dynamic events

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on space missions (AKA “Death by 1,000 procedurally generated yawns!”)

Another mission, you say…

There is a place in Guild Wars 2, a small human outpost near the front line of the war between Man and Centaur, where something wonderful and exciting can happen to you if you are lucky to be there at the right time. The first time this happened to me I had no idea it was in the game and therefore no idea it was going to happen and by the time it had finished it had changed the game for me forever. Before I tell you more about that place and what happens there, I should give you a little background. Guild Wars 2 borrowed an underdeveloped idea from Rift which had in turn borrowed it from War Hammer but it was only GW2 that came close to getting it right. The idea was Dynamic Events and it allowed the game to react to your presence, kicking off a pre-scripted event as you passed through an area. On the surface that wouldn’t be anything worth writing about but Dynamic Events were more than just triggered events because a player’s actions could influence their outcome and then that outcome could trigger a new event which in turn could trigger further new events, all chaining together to form an unfolding storyline that you became caught up in until it was played out. Now in this human town, the name of which escapes me, you might be lucky enough to hear NPCs chatting about a patrol about to set off and if you did you could volunteer to join the patrol and help out. Once you (and your follow players – these quests scaled up and down as players came and went at any point in their narrative) had set out with the patrol you were part of what was to become one of the most ambitious Dynamic Events ever put into the game. The patrol was to check on various camps and way points, each deeper into the Centaur territory and each bringing a fresh assault. The attacks had to be defeated and camps set up before pressing on, all the time being driven on by a charismatic NPC captain until the patrol, swollen by players and NPCs alike, decided to take on the Centaur main camp. This led to an all-out, multi-phase assault on the stronghold that ended up with the patrol fighting the main Centaur boss. All of this was in the open world, not a closed off instanced dungeon, and it was exciting as hell every single time I took part. The feeling of daring do at the outset, of desperate struggle during the patrol and of emboldened heroism throughout the assault was palpable, yet the devs managed to make me feel like that without ever crossing the line into making me feel like a dull untouchable superhero. My choices and decisions mattered, both to myself and to the other players and NPCs of the patrol because at any point we could fail. It was breathtaking.

Now in Guild Wars 2 I played an engineer called Jurak Gearwright in GW2 and with a quick fast forward of a few thousand years to Elite Dangerous I’m piloting Jurak’s direct descendent, William, around the Milky Way and something seems to have been lost in the intervening millennia because the missions in ED suck like a turbo charged Dyson. Waaaaay back in beta the devs introduced ‘Branching Missions’ and I wondered if they would become like the Dynamic Events of GW2 but despite my best efforts I could never find any missions that went past the initial ‘hand in’ point. It’s been a recurring dev claim throughout several updates that the missions were being altered to add more variety and branching and I’ve yet to see any that don’t fall into the following categories: trade, smuggle, steal, kill and locate. And apart from the always annoying NPC trying to get you to swap sides I’ve seen no branching at all. You get a mission, do a mission, hand it in and you’re done. Missions do not seem to branch and do not seem to lead on to other missions – I say ‘seem’ because I could be wrong as my game time is not stratospheric and I am bored.

I’m bored of my bulletin board missions having no impact or effect. I’m bored of my gameplay not leading into areas I haven’t dreamt up in my wee brain. I’m bored of cut and paste missions from cut and paste stations found in cut and paste systems everyfriggingwhere the game. A friend of mine has posted about a conversation we had today and it’s a really good read that at first seems to be at odds with my views but in reality shows, I think at least, that we are both coming at the same point in different ways. Both of us are lovers of the Elite universe and are glad that Elite Dangerous has been made. Both of us enjoy RPing in and out of the game about our in game experiences. Both of us love the size and scope of the universe crated by Frontier Developments. Where we do split, I think, is on the matter of depth versus breadth. It would seem at first glance that I’m calling for a deeper game offering stronger, linear story telling and that just isn’t what ED is about – ED is an open sandbox where you make your own reason for existing or you just don’t play. But I don’t agree.

What I want isn’t exactly a hand-crafted narrative designed to drive me along a storyline not of my making but rather the introduction of a system that can chain missions together to lead to some kind of meaningful change in the game state. Let me explain by way of an example.

