lotro

MMOs and the weirdness of raiding…

I’ve been chewing over this post for a couple of months now, ever since I undertook my first dungeons runs in Guild Wars 2 earlier this year but I’ve been meaning to write something about raiding since I began to tag along with raids in LOTRO back in 2011. Now there are huge differences between those two games but there is also a striking similarity, at least for me, and that is that I find raiding not only profoundly boring but also confusing in its stylistic switch from the rest of the gameplay.

GW2 is probably the best example of this. The game itself is anything but boring with the heart and soul of it engineered to allow you to play pretty much alone whilst giving you something to do all the time. Wherever you are you are never more than a few minutes from an event chain and you are encouraged to use the various weapon and profession skills to complete them. As an engineer I know I have certain rifle skills that work well with turret skills and I need to use both, as well as constant movement and healing, to win the fight and this feels right, it feels like the game Arenanet designed. But when it comes to raiding it all changes.

From a position of knowing your skills and understanding how to dance around an enemy in order to survive, you are thrust into a game mode where all you have to do is stack, i.e. all stand on exactly the same spot and mash attack, heal & rez skills, and that is mind-numbingly dull. Not only is the game play style dull, but what it does to your experience of the world is criminal! Do you know what I see of most fights in raids? A firework display of particle effects centered on a strange multi-limbed beast and nothing else – none of the amazing wotk the devs have put into the area because we are all stood in a crush hitting and healing and checking out emails on your phone instead of concentrating on the fight.

I would love to experience more of the dungeons and areas built by Arenanet but not stood in a clump. I want to use the skills I’ve learnt in the game, not be forced to play a whack-a-mole. I want to take the awesome moves I pull fighting a group of Tamini Centaurs and apply them to fighting a dungeon boss so that when I bring it down I look awesome, not like a strange mutant-blob-thing!

Sigh. Maybe I’m missing something obvious but for the life of me I can’t think what it is. Raiding is boring.

Life in Tyria: The Tyranny of Gold…

I’m by no means rich in RL. I have a job but also a mortgage and kids so I have to make choices every days about what I spend my money on and, if I’m honest, that sucks, yet it’s also life and there is no point in worrying about it. But that’s not to say I want that experience in my games and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered I hate hate hate about MMOs such as LOTRO and GW2 it’s that I’m always poor in there too!

In LOTRO I spent ages trying to get enough gold to buy enough equipment to make me more or less effective and it got me nothing. In GW2 I’m always on the edge of poverty and having to sell everything I can just to fund the purchase of armour and weapons for one character. I’ve had 100 gold pieces recently but that didn’t last long and I’m usually hovering between 20 to 50 as I buy new exotic sets for my Engineer builds. I don’t craft and I’m not saving up for a legendary, I salvage and gather and therefore you think I’d be rolling in moolah but I’m not and that ticks me off. And there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get gold in GW2 outside of mindlessly running dungeons.

Frankly I don’t want to be poor in two worlds. Sigh.

Life in Tyria: Legendaries are another miss, just like in LOTRO.

OK, let me start this by stating two things:1) GW2 legendaries are *not* as bad as LOTRO’s clusterhump system, and 2) I don’t actually own a legendary in GW2 so have never used one but I still think they suck and here is why.

1) It’s grindy, complex and frigging expensive to make one. I just haven’t the time or the money to do it so owning such a weapon (and armour should it ever be added) will be out of my reach. Given that the next level down, Ascended, seems to be just as much of a ballache to craft it looks like my gear progression in GW2 stops at Exotic and this strikes me as a damn shame.

2) They are as ugly as hell. Jebus H Pressley but the GW2 devs like to design some tacky, spiky shit. True, this is purely subjective but the fact remains there are almost no legendary weapons I’d want to be seen with anyway. Hell, look at Orcrist from The Hobbit, it doesn’t look like they were bought in a Blackpool £1 shop does it? Here, let me demonstrate.

Orcrist - how lovely, almost as if created by talented craftspeople/elves.

Orcrist – how lovely, almost as if created by talented craftspeople/elves.

