Category Archives: Explorer’s League

[GW2] Timing is everything. And a good thing too.

Much has been said about the dynamic shnynamic events in GW2, to a point where I have indefinitely banned the term to the same corner as “hardcore” and “casual” for MMO debates. There’s been quite some praise of course, yet as usual the whining has been the loudest on the message boards I frequent. Personally I think most of the negative critics are missing the point here completely, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It’s true: the nature of dynamic events in MMOs is that you can be too late or too early, just being “on time” making for the perfect gameplay experience. It’s true too that it feels somewhat disconnected storywise to blunder into an ongoing event without much context. Alas, that’s an issue MMO players have to cope with – unless you prefer not having these types of more random mass-events at all, or only get phased variations thereof. Phasing wouldn’t work the same way for many reasons. Phasing really isn’t an answer to most common MMO questing/adventuring issues, to be honest.

More importantly though, I love that I can be either too early, too late or just on time for events in GW2 – the fact that stuff is happening out there whether I am a part of it or not. The fact that the world doesn’t only spring to life as I push the button since I am so horribly important. Strange things are afoot in Tyria. The world feels alive and yes, “dynamic” because of it. Even if I miss an event or only observe other players running it from afar, I enjoy that. I can try revisit that place later or join anyway and investigate. And when I actually do arrive on time and things start to magically unfold around me….well, there’s absolutely nothing that compares to that feeling in MMOs!

A year ago I read a splendid Skyrim review that captured precisely what makes that world feel so wonderfully open and alive. Unfortunately I cannot for the life of me remember the site. Anyhow, a game journalist talked about his most epic gameplay moment there, when he experienced the perfect dragon encounter somewhere on the road, after pursuing a wild horse that had raced off in terror. There were all kinds of hints like that one, foreboding the incoming dragon attack, NPCs running his way screaming just as the first huge shadow fell over his party and the dragon’s metallic shriek rang through the valley. Skyrim’s magic lies in moment such as this: when everything clicks and it feels as if the world was truly alive all around you, and you are just an erring traveler chancing on whatever lies around the next bend of the road. It’s a magical thing if videogames put us into that removed, immersed state of mind for a moment. It’s a rare and beautiful thing – a memorable thing. It’s the perfect simulation. Real life doesn’t happen according to your agenda all the time, either.

That sensation can never come a dime a dozen though and it shouldn’t. I don’t want to be on time for all the dynamic events in GW2. I want to be early and too late, so that when I am on time at last the scenery will take my breath away. Syp calls experiences like that “just an awesome moment“. To me they lie at the heart of the MMO experience. It’s why we need more randomness in games, more opportunities to be failed or missed, so that we may succeed and when we do, succeed with flying colors. If the minstrel tells us stories before a burning camp fire at night, they will recall most memorable moments and wondrous, rare encounters. And those are worth waiting for and certainly worth having.

And then, suddenly…

[GW2] Panaroma Screenshots

“I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.”
Lion’s Arch – Full res version here


Queensdale – Full res version here
Godlost Swamp – Full res version here
Shiverpeaks Mountains – Full res version here
Snowden Drifts – Full res version here


[GW2] Day 1

Disclaimer: This is officially not a hype post. Why? Because GW2 is out now! Lalalaa.

After launching three hours early (and me being in two hours early), GW2 was off to a rocky start yesterday noon when the EU servers suddenly kicked out everybody and went dead for three full hours. That makes me think that cannot have been coincidence – maybe the three hours early start anticipated what was to come? Just kiddin’…

Anyway, the day still ended on a very high note for me after ANet fixed the server hiccups. Many of my own impressions are resonated in Pewter’s current list of thoughts, particularly what she says about not feeling alone but part of a bigger body that is all around you. Games like Journey prove that the feeelings of togetherness an cooperation are not created merely by speech/chat. Since players do not rely that much on chat during questing, they actually start minding each other more directly and proactively; my partner pointed out how for ongoing events, even large groups would stick together tightly, keeping up coordinated formations. I find myself frequently hovering over players killing tougher mobs, just to check for their healthbars (wtb HP display here). And even when the big ass giant in Nageling wreaked havoc on an army of 50 players and I died instantly like a noob, not one but four players came to my aid! This is GW2’s cooperation – day one – for you.

Besides that. I will follow my blogging neighbours’ example in posting a few quick first day tidbits:

  • While skills and tiers are still somewhat obscure to me right now (why do I still need to “waste” so many points on lackluster skills?), I recommend the following three must-get skills to my fellow rookie Elementalists. They will make your life much easier at start:
      • Go straight for the 3rd superior healing skill, Signet of Restoration
      • Signet of Fire is great for its extra passive boost to your crit. I like straightforward skills like that
      • Get Glyph of Elementals; even if your pet only lasts 1 minute, it will save your butt by catching “aggro” frequently and offers a sense of crowd control 