Current mission: I pick up a mission to recover military plans from a system following a never specified incident (why the military can’t get their own effin’ plans is beside me but hey, they’re paying). I fly to the system and start the boring and repetitive task of signal source hunting. Eventually I drop into a signal source where the RNG engine in the game decides I’ll find the wreck of a ship with cans of military plans floating around. Quite often the wreckage of the ship raises questions I’d like to look into, as does the fact that whoever destroyed it left the plans floating about in bleeping cans, but there is nothing more complicated I can do than scoop the plans up and fly back to the mission’s starting station to hand them in. The biggest threat at this point is being scanned and fined and even then that[‘s just because the mission becomes a net Credit loss as opposed to anything approaching dangerous. This is dull after a short number of identical missions, trust me.

Better Idea (1 of many): I pick up the mission and fly to the system. For a start the location should be a system with active war zones or some other type of conflict that would explain the presence of military ships and plans. The mission brief should contain last known coords so I can head, using the compass, to the right location but this should be a race against time as other agents are also after the same things. Getting the plans should involve hacking the ship’s computer – only tech and supplies should be in cans, not bloody data! At some point I’d have to escape as other forces come in *or* when I get there I see other forces leaving and they have the data. The mission is then chained to a chase and interdict mission. At the point of interdiction other missions could chain – the ‘enemy’ could pay me off to not only leave them alone but to even take false data back to the initial client *or* I am congratulated by the first client and informed this was a test and they would like to use my skills on a far more dangerous mission. This could even be a recruitment exercise for one of the new Powers in Powerplay and further missions could be chained here.

You see, that wouldn’t need a hand-crafted storyline, just a far richer mission generator that can link missions together to give them a sense of narrative greater than that of your average Yodel driver. As it is the game is just like my 9 year old son with his homework – doing the bare minimum to get by whilst promising me that the absolute best is being done *and* that that more effort is coming at some point in the future. I have to put up with that from him, I don’t from my game.

Holy Karka, Batman! I liked the Lost Shores and I don’t care who knows it!

Yes, yes, yes The Lost Shores has come and gone and is old news but after seeing Dontain’s latest video today I decided I’d have my say too.

I liked it. There, I’ve said it. Sue me.

Sure the first event was laggy (maybe being spread out throughout Lion’s Arch rather than just around one area would have helped) but after coming from years in Second Life the kind of laggy I experienced in that event was nothing compared to the klusterfokken of lag Linden Lab inflicted upon us again and again and abloodygain. There was a lot of whiny QQing about Arenanet being a bunch of under-skilled simpletons with carnal knowledge of their mothers and that annoyed me greatly. Sure some folks couldn’t play it for various reasons, but this was the first time an event of that size has been tried in that way and it was always going to be somewhat of a test – now if in twelve months the events are still a mess of low FPS and skills that stop working you can call the devs fit to burn all you like but for now stop with the mewling and just enjoy the experience of newness I say!

After that the treasure hunt was a damp squib for me, mainly because I didn’t know it was going on so I missed it all. Had I have known I would loved to have have done it but I hear the events were largely bugged so it couldn’t be finished and that would have ticked me off. Actually this does worry me about not only these large showcase events, but the whole system of dynamic events the game is built on, after all they do seem to crap out a hell of a lot and that is really not good.

Anyhoo, the next day saw the building of the trebuchet, the defending of Lion’s Arch again and the sailing off to the new island to secure the shores and camps there. I missed the first part but the sailing off and forging a path through the new land-mass was great fun! My one gripe – and this I share with Dontain – is the sheer fucking hardness of the Karka! Even normal ‘young karka’ are pretty hard to tackle on their own, never mind the Veteran young and upwards! Oy Vey! It’s hard to pick one thing that makes them so tough as it really is a combination – they shoot shit out of their tail near the start of the attack that is hard to dodge completely due to the length of time they continue to shoot it and whatever it is hurts and it hurts a lot. Add to that their ability to mitigate a lot of attacks and the need to burn down their health bar twice (once for their shell, once for their yummy tasty flesh) and pretty soon you are on a fairly tough battle for little reward (they almost never drop anything!). Still I really enjoyed this phase and there was noticably less QQing (that or I stopped noticing it).

Now the final day was a curious mix of the previous two. Lag was evident, although nowhere near as bad as the first day, but the fun of running with a zerg was intoxicating. We had to escort some Lionguard sappers into the HUUUGE karka nest and lay bombs and then leave the nest to find the king daddy Ancient Karka so we could drive him back into the nest and blow the bugger up. HOLY CRAP this was a marathon! Three bloody hours it took me! I was knackered! I’m not, have never been and will never be a hardcore gamer and that kind of session is gruelling. Still, it was also great fun (excluding the two grinds when the King Karka called up reinforcements) and the stand out parts were some of the mechanics used to drive the brute to the next, the nest itself which was just amazing looking, the mass-wipes when the Karkas would barrel-roll 90% of the players into the downed state (brilliant fun!), the epic ending with lava & squeeing and the loot from the chest at the end. All in all I thought it was a bloody brilliant evening and you can shove that in yer pipe and smoke it.

Have I been back to the island since? Once and it was both boring and hard. The karka are too tough and the loot is too thin on the ground and the gathering mats are crap so there is no reason to go back – hell, it cost me more in in repair bills than I made from the visit! Hopefully Arenanet will do something about this zone that makes it worthwhile visiting but until then I still have the memories of a great weekend-long event. That and a cool 20-slot box! Hoohar!

Between the hooves and the boots…

There is a wonderfully de-forested plain in Guild Wars 2’s Kessex Hills where the Seraph and the Centaurs are locked in an ongoing tug-of-war struggle for dominance. As a player you get to beat off waves of invading Centaurs and should you fail then the Serpah are pushed back until they lose control of the area, a state that not only means travel there is more dangerous but the Seraph settlements have less to offer you in terms on vendors. The shot below is of Jurak (my main, a human engineer and at the time of typing this a proud Level 20) stood on the walls of the Seraph fort looking across to the Centaur encampment and I think you’ll agree it’s a bloody impressive looking place!

Whilst I was there, the Centaurs had been beaten back and the Seraph patrolled the camp (camp seems too small – this was a fort really) and I was checking out the vendors that had entered the fort with the Seraph when a dynamic event kicked off that saw the Centaurs try and retake their fort en masse. Boy that was a fun fight but in the end the combined might of the Seraph and the players saw them off and all was once more calm. And that’s when I heard something that piqued my interest. An NPC shouted to her commander (another NPC) that she had salvaged enough supplies to build an arrow cart that could protect the nearby mine… Mine? Arrow cart? This, I thought, must be one of the cues that Arenanet had said we must look for at the end of an event that would herald in another event, and boy did it ever!

Now I seemed to have been the only one to notice the NPCs because a few moments later I was alone and escorting the soldier with the supplies along the road. Thankfully by the time the Centaurs attacked (as you knew they must) a few other players had joined me and we had a long series of fun raiding attacks to deal with until we got to the mine settlement at which point the soldier built a working arrow cart (I used it, it was working alright) and left for the fort. Again the players began to vanish but I stuck around. Something about this cart, this working cart, struck me as odd. No one would put a working cart here if it wasn’t supposed to be used, would they?

Hell no! Although there seemed to be no NPC signal this time, the event chain moved on again and the Centaurs now attacked the village & mine! I leapt on the arrow cart and fired away like it was grouse season but I seemed to be the only one who knew the cart was there & could be used and soon I was overrun by Centaurs and the cart destroyed. By now a sizeable group of players had been attracted by the fight and the village was in chaos! There were Centaurs everywhere and the whole place was going off like Blackpool Illuminations (google it). I fought like a demon but their numbers were too many and I went down! And then a lucky kill rallied me and I was back in the action! I jumped back in with renewed vigour until, at long last, the Centaurs were, for the third time in that event chain, driven back. Boots had triumphed over hoofs, for a little while at least. Ahhh, good times 😉

And people wonder why I love dynamic events so much 😀

Take that, you strangely sexy hoofy, horny lady with a tail, you… Boy, now I think about it, I could quite easily fancy a Centaur…

A Week In Tyria…

It’s been just under a week since I got back from Canada & jumped into Tyria (and just over a week since I missed the early access launch – dammit!) and I am taking a night off to put my thoughts about it in order.

First off I can confirm that as expected I am not in the same grip of mania I was in this time last year with LOTRO. I can also confirm that I’m very, very happy about this. My fall for LOTRO was too fast and too deep as I was on the rebound after ending a long term relationship with Second Life. I could see nothing other than shiny new and ignored all the bad bits until I burnt out on the endless grind Turbine seem to feel is necessary in a game. Now my transition from LOTRO to GW2 has been more carefully spaced, less of a rebound and more of an evolution. I’m addicted to the game, but in a deeper, richer, more controlled way. But enough about me, you came here to read about the game, didn’t you? Righto then, let’s start at the beginning…

Pre-Launch & Launch.
As I’ve said before, my holiday meant I missed the three-day headstart my pre-purchase afforded me but, honestly, I wasn’t bothered. When I got home on the morning of the 28th I didn’t rush off to patch the client or anything, nope I just waited until later that day before I got around to it. I created a Human Engineer (Jurak Gearwright – friend me) and despite a client crash that wiped him before completing the creation process I was able to get right in and start blasting Centaurs in Shaemoor on my second attempt. It was nice to see that the betas meant my key bindings were ready to go from the outset and the whole experience was smooth like butter. True that for a while I came up against what I had feared from the betas, namely the feeling that I was simply retreading old ground, but once out of Shaemoor and deeper than two chapters into my personal story I passed the limits of my previous experiences and everything felt exciting & new 🙂

My System & The Beauty of Tyria
Let’s not beat about the bush, my nearly three-year old computer with its AMD 3-core CPU & creaky nVidia GTX260 is not up to the demands of GW2. And yet, even with that old rig and the outdated drivers I have (the GFX card won’t take the latest ones) the damn game still managed to look 3 times better than LOTRO & 10 times better than SL. Still, there have been odd glitches and crashes that I’m fairly sure have been down to my old card so I’m splashed out and ordered a new gaming rig just so I can see the glorious beauty of Tyria with all the settings maxed out and it should be here any day now – expect some stunning looking screenshots 😀 (this is it, by the way, a freaking 4GHz i7 for gawd’s sake! Hell, I’m even going to overclock the bugger!)

Queensdale & Levelling
As I mentioned above, I had done some of the Human starter zone before in the first & second beta weekends, but this did not stop me enjoying a third trip through the beautiful region of Queensdale. I have found the levelling process really well paced, so much so that I was just over 15.5 when I left for the Kessex Hills, a the next area and a 15-25 area – how’s that for being right on the money? It’s worth noting that in GW2 the levelling structure is designed to feel very secondary to everything else and it really does. Yes there have been folks who reached the level cap of 80 in a day or so (I’m not sure how long, but it was really quick) but it is, as far as gameplay goes, meaningless. You see in LOTRO if you were at level 65 and you went back to the Barrow Downs outside Bree then you could simply one-shot any critter there and nothing is a challange to you whatsoever. In GW2 a level 80 revisiting Queensdale is levelled down to between level 1 and 15 again and suddenly everything in that zone is a threat to them. This means you never become a boring God-like character but rather you are always wonderfully, excitingly mortal and your level is just a number affecting stats. My plan is to never out-level content, at least not with Jurak, as I want to experience the whole of the PvE game just the way it was designed.

The Personal Story – Beware! Here Be Spoilers!
Ahhh, the personal story. In the betas I stopped this around two chapters in and boy am I glad I did because then one of the two central pillars of the game has been preserved for me (the other pillar being, for me at least, dynamic events). Still, I have to say that I’ve found some of the aspects of the story to be a little jarring and a tad disappointing for me (I’m a narrative junkie above and before everything else). For instance, in my story as a street-rat who lost his sister to Centaurs, I spent a lot of the early levels getting my friend Quinn out of trouble and foiling Two-Blade Pete’s plans to poison the city’s water supply but when I brought the news of Pete’s plot to Logan Thackery I was presented with a choice: stop the bandits poisoning the water or leave to save Quinn. What? Me, a man on his own, stopping the who bandit group when, correct me if I’m wrong, Logan is in charge of the local police force? Of course I’m going to save Quinn – the bloody Seraph can stop the bandits, surely. Apparently not! I seriously hope the writers don’t butcher them the way Turbine turned the Rangers of Middle Earth into clowns and half-wits just to crowbar the player into events. Look, my ego is not so fragile that I need to destroy all narrative credibility just to feel important so please don’t ask me to make daft choices just so I can feel all study – just write me into a damn good story 🙂

Exploring & Those Beautiful Dynamic Quests
Ahhh, exploring… how I love to explore in games, to wander off the beaten track and find exciting, beautiful places. SL was great for this because you never knew what you’d find except you knew the people in the game had made it themselves and therefore they could be pug ugly at times. LOTRO was a different kettle of fish because even though the the whole (sort of) of a very beautifully realised Middle Earth was there for you to explore, assuming you were a high enough level, there was never anything to do once you got wherever it was you were going. Oh there might be something there, a beautiful ruin or an interesting cave, but there was nothing happening there. In the end all exploring in LOTRO boiled down to was postcard collecting.

Now in Guild Wars 2 exploring is pure fun because no matter where you go (assuming, as in LOTRO, you of are high enough level) there is always something happening! Dynamic events unfold in the world around you and you can jump right into them as you explore! So many times I’ve set off for location A and ended up no where near because I’ve been pulled in by an event chain that just started as I ran past!

In Summary…
Quite simply Guild Wars 2 is the best game I’ve played. Well, mostly. Anyway, buy it & play it.

I’m on Piken Square – drop me a line in game (all Tyrian mail is picked up and delivered by pigeons… really.)

The beguiling promise of Guild Wars 2’s Dynamic Events…

Back when I was still playing LOTRO & I failed a quest my immediate thought was more often than not “Damn! Now I have to do this snaserfrassing thing again!” Now contrast that with my time in Guild Wars 2 where the failure of a dynamic event led me to think “Uh oh… things are about to get very interesting!” and that, I’m sure you’ll agree is a big difference.

Now you readers who don’t play MMOs or aren’t following the development of Guild Wars 2 may be wondering what the buggeration a “Dynamic Event” is. Well, let me fill you in on the basics and then point you to some people on YouTube who are far better placed than I to actually show you how these rather wonderful things work.

To start with you need to understand a little about how other (older) MMOs handle their quests. They offer you a simple mechanic whereby you interact with an NPC or in-game object to receive your orders which you then carry out before returning to the ‘giver’ to receive your reward. If you failed you’d have to start again & if you succeeded you moved on to the next quest or to the next quest giver. All well & good but oh so very functional & flat. The storytelling is linear, boring & unsatisfactory.

So Arenanet has decided to do away with this system and instead employs a dynamic mechanism whereby events just happen in the world & it is up to the player to get involved. This time failure doesn’t mean starting again but rather seeing the quest event dynamically evolve into another narratively linked event. Bandits suddenly attack the city’s water supply and if you stop them then the event changes on the fly from having you protect the pipes to having you hunt down the bandits all the way back to their hideout. But if you fail and the bandits destroy the pipes before you can drive them back then the event morphs into a desperate struggle to protect the repair crews sent out from the city to restore the supply. And this is just two steps of several along two branches of many in one dynamic event of hundreds in the world where the developers can add new ones quickly & easily. It’s an amazingly flexible, powerful & immersive system that’s also a huge heap of fun to experience in action, I’m sure you’ll agree 😀

But the beauty of dynamic events, like that of HDTV or Jen from Milkshake, has to be seen to be believed so I have lined up a few choice clips from fellow beta players.Take a look & let me know what you think of the system. I hope they help some of you who might be wavering about pre-purchasing the game to make up your mind and come adventuring with me in Tyria 😀

CaraEmm explains the branching, escalating nature of dynamic events in Guild Wars 2:

CaraEmm explores the consequences of failure in dynamic events:

MMOHut explains how dynamic events unravel:

Way back in the press-only betas TotalBiscuit explored how one dynamic event snowballed as he played: