Category Archives: Guild Wars2

[GW2] Just can’t get their throat stuffed

Back from summer break, which I spent castle hunting and aching from bike tours, I was reluctantly excited for the Bazaar of the Four Winds update in GW2 which follows ANet’s recent announcement of aiming for bi-weekly content patches in the future. Yep, that sounds wild – and you’ve heard it here first! Really, it’s a rare thing when a MMO developer goes and fulfills what you’ve wished for specifically on your blog in the past. That has me convinced I need to continue my wishlist category!

In the end however it’s not just the frequency of new content that matters. Is it content? – Or is it rather that someone at ANet just can’t seem to get their throat stuffed on back items?


Ye shiny graphics, they don’t fool me.

GW2: The Magic Formula

As you arch an eyebrow at above expression, let me elaborate: it’s a liberty I am taking on this here blog from time to time that I literally translate sayings and idioms over from my native tongue. Every now and then there’s an expression just too perfect and impossible to translate adequately – and in this case it’s GW2 (and other MMOs for that matter) just not getting enough already of the same item-grinds and achievements. Are we there yet? Do we have enough yet?

Seems not. They can’t get their throat stuffed (or full) of the same old or maybe it’s really what the player base wants. I don’t know – it’s not like anyone is allowed to complain much about an essentially free-to-play MMO but then, I’ll keep doing it. Personally, I find it highly insulting that we aren’t only grinding items and achievements with every new “content patch” but the same items! Welcome to GW2’s magic event formula: new weapon and armor skins, new back items, mini-games and jumping puzzles! Oh and that last one is all around you this time because the friggin’ bazaar is sky-borne! I have been to one of the world’s biggest, most famed and wondrous bazaars: it was dark, cramped and stuffy, like a city’s underbelly maze. I would’ve preferred this a hundred times over to the lofty acrobatics required to get to the Bazaar of the Four Winds – but nomen est omen so doh @self!

Magic formula ranting aside, I am still looking for the actual content here. My first impressions are bitter and sarcastic (I’m sure you needed this update) but Syp is having fun and so I shall give this investigation some more time. I understand that several achis are linked to an event further down the line, so maybe I can bring myself to care about that. That said, I am starting to take grim pride in the pitiful amount of achievement points I’ve accumulated on my character so far (which apparently is going to disadvantage me now too); it’s one of the more bizarre side-effects this current generation of MMOs has had on me that I am developing inverted snobbery where things like gear or achievements are concerned. Achieving nothing is the new purple!

Anyway, there’s apparently a “best dive” achievement for this event that sounds right up my alley. Nothing feels more adequate than throwing yourself off a high cliff in desperation after facing even more back items and jumping puzzles! Fingers crossed my PC won’t crash again as my character swan-dives from 10’000 feet altitude. Geronimooo!

Battle Bards – Episodes #5 & #6: Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar

For those who have noticed MMO Gypsy looking slightly different over the past few days, the blog was undergoing some scrutiny by the hoster due to recent commenting issues (readers reporting that comments were lost to 404 errors). The good news: this issue appears to be fixed now! Hooray!


Since my last musical reporting, the Battle Bards have ventured forth once more – nay in fact twice more – waxing lyrical on the beautiful soundtrack of Guild Wars 2 and more recently on the exciting genre fusion that makes the music in upcoming AAA-MMORPG Wildstar. It is a particularly interesting challenge to talk about tracks before a game has even released, being unable to place them inside the game. Do we even dare to assess a soundtrack without first-hand knowledge of the complete opus?

Well, we sure did and being offered the great opportunity to have composer Jeff Kurtenacker on the podcast, we made sure to get as much info on the creative process of scoring for Wildstar as possible! Not just that, Jeff introduced two to-that-date unreleased tracks on the show which proved to be my personal favorites – so make sure to check out Episode #6 for some exclusive Wildstar teasin’!

Wildstar and why I don’t like the Explorer path

Just when I thought I was pretty much not going to play Wildstar this year, Zenimax Online dropped the bomb and announced that The Elder Scrolls Online release date would be pushed back to spring 2014, to meet the launch date of Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation consoles. That’s one of the many things this “MMOs go console”-trend is gonna do for us in the future: delay stuff. Porting to different systems, creating individual interfaces and testing everything cross-platform takes time. Well, great. If it meant that the MMO community is growing, I could probably live with that but since servers will be split between different systems, there’s not really an upside there for PC players other than that Zenimax make more money (which will hopefully go back into designing great, future content updates).

So…Wildstar. A while ago I mentioned that no doubt this is a polished game with a good shot at the World of Warcraft demography. Since then, Carbine have been pretty open about it too – yes, we’re coming for ya, Blizzard! Only, we have the updated questing system and awesome player housing, along with all the PG-rated candyland. The latter is still one of my biggest qualms with the game: I am so over the Warcraft cartoon aesthetic. I do greatly appreciate the maturity in MMOs like Age of Conan or LOTRO, Rift and GW2 too are on my good side even if slightly more to the center of that Venn diagram. Wildstar shoots the hyper-fantasy rocket into deep space where it crashes somewhere between Outland and a Pixar movie. This is certainly no sword&sorcery MMO. But I digress.


Feeling the Explorer path

Carbine’s spin on the Bartle profiles is interesting and if I was to choose a path for myself, no doubt that would be the explorer’s. Or such would’ve been my initial reaction because y’know – wandering around at random is awesome, listening to the world, discovering secrets and taking the long road whenever possible. Only, that’s not really what exploration means every time.

It struck me that while exploration has been widely praised in GW2 (and justly so), it’s also one of the most popularly gamified activities in the entire game. Players say exploration and mean “climbing all vistas”, hitting all pre-marked (!) points, “doing all jumping puzzles”, “getting the 100% achievement”. See that there? – Not me! I couldn’t care less if my world map is complete in GW2, I’ve a feeling it’s currently somewhere around 60% and that’s with me playing since launch. When I explore I don’t set out to find every last corner of a zone, let alone doing silly jumping puzzles. Oh, how I hate them. I want to smell the flowers and go wherever chance takes me. As for “mapping the world” –

“…there’s nothing worse to me than a world that’s fully discovered, fully mapped and fully understood. The moment we draw the last line in that picture is the moment we limit our world, the moment where it becomes small and finite – when hypothesis and speculation become hard fact and there is no more ‘may be’.

To a traveler and explorer “finishing a world” is the death of his playstyle. I want to stand at the shore of the southern sea and wonder forever what may lie beyond.” [source]

What am I gonna do once I’ve mapped the entire world? Let’s not map it!

Now, seems to me Wildstar’s explorer sounds an awful lot like exploration in GW2. The shiny somewhat wishy-washy job descriptions on the official page can’t conceal what gets very obvious in this explorer showcase or devspeak: climby vista-missions and timed (!) scavenger hunts, power maps (more jumping), achievements, completionism…on the clock.

To clarify: I realize that achievements can be a great motivator for some players to go and travel the world at all, although I can’t judge how much they are actually seeing and exploring it when they’re out hunting marks. In any case, that makes me wonder about two things: a) Is this path for people who are already explorers (and therefore need no achievements as ‘incentives’) or is it just another coat of paint for the achiever? And b) What’s in it for me who finds achievement spam, event markers and countdowns obtrusive to the exploratory experience rather than helpful?

Of course that begs one more question, namely what the hell I was expecting and I guess that’s fair. Exploration being such an intrinsically motivated activity for me of almost meditative quality, there’s just no active setting up or instrumentalizing this in an MMO, the way the devs would like to. Explorers like me need a living, breathing open world first and foremost, one that doesn’t flaunt its riches and doesn’t scream at you but offers reward in terms of discovering secrets and random events. Proper scale and size matter too, extensive travel and eye candy – plenty of that. It’s especially nice if you can “do” things – leave a mark, create or change something no matter how small (how would player-created geocaching do in MMOs I wonder?). What I’d like to see too is literally drawing your own maps instead of getting world map view all the time.

I’d be up for more erring in general; it’s bizarre beyond words that designers spend years creating virtual worlds and then hand you all the maps, event/location markers and even lists of “what you can do there” (aka achievements) from the get-go. And then they wonder why it all lasted a few weeks only.

Anyway, my preferred modus operandi isn’t nearly enough for a fully fledged, gamified playstyle with tangible progression and rewards, I get it. So for now the big question of which path to pick in Wildstar is back on the table. I’ll probably have to do the usual: “force” my inner explorer on any given path. It appears Settler is quite en vogue, so maybe I should just roll Kill…err Soldier out of spite and blow up all those jumping puzzles they no doubt created.

Off the Chest: E3 console wars, more GW2 events and Rift going F2P


Summer has finally found its way to my place which is why this week was generally dedicated to sudden-heat-lethargy and watching E3 streams until late, late into the night. Morning really. And how much fun that was when my entire twitterverse was watching the big Sony reveal this last Tuesday “together” – booing (who cares about the PS Vita?), cheering and mostly snickering for good reason.

E3: Revival of the Console Wars

It wasn’t hard to leverage on Microsoft’s recent lapses in regard to their Xbox ONE policies and general marketing angle, but Sony literally crushed their direct competitor at this year’s E3 in the notable absence of a Nintendo conference, leaving out nothing and taking shameless stabs at what the vocal public conceived as MS’ greatest transgressions. Sharing and always-online DRM issues aside, MS seemed to try appeal to a surprisingly limited demography and didn’t blow anyone away hoping for at least some diversity in terms of game leads in upcoming launch titles – an oversight that led Spinks to coin the term “XBrone”. E3 female protagonist spotlights: MS: zero / Sony: two.


Transistor, feat. Squalla Leonheart

Sony started their two-hour press conference stating how their target audience were video gamers first and foremost. From there, everything was a well-orchestrated and calculated effort of showing why the PS4 was the more appealing (and affordable) product for a wider gaming audience – men, women, casuals, hardcores, offliners, onliners, indie game lovers. And that last point makes a lot of sense; who in their right mind would leave the rising indie game market to platforms like Steam without a fight?