  • GREEN is the new BLUE! That’s right, be careful you don’t dump a green item by mistake, thinking blue is superior – it’s not!
  • Is anyone missing a mount thus far? I admitted before that my initial waypoint worries for GW2 were unfounded – the world is so huge that using teleports to get to more remote locations is not just convenient, but in fact a well-conceived, elemental feature. You will be walking plenty in GW2 as is, but instead of fighting your way back grinding fast-respawning mobs through an endless tunnel you just cleared before (fuuun), the game sends you on your way to go enjoy the next, new challenge. I have a feeling I need to re-visit the topic of shortcuts in MMOs again, sometime soon.
    • If you’re a child of WoW, Rift and Co. do yourself a favor an re-bind some keys, such as ‘R’ for chat-reply (by default backspace) or ‘B’ for bags (by default ‘I’). Once I went through the trouble of adjusting some keys in the interface menu, I felt that my gameplay enjoyment increased drastically. Old habits are hard to break.
    • There is still quite a lot for ANet to fix currently, such as the marketplace stability, WvW, guild functions and overflow….yeah, that is still a concern and I am disappointed that after so many betas, they still can’t seem to let party members enjoy the game together smoothly. Come on already!
    • While I keep repeating how awesome I find the Asura (and there are plenty), my very tall Norn Elementalist is now safely home based on Desolation EU which hosts a large English speaking community. I only just found out today that I can still join my fellow bloggers’ guild on a different server despite that (shows how much I read up on guilds before!) and how awesome is that?

    So much for the first day and I sincerely hope that ANet will be able to solve the current issues swiftly for all you official launch date folks out there! More juicy GW2 impressions from me next week – I have a game to catch! Happy Sunday!

    [GW2] An altered questing experience

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Maybe the most profound impression this last beta weekend has left me with, is the questing experience in Guild Wars 2. I am reluctant to even call it “questing”, so overused is this term ever since World of Warcraft and so heavy with negative meaning. What I’ve experienced instead in GW2 is adventuring in the truest sense: being a traveler on an unknown road, inquisitive and curious, ready for chance meetings and whatever the world may present me with. Now, we’ve known for a while about ANet’s different approach to quests – the free for all, public and dynamic events. But knowing this or having read about it somewhere does nothing to prepare you for how it really feels to travel the roads of Tyria. You have to do it yourself. You have to be there and spend a couple of hours before the message sinks in with all its gravity.

    It was maybe 8 hours into this second beta, when I had seen a big part of the Norn starting area and began to extend my reach, visiting other places like Queensdale (Humans) or the Plains of Ashford (Charr), exploring maps in greater detail. I was around level 18 and had just helped a traveling salesman to get safely to market, when it hit me: there is no quest log.

    Ye gods….I have no quest log!

    I can’t express properly just how liberating it felt to realize this, that there was no “homework” for my character. No predefined road. In GW2 it is not the quests that drive you from A to B, to discover certain areas or the next quest hub. Instead, you simply wander around and by blundering onto a site (often it finds you), you are presented with an ongoing situation or are asked for help. That is when an event marker or summary will appear on your screen – but it will disappear again as soon as you leave this region or if you fulfilled your mission. This means your screen is empty when leaving events behind and you also don’t just accumulate more and more jobs. The only ongoing, railway type of questline is your personal story and that one waits for you in patient and unobtrusive fashion. The only time I did consult my zone map was in order to avoid too high level content or to check whether I hadn’t accidentally missed a corner.

    This difference in approach, that quests and events are tied to locations rather than to your character, makes a huge impact on the enjoyment of exploration. One may justifiably call this a great paradigm shift from the classic, WoW-shaped questing system of MMOs. Rather than already knowing where to go and what you’ll have to do there, you have to figure it out on site. Add to this that events will usually let you assist in several different ways and have several stages or chapters, depending on when you got there.

    Things don’t stop there though: the questing experience becomes even less linear once you realize that you really want to go everywhere – that it makes sense to go everywhere. With the level down-ranking in place (your HP constantly changes depending on where you are) and flat leveling curve, it does not matter where you go to do events, gain experience or karma points, as long as you steer clear of higher level content which is rather quick on the ball punishing transgressions. In fact you do want to visit alternative places especially to earn extra skill points. The bottom line is that there are no strict “starting areas” anymore. All the maps are yours and the world feels bigger than ever. Feel that there’s not enough to do on “your map”? Well then, move your butt somewhere else! Pacing is not the same concern when you have so many areas to choose from.

    All these innovations have added a great deal to my enjoyment of this beta weekend and made for the kind of immersive gameplay experience I haven’t had since Skyrim. ANet has achieved a splendid thing and I look forward to them improving the system further where balance and rewards, impact and cooperation are concerned. I will not complain about these issues though; at this point in time I am simply too happy with the overall concept realized in this upcoming and visually stunning MMO.

    Talking about stunning…

    To say that the world of Guild Wars 2 is breathtakingly beautiful, even on a PC as dated as my own, falls horribly short. The visuals and art style are far beyond anything I had personally hoped for and the wonderful soundtrack of Jeremy Soule (which could be more frequent in places) adds further depth and atmosphere. I’ve stood under a pine tree showering me with snow; I felt the sea spray on my face.

    My most remarkable moment of the entire beta was in Godlost Swamp though: standing in the middle of a shallow lake, an eagle flew by me and then circled around me maybe four times. Then, he actually plunged into the water, caught a fish (I assume..) and soared up into the sky. I LIVE FOR THIS SHIT!

    And because it was all so wonderful, I decided to create a small screenshot gallery (not mobile friendly) with some of the most beautiful shots I’ve taken this weekend. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! And I hope the third beta weekend won’t be too long!

