Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Late To The Party : GW2

I was going to write a little something about the after-war party at Marjory's bar and the reaction thereto but Jeromai beat me to it. The first half of his post is pretty much the post I was going to write but instead of taking the day off I thought I'd carry on regardless and just use him as a trampoline.

I read a whole thread on the official forums about the Aftermath update yesterday. It was almost 100% negative but not in an unpleasant way. Not in an inaccurate way, either. I found myself nodding now and then, especially over the distaste for some of the dialog options, one or two of which went right past inappropriate into downright offensive.

 Much of the dislike stemmed from the very things Jeromai picks out - supposed inconsistencies in the lore and the quality of the writing. GW1 lore is almost completely opaque to me so I'll pass on that but quality of writing is something I'm supposed not only to understand and recognize by dint of my education but which I'm required to be constantly aware of in my day job.

I felt embarrassed to read this. Imagine if you'd written it.
The comments in that thread along with Jeromai's observation that "It’s an MMO. It’s never going to be fine literature" really made me re-assess my own complacency. Why should we not expect fine literature in an MMO? I would argue, vehemently, that we can find fine literature in almost every other genre, including many that were long derided as cultural cesspools: comics, television, genre fiction, movies, the lyrics of popular songs... even video games are beginning to attract coherent criticism from beyond the ghetto of the gaming press. Why exempt MMOs from the standards we would use to gauge the success with which a story was told, a mood evoked, a character drawn in any other medium?

I think I've been doing a lot of that. Like Jeromai, I've been...content. It's not really good enough, is it? I think I've tended to praise the writing of the Living Story in particular and GW2 in general too highly, rather on the principle of the dog walking on its hind legs - it's not that he does it so well that pleases, it that he manages to do it at all.

Just think of the scrap value alone.

So, more critical rigor in future, or at least that's the plan. As for whether it's becoming ever-harder to "turn these things into a conversation point", well Zubon at KTR took someone to task recently (towards the end of this comment thread) this for expressing a disinclination to discuss in detail why we like or don't like aspects of our MMOs, his dry reply being that the commenter's position "cuts to the heart of reviewing: some things are good and some are bad. We say good things about the good and bad things about the bad."

And that is the thing. When we agree to disagree and acknowledge that much of what we might dispute is really no more than differing tastes (which often is all that it is) then we risk having very little to say to each other at all. There's seeing the other fellow's point of view and then there's refusing to engage. Of course, we can all just post screen-shots. That's always a plan.

Looking ahead to where The Living Story goes next and thereby to the prospects for GW2's future I also do think that MMO players steeped in years of playing certain MMOs that worshipped less slavishly at the altar of DIKU-MUD - City of Heroes, the original Guild Wars and Asheron's Call come immediately to mind - have a better understanding of and a higher tolerance for horizontal progression and goals that aren't primarily oriented towards a direct and tangible increase in character power.

Going to be a lot of that come The Tourney
GW2 seems to be trying to straddle that divide and making a reasonable job of it, too, but the absence of a real expansion is a serious and ongoing challenge for that balancing act. Competition this year is going to come partly from MMOs that appear to understand the desire for vertical progression very clearly - WildStar and WoW. The Living Story project has been a brave one but I think few would argue that it's been wholly successful. Whether another round, however well refined and re-tuned, will be sufficient to hold attention this summer we can only wait to see.

It's probably true, as Jeromai suggests, that the people who complain about the lack of an expansion (I'm one of them) would be reasonably placated by new races, classes and explorable areas were those to be added through other means, but the problem is that after a year and a half there is no sign whatsoever of that happening. An expansion, even just the announcement of one, gives players confidence that there will be jam tomorrow even if the bread remains dry today.

Repairers throughout The Mists are rubbing their hands with glee.

Not to mention that I like buying things that plop through my letterbox with a solid THUMP. It's just much more satisfying to get that content delivered in a box all at once than dribbled out invisibly over weeks and months. Even a digital download carries something of the frisson of an actual purchase. Stuff you get free is worth what you paid for it, as the saying goes, or at least there's the risk that that's how your non-paying customers will see it.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. We have The Tourney to enjoy before Living Story Season 2 kicks off (is there even a date for Season 2? Will they overlap? If they don't will we really see no new content 'til the Summer?) and Ruined Lion's Arch, with the sad music, very nearly pays for all.


  1. *boiiing*

    I think my disinclination to discuss the story in elaborate detail mostly stems from the feeling that nothing we say will really affect the major arcs and general movement, nor will any criticism change conversation options that don't fit one's character (as there are more myriad personalities than room for dialog options.)

    At most, our praise or criticism will affect minor character details, like the disappearance of Kasmeer's hiccups or the increased appearance of Jobo-Hobo-Hoho-Healo-tron.

    Reviewing features or design as good or bad feels to have more objectivity and evidence that can be brought out to make a persuasive argument (eg. Before the knights' hp was lowered by 25%, many servers were struggling to complete the gatekeeper event. Therefore, unless the goal is to restrict participation by a certain amount, that was a misjudgement of what the playerbase was capable of. We can then extend from there to say perhaps we should have less huge hitpoint punching bags in the future as that does not seem to be a playerbase preference, and perhaps more learn-one-or-two-mechanics-based fights like the Hologram and Marionette fights that seemed more popular.)