Sony delivered a political masterpiece at this E3, quick and not so subtle. Yet, as pointed out in this interesting article on buzzfeed, some of the fanboyism stirred by the console staredown feels gravely out of proportion. It bears reading the fine-print in Sony’s press conference. The PS4 isn’t marketed the way it is because they’re trying to win the BFF contest. In the end, we’re dealing with companies looking to maximize profits or as the article states “Sony versus Microsoft is not good versus evil. It’s money versus money”. To believe the XBox ONE is “done” at this point would be naive as we’re only standing at the beginning of a years-to-come battle for market shares. All the while, Nintendo is smiling because they’re likely going to “win” again anyway.

All that said, if I was to buy a next-generation console, it would most definitely be the PS4. As a commenter at buzzfeed observed, the PS4 is positioning itself as a diverse platform with a spirit for art and smaller projects (need I say Journey?) while being more inclusive to mature titles. Also: Square-Enix and Last Guardian hoping!

GW2 goes Dragon Bash

ArenaNet continue their ludicrous speed of releasing new mini-content and sadly also their penchant for inconsistent quality. Between wacky Halloween and a rather sobering Lost Shores event, the great Living Story and back-to-more-Karkas Darksun Cove update, I find myself presented with a lot more of the same at Dragon Bash and horribly mislead by what sounded like such an exciting new addition to the game. More mighty dragons to shoot down from the sky  – more massive outdoor content? YES please! No?

This leads me to formulate the following GW2 events formula: a ton of achievements which can be finished in one or two days, more slightly frustrating arena-based minigames, random drops of something in a box, oh and back items and weapon skins! I can barely restrain myself. Also, dragon piñatas – now where have I heard that before?


Yeah, maybe not!

Rift entering the F2P scene

Trion have officially given their free-to-play debut this June 12th and much will yet be discussed about how well they’ve made the switch, implemented ingame shops and most importantly, just how much (or how) that changes the general direction of the game – because that was going so well before. Positive as I remain on this matter, I’d like to think that not all that much will change for Telara as we’ve also seen with other MMOs going F2P half-way through in the past (as opposed to MMOs actually designed around the concept).

Belghast is one of the first to comment on his “new” Rift experiences and a rather enthusiastic early adopter by the looks. No doubt there are right and wrong ways to realize F2P in MMOs and as someone who wants to see games like Rift survive rather than disappear from the face of the market, I hope more people will follow in his general footsteps.

[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!

[GW2] The Three-fold Cosmetics Fail

I love the Super Adventure Box in Guild Wars 2, I really do – but this needs to stop! –


So, there are new vests available in the gemstore and I don’t even wanna know. The only emotional response I have to such announcements by now is seeing the Simpson’s infamous “See my vest, see my vest” play down before my inner eye. Besides the underwhelming variety of cosmetics in general, the ingame shop has seen no additions worth mentioning between the temporary Halloween costumes and Quaggan/Charr backpacks since the beginning in August 2012. Remember some of the GW2 “shop panic” pre-launch? Yeah, that was a waste of time!

Now granted, the shop has been a bit more active of late; there are the SAB mini-pets and items that will finally let you redo the overall looks and hairstyle of your character. You know, what’s usually called a barber shop in other games. Oh and they added one more epic piece of gear to the store in 2013: hoodies! Yep, you heard that right. The armor designers at ANet have gone completely wild with this one –

These come in three different colors, one of which is an unidentifiable mesh of grey and brown, although why you wouldn’t re-dye is beyond me (but then, if you actually paid money on this already who knows what else you’ll do). They’re about as exciting as the riding pants which have also been added recently – not at all.

This isn’t even funny anymore. I actually love playing with looks in MMOs, so this mess is just tragic. And I just don’t get it! Let’s get this straight: we are talking about a visually stunning, fantasy MMO epic where players, myself included, generally run around looking like this:


Yes, so much yes! And in which conceivable, parallel reality would I ever consider wearing one of those lackluster, plain boring hoodies instead of the badass royal armor composition above?? That’s not the worst of it though because TOWN CLOTHES!

Cosmetics gone wrong, Chapter #2: Introducing town clothes

My character currently possesses two pieces of town clothes which I was given via promotional code by other players. Both items are ANet “fan attire”, displaying the red dragon logo in an attempt of ingame merchandising – because you need to promote GW2 to those who have already bought it. The pieces are extremely ugly (not to mention immersion breaking) so needless to say, I never ever display them and why on earth would I? I’ve mentioned it before and it bears repeating: town clothes are the most inane and failed attempt at cosmetic gear ever! This is where you will find consensus across the board: nobody thinks it’s fun to have cosmetics you can only ever wear inside cities! A great deal of players won’t spend money on such items. Simply put, ANet is losing a big avenue of additional income by under-using their shop and also using it the wrong way. My 850 gems (which I transferred via cash, not ingame gold) have been rotting in the market tab since last year. Why does this company not want to sell me anything?

Cosmetics used to be a big deal in Guild Wars, especially considering the lack of high-level gear progression. I was probably not alone in the assumption that GW2 was going to be similar. I stand corrected and vastly surprised. ANet’s poor attempts at adding to the gemstore since launch can only be interpreted as an equal lack of enthusiasm or inspiration for the whole thing, so maybe we get lucky and they remove the town clothes feature already and let players finally go wild on their combat gear. Anything else bespeaks an ongoing lack of understanding of your customer base.

What I do wonder at this point too is this: did ANet shoot themselves in the foot by also allowing ingame gold to be converted to gems? Is this why they put no effort in offering more interesting items on the market?

Cosmetics gone wrong, Chapter #3: Introducing Transmutation

Unfortunately we’re not quite done with the cosmetics gripes. GW2 has possibly the worst approach to armor skin-transfer (of non-town clothes) I have ever seen. I’m not kidding. Anything, from WoW’s transmogging to the simplest and best of solutions, the cosmetic tabs in Rift or LOTRO, is preferable to the transmutation system in GW2. In case you missed it, transmuting items in order to give one the look of the other, always results in the loss of one involved item! If you are matching stats of item a (which would be your best combat gear for example) with the looks of item b (a new skin you received), you will irrevocably lose item a as far as looks go. Tough luck if you kinda liked them both and were only looking for a bit of diversity!

Again, this makes no sense to me. Not only is the system hurting collectors (by far not all skins are easily acquirable or cheap), it’s reducing armor variety in a game that already has very few sets to choose from compared to its predecessor. If there’s something GW2 currently could use more of it’s epic cosmetic armor and not more urban hoodies! If I wanted to dress up in street-wear in MMOs, I’d be playing The Secret World (and be much happier with my choices there)!

“Dear Armor Designers at ArenaNet”

I think you created a fantastic, visually stunning game. Not just that, it’s subscription-free and nobody is complaining about featuring an item store in a game like yours – only seems fair. When it comes to your approach to gear and cosmetics however, you are currently missing out and bigtime. Here’s why: there’s plenty of people in your player base who…

  • Care for cosmetics, like variety and would love to hang on to and collect gear
  • Are happy to pay extra money for great cosmetics
  • Would actually want to wear their cosmetics (not just in towns)

MMO players are incredibly imaginative and enthusiastic when it comes to making their characters look unique and different. There are countless webpages dedicated to nothing else. Many players will go to great lengths to acquire new skins, trade skins, update skins. Gear looks are a source of fun, pride and recognition value in MMOs.

And also this: beautiful, eye-catching cosmetics and Guild Wars 2 go together like chocolate and coffee. They are literally meant to be! So, can we please have some consistency here? Thank you!

GW2 Appreciation Day. Or: The seven months Recap

It’s been seven months to this day since Guild Wars 2 launched somewhat rocky in August 2012, and ever since players have argued just how much genre evolution has in fact taken place with this title. How much has GW2 truly pushed MMO design forward? Over half a year later there is more meat to such analysis.

I will never forget the heated discussions preceding this launch or some of the emotions flying high in the blogosphere. Hardly ever do unreleased games invoke such passionate argument between nay- and yay-fronts. Arenanet’s bold statements and promises for GW2 managed to provoke even the most level-headed genre veterans. So, you are talking of better days?- Well, you better prove it! Any developer can wax lyrical over their unreleased product of course. Yet, here and there this recent twitter observation rang true: “Pessimism is the natural state of the MMO gamer.” We like to complain a lot – but oh, beware of promising us improvement! If it sounds too good to be true that’s probably because it isn’t.

Or was it? Scary is taking the opportunity today to muse on the state of GW2 and what he is thankful for to ANet. Personally, I concur that there is much that GW2 has done for me and that I believe will shape MMOs to come. Seven months later, it is still part of my weekly MMO diet. There are also things however that did not turn out as well as I had hoped. So, while this is by all means an appreciation topic, I will cover all bases in a short recap.

Getting the bad out of the way

I think it’s safe to say that WvW did not deliver on my personal Alterac Valley dreams. Others have already analyzed in great detail all that went wrong in ANet’s three-faction PvP conflict model, preventing it from becoming a source of constant, passionate strife and server pride. As much as I wanted to engage in WvW, even after joining a PvP guild and seeing my server hit #1 on the EU ladder, my flame for this part of the game was sadly never kindled.

I have recently commented on why I feel let down by the subtle change from GW2’s open world no-grind (or at least missing item-centricity) premise, to what has become an endless grind for gear, tokens and daily achievements. ANet feeling pressured to re-introduce these features in lieu of non-existent endgame is probably my biggest GW2 qualm right now, closely followed by their lack of preparing an ingame grouping tool or at least global channel. While player initiatives such as gw2lfg are laudable, I am still at utter disbelief over this.

Other than that, the biggest surprise would be the miss-happen (under-)usage of the item store and inane approach to cosmetic gear (town clothes /eyeroll). If there’s a thing I expected this MMO to do well, it would’ve been cosmetics. But browsing the shop seven months later, one could think ANet do not actually want our money, much to their loss.

Leaving a mark on the MMO map

In spite of few serious short-comings, I consider GW2 a smashing success – and over 2 million box sales are not what I’m referring to. There is no doubt in my mind that GW2 did achieve some of the most important innovations and changes that it originally set out to do. This will and already has had impact on games yet to come.

So, in the spirit of appreciation day, here’s what I thank ANet for:

  • For proving once and for all, despite all doubt and suspicion, that MMOs can feature classic combat without role restrictions and holy trinity. I always believed in this particular feature and wasn’t let down.
  • For introducing a score of varied outdoor events and revolutionizing the fetch&delivery grind of mainstream MMOs.
  • For featuring an active MMO combat with exciting weapon combinations that feel different for every class.
  • For breaking up level progression and keeping to a flat leveling curve.
  • For de-cluttering the MMO UI and keeping a small health bar.
  • For a high level of gear customization in terms of armor dyes.
  • For curvy Norn ladies with proper booty and some of the most consistent, achieved race design in Charr, Asura and Sylvari.
  • For massive outdoor dragon encounters (even if they could be more difficult)
  • And last but far from least: the most stunning, beautiful, inspiring and shamelessly magical MMO world and aesthetic up to date – on land as much as under water. If that wasn’t enough, you also got Jeremy Soule to seal the deal and irrevocably hook you to the wonder that is Tyria.


I’ve seen some discussions of late on why graphics don’t matter and how we should return to pixels because that made for better games; I couldn’t disagree more. Graphics are not what makes or breaks an MMO – but give me a great game with GW2’s graphics and vividness on top and I remain your faithful customer forever more. Accomplished design and sound effects are the delicious sugar on every MMO cake.

Which of the above accomplishments do I suspect to have the greatest impact? No doubt we’ll see increased grouping freedom in future MMOs. Roles will likely return in both Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online, but never again to the extent and inflexibility of past trinity-based AAA-titles.
More active combat is already here; we can see it in Tera and all bigger releases of 2013 feature it in one shape or form. I wouldn’t credit GW2 for this trend too much but its arrival has marked a new era of less formulaic MMO combat. That said, one can still improve on the zerg.

By far the biggest influence of GW2 lies in ANet’s revamped questing and dynamic event model (and yeah, I still call’em dynamic). Probably the most dramatic shift for me personally, GW2 has set a standard that future, western MMOs simply cannot afford to overlook. I can forgive fedex questing in LOTRO – never again though will I settle for a new MMO setting me on an uninspired kill-ten-rats routine. Thank you Arenanet for showing us what can be done!

I’m sure much more could be said for other aspects of GW2, such as crafting or the much debated personal storyline. I leave it to others to judge such matters as I lack the required focus and expertise. I realize too, this didn’t turn out to be such a short recap after all. I trust my readers will forgive me. The short version is that GW2 is the best thing coming my way since World of Warcraft and while being far from perfect, it hasn’t let me down on my biggest hopes and wishes. And for that I raise my hat to Arenanet.

With that, I am off to continue the Living Story. Enjoy your time in Tyria!

Off the Chest: Midlevel and Endgame Grinds no thanks, I rather have a Castle!


My time is currently divided between different games, namely LOTRO, GW2 and Minecraft, which warrants this mixed topic today. While my MC enthusiasm went through a big time revival this past weekend, my LOTRO journey is somewhat stagnant as I fight (and struggle) my way through the early 40ies with the Loremaster – an interesting class I am still enjoying a great deal. As for Guild Wars 2…well, let’s say that relationship has somewhat cooled down of late.

Of midlevel grinds and music in LOTRO

I currently find myself stuck in the dilemma of preferring a musical performance in Bree over returning to my quest hub in the Misty Mountains. While progress was smooth on the Loremaster for the first 30 levels or so, things started getting sluggish in Trollshaws which is a beautiful map with wonderful music, but also features highly annoying ravines to navigate and badly paced quests. To add salt to the wound, you don’t get any swift travel to Rivendell before level 40 which pretty much cured me of caring about any of House Elrond’s or Bilbo’s riddle quests. There’s only so many times I can bear riding through the Bruinen and up those hills.

I’ve been told by LOTRO veterans that it’s the mid-levels that really get to you, so I guess that’s what’s happening at the moment. I really want to experience the Moria that Spinks is talking about though and reach the improved gameplay of Rohan which is supposedly a much better compromise between oldschool fedex grind and what we call adventuring in 2013. Still, the next 10 levels will be a drag and require numerous visits to the Prancing Pony (I have established quite a nice track list by now!) in an attempt to restore my sanity.

What needs to be pointed out again at this point: the music feature in LOTRO is the best thing ever! As the Ancient Gaming Noob justly asks, why do not all MMORPGs copy this already? Hellou? There are three great LOTRO features I expect all future games to have at release: player instruments, immersive sound effects and player housing!

