Category Archives: Cooperation

Wildstar Healing and all the Ways it’s different

For the last two weeks, I’ve been on a roll with my Esper getting her through the first 7 steps of the raid attunement which includes silvering all veteran adventures. Having also healed through my first veteran dungeon last night, I’m finally back to the point where my old healer muscles and reflexes run on auto-pilot; healing is a routine and if you’ve stared at other people’s healthbars for years in WoW or elsewhere, you own the mindset that comes with playing support classes.

The main reason why healing is appealing to me is the complexity of choices, not just for yourself but everyone in the group. It’s the splitsecond decisions on what action to prioritize next and if need be, whom to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good (or a much needed lesson in self-management). While most roles are centered around the interplay between ‘self and the other’, healers focus on three units in combat and depending on the MMO, they’ll be asked to do this while being more or less mobile. Healers are also the guardians of time, as far as their role within trinity-based MMO combat goes.


And Wildstar asks for a lot from healers. I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult than in some other games but in terms of complexity, there’s an adjustment phase that can feel bewildering to someone coming straight from WoW, Rift or LOTRO. I’ve tried to put my finger on what initially felt so different about healing and decided that similar to Wildstar’s doubly-active combat system, it’s a new combination (and accumulation) of several aspects:

  • Positioning telegraphs
  • Focus and combo management
  • Mobility
  • Limited actionbar

None of these mechanics are new. MMO healers are used to managing mana and optimizing their healing, for instance via proc timing. Games like Age of Conan have featured non-targeted and instead more area- and conebased healing. Many newer titles come with some form of action combat and minimal UI. For some of them like GW2, that makes sense too.

Speaking from an Esper perspective (which more or less applies to all classes), the biggest difference about Wildstar’s healing is that it combines all of the above added difficulties or restrictions at once. The most noticeable change for me personally, was mana management in combination with a resource / combo system, similar to a rogue’s combo points in WoW or a warrior’s rage. Not only will you manage your focus (manapool) but Espers can stack up to 5 combo points (and only with certain builders) which are required to heal efficiently and dish out the big single-target or area heals. That’s two numbers to monitor for your healing at all time while making smart builder- and finisher choices.

Of course this being Wildstar, even as an Esper many of your heals and cleanses aren’t targeted but come as a cone or AoE. So, in addition to moving out of red telegraphs constantly and staying in range of the tank, you’ll have to try position yourself in a way that affects as many party members as possible. They should do their utmost to stay in range / in front of you of course but in the heat of battle, well…we know how the theory usually works out.

The limited actionbar (8 skills) in Wildstar is my only real gripe, because it makes no sense. There are games like GW2 where the minimalistic UI covers all player needs and is perfectly tuned to combat. Wildstar on the other hand, with its fussy skills menu and plethora of situational abilities in the offensive/support/utility department, forces you to manually swap skills for every other fight with only two specs per default (although you can buy more later for Elder Gems). Every time you swap something manually, you have to go back and fill in the points to boost said skill, too. It’s awkward and feels out of touch with the game’s overall approach to combat.

Healing in Wildstar

Wildstar certainly adds its very own flavor to group healing but once you’ve had the opportunity to heal a couple of dungeons in a decent group, you’ll adjust to its resource management, telegraph positioning and mobility requirements. Maybe more than for other MMOs, Wildstar relies on players knowing a dungeon and specific boss abilities (esp. also due to the limited action bar), so it’s advised to always do a practice run or two on normal mode before attempting to crack veterans.

Healers learning the veteran drill should also insist that party members bring their own utility (healing gadgets) and medipacks to fights for as long as everyone’s performance is in those early stages of chaos. There is only so much you can heal / reach and what goes for every other MMO out there, also applies to Wildstar: The tank always comes first. Many whelps? Handle it!

Finding a Guild in Wildstar (and anywhere else)

I remember a time when this was easy: jumping into a new MMO, meeting random people questing or selling goods, partying up for quests or dungeon runs. Then, writing their names down when the company was particularly enjoyable or adding them to a friendlist if such was available. Soon enough, you would decide this was a promising bond, once personal plans had been examined and longterm intentions seemed to match. There was potential for a common venture here – a guild. Either they already had one you could join or you would found one together, after you managed to agree on a suitable guild name, that is.

It doesn’t work that way anymore. Or maybe it’s just me. I never seemed to struggle to find guilds the “natural way” in FFXI or Warcraft but ever since, it’s been a really rocky road and not for lack of trying. I was in two guilds in GW2 which both faded away quicker than a Skritt’s courage. In LOTRO, I resorted to creating my own LFGuild thread on the realm forums because the game was way past the stage of guilds spamming global chat. Early this spring, I finally joined a friend’s non-committal multi-game guild, only to realize they truly didn’t give a toss who came or went, not even the GM. There were also hardly any women which is a red flag in my book nowadays.

Now in Wildstar, I created a guild for myself and four old WoW buddies to hang out while leveling up. The plan has always been to sniff the air on our server first and actually find out if this MMO was for us. Being five people with different work schedules and real life commitments, we hardly ever manage to be online at the same time, so dungeons are pretty much off because PuGs are hard to find before max level (and even harder to go through with). Yeah, we need a bigger guild and soon. I’ve no intention to recruit myself – been there, done that.

Since dungeons aren’t happening and there’s also not much cooperation going on during questing (the odd 2-min silent quickie aside to kill an elite), nor is there any reliance on player crafted goods or services the AH couldn’t provide, meeting random people in Wildstar is kinda hard. Damn the solo friendly, self-sufficient times we live in or something. That only leaves me with following options:

  • Check the official guild forums or
  • Create my own LF thread
  • Pick a random guild spamming global chat
  • Ask on social media (oops, no global servers so scratch that!)
  • Sit in a prominent corner in Illium and sing “All by Myself” with a sad face

Not very appealing options all of them, not if you generally cringe at “blind guilding” the way I do. There needs to be a personal touch or buzz for me before I join a guild, a reason to choose a particular group of people. At the very least, a recommendation by someone I can trust. If I have to switch guilds several times over, my enthusiasm for an MMO is generally at an end.

But then housing chat happened. One of the seriously enjoyable features in Wildstar, players can globally converse with the neighbourhood when logged into their home instance. For no better reason than to be social and friendly, I usually say hello whenever beaming up to my plot and it appears all the nicer RP people of my server are hanging out in the housing channel more than anywhere else. After visiting a few people’s plots, one particularly awesome house by the GM of a popular guild on the server, we got into talking. It so happened that this was also Kadomi’s guild since the Wildstar beta which added instant extra credit, and after checking out the guild page and policies, it feels like my buddies and me might actually have a place to head next. I was told we would be most welcome.

Here’s to hoping it will turn into an extended stay. I won’t need to write a new introduction post on the guild forums, I have one stored away in a .doc file on the computer. If it was written on real paper, it would be a worn and wrinkly document full of coffee stains but in our virtual worlds, hope dies last and paper is patient.

[Wildstar] Unforseen Questing Highlights

In her recent blogpost on questing, Jewel (by the way now co-host of brand new MMO/gaming podcast Podtato together with Izlain!), ponders the way MMO questing has changed and developed over time, from a more forced group-centric activity to an either instanced or collective experience for soloers. It’s evident that our questing and leveling game has become a more solo-friendly affair in recent years, sometimes to the detriment of social dynamics. On the other hand, Bhagpuss speaks level-headed truth in his related comment on soloability being a popular request of many gamers ever since the dawn of the genre –

[…]Consequently we have a powerful received wisdom, promulgated by a very particular interest-group, that states that the be-all and end-all of Massively Multiple Roleplaying Games is social interaction and the true worth of those games is the friendships they foster. I don’t buy that. It doesn’t match my experience and I don’t believe it jibes with the way we’ve seen the genre develop over the last 15 or 20 years.

If solo-play is a playstyle, then soloability furthers playstyle variety and a more inclusive community from there (which of course you can totally not care for). One reason why WoW made it this big was because it embraced a much wider audience than its oldschool, hardcore predecessors. That’s right, the vanilla kids were mocked by vocal then-MMO veterans for being dirty casuals. With my 16hrs per week (net) raiding schedule, I was among the mocked which is all the more ironic seen from 2014.

It doesn’t matter what side you’re on and I certainly concur with the notion that a degree of hardship and purpose in games create cooperation by pushing our primal human buttons (for reference) – however, there are several ways to further group play in MMOs. I will always hold a torch for GW2 not trying to incentivize grouping via setup restrictions or tiresome, traditional grouping formulas. The game tore mental walls down for me when it first came out, walls that can never be reconstructed.

Incentivizing grouping is therefore a most interesting topic and preferably, developers will go for a bonus-approach rather than a malus one. This is what Wildstar is doing right now and I dare say to pretty positive effect: not only is grouping a must to gain coveted guild renown currency (few housing challenges aside that will let you collect very little renown at a time), it is a considerable boost to your experience gain while leveling. There is a clear advantage to coop play in Wildstar without crippling the casual solo player.


You have many questions!

That brings me to another point about Wildstar’s questing game that is quite enjoyable. Yes, I’m managing to have fun while leveling up despite a very straightforward, traditional approach to questing! What ever is the meaning of this?

Wildstar’s questing highlights

Even the most fervent Wildstar advocates will probably agree that questing overall is one of this new MMO’s biggest shortcomings (besides the pretty abysmal UI and menu functionalities). There is not much in terms of innovative mechanics – there’s your standard fedex and kill quests with way too many markers, your escort and timed challenges as well as the odd special mission in which you control vehicles or get to memorize a sequence of XY (for the TBC players: Ogri’la bombing quests and Simon Says are back!). So far, so blah.


If you are opting for WoW-type questing in 2014, then at least do it right! To me, traditional questing is all about the pacing and fine touches; there is potential here for designers who can keep a steady and rewarding progression going, with an engaging storyline leading from place to place in comprehensive manner and some refreshing humor peppered across. Now, Wildstar is 50% tedious kill quests, it ain’t no lie – yet, there’s also great pacing and lots of variety for everything else.

I can live with slaying another twenty Snoglugs if my EXP bar shows satisfying progress or if there’s a serious chance for shinies or some unexpected encounter, which brings me to the important point: there are some increasingly enjoyable and epic moments with a fresh spin in Wildstar’s leveling curriculum! This game is full of surprises and good laughs, so this is where I’d like to give you just two examples (spoiler warning: if you’re sensitive to quest spoilers up to level 35ish, you should probably stop reading now):

Whitevale: The Odd Squirg Hat!
At some point on your journey through the beautiful snowy lands of Whitevale, you will encounter the Squirg, weird alien race of squid-heads having Cthulhu written all over them. The Squirg questline includes a variety of activities from running over them in hovercrafts, to impersonating one and finally attempting to throw squid hats on enemy faction players (for PvP realms) or NPCs. This marks the conclusion of a pretty insane run, rewarding the player with the Odd Squirg Hat item that doesn’t only cover half a Chua’s body but…speaks to the player in literal possession! I don’t know about you – but small stuff like that goes a long way with this here MMO player.



Farside: Low gravity high!
Having left Whitevale with some fuzzy feels (two words: lopp weddings!), the next map of Farside has quickly become one of my favorite MMO zones of all time as far as gameplay and atmosphere go. That’s quite the accolade so early into the game but no less deserved. As if the whole spacesuit and moon gravity simulation-thing (yay for moon jumps!) wasn’t enough, there are meteorites showering the landscape as you travel along until at some point sooner or later, your screen will go black with a message prompt, asking you to save the moon from impending disaster. Off you go, thrown into a chance scenario with random players running a drill into a huge meteor (and killing a mini-boss), so the good NPCs of Farside can enjoy another moon day. Of course there are goodies for the winning team!

Later on, as you explore the north-eastern parts of Farside, you discover Ravenous Ravine which is where the fun really starts. Pitch black part of the map, you will navigate by the light of your torchlight, fending off some of the spookiest deep sea-style creatures in the game thus far. The analogy of low gravity vs. underwater isn’t just fitting and smart, it is by far one of the most atmospheric places I’ve traversed in any MMO. So simple, such a small thing and yet to such great effect. More of that, please?


Did you just touch me??

And there’s more, a lot more in Farside until you’ve lost your mind completely in one big acid trip with rainbows and vending machines attacking you, while your still-sane party members can’t see the mobs you’re fighting.

…I don’t know about you but to me, these are traditional quests worth having. My next 15 levels in Wildstar have a lot to live up to all of a sudden – fingers crossed!

Off the Chest – Landmark Edition: Shelving Landmark, Wanna-be Devs and my Trouble with Votes


Having enjoyed Landmark’s closed beta for several weeks now, I am putting the game on hold for the time being. I am in fact not even sure I’ll bother with claim upkeep until launch. This by no means comes as a shock: I’ve predicted and talked about building fatigue in sandbox games in the past and I’ve been through the same stages of declining enthusiasm with Minecraft. Landmark has some powerful building tools and beats Mojang’s giant in every cosmetic respect, which is great, but for now the game isn’t offering any content besides building or the more recent tool grind introduced in last week’s patch. Since I see no reason whatsoever to painstakingly upgrade tools or crafting stations for no better reason than because I can, nor wish to build anything else for now, that’s it for me and Landmark until SOE implement social features.


The new, ugly tech forge.

The game isn’t very enjoyable right now when it comes to social interaction; I’m not sure what the alpha players were gushing about because ingame community to me is not people posting fancy pictures on forums or re-tweeting them on twitter (which I do too). Don’t get me wrong, player organized swap meets and building contests are nice and so are SOE’s regular dev streams where they interact with fans – it just doesn’t make the actual game any more social than it is and it doesn’t make your neighborhood any less dead. The majority of any MMO’s playerbase are not on message boards or twitch and the server landscape ain’t lying: no matter what island you jump on, the place feels pretty empty and themes are all over the place. (Yeah, I know they said theme servers are coming.)

Landmark needs a purpose for all the housing, needs trade, quests, guilds and cooperative content if it’s meant to last down the road. Unlike Minecraft it won’t have the myriads of differently themed, self-hosted server modes nor the leagues of addons that have given that game such longevity. Landmark is a restricted sandbox and while most of the social features I mentioned are announced in the blueprint, I am not convinced it’s ever going to be more than “building with your guild (maybe) and a few quests and achievements”. From that point of view, I worry about its self-proclaimed endgame-free future the way anyone should who has watched GW2’s identity crisis. But hey, Landmark really is beautiful and atmospheric and if EQN becomes all the better for it, you’ll hear no complaints from me. More power to die-hard builders, may you stick with the game for years!

On wanna-be devs and rabid fanbases

After some brief brushes with Landmark’s official forums, it strikes me how rabid a yes-(wo)men community the game has inspired, as far as vocal minorities go anyway. Every half-reasonable topic on game design or even innocent list of personal preferences / wishes for the future, is getting derailed by righteous defenders of the blueprint. Clearly labeled player <suggestions> are often shot down because someone has learned each and every single line by heart ever uttered by Dave Georgeson (clearly not his fault, he’s awesome). I have already experienced some of that defensiveness myself on twitter and as a design-oriented, critical blogger, it’s not something I am used to. This is not my type of community and frankly, if you’re already in aggro-mode during alphas and betas, maybe you shouldn’t be a play-tester. MMOs change all the time.

I’ve wondered a little about this particular hype for peaceful building-MMO Landmark and have come up with a few possible explanations:
a) The Landmark community consists of a very broad demographic with very different interests (builders only, PVErs, PVPers) many of which may not be overly familiar with level-headed design debates. Richt now, everyone thinks the game is just for them.
b) Publishing blueprints way in advance and telling your playerbase that they’re your co-developers isn’t good for people’s egos and for keeping an open mind towards deviant player suggestions.
c) Games with a strong focus on individual “claims” make everyone more entitled and aggressive than usual.
d) I clearly need to stop bothering with anything public forum.
e) Also: EQ/SOE-evangelism.

If you have any other theories to add, I’d love to hear them!

The trouble with voting systems

My Inn of the Last Home has received a bit of love since the global voting system was introduced last week, via the ingame gallery feature. For those unfamiliar with this recent addition: players can now showcase and tag their claim with one screenshot in a global database that others can view and instantly up-vote (without having to visit). The new tool is wonderful insofar as it easily allows you to discover other claims and themes on any island and seek them out because coordinates. Yet, the voting system in particular has left me unfulfilled just the way it always does on webpages, blogs and elsewhere.

What is a vote on content? It doesn’t tell you whether the content was examined/read fully, why it was voted on or by whom. It’s impersonal numbers with no way to interpret or to create social interaction. Give me one personal blog comment I can reply to over 100 up-votes any day of the week.


Thanks (but I really wish I knew who you were!)

For social games, the feature strikes me as even less suitable. Sure, I absolutely get the wish to highlight great claims and make them more accessible for everybody. At the same time, it makes being discovered for newcomers a lot harder once you have 50 or more “top claims” that everyone will seek out before bothering with the lower ladders. And claims receive votes for all kinds of reasons: wonderful castles of 100 hours of work will be awarded the same or less votes than chaotic swap meets somebody put up for the community to contribute to. That’s a problem, as well as going by a single screenshot for multi-claims is. Votes don’t differentiate.

For me personally, it simply takes the fun away not knowing who visited the Inn or if they even did. So really – here’s my suggestion on what to implement instead, SOE: a guestbook. Give visitors / voters of claims the option to fill in a guestbook on site where they can leave a notice and name, so creators actually feel like there’s real people out there enjoying their work. That would be quite awesome (just a suggestion, don’t shoot!).

DayZ – In the Land of Intense Colors and Unspoken Rules of Conduct

I currently live in a house where much of my weekend mornings and all of my evenings are accompanied by the loud and unbridled DayZ enthusiasm next door. I wake up to hectic commands shouted over voice-comm almost every Sunday (because like all sane people I sleep in on weekends) and go to sleep to “It’s me! Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” and “Identify yourself now!”. The better half is having a blast in DayZ and the very playable standalone early access has done much to rekindle that passion. Being a pretty obsessive gamer myself, I observe all of this with equal amounts of understanding and amusement. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone their gaming sessions. Until he forgets to wash and get dressed, anyway.

Naturally, I was gifted my own copy of DayZ recently and having always been fascinated with the harshness and unmoderated authenticity of this title, I’ve given it a couple of nights over the past few weeks running with an international clan. There is a lot of mixed information out there currently about DayZ which, in my humble opinion, fails to paint a fair or complete picture of this complex beast of a game, of the depth and psychological intrigue of this persistent world hiking and murder simulator with rogue-like elements. And that’s the shortest way for me to describe it.