    GW2 Beta Weekend – Overflow, Exploration, Combat and a second Look at Customization

    Just when I had tweeted the above picture waiting on the GW2 beta on Friday evening, ANet’s servers suddenly went live – over one hour before official beta start. I am tempted to call this a smart move on their side, ~1mio people trying to log on during the same, small time window = not fun.

    Anyway, I was an early starter and a rocky start it was! After so many hours of disconnecting and not finding your mates because of cryptic overflow mechanics (I CAN’T SEE YOU!), I went to bed hoping for some fixes. It’s certainly been a good stress test and ANet were fairly responsive in getting the worst issues sorted a.s.a.p. which cannot have been easy. I skipped most of Saturday due to lag issues but finally today, servers were stable and I’ve had ample time for more detailed impressions.

    Overflow servers

    I’ll start with my only, big annoyance and say that I am very unimpressed with the overflow server mechanics. It’s all beta state so I am not screaming in terror, but it was a big negative that for 95% of my playtime up to now, I was unable to group up with friends. Some of us were constantly sent to overflow servers (different ones too) while others were not – usually without any indication given. I am missing respective indicators on the map/zones and most of all: people who are grouped up should be able to join each other! This is a vital thing in a game that pushes cooperation as much as Guild Wars 2 does, so I hope next beta come they will have solved this.

    I’ll also admit that I was surprised to see the overflow mechanic pop up for every zone in the game. I didn’t expect zones to be gated via loading screens and from an explorer’s point of view, it’s rather disruptive to one’s game-flow to be told “sorry, that zone is full”. I’m sad that a consistent world was not an option. Personally, I am capable of judging whether a zone is too full for questing myself. I would still like the choice to travel through though or meet a friend there quickly, and not be told to queue up or go to the overflow. I see the advantages in terms of lag or impatient players doing quests – however to me, it is more important to be able to travel a cohesive world without loading screens and queues. Queues will improve later no doubt, still a minus in my books.

    Exploration and combat

    I’ve spent substantial time off the beaten track, trying to get a sense for the scale of Tyria. As expected the graphics are beautiful, with elaborate weather and shading effects, banners flowing in the wind and dancing snowflakes. The starting areas are somewhat claustrophobic in space and I have yet to be overwhelmed by a great vista or endless plains; but then I have maybe seen 5 zones so far. The environment is not as accessible as for example in Rift (where you can climb pretty much any peak), but there’s a lot more going on under water than usual, inviting players to test their underwater combat skills. The waypoints are there in abundance for the lazy – having mostly soloed so far however, I was not pressured to use any. This early into a new game, you gotta be particularly goal-driven to already rely on teleports…

    Explorers get plenty to do and zone loading screens encourage them: four indicators per map will keep track of your zone progress, points of interest discovered and events partaken in. Special challenges await you when attempting to earn extra skill points. However, a word of caution to the eager traveler: mob level in GW2 is to be taken seriously! As an elementalist I was hard pressed to kill foes 1-2 levels above me and I certainly didn’t manage to kill groups. I died quite often, also because I blundered into areas prematurely which happens easily. If you travel too far ahead, you will get feedback immediately!

    GW2 zone tracker explained (click to expand)

    The dynamic events (heart shapes) at lowbie level work as intended: assisting others is effortless, rezzing dead players (indicated on the world map) is fun and participation is always rewarded – in fact you gain most EXP by assisting and joining events, not farming or grinding mobs all by yourself. I second Keen in that the quests could be a bit more imaginative than gathering crops and throwing snowballs at children, but then we’ve seen very little. Sometimes these events will also lead to further steps and more demanding objectives. From what I’ve seen of my personal storyline so far, quests are more engaging and I look forward to see my path unfold.

    I am enjoying the combat mechanics in GW2, as I knew I would. Auto-attack and circle strafing take some getting used to; due to the mobile combat style, you will easily reset mobs getting too far out of range. It’s a wonderful feeling to cast while running though, I love the elementalist’s mighty AoE effects and different attunements and weapon abilities to choose from.

    A second look at customization

    Naturally, I also spent some time scrutinizing the Norn female character creation first-hand. It’s funny how impressions can vary once you get to be your own skipper. For one thing, there are not as many facial choices as I thought there would be; the individual sliders are also more or less effective, depending on your choice of face. But judge for yourself in this quick “before and after” picture:

    Norn faces – before and after customization

    There are a total of 15 Norn female faces currently in the beta, along with 21 hairstyles. For the human females, there are 18 faces and 23 hairstyles. However, the Norn choices have suited me better in every aspect: they have more diverse body options, nicer (especially many longer) hairstyles and colors available for hair and eyes. Make-up is a deplorable given, although degrees may vary. For those who asked about more mature or scarred faces, there’s in fact one older looking face to be found for the humans (if you expand the image you can spot some wrinkles) and one scarred face for the Norn (also the Norn get tattoos):

    “old” Human face / scarred Norn face

    One thing to take note during customization is that once you’ve made individual adjustments to one face, the changes will appear on all the presets when going back. This way, you are instantly presented with a whole “new set” of variety which might help you find that unique look for yourself.

    Temporary bottom line

    After a rocky start, the GW2 has been a lot fun; so much to see and explore and especially so much to learn! Guild Wars 2 IS its very own game and that is good to remark at this point! You will not be tempted to compare this MMO to other games you’ve likely played in the past.

