-all of community goes directly against the open and inclusive nature of GW2 that the opening paragraphs were puffing up as the game's Unique Selling Point. By all means give guilds more bells and whistles and little tassels down the back, but "content designed specifically for the guild to accomplish" by definition takes people out of the open world. Stick with "creation of new content by a guild/s everyone in the world can experience" and we're back on track.

Buggiest MMO ever and I played Vanguard!
As for the World vs World changes, we live in fear and trepidation. So far we know about the removal of free server transfers, which is causing huge disruption in the short term but can only be good for the game going forward, and the proposed nerf to AoE abilities, which no-one asked for and few seem to want. I certainly don't want it - it could wreck my favorite WvW builds, all of which rely heavily on AoEs.

There's yet more shopping in prospect, of course:

"We’ll introduce a system of prestige and advancement specifically designed for WvW".

It seems no aspect of the game is to be spared. On the other hand:

"we’ll add a new motivation to the WvW domain that goes beyond the overall weekly score to give more short term reasons to be winning in WvW".

That does sound intriguing. Just so long as the motivation isn't yet another thing to buy.

Come on Tequaatl, jazz it up a bit, can't you?
The Press Release ends with a mom & apple pie list that includes all the usual suspects like bug fixes and bot bans, better boss fights and an lfg tool, among which this absolute gem shines out:

"Identifying existing parts of the game that can be improved and made more fun/exciting, and investing the time to ensure everything we’ve built really shines as we move forward."

That really nails it, I'd say. Just do that, then you can get started on world peace. 

Anyway, that's the menu. Some of it looks quite tasty, some of it could be hard to digest. I don't think any of it is outright poisonous but I guess we won't know until we've swallowed it and by then it'll be too late.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Remind Me Again, What's GW2 For?

Ding 80! Again. For the fifth time, in fact. Yay me!

Elementalist this time round. Last time it was Warrior and before that, in reverse order of dingage, Necromancer, Engineer and Ranger.

I have never had this many max-level characters in an MMO that hasn't even released its first expansion, let alone one that isn't yet six months old. When they talked about a flat leveling curve they weren't kidding.

When I first mentioned my plan to have a max-level character of all eight classes, however, I was. Kidding myself if I thought it would ever happen. Well, the joke is on me now, but am I laughing?

I did fancifully imagine that one day, one distant day, several years in the future perhaps, I might possibly level most of the classes to eighty. The ones that interested me, anyway. It could be a little project to whittle away at if I had nothing much else on. Now here I am with five of them done in less than five months.

Leveling in GW2 is both easy and fun. Anything works. As a Ranger I explored the world from end to end. I also crafted and followed about half of my Personal Story. Everything was new. I didn't know any better.

As a member in good standing of the Order of Whispers, a Master Leatherworker and with 50% Map completion, you could say my Ranger is my most complete character. The Engineer followed a similar route but hit 80 with just 36% of the map boxes ticked, no crafts completed and no orders joined. No-one else even comes close,(well, my necro's a Master Chef, but that hardly counts. Who'd eat a pie cooked by a necromancer?).

The Warrior, Necro and Elementalist did the majority of their leveling in WvW, which is supposedly the slowest option that isn't outright crazy, like leveling entirely by harvesting or doing 1-80 in a single map, both of which I am sure someone is working on right this moment. Even so, it only takes about three weeks.

The question I'm asking myself isn't "Why am I doing this?". That's easy - it's fun. The question I'm asking that's harder to answer is "What am I doing this for?"

Let me clarify: when I've got eight level 80 characters, one of each class, just what exactly am I going to do with them? I have never played an MMO where I felt so "done" with a class once I'd maxed it. I always feel somewhat like that, but here it's turned up to eleven.

I can't even summon up the enthusiasm to get level 80 gear for them. The ranger got a lovely Exotic bow, crafted by Mrs Bhagpuss's ranger, when he dinged and he made himself a Rare coat and trousers, but even back then I ran out of enthusiasm before I'd barely begun. The rest of his gear is just random yellows, greens and even a few blues scavenged out of dragon chests and so forth. I did look at getting him various Exotics but to be honest I just couldn't be bothered.

Still, he's by far the best -dressed of all my 80s. The rest of them, by and large, carry on in whatever they were wearing when they dinged, augmented by whatever they happen across on the increasingly rare occasions they find themselves logged in. Anything I need them to do they seem to be able to do just fine, so what's the point of gearing them up?