    It still seems to me a bit hard to do that sort of criticism with story writing. There's no one right way to write a good story. Writers have been trying to do that for centuries and readers still don't agree with them and each other.

    How would you have written the conversation options in question, for example? (I agree, by the way, that none of them fit my perception of my character, and ended up just picking the least offensive one and replying in /say for my own edification.)

    Should it just have been:
    1) Good. Satisfying.
    2) Not great, but it had to be done.
    3) I didn't feel anything at all, actually.
    (generic degrees of feeling, and I'm sure it still doesn't apply to all)

    or by the existing Ferocity, Charm, Dignity options, which I can't think up of anything entertaining offhand, or by something else?

    And I'm still convinced you'll find people who hate all of the options given.

    1. If I think of an audience at all when I write this blog (and now that I've been at it for a while and get a reasonable amount of feedback I do write with at least some awareness that I'm not entirely talking to myself) I think of it as being made up of other bloggers and players. I don't generally think of anything written on anyone's blog, let alone this one, having any discernible impact on the development or direction of whichever MMO was being written about although I guess it could happen.

      It always slightly unnerves me when someone like Scott Hartsman or Brad McQuaid turns up in the comment thread at TAGN or Keen&Graev. It feels a bit like being at school and talking about the teachers with your pals and then turning round and finding the Deputy Head standing behind you listening in. I'm pretty sure that if I had any evidence that, say, Colin Johanson or Angel McCoy read Inventory Full, I'd feel inhibited from critiquing their work or taking issue with things they've said and that would include praise as well as criticism. I'd probably still do it but I'd feel uncomfortable and that would make me tend to find other things to write about instead.

      On the specific topic of Marjory's question I would never have had her ask it in the first place. What on earth is she thinking? "How did it make you feel when you pounded a ten-foot stake through the guts of a badly-injured woman? Careful, though, because you're clearly the knd of sociopathic empathy-vacuum who's going to make a joke about it and I don't want to laugh so hard I burst my stitches".

      Who IS this psychopath? And more importantly why does she think I'm one, too? If I had to put answers to that question they'd be along the lines of recommending she seek psychiatric help.

      Of course, I never wanted to kill Scarlet in the first place. I wanted to capture her and see her face a proper trial for her crimes. That option wasn't given to me. When I first did the instance I did briefly consider not Spiking her and just leaving the thing unfinished. If this was 2002 that's exactly what I would have done. Sadly, my moral standards have been eroded by a decade and a half of playing MMOs in which the first, last and only solution to most problems is to kill something and I now let a lot of things slide that I once would have balked at.

      This, of course, is a fundamental problem with interactive fiction (and interactive fiction is what MMOs increasingly aspire to be). You can only ever offer a set number of choices and whatever they are a lot of people won't be happy or comfortable with any of them. That's probbaly unavoidable at the current level of technology.

      What's not unavoidable is writing crass, ugly dialog. Generally the Living Story writers have avoided that pretty well so when they slip I think they need to be called on it. Even if they never hear that call.

  2. Thousands dead and displaced. Capital in ruins. Rumours of awakening doom. OMG I stabbed her up good LOL my sides. ROFLOL.

    b) I'm horny.

    Even as foreshadowing it's crude, assuming that's what it is. The 'I'm horny' reply implies it may not even be that and that this is actually how Tyria's 'heroes' roll.

    A massive WvW super-patch will do in place of an expansion for the time being. You can kill goblins anywhere but right now you have to come here for RvR. Not for much longer though...

    1. Hmm... foreshadowing... Are you suggesting you don't think Scarlet is really dead?

      Maybe it's my half-century of reading super-hero comics but I *never* believe a super-villain is dead just because I saw her die. Literally my first thought after the instance ended was "I bet she's not really dead".

      That would be the ONLY excuse for that dialog and, as you say, even if it did turn out that was what it was all about it would have been an ugly, clumsy way too handle it.

      I bet she's not dead, though...

    2. Well I can see 3 scenerios:

      1) Marjory has accidentally let her mask slip a bit, unable to contain herself now she thinks Scarlet is dead because reasons...

      2) Marjory is amused at the obviousness of Scarlet's 'death' (I wasn't there so I have no idea how much room Scarlet's death left for ambiguity).

      3) Awful writing.

  3. The dialog choices for that Marjory interaction really don't fit with any of the forced cut scene dialog from the personal story either. Sardonic and gallows humor, the occasional snarky aside, that was totally out of character in the setting, and certainly with that group. If they wanted to show a sea shift in Marjory's outlook, some voice acting options come to mind, the scene could have worked as a strained encounter (we're trying to celebrate a pyrrhic victory and it's just not working out... Marjory's sister! Yay! a distraction from how glum we heroes are...).

    Canach over in his cage in the Vigil keep at least has a short, somber, disapproving response to the specifics of Scarlet's end. Come to think of it, why's that bastard not dead? Tyrrian justice typically involves application of lethal force.

    (heads out to Eldvin Monastery to gun down a few more ale thieves)

    1. Oh! I went all round the refugee camp at Vigil but I never thought to look for Canach. Thanks for the tip - I'll be over there to talk to him tomorrow.

      And summary execution as a first response is a real sticking point in most MMOs. I'm not sure that even in the Dark Ages lethal force was used so casually. No, wait - I am completely sure - it wasn't.


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