    ArenaNet will certainly need a few more months (so much has become clear) to take care of some balancing and technical issues now and there is missing polish where ingame functionality (for example on guild management level), menu options and indicators are concerned. Early overflow gripes aside, I have not come across any major disappointments or annoyances though. I think we can agree that GW2 is a safe bet for anyone looking to immerse himself in a fresh and original MMO world this year. I’m off to play some much anticipated WvW now – more on that another time!

    GW2 – Waypoint woes and the repair system

    Every week the guys from GetBonkd release a short Guild Wars 2 feature on youtube. I generally really enjoy their clips, they’re informative sneak-peeks with nice footage and the quality and editing of the videos is very high for youtube standards. While watching, it gets very obvious how hyped Scylol & Co. are for this upcoming MMO, but then it’s not as if what they’re presenting was untrue and I can appreciate the excitement for something new. If you’re looking for some good quality GW2 introductions to various topics, be it class overviews, combat, pvp, questing or other nifty features such as mini-games (did you know there will be bar fights in GW2?) or the home instances, I recommend you browse their channel sometime (by now 23 episodes).

    However, just last week’s episode 23 was one that brought up two topics I personally feel very reluctant about: the waypoints and repair system in GW2. I think the episode would have benefited from a more critical eye there, but maybe I am just drawing pre-mature conclusions. Three weeks ago I asked where might be the “orcs” in GW2 – aspects that players currently eye with worry. One that stood out to me when reading closed beta reviews at the time, was the mention of waypoints all over the zones in GW2. Frequent teleports that are not only easily accessible but cheap. Or as one reviewer came to praise them –

    “Each map is littered with teleport stones which you can use for a paltry sum of copper, allowing you to jump between areas of interest with lightning speed and minimal drudgery. No waiting around for thirty minutes for your hearthstone to cool down for no reason: just pull up the map and click on the teleport stone nearest to where you want to go.”

    That information really took me by surprise. Had ArenaNet not announced early into development that they wanted travel to be an essential part of GW2? Didn’t they praise their large scale maps and point out that there wouldn’t be flying mounts in the game, so players wouldn’t skip content and get easy short-cuts?

    Well then, why so many teleports? As much as I appreciate the effort of making gameplay and questing more fluent and grouping up easier in GW2, I don’t quite understand why they needed to give players so many waypoints per zone. Not just that, I wonder how motivated players will really be to re-conquer those controlled by an opposing faction, if there are so many to begin with? And should you really be able to use them while dead?

    The only thing I could imagine influencing this decision, is the dynamic leveling and side-kicking feature of GW2; for one thing, there won’t be the traditional low-level and high-level zones, but zone mobs and quests actually scale with the player’s level. What’s more, your own level will be downgraded when grouping with lowbies (and upgraded in WvW). The benefits of that are quite clear: not only can you keep experiencing the content of any zone as a challenge (even large events scale dynamically), you can group up with anybody no matter the level differences between players (see side-kicking @ 03:20). So just maybe ArenaNet decided it would be too bothersome for players having to constantly fight their way through to anywhere, on any map, always being attacked and dismounted by every mob.

    Still, I am sad; even if you chose to ignore waypoints and play the game entirely on foot, I can imagine just how “voluntary” using them will be if you’re grouped up with other players in an awful hurry to get somewhere. The explorer in me is eying this with a clear “MEH” for now.

    The repair system

    No less surprising was the information on GW2 featuring gear repairs as an attrition mechanic, when initially there was talk of death penalties and similar being a boring, out-dated concept. To clarify, I’m not exactly a fan of not having death penalties in MMOs; in fact, I’m a sucker for punishment where it serves a purpose. But….repairs? Really?

    What probably cracks me up the most about this, is how the repair system in GW2 is supposed to be so fresh and different, when it’s mostly just a washed up, more complicated version of WoW’s durability system (or other MMOs for that matter). Judge for yourself –

    “When a player is defeated, and not just downed, a random piece of their armor will be damaged. When a piece of armor is damaged, it imparts no penalty but serves as a warning. If a player is defeated while all of their armor is damaged, then a random piece of armor will break. When armor breaks, it ceases to provide any benefit to the player and must be repaired by visiting an armor-repair NPC in town. This NPC will charge a small sum of coins to repair any broken pieces of armor, and will repair any damaged armor as well. Having thus transferred the coin cost to the armor-repair NPC, we removed the multiplier on the cost of traveling to a waypoint when defeated.

    We like this system for several reasons. Unlike most other armor durability systems, it doesn’t start becoming a factor just through normal play but only kicks in when a player is defeated. This means that it’s not a tax on playing and can be avoided through skillful or careful play. With every piece of armor needing to be damaged before any of them are broken, it also provides ample warning for the player before any real penalty is incurred.”

    I fail to see how this is essentially different or more meaningful? It sounds rather ineffective to me – something you will hardly have to care about much. And if you do, well then it’s just the usual trade money for repairs-deal we already know so well. What does it matter if you only need repairs after X deaths and due to X items damaged, or due to a more constant stream of overall damage? I can also in fact not recall having to repair much in WoW unless I died; and then I could still easily die some more before requiring that repair service (the joy of not being a tank).