My home, my castle

Coming down with the GW2 blues

I’ve mentioned being cranky about the pace at which ArenaNet are fixing some long overdue technicalities. While there is finally armor preview for the market place (and such a revolution it is), you still cannot search your own armor class there – and before you ask, NO you still can’t take screenshots in first person view! I get asked about this a lot when tweeting screenshots; what I do is make my character lie down and pick camera angles accordingly.

However, the small details aren’t really my biggest concern, annoying as they may be. Well-elaborated on by Bhagpuss, there’s a gradual change happening in GW2 that has announced itself some time ago and that’s slowly redirecting the game towards the textbook, endgame gear-grind we know by heart. For someone who was inspired by an open world, non-grind premise, someone who isn’t into farming dungeons, the crafting grind or alting, for someone like me basically, it gets increasingly difficult to find a purpose in Tyria. There is only so much exploration you can do and as I continuously fail to join lasting guilds, running dungeons or fractals with strangers isn’t something I choose to spend time on (as I would not be running them for gear primarily).

What this really shows us is that more open world games also need sandbox elements and tools in the long term – which are sadly missing completely. If ANet added only a few features that LOTRO has for example, that would make a world of difference to me personally. Alas, all I can do at this point is wait for the Living Story to continue, hoping it will evolve into the significant content Wooden Potatoes is referring to. Maybe I should consider guesting?

A Castle in Minecraft

Over a year ago, I burned myself out on Minecraft spending enormous amounts of time on learning everything there was to learn and building a huge fantasy castle up in the sky. Mostly, building that huge castle, really. And how could you not create your dream place in a game that offers that much freedom?

A ton of time and care for details went into that little project; ever since, I wanted to make a documentary of the finished thing but never got around to it. Well, now that all public voice-angst is off the table after Monday’s post, I finally put the full castle tour on youtube and here it is, including a big GEEK ALERT –

I love how much you can do with texture packs in Minecraft. As can probably be told from the video, I am a sucker for interior design; decorating and making places cosy has always been a bit of a thing for me. Back in school as a teen I wrote a paper on why I wanted to become an interior designer. I even went to interview an interior architect for it. Of course I didn’t become a designer after all but it’s still something I revel in when given the opportunity in real life or virtual. I also noticed from many other MC fanvids on youtube that the focus often lies more on the exterior – building whole towns and planning complex, large scale structures which are often somewhat empty inside. I’m exactly the other way around.

I’m happy to finally have this place immortalized for myself and those who helped me build it (mostly chopping away at the big mountain it once was). And maybe someone out there can get some creative ideas out of it after all. Minecraft really is a goldmine when it comes to tapping a player base’s creativity and the wish to spread and share ideas. If only more MMO designers adopted some of its virtues.

P.S. If you got all WoW and other game references in this video, you are just as geeky as I am!

[GW2] Of Lost Shores and Found Hopes

In 2001 when I was still for the most part playing console games, I became enamored with a so-called social simulation game called Animal Crossing on Nintendo’s Gamecube. It was the first of its kind for me and slightly ahead of a time of many more social sim, build-your-house farmville-whatnot type of games to come – even if not necessarily on console. AC was offline and it was mostly a game about building your own little animal town and community, planting different types of plants, collecting bugs and butterflies and digging up fossils for your personal museum. It was typical in triggering collector’s drive but rather evolutionary and unique on several other accounts which kept me playing with a passion. I am not one for pure Sims games; I love decorating my house in Skyrim as much as the next person but I won’t spend weeks doing that same thing in any game.

What AC did in remarkable ways however was introducing a sense of real time to a classic console audience grown with offline and limited session gameplay. Not just that, AC had unqiue (!) events, impact and a sense of punishment that was completely unknown in that time and space continuum. It blew my mind at the time with its merciless “internal clock”. Just few examples of what would regularly happen to you in AC:

    • Numerous seasonal events to be celebrated with the town folk. The events were announced in advance, either on the town board or by gossip you needed to overhear. The events were entirely restricted to a specific date and time frame synched to your console’s system clock.
    • Unpredictable one-time (or very rare) offers of certain NPCs such as the mayor, to re-arrange roads or bridges for you. Appointments where you were ordered to be “at the beach at 5pm next Tuesday evening”.
    • When neglected for too long, your town would be overtaken by wild plant life, your house needed cleaning from vermin and the townspeople would move away for good (sending you angry goodbye letters or rant at you for having been away and never call). AC’s NPCs had the uncanniest AI in general; they would build different types of relationships with you depending on what you did, how you spoke to them or what “you ONCE promised me!”.
    • If trying to trick “game progress” by resetting the console without saving your game, you would be visited by “Mr. Resetti” at your doorstep. While this angry mole would let you off with a very long speech about integrity and morals the first time around, punishment for such behaviour would increase drastically with every consecutive reset. (He actually once repainted my house in puke green!)

…While this might sound trivial by today’s standards, it was absolutely HUGE in 2001, given its platform. I actually put down a note in my school agenda back then so I wouldn’t miss meeting erm, “my town mayor at the beach next Tuesday evening”. Within two weeks I had my room mates thoroughly hooked to AC (and how glad I was the town had room for four player houses).