DayZ always has been and in its current state certainly is legitimately a PvPer’s game just like some games are made for PvE or RP. While it’s entirely possible there will be other server modes again where killing other players isn’t possible, DayZ right now is about handling an outrageous mix of feelings – between stark loneliness and desolation, to the desperate search for food while a quick, inconspicuous death is haunting your every step. Like in the real world that DayZ takes such pains to simulate, you cannot tell friend from foe at a first glance. Like in the real world, due caution and clear communication may decide your fate. Like in the real world, there are stakes to what you do and decisions have tangible consequences.


DayZ is the game where absolutely nothing happens for hours and you find yourself desperately lost in the wild world without maps and indicators. Where you can hike forever and a day and never meet a soul. And then you die. And death has so many faces. It’s the game of paranoid retreat and uncanny social contact, of foul betrayal and uncompromising bonds. It’s the game of fear of loss, of terror and so much hope. In summary, it’s a fascinating social environment that teaches us much about the way we will behave under social / peer pressure once all written law and agreed-on convention is lost.

If everything goes and everyone is equally hungry, what means and tactics will you resort to in order to survive?

In 2003 Postal 2 launched with a particular tagline: it’s only as violent as you are! Only DayZ adds the online multiplayer component. The question of how violent you are gets replaced by how the violence of your peers will affect you. And there are many ways in which individual players respond and adapt. Despite inviting more notorious gankers along with everyone else, DayZ isn’t all kill on sight but more frequently about caution and basic unspoken rules of conduct. One of my very first encounters with strangers in the game went like this:

Still fairly fresh, hungry and ill equipped, two zombies attacked me and I started bleeding. Bleeding in DayZ gives you a limited amount of time to patch up before losing consciousness (which equals death pretty much), as the game’s color saturation gradually and unnervingly decreases. The zombies right now in standalone are a shadow of their former self, dumb and slow, yet dangerous in packs when unarmed (and a nub like me).

Frantically getting away, I crossed a small township and as these things always go, another player and his rifle materialized right in front of me. Oh shit! I froze on the spot because approaching strangers is pretty much the most stupid thing anyone will do while intentions are unclear – and intentions are always unclear in DayZ. Like most creatures that inhabit this planet would never dream of just running into each other, you just don’t do that here either. Should you ever form bonds with other players they have been tested beyond all doubt. In DayZ, trust needs to be earned and cooperation justified.


Friendly! Friendly!!

I managed to raise my arms waiting while the stranger started using proximity chat, the single greatest feature ever added to DayZ:

“Hello. Are you there? Are you okay?”

(At this point I haven’t figured out proxi chat just yet. I keep standing still looking dumb and expecting death by rifle.)

“Are you bleeding? I think you’re losing blood. Can you hear me?”

(I finally figured it out.) “I can hear ya! Hi! Yeah the zombies just got me down that road.”

“I assume you’re fresh, ye? Unarmed? I think I have some spare bandages if you like.”

(Overeager) “Yes I am friendly! I have virtually nothing! And I would really appreciate a bandage!!”

“Okay…..umm Bob, you can come out of the bushes now.”

(That’s when Bob, a second perfectly British gentleman who had been hiding in the bushes behind me, in case I turned out to be not so friendly, emerged.)

This was possibly the most hilarious conversation I’ve ever been involved in with random strangers online. It is also DayZ in a nutshell. That day, I lived and was saved by strangers. That day, I met the good people.

Lessons from DayZ

There is an emotional roller-coaster to DayZ, a ‘rawness’ of the simulation and in extension, basic human interaction both good and bad, that makes for some of the most exciting encounters and meaningful decisions in the world of online gaming today. I will never be a shooter fan but I am full of envy for the tension, terror and exhilaration this seemingly simple game is capable of producing. It’s what MMORPG players like myself dream of: the risky tactical play, the screaming and cheering on vent, the epic wins, the real scares and strong sense for friend or foe. The meaningful rewards and choices that can only come from risk and real chance of loss.

None of this would be possible if DayZ changed its present core mechanics or started imposing too many restrictions. I’m all for different server modes, after all that’s what self-hosting is for, but I love PvP DayZ and hope it will always remain this harsh and thrilling setting of basic social mechanisms. Traveling Chernarus, like Minecraft before it, has made me keenly aware of the things I miss in other MMO sessions –

1) Sharing with your next wo/man
There is an overwhelming sense of community in DayZ’s group play, encouraged by both the scarcity of resources and bag space, as well as omnipresent fear of death (which means starting over naked at a random location). Players can’t hoard and won’t hoard because two armed players are better than one and four are better than two. Even as a completely new player, I had people watch my stuff in DayZ, meet me halfway to re-equip me and make sure I was good on food and drink. It’s been a most humbling experience to have others look out for me in such manner.

2) Constant risk, decisions and consequences
Centered around survival with and against other players, DayZ is a game of endless decisions that often need to happen quickly. Dilemmas abound: Do I cross that public square in broad daylight for a chance of food or do I risk my hunger longer? Do I take a chance at the exposed well or try the popular food store? Do I have my weapon at the ready or do I prefer the faster run speed? Do I talk to that person and risk getting shot? Do I shoot first and risk to be heard? If I get heard, what’s my fastest way out? It never ends and paths lead in all directions.

3) Communication, caution and (self-)awareness
We take so many things for granted in other games – zone chats, grouping tools, location indicators, nametags and colors of allegiance that we have stopped communicating our intentions and wishes precisely. There is no need to act considerately or with caution because our actions don’t tend to affect or harm others, so there is very little in terms of self-awareness, of watching our movement and general behavior in MMOs. DayZ brings back the sign language, the reading cues and the very clear communication: Who are you? What do you want and why are you here? What are you up to? Without nametags indicated, identifying yourself to your buddies becomes a test of its own. In my partner’s clan, allies will ‘wiggle’ when approaching the group and state on voice-comm what they are wearing.

4) Running and screaming in terror
What it says. How much I have missed this!