    There’s also a much more important, general question to be asked here: if repairs are easy to come by and cheap enough in an MMO, then what’s the point anyway?

    Who cares how the system works?

    "Journey" – When online players have no words

    As video gamers we are living in wonderful times. I guess few decades from now some child of the future will smirk at this as he waves away a hovering NPC hologram with a sweep of his hand. Still, we are privileged in this time, too – to witness the speed of progress, the giant leaps technology has taken since our first 8bit steps until today. Video games are beautiful and there are more and more special and weird gems surfacing as developers get bolder and the audiences grow.

    Nonetheless, games or rather experiences such as Shadow of the Colossus, Limbo or Bastion are preciously rare. You really need to be on the lookout and it appears that we are actually in for another treat.

    “Journey”, out this March 2012 on PS3 network, promises to be everything that can be expected of a true video game delicacy. Set in a strange desert world of soft pastels, its unique graphics and smooth effects are a sight for sore eyes. Like for Limbo, there is no music in Journey and the player is cast into a strange setting without preamble, without map, unaware of what the actual “goal” of his adventure might be. And so he starts traveling, ever forward, exploring and solving curious riddles on the way by aid of visual hints alone.

    Maybe the most remarkable thing about Journey however, is that it’s actually played online – and there’s a real chance to meet other players in the middle of the desert. Strangers you will never know, strangers you cannot speak to and yet –

    While traveling the player can encounter other players, one at a time, if they are playing online. Players cannot speak to each other, but can help each other in their journey or not as they wish. Players met online will not be identified with a username and voice or text communication will not be possible with the other player. According to designer Jenova Chen, “it’s about two strangers who meet online. They don’t know who they are or how old they are. All they know is, that is another human being. “The only way players can communicate audibly with each other is with a wordless shout. Players will have symbols on the front of their robes for identification, so that the player can tell whether they have met that traveler before or not”[..]

    […]The game is intended to make the player feel “small” and to give them a sense of awe about their surroundings. The co-op aspect of the game is intended to allow the players to feel a connection to other people through exploring with them, rather than talking to them or fighting them. [source]

    With that bit of information, Journey has reached maximum appeal with me. It appears that for a while the folk at IGN struggled for words too trying to define what this game actually is, y’know definitions (the final IGN review is actually much better). No matter what you like to call it, an “acid trip” as suggested, a poetic experience, a mad ride – maybe the point about Journey is that there’s no “point”, other than that:

    The journey is the point.

    A title worthy of some attention, methinks. Now all I need is to borrow a PS3!

    The Four Travellers (and Bartle)

    Art by GC Myers

    In the middle of all things there is a secret place. A place of comings and goings, where all roads meet up eventually before parting again for distant and strange lands. And in the very middle of that crossroad stands an oaken table, an ancient work of formidable craftsmanship inviting the weary traveller and offering him a place to rest for a while. There is a tin cup too, filled with the sweetest water to cool the thirsty and wash the journey’s dust from their throats. So potent is its effect that some say it holds magical powers.

    It so happened that one day, against all odds, four travellers from the four corners of the world would reach the mighty crossroad of all things together. Each grabbing a wooden chair, they eyed one another suspiciously as they took a seat at the massive, round table. Almost simultaneously they realized that there was only water there for one. Their moods darkening, the four men started measuring each other up more closely. Each man looked curiously exotic to the next: different complexions, different hair, different eyes. They wore different colors and clothes, their bags carried different treasures. A different weapon dangled from each traveller’s side.

    The man of the North was the first to speak, nervously drumming his fingers on the polished wood. “I should get to drink the water. I have a long way to go still and no mount to carry me there fast”, he said. At this, the man of the East sitting beside him, replied: “I need the water to deliver it in the next town where a young maiden is lying sick with pox fever!” But the man of the South had already raised his voice, “The king of my country is paying every man his weight in gold who will bring him proof of this strange crossroad. I cannot return from my journey without this!” To which the man of the West was only shaking his head, “No. The water belongs to me. I arrived here first and I might as well kill my horse without any water to refresh him and ease his mind.”
    And so a great argument arose among the four about who had more claim to the water and whose were the best reasons. As their quarrel dragged on, the sun began the second part of her day’s journey while the cup on the table remained untouched. All the while, quietly and unnoticed, the water within started fading away.

    It was near dusk when the shriek of a strange night bird woke the four travellers to their surroundings. Only then they realized with a shock and gasp that the water had evaporated completely from their midst. The man of the North rose furiously from his seat, eyeing the three others with seeming disgust – “Now I will have to shorten my road and miss half of my journey!”. – “I should have left the water to you three. A great deal of good has this fighting done me”, the man of the East murmured gravely. The man of the South was already on his feet, “Wish I had grabbed the cup quickly while you were quarrelling and ridden fast for my homeland!”. Only after a longer silence did the man of the West add with the darkest stare: “I should have slit your throats. That way, one of us would have some water”, he hissed before leaving the table.

    And with that the four travellers turned their backs on each other, leaving the great crossroad behind. Each was bound for his own destination, following down a different road, in his own pace. Soon their dark silhouettes were lost on the horizon, fading into the distant lands beyond, towards a different life, a different future.

