Monday, 30 January 2012

[GW2] The Jotun: Just as Cuddly as they Look

When entering the Eye of the North campaign for the first time (in the preview weekend) I remember one of the most surprising and imposing opponents were the Jotun. Standing twice as tall as the tallest of norn they towered over every opponent, and their potent combination of fast-cast hexes and devastating melee attacks really packed a punch on us intrepid southern explorers.

As with a lot of the Guild Wars enemies, the Jotun have received a bit of a revamp in the new game. The latest article on the ANet blog tells us the story of their fall from grace; torn apart by their own greed and violent rivalries. The Jotun were once great and fierce warriors and spell casters; their giant-kings drove out all enemies and established themselves as top dogs in the north through sheer force and determination. But their own explosively competitive nature got the better of them when, seeing no other enemies to conquer, they turned their attentions inwards. Eventually, after generations of infighting and systematic slaughter – family against family – they were reduced to the slobbering louts we encountered upon our early furores in the north so many years ago.

ANet have diligently attributed back stories to enemies which provided little more than an obstacle to be overcome in the previous game. I hope that these stories will go further than just the words on their blog, and properly transmute into the game. It’s all well-and-good setting up a back-story for a race, and then plonking them in the game to be just another piece of meat to fry, but hopefully ANet will weave these back stories into the dynamic events and personal stories of each of our characters. Perhaps we might invoke the ancient spirit of a long-lost giant king (just for shits and giggles) or maybe we could help to rebuild a crumbling monument in order to quell the fury of a particularly violent Jotun family? Stories are great for us lore-buds and I’m more than happy to devour any literature which ANet can provide which further serves to flesh out the world they are providing. But, as my lecturer would always say “something is real if it is real in its consequences” and the stories won’t become “real” until you can touch, see and play your own part in them.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

[GW] Atomisation: Building with Raw Materials

If you atomise (i.e. split it up into its smallest parts) any skill system you can see it is essentially comprised of the following raw materials:

An effect (or a number of effects). These could be damage, healing, reduced movement speed, increased attack speed or other fancy things such as teleporting the player etc. The effect can vary in three respects: magnitude, condition and duration.

A cost. Usually energy/mana/magicka. It is the resource you deplete when you use the skill.

Limiting factors. These are cast time, recharge time and other fancier things like requiring skill chaining or environmental factors.

Part of the job of balancing a skill is finding an equilibrium between these three elements; and making sure that for each point of energy/adrenaline you spend (when factoring in the limiting factors) you gain the same amount of effect for every skill in the game.

E.g. if one skill costs 10 energy and does 100 damage with a 1 second cast time and 5 second recharge, and another skill costs 20 energy and does 150 damage with the same limiting factors you could say that the two skills are not balanced, because for each energy point you spend on the first skill you get 10 damage, but for each point spent on the second skill you only get 7.5 damage.

Part of what makes balancing MMOs so difficult is that you have to factor in all these elements in relation to each other both within the skill itself and in relation to every other skill in the game (this is particularly true with GW1, considering the secondary profession system gives you access to every skill in the game) and also take into account how the effect of the skill interacts with other skills available to the player. Anyway, I’m getting way off topic, for my views on balancing head here: CLICKY!

Back to my point; learning the relative weights of each of these elements can help you look at a skill and assess its worth. You can come to an axe attack which does 100 damage and know that it is garbage because of its 20 energy cost. Or look at a fireball spell which causes 50 damage for only 5 energy and know that it is essentially useless because of its 45 second recharge. On the flip-side, you could spot that a skill which does 35 damage and know that it is the dogs-bollocks because of its 1 second recharge time and ¼ second cast time.

Effective team builders are able to do this process of weighing up a skill’s worth in the context of the bar itself, in relation to every other bar in their team’s build and also in relation to the enemies they are likely to face when they step into the combat zone. The vast majority of you do these kind of mental gymnastics almost every time you log into the game, it probably comes naturally and you don’t even realise you’re doing it.

It becomes more impressive when you use it in the field: it’s more than just reacting to a gunshot in Call of Duty or deftly taking the ball around a keeper in FIFA. It is lightning-fast mental arithmetic on a grand scale; if an Iboga casts Conjure Phantasm on your Elementalist and you see that he is struggling to stay alive, you quickly calculate the advantages and disadvantages of using the mechanics and tools set in front of you. If you use your hex removal (15e, 1s cast, 15s recharge) it will remove the threat initially, but the Iboga will likely recast his hexes pretty quickly and you will have spent 15 energy and be back to square 1 without a hex removal, so that’s out of the question. You could throw Healing Breeze on him and hope to counteract the hex, but you know that you would just stem the tide (because you can see by how fast his bar is dropping that your regeneration will only neutralise the degeneration on your ally and not heal him). You decide on straight out healing and cast Orison of Healing on him to bring his health back up – this gives you a buffer, and will counter both the degeneration and the base damage he is likely receiving from other sources.
In the split second which you made this decision you calculated the relative weights of each of the skills on your bar in relation to the context of the situation and in relation to the relative weights of the skills on the opponents bar.
And they say playing video games rots your brain.

Monday, 23 January 2012

[GW2] A VERY Dragon-y Year to Come

With all their cards now laid out on the table, ArenaNet have seen fit to release the dragon. Although the announcement of the beta and 2012 release are a relief, I wouldn’t say they were that much of a surprise. Most people were predicting a Q2/3 2012 release anyway, and that was always going to be preceded by beta testing. Still, the Guild Wars Posse (yes, you are a Posse) is a-buzz with excitement and the more optimistic of us are praying for a June release.

It’s a particularly Dragon-y year this year. Here’s just a short list of the dragon-y things which are going on:

• Release of the final book in the Inheritance cycle (Eragon series) – a book I consumed with voracious hunger. Started reading the series years and years ago and have been devouring the books upon release ever since. A story of one boy’s slightly sexual relationship with a gigantic lizard.

• Rise of the “Fire and Ice” series (particularly owing to the Sky 1 series with SEEEEN BEEEEEN!). Once again, *SPOILER* involves dragons. Kudos goes to these particular dragons for their interesting introduction involving breast-feeding. Epic nipple-rash.

• Skyrim (FUS RO DA!). This game is jam-packed with dragons. It is full to the brim with scaly, screechy winged demons. I must be the only person on the planet not to have completed it, but from what I can gather (and without having fiddled with the difficulty slider); a typical dragon can be dispatched by shouting at it. Wuss.

• Minecraft. Apparently, there are dragons in Minecraft now. *shrug*

• And, of course, Guild Wars 2 will be dropping the D-bomb before the year is out.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to invest in some fire-retardant underpants.

Also, considering the beta is going to step up in April and taking into account any changes they might need to make, perhaps we are thinking release around end of June/early July?

Anyone else looking forward to the DRAGON FESTIVAL this year? (take note of the date)

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

[GW] Kicking the Habit: Moving from Needs to Wants

My life in Guild Wars over the past few years has been defined two parallel, but often converging, lines of action.

On the one hand there is the line which contains all that I want to do. I want to explore the world, I want to obtain all the titles, I want to complete all the quests, I want to finish the Underworld Elite Mission. They aren't things which necessarily lead to any kind of reward (although most of them certainly do) rather they are things which I want to achieve and experience before I move on with the game.

On the other hand there is the line which contains all that I feel I need to do. This line mainly comes from a sense of urgency I've felt with the impending release of the new game. They aren't needs like how I need to breathe, or I need to go to work to earn a living, but they are actions which I will put above all other actions in the game in order to get done quickly - even if they might be unpleasant or boring.

I understand the pathological connotations of having needs which stem from a video game, it seems rather backward and childish, even anti-social or damaging. But everyone who has worked hard for their titles knows how addictive it can be, and how infuriating it is to leave some of them unfinished when you're SO close.

Over the past year or two the game has seen a divergence between the two lines. I felt that what I wanted to do was slipping further and further away from what I needed to do before Guild Wars 2 comes out. I have wanted to complete the Guild Wars Beyond storyline for a while now, but the need to glug down hundreds of tonics, endlessly zoning between the Guild Hall and Zaishen Menagerie, has somewhat taken precedence and even before that my focus on not losing my Survivor title was my primary objective.

Thankfully, having now completed GWAMM I can feel the two lines converging again. I can say to myself; "I don't really need to do anything", I've achieved most of what I need to achieve to maximise my enjoyment of the new game. I can finally ask myself "what do I want to do". At the moment the answer is "not play Guild Wars" at least for a few weeks. After that, who knows? I still need to complete Underworld (in both Normal and Hard Mode), I'd quite like to buy some obsidian armour and gather a few more minis.

I suppose the title of this post is rather misleading: I haven't kicked the habit at all. I'm like a drug addict who has found the perfect drug and achieved the perfect high. For now there is no need to start injecting myself with anything else (there is nothing else above GWAMM to compare) but as soon as there is you know I'll be right back on the wagon.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Whitehall, 1 2, 1 2

My relative radio silence over the past few weeks has, I’m sure, been extremely traumatic for you all. I normally have a policy of never bringing it to your attention when I’ve had some blog-downtime, as I once heard from a very wise blogger that if you don’t bring it up to apologise for it, no one will notice. But @Kvand91 was pining for me, so I thought I’d address it. The reasons are two-fold:

1) Still without a smartphone, I am required to turn my computer on and sit down in front of it if I wish to tweet/email.

2) On New Year’s day me and my friends tried to take a photo like the guys from Anchorman and as I jumped I pulled a muscle in my lower back.
Wracked with pain, I’ve spent the majority of the last week flat out on the sofa and the thought of spending even a few minutes sitting at my computer has brought me out in cold sweats. So, I’ve played a hell of a lot of Modern Warfare 3 and FIFA12, in addition to working my way through the entirety of Season 3 of Fringe (and a little bit of Season 1 too!).

However, after my (admittedly rather enjoyable) week on the sofa, my back seems to be almost completely healed. Also, I should be receiving my fancy new Samsung Galaxy SII any time now. So, prepare to be bombarded by Tweets and emails.

You have been warned.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

[GW] GWAMM - I have drank SO many Frosty Tonics

*Snaps Guild Wars disc over knee*
You can't hurt anyone anymore!

ps. what do you mean you don't need the disc to play the game?!


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