Tuesday, 27 November 2012

[GW2] Moving Forward from "When it's Ready"

Before the release ANet's philosophy was always "When it's ready". They would never even show us content until they were absolutely sure that it was ready to ship, that's why we didn't see the sylvari for ages, and we learned about each of the professions with, usually, a few months in between each reveal.

But, during the recent AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread hosted by Chris Whiteside (Studio Design Director at ANet) Chris has admitted that:

"Personally i feel that aspects of the game ARE too grindy and we are working through these areas to correct our overall direction moving forward as well as taking some of our current progression systems and rewiring them for want of a better term for example different methods of acquisition related to the way different players like to play their content. 

 To be frank the ascended gear was designed to be earn able outside of the FotM and unfortunately we were unable to deploy this prior to the update. This (i hope) will not happen again"

What happened to "When it's ready"? If Ascended items were designed to be earned outside of the Fractals of the Mists then surely they should have been shipped to be earned outside of the Fractals of the Mists. Otherwise, you aren't going to please anyone: the horizontal progressioners will be angry you've gone back on your promise not to add a "gear grind", and the vertical progressioners will be disappointed that the progression is so flimsy and requires hours of grind over the same few instances.

Did ANet panic as the dreaded 3-month threshold loomed?

ps. Also, for the love of all that is holy - stop using the phrase "Moving forward": it absolutely smacks of business speak which I think you should always avoid when talking to plebs like us.

EDIT: Just going through the summary of last night on this page and came across this relevant piece of info:

Q: I am impressed you are participating in this for so long. I commend you.
Two questions: -If Ascended Gear and the Fractal of the Mist leveling system was not rolled out in the way you intended(being that theres only one way currently to obtain the gear, and the leveling system fragments the playerbase), why was it rolled out in the first place? I thought Arenanet was big on "When its ready", however this sounds like it was not ready but rushed out the door.
-Ive seen, and agree with, some posts concerning the aesthetic look of Medium gear compared to Light and ultimately Heavy(which looks the best hands down). Honestly, medium gear while leveling is terrible looking and there are only a small number of dungeon sets that you dont look like a pirate or something from MechWarrior. Are there plans to specifically overhaul the MEDIUM armor looks?
A: If you don't mind i will just answer the first question as the second is something that would be discussed at work. And thanks for taking the time to submit the questions.
So in regard to question 1: We had/have a plan to seed ascended through the game. It affects many many areas and systems and we wanted to essentially rewire aspects of reward progression. This is an ongoing priority. However this is a multi phase plan and during the creation of the FotM I wanted to roll out a subset of the plan to the community. The progression/reward system was not correctly deployed but the Dungeon was, at least in my opinion as i think the guys have done an amazing job. The reward system that was rolled out was also not 'as designed' due to some dependencies in other areas of the game. I made the decision to continue with the roll out and here we are today.
This is my responsibility, it was a bad call, but i have to say that whilst this could of been handled better i am still truly excited for what the future will bring and i wouldn't be doing this job if i didn't want to learn from extreme challenges and work with amazing people.
I very much appreciate the chance to connect with everyone not just in regard to this issue but the game as a whole. I am hoping to do this once a month with more team members and keep up more meaningful communication channels.
I hope this answers your question, going into anymore detail would take time away from answering other questions.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

[GW2] Fractals as Mash-Ups in Play-Space

The beauty of the Fractal of the Mists dungeons is that they allow ArenaNet to push out wacky and off-the-wall ideas which they might not necessarily be able to knit together into a full dungeon - but are nonetheless fun enough to work as a 20-30 minute instance. Fractals support ArenaNet's half-baked ideas (and ANet are the kings of half-baked ideas - hello "personality system") and give them leave to do... well, pretty much whatever they like.

The current Fractals are a mash-up of lore-based historical events, trendy pop-culture references and funky new mechanics. The Cliffside Fractal (also known as the Colossus Fractal) obviously came from someone saying: "Wouldn't it be cool if we had a dungeon with a gigantic living statue?" - this idea was probably slammed together with "I've got this idea for a mechanic with a powerful weapon which hurts you the longer you carry it." and mixed with a bit of Dr Manhattan from Watchmen. And out of this mash-up of crazy and interesting ideas pops a really fun little vignette (one of which I've yet to find a single detractor). Some Fractals might have been inspired by something as simple as a piece of concept art which never got realised in-game.

Also, because the Fractals occur "in the Mists" rather than in the tangible world of Tyria, they aren't truly bound by lore, space or by time. Sure, they're often significantly influenced by these factors - such as the "Urban Battlegrounds" Fractal which seems to take place during the Searing of Ascalon. But others seem to have little basis in anything we've seen before - such as the "Aquatic Ruins" or "Snowblind" Fractals. There is no need for ANet to justify where or when these events are happening, because they're occurring in a vacuum - a totally separate universe to the rest of the game world. The Mists is a true "play space"; unbound by many of the rules which ANet would have to abide by if they tried to play these stories out in the wider world.

So, they have the freedom to mess about, play and mix up just about anything they like. Imagine a Fractal which is a mash-up of Hogwarts (moving staircases, hidden doors behind paintings, ghosts on horseback riding through the halls*) and the historical event of the Foefire! Or festival themed Fractals such as a Dwayna vs Grenth battle for Wintersday (the withdrawal of the Gods from Tyria wouldn't matter in this instance, it's a Fractal, after all!)! Or, even, imagine they took the swimming animations and just stripped away the water and then stuck you in some ethereal limbo world or even accompanying Snaff through Kralkatorrik's mind.

I dunno, I'm just throwing these out there (though if any of these ideas appear in the next patch, I'll be expecting some sort of recompense). My point is that if they're going to use Fractals to let their imaginations run wild, then I think we can expect some pretty freaking awesome experiences in the future.

*this always confused me. You've got the Necrotic Horsemen from GW1, but I never saw a single horse in the entire game.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

[GW2] It's a Karka/It's Karka-lackin'

The Lost Shores release event has polarised... ok, not polarised - I'd say largely pissed off the community in a number of ways. I think people appreciated the concept, they liked the scenery and liked how the Karka were actually a challenge. But there were several elements of it's implementation that people felt were either inconvenient, frustrating or just downright wrong. I disagree with some peoples' gripes and agree with others.

The fact that it was a one-time event seems to be one of the biggest gripes. Before the game was released I stated that I actually like the idea of one-time events to create a feeling of epicness:

"Imagine instead a game where the developers accepted that if they were going to have a truly epic story, then it is going to have to have truly epic consequences and that means substantive changes to the landscape to reflect this. They would have to accept that with these changes to the world, player’s experiences would change and those who are tardy to the party are going to miss some elements."

That was my opinion then, and it is my opinion now. It sucks that the event was at an inconvenient time for some people - it really does, and I have sympathy for them - but if this was another event which was to be repeated a number of times throughout the day it would decrease its epicness: "I battled hard, and through sheer grit and determination I defeated the ancient karka and sent his heart burning into the depths of the earth! ...and then I did it again at 6, 9 and 12pm" . 

Making the event one-time means you can give out meaningful loot - loot which reflects the 3 or so hours effort, countless deaths and respawns, consumables, repair cost etc. I liked that they gave out significant exotic weapons as a reward for our efforts - I played hard for that loot and I don't think a cosmetic hat would quite have cut it. If the event was to repeat every 3 hours, you simply wouldn't be able to give this kind of loot - we'd have to go back to the (admittedly nice) festival cosmetic items and such (and ANet really don't want to give this stuff out for free - they want to sell it on the gem store, and rightly so). 

I've seen a few complaints that the players who were able to attend the event gained an advantage over those who weren't able to attend. 
I can't see how this is the case; people who attended the event and played through to the end received their rightful reward, but ultimately these rewards were no better in terms of stats than anything which is available to every other player in the game. Exotic items of exactly the same stats are obtainable through numerous methods - karma, gold, drops, chests, tokens, crafting, trading post. You aren't going to face an opponent in WvW and get beaten because he was able kill the ancient karka and you weren't. Just as ANet said - a hardcore player should not be able to get significantly better gear than a casual one.
Further, people who received a legendary precursor were no more or less advantaged than someone who spent those 3-4 hours grinding dungeon explorable modes - they got lucky on a chest roll. Myself, I got a unique exotic pistol (Master Blaster - not a precursor, which I put on the TP but hasn't sold yet) and an exotic shield (which I'm now using). I don't feel like I should have got a precursor, that's just the luck of the roll. Ultimately, what people got out of that chest should have no impact upon how other players play their game, apart from bringing the price of the items to a more manageable level in the trading post (which, for those looking to pick up a precursor - could only be a good thing!). 

Finally, we get to the gripes which I do agree with: the technical problems. There were those who played for 3 hours - got to the final chest, and then disconnected. Not cool man. Not. Cool. Thankfully, ANet are working on rewarding those players who missed out on their hard earned rewards:
It won't be an easy fix. It has to be handled delicately because you don't want to go rewarding those people who don't really deserve it (ie, at what point during the event do you say that the person has earned the right to access the chest? 5 minutes in? 1 hour in? etc - not easy). I think the fault for these problems has to fall equally on ANet and the player involved - if your connection/computer isn't quite up to scratch then yes, it is going to suffer in large events such as the other night's. But, equally, if ANet's login servers actually worked properly then those players might have been able to log in and claim their rewards on time. It's a difficult situation, and I think that ANet are good to try to address it, when they could have just said "tough cookie".

The only technical problem I encountered (other than continuously teleporting into the landscape and having to be portaled out (thanks Tasha and Elmo)) was the dreaded culling. We would be climbing the hive (for the first or second time) and suddenly great swathes of us would fall down dead - seemingly crushed by some invisible boulder. What had actually happened is that the game engine had prioritised loading the players around us, but not the gigantic veteran karka which had taken the chance to roll us up like marzipan on Wintersday. What this meant is that the event probably took about twice as long as it should because we were constantly having the respawn or spend half our time resurrecting our fellow players. 
ANet are, apparently, working on a fix for this. It will be some major changes to the fundamentals of the game, so I can't see if being within the next couple of weeks - but hopefully it won't be too long.  

ps. Oh, and I guess the "reinforcements" bit was a bit excessive.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

[GW2] How the Fight with Zaitan SHOULD Have gone down

This is a somewhat spoilery post if you haven't yet completed the campaign, you have been warned!

The way that the Elder Dragons were sold to us pre-release suggested that they were not typical "scaly-fire-breathy-big-toothy" dragons, but more embodiments of extreme hate, hunger, lust and greed. Whirling tumults of death and destruction whose very presence can send people mad, corrupt the souls of lesser beings and burn a river of pain onto the landscape.

These are the beings which roamed Tyria before even the human gods, before any of the current surface dwellers were even scratching glyphs into cave walls, even before Trahearne was hatching his scheme to recruit a young player to come and save the world so he can take credit. The Elder Dragons are primeval in the truest sense.

Similarly, anyone who has fought one of the Elder Dragons champions would surely attest to their power. The Claw of Jormag summons great waves of ice and pain, and springs shards out of the ground which impale unsuspecting players. It takes 40+ players and half of the pact army just to bring him to the ground. Have you seen the size of the laser we have to use to take down Tequila Sunri... I mean Tequatl the Sunless? The Shatterer - well, the less said about the Shatterer the better really (can we ramp up his difficulty plox ANet? Kay. Thanks).

Anyway, my point is that once you've fought your way through these dragon peons you'd be forgiven for quaking in your boots at the prospect of having to fight the big cheese! The big-cheese turns out to be more of a Baby-Bel. Less of a "whirling tumult of death and destruction" and more of a "spinning top of farts and disappointment".

The encounter with Zaitan is 15mins of work at best, most of it spent sitting on a mounted cannon and hitting 1 - hoping that you're actually doing some damage (this isn't really that clear). Zaitan clings to a mountainside and just takes it, like an abused triceratops plushie tied to the front of an articulated lorry. "Stop iiiitt, owweee, Stoooop iiit - guys!".

It just wasn't as epic as I thought it was going to be. He's an Elder Dragon for crying out loud - if it takes a whole army of us to take down one of his minions, we shouldn't be able to take him out with a flying boat and rag-tag group of adventurers (particularly if said adventurers keep throwing themselves off the flying boat  just to see what happens - "weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee splat").

I think ANet should have taken a leaf out of Squeenix's book in an attempt to make the battle more epic. The way they framed the antagonist "Sin" in Final Fantasy X was fantastic, you felt genuine dread thinking that you would soon be facing an enemy of such an epic scale, and that is because they approached the battle with delicacy. The stories are relatively similar - gigantic embodiment of evil emerges from the ether, begins destroying world, spawns "Sinspawn" minions, group of adventurers take to the skies to take him down (obviously FFX has extra layers: the origin of sin, the history etc - brilliant game, btw).

Sin is so fantastically epic that the players cannot face him head on, they would simply be annihilated - so you have to whittle him down - facing his eye, his fin, his arsehole etc. Before finally travelling inside Sin himself to destroy the essence inside. Now - I'm not saying that ANet should have followed this process exactly but they could certainly have learnt some lessons:

1) You cannot just plop the big-bad on a shelf and allow us to take pot-shots at him. This just cannot happen, this is the big-bad - he has to be so big and so bad that we cannot comprehend him. Yes, the twisting mass of snakes which Zaitan turned out to be was pretty cool, but he looked pretty small clinging to the mountainside like that. The cannons should have been Phase 1 of the battle - have us fire blindly into a cloud of dust which occasionally erupts with fire and lightning - with the odd snake's head or scaled tail whipping out to attack us. Tease us with the big reveal - don't just stick him out there for all to see.

2) He has to be a constant threat. Even in his weakened state, we should always feel like he might just be biding his time. I never once felt like he might win the battle. Give the poor guy some balls, for pities sake.

3) The killer always comes back for one last scare. Just when we think we've killed him, Zaitan should have leapt at the airship (possibly wrestling with the ship in a Gandalf vs Balrog style battle) and tore us to the ground. Then, emerging from the dust groggy and confused - he should have reared from the wreckage, weakened, but angrier than ever. This should have been the big reveal - rather than sticking him to a mountainside, have him rear up out of the ground and tower above us - forcing the player to crane their necks upwards to even get a look at his slavering muzzle.

4) If you're going to have us fight from an airship - at least keep the battle moving. We can both fly, there's lots of mountaintops to stop on - keep it active and interesting.

5) Finally, someone has to die. This is just a given. After the length of campaign which we endured, someone has to pop their clogs. That's how you scale the battle from 40+ people down to 5 and still maintain the epicness. As if you're saying this person made the "ultimate sacrifice" and that's why the battle was won. I think we all know who I mean here. Bloody leafy-freeloader.

Monday, 12 November 2012

[GW2] A Proposal to Increase Population of Home Cities

Just as ArenaNet intended, Lion's Arch is the most populated city in the game. And rightly so - it has free transport (though currently convoluted - but hopefully that will change), all the amenities in easily accessible locations and access to the Mystic Forge, WvW/PvP areas, portals to all other cities and finally the jumping puzzles. It's a fantastic city.

However, as a result of LA's popularity - each of the racial home cities is relatively neglected. Even at peak times you'd struggle to find 10 people wandering around these superbly constructed metropolises. This is a shame, all that effort made by the designers really shouldn't be going to waste. We need to encourage a sense of ownership of each city for the equivalent race. So, here's a few rough thoughts about how ANet might encourage people to return home.

1) Add in certain inherent bonuses for races when they're in their home cities. Buffs such as increased crafting critical or increased chance to salvage armour successfully would really bring the people home. This is a tough one, because you don't want to intentionally split the community down racial lines and essentially force people to city-hop when they're doing tasks (ie, craft the armour in LA, hop to the Grove to salvage it for ectos). So, perhaps these could be on a cycle? During the day in the Grove sylvari huntsman have a higher chance to critical due to sunlight aiding in their tree-singing. Asuran artificers have a higher chance to critical during the hours of 9-5 in Rata Sum because of their fantastic work ethic. On Sundays in Hoelbrak norn cooks have a higher chance to critical because the weekend is for feasting! By making the bonuses relatively short-term it would mean that if people choose to craft in LA they wouldn't be significantly disadvantaged - but it would draw some of the crafting crowd to home cities.
Perhaps you could even do away with the racial element entirely, and just say "Huntsman in the Grove gain a crafting critical bonus during the day" to draw in the tourist crowd.

2) For the love of all that is holy - free.fricken.waypoints. The current process to get to Divinity's Reach is: "click crossed swords at top of screen - travel to the mists - run across the courtyard into the portal to LA - reach LA - waypoint to city portals - run through portal to Divinities Reach - arrive at destination". This is ridonkulous - just give us free travel to LA for everyone, and free travel to our home cities for the equivalent races.

3) Add in more city-based events. Currently the only thing which gives anyone a reason to travel to another home city is keg-brawl in Hoelbrak. Give us a Sunday market in Divinity's Reach selling cut-price "food-in-bulk". Give us bar-crawls in Hoelbrak on a Friday night, pit-fighting in the Black Citadel every Wednesday and Polymock in Rata Sum (get that portal working for crying out loud). Give people the chance to say "Hey, *insert guildmate name here* it's Saturday, we should go to the Grove and watch the Tree-singers!".

4) Improve the home instance. Currently the place is pretty pitiful - most people don't really know where theirs is, and if they do they might have been there only once or twice in 300 hours of playing (speaking for myself). Improving this feature could be the subject of an entire post in itself. But I've got a few quick suggestions:

  • A noticeboard showing your friends'/Guildmates' stats.
  • Buffs for visiting certain NPCs you encountered along your storyline. "Go and visit the orphanage you saved and get an hour long 5% speed boost (to get away from those snivelling little... *cough* bundles of joy)"
  • Weapon/Armour racks. What am I going to do with my Mystic Battlehammer once I (a long way off) get Sunrise? I want to display it!
  • Allow us to waypoint directly into our instance. 
5) Jumping puzzles. I love these things, I do the ones in LA a few times a week compared to the ones in the wide world which I might do once or twice during my entire play time. Give us one or two JPs in each city and you'll draw the lazy jumper crowd at least once a day. Divinities Reach has some brilliant opportunities to add a rooftop-trotting puzzle, and Rata Sum is in dire need of a puzzle which could take us either under or above the city on floating cubes.

Those are just a few of the ways we could improve the home cities. I think even one or two would improve them immensely.

EDIT: Or you could just fill Lion's Arch with scaly monsters from the deep. That might encourage people to visit the other cities.

Friday, 2 November 2012

[GW2] I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles - Mordramoth: The Deep Sea Dragon?

With The Lost Shore coming later this month, significant speculation has begun as to what the "monstrous" threat to Tyria might turn out to be. Seeing as the threat appears to be coming from the sea, the general theory is that we are going to see the emergence of the "Deep Sea Dragon" or, more affectionately: "Bubbles".

Bubbles is the only one of the elder dragons not to have been named in any way, we've seen Kralkatorrik burn the Dragonbrand across the land of Ascalon and he is assumed to be lurking somewhere in the far north of the land, Primordius has awoken his Destroyers and is tearing into the stone dwarves deep below the surface of Tyria, Jormag and his Sons of Svanir are terrorizing the Far Shiverpeaks, and of course Zaitan is eating dirt after getting a heavy dose of cannon fodder to the belly. Some of these antagonists have had cameos in the novels - most notably Kralkatorrik in Edge of Destiny. 

But Bubbles has remained a relative mystery. We know that his awakening has forced the krait, largos and quaggan out of their deep-sea homes and into shallower waters around Tyria. However, one crafty Redditor has also been able to take a guess at his name:

Tracewyvernthe Wish Granter 
Is it possible that "Bubbles"'s true name is Mordramoth?
Subject Alpha (the Crucible of Eternity final boss) uses the skills "Teeth of Primordus", "Tooth of Jormag", and "Teeth of Mordramoth"... makes you wonder.

Damn you people are crafty...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

[GW2] The Lost Shores

We all knew there was something big coming in November. I don't think the anticipation has quite had the chance to peak - considering we're still riding the Halloween wave.
But now it's here:

The Lost Shores

November 2012

Something stirs in the Sea of Sorrows…
Unravel a mystery of monstrous proportions in The Lost Shores, a massive one-time world event that will change Tyria forever! 

Oh my LORD!

The screenshots don't give too much away - a ship (possibly undead) lurking in the background, strange anemone and coral-like structures. It looks like a totally new zone! "Monstrous Proportions" suggests massive world-bosses on a dragon-scale (pun totally and utterly intended)! If this event will truly "change Tyria forever!" then I will be very happy!
Perhaps this could also coincide with the very eagerly anticipated third novel "Sea of Sorrows" by *sigh* Ree Soesbee (sorry B). So excited!

Also worth noting the "December 2012 - Coming soon!" part at the top - suggesting an equally exciting update will be dropping in December (though this could just (and I just the word "just quite wrongly here) be Wintersday).


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