    On crossroads and gamer blood types

    There is a strange quality to the atmosphere of crossroads. For a moment it seems as if we were indeed stood at the middle of the world, the middle of all things – and that everything is possible from there. Life is holding its breath as we consider the options before us. We can almost hear the distant rolling of our destiny. There is magic here, in allegory if not always in reality.

    In online worlds more than ever, the player becomes the traveller. We are drawn towards the unknown that’s waiting at each bend of the road. We are the master of our steps. Every now and then, we chance upon another adventurer, sometimes to share a part of our journey, sometimes to part ways soon enough. Most of the time, we don’t get to know who the other person is, where he is from and where he’s going.

    I’ve always been fascinated by gamer archetypes. No doubt most MMO players have heard and maybe taken the famous Bartle Test based on Richard Bartle, in search of a basic attempt to categorize their own playstyle in comparison to others. And while there is a lot more to be said about such categories and there are many more, complex aspects and variables factoring into a personal gamer profile, it is not a bad way to define four larger groups of players and player motivations. Most of all, there is a basic truth to be found here that we easily forget when we discuss our wishes and preferences. A truth that we might not even consider to be a reason for more fundamental disagreements between ourselves and other players; be it that we loathe skipping parts of a dungeon in a party, be it that we come to entirely different conclusions on our blogs sometime. We are different; and this reaches a lot further than just the mere subject of subjectivity, or things like demographic and external factors. We come from a different place and we are headed into a different direction. Everything we discover on the way, we look at with different eyes. We might simply not share the same gamer “blood type”.

    It is an intriguing thought that more than anything else, it is fundamentally diverging intrinsics that present MMO developers with their greatest design challenges. While many aspects of game design can be discussed objectively and only leave room for few or even one best solution, different gamer blood types are an inevitable fact, an undeniable reality to deal with.

    When I took the Bartle Test for the first time, I was surprised at the accuracy of my result. Sure, the questionnaire is rather straightforward and predictable in places – that’s not really the point though. I never attempted to profile myself or my gaming buddies in such a way before. We always knew there were discrepancies in our playstyles here and there, but we never thought to try and pin them down in such fashion, evaluating basic mindsets and outlook. The test was a good laugh too, and a lot got clearer as each of us received a spot on analyzis. I can say for myself that my outcome couldn’t be truer, especially in terms of percentage spread.

    The test never gets old. Now that we see so many interesting, basic discussions on MMO design while an increasing part of the audience is turning away from WoW, I feel it has regained some significance. If you’ve never taken it, I suggest you have a go sometime out of curiosity if nothing else. It’s not too long and a fun thing to do on a boring Monday morning. Maybe it will sharpen your sense for other people you play with in MMOs a little, be it a guild mate or simply random acquaintance, and remind you that while the water on the table cannot be denied, we all want it for different reasons and to do different things.

    As for the achiever, killer, socializer and explorer in my little tale – I leave it to you to spot them.

    Musings on time and travel

    Time is an interesting thing. Such fixed a measure, the same amount of time can pass in a heartbeat or seem like an ordeal that will never end. When there’s a busy day of work ahead, the same time that usually has you listening to the monotonous clicking of the clock for hours will fly by like a sudden breeze. On the other hand, a week full on activities and new impressions will feel much longer a span; when you do absolutely nothing for days on end, the blessed holidays will be over in one dull series of waking up and closing your eyes. Time is paradoxical like that.

    When I journeyed to southern Ireland a good two weeks ago, I was reminded of that interesting quality of time – the way our individual perception of it can change and its (at least) dual nature. My partner and I don’t fly, as in we don’t use airplanes. I have flown a few times before as a teenager, but never again after college. As for him, he wouldn’t get close a “flying prison” if his life depended on it. As a consequence, we travel by car, train, bus, bike and on foot which suits me fine really because I never particularly enjoyed 10’000 meters above ground and as a child my parents never took us anywhere by airplane either. So, while there are personal and environmental reasons for both of us, I simply like traveling the long road. I like to know where I’m going – I like to experience it, feel it, smell it. The journey is at least half of why I even bother going anywhere and I find an almost meditative repose for myself in being on the road. It’s when I’m usually at my most creative too.

    The whole journey took us around 26 hours (one way) including several breaks and two ferries. We were appointed to meet two friends there who live close to us and made the journey by plane, therefore embarking a day later. What was a very long drive for us, multiple coffee breaks and an eventually rather stiff neck, was one people’s magazine and two rounds of soda for them in an air-conditioned seat. And yet, when we finally arrived at the B&B with them waving in the drive-way, I thought how weird it must have felt to wait for us and miss out on things we had gone through to arrive at exactly the same place. Maybe (most probably) it was just me who noticed it though; we just had so much more to tell and show for. Like some of the most brilliant coastways we had passed through on the way. Like riding one of the fastest Catamaran ferries of Europe (feeling seasick and then overjoyed to feel solid ground under your feet once more). Meeting that lovely old couple who would tell us about their long life of travels together. Driving through a tunnel far below the ocean. Smelling the increasingly salty sea breeze as you approach the first coast line. Feeling the spray on your face with anticipation. I would not trade that for the world.

