Tuesday, October 30, 2018


It's a bit of a funny time for me in MMOland right now. Since I got back from my trip to Andalusia I haven't been playing as much as usual and when I do play, as I suggested a couple of days ago, I'm spending most of my time in a game I can't even name, let alone write about. I'm also diligently logging in to do my dailies on all three Guild Wars 2 accounts but of late that's about all I'm doing there.

Okay, that's not entirely true. Most days I end up answering some emergency call-out in World vs World. Last night, for example, I spent almost an hour and a half in a thrilling but ultimately doomed defence of our home garrison. Our superstar commander seems to have taken up PvE raiding again, though, so the Big Fun of a few weeks back has dissipated somewhat.

Halloween goes on, of course. Some days I run Mad King's Labyrinth, one of the best sources of gold in the game - if you can stand it. I do enjoy it but it sends me to sleep. Quite literally. If I join a squad and do circuits following the Commander, after about an hour the repetition does something to my brain waves and I pass into a kind of fugue state, at which point I either slump sideways against the wall and start to drool or I have to get up and go for a brisk walk to wake myself up.

Waiting on the wall for the Veteran Warg to spawn for the daily. Ten minutes of my life I'll never get back.

In any event, the attraction of farming the Lab took a very severe hit when I realized I could just use my vast store of Potions of WvW Rewards (I have over 2000 stashed in various banks) to burn through the WvW Halloween Reward track, earning as many stacks of Trick or Treat bags in five minutes as I'd hope to get from two or three hours in the Lab itself.

As for the rest of Halloween, I can't summon up much enthusiasm. It's much the same as every year. There's a new race that everyone hates: I got the achievement for that on my second attempt and haven't been back since. There's the return of a PvP instance from 2012, which I have yet to try. I'll have to see that at least once before it vanishes, maybe for another six years. The rest I can't be bothered with.

Other than that there doesn't seem to be much going on in GW2 right now. Syp has a post up speculating on whether ArenaNet are secretly working on a Guild Wars 3. I believe they may well be. My reasons are outlined in a (lengthy) comment on the thread, which I'd link to, only apparently you can't link to individual comments at Bio Break.
Only need silver for the AP. Gold can go stuff itself!

It's not that there aren't things I could be doing in Tyria. I have unfinished business in Jahai Bluffs, a map I really like. I also have something like 300 Ornate Rusted Keys banked that would take me a whole day to use on the Krait chests I need for my bubble hat. And then, I have half a dozen or more Ascended weapon collects languishing unfinished. The list of unfinished projects is long.

I just don't really feel like finishing any of them. All you get in the end is another appearance item, and let's be honest, I never change the appearance of most of my characters from one year's end to the next. I find the lack of meaningful, vertical progression in the game acts as a drag anchor to any desire to "progress". I'm coming to the conclusion I'm not much of a horizontal person.

EverQuest 2, in contrast, is vertiginous in the extreme in its verticality. As I reported, I had a couple of deeply satisfying post-holiday sessions, where I bumped up my numbers beyond any previous expectations. There's a lot more of that I could do but the expansion is due in less than a month and there's every chance that the regular rewards from that will outweigh any efforts I make now, so I'm slacking off until then.

If you're going to dig up a graveyard it's best go by night, I always find.

Halloween is all over Norrath too, naturally. I did do some of it this year. I dug up the new collection and got a bagful of house pets and furniture along the way. That was fun. I also revisited one of EQ2's several haunted houses. I feel I've done my tricking and treating for the year.

One thing I could do - should do - in EQ2 before Chaos Descending arrives is finish the Planes of Prophecy faction grind on my Berserker so he can buy all the items he needs from the vendor. The problem there is that I've already done all three questlines right to the end on three different characters in the mistaken belief that the whole account would get credit.

Not so. It's per character and I don't have the willpower to go through them again this soon. Although come to think about it, somehow my Berserker is credited as having completed two lines as far as the vendor knows - not sure how that happened. As I type this I realize that probably means I need to go read the whole thing up all over again...I've probably misunderstood some crucial aspect.

Just try not to make so much noise you wake the dead. Oh. Too late...
But I'm not going to. Or not right this minute. I just don't feel like doing it. And it's not like I don't have other options.

I have the icons for no fewer than eighteen MMORPGs on my desktop, not counting the ones I've mentioned, all just waiting to be clicked. Plus there are probably almost as many again on the two hard drives sitting in enclosures next to my desk. Somehow none of them is calling my name right now.

Although... hmmm... I just spotted the Aion icon among the desktop forest. I seem to recall reading about something major happening over there. Perhaps I'll take a look. And I finally got Dragon Nest Mobile installed and running - I wanted to do a post about that sometime...

Okay, that was useful. I seem to have typed my way into a couple of ideas at least. Maybe I'll even get around to writing them up one day.

But first, I think I'll just take another poke around in that game I can't name. Only for an hour or two. Or three...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Better The Devil You Don't Know

Last week's big news was the entirely unheralded acquisition of Trion Games by Gamigo. Following the recent equally unanticipated takeover of CCP by Pearl Abyss, this would appear to mark the beginning of a period of consolidation in the MMO market. Syl thinks so.

There have always been mergers and buyouts, of course. The ownership of both IPs and studios changes hands all the time. Sometimes it goes so smoothly and unobtrusively that years later most people can barely remember it even happened.

Othertimes, the journey is crepuscular and labrynthine, as in the history of the company currently known as Daybreak, which began life as a segment of Sony's 989 Studios, later becoming Verant Interactive then Sony Online Entertainment, eventually being sold to... someone... before arriving at its current resting point, which is... well, who really knows?

In both those cases, standing as they do at opposite extremes of the hysteria scale, the games go on. Cryptic are still knocking out content for Star Trek Online seven years later and people still play it. Daybreak did clear some dead wood but the core titles are all up and running with new content still coming down the pipe - for now, at least.

Reactions to the sale of Trion have been surprising. Well, they surprised me. I had been under the impression that Trion's reputation was so abysmal that almost any change of ownership would be greeted, if not with fireworks and street parties, then at least with a grunt of cautious approval.

Wasn't Trion the company that generated negative headline after negative headline for its chaotic mishandling of ArcheAge and its increasingly predatory cash shop practices? Didn't we all bemoan its precipitous decline from nice guy up-and-comer to punch-drunk schlub?