A fugly sword bought from a cheap kid's toys shop and made with no love or care.

A fugly sword bought from a cheap kid’s toys shop for £1.99.

Some weird looking legendary sword from GW2 - it makes my eyes sad.

Some weird looking legendary sword from GW2 that makes my eyes sad.

So given that I will never be able to get a legendary weapon in GW2 and if I ever did I’d never want to be seen with one, why am I moaning about it in this post, beyond something to post & moan about I mean? Well just because I don’t want to be seen with a legendary weapon that looks like it was made by my seven year old and coloured in by my 4 year old doesn’t mean I don’t want a legendary weapon. Let me explain something about the way I play my games, from SL to LOTRO to GW2.

I carefully design the look of my characters. Now this may come as a little bit of a shock to some of you, but I think long-term readers and old friends who know me well and have played along side me in SL will know that I always find a look and then I stick to it. HeadBurro Antfarm went through a few trials before I hit on the half-gazelle skin in urban clothing and ethnic jewellery. Hell, just finding that backpack was a huge undertaking that I still remember fondly. In LOTRO I dressed all my guys in what I considered to be appropriate gear – the hobbits in Bounder’s garb, the human warrior in armour but with a backpack fit for the scholar he was, the dwarf and elf in similarly suitable ethnic & profession gear. None of them have been showy or ostentatious, none have gone in for garish colours or effects, weapons have been suitable for the lore & professions, armour has been muted and, as far as possible, realistic in nature.

And then I come to GW2. Oh boy. Someone in Arenanet has a spike fetish. Someone likes huge shoulderpads. Someone dreams of bling. Just look at this unholy monstrosity!

Jesus. H. Christ.

Jesus. H. Christ.

Who in the name of all that is holy would wear that? It would be fuck all use in a fight and if she as much as coughed her tits would pop out. And how is she going to get in to any tavern with that stupid hat on and those mahoooosive shoulder… things strapped to her? And curly toes? Jesus.

Look, I can live in a world where this shit exists but is it too much to ask for some of the armour and weapons at the top of the tree not to look like the vomit pattern of a caffeine & red bull riddled mentalist?

Oh, what’s that you say? There’s a Transmutation system? I can give this amazing stuff the look of my boring looking armour and we are all happy? Hardly. That costs money in GW2 and at about a quid a pop which could make transmuting all your armour and weapons cost you upwards of ten British pounds every time you upgrade them en masse. Call me odd if you like but the thought of paying multiples of monies just to keep the look of my character the same somehow doesn’t appeal.

Now my understanding, without ever having owned or used one, is that these legendary weapons are not a huge stat boost. Arenanet, wisely in my opinion, veers away from sudden and huge jumps in the power of gear and instead makes the changes small but relies on the ‘improved’ looks they design to entice players in for the bigger, brighter shiny. As I think we have discovered this won’t work on me and given that the power uppage is small why do I want one?

Because I do. Because it’s a game genre about, among other things, continually improving your gear.Part of the fantasy (and scifi and spy and etc…) genre is the finding of the bigger, better weapon and playing an MMO RPG should be no different. I’m not dashing all over Tyria helping people out for the good of my health you know, I want a reward. Several rewards. I want a legendary weapon. I just don’t want the ones Arenanet are offering.

So what is the answer? What is it I want? Well dear reader, I’ll tell you that in another post soon…

World building, part 2: This town, is coming like a ghost town…

In my last world building post I talked about, amongst other things, better weather & seasonal effects to make the world seem more alive and changeable. Well in this post I want to move from the macro back down the scale and look at towns, cities and other settlements because it’s not just the world that needs to come alive for me but the place I call home too.

My first ever experience of an online, populated city was Nova Albion in Second Life. I rezzed nearish and wandered on down where I was grabbed by the lure of free Linden Dollars in a camping spot (this was before I realised how damaging camping spots are to online worlds, sucking up computing resources for no benefit to the environment). Once I broke free of the camping chair I began to explore the city and was amazed that such a place could exist – it was a city built by and populated by the players, a deal of who I could see around me! Now it was sometime before I realised that vast majority of players were in one or two locations within the city and the rest of it was a well-tended wasteland so at the time this was a hugely exciting to me.

Nova Albion, Second Life's first city...

Nova Albion, Second Life’s first city…

My next experience was of Bree in LOTRO and I still remember riding through the gates and down the cobbled road from Combe for the first time. It was night and I was following a more experience player in my first few hours of playing and I can still feel the excitement swelling inside me, something akin to the first time after passing my driving test my Dad had me follow him onto the motorway – pure nervous adrenaline as I moved from one world to another, it was amazing.

Bree, so small yet so oddly important...

Bree, so small yet so oddly important…

My most recent experience has been in GW2 where I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Divinity’s Reach (such a bloody beautiful name, too). The levels! the architecture! The housing! The scale! Oh my gods I was blown away! It is still the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in a game but do you know how many times I go there and explore it? Never. I teleport to the bank and teleport back out to the game. I teleport to the Maiden’s Whisper for RP and teleport out again. If I crafted I’d teleport to the crafting station and then out to the game again. The is no reason for me to wander around the city and therefore it could be three or four small rooms and I’d still get the same benefits and that is a crying shame.

Divinity's Reach - full of places you can never reach or explore...

Divinity’s Reach – full of places you can never reach or explore…

Do you know what Nova Albion, Bree & Divinity’s Reach have in common? They are deserts. Wastelands. Ghost towns. People hurry from location to location in an entirely perfunctory manner to get between locations such as bank to auction house or auction house to crafting station in order to complete a necessary task related to the furthering of a step within the game. Taking a helicopter’s eye view of the city over 24 hours you’d see players whizzing back and forth between a small number of locations using the same routes whilst the rest of the city simply lies dormant.

So what to do about this sorry state of affairs, I hear (or at I imagine I hear) you ask?

That’s a good question I have no easy answers to but here’s what I’d like to see in online cities, things I feel would brathe some life into them and make them worth not just visiting again but actually playing in:

  • Player housing throughout. True this was the case in SL and cities there were still deserted but none of these ideas are meant to happen in isolation. I think player housing is important because not only does it give players a reason to be in the city but it also makes them invested in the city. All of the amazing buildings in Divinity’s Reach are unusable with only the occasional one open, but even these are museum displays that can’t be played or interacted with. True there is the home instance of Selma but it’s just that, an instance; a private bubble of the city created for and inhabited by only you – and where is the fun in that? Let players live in the city and make it their own.
  • Events throughout the city all the time. Give the players a reason to be in the city other than crafting, banking or redecorating their house. Player guilds like LOTRO’s Lonley Mountain Band prove that if you put an event on people will come so put events on! Allow players to put events on! For the love of all that is holy, breathe some life into the place and get people dancing! Random small celebrations should happen, Weekly markets with special items, Parades that wind their through the city streets. All night parties right outside your window. Holy days of celebration to the various six Gods. And why not have dungeons in the city? Why not have quests and dynamic events happen there?
  • Let crafters own shops. Let players own a shop that you can visit and where you can buy their goods, whether those have been made or found. True these items could also be sold on the trading post but why not between people? Slap a 15% sales tax on and the gold sink remains. And if the player is out playing then let them hire an NPC to man the shop for them (an even bigger gold sink).
  • Whilst on the subject of NPCs, make them real. Don’t have them standing around waiting to be clicked on but have them wandering the neighbourhood. Have them going in and out of buildings and doing stuff other than waiting. Like exploring a city, listening to NPCs talking is fun the first time but then never again. Hell there is a conversation between two ministers about the Centaur problem going on right now that was going on word for word when I started over a year ago. Why? That conversation hasn’t moved on so it gives the impression neither has the world. NPCs should seem like they really live and work in the city otherwise the city seems like a theme park exhibit.
  • Let the city change at night. Traders should close shop and go home, NPCs should wander off to their families or the pub, parties should start, Seraph patrols increase, curfews enforced, drunken fights break out, arrests made. In short the city should act like a real city and be different at night as it is in the day.

Of course, a lot of this goes for *all* the settlements in the world. All of them need real day & night cycles with NPCs that do more than stand around like idiots awaiting an instruction to sit. Players should be free to live in the countryside if city life is not for them. Merchant caravans should allows player-traders to join them. The whole bloody world should feel more interactive and real and alive and a lot less like a game where you can’t play with all of the pieces.

This is exciting as my home instances gets...

This is exciting as my home instances gets…

World building, part 1: Being British, it’s all about the weather…

I had planned this post to be part of a much larger post directed at my dissatisfaction with GW2 and other MMOs but as I drafted and redrafted it in my head it kept changing, its focus shifting and realigning, until I just decided to open a New Post box and see what happened.

World Building part 1. I had no idea that was going to pop out of my fingertips when I started but now I think it’s perfect because the lack of immersion that leads to my feeling of disconnection & dissatisfaction with GW2 is not unique to that game and, in some respects, not the fault of that or any game. So here is my first post in a new series about what I want, desperately in many cases, to see in a game world. They are in no real order – my thinking isn’t always that joined up – but I’m sure common themes will pop up here and there. So, where to start. Well, seeing as I’m British, why not with the weather…

Give me more weather: I want a world where the only choices are not sun or rain (with snow at Xmas), I want weather that goes beyond the binary and into the realms of patterns and even seasons and I want them all to have an impact on the world. Let the rain pool up and cause flooding. Give me hail that damages buildings, lightning storms that start forest fires, heat waves that result in a terrible droughts and mass-herd deaths Give me meteor impacts and plagues of killer locusts! I want ship-sinking typhoons and village-erasing twisters! And what is so wrong with a good old fashioned earthquake? GIVE ME MORE THAN SUN AND RAIN! *pant pant pant*… Actually, earthquakes aren’t weather are they? But they do lead me on to my next point quite nicely.

Why is the land always the same? OK, here in the UK I’m lucky enough to live in a stable & prosperous place and the land hardly every changes. Except it does. all the time. Fields that have been there since my dad was a kid are being turned into housing estates, new railways are wiping villages off the map and cities are eating up towns all the time. The land changes, except in MMOs where, like the seasons and the weather, it’s always the same. A path through the hills and out to the coast that is never blocked by a flood or a landslide is just the same as a corridor in a FPS. I want people (both players and non-players) and the weather (see above) and seasons (below) to change the landscape. Don’t tell me it’s a living world when most of it is pickled in aspic!

And whilst I’m on the topic of seasons, can we please add some? I know that to see a Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter cycle roll past means you are a year older and it is clear that your character is not, but if I can suspend my disbelief that the Simpsons have been the same age for 25 years I can do the same in a game, trust me. The fact you include a day/night cycle indicates there is a passage of time and my head has yet to explode from the fact day after day cycles round and yet nothing seems to change. Put seasons in, make them run in the same way as your day & night time frame (roughly 4 to 6 times faster than normal) and the world will see to be fresh and living instead of some weird West World theme park stuck on one setting forever. And ever. And ever.

I’ll take a break there but in my next post I want to move on to the people in these worlds and the lives they often don’t but really should live. And some stuff about night time as well. Oh god, the night time in games sucks.

One last point before I hit publish and end my lunch break, please don’t imagine I’m having a pop at GW2 or LOTRO or Second Life. I’m simply putting forward my wishlist and no one game is more guilt than another of failing to live up to my vastly inflated sense of expectations. There are probably some very good technical reasons why some of the things I want can’t be done, but that doesn’t stop me wanting them. I have a similar problem with Miranda Kerr and Karlie Kloss.

Another sunny day... how dull.

Another sunny day… how dull.

LOTRO: My freakin’ brain is bleeding!

I have just found a whole stack of draft posts I never published – this one made me laugh! Just look at the bloody UI!

“It was while I was fighting the Red Maid that I first thought my eyes might pop…”
ScreenShot00344

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.

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