    We saw so many things on the way, the journey felt fast although it wasn’t. All the while our friends “saved time” by skipping the road; yet they ended up at exactly the same point as us and they hadn’t really benefited on the extra time either. If anything, they spent more time waiting before the go, staring at a suitcase and then checking out the area a bit while they waited for us. They certainly had nothing to tell when we met up. Which ultimately brought me to the following conclusion: we gain no time by saving time. Subjectively speaking, we stretch time by filling it and thus feeling fulfilled or at least active. Cutting things short has the opposite effect: eventually we feel like we did nothing at all, simply because we experienced less and our perception of time feels shorter. The more time you “save”, the less time you feel you’ve had. Mostly because you cannot treat time like some currency: just because you save time now, doesn’t mean you’ll make good/better use of it later or beforehand, it doesn’t quite work that way. At best, it’s a trade-off between definite opportunities and potential ones. Meanwhile, time keeps flowing without pause. Really, we might as well enjoy our travels, inside and outside our virtual homes.

    Anyway, I am back now.

    Good is good enough. Or: a case for pioneering

    Yesterday, Hugh over at the MMO Melting Pot summarized a little wildfire that’s currently spreading since WoW’s latest patch: the whole weekly Valor Point cap deal after 4.2. We can probably most agree that Blizzard’s continued effort to undermine the status of raiding in WoW is deplorable – on a more general note though, it was another old friend of mine piquing my interest in some of the debates: the ever-returning topic of gear. To be more precise, the importance of gear as a factor in beating WoW’s encounters.

    Gnomeaggedon just had a similar article up, interestingly enough on PVP, yet with the same underlying issue: the fixation some players have with gearscore, item levels or stats in WoW. In WoW of all MMOs, that most flexible and accessible game of them all. Reading how his otherwise no doubt friendly and decent new guildie made a fool out of himself in BG chat, I cringed a little – people still really do this, huh.. Asking for your gearscore before a 5man run? An achievement before inviting you to a lousy pickup raid? Comparing meters? Ragequitting over purples?


    Were we ever that young?

    I am no stranger to progress drive or perfectionist mindset. I even sympathize a little with WoW players hopelessly lost in compulsive gear-rush-limbo. I used to be like that myself, a long time ago when 40mans were new and raiding was a more elitist club. Back in pink vanilla, everyone believed gear was where it’s all at. To be fair, we had more reasons to believe so too. People sported their shinies around AH bridge in Ironforge and oh, did those epics tell a story! For one thing because not everyone else and his sixth alt’s cousin had them, for another because it took a long time and 39 more people to get you that set. Enchants were few and precious, there was no jewelcrafting, no inscription, no reforging, no endless list of consumables and buffs. You really wanted a decent arrangement of gear and many encounters were rather unforgiving when it came to certain stats or resistances. So, we chased our purples eagerly from Stratholme to Molten Core, from Blackwing Lair to Naxxramas.

    Then along came the Burning Crusade and we slowly began to smell the rat. Gear popped up from every corner, at increasing speed. Hardly a second to enjoy a completed set of Tiers, BOOM the next would follow – better, shinier, more purple than your purple! Then, there were suddenly all these craftable epics, some of them just as good or better than raid rewards. Plus cheap, welfare badge epics that would do the job just as well. As if all that wasn’t enough off the attunements went – in the talent and stat buffs came, in the content nerfs towards the end of the first expansion. More gear thrown at you, more gear than you could hope to wear in a hundred years. It was like purple Christmas at the shopping mall. And with the loot choice curve rising steep, another curve began to fall rapidly: the significance of specific items towards progress.

    That’s when I finally had enough, somewhere at T6. I had this disturbing image in my mind, of myself as a donkey chasing a pixel carrot that Blizzard kept replacing faster and faster. I felt foolish and ridiculous. Not just that, I spent loads of time grinding epics just so they were a wee bit better than more accessible alternatives. Ridiculous. On our way to Black Temple, it was popular belief that you needed a complete mix of T5 and T6 to beat Illidan. Short time later, we saw Nihilum’s world first killshot with half their squad posing in Karazhan gear and craftables among the odd BT set item. Pardon? You need what? Ridiculous…

    I still collected gear sets later on, make no mistake; I love gear from a cosmetic point of view, always have, and a Deputy GM can’t run around in rags. But I had come a far, far way from the rushing, pushing and obsessing over gear being the determining factor for Adrenaline’s progress. Bosses don’t rise and fall over blue gems or 20 more intellect on a trinket. If you think they do, maybe you’re looking for solutions in the wrong place? Especially with the complexity some boss encounters have gained over time in WoW, there are far bigger, more tide-turning challenges for a team than collecting the best possible gear at the highest possible speed. Gear is not performance and it never wins that duel (they make a good team though).

    If it makes you feel more secure about your own performance or if you enjoy the maximizing frenzy, that’s one thing and knock yourself out. However, as long as you’re not in the sort of guild that raids for, y’know money or something and just needs to progress as fast as humanly possible, it does not matter if your gearscore is XX10 or XX50 and it won’t ruin a run if you didn’t upgrade medium Tier epic to super Tier epic. You can still be competitive and you can still progress at decent speed.

    The min-maxing, the cookie cutting, the lengthy preparations – they are self-imposed. Let’s say it together: self-imposed. We’ve been through this before: Blizzard never forced their playerbase to min-max so extremely, it’s the players who choose to do it and tolerate all sorts of drudgery in return. The thing is, the list of all things you can always “possibly do better” is endless.