And if you don't want to gear your characters up, you don't need to do dungeons or fractals - maybe take a run through now and again to see them and take some screenshots, but that's it. You don't even really need Karma or coin or Badges of Honor. It all just accumulates and sits in my banks.

So the train rolls on. Next up is Thief, I think, because I didn't enjoy Guardian and I've just leveled two Light casters in a row so I don't want to move straight to a third with the Mesmer. I've never got on with thief classes in any MMO before so it could be an interesting month.

The future for Tyria looks "interesting" in general, though. I'm less than impressed with the way GW2 appears to be heading, something I mean to expand on here soon. I just hope that by the time my project is completed, probably around Easter at this pace, and I have a choice of all classes at eighty, I can find something to do with them.

If not, I still have a couple of spare character slots. Maybe it's worth seeing if Asura make better rangers than Charr. And after that, I can always buy more character slots. Or another account...

Friday, January 18, 2013

March of the Golem Army : GW2

Yak's Bend has been getting hell from Dragonbrand for a while now. They have a very heavy "Night Crew" that comes out with the stars and stomps all over us. Playing GMT hours against them on what's reckoned to be primarily a U.S. West Coast server means that if Mrs Bhagpuss and I are on during the day we spend the morning in doomed last stands over Keeps that we inevitably lose and then the afternoon on a tit-for-tat round of retakes. It makes for great xp and karma but it can get a tad demoralizing.

Left at the camp. No, the other left!
I wasn't planning on doing much World vs World last night. The match is winding down and things were quiet. Yaks had enough of a lead on Ehmry Bay to be reasonably sure that we'd stay in Tier 4 while they slip down a tier, making room for our old friends Maguuma, who are barnstorming Tier 5 after dropping a week ago. We also have the welcome prospect of Dragonbrand leaving us as they rise to T3, to be replaced by Isle of Janthir, who we have played before but about whom I remember nothing. All change on Friday then, and very welcome too.

Did I log into MechWarrior by mistake?
My plan was to take my Elementalist up-country from Black Citadel all the way through Ascalon to Frostgorge, opening as many waypoints as possible as I went. She'd just dinged 72 and it won't be long before she can take a poke at Jormag's left toe. Not  to mention take her turn with a pick at the Orichalcum mines. I'd just reached the end of Blazeridge Mountains when Mrs Bhagpuss told me "Come here - you've got to see this".

"Here" turned out to be the Dragonbrand's Frontier." This" was a Golem Army. Tired of being kicked around in our own backyard Our Glorious Leaders had assembled a huge strike force of mobile siege engines with the intention of marching them across the Dragonbrand map until we'd painted the whole thing red.

Red's our color this week. It means we're third. Even though we came second last week. We're coming second this week again but we'll be third again next week, too. We didn't come second enough. Funny game, WvW.

What did you say the weight limit on this bridge was again?
There was a shortage of golem pilots so Mrs Bhagpuss and I both hopped inside one. (Not the same one - there are no two-seater golems. Not yet). One crew marched off to assault The Garrison. Our team went to Hills. I admit I thought we'd be lucky even to get there but everything went amazingly smoothly, if you don't count half the golems going the wrong way round a supply camp and me putting someone on my own team on ignore for yelling at me four times for spinning once (my finger slipped, alright?)

Bay, Garrison, Hills. Collect the set.
We took Hills, the others took Garrison. We waypointed back and then our lot took Bay after a comedy interlude where we all jumped out of our golems and ran to a tower then ran back and jumped in again when it turned out we'd gotten our signals muddled. I learned that a Golem can swim, that if you dodge in a golem it makes him run faster (although not for nearly long enough) and that if no-one in  the guarding party kills a skale it can nip quite a few chunks out of a Golem's backside. You'd think it would break its teeth but no...

Throw me a line, I'm sinking fast!
Dragonbrand seemed slow to wake up. I think they were busy in the Eternal Battleground. Eventually they began to appear in numbers, seething like an anthill someone recklessly poked with a stick. A good old ding-dong ensued, with Hills, Bay and Garrison changing hands several more times. I had one more run at Garrison in a Golem and helped take it a second time, then I had to go to bed. Summer dinged 74 in what must be two of the most amusing levels I've done to date.

