Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Potterer's Pictorial Guide to Canach's Lair (Solo) : GW2

Southsun Cove Photo Album: GW2

Gets right to the heart of it, doesn't she?

Some girls have all the luck

Sea view without shark (yet)

Well, I'm not going to tell her.

Never ask a Charr for fashion advice.

There must be a 12-step program...

RNG blues. Er, greens. No, wait...

The ground! It's shaking!

Towards a theory of Game Development

Monday, May 27, 2013

Wot We Did On Our Holidays : GW2

 Southsun Cove. The very name conjures up images of moonlit beaches, waves gently lapping the sands as soft music drifts on the night breeze. The tink of glass on glass, faint laughter from across the bay, lantern-light reflected on the water. Sun, sea, sand, romance and relaxation, Southsun Cove has none of that at all.

Oh alright, yes it does. Kind of. It has sea. Filled with sharks and skelk, but undeniably sea. Swim in it, go on, I dare you. Then there's sand. Plenty of that if you don't mind sharing it with crabs the size of carthorses and yet more skelk. Whatever a skelk is. Sun? I think I saw it once. At least the rain must be warm because people stand around in it in their bathers day and night. Romance? Maybe just a hint in the brittle banter between Lord Faren and Lady Kasmeer. With luck the pair of them will hit it off so well they'll vanish on Lord Faren's private yacht and we'll never, ever have to meet either of the insufferable boors again.

No, contrary to what The Consortium would like you to believe, Southsun isn't about having the holiday of your dreams. Of course it isn't. It's a place of mystery, adventure and intrigue.

Kidding! I'm just kidding! It's all about the loot.

But you knew that, of course. Why else have there been overflow servers ever since the event began? Why else are zergs criss-crossing the island like packs of wild dogs day and night? Why else would Trading Post prices be tumbling as blood, scales, Rares and Exotics pour out of people's packs onto the market in a flood?

Oh, there was a day or two there at the beginning when all anyone wanted was to tick those boxes. Sample this, visit that, talk to him, help her. In a short while all but the stragglers had been there and done that and everyone settled down to the real business at  hand: farming.

A good farmer craves efficiency, though. It wasn't long before the best spots were identified and mercilessly codified. Woe betide any adventurer who attacks an Instigator out of sequence and sets the Kiel/Glass axis spinning out of synch. The whole point is to get the two of them timed so that you can shuttle between them all day long with nary a moment's downtime, other than to clear the odd incursion at the camps along the way.

There are those who swear by the crazed karka raids. Before the dreaded Diminishing Returns kicks in those waves do drop loot-bags like confetti and there's always that slim chance one might contain the craved Southsun Crate. Not that there'll be anything in it. Just some fruit and shells, a flower or two. Still, better link it in map chat so everyone can urge you to open the box. It's like Hughie Greene never died.

The community spirit, so strong at the start, is starting to feel a little ragged round the edges. Self-appointed Instigator Coordinators flounce off to guest on servers where people pay attention and don't argue all the time. Mesmers tired from lifting people up the cliffs day after day begin to wonder openly what's in it for them. And yet, and still, by and large people remain good-hearted, events are called, the downed revived.A good time is had if not by all then at least by most.

It's been a very good week. What? Two? Really, has it been that long? Well, it doesn't seem like it. It's been both fun and profitable. How often can you say that? If this is going to be the model for the Living Story from now on then it's a decent start. Could be better, sure, but that's what the famous Iteration is for.

Go on then. Iterate that.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's Better To Have And Don't Need

As Don Covay would say.

Jeromai at Why I Game has some interesting observations on the value of virtual currency. Wilhelm at TAGN was musing on something similar recently. My "problem", if you can even call it that, is that in almost every MMO I find very little I want and even less that I need that I don't already get just by playing.

/em Does The Happy Homeowner Dance
That wasn't always the case. In the glory days of Everquest  I was forever desperately saving up for something or other; farming, playing the market, vendor diving, anything to raise the thousands of Plat (latterly tens or hundreds of thousands) for some supposedly vital purchase. I guess Psychochild would file that under "satisfaction". It never seems to happen any more, yet I still feel strangely satisfied all the same.

The last time I recall having to save up for something I really wanted was more than five years ago, in the very early days of Vanguard. Back then it was a ship and the bricks to build a house. In just three months I had them both but the lack of more things to buy didn't stop me going on to play Vanguard as my main MMO for the rest of that year and for several periods of multiple months thereafter.

One day...
That, of course, was largely in the days before cash shops. The things I was saving up for then came from within the game itself and I was paying for them with money made the same way. The more the makers of the games began to open their own storefronts funneling toys and trinkets from some supposed cornucopia beyond, the less I seemed to feel the need to buy anything at all.