The worst thing anyone seemed to have to say about Gamigo, on the other hand - in fact pretty much the only thing anyone - apart from Wilhelm - had to say about them - was "who?" As a publisher with more than two dozen MMOs in its stable (twenty five, in fact, not counting the four (Atlas Reactor isn't an MMO) just acquired from Trion) I'd say Gamigo must have been doing a pretty good job to have stayed under the radar this long.

Nosy Gamer, always diligent in his research, uncovered the still little-reported fact that Trion wasn't merely strapped for cash; it was on the verge of bankruptcy. As he explained, the unfamiliar term "Assignment for the Benefit of the Creditors", which appears in the small print required by EU law, is the California State version of the more familiar Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Nosy also discovered that the price Gamigo paid for Trion Worlds and all its games and IPs was "in the low USD two-digit million" range: under $15m, then, probably closer to $10m. By contrast, CCP fetched $225m up front with another $200m to come if it hits performance targets. Trion's was a fire sale by comparison.

I've played a few of Gamigo's MMOs. They publish Eden Eternal, a jolly romp with mice that I've enjoyed once in a while and Twin Saga, a game I played for more than fifty levels and write about occasionally.

Gamigo acquired Twin Saga when they bought Aeria Games, who appear to retain some kind of individuality. Twin Saga itself seems to be suffering from population issues since the English Language server was recently merged with the German/French one to form a single  Global Server, but the game persists and the Producer's Letter from August promises " ...a more populated server together with more and more content. Oh yes, Twin Saga is on the road!"

I don't really play any of Trion's MMOs any more. I dip into Rift once in a while and sometimes think of having another bash at ArcheAge but realistically I am not going to play either of them again in any meaningful way. I can't claim to have any lingering emotional attachment to either of them. I also never played Defiance and didn't like Trove.

It's easy for me to look at the sale in a detached, emotionless way and say that I imagine it will be at worst neutral and most likely good for the games. They appeared to be in a hole, operated by a company that now looks like it may have been in freefall. From the outside, this looks more like a fingertip save than a looming disaster.

That doesn't seem to be the general reaction. Massively OP's comments were predictably filled with doom and gloom but I've been more surprised to see bloggers, whose opinions I value more than random MOPpets, posting to say they're quitting Trion games as a direct result of the change - or at least seriously considering doing so.

I align myself more with Kaozz, who said 

"This isn't like Wildstar where the studio is closing down. While they'are reports of a massive layoff, who didn't see that coming with the state of Rift in the last year or so. Not surprising at all. The game has focused on all the wrong things, like the Prime server, leaving the normal servers to flounder and stagnate for far too long. I'm very sad a lot of people lost their jobs, I hope the staff cut from Trion find jobs swiftly and wish them all the best. As a customer I saw a bleak future, this is something better than closure, it's a possible future for these games."
 As always, in the end only time will tell. My guess is that none of Trion's MMOs will close but neither will they get much in the way of new content. They will settle into something more than Maintenance Mode but less than Full Development, a relatively happy medium where they will live out a quiet, unspectacular life for many years to come.

Having the games on the log-in portal of a new Publisher, where they will almost certainly come to the attention of many players who will never even have heard of Rift or Trove, will most likely bring in enough curious newbies to more than replace the exiting bitter vets. How many of those incomers will hang around is another story.

The bare fact is, though, that without this sale or another like it, these games would have closed. Trion was out of luck and out of road. Had Gamigo not come along with a handful of cash the only (legal) hope left for anyone wishing to play these games would have been the newly-announced Video Game Museum.

And that's something that deserves a post of its own.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

More Fun In The New World

This could be a very short post. Very short indeed. It's tricky, writing about something, when you aren't allowed to describe anything you see, anything you do or how anything works. I can't even tell you what the "something" I'm not describing is called. The post title? Oh, that's just some old thing by X. Don't go reading anything into it...

And there's no use going show instead of tell, either, because even though I may have taken a portfolio of pictures, I absolutely cannot show them to anyone. Don't even ask.

NDAs have been in the news a lot this week where I come from. I switched the radio on as I was making breakfast yesterday and listened to a journalist explaining what the letters stood for and what the process meant as though it was some new species of bat just discovered in a cave previously unknown to man.

Obviously no-one reading this needs the acronym explained. NDAs have long been part of the DNA of MMOs. I've lost count of the number I've signed up to over the years. It must be dozens by now and technically I've breached them all, since I've always chatted to Mrs Bhagpuss about what I've been up to behind the chainmail curtains. Occasionally she might watch me over my shoulder and a few times I've even lent her my log-in so she could take a wander round.

What I have never done, though, is break the terms of the NDA in any way, shape or form that anyone outside of my own house could know about. In the days when NDAs for testing MMORPGs were routine, it was never much of a concern; back then I didn't have a blog.

And until now having a blog hasn't posed any problems with NDAs either. Since Inventory Full began, seven years ago, I've been in any number of alpha and beta tests for new games or expansions to old ones but I can't, off the top of my head, remember any that I wasn't allowed to post about.

Along with plenty of other MMO veterans I've occasionally bemoaned the lack of "proper" beta testing that isn't either a glorified free trial or a barely-concealed cash grab. How ironic, then, that now that I'm finally in one that's none of those things, I'm finding it more than a tad frustrating.

I'd really love to write about my experiences so far in excruciating detail. I have plenty to say, that's for sure. But I can't, even though I'm pretty sure any PR person would be happy to sign off on what I'd write.

Whatever the NDA says (and I have to imagine the exact terms because, although I've looked quite hard, I haven't as yet been able to find them) I'm confident nothing can bar me from talking about how I feel about testing pre-release games in general. If anyone wants to infer that I might be speaking from recent experience that's up to them.

There's a point in any alpha or beta test when you have to decide whether you really want to become invested in what you're doing. There's the reporting of bugs side of things, which is both a public service of a kind and a shrewd investment in your own entertainment futures, but other than that there's the question of how much time to spend on character progression in a testing environment that has no permanence.

It gets quite difficult. There's a lot to consider. If you're finding that you want to log into the alpha or beta test more than you want to log into the Live MMOs you're currently playing, or if you find that the development of your alpha or beta characters is more compelling and satisfying that that of their Live counterparts, then you have something of a dilemma.

In the "Cons" column, firstly, there's the impermanence. Yes, I do believe that fun is fun and no time is wasted if you enjoyed its passing but it's impossible not be aware that the goal you are working towards is ephemeral even beyond the insubstantiality common to virtual worlds.

Secondly, there's the prospect of repetition and with it burnout. Plenty of people have made the mistake of going hard at an alpha or beta test and then finding, when the game has gone Live, their will to do it all again has eroded, taking their interest down with it.