5) A sense of gratitude
Due to high risk and strong sense for friend or foe, DayZ creates moments of gratitude with ease. In contrast, gratitude is something that is mostly gone from the games I am playing; when resources are plentiful, loot is individual and nothing and no one can really harm or save you, there is less need to rely on others and therefore also less opportunity for gratitude. You could say that’s the nature of all PvE-centric games that don’t tend to pressure-test social mechanics outside of maybe high-end raid content but I’m not sure it needs to be. In any case, I’ve really missed gratitude in my social games and DayZ made me realize it. How ironic that an emotion depending so strongly on community and acts of kindness should exist in a PvP rogue-like a lot more than in PvE enviornments.


And a beautiful world it is too.

Final Words

While this has become quite a love letter for a game I probably won’t make a main, I believe DayZ deserves our attention and curiosity as far as its less popularly promoted aspects go right now. It would be wrong to dismiss this title over its potential for griefing and asshattery or judge it based only on the most visible forum crowd. Paradoxical as it may sound, DayZ offers a wide spectrum of positive social experiences and chances for cooperation (not to forget creativity and hilarious pranks). Such is the nature of freedom – that it can be applied in any which way. And in my limited experience, it’s group play where DayZ really shines.

Like for other games I’ve played in the past and that fall outside my usual high-fantasy MMORPG bracket, I’ve tried to look for inspiring features and opportunities here (while hiking an awful lot). As far as I’m concerned, DayZ is a rich canvas other social games could borrow some intense colors from while still being in this modest stage of early access. The sun hasn’t even begun to rise over Chernarus yet.

Why do we raid?

While rounding up last weeks numerous posts on multi-classing and writing an article on my private immersion (yeah that’s still gonna happen), I came across Jeromai’s recent post on GW2 and the latest Origins of Madness patch. It made me chuckle.

Jeromai displays a particularly fascinating case of raiding malaise in the sense that he dislikes almost everything about MMO raiding, including its basic nature – many of the inherent challenges and social dynamics that make raiding such an exciting activity for others –

Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)[…]My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.

[…]There’s the waiting.[…]There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.[…]And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.

Now to be clear, I have suffered from all of the administrative side-effects mentioned by Jeromai for most years of my raiding in WoW. A good while ago, I published an article called “Vanilla Raiding – A Trip Down Memory Lane” reminiscing on all aspects of the insane raiding prep, downtimes and aggravation that was part of vanilla WoW’s competitive endgame. Players joining WoW later are unaware of how much more convenient things have become since. I can sing a hundred songs about the woes of 40man raid coordination that include the most trivial and silly of things – yet, we lost sleep over them at one time or another.

Yet, I love raids. I love the cooperative idea of raids. In answer to Clockwork’s more recent Wildstar 40man worries, yes I still love 40mans too. Since we really don’t know much yet about Wildstar, I’ll focus on WoW which seems to be the general reference anyway: 40mans had a lot of bad in vanilla WoW but if you compare my nostalgia post with today’s situation, the way class and gameplay mechanics have changed drastically over time, much of the old raiding downtimes have been removed completely. That starts with things like having guild agendas and guild banks, diverse and instant raid buffs and boons, dual specs….and ends with the removal of progression hoops such as atunements or resistance gear. Oh and flex raids, thank you.

That doesn’t necessarily make 40mans easier but it sure as hell reduces the more aggravating and redundant aspects all around setting up, recruiting and raiding effectively. Because underneath all the organizational hassle, coordinated large scale raiding is an absolute blast and unlike smaller raid units, allows for a more lenient roster in which it is possible to make up for that weaker player or three. It’s nonsensical that MMOs with few to no mechanisms of social control or pre-selective hoops before endgame, should toss players right into some of the hard-ass, unforgivable encounters that are 10-25mans, the way we know them in WoW.

However, returning to Jeromai’s well argued points on raiding, he also dislikes core characteristics such as the clarity of mechanics (and associated learning tactics) or the need to rely on other people’s performance. Now, if you raised a poll on a given MMO’s raid forum, you would probably find these listed among the primary reasons why many people currently love to raid. It’s a huge challenge to coordinate big raids and yes, it involves time often spent on someone else than yourself. But equally, the reward of beating such high-req encounters is unforgettable – a feeling many raiders live for. As an ex-healing coordinator, I would also add that I’ve always loved the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together.

PUGs and mass zergs have their appeal because they’re all too often the only alternative to setup/balance restrictions and recruitment headaches in MMOs. However for myself, nothing truly beats your own guild’s smooth raid machine that you yourself have oiled together with your mates over months and years. That sense of group progression. I do miss that. A lot.

I got the first twilight draaaaake!! That’s pre-nerf!

There is also a rewarding aspect in learning raid tactics and then getting them to be performed perfectly. I am not a fan of “synchronized swimming” or static combat but it’s worth pointing out how that’s a different type of challenge; not primarily a challenge of finding all new solutions (as most guilds don’t do blind raids) or spontaneous action maybe but one of coordination, balance, communication and perfection. Let’s put it this way: any long-term successful raid guild in WoW is also an achievement in different social skills.

I realize how some of my views presented here appear to clash with more recent preachings on active combat or more playstyle freedom – but at the very core of encounter and combat design, I don’t think these things need be mutually exclusive.  In a world of more flexible raids, with less unproductive downtimes and more dynamic combat, I am all game for large scale guild raiding! The only thing that worries me is time. It still takes time to raid in a dedicated, competitive fashion, that won’t just change completely. And I realize given my current circumstances, I might simply not be eligible for that type of focused play in MMOs anymore and well, that’s okay. That’s on me. We’ll see what future games will do about the casual hardcore.

Launch Fever Detachment

I’ve been feeling oddly detached and indifferent to all the launch mania that’s been going on these past few weeks. Defiance, Neverwinter, Firefall, Startrek Online and Wildstar keys – I feel exhausted thinking of them all. Every other week I google a new acronym to find out what MMO people are talking about this time. Someone said on twitter that it’s not about the games anymore, that he’s just “addicted to launch rush”, a restless nomad never setting up camp. Far be it from me to criticize such behavior or rain on anyone’s parade but that’s the thing really: there are no parades to rain on anymore. There’s one-night stands and short-term flings, no more falling in love or grand statements of exclusive or at least deep affection. If you told me Defiance was great yesterday, then post an article on Neverwinter today while tweeting about tomorrow’s awesome STO session, you’ve lost me at “it was so much fun”.

