Category Archives: Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 Revisited: Defying Classic Conventions

guild wars 2 combat
So I’m super-enjoying my gentle return to the beautiful, yet (of course) corrupted and war-ravaged lands of Guild Wars 2. Some things I’ve noticed by virtue of a “beginner’s mind” are:

Tons of tones in character creation. I’ve puzzled in recent months why Elder Scrolls, Rift, and Pillars of Eternity don’t give you more choices. What’s wrong with smoky purple thighs?

Auto-level matching in an area. It’s so nice get matched up to the content. Less worry about this meta-issue.

Auction House. I gave up on auctions in Elder Scrolls at the end, and was just vendoring everything. The GW2 trading post is a web app spliced into the game UI, and there are so many bids that you can sell everything almost instantly, plus get all proceeds in one lump instead of opening twenty mail items. It’s almost overly easy, but still a relief.

Megaserver And Maps. I was worried a few years ago that megaserver architecture would ruin immersion, but the benefits of the many outweigh the friendship of the few. The dynamic GW2 maps are also brilliant and surely the envy of other MMOs.

Community. I’ve been really impressed by the GW2 forums and community, especially when the game should be in low ebb before an expansion launch.


A Game World Unplugged


I seem to be going down the same old road of disconnection from the Guild Wars “world”, though. The main design goal of GW2 is to throw MMO design conventions on their head, that is–to kill the traditional quest hub and move all quests out into the roads, ruins, and hills, increasing the world immersion, ironically.

Some of these random quests are fabulous, like using a cow-launcher to get to an overlook, or failing to save a traveling caravan from a bandit attack, leading to a new dynamic quest to strike back and retrieve the stolen goods from those bandits.

The exploration in Guild Wars 2 is also a joy, and I’ve spent oodles of hours working on map completion.

The primate mind works on the principle of dominance, which is why this principle has been golden in art and design for thousands of years. This principle works for all art, novels, and the zones and NPC quest givers in World of Warcraft. I haven’t found a Goldshire in Guild Wars 2 yet, nor a Gandalf.

In Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci used his sfumato technique to render a beautiful backdrop of hills, woods, and bridges. I wonder how many people care about that landscape.

Would six million people visit the Mona Lisa each year if we removed the Mona Lisa completely, leaving only a beautiful, intriguing landscape, ripe for the plundering? No. You get the picture.

The result is lots of well-made and voiced NPCs, but they are still generic (to this kitty).

After completing quests from these NPCs, you’ll also get personal letters and notes from them via the mail. The notes are brilliantly written, and the writers have done their jobs well. The problem is that after you get twenty mails, they all start to look the same, and you know you’ll never see these pixels again. There is no point in remembering those names.

So it’s the principle of dominance. The human brain (or at least this kitty’s) needs a few solid lifelines to focus on. I remembered that I originally quit Guild Wars 2 because I’d completed the level 30 story quests. I was grinding at level 35, and my next story quest was level 40.

I just lost the lifeline at that point. What happens if you tell your ten-year-old kid he can’t read another chapter of his favorite book until ten weeks from now. He’s going to go read another book, and that’s exactly what happened with me.

This time I plan to keep going. Removing the Mona Lisa from the picture is better than removing the Mona Lisa’s nose and flashing notices in the middle of my screen letting me know the feature is now on sale in the game store.

Plus, I love my guardian’s quirky swooping Owl Attack. Hoo hoo.

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Best Of: MMO Youtube

Tonight I sat down for a few hours and watched Youtube videos of Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online at E3. Here are the two that were most interesting and informative. I hadn’t seen these yet. I liked seeing the armor and relic displays from Elder Scrolls in the first video. The second video is a well-made GW2 review that was just posted today. This video echoes my own skepticism about whether such a simple skill bar can be interesting and not “spammy”. The Elder Scrolls bar is supposedly even more simple.

I also saw a good video that went over the Guild Wars 2 cash shop. It looked like a basic prototype of the LotRO store. You can buy bank space, character slots, +10% damage and -%10 damage, +100% XP, and lots of cosmetics and fun items like fireworks and polymorph potions. Why haven’t I played the GW2 beta? I’m not pre-ordering for access. I applied twice but wasn’t invited, and I haven’t gotten a key any other way. So far I’ve seen mostly positive things. Hope you enjoy the videos.