The much-demanded end to free server transfers is finally happening on January 28 and no doubt there'll be a lot of jockeying for position and server-hopping between now and then. We're staying put. Yaks we are and Yaks we stay. A month or so after that we get to find out what the much-ballyhooed major changes to WvW are. My bet's on a greater emphasis on PvE, a shift to shorter-term objectives and a general move away from anything that might be considered "serious" RvR in favor of something more appealing to the hit&run crowd that tussle and scrap along the roads to Stonemist Castle night after night.

Yak's Bend Golem Synchronized Swimming Team
Could be good. Could be terrible. The sooner we get some hard facts, the happier I'll be, either way. Until then, let's hope for more fun evenings like this one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In Dierdre's Steps : GW2

Summer was just about to leave Mount Maelstrom when she happened to notice there was something happening nearby. The Keepers of the Earth, whoever they were, needed defeating and who better than an Elementalist for a job like that? Also if she failed it would be a fine excuse to waypoint back and save a long walk.

It was a tough fight. Summer called up two Earth Elementals of her own to keep the Keepers back while she scorched them with fire, sleeted them with ice and sent flickers of lightning skittering across their earthen hides. She rolled about in the dirt an awful lot, too. When at last she brushed the dust from her eyes and looked around to see the shattered fragments of her Elementals beside the fast-dissolving bodies of the Keepers she was surprised to find herself the only one left standing.

Not half as surprised as she was to see a Mystical Portal hanging in the air right where the Keepers had been crouching. Keepers. Clue is in the name. No adventurer worthy of the calling can ignore a Portal, even one that asks you "Are you sure?" and then warns you "It might be dangerous..." Especially not one of those.

Stepping out of the blue, Summer found herself in perhaps the most lovely place she'd ever seen; a hidden valley, surrounded on all sides by high cliffs reaching up to a haze of sunlit cloud. Plants grew rich and dark above deep, cold pools of clear mountain snowmelt. In the center a jumbled pile of rocks topped by a giant tree almost begged to be climbed.

It was around then that Summer noticed the mosquitos. Bigger than her head? They were bigger than her! And what was rumbling down there beneath her feet in those great fissures? Earth elementals, of course. Suddenly the climb looked less like an invitation, more like an imperative. Summer scrambled.

High above the floor of the valley a Sylvari sat, comfortably reclined under the ancient tree. She introduced herself as Dierdre. These were her Steps. "And what are you doing here, my dear?"

"Searching for treasure", Summer heard herself answer. For heaven's sake! That really doesn't sound good. Alright, it's true but you could at least dress it up a little! Maybe there's something in the clear air that compels honesty or perhaps even a white lie looks too black against such beauty. Either way, it's out now.

"You might want to look in that chest over there, then", said Dierdre. "Only it's locked. You need four Cantles. I'm sure you can manage that, strapping big Norn like you". Summer looked around. There were mushrooms, those big, flat ones that grow out of trees, growing out of the tree. They looked unnervingly like stepping stones.

"Oh I get it", Summer said. "It's one of those."

I'd never heard of Dierdre's Steps. Some research after the fact told me that it was added with the Halloween patch. The full details, together with a video, are here at the invaluable Dulfy site. If you asked me I'd tell you I'm useless at jumping puzzles and hate doing them. That's not entirely true. I'm actually not that bad, probably no worse than average and I do enjoy having done a jumping puzzle. It's the actual doing of them I don't like. It's stressful and I prefer to avoid anything that raises my heart-rate.

Still, you can't not, can you? Not when you're there. And there was a chest. Who knows what might be in there? So up the magic mushroom trail I hopped. It was fairly tricky and very scary. These things are not for acrophobics. Fortunately I'm not scared of heights. Just don't look down. And definitely don't twitch.

Jumping Puzzles in GW2 go a lot better since I learned how to disable double-tap to dodge. That would have got me killed in short  order here. I made it to the top without mishap and picked up the Cantle of Sun. Cantle is a word with which I was previously unfamiliar but there was plenty of opportunity to get to know it better because I still had three of them to get.

As I was pondering how to get down, by sheer chance I happened to spot something at my feet. Diving goggles. Slipped them on and all Summer's clothes fell off, leaving her in an acceptably modest bikini. Over the side, a forward-somersault, splash into the ice-cold water and pop an achievement. Exhillarating.