Not that I’ve had any big hopes for 2013. It’s been pretty clear that TESO aside (and even that remains to be seen) there won’t be surprises or smashing hits for me this year. I am happy to delve deeper into Guild Wars 2 and maybe return to Rift’s Storm Legion. Yet, I feel gloomy looking at the current trend of MMO launches, the speed of playing and the fraction within the community. Many bloggers have predicted a future of variety and niche titles for this genre. It seems we’re slowly catching up with that vision, I’m just not sure it’s quite how I pictured it. I’m searching for genuine excitement and enthusiasm around me. Even on known community websites hasty reviews read as if written by people who aren’t “feeling it” but jump at every occasion to well, write reviews for something. How wonderful. Maybe I am deluded to think it was ever different but wow, I am so not catching fire!

If we accept this as the future of MMOs, what does it mean for the social factor of the genre? How will bonds be formed within a community of game “grazers” – will they shift to other social media, without specific games retaining their own dedicated community? Or will the experience of playing with and inside an established player base simply disappear?

There have always been MMO players happy to solo, pug and mind their own business, no matter what games they play. And then there are those still looking for the social gaming experience, scrutinizing new games for grouping and guild mechanics. Only – social and cooperative game design matters very little when games can’t retain that player base which would rather be inter-railing between virtual worlds. It seems to me this issue matters a great deal more right now than social game design, great group content, guild incentives and whatnot.

Somewhere these two factors are probably connected. Maybe division doesn’t just stem from the fact that there’s more and more variety at a cheaper price; but is it a lack of social game design that creates the current community – or did the changing playstyles of an aging target audience not rather ask for game design that requires less dedication? More importantly: can niche games do anything about this or will they too be overrun by the grazing trend?

Personally, I still yearn to be dedicated. While my life and net gametime have changed, I’d still like to play that one game with that one guild or group of people. I don’t think less overall gametime must be a hindrance, as long as it’s regular and you’re playing with peers. I could see myself doing this in Guild Wars 2, LOTRO or Rift – it doesn’t even matter that much. But I’m not close to a single stable, dedicated bunch of people anymore who play together longterm. As for guilds, they are dying and dying everywhere. It seems we’re looking at a future of loose cross-platform / cross-game communities at best, spamming raptr stats or chatting via twitter. To be clear, I wouldn’t mind either in addition, but on their own they’re horribly subpar alternatives to real ingame communication.

How well will true niche titles (which NW and the likes are not) be able to carve out their unique, stable communities? And what if I never find a niche MMO that suits me?


[GW2] Farming Arah and the ugly Face of Anonymity

For reasons not entirely transparent to myself, I’ve recently decided to set myself a goal in GW2 which is farming tokens from the Ruined City of Arah in order to acquire the only set worth a look on my female Norn Elementalist. It’s not that I require the gear statwise, as it’s identical to my current armor which also happens to look smashing – but then, GW2 endgame is all about creating your own challenges. And Arah surely is that, although not in the way I initially anticipated. While this might be one of the more challenging dungeons, its greatest annoyances come in form of skipping content and frankly obnoxious people populating pickup parties.

Here’s a confession: I hadn’t been to Arah-the-dungeon prior to my decision to farm tokens. My personal story is pending just one or two chapters before that. I have finished a story mode run more recently but my first runs ever were in complete ignorance of the place (which is usually the case when you do something for the first time) if not of Orr. That said, story mode is no preparation for exploration mode really, so what is a player to do other than to start and build up experience from there? I would also say for myself that I’m far from slow when it comes to steep learning curves.


Yet, my first few Arah PuG runs almost made me give up completely on my set goal (and humanity). They were spent group-rushing through large packs of trash, frantically spamming cooldowns and hoping to keep up with the others because no idea where I’m going. More often than not, they were spent being one-shot by said trash which either wiped the entire party or “the unlucky one” (as I like to call him by now), then re-attempting the same leeroy act, corpse-running over and over until somehow the entire party makes it through alive. Should you happen to be the unlucky one, don’t count on much help; you then get to attempt the insanity all by yourself with the rest of the group waiting impatiently, rather than porting back to retry together and increase your chances. Because what nobody likes to admit is this: thank god it wasn’t me and I’ll be damned to go back and help anybody! I’ve actually been in parties where people were happy to stand around for 15 minutes, rather than helping the person rushing trash alone, dying over and over. This gotta be the saddest, most asocial show I have ever experienced in an MMO which pains me a great deal to admit.

Most of Arah’s trash is ridiculously overpowered and probably meant to be skipped, which doesn’t excuse shitty behavior one bit. The absurdity of the trash combined with the vast scale and multiple paths within the dungeon, make it every beginner’s nightmare. Not only do you not find your way alone, your group is too tired and annoyed by the trash to play more cooperatively. You’re supposed to know your way around or be damned. This of course leads to many more questionable situations, soon making you wonder whether you are really saving that much time by skipping mobs:

  • Groups wiping because it’s not clear if a particular trash is to be avoided or killed, ending up with three players rushing through and two pulling.
  • Everybody reluctant to be the first one / on the front-line of a rush.
  • The group deciding to continue without the unlucky one, in order to activate the next waypoint. This may include killing a next boss without the person.
  • Squishier classes getting the greatest beef. Direct quote from my last Arah run: “this is why we don’t play Elementalists”.

Now, I’m happy to admit I still have things to learn on my class and I’ve already improved much as far as individual performance goes. It’s the whole randomness about skipping trash in Arah that gets to me. Rushes are so chaotic and hard to coordinate (with strangers), it’s often a lottery who gets through and who doesn’t. I’ve had runs where I didn’t die once and I’ve had the most horrible and frustrating runs which in fact made me ragequit once or twice – not last because of how thoughtlessly people behaved in general.

The paradoxical thing is that you can go through all this negativity before ever hitting your first boss. From my experiences from paths 1-3, there’s not one boss in Arah as frustrating as the long, to-be-avoided trash routine. I can easily survive through Lupicus by means of my own survivability skills and despite what some say about the bossfight, I don’t think it’s too hard. It’s one of the greater fights in all of GW2, one where tactics and your survival skills can truly shine.