On the "Pro" side, there's pleasure in the moment. If you're having fun then you're having fun, aren't you? Why trade fun now for fun down the line?  It's fresh and new and you're keen. Why take the edge off?

Perhaps most importantly of all, there's that infamous meme: "better in beta". Well, it was, wasn't it? There's often a sweet spot in the development process - sometimes several of them - when systems are more forgiving or more challenging than they're ever going to be in Live. Also weirder. Testing environments are inherantly more volatile and volatility is both intriguing and exhillarating.

And then there's the vibe. In proper (closed, under NDA) alpha or beta tests communities are frequently - I would say usually - better-natured, more cohesive, more patient. People cut each other more slack. In a game with open PvP and full loot that might add up to a significantly different play experience.

There's a strong chance, then, that a closed test might offer the most enjoyable version of the game you'll ever see but against that you have to set the inevitable and possibly imminent deletion of your characters and the destruction of all the progress you've made. As I said, a difficult balance to strike.

Based on my past experience, when I've become both attached to my characters and immersed in their progression during pre-launch testing, I've gone on to have a good run in the game after release. That was the case in some of my very favorite MMORPGs of all time - EQ2, Vanguard, Rubies of Eventide...

I don't think I can remember any MMO that I enjoyed in testing but disliked when it launched. There's been the odd case, Rift being a particular example, where changes made soon after the game went live detracted substantially from what made the game so satisfying in testing, but even then it's been a matter of degree. I still enjoyed live Rift, just not as much.

In the case of the game I might be writing about there's a very definite chance that the Live edition won't suit me as well as the version I'm able to log into right now. Live games are generally more intense than tests and that's not necessarily what I'm looking for these days, particularly whenit comes with full-loot PvP attached.

All the same, as things look right now, I will be along for the ride when this thing goes Live. Whether I'll stay long, who knows? The bottom line is, I'm having a lot more fun than I expected. I plan on riding that while it lasts and hoping at least some of it carries over when the real game arrives.

And that, I think, is about as close to the wind as I care to sail. Shame I can't use the pictures I've taken, though. Some of them are gorgeous.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Gender Isn't A Construct - It's An Illusion : EQ2

In Autumn an old man's fancy turns to... the new EverQuest 2 expansion. Although, as I look at the historical record, the release schedule hasn't always been quite as consistent as I remembered. I would have said that EQ2 expansions arrived when the leaves were coming off the trees but there were a couple of years there, when SOE did a hop-step and punted expansions to the Spring.

Normality reasserted itself after a while and the last half dozen have all released sometime in November. This year the date to mark on your calendar is November 13th and for once I am actually off work for that whole week, meaning I'll be able to enjoy the inevitable launch-day crises and first-week bugs to the full before the inevitable nerfs and fixes render the whole thing enjoyably playable just in time for my return to work.

As Wilhelm confirmed, Chaos Descending will come in the usual three flavors - Standard, Collector's and Premium. I have never bought anything other than the Standard edition of any expansion for any MMORPG. Generally the base model represents very good value and EQ2's latest, coming in at under £25 with the Member's 10% discount, is a bargain.

Usually I just glance at the other two, shake my head in puzzlement over why anyone would think they were worth the inflated prices, and move on. Last year the inducements to players to open their wallets wider for Planes of Prophecy seemed particularly lackluster. That mistake seems to have been rectified for 2018.

For the first time in years I did momentarily consider one of the enhanced packages and even when I pressed the button to pay for the Standard pack I did so in the reassuring knowledge that these days you can always upgrade your account to Collector or Premium at a later stage.

Jann Magi Illusion (Male). Fiery Book not included.

The various goodies this time around include a really interesting Mercenary (GW2 Tengu fans, eat your hearts out!) and a house that is by all accounts quite spectacular, but the potential value really lies in the various boosts and buffs, which include Ascension Level boosts for all characters on the account, a max Tradeskill boost for a single character and a slew of Familiar Training potions, mercenary and mount gear.

All this stuff is of very significant practical use. It makes your characters more powerful. It is the very definition of Pay to Win. Except no-one ever really calls expansions P2W, even when the bonuses accrue from optional extras.

I'm particularly sensitized to this kind of advantage right now because I spent most of yesterday working on upgrading my Berserker. I recently gave some off-the-cuff advice to Wilhelm, who has been playing and writing about EQ2 of late. I suggested that, if he ever got to the point of taking a run at current max level content with anything like serious intent, he probably would need to take a look at the guides at EQ2 Library and take some kind of action on what he found there.

Closing in on 25m HP!
It occurred to me that perhaps I should be taking my own advice rather than doling it out to other people so I went and read the latest guides on Class Optimization. When I say  "latest", I mean the ones from last April. I did read them a few months back but I wasn't really paying attention. This time I not only tried to follow what was being said - I actually logged in to put it into practice.

I had thought my Berserker was doing quite well for a casual solo character and looking at the benchmarks for where he should be on various stats he was indeed not looking too shabby. His key stats, Potency and Crit Bonus were already above par for Solo, as were his Resists.

The real weakness was his Hit Points. A while back I'd almost doubled his Health, putting him somewhere above the 10m HP mark. More recently, with the aid of the drops I got from Fabled Guk and the rewards from this year's Days of Summer, I'd pushed that to around 18m.

That's still a long way short of the recommended 30m (unbuffed) the EQ2 Library guide gives. Yesterday, following their advice, I reset my Prestige AAs. That bumped me to around 20m HP. Then I went to Freeport and crafted all the Planar Health Augments I could afford and socketed them into augment slots. Finally I went through every piece of gear I was wearing and Infused it at least once.

The upshot was 23m HPs. Still short but a lot better. I can also see a number of clear upgrade paths I need to follow to improve further. This is the sort of thing that I find very enjoyable in an MMORPG to which I have become committed - and really annoying in one I'm just playing on the side. Since I thoroughly enjoyed myself yesterday, I guess EQ2 is back to being something I take seriously rather than something I dabble with now and then.

This morning - between writing paragraphs two and three of this post - I pre-ordered Chaos Descending. I was going to do it anyway but I confess that the reason I did it now was to get the Jann Magi illusion that you can use right away if you stump up the cash in advance.

Last year we got the Clockwork Calamity illusion, which I have been using ever since. I have illusions toggled off so I can't see it but I have been enjoying the benefit of its excellent buffs.

In EQ2 these days, everything gives you buffs or stat increases. Your mounts do it. Your familiars do it. Every one of your twenty gear slots, of course, does it. Your food and drink do it. Some of your house items do it. Your long-forgotten Deity pet does it. If you're a min-maxer, which thank god I am not, you pretty much need a spreadsheet just to keep track of where your buffs are coming from.

Someone thought it was worth highlighting.
Even if you aren't particularly keen on these kinds of details you can't afford to ignore them entirely. Familiars and Mercenaries need to be leveled up and mounts will, too, when Chaos Descends. You can't afford to forget your illusions.

As I suspected, the new pre-order illusion is an upgrade to the old one, although it's not an exact one-for-one swap. It handily raises all the key stats but there are a few differences. The Clockwork Calamity, very appropriately, buffs Tinkering, whereas the Jann Magi buffs Adorning instead. Whether I'll ever remember to swap them in and out for key moments like that I very much doubt.

The Jann Magi also has a couple of unusual advantages. It allows you to jump farther, which is something I haven't seen for a long time, if ever. It also has some form of falling damage reduction. I have a suspicion it simply uses the code from Arisai/Fey pseudo-flight.

The most unusual thing the illusion does is entirely cosmetic: it changes your gender. More precisely, it switches from one gender to another each time you recast it. I might be reading more into this than was intended but I found it heartening. Of course, since I keep illusions off, it's something of a moot point. Still, in 2018, it's nice to have the option.

All of which leaves me - by far - as well set-up for a new expansion as I've ever been. With no level cap increase this time around I'm not expecting to have to replace all my gear right off the bat but it wouldn't be much of an EQ2 expansion if everything I'm wearing now wasn't obsolete in a few months.

I plan on muddling along with what I have and whatever the Signature questline gives me until EQ2 Library come out with their next set of benchmarks, probably in Spring 2019. Then I can take another look and start all over again.

Happy days!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Some Better Place

Earlier this week, Gevlon took it upon himself to analyse the outcome of this year's Blaugust as he saw it. He posted twice, first to assess the "long term effect" and then to see what blogs he could add to his blogroll as a result.

This caused a small ripple in the blogosphere, with Izlain, Rambling Redshirt and UltrViolet posting in response and a number of other Blaugustians leaving comments. Some seemed to take the Goblin's analysis to heart while others questioned both its methodology and accuracy.

I just thought he'd mistaken the basic purpose of Blaugust, which is a festival celebrating blogging and a bit of a talking-shop and meeting place for current bloggers. There was some justification for the confusion, since it's true that this year's event did also incorporate the New Blogger Initiative, which is intended to increase the blog supply for thirsty readers, something it's managed to do very successfully over the years.

Despite its undeniable success in encouraging new entrants and returnees to the form, the NBI has always had an extremely high drop-out rate. Gevlon's arch-enemy, Wilhelm, has occasionally analyzed the results, albeit over a much longer timeframe than the Goblin's: the number of blogs that survive, let alone thrive, is small.

According to Wilhelm's 2013 post on the fallout from the original NBI in 2012, of a hundred and ten participants, only thirty were still active a year later. Looking at those thirty I see just five that I'm still reading in 2018 - Why I Game, Ravalation (who hasn't posted for a while but was very active until spring 2018), Ald Shot First, Beyond Tannhauser Gate and Casual Aggro.

Five out of more than a hundred doesn't seem all that impressive but clicking through the links, sixteen of those thirty blogs are still online, if dormant. What's more, quite a few were still posting in 2016 or 2017, so they had a good run.

Of the rest, six go to dead links. That makes twenty-seven. The remaining three bloggers are still active but on different blogs.  

Game Delver is C.T.Murphy, currently blogging as "Murf Versus. Warp to Zero moved to Grimmash, although the last post there was in March this year.

That leaves White Charr, a blog that was technically still live in 2018, but only to point readers to a more active blog on Tumblr. That blog turns out to belong to no-one other than Aywren, longtime resident of my own blogroll, where she trades under the name Aywren Sojourner.

Meanwhile, back at this year's roundup over at Gevlon's, Narratess pops up in the comments to point out she, too, has more than one blog. Lots of people do. Well, lots of people might.

It's hard to be sure when bloggers either retain separate identities with the intent of keeping them secret or hive off different aspects of their blogging into silos according to subject matter. It's particularly difficult to keep track of who's still active when people move without leaving a forwarding address.

Gevlon himself dropped his Blogger identity after a crisis of conscience over supporting Google. He moved to WordPress but helpfully left his Blogger blog active with a link, which is what I still use to find him.

I currently have 175 blogs in my blogroll. I was going to cull them but until I hit whatever limit Blogger imposes I can't really see the point.

As is often mentioned, Blogger has the best automated blog linking out there. It reliably and faultlessly floats the most recent post of any and all of those 175 blogs to the top of the list. By leaving them all on there I can guarantee I'll know immediately if any of the dormant ones wake up.

That's a lot better than Feedly can manage, which is why, increasingly, I use my own blog roll rather than Feedly to keep up with what's happening in the blogosphere. I have quite a few non-gaming blogs in Feedly, though, which I would be somewhat dubious about adding to the widget on Inventory Full.

It's been noticeable of late that fewer posts are popping up in my Feedly feed. I've been assuming it's because of natural attrition. As a result of Gevlon's investigations and the surrounding commentary, however, I decided this morning to click on a few of the links that hadn't sparked for a while.

I began with a music blog I follow. It's called "Music That I Like" and it's by Everett True, a music journalist and sometime performer, who I first encountered in the mid-1980s, when he was writing and performing under the name The Legend. (Link very NSFW!).

The last post at Music That I Like was just over a year ago, when Everett was raving about the very wonderful Dream Wife. He'd seemed quite depressed around that point and I was wondering if he'd finally packed it all in for good but thankfully it turns out not.

Music That I Like may not have had any new posts since August 2017 but it has a twitter feed that's still going. I clicked on that and it magically transported me to Everett's new blog, How NOT To Write About Music, where the most recent post was...yesterday!

All of which suggests that, if you want to keep up with what's happening in the blogosphere, you need to pay attention and make an effort. It would be very nice if people always announced when they're taking a break and always left a change of address post up after they'd moved, but they don't. Sometimes you have to go look for them.

I guess now I should go click through all the blogs on my blogroll and Feedly that haven't posted in a few months or years to see if they went on to another party somewhere and forgot to tell me. It'd be quite a big project, though.

I've got a week off work in November. Maybe I'll do it then.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pictures At An Exhibition: Vanguard

Back around the end of August I happened to spot this short item on Massively OP.  It was a piece about a survey being run by West Virginia University on "Players and Their Avatars".

Over the couple of decades I've been playing MMORPGs I've participated in a few such academic data-gathering exercises, the best-known probably being NIck Yee's long-running series, which eventually evolved into The Quantic Foundry. I've always found filling out surveys both interesting and enjoyable, particularly so when the questions relate to something I find intriguing, making me a naturally self-selecting resource for such research.

I duly followed the links from MassivelyOP and completed the questionnaire. The initial part was an "online survey, where you'll be asked questions about your favorite videogame avatar, your thoughts about it, and your favorite memory of it."

The very premise gave me pause for thought. Over the years I've created and played so many characters. How was I supposed to choose just one?

I could have gone for my first long-running EverQuest character, a female human druid, whose personality was possibly the clsest to my own of any I've ever played. The EQ Gnome Cleric, who I took over at level 12 from Mrs Bhagpuss and played for several years, all the way to the level cap through the Velious and Gates of Discord eras, could have been another.

Then there was my Iksar Necromancer from EQ2. I played her for five years, mostly in a duo with Mrs Bhagpuss; or I could have chosen my Ratonga Bruiser from the same period. Currently my two most-played and most closely felt characters would be my Ratonga Berserker in EQ2 and my Asura Elementalist (well, one of my Asura Elementalists...) in Guild Wars 2.

Even my Templar in The Secret World was in with a shout but in the end I was surprised how easy it was to decide on my all-time "favorite".The very first character that came to my mind as soon as I began to think about it was Korky, my Raki Disciple from Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.

I've written many times about my love for Vanguard. Had the game been more successful commercially and received the attention and development commercial success would have brought, there's a very good chance I would now think of it as my favorite MMORPG of them all.

Even as it stands, with the official servers long gone dark and the game, when live, having never received a single expansion, Vanguard retains an unshakeable spot in my all-time top five MMORPGs. A good deal of that enduring affection rests with the characters I made and played there. He'd have to stand on a box to do it, but towering head and shoulders above all of them is Korky.

So, I filled out the survey and when it came to the bit where it asked for a short anecdote that illustrated why I'd chosen the particular avatar as my favorite I recounted the familiar story of a bug that recurred in the early days. It seemed entirely appropriate, given Vanguard's reputation as the buggiest triple-A MMORPG ever released.

This particular glitch used to have Mrs Bhagpuss and I in fits of laughter. It also helped establish the personalities of the two characters we played for the life of the game - her Varanjar shaman and my Raki Disciple.

All good shamans have pets. In this case the pet was a wolf named Smiffy. Whether it was some form of lupine/vulpine rivalry or just an overdeveloped protective drive, that bloody wolf hated Korky. There was absolutely nothing in the game's lore or its intended code to support it but every chance it got the wolf would try to sink its fangs into the seat of Korky's leather pants.

In the early days when we didn't have mounts, playing Vanguard involved a lot of running across country. Most of it was accompanied by the snarls and growls of a wolf and the increasingly harried and desperate pleas of a small foxlike fellow to "Call him off!"

The blasted wolf would even sometimes change target in combat and start attacking me instead of the enemy. I can't recall if he did me any damage - Vanguard had no PvP but it did allow dueling so I guess it's possible - but boy, was it distracting.

Eventually that bug, like most of them, got squashed. We rather missed it. By then, though, the relationship between the two characters was well-established. Korky, small, innocent, put-upon, long-suffering; his shaman companion large, bluff, sarcastic, ever-amused at her companion's discomfort.

Having completed the survey for WVU I thought no more about it. I knew there was a potential follow-up, where "100 players will be selected and invited to complete a second online survey in which they'll be asked to tell a more detailed version of their favorite gameplay memory with the avatar, and submit an additional screen-capture of the avatar" but I didn't expect to be called.

In September, however, I received an email asking me if I'd like to participate in part two. Well, of course! I answered the supplementary questions, expanded the anecdote with more detail and appended several pictures of Korky from my not very extensive archives of the period.

I was lucky to find a group shot of Korky, Mrs Bhagpuss's shaman and her wolf. I also included a picture of Korky doing one of his very favorite things - sailing his sloop along the Qa river in Qalia.

In due time, this should all end up as part of an online resource "curated and hosted through the WVU Library web site". According to Dr. Jaime Banks, one of the two academics co-ordinating the process, this is somewhere around half-finished now. I very much look forward to being able to browse that archive and I'll be sure to link it here when it becomes available.

Before that, however, there is a physical exhibition - "a curated collection of multimedia stories to be displayed in print in the WVU Library as part of its Art in the Libraries program". That's in place now and Korky made the cut for the sixteen images included!

Dr. Banks was kind enough to send me an image of the framed version, hanging in the exhibit, of the screenshot showing Korky at the helm of his boat. The exhibition runs until the end of December if anyone's in the area and cares to check it out.

When the closure of Vanguard was announced more than four years ago it seemed not just that the sun was just going down on one of the best MMOs ever made. It felt as if a great work of art was being destroyed and I was losing a cherished friend.

The magnificent work of the Vanguard Emulator team has preserved the art and now the WVU archive ensures my imaginary friend lives on, too. He'll be oblivious to it all, as he always was. Just a little fox trying to do his best in difficult circumstances.

Thanks to Drs Banks and Bowman for giving Korky his little moment in the sun. And to the EMU team for giving him a new home.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Every Hair Of The Bear Reproduced: Antilia

Following on from a post about a game I can play but can't talk about, here's a short post on a game I can talk about but can't play: Antilia.

There was a brief moment when I could have played it but back then I didn't even know it existed. Still, if only for the blink of an eye, Antilia was an MMORPG, once. It had some kind of off-the-radar run as an alpha or a beta or an Early Access multiplayer project before the development team took it down to re-envision it as a single-player RPG.

I have no idea how or where I came to hear about it (maybe I saw the failed Kickstarter, which goes all the way back to 2013) but however it was, I've had it bookmarked for a few years now. I even wrote about it a couple of times.

I know a rabbit when I see one.
Not that there was all that much to say. The developer, Right Brain Games, does post periodic updates on the website and occasionally there's a video on YouTube, but progress has been slow and there's not been anything particularly blogworthy. Until now.

Last week I happened to check the website to find this. It's a downloadable, offline version of the character creation suite that Jeff Leigh, the guy who seems to be Right Brain Games as far as I can tell, was talking about on camera in his April update.

I love character creators. Like many people, I can play around with them for hours even when I have no intention of playing the game itself. In this case I'd love to play the game but the character creator is all there is and it makes for a very tasty appetizer.

Single-player RPGs do tend to have much more detailed character creation processes than MMOs. I'm not entirely sure why that is.

It could be that a character in a multiplayer online game is seen more as a Player Avatar than a Character. It might be felt that, given the the long lifespan of an MMORPG, it's best to start with a blank page and let time fill in the details. It may just be that developers know MMO players lack patience so it's best to get them into the game as quickly as possible before they squirrel off somewhere else.

Offline RPGs, on the contrary, seem to expect their players to have all the time in the world and to want to spend it on minutiae in a way that might just possibly be seen by an objective observer as a tad obsessive. Not to say weird...

Antilia indulges that expectation in some style. The demo only includes one of the game's three intelligent races, theTaipii, about whom you can read in some detail, both on the website and in the character creator itself. The other two races, the Sakii and the Reisuii are works in progress about whom little has been revealed so far, other than that one is clearly a kind of dragon while the other is some type of rodent.

As I soon discovered, while playing with the character creator, The Taipii are a handy catch-all, covering a variety of the most popular anthropomorphic tropes. They come in five "bloodlines", known as Felo, Kisan, Koro, Lupan and Vulan, which turn out to be Cat, Rabbit, Deer, Wolf and Fox.

Actually, they turn out to be the same character model with different shaped ears or tails and, in the case of the Koro, antlers. They are all very cute and beautifully rendered but I'd be hard-put to tell one bloodline from another at a hundred paces.

There are a plethora of graphical sliders to play with - everything from Snout Length to Tail Floof. Yes, floof. My favorite was Fur Length, which makes your character more or less fuzzy. Who'd ever want to be less fuzzy?

There's the expected color palette to select from for several layers of fur as well as eyes, ears, tail and whiskers. I'm not clear who's going to be able to see the color of your whiskers but there you go.

After that we move on to weightier matters such as where you were born and what your parents did for a living. There's a wealth of options here, with over a dozen locations and thirty professions to choose from but that's not the end of your decision-making.

Next comes your education, offering a separate set of choices for Childhood and Adulthood. Then there's your Personality, with sliders for where you are on the Intorvert-Extrovert scale, what your Work Ethic is, how strongly you respect the Law and several more crucial moral and philosophical positions to take a stance on.

Finally, in a section labelled Difficulty, you get to choose from a number of handicaps and bonuses. I left these alone and I think I would avoid them in a first run-through should the game finally emerge into playable form. They look to have enormous impact on gameplay - one Disadvantage is Cannot Engage In Combat which means exactly what it says, while another is Permadeath.

I read through most of these with pleasure. It took quite a while. They're well-written and well-considered. You could fashion some very interesting characters from these building blocks while still leaving plenty of space for your own interpretation.

These options aren't purely for cosmetic or roleplaying purposes, though. Each choice comes with a basket of bonuses to your character's many, many stats. Antilia appears to be shaping up to be one of those RPGs that covers both ends of the RP spectrum, focusing both on personality and progression.

Without an actual game to play as yet, none of the stats mean much, although they are mostly very straightforward to understand. The whole thing looks very polished and professional and I'd love to be able to take the character I made and walk her around the world she already seems to know so much about.

Of course, I'd be a lot happier if the game was going to be what it was originally intended to be,  an MMORPG, but I'll settle for anything in a playable state. That could be a while yet, I fear.

For now, we have the character creator and it's a fun toy.

Friday, October 5, 2018

World Shut Your Mouth

It's been a very long time indeed since I was last invited to join an alpha or beta that had a strict NDA. I'm not sure it's happened during the life of this blog. Just as well, given that the main reason I sign up for the things nowadays is in the hope of getting few posts out of the experience.

It would get even more awkward if the NDA went so far as to forbid any mention of the fact that an invite had been extended and accepted. Although, I guess, just accepted, really.

After all, if you chose to turn the invite down, there'd be nothing to stop you talking about it, would there? By definition you wouldn't have agreed to the terms so you could hardly be bound by them, either legally or morally. Ironic to think you'd have more freedom to talk about something you had no personal engagement with than something you did, but there you go.

Then, if it's been a long time since I was under strict NDA, it's even longer since I was subject to a non-disclosure agreement that I actually believed would be enforced. Usually it feels as though no-one's really taking it seriously. Once in a while, though, there's tangible evidence someone very much is.

I'm trying to remember when was the last time I saw a personalized watermark on a screenshot. I think it must have been in the closed beta for the original version of Final Fantasy XIV. I think I still have some of those, somewhere. Probably not allowed to show them to anyone, even now.

If you go back far enough, there was a time when no-one questioned the idea that the terms and conditions of an NDA were there to be enforced. Even so, I've always wondered just how "strict" the punishment would turn out to be if all you blurted out was something along the lines of "well, this is a lot better than I thought it would be" or "I'm enjoying myself - it's surprisingly fun".

I'm not sure how much damage you could do to the prospects of a game by telling people something like that, even at a very early stage of development. Is it really worth kicking someone out of the program for letting on that  the game looks good, plays well and is easy to understand? Or that it feels like it has potential? You'd think most companies would be happy to get that kind of endorsement.

Anyway, if I was in such a test, I couldn't say any of that. Indeed, if I was in a test with a very strict NDA I couldn't even say I was in the test at all. So, I guess there wouldn't be much point going on about it. It would certainly make for a very short, very vague blog post.

With no pictures.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Remind Me Why I don't Live Here Again? : EQ2

Even though it happened today, I can't quite bring to mind the exact sequence of events that led to my creating a level 100 Fury on the Test Server. I think it started with the latest announcement about Everquest 2's upcoming expansion, Chaos Descending, which popped up in my Feedly this morning.

I've managed to fix it so I get the official PR puffs as they're released, rather than having to rely on spotting them on EQ2Traders or waiting until Wilhelm posts something. I've also worked out why I was getting my EQ2 news in French and put a stop to that. As it happens I can read French pretty well but that doesn't mean I want to.

There wasn't a lot in the latest post. Just the time and date for the now-inevitable Livestream, when a handful of self-conscious game developers will take an hour or so to deliver forty-five seconds of detail about the expansion. If you want to sit through it all you'll need to be on Facebook Live at 10am Pacific on Tuesday, October 9th.

Around about then I plan to be sitting on the balcony of a hotel somewhere in the Sierra de Grazalema, drinking a cold beer. I guess I could watch it on my tablet but I'm not going to.

It did make me think about what I might miss while I'm away, though. Mrs Bhagpuss and I generally go away for a week or ten days in October and sometimes we miss out on the start of Halloween in this game or that. We missed the very first Halloween in GW2 as I recall, which was a shame.

I think that's what made me go to the EQ2 Forums to see when the Nights of the Dead event begins in Norrath. I was also wondering whether there'd be anything new this year. I was guessing not. With its limited resources these days, Daybreak seems to be rowing back on the creation of a new quest for every holiday, every year - and honestly, there already more quests for the big holidays than most people are going to get through anyway.

It occured to me that NotD might already be up on Test and indeed it is! There's also a feedback thread right at the top of the first page of the In Testing section of the forum. And at the top of that there's the full running order for the event itself.

I was right about there being no new quest but there will be new stuff:

New Features for '18!
  • TLE Server
    • Fallen Gate - All of the event is active, except a lost necklace cannot be looted from A Gleaming Chest in The Hedge Hollow!
  • New Collection!
    • Grave Memories (added to Wake the Dead content)
  • New costume illusions available from holiday merchants!
    • Hobgoblin
    • Aviak Stormrider
  • The Nights of the Dead merchants have new things to sell!
    • Celebrations of the Dead XI
    • New mount!
    • New house items!
    • New equipment!
    • New Petamorph Wands!
I read the whole thread, which mentions a couple of other new bits and pieces and exemplifies the long-running, collaborative relationship between EQ2's developers and players - well, some of them. It's a wonderful antidote the negativity so prevalent in the Live threads.

As I was there, I happened to notice another thread, by Wilhelmina, Europe's answer to America's Niami Denmother and yet another player who was creating content before the term content creator was... um... created. The thread was entitled Free Level 100 Heroic On Test. That got my attention alright.

Wilhelmina has a clear and concise explanation of how to get your near-max level character for nothing, so rather than go over the same ground I'll quote her word for word:

  • choose level 100 heroic on the launcher
  • Once in game, proceed to Qeynos Harbor (on the docks, between the two gates leading to chronomages and loyalty) or East Freeport (on the docks, next to the door to South FP) and speak to Finch
  • Buy the level 100 adventure bauble and use it
  • Your char is now an unlocked heroic character, congrats!

As I've mentioned often, Mrs Bhagpuss and I played on Test for the best part of five years. We had some right old adventures there. Dramas, too. I have a whole load of characters on Test for whom I feel a great affection.

Before we moved to Freeport when it launched - and never came back (not planned, just happened) - several of our Test characters were max level, which was 90 at the time. They still are. I wondered whether I could use the free boost to level them up some.

Well, obviously I couldn't. Had I read Wilhelmina's notes properly I would have known that. She clearly and correctly states that you have to make a new character using the appropriate "Instant Level 100" button on the launcher. Reading comprehension for, as they say, the win.

I logged my 90 Ratonga Bruiser out and made a Ratonga Fury instead. I wasn't going to go ratonga at first. I spotted that on Test you can make a free Freeblood, EQ2's vampire race, something that has always required a cash shop purchase on Live.

I tried. I flipped through a dozen or so random variations in character creation. They were all unmitigatedly hideous. More Nosferatu than Count Dracula. Knowing I was getting something for nothing wasn't enough to persuade me to make one, even just to run around for a few minutes to get screenshots for this post.

In the end I decided on (yet) another Ratonga, why not? Can't have too many ratongas. At least the class was something new. I don't have a Fury on Test and I've never successfully played one for long on Live. Always thought it was a class I'd enjoy but somehow it never quite seems to happen.

I followed Wilhelmina's instructions and in a few minutes I had a permanent Level 100 Fury. It was very straightforward but there are just a few things to be aware of, should anyone decide to try it for themselves:

  • There's the usual astonishingly loud DING! when you log into the world for the first time, followed by a flurry of opening windows and flashing achievements. Don't be scared! It's quite safe!

  • For some arcane reason (actually because it was the main Level 100 content at the time this boost was added) you appear on the dock in Phantom Sea. Don't be scared! It's quite safe! So long as you don't move.

  • Luckily you spawn within arm's reach of a World Bell. Use that to go to either Qeynos (if you're a goodie) or Freeport (if you're bad).

  • After you speak to Finch and get your Level 100 Adventurer Bauble and use it, as well as losing your temp flag and becoming Level 100 for the duration, you'll also get a mount and a box of gear. DO NOT USE EITHER OF THEM!

  • Okay, you can use them. As in you can equip the mount in the appearance slot if you want. I wouldn't. I did and I regretted it. It looks great but it moves like a boat in a force 9 gale. You will feel seasick riding it. 

  • Also you probably do want to open the pack, if only to to get the extremely large stacks of potions - they go to 900 where the ones you got as a try-out character only go to 10. The gear itself, though, is without exception much worse than what you already have on.   

  • Not that it matters much because if you carry on then the first thing on your agenda is to do Yun Zi's 2017 questline, which will render even the better of your two free sets completely obsolete. Someone really ought to do a logic pass on this stuff once in a while...

  • If you decide to carry on playing, don't try to level up. You can't. Not unless you buy the Planes of Prophecy expansion. Maybe that will get added to Test as a freebie when Chaos Descending, er, descends...

  • And finally, don't forget your free Level 100 Tradeskill boost. It would cost you 3,500 DBC on Live - that's like $30! And this one does work on existing characters!

    I just bumped my Level 90 Sage to Level 100 and I'm going to get myself a full set of all the trade skills at Level 100. There are nine of them and I have ten characters. Why not?

    When we used to duo on Test, Mrs Bhagpuss and I covered all the crafts between us. You need to be self-sufficient because you can't rely on buying what you need (Test has no economy to speak of) and while everyone is astoundingly helpful, sometimes there's just no-one around when you need a spell or a potion made.

    Test is actually a fantastic place to play EQ2 if you're a self-reliant individualist. It has a permanent 100% bonus to xp, you can buy things from NPC vendors that aren't sold on Live (like all the Advanced spell books) and now you even get to start at Level 100 if you want.

    Maybe I should play there...

    Monday, October 1, 2018

    WvW Is Not Fight Club: GW2

    Over the years, ArenaNet has made a series of very poor decisions concerning World vs World, the mass-combat siege warfare mode originally intended to provide the PvPvE endgame for Guild Wars 2. Probably the most infamous disaster was the imposition of the Desert Borderland, a "feature" of the Heart of Thorns expansion that halved the active WvW population overnight.

    Much less talked about, but arguably just as damaging to the long-term fortunes of the game, was the banning of so-called "match-up threads" on the official forums. For the first year or two, every week would see the creation of a new thread for each of the tri-partite matches. Forum warriors would then slog it out with insults and zingers while armchaire commanders offered predictions and analyses of the results.

    Even with ANet's hyper-aggressive moderation (there's an automated feature that turns every conceivable pejorative into the catch-all euphemism "kitten", for example) these threads often turned nasty. Rather than try to keep everything civil, which would have required even more moderators taking an even more pro-active stance, ANet decided they could do very nicely without the hassle, thanks.

    Ever since then any post that even mentions the names of two different Worlds is as likely as not to receive the stern response "Match-up threads are not allowed", whereupon the entire thread will be locked. This heavy-handed behavior has led to the closure of any number of perfectly innocuous discussions but the decision itself is emblematic of a much deeper problem: ArenaNet simply don't understand the needs of their own players.

    Inc to defend Hills (by air)

    When GW2 was new it attracted a very significant number of players who were looking for the next Dark Age of Camelot or Warhammer Online. There haven't been all that many MMORPGs that set out their stall based on "Realm vs Realm" but there's an established audience always on the lookout for the next one that tries.

    The buzz and hype didn't last long. The lack of permanency was a factor. The game-mode had originally been predicated on matches lasting two weeks. That never happened. Eventually ANet settled on week-long matches but before then there was a lengthy sorting and data-gathering period using shorter periods, which made for a fractured and disconnected start.

    Weekly resets didn't help but the main reason ex-DAOC and WAR players were unimpressed with what they found was probably the perceived pointlessness of the whole affair. Where DAoC had access to the Darkness Falls dungeon to fight over and WAR had structured progression both in land ownership and gear acquisition, WvW relied on a basket of buffs doled out to the entire server according to how well the world was doing in its current match.

    Most people never even noticed those buffs, except when a normally dominant world slipped and PvE players logged in to find they'd lost a chunk of hit points. That was popular...

    All of which left one overriding motivation to drive participation in the Mists: pride. For a while, server pride was undoubtedly real. In the same way true sports fans will support their team - and only their team - regardless of how badly the players play or what jackasses the coaches are, so GW2's hardcore WvW aficionados battled for nothing more than the pride of the name.

    Inc to defend Hills (on foot)

    The coming of Multiserver technology poked a hole in that balloon. Where it used to be common practice for a beleaguered world to send someone to Lion's Arch to rally the militia over map chat, multiservers meant such pleas reached the ears of every server in the region. It quickly became both embarassing and unproductive and no-one did it any more. (The repeated destruction of Lion's Arch and the concomittant loss of a generally-accepted hub zone didn't help much either).

    Over the years, ANet have tried any number of gimmicks to encourage players into The Mists. There were the Tournaments, which I loved but which had the unfortunate effect of initiating severe burnout in commanders. There have been numerous "special event weeks" - there's one on right now - and various carrots in the form of Ascended and Legendary armor have been dangled.

    Nothing has made much of an impact on the steady decline in numbers of people logging in to fight over structures that don't matter on maps that never change. In a last-ditch attempt to keep the game mode alive we now have the doomsday proposal on Alliances that will rip everything up and start over.

    Maybe that will work. Maybe it won't. What it has done, amazingly, is revitalize WvW for those who expect the worst.

    In preparation for the new system (even though we have no idea when it will come or much of a clue what it will look like) a bunch of self-selecting heavyweight guilds decided they'd give the Alliance thing a go right now. That resulted in worlds thought dead coming back from the grave.

    Guarding Hills (the spare one)

    Something I didn't know when I wrote about the phenomenon a few weeks ago was that the bulk of the carpetbaggers who resurrected Anvil Rock were guilds from Yaks Bend, my own server. Because I haven't bothered to sign up for the new YB Discord I missed all the drama but apparently Things Were Said that cannot be unsaid and Claims Were Made that must not be allowed to stand.

    The upshot is that Yaks Bend is at war with Anvil Rock. And by great good fortune, since the split, we have found ourselves in the same match a couple of times. Suddenly we have something to fight for once again: pride.

    As Wilhelm has frequently demonstrated in his tales of EVE Online, there's nothing like a grudge to get people to put in the extra hours. The Imperium took a thrashing and Circle of Two did a few things that won't be forgotten and all that fed months of economic grinding and a whole new War in the North.

    EVE players, rightly, may regard most other MMORPGs with systems of territorial acquisition as something less than child's play by comparison, but children hold grudges too. The first week we played Anvil Rock was widely believed to be one of the most exciting Yaks Bend has had in six years. This week, the rematch, is pretty good too.

    When the half-dozen or more sizeable and active guilds (aka "The Traitors") were with us I rarely saw full zergs on YB outside of weekends. With those people gone, we have them often.

    We have commanders working in series to maintain "raids" for 10, 12, 24 or even 40 hours. I was in a squad last night where the commander tag hot-swapped twice without my even noticing, a practice which successfully keeps people following the tag for longer. I see names playing now that I haven't seen for years. The atmosphere is vibrant and exciting and the result is that I have played more WvW in two days than I normally play in a week.

    That's a lot of work for 10 AP!

    What's more, we are winning both the territory-holding game and many of the big, set-pece battles. And I'm killing a lot of pesky AR. I'm still working on getting my Ultimate Dominator title by completing the Realm Avenger achievement, for which I need to record fifty thousand player kills. After six years I'm up to 36,200 and I got almost 900 of those on Saturday and Sunday evening. Nine hundred kills in two sessions!

    As I type this, Yaks Bend holds every structure on Anvil Rock's borderland. We have waypointed all of their keeps, which was the plan when I logged out last night. While most servers like to waypoint one enemy keep for convenience, waypointing all of them - particularly their Garrison - is considered bad form by many. It's something you do to make a point.

    The point in this case is that, contrary to the exit line taken by the Traitor guilds, Yaks Bend has not "fallen apart without them". Rather the other way around, if anything. And this is what competetive games are all about: pride and rivalry.

    Pride and rivalry will motivate more people for longer than any amount of rewards. People will stay up late and go into work without having had enough sleep if it means they can hold their heads up and wave their colors high. It's not pretty and its not nice but it works.

    Which is why ANet should never have banned match-up threads.

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