    Good is good enough

    A long while back, Tessy wrote a follow-up post on a not so unlike debate at the time – healers using healing addons (or not). And she nailed easily what was an embarrassing show-off in other places: if it works for you, it works for you. If you’re good with addons, you’re good. If you’re just as good without them, you’re just as good. It’s the outcome that matters and outcome is a collective term for a multitude of aspects that need to coincide. Especially in a team of 10 to 25 people.

    Now for argument’s sake, if you really, really wanted to go there; well, then I’d say you’ve got guts for doing stuff with less – less preread strategy, less buffs, less gear, smaller numbers. Assuming that’s what challenges or entertains you. In terms of outcome though, it’s completely beside the point. A little harder, “cooler”, more “oldschool” (or whatever you wanna call it) doesn’t equal better or smarter – it only means you’re doing it differently. We can allow ourselves a bit of “private vanity” sure, as long as we don’t mistake our way for the one way.

    Outcome is what counts. The rest is attempts to socially distinguish yourself or get a kick. I’ll admit freely to some ego myself, but I do know it when I see it (it’s bloated that way). I know my inner demons too, I don’t take them too seriously. The times I went overboard with my private perfectionism in WoW were when I wanted to, not because it was required. I didn’t speed race to exalted in Silithus (:trauma:) for that epic mace and offhand because Benediction wasn’t good enough. I did it because too many people had the yellow staff and I was a vain priest with too much time on her hands.

    In my lengthy writeup on healing coordination a while back, I put emphazis on not telling other healers how to play their class. As long as they achieved their assignments consistently, I could not care less how they did it. And I hold to that lesson. My perfect raid team is a team where I do not have to adjust or check a single person’s spell rotation, gear or talent choices. You don’t second-guess what’s working. That goose might stop laying golden eggs.

    My challenge, your challenge

    Progressing through WotLK 25man, we often outgeared content we beat in my guild. I dreaded these kind of kills, such a lacking glory it was to challenge a boss in epics from head to toe when it was manageable with much less. I’m all for being well-prepared and knowing your strategy; but I actually love encounters that force you down on your knees. When your team needs to click like a well-oiled machine, when it’s all about individual performance, knowing your class in and out, situational awareness, reflexes, perfect coordination and communication. Funny enough, that’s usually also when people have more tolerance for each others mistakes than the pro geared and overconfident bunch.

    Ain’t no victory like the victory of the underdog, carrying the trophy home, be it in PVE or PVP. It’s those kills we never ever forget. I’d say too, it’s when your team’s true colors show in all their shades, the way you can otherwise never tell. For similar reasons, some players attempt 2-manning content that is meant to be 5-manned. Or show up with 8 instead of 10 peeps. They want to test how much they can achieve, how far they can go together. Test the limits, raise the stakes – not lower them.

    And that’s why the VP rush for Firelands strikes me as bizarre: players are supposed to have all that gear now BEFORE they even put foot in a brand new instance? Says who? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

    Don’t believe a word they say

    I should mention that I don’t exclusively blame WoW’s playerbase for the optimization mania. Blizzard have had their share over the years, implementing features like the armory and designing the game to allow for such an approach. Still, you’re ultimately in control of your choices and I hope you farm 5mans for epics every day because it’s fun, not because you think you need rewards badly that will be outdated come next patch. Time and again Blizzard, the webforums or the blessed people of hearsay have tried to intimidate us by naming benchmarks, required specs or setups, “what you really need” and “what you really cannot do” to beat certain encounters.

    You know what: we’ll see about that. In Molten Core, they told us there was NO WAY we could raid without protection specced tanks. We had zero, up to Nefarian. They told us we couldn’t use offspec healers when they were our majority, all our stubborn feral druids healing in resto gear and several shadow priests healing along with their Benedictions up (another proof of how gear mattered a bit more in WoW 1.0.). Next, they told us how we really needed so and so much fire resistance for Ragnaros. Right. Towards the end of vanilla WoW, all the cool kids went straight to AQ40 first, because  “No way you can do Naxx before AQ!” Thank god we were such rebels…we’d never have experienced original Naxxramas 40 otherwise. You can keep your fugly Tier 2.5 to yourself, thank you very much.

    Please, do me a favour: go see for yourself. Whatever someone else is telling you, take it with a pinch of salt. Consider too maybe how long the next content patch’s away. Do your best, but don’t let yourself be fooled or intimidated by talk and so-called guidelines. WoW’s not a perfectionist’s game, WoW is designed for a mainstream audience to enjoy. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re actually at the upper end of that mainstream. Good preparation is cool by all means, “good” preparation. The rest you can make up by other means, either setup/design-given or simply because you can or dare. I’ve gone through 21 years of what I’d like to call successful education and academia with a devil-may-care minimalist attitude and a great deal of Calvin. It works for MMOs too. Don’t feel rushed and don’t feel pressured to go along with whatever’s the latest, hysterical trend on the streets.

    Do the wild thing: “TRY ANYWAY”.

    Try and see. Talk later. You know, adventuring and stuff. You will never know how far you can go without trying. Be foolhardy, be reckless, be a pioneer.

    Be full of spite. 

    P.S. In reference to my post title, I should probably give credits to Cynwise’s comment in another article on the matter. Happy following up and remember to keep it together!