And the whole grouping mess already shows before finding parties. Generally, players will use for lack of an ingame grouping tool in this cross-server MMO (!), then whispering random strangers for an invite. Only, that’s not how you do it, which I discovered after being ignored a couple of times. “Use self-inv” was the gracious reply I finally received one day and so I added myself to a party where quite obviously nobody was interested in who I was. Which to some degree makes sense in a setup-free game, only doesn’t if you then also have a look at popular party requests for GW2:


Random days, random dungeons on LFG (click to enlarge)

“EXP ONLY NO NOOBS” – “LF ZERK WAR / MESMER” – “Excessive dying will not be tolerated” – “RETARDS WILL BE KICKED” – “full exotic gear, must ping gear”

Here’s the funny part: nobody can truly tell experience by looks or gear in GW2. Hardly ever do you even get asked for gear level and “proving” it is pretty useless without inspect or armory functions. More importantly, you need neither the greatest gear in the world, not a certain warrior or other class, nor years of experience to run a dungeon like Arah (or any other dungeon). All you really need is a decent group of human beings.

What exactly is the point of lines like “exp only” or “full gear” if nobody checks on you anyway as you self-invite yourself?

The ugly face of anonymity

We’ve known since WoW latest that cross-server anonymity is one of the big banes of server community. The upside of shorter queues is won by too a high a price and it’s not just the exceptional troll that makes for lousy group experiences. There’s a common dynamic of caring less about others not from your own server, caring less for your own performance because there’s little consequence, caring less for decent communication because explaining things to strangers is tedious – and why do it when they’re so easily replaced? A note about social mechanics in any human society: anything that makes people “care less” is generally a bad thing.

Furthermore, there appears to be a direct, inverted relation between downtime tolerance and the actual downtime in an MMO: GW2 is a game of few downtimes related to grouping. Not only can players cooperate without formal grouping on outdoor quests, there’s the self-invite function and lack of strict group setup requirements. You could therefore think that players are generally less in a rush and more inclined to wait for each other or explain something – but not so! Being used to little downtime results in an even lower tolerance for the same. At least people treasure their groups more in MMOs where they cannot take them for granted and where losing a member is to risk more wait time.

Do I advocate to bring back grouping barriers and artificial downtimes? No. However, for all its improvements on the social side, such as dynamic outdoor grouping with shared nodes (I know GW2 is not alone in this), res-anyone and setup freedom, GW2’s pickup dungeon experiences are as bad or worse as any other MMO’s – not least because of ANet’s concept of the global village. The entire server/world is your guild? If so, where’s the g-quit button?

GW2 removed a few dated concepts that came with their own set of issues. Unfortunately, it did fail to replace them properly. I’m thinking of more positive ways to motivate spontaneous grouping between levels 1-80 and better overall cooperation in dungeons (I would’ve expected a lot more in terms of encounter design or combo mechanics). I’m in full agreement with Psychochild here – I’ve no wish to go back to good old bad times but there’s clearly a lot more to be done about cooperation and social interaction in this genre which continues to push mega-servers, paradoxically enough for a not-so-MM experience. I wish we could go back to small or even private server communities already.

To close, an attempt at balance: yes, there are good PuGs in GW2 sometime, just like there are in any game. I’ve had few runs by now which were almost pleasant, with people I would sadly never run into again because they weren’t from my server (and friendlists are a downtime). Every now and then you’ll find “relaxed group” advocated in LFG, although that’s fairly rare. There’s a much greater issue at large here and while bad design does not excuse nasty behavior (it sure does not), it has a way of coming through and slowly affecting everyone and everything, until even the most supportive person resigns to what’s been established as the most efficient way of playing, rather than the best one. The fastest way to treasure, so we can be done playing this already.

Yeah, I did have some good groups in Arah…still, I’d rather not ask how they may have turned out had I dared to be unlucky.

P.S. A new episode of Battle Bards is up – go check it out!

Shard Mechanics in SotA: No country for Strangers?

Nobody was more surprised than myself to see Shroud of the Avatar, one of the most horrible name-givings in MMO history surely, reach its one million goal with an added extra of 30% on kickstarter. I know some players are desperate to bring “anything a bit like UO” back but still – surprised! And what better figurehead to sell that promise than Lord British, Richard Garriot, or Lord Snakependant as I like to call him. He and his eye-catching accessory seem to appear everywhere of late. Where can I get my fortune read, please?

This Tuesday night, Grakulen from had the honor of interviewing Garriot on twitch and get some of the fan-base’s more pressing questions answered. For some obscure reason I found myself following that show, bravely ignoring the trashtalk going on in the live chat window. Now, I have no idea if any future version of myself would even consider playing SotA, nonetheless some of you might be interested to hear the following “news” or tidbits which were elaborated on by Garriot:

  • SotA will be all about meaningful, moral choices; players will supposedly be challenged in various ways and have to live with the consequences of their actions (taking extenuating circumstances into account). Tricky.
  • Outdoor player housing is back! While houses will be more exclusive than in UO and bound to designated town zones, players will not only be able to own public buildings but set up shops and vendor NPCs. Wahey, right? Also: you can choose to play a pure “farming” character.
  • There be world events; for example, towns will be besieged in various intervals (“every new moon”) and players will need to band up in order to save their infrastructure and NPCs. We’ve seen hubs taken over in Rift, so personally I hope there will be more drama and significance to this in SotA.
  • As SotA won’t be featuring different servers but one global mega-server, a sort of culling-mechanic is in place to reduce the amount of other players you can see at any given time. It’s not actually “culling” the way we have it in GW2 but rather dynamic instances (or shards) of the same server that players play on in order to avoid heavy traffic. Shards aren’t exactly new, yet in SotA the system ensures that friends will always end up on the same shard. The more removed an acquaintance, the less likely you will ever see them (however, those “invisible players” would still be able to access your shop as customers, since you are strictly speaking playing on the same world). The friend-feature aside, players will be “re-sharded” pretty much all the time, says Garriot.

This last part is where it got complicated. I understand it’s becoming trendy for MMOs to re-introduce that “one world feeling”, the way it’s also been announced for the Elder Scrolls Online. While I’m certainly pro server mechanics that ensure friends can play together (although there’s this wild thing called server transfers), the whole concept loses much of its appeal when we’re back talking about different layers/instances/shards and invisible people. Not such a big world after all?