Next up, Cantle of Earth. Easy one. It's just a quick hop down a hole, dodge the purple-con Veteran Earth Elemental, grab the Cantle and scarper. That left the Cantles of Sea and Sky and I was almost at the top of the climb for the Sky when a spider jumped out and I did that thing I said not to do. Twitched. At least I had the presence of mind to twist as I fell and land in the water, fully dressed this time.

It was at this point that I went and watched Dulfy's video. The thing I really hate about jumping puzzles is having to redo them because I fell. If I can't do it first time I tend not to want another go. It was my suspicion, though, that this valley might not be so easy to find a second time so I thought that if I was going to do it at all I probably ought to get it done while I had the opportunity.

Skipping through the video it certainly seemed the hardest climb was the one I'd already done. Encouraged, I set off again, bounding like a mountain goat up the familiar trail, all the while telling myself not to get overconfident. I got overconfident. Summer slipped on a perfectly straightforward step, clawed desperately at the rock-face and plummeted. This time she did not land in a pool.

There's no waypoint in Dierdre's Steps. Yak's Bend were struggling on the Frontier and I needed my tea. She recalled to Wayfarer Foothills and that was that. I'm still two Cantles short of a Treasure Chest.

To get back in she'll need to do one of the events, assuming she can find one that's up. At least now she has waypoints. She won't have to walk all the way next time. And there will be a next time. Dierdre's treasure shall be mine.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Going South : GW2

After a weekend of full-on World vs World action my Elementalist really needed some R&R so she thought she might take a trip to the coast. The south coast, about as far south as you can go if you want the wildlife to be, well, alive. Just past Mount Maelstrom, that huge active volcano full of Destroyers. Lovely picnic spot.

It's some hike from Lornar's Pass, where she happened to find herself when she woke up. WvW is like that - you take a nap in your Citadel and wake up in a Dolyak-herder's Yurt half-way up a mountain with ice in your beard. Not that she has a beard. She's a Norn not a dwarf and besides the dwarves are all dead. Or so they say.

Despite what Saylahsays, night does fall in Tyria!
Anyhoo, off she set in the pitch-black of a Lornar's night, snow melting on her bare shoulders (She's a Norn. I thought we'd established that...) in search of sun, sand, sea and something to slaughter.

Tyria is a fascinating place now it's not overrun with adventurers. All the better for it, in my opinion. As she worked her way slowly southward, looping around, doubling back on herself, taking time to see the sights, she crossed paths with many other rugged individualists and a few small bands of travellers but of the bustling, bullying gangs of a few months ago there was blissfully no sign.

Dredgehaunt Cliffs now rests almost entirely in the hands (or is that paws?) of the Dredge. Barely an outpost remains that they don't control. Smuts from their smelters drift in the bitter wind like confetti down the steep streets of Divinity's Reach. My Elementalist (let's call her Summer, though that's not her name) helped one desperate field team from the Durmand Priory regain control of their dig site from the Marxist Moles and assisted the Skritt in kicking the Dredge out of some caves. Then, in best Littlest Hobo style, she drifted on.

It may look pretty but people have to breathe this air
In Timberline Falls she enlisted as a volunteer research assistant at an Asuran lab for a while, then stepped in as combat medic for a Hylek village under attack by the Krait. Deep in the southern wilds of Timberline she observed the first, unwelcome signs of the malign influence of Zhaitan as Risen began to appear like rot from the lush jungle surrounding the great volcano.

A trip inside an active volcano is something not to be missed by any self-respecting Elementalist but it was in expectation of but a short-lived expedition that she ventured into its depths. To her astonisment and mine, half an hour later after a breathless and thrilling trip involving some old-school pulling to make sure no more than one or two Destroyers and fire elementals were trying to roast her at the same time, she emerged singed but unscathed near the southern shore.

Is wood the best building material next to a volcano?
Sadly even the calming presence of the Sylvari, one of whom transformed her into a rabbit for a while so she could collect herbs for him (funny people, the Sylvari) or the military know-how of the Charr, who she came across at a jetty repairing a gorgeous, golden sun-shimmered submarine with tender blows from a lump hammer, can't turn the Mire Sea or the Benthic Kelp Beds into a beach resort.

After a quick run along the sands, made all the quicker by the skelks snapping at her unsuitably high heels, she began to think about the long trip back. Which was when she stumbled upon Dierdre's Steps.

Of which more next time.
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