The First Pillar Is First–Dragon Age 2

Image Did Not LoadBefore the launch of SWTOR, Bioware talked a lot about their new model of four pillars of game design: Exploration, Combat, Progression, and Story. Bioware uses characters with strong motives to energize their Story pillar because characters are the heart and soul of story. Characters move mountains, ravish princesses and princes, and start wars.

What’s the heart and soul of Progression? I’d say it’s the hero’s journey–the desire to venture forth to battle, seek treasure, overcome obstacles, and become powerful and great. Everyone wants to live a hero’s life. So what about Exploration? The first pillar is the first for a reason–it’s of first importance for fantasy fiction. We often take it for granted.

Aside from the continued simplification of DA2 , which is more a matter of opinion, (I’ve been trying to come up with a good euphemism for “dumbing down” because the phrase is getting stale) setting is the main weakness in the opening chapters of Dragon Age 2.

The Bioware devs were apparently so close to their project that they didn’t write for the average Jane. I didn’t even realize until I’d played Dragon Age for a few hours that this was a city campaign. The narrator just said a short blurb about Kirkwall during the boat voyage cinematics, something like this:

Kirkwall–the city of chains. A free city, in a manner of speaking.

And some other vague historical things that I didn’t bother write down after making a new character to verify whether or not I was imagining my perception of this. Speaking of historical things, everyone has probably read Robert Howard’s fiction, for contrast.

Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyberborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.

Okay, we’re psyched to go to seek our fortunes now, right? Gather your party and set sail for the tombs. Meanwhile, I know almost nothing about Kirkwall or the Free Marches where the city of DA2 is located. It’s probably somewhere in the depths of the journal that I’m supposed to be reading but never really do.

This design, by the way, is a real weakness of Bioware’s voice-over imperative. You speak to NPC’s and go back and forth with one-liners, but this isn’t close enough to describe a world, so you get these big “info dumps” in fiction writing terminology–you read a huge essay on a tablet or something.

Guess what is considered a no-no for fantasy and sci-fi writing? Info dumps. Avoid them, because your reader gets bored. Try to weave setting into the action and dialogue instead–something MMO writers so often just don’t do. Guess what? This latter strategy doesn’t work for Bioware. Voice file sizes will go haywire. Players will get bored listening to NPC’s drone on about backstory.

And with respect to the Exploration pillar, what can you really explore in Dragon Age 2? Linear dungeons with dead side-passages that lead to trash. The city overall is really nicely designed, though–the areas are big enough and the art and architecture are beautiful.

Bioware claimed that Dragon Age is the spiritual successor of Baldur’s Gate (these classics are on sale right now by the way–buy one get one free until the end of February at Good Old Games). I admit that in DA2, I’m finally feeling this a little bit. This is a really good thing.

You’ve got the snarky party banter. You’ve got this great city where random things do seem to happen, and adventure seems to be everywhere. My point is that I wish I felt a lot more of the good vibe of a great city adventure campaign–with more attention to the “first pillar.”

Also, I greatly admire the stylish, sleek maps and interfaces in DA2–this is some brilliant artist work–but the tried-and-true realistic fantasy art romances me better. (The art in the map graphic above is my own.) I kind of have the same reaction to the new stylistic, modern-looking maps in LotRO, which I’ve gone back to playing a little bit in the past few days–as predicted.

I signed up twice today for the Guild Wars 2 beta–once for English and once for Spanish. You too can throw in your bid for the next two days with the hopes of being chosen. Visit the article on Massively.com if you need a link.

I hope GW2 is great and surprises me, but I can’t help but feel like–as with SWTOR before launch–the game is slightly overrated right now. The similar combat system as the original, combined with the desire of Arenanet to put GW2 on consoles, are also speed limiters on my enthusiasm. The WvWvW PvP sounds interesting, but it makes no sense at all to me in terms of immersion.


Hitler, Rift, And What Class To Pick

Something we like to do here at KittyKitty is to collect information and links in one online place for later reference, and a bunch of videos kind of floated into the radar this week, so here you go.

Rift

These videos mixing Hitler and Rift may or may not be funny, depending on your perspective. Note they also contain quite a lot of F-bombs and other language that may be offensive to people. A thread posted in the Rift forums by Haristo, one of the authors, tipped us off today to these.

Hitler Opens A PvP Rift.
Hitler finds out Rift is better than WoW.
Hitler finds out Mages were nerfed again.

SWTOR

For something more wholesome, MMOGamerChick made a list a few days ago of the videos for the eight SWTOR base classes.

The “Fem-Shep” Trooper class (voiced by Jennifer Hale, the same as the female Shepard from Mass Effect) is pretty compelling from the voice alone as well as the big guns, but it would be weird hearing Fem-Shep in a different context. Yes? On the other hand, Force lightning is hard to resist. It’s just plain sexy. So…the Sith Inquisitor video kind of blew me away. It almost isn’t surprising that this class has been leading popularity polls by a wide margin for quite a while.

The Smuggler is at the back of the pack in that linked poll, making it look like the Smuggler is an underdog class. One of the Bioware writers singled out the Smuggler in an interview (with a grin on his face) as having a really wild ride for a story. How will the class mechanics (i.e. cover) work out in practice? This could be one of those little-played, much-appreciated classes.

Remember that each class in SWTOR splits later into one of two advanced classes, which is another consideration. Last I’ve heard, you can’t change your advanced class once chosen, but the ability to do so is still in consideration by Bioware. Your advanced class plays no role in your overall class story.

Guild Wars 2

A crop of new, high-quality Guild Wars 2 videos have also surfaced in the past few days, including the same type of class/race video show-offs as the ones above for SWTOR. You can check them out in HD at Gametrailers.


The MMO Bingo Game

Today Beau Hindman posted an article on Massively about grinding. The most interesting concept to me as that grinding is often used as a pejorative term by players–no one seems to like it.

Yet players in fact create the grind by demanding content and accomplishments, while the developers need to give them a hamster wheel to run, while at the same time managing how much rewards are given away.

Beau suggests that we need to leave grinding behind and outgrow it.

I don’t think we’ll ever outgrow it, as long as we have a significant number of players with an enormous thirst to play and play and play, then get bored and quit if there is nothing left to do, and as long as the game makers themselves have a reward system that involves keeping players playing as long as possible. I’m not seeing either of those situations going away any time soon with the usual subscription models.

Word on the street is that Guild Wars 2 will “not feature a grind”, among its other innovations, and it will be interesting to see how that turns out. (MMORPG article on GW2 progression.) If any game will be capable of bypassing the grind pit, it might actually be Guild Wars 2, which uses a different monetization and is not so entirely invested in keeping players on the monthly sub treadmill.

I like grinding, and see it as a way to achieve things and feel a little bit special in the game, and get something done on my own time. This is why I liked LotRO so much, and part of why I didn’t like them selling out every grind in every way. I have a lot of time. That’s my resource to use for achievement.

Other players have a lot more skill and fortitude in PvP than I do. Other players have a big guild and lots of friends to raid with. Ventrilo and the ilk, necessary for raiding, seriously hurt my immersion.

So what’s the deal with the Bingo in the above picture? It comes from a comment to the above-linked article at Massively. Borick unfurled a comment that startled me in its profundity. Crazy wisdom, or just crazy? Is the end game gear grind like a bingo game? You be the judge in the quote below, and tell me Borick isn’t taking a page from Dennis Miller at the end.

It took me a few minutes to understand “engineering arbitrary reward systems”. I take that to mean the situation of just dumping so much loot on the players that the loot becomes meaningless (“Monty Haul”), and the players run the game and get anything they want.

A grind is what happens when diminishing returns set in. When players feel rewarded, then the energy falls under ‘work ethics’. When the players do not feel rewarded, then the effort becomes a grind.

People can become disenfranchised because they lack skill or confidence in a competitive environment. They can become disenfranchised because they are competitive players held down in a noncompetitive environment.

Everyone becomes disenfranchised whenever developers start engineering arbitrary reward systems at the expense of giving freedom and power to the players.

One can say that the grind has remained constant or become more refined, but what about the rewards? Outside of a few ‘world firsts’ of dubious prestige, what leverage do players gain from the grind anymore?

“The Grind” was far more rewarding and exploitable in the early days — items with iconic effects or best-in-slot overpowered tweakiness. Nowadays we’re just filling in our Bingo card of ‘cheevs while waiting to consume the next scripted regurgitation from hackneyed developers.