Oddly, finding less and less use for the money my characters make has had no impact on how keen I am to send them out to get it. If anything, my love of making money in-game has increased. Now that I don't feel much need to spend the stuff I just like to see it mount up. I also love farming crafting materials, piling them high even for crafts I don't do and have no intention of starting. Watching the stacks of mats build up, seeing the coins safely banked, all those hoppers filled with orichalcum, the shimmering vats of ectos, it all brings so much more pleasure than spending ever could. I feel like some smug dragon sitting snug on my hoard.

...oh what the hell, have this one for free.
In GW2 since the loot changes I've spent most of my gametime farming chest events across
the world, most recently in Southsun, as well as gathering mats everywhere at every opportunity. Gradually most of my level 80s have cast off their Yellows and Greens and slipped into Exotics. Not all of them by any means, though, and not all the slots. Jewellery in particular tends to get overlooked. While some does get put to use, much of the loot from the never-ending event round just pours into my vaults along with the undrunk jugs of karma and mystic coins, just about all of which I've ever earned I still own, along with the laurels I so diligently gather every day and every month, none of which has ever left that little line along the bottom of my bags.

You do what with it? Nah! You're kidding me!
As for the Gem Shop, so far it's featured one single item I considered buying - the Mole Machine thing. That was only 150 gems and I would quite like to have one, yet I still haven't gotten around to doing anything about it. I'm not sure there's anything else in there I'd take on a bet.

Then there are the utilities. I've considered those a few times. There's the issue of storage and it is a bit of an issue too. Well it might be given the hoarding tendencies I've already mentioned. True, I'm still playing with just my default bank and bag slots and the idea of adding to those appeals, but since I currently have no bags larger than 15 slots on anyone (unless they got one as an event reward) and indeed most characters still get by on 10-slots (some, shamefully, on eights) any problems I have there could better be solved by buying bigger bags, at least for now. And of course by better inventory management. As for shared storage, our tiny guild expanded its vaults to the maximum total of 250 slots some while back and we never fill them all.

Deciding on who gets the dyes might be an idea...
Character slots then? With two accounts (and the best thing I ever did in GW2 was buy that second account) I have enough character slots for now. If I ever did want more I'd be minded to buy a third account rather than buy slots individually, especially with the recent price-drop. After all, if ANet are set on releasing all content free and never selling expansions, there's really no downside to having as many accounts as you fancy.

It'll all come in handy one day
The way things are trending it seems harder and harder for MMO developers to get their deserving hands on my real money. They seem ready to make games I enjoy playing as they stand, often giving them to me for free then continuing to add interesting, enjoyable content faster than I'm likely to use it up without bothering me for any kind of payment in return. The generosity is reaching such levels within the games themselves that it's not all that easy even for NPC merchants to get hold of my imaginary gold.

They probably all need to stop giving me more for free than I know what to do with and/or start offering me things in the Cash Shops that look like they might give me more pleasure  than I am already getting for nothing. Come up with something "aspirational" that I might actually aspire to, for example. That'd be a start.

Although I rather hope they never get around to doing either. The way things are it seems to me that I'm the one getting the sweet end of the deal.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One Out, One In: Dragon's Prophet, EQNext

A couple of SOE related news items popped up today. One had me me scratching my head in puzzlement, the other I cheered out loud.

The head-scratcher is Dragon's Prophet going into open beta on May 30th. That's according to many sources, not least the official Dragon's Prophet Europe website, which also confirms the NDA is down.

The international sign for "Help Wanted"
I've been in the DP closed beta for a month or two but I don't have much to reveal because I've barely played it. The first time I logged in I hated it. HATED it! Where to begin with how miserable an experience that was...

Disappointment set in at character creation; just one race on offer, if you call human a race. In fantasy terms I don't. The plastic faces and nasty armor didn't help. Already things weren't looking good: if you're not feeling it at character creation it rarely gets better from there.

There was an introduction of some kind that I've blocked from my memory. I recall all too clearly cut scenes that would have looked embarassing ten years ago peppering one of the worst "tutorials" I've ever played. The UI was vile and the controls worse; very close indeed to unplayable. The world, when I finally reached it, was hideous, everything far too large, lacking in any subtlety or even detail, with a garish color palette and ugly textures.

Yes, it's coming from me.
Whether the gameplay would in any way have mitigated this terrible first impression I have no way of knowing because in my desperation to get out of the repulsive starter village I scrambled down a rock face into a dry river bed from which I could find no way out. I hadn't completed the one quest I'd taken, which with awful irony was the one that would have given me a teleport to bind. I cut my considerable losses, namely a couple of hours in which I could have been playing something, anything else, closed the game through task manager since there seemed to be no other way of doing it, logged back in, deleted the character and left.

I really hope that's meant to say "Satsuma"
Mrs Bhagpuss also has a beta invite and she gamely had a go despite my dire warnings. She retired to bed in short order with UI-induced motion sickness, never to try again. I, however, being eternally optimistic, did try again. I had an email warning me there was an imminent full character wipe and experience suggests that you don't generally do those unless there are some major changes coming. Maybe changes that would make the thing playable, if not actually worth playing. Who knows? Miracles can happen.

Can and do. Second time around it was like playing an entirely different game. How much of this is due to things having been replaced and improved and how much to do with my massively lowered expectations is a bit of a moot point. One thing did change for sure: the control system now works. I still don't like it because it's one of those pointerless center-screen targeted mouse-button fire "action" systems but now I can use it perfectly well. It's no worse than the Neverwinter version and better than DCUO's.

There's still the issue of having to play a human but character creation offers a wide enough range of options now that I was at least able to get one I could stand to look at. There was an option to skip the tutorial which I fell upon like a starving nun on a cheese sandwich. Maybe they improved the tutorial too but I'm not crazy enough to go find out.

There were even several options for starting areas. I picked a different one to the original disaster and stepped straight into the world. They were fibbing a little about skipping the tutorial; there's still a little bit of the good old in media res "Help they're burning the town! Only you can save us!" compulsory action to be gotten out of the way but that's painless enough. After that you can do what you want.

Mrs Bridges! Is that you?
I wandered around town, which looked much, much more attractive than the other one. Lots of townsfolk were wearing enormous green exclamation marks for hats so I took the hint and chatted to them all. They spoke rather stilted, peculiar but largely comprehensible English and all had trivial problems that they probably should just have got on and sorted for themselves, only why bother with suckers like me passing by all day, offering to do any and all work for a couple of coppers or one of granny's old cast-offs.

Outside the rather attractive starting town was some equally attractive countryside. I wandered around that for a while shooting arrows indiscriminately at things I was meant to kill and things I wasn't. When I felt I'd ingratiated myself sufficiently with the locals I took off exploring and made it to the next town over, oohing and aahing at the lovely scenery and the unfeasibly oversized wildlife as I jogged along. In that way several hours passed happily if unoriginally. I took a lot of pictures but it seems the wipe also wiped the screenshot folder. Betas!

Uncanny Valley - Text Version
From a game I would have to be paid, and paid well, to play even for an evening Dragon's Prophet had transformed itself into a game I'd cheerfully play if I was at something of a loose end. Okay, that's not exactly high praise but it's one heck of an upgrade. And I would have played it again, too, only there's a lot going on MMOwise right now and by the time I had an hour or two free and logged in again wouldn't you know it, they'd gone and done another full character wipe.

So I left it at that until I saw the news today. I logged in, made another character (a Sorceror instead of a Ranger this time) went back to the first starting town, ran around, killed a load of giants in some sort of event and confirmed that yes indeed this is an MMO I might play. Probably will play. Some time. A little. Now and then.

Do I recommend it? How can I? I've seen two starting areas and got to level seven. The entire point of the game is to collect and train dragons that act as mounts, fighting pets and companions. The closest I got to that was putting the ability to catch the things on my hotbar. But it's not horrible (any more) and some people will probably enjoy it quite a lot.

Is it ready for open beta? Like hell it is. Not only is the quest and dialog translation still very obviously a work in progress but not infrequently there are still great strings of coding gibberish visible instead of the names of items and quests. As someone said in chat this afternoon it's in good shape for closed beta but nowhere near ready to open as a shop window. Hence the aforementioned head-scratching.

The other news item hasn't been made official as far as I'm aware. The smart folks at EQ2Wire picked it up from LinkedIn. Domino is back at SOE and she's working on EQNext. What with the earlier revelation that Psychochild and the Storybricks team are on board and now this fantastically welcome news, the EQNext project is really shaping up. Did Scott Hartsman get a new job yet?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fun In Southsun : GW2

Everyone and their Aunt Aggie has weighed in already on GW2's Secret of Southsun update. I'm late jumping that train so I'll keep it short.

It's a big improvement. It's tighter; more focused thematically and geographically than Flame and Frost. Judging from map chat people seem to like the content better. More importantly they're using it. I've spent much of this week in Overflow and I don't even play primetime hours for Yak's Bend.