Before I was able to formulate an even bigger concern however, another viewer in the twitch audience, Garbrac, beat me to it in live chat:


“So if I have no friends, will I be playing the game alone?”

Ever since MMORPGs have come out of the shadows with World of Warcraft, new games are being created under the solid assumption that players will show up “with friends”. You don’t make online friends in MMOs any more – you’re supposed to bring them. You can see it in game design too: the learning curve, jumping into medias res and the leveling journey become ever more trivial. At the same time, endgame challenges and/or difficult group content persist; big world or guild events require functional communities. Tough luck for the one who travels those first bits of the game alone! With little hardship comes little cooperation. Cooperation is where chance encounters transform into lasting bonds and guild invites (or creation) are generally the consequence.

Mind, I am not talking about enforced role setup and I am happy that new MMOs allow for playstyle variety. But if cooperation is a core value of high level content, it needs to be a requirement on low level too! Otherwise there’s a clear issue in preparing and setting up new players for the whole journey. And there’s an even bigger issue if server mechanics prevent soloers from ever meeting the same people twice! I cannot imagine anything more dreary than playing on a server that constantly changes my social environment! How on earth am I supposed to establish connections here? High level group content yay – but erm, can I please find some companions first?

Anyway, I can’t wait to hear a solution to this from the guys at SotA (unfortunately it was not addressed in the twitch talk). I don’t know about you, but I am not looking forward to MMO worlds that are constantly re-sharding me anywhere, unless I bring existing friends and family along!

[TESO] Holy Trinity and Healing Mechanics Revealed

So yesterday the folks at Zenimax dropped the ball on some long-awaited and much speculated combat details over at the TESO development Q&A. In the wake of titles like Guild Wars 2, many players have had the same big question on their mind: will there be a holy trinity in TESO? – Will there be a tank and healer?

Both questions were addressed in the Q&A although to varying degrees of my satisfaction. Let’s start with what has been revealed on the holy trinity so far:

Q: How important will the ‘holy trinity’ be in PvE endgame/raids?
Will dedicated tanks and healers be required, or will lighter armored
characters be able to utilize the dodge system well enough to serve as
competent tanks? Will healers need to focus entirely on healing, or will
a more offensive spellcaster be able to sustain his group via spot
– By Lynx
Q: A: “Yesterday in the lunchtime dungeon test, our group of four (all at level 12) included: – 1 Templar with light armor and healing staff, abilities focusing on healing – 1 Templar with light armor and dual wield, Templar abilities focusing on healing – 1 Dragonknight with light armor and destruction staff – 1 Sorcerer with heavy armor and dual wield This was with no real consultation with each other while making characters, other than ensuring there was at least one healer. For the sake of the dungeon we really could have used a true tank (the closest we had was the sorcerer wearing heavy armor and using unstable familiar to get the monster’s attention, with no real “keep myself alive” abilities), but as a group we were (eventually) able to take down the Fungal Grotto bosses. More to the point, with four players making independent choices in abilities and gear, three of the four made builds that defied the standard templates – and yet felt perfectly viable in actual play. The players were each able to build a character to their own taste with class abilities as a supplement, rather than the rigid defining aspect to the character, and have effective characters. So in summation, we’re pretty happy watching the progression system allow people to play the way they want in the groups they want to play in.”– By Lynx

I am getting the impression that the tests on group settings and mechanics are either not very advanced yet or that the developer is beating around the bushes in his reply. The very concrete question, namely how significant the holy trinity is for endgame/raids and how exclusive the role focus of certain classes will (have to) be, doesn’t get a straight answer. So, Zenimax’s testing team basically used two healers in a group of four. They made sure they had “at least one healer”. They also “could’ve used a real tank” in the Grotto but, errr….this wasn’t really a planned run and it’s wonderful if players can make “independent choices in abilities and gear”. Are we still addressing role setup questions for raiding here?

The reply ends on a similar note that tries to emphasize player freedom, mostly for spec and gear, but does in fact never truly answer the original question. At best it gets clear that there won’t be rigid cookie cutters for any class. I can’t shed the feeling that TESO will in fact feature a more classic holy trinity but that Zenimax are too careful and reluctant to call it that at this point. After all it could potentially alienate a big part of their potential audience. Anyone else get the same feeling?

TESO’s Healing Mechanics

Another more revealing part of the Q&A are the details on how healing is going to work in TESO. While I’m not a fan of dedicated healing in MMOs myself, I’ve explained in the past that one big part of my very vocal holy trinity dislike stems from the fact that healing in WoW was this over-the-top-exclusive stare-at-healthbars-job. MMOs like Age of Conan have offered some more refreshing solutions in that department: healing in AoC was overall weaker, more diverse and AoE/cone-based. Such an approach to healing mechanics can dramatically change the overall playstyle of healing classes. And it appears that TESO is going to follow a similar path –

Q: I have a question about your targeting system for combat, from
what I’ve heard there will be a soft targeting system. My question is:
How does this system work in raids/large PvP groups for healers? Will
healers have a hard time finding players, and keeping track of their
group’s health?
– By Jacob Avila

A: “Soft-lock targeting doesn’t really affect healing because you don’t have to find your target to heal them. You don’t target allies. Most of our heals are area-of-effects (AoEs) or cone effects. To be effective, you might want to stay in the middle of your allies for AoEs or face them for cone effects. Healers will need to be aware of their environment of course, and pay attention to the battle.

The most important part of the reply is no doubt “you don’t target allies”. That means no cycling target frames and certainly no clicking healthbars. The healer’s focus lies on the whole encounter and environment, just like it does for everyone else in the party. Healing will be about correct placement and timing of area and cone effects which can be a great challenge. It’s a take on healing that has also gained some speed in WoW since Cataclysm and that many players out there should enjoy, sworn healers included.

I do welcome this approach to healing in TESO. That said, I do believe there will be dedicated healing and healer and tank roles in this game – certainly a lot more dedicated than in GW2. Zenimax do their best to emphasize playstyle freedom but nothing they’ve stated so far is a big break-away from the classic fantasy MMORPG formula. I wonder how die-hard fans of the Elder Scrolls franchise feel about some of the current combat revelations.