Today, I think back very fondly on this particular sim title. It introduced a sense of time and impact in a way that only few games did with such limited means. And that gets me to the core of this slowly unfolding argument, on why things like unpredictable or rare events are exciting in games and why MMO players keep talking about missing impact or punishment all the time. The common denominator behind all these features – impact, consequence, punishment, you-name-it – is time. It’s a sense of time passing and progressing. It is what gives things meaning, not just in games but actually in our short-span lives too. All these different features are mere consequences and side-effects of a notion of time flowing; “impact and punishment” are always after-effects. They cannot exist without introducing progressive time in an MMO. They cannot exist in limbo.

Time adds meaning to things because it creates a before and after. This is fundamental for any game world that is designed to simulate, feel alive and authentic. A world where randomness, consequence and lasting effect exist. A world where memorable stuff happens, events happen.

The amazing Mr. Resetti

On the Lost Shores event

I’ll not bore my regular readers by pointing out again how much I applaud ArenaNet for daring to be different and sticking to one-time events after this Halloween. Apparently the outcry after last night has been significant once more but it’s my very personal hope that three time’s going to be a charm and these loud players will have given up after Christmas, moving on to other MMOs catering to their every wish and personal real-life agenda. One more thing I love about a subscription-less MMOs in that context: not feeling the same pressure to constantly “appease the irritated”, turning game design and direction into loudest-whiner-whack-a-mole.

On to the Lost Shores, I was actually there for the full thing. Mixed is a very mild way of calling an experience that I would otherwise describe as two thirds horribly boring, repetitive grind and one third epic encounter. Now, I don’t know how many players ANet had in mind when they designed their one-time scenario, but I happened to be on an overflow with about 40 more players in that same spot. And for a good 2.5 hours it was painful drudgery, as we slowly escorted Mother Karka across a map swarming with the same bunch of normal, veteran and champion bugs coming at us over and over, wave after wave after wave, while the world’s slowest progress bar mocked us in the right-hand corner of our screens. 50% of the time players were ressing each other, which is one of the remarkable things that keep happening without fail in GW2 – players paying attention to one another. Other than that though, there was wayyy too much of the same…and after two hours it started showing. The “raid” lost focus and got increasingly chaotic. Some players quit, no doubt finding a good night’s sleep (Sunday night too) more appealing than another wave of one hundred karka. I have to admit I was tempted to leave myself but stubbornness to see this through got the better of me (hardcore raider remnant, no doubt).

Silithus – I did not ever wish to see thee again! The Lost Shores came awfully close to those bug nightmares of yore. While I cannot complain about lag like some other players did, I am once more marveling at some of the design choices ANet made in preparation for this event. How many players out there would seriously find several hours of more or less the same bug-slaying remotely appealing or at least epic? Was the event actually designed with smaller groups in mind, banned to overflow servers? Could there not have been (better) ways to address group size and pacing issues?

Like with GW2’s dungeons (on which I have my personal observations to share soon), I am cringing at the discrepancy that is “a good idea vs. execution” in some of ANet’s gameplay and design choices. I am starting to wonder if this company actually still believes in the old fashioned virtue of suffering? Already the badly designed Clock Tower event for Halloween showed this ambiguity between what constitutes difficulty in games vs. what is actually just bad, lazy or broken design (even if it results in some particularly torture-proof players feeling horribly challenged and thus rewarded after attempt 501).

And I get it: mass events and zergs can be lots of fun and certainly feel epic in scale. I’ve no issue with such events in GW2, in fact I find them quite enjoyable. I could’ve lived with one part of the Lost Shores event being a zerg against the same few bugs, but there was nothing epic in that as the night stretched before me and all I could think of was to “get this done with”. Maybe I just put my expectations too high?

On the bright side (yeah there was some of that) our little troupe of the persistent found back to a hysterical sense of humor in zone chat, which is always one of the nicer social side-effects in MMOs – that “bonding through pain” effect when things look dire or simply beyond reason. There were some great laughs later into the night although I doubt the developers would’ve shared any of it. There were also some parts of the battle that were more challenging and fun (such as the veteran karka “steamroll”) and for those who actually made it past the final battle there was – wait for it – some nice loot! I couldn’t believe my eyes when the chest dropped several exotic armor pieces, a 20-slot bag and exotic accessory upgrade!

This must have been the first time in GW2 when I actually got a useful reward for doing something special – especially hard or long or painful. So just maybe ANet are learning their lessons step by step as we go along and sooner or later we’ll not only get to see epic scale, one-time events with good loot, but also enjoyable combat with great stories to tell on top? As long as things are going somewhere, one can always hope!

Experiencing Events, Impact and Player Mindset

From many of my previous ramblings it’s probably become apparent that I’m the explorer type who thrives on open adventure in MMOs; the unpredictable, surprises and taking the long road rather than shortcuts. I put less value on completionism, things like achievements, social firsts or best-in-slots. I’m in for the journey and the immersion in virtuality. Therefore too, there’s nothing worse to me than a world that’s fully discovered, fully mapped and fully understood. The moment we draw the last line in that picture is the moment we limit our world, the moment where it becomes small and finite – when hypothesis and speculation become hard fact and there is no more ‘may be’.

To a traveler and explorer “finishing a world” is the death of his playstyle. I want to stand at the shore of the southern sea and wonder forever what may lie beyond.

I’ve talked about dynamic events in GW2 recently and why I am at peace with one-time events of greater significance (even if it means I miss them sometime). However, the very diverging opinions on this currently hot topic have reminded me once more just how important it is to consider player profiles and preferences in MMO design discussions. There are areas where we will simply never agree and much of that is ingrained; we might as well discuss what tastes better, apples or oranges.

Still, I think there’s something to be said in favor of (well constructed) one-time events in MMOs that exceeds just lasting impact or significance. If more global events are realized in a way that allows for different playstyle approach, “missing a unique event” is not as horrible as it sounds at first. In fact, it is impossible to truly miss it. Let me try and explain why.

Immediate vs. Retrospective Experience

In the following image I (painstakingly..) attempted to depict a small scene of cataclysmic proportions. In case it’s not clear what you’re looking at, that’s A) a comet about to hit your world, and B) you curiously gaping down the crater the comet left behind. Yeah, you’re still alive – be grateful!

Event A / Event B

Now, ask yourself the following question: would you rather be:

A) The player who witnesses the comet’s impact, including all the excitement and epic/traumatic immediate effect that goes with this event.


B) The player who chances upon the crater later on, presented with the full scale devastation, wondering what may or may not have happened here.

The two experiences are mutually exclusive. If you have witnessed the immediate event, there is no question of what happened; you know. You are not going to wonder, speculate or investigate further to find out how the crater came to be. Most likely, you’re also not going to spend as much time on site “post cataclysm” analyzing the devastation.

Player B is presented with a different event entirely, yet an event no less. For him, the story unfolds in retrospective – in his imagination, in clues, in reports of NPCs or other players. Is that the lesser experience? Did he actually miss the event – or did he not much rather experience it from a different angle, a different point in time? The thought came to me when standing at the shattered fountain in Lion’s Arch last Sunday night, considering the damage done to this so iconic place in the game –

As always, click to enlarge!

Here’s a little secret: I still haven’t watched the one-time Halloween event on youtube. I didn’t go and check how the Mad King emerged. And I decided I won’t. Nothing can beat the scenario I have envisioned in my mind at this point. I have this epic idea of what happened and I want no youtube movie to take away from my imagination. The Mad King’s appearance in Lion’s Arch will forever be the stuff of legend to me, mysterious, notorious!

I like it that way. Maybe you do not. I’m sure many players would agree that the “main event” of  my little scenario above
is the comet falling down from the sky. If an MMO introduced this, they would want to be there just when it happens. However, the important part is that neither outlook is wrong, just like there are no wrong playstyles. There are different ways to experience events and different things to take away from them. Arguing the point would be as fruitful as arguing whether movies are better than books: some people prefer movies for their more guided experience (the camera is your focus), their concrete visuals and sound. Others rather stick to books that rely more on suggestion and imaginary effort, allowing you to stray. Both media have a purpose, a time and place.

Types of Events, Types of Meaning

Unique events in MMOs work especially well if developers invest on all stages of a scenario, the pre- and -post phases as much as the immediate event. Global changes lose much of their weight if there’s no aftermath for players to experience, no tangible impact on the world. Interestingly enough, while developers improve on creating events with (some) impact these days, pre-stage remains one of the most neglected areas. The only example that comes to my mind is the minor earthquakes pre-Cataclysm patch in WoW, with some NPCs commenting on them. I’d like MMO devs and storywriters to invest more time in foreboding details such as this…any better examples?

Naturally, not all events in MMOs can have monumental impact or narrative significance. Not all of them are designed to be collective experiences, either. Small-scale
events are usually created for individuals and may be repeatable without any “dramatic loss”. Group and raid events too with reset timers,
are very much of more self-defined and social significance. It’s players who attribute value to server firsts, second and third kills. It’s up to guilds which events are important content to them or not.

While events make up a large part of the content in today’s MMOs, they still differ in type and purpose. I personally agree that many should be repeatable in regular intervals – after all, why bother to design content and then not make full use of it? Still, there are events I consider special and where I believe it serves the “dramatic script” and narrative of the world we play in, that they be more unique. That’s part of the simulation – a world that has an ongoing story and therefore feels alive (opposed to groundhog’s day).

I’d like to see more of this in future MMOs, maybe delivered in frequent mini-patches. If designed and implemented well, there is no easy way for players to miss such scenarios – whether they happened at “one time” or not. So maybe event design, setup and finalization, are really the things we should look at, rather than asking for everything in MMOs to always be “repeatable”. If you find yourself in a brilliant field of snow one morning, blinking and breathing the cold air, how much does it matter that you missed the event of the snow falling?