Thursday, August 19, 2021

Black Cat Moan

I feel I ought to say something about the current "beta test" that's running in Guild Wars 2. I don't want to say anything about it. I don't have anything to say about it. I just feel I should.

I've been posting about GW2 since well before launch and I seem to have fallen into a pattern of reviewing, or at least commenting on, just about every update and event the game throws at me. If you maintain a gaming blog for long enough, this is a thing that happens. 

I absolutely did not start out intending to keep up a running commentary on certain mmorpgs like some kind of self-appointed sports announcer or game historian. I thought I'd post neat little vignettes about niche topics that interested or amused me, which is basically what I used to do when I wrote articles for comics fanzines in the 1980s.

The thing is, back then I only had to come up with a couple of topics each month at most. The zines I wrote for appeared at best bi-monthly or quarterly but schedules were flexible to be polite about it. Some months I was lucky if anyone was publishing anything at all. I certainly didn't have to come up with something fresh to write about every other day, week in, week out, year after year.

I couldn't have, then, even if anyone had asked me, which they didn't. Times change, though. As must have become obvious long since, I don't find it too much of a struggle, doing it now. I could probably give you five hundred words on why I have a twenty-year old box of fireworks in a 1950s kitchen cabinet in my front room. 

I mean, just read that sentence back. A sentence I pulled out of my ass thin air without preparation or forethought, by the way. Why fireworks? Why a quarter of a century? Why a kitchen cabinet? Why 1950s? Why the front room? 

It's all in there. This stuff writes itself. I don't claim it's worth reading when it's written but getting words on the page? That's easy.

And that's the kernel of the problem, if we're going to call it a problem. If you sit in front of a blank screen with no pre-conceived plan, the stuff that ends up on the page is going to be whatever's going on around you, what's in your mind, how you live, the things you do, the things you think about - the ambient, existential hum that surrounds us all. 

If you play games it's going to be those games. And once you get started, chronicling those games, it gets to be a habit, then a responsibility. It happens faster than you'd imagine.

Back up a minute. If that's how it works, how did fireworks get in here? Isn't that a bit of a weird, random call? Can't be any fireworks in my immediate environment at eleven on a Thursday morning, surely?

Well, it was like this. I wrote the first sentence of the third paragraph in this post and then I thought "I need an example to prove that's true or else I'm going to sound like I'm just making stuff up". Not that there's anything wrong with making stuff up but that's a different post.

I started thinking about that thing you do at school on a Wednesday afternoon, late in the term, where the teacher writes some bland phrase on the board and you're supposed to sit quietly for forty minutes writing something no-one's ever going to read. Classic burnout teaching.

It was often something like a "The life of a penny" or "My back yard". Not that anyone in my childhood would ever have said "yard" when they meant "garden". I'm not sure any of  this ever happened, now I see it in print. Maybe it's just in books and old children's TV shows. This is what I meant by making things up. 

Anyway, whether it did or it didn't we're there now.

The first thing I thought of was safety matches. I have no idea why. No, wait, yes I do. It was because I was thinking how boring a way to get kids to write it was and that made me think of other childhood hobbies that are infamously boring, which made me think of collecting cheese labels, a thing I often saw quoted as the definition of pointless obsession when I was growing up. 

Collecting cheese labels made me think of collecting matchbox labels which made me think of matches which made me think of "Which is better? Safety matches or regular matches?" as a topic, which is something I did once hear being discussed. 

I started to think about that but I bored myself before I even got going, which is presumably why my mind fluttered onto what you might do with the matches, safety or not, and that put the idea of fireworks into my mind.

"Fireworks" immediately made me remember I have a box of Black Cat fireworks in the white 1950s
kitchen cabinet with yellow trim that we have in the front room downstairs. I bought them back when the children were quite small, meaning to set them off in the back garden (never "yard") for Bonfire Night but on the day it was raining so we did something else.

The fireworks stayed in the cupboard and for a few years I kept meaning to use them but I never did, probably because we started going to organized displays instead of doing our own thing. Honestly, I don't remember. For whatever reason, the fireworks stayed there and after a time I started to think they might be so old they would be dangerous to use so they went on staying there.

Every year I wonder whether to get them out and give them a go but it always seems like more trouble than it's worth and anyway now I kind of like having them being so old and never used. Still with the shrink wrap intact. It makes them feel vintage. Can you even get Black Cat fireworks any more? 

Feeling vintage is why we have a kitchen cabinet in our front room, by the way. I was visiting my mother not that long before I bought those fireworks and she happened to mention how someone she knew was about to get rid of a 1950s kitchen cabinet, one of the ones that's six foot tall with glass doors and an enameled shelf that slides out. 

It sounded exactly like the one in our kitchen when I was growing up. Mrs Bhagpuss and I had not long moved into the house we're still living in now and we had plenty of space to fill. I asked my mother if she thought her friend would let me have the cabinet and she said she'd ask. A week later it was in our house.

Of course, it wouldn't fit in the kitchen. The kitchen has fitted units. There's no space for a six foot tall free standing cabinet. But the front room happened to have an alcove into which the cabinet fits perfectly and since it was a classic, retro design I thought it would look good there. Not that we ever use that room for anything but storage but still - front room, eh? A piece of furniture has to believe it's made it when it gets that spot, right?

All of which demonstrates two things:

  1. I really can turnout 500 words about anything. Closer to 800 in this case.
  2. I'd rather write about old furniture than GW2's latest Elite Specializations

Guild Wars 2 currently has, I think, twenty-seven "specs" for its nine official classes. Each class (or "Profession" as absolutely no-one but the devs ever call them) has the original Core version, each of which itself splits into far too many builds to count. 

Each of the two expansions then adds another Elite Specialization to every Core class. Most people think of those Elite Specs as though they were classes and the developers endorse that by referring to them and "balancing" them as if that's what they were. They should, because that's what they are.

Just as I seem to have locked myself into posting about every minor event in the game, so the devs have found themselves trapped in a recurring cycle of class escalation. Players expect new Elite Specs with every expansion, just as they expect new Legendary weapons. If ArenaNet attempted to foist an expansion on its core audience without both those things it would spell the end of the game.

Unfortunately, while the game can handle any number of spectacularly flashy weapons, since every last one of them has the exact same functionality, it cannot possibly cope with the ever-increasing number of classes, particularly given that, in order to be accepted by the people paying the bills, every new class needs to be demonstrably better - or at the very least different - to the ones we already have.

I am not the target market for any of this. I've been playing Guild Wars 2 as my main mmorpg for nine straight years now. I have three accounts and nineteen max level characters. I play every day. I do not own a Legendary weapon and nor do I want one. 

More cogently for this post, although I have characters of all the original eight classes, plus the ninth, Revenant (the only official new class, added with the first expansion, Heart of Thorns) I have only bothered to acquire fewer than half of the Elite Specs and of those I regularly play just one, the Tempest.

I know what I like. I tried a lot of variations and builds as I levelled in GW2 and fairly early on I settled for the Elementalist as my profession of choice. When Heart of Thorns arrived I tried out most of Elite Specs - Dragonhunter, Reaper, Scrapper, Chronomancer, Daredevil, Druid and Tempest - and did the Ascended Weapon quests (Please stop calling them quests!ANet) for several. 

It was fun. I like HoT and I like the weapon quests. I even played some of the specs for a bit - Reaper and Druid particularly. In the end, though, the only one that stuck was the Tempest. 

When Path of Fire arrived I was hoping for more of the same but I didn't get on with that expansion at all. I only tried three of the new elites - Firebrand and Scourge, because they were absolutely required in WvW at various times if you were playing a Guardian or a Necromancer and wanted people not to yell at you in zergs - and Weaver, the Elementalist elite.

I quite liked Weaver but it took a lot more effort and concentration to play than Tempest. Commanders continued to at least tolerate Tempests in WvW (and indeed Core Elementalists, too) so I dropped Weaver and carried on as I was. I like setting stuff on fire then running away, what can I tell you?

When End of Dragons, the third GW2 expansion arrives next year I'll try the new Elementalist Elite Spec. Can't tell you what it's called yet. It hasn't been announced. Who knows, maybe it will even be good enough to persuade me to replace Tempest with whatever it turns out to be.

I'll probably even give it a run when the beta process (aka promotional event) that features the Elementalist arrives. Might as well get myself vaccinated against disappointment early, I guess.

What I am not going to do, though, is make a whole series of temporary, disposable characters of classes I barely play just to see some Elite Specs I'll never use. Not out of any misplaced sense of obligation. Not even to get a post out of it, something I can manage perfectly well without even logging in  other than to get a screenshot of the blank slots. 

 Still, felt I should say something about it, if only out of duty and habit. So I have.


  1. It has been one of those insane days at work. I truly appreciate the chuckles you provided to me while I read this at lunch!


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