Ravious has issues with the delivery system. I think Southsun makes a better show of laying out the intel than earlier iterations but it remains a rattly old communications chain all the same. If you're going to replace a system that works (quests, tasks, missions) with one of your own making it's probably incumbent on you to make one that works better. This doesn't.

Don't have nightmares.
Still it gets the job done. There have been complaints that using the Achievement system this way builds in spoilers and it does but I can't say I felt there was much in there to be spoiled in the first place. If there's anything that makes sense of the Molten Alliance storyline then it passed me by. I also admit to not remembering either Inspector Ellen Kiel or Canach. If I met them before then I apologize. They didn't make much of an impression, obviously.

Southsun isn't heaving with people day and night out of love of story anyway. ArenaNet built a farm and everyone put on their straw hats and set to work tilling the fields. The prize fruit, Southsun Supply Crates, seem rare as arctic strawberries but there's compensation in everything around. Blood, scales. poison sacs, karka parts and passiflora; huge coin and Magic Find buffs; karma trains the like of which I haven't seen
Festival? Does he mean the Dragon Bash? That's here?
outside WvW.

The best part of the Southsun update is the community-building. Map chat is filled with helpful people answering questions on where to go and what to do. Events are called all the time. Mesmers are puzzle-porting just because they can. Commanders running their tags are using them to focus PvE zergs. Anyone getting knocked down gets picked right back up again. It's a microcosm of what the whole game could and should be; communal, mutual, positive, open, empowering.

Any mesmers porting to JP?
It also occurred to me quite early on that it isn't an entirely new phenomena. I've seen it before. Now where could that have been? Ah yes, of course! Southsun is an Everquest Hot Zone. It reminds me of nothing so much as the weekends we spent in Dulak's Harbor or Grieg's End farming xp and hoping for the augs to drop. Hot Zones always were a great idea. Every MMO should have them.

This is a good direction. This is what we want. Well, it's what I want. Wouldn't it be great to see this approach rolled out to different parts of Tyria every two or three weeks? Intense, focused bursts of content that funnel a critical mass of players to a specific map, offering desirable, distinctive rewards for a limited time only. Yes, it's a dirigist approach but don't we all need a little direction from time to time?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Just Ride : City of Steam, GW2

There were no horses in the 20th Century. They didn't begin to appear until the very end of 2001 and it wasn't 'til the spring of 2002 that I saw my first. It was coming on summer when I finally saved up enough money to buy one all my own.

Horses in those days were very different to horses as we know them now. It took a while to build up to a gallop and you really had to lean back on the reins to bring them to a halt. Turning a horse was like moving a grand piano in a small room. That didn't matter so much. I hadn't bought mine to get anywhere faster. I'd bought it to sit and think.

Sitting astride a horse was... well it was sitting and sitting mattered because only by sitting could you get your thoughts back in order and regain the energy you'd used up casting spells, energy you'd soon enough need to cast more. Meditation, we called it. Medding, the way we spoke back then.

Quickly horses passed from luxury to necessity. The ability of a cleric to keep a party alive depended on having a good seat. It wasn't merely that thought flowed more clearly when mounted; lions, goblins, bandits, anything used to seeing a seated gnome as snack-food or spare change lost focus when a horse came into the picture. Mounted clerics no longer got picked on the moment they opened up their spell-books.

We were very happy with our horses. I don't recall anyone observing that horses were all very well but they'd prefer something more leathery. Still, wished for or otherwise, not much more than a year later the fashionable thing to be seen out riding was a drogmor and with drogmors the stable door stood wide, never to be bolted.

In the years since almost every world has learned to ride. Horses, tigers, dragons, mechanical pigs; there's nothing so outlandish someone won't throw a saddle on it. In some worlds mounts transcend gravity; flying carpets, hot air balloons, jetpacks. Get me up in one of those? Hell, yes.

Last night I rode a Steambike for the first time. There wasn't really anywhere much to ride it, just around the tight streets of Heartland Road. I'd been gifted the bike on arrival from The Ironwaste, a terrifying wasteland teeming with skeletons whose gauntlet must be run unless you wish to spend the rest of your life living on charity in The Refuge.

I had no idea how much I'd missed riding until I kick-started that bike and heard it purr. All these months traveling the length and breadth of Tyria on Shanks's Pony I knew something wasn't right but you get used to these things. Now I know. It's wrong and it's been wrong all along.

It's just plain wrong to run everywhere. It's not realistic, naturalistic or immersive. It's silly. Even in our own quotidian world we mostly go mounted, to the corner shop on roller skates, to a friend's by bike, to the next town over in a car. And when we go somewhere on foot we walk. We don't run.

I'm done with jogging. Wishes are horses. Let's ride.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide