Embracing the knowledge gap

The topic of the day seems to be about accessible information and how it "kills" immersion. Without really consciously deciding, I have always taken an approach to new games of trying to solve things for myself first. Long tutorials annoy me, it is fine to give me some basics but for the most part I just want to jump into the game and play.

I have never read the descriptions of abilities that I have not earned yet. I like to be surprised by a new ability when I get one. Guild Wars 2′s unlocking of weapon skills is fun in that regard, and as soon as I have unlocked one weapon type I start searching for others I can equip.

If I come across a puzzle I try to solve it myself. Only after a certain number of tries and frustration really builds will I turn to the internet for an answer. I like puzzles to be intuitive, but not punishing.

I spend points in talent trees without really looking ahead at later abilities I can buy. This might make me an inefficient gamer, but there is always time to redo your builds or play with online build calculators at a later date.

The early days of leveling are all about exploration and about learning what your character can do. It is about pushing the limits and going in with little knowledge and expectations of what will happen. Usually on my first run through a new MMO I make a lot of mistakes. I might choose the wrong class for me or the wrong crafting skill. Even though my brain really wants to agonize and optimize by its nature, I try to ignore its screams. At some point all that sparkles will start to dull, but if that happens in a year or only a month’s time depends somewhat on how shallow or deep the game truly is, and somewhat on the player’s approach.

Tiers for Fears

As anyone reading this has no doubt heard, ArenaNet made changes to the skill system in GW2 recently. Instead of being able to purchase any skill in the list as long as you had the skill points to spend, we will now have to purchase skills in a certain tier before moving on to the next. Interestingly this is also how the ability wheel works in the Secret World.

This was a commonly asked question during yesterday’s AMA Reddit with the ArenaNet team, as some are concerned they are removing player choice. I recently purchased the original Guild Wars trilogy so I could work on some of the Hall of Monuments points and I have a new perspective now.

In Guild Wars you need to buy your abilities from a vendor with skill points. Especially after you pick your secondary profession, you are presented with a lot of choices right away. It could certainly be just one of my personal quirks, but I was already feeling pretty overwhelmed. I had a new character in a new game that I was trying to get a handle on, and now I had to figure out which abilities looked like they would be the most useful to not only spend my precious points on but also equip on my hotbar. You have to make the same choices for your NPC "heroes" as well.

I don’t mind my choices being more limited earlier on in the game. Let me just play the class for a while until I feel confident, and let me switch up my build later on for various different purposes. At least with a tiered system I wouldn’t feel like I wasted my points if I found I didn’t really like an ability, because I had to buy it anyway to get to something better. My true hope is that all the abilities will be something useful, but I can’t say that any MMO I’ve played has accomplished that feat. Some abilities will always seem weak in comparison to others.

Kiting Hell

Diablo 3 is starting to wear on me. I’m in Hell level now and it is appropriately named. I don’t mind challenge, but there are things about Hell level that are just downright mean. Notice that some of the “blue” mobs will explode after they die? Blizzard knows you are going to be surviving these pulls with very little health left, so the explosion will likely kill you and be a final “F you”.

I was having a great time up until Act III, where you are running through the deserts outside Caldeum and looking for the dungeons to get Kulle’s blood and what have you. The zone is large and the dungeon entrances are likely spread out, and while you are running all over that map looking for them you’ll definitely run into packs of mobs with the blue elites. It seems all classes have to start kiting these around, because you can no longer stand toe to toe with them even if you are a melee class. In fact kiting is just the name of the game after this point. While you are kiting them around trying not to die, you must find some way to stand still for few seconds to get a few shots in. Inevitably in the open zones you will run into another pack of mobs and before you know it you’ve agroed them too. Inside dungeons you quickly run out of space to kite, so getting boxed in somewhere and dying simply because you can’t move is very common.

Gear is also harder to come by at this point because the Rare items don’t drop very often in Hell mode. Apparently this was to stop people from farming the bosses. Therefore I’ve been unable to find much level 50+ gear on the AH that wasn’t an exorbitant price. Instead I’ve been leveling up jewelcrafting and just replacing the gems in my gear when I can.

I also feel part of the issue is that the game doesn’t scale well for group play. It seems adding just one other player makes things exponentially harder than it is soloing, yet it wasn’t a problem at all in normal or nightmare mode. This doesn’t exactly encourage grouping with others.

At this point I’ve become very frustrated from dying over and over. I’ve done the best I can with my gear and I’ve experimented with many different builds on my Wizard. I’ve survived impressively at times, while other times it seems just bad luck with the randomized encounters can really stand in the way of getting to the next Checkpoint. When I start getting stressed and aggravated by a game it becomes time for me to step back. I need to decide if I want to press on and finish Hell mode, but to do so would be a bit masochistic.

I might still get some enjoyment out of the game by leveling up some other classes, but 3 weeks of solid play is still worth the price of the game to me.

A Light in Dark Places

I’m feeling a bit melancholy today. Most likely it is due to having a nice, long weekend of relaxation only to be confronted with the grim reality of my workplace today. Back to the grind as it were. On top of that, I’ve just read up on the layoffs at Bioware and 38 Studios, and it seems our little MMO world is crashing down around us.
After the colossal mess that occurred with 38 Studios and taxpayer funded loans, I do agree with Scott Jennings that this is going to scare off potential future investments in the industry.

I think about the games to be released this year and the mounting pressure building up on them to succeed. The Secret World is releasing first assuming it doesn’t get further delayed, but I still believe TSW will attract a smaller audience from the beginning. It doesn’t get the same level of buzz and excitement that Guild Wars 2 is getting right now. Already there are strong communities, fansites, blogs and podcasts forming around GW2.

I have something to be positive about today and that was the announcement of the next GW2 weekend beta. The community will get to test Arenanet’s mettle, and find out if they truly did fix the issues identified in the first round. If we log in to find stable servers, less lag in highly populated areas, and parties that stay together when zoning it will be a success. I am perfectly OK with them fixing those types of issues before opening up Asura and Sylvari races to us.

These beta weekends give us just a small taste, revealing a bit more each time before turning off the light. I have not played an MMO regularly since March. I’m like a moth flying in the dark, getting ever closer to the lamp in the distance and hoping to find a warm spot on the glass.

Will I Look to the Horizon and See a New Dawn

Taugrim made a post about horizontal scaling in Guild Wars 2 via content that can get replayed "forever" in the case of WvW and structured PvP. The post got me thinking about GW2′s progression and how to really define it.

Taking into consideration what I do know about the game via reading and playing one beta weekend, Guild Wars 2 seems to be a game with both horizontal and vertical elements.

The more traditional and vertical progression is still alive and well in GW2 in the form of character levels, unlockable "traits" that you need to earn skill points to purchase, gear with stats and level ranges, and level ranges on the PvE zone content and dungeons.

The horizontal progression comes in with the automatic downscaling of player level so you can play in lower level zones. This essentially widens the areas you can PvE in rather than having to make a choice along the way. Technically, you could quest in a particular zone over and over and still progress in the game, but how long would a person conceivably do so? At some point, players will tire of the content and a game expansion would have to be released to bring the PvE’er back. Even with dynamic events in the PvE zones, the events are not infinite and will eventually be experienced by all.

As Taugrim points out, there is more opportunity for horizontal scaling in the PvP portions of the game. All players in WvW are bolstered to level 80, but there are still some vertical elements here as you still need to unlock your traits. You can earn those traits in the Mists and gain experience just like you would through PvE, but there is still a disadvantage for those who aren’t "true" level 80s. Aside from that, you could play in this area indefinitely and have different player-made experiences, and with multiple profession types.

Structured PvP (or what would be the equivalent of battlegrounds or arenas) takes away the disadvantages by giving everyone access to the same gear and traits upon joining. As far as I can tell, the only real progression in structured PvP is to gain Glory. You use Glory to purchase different gear skins, but not more powerful gear, therefore making it purely a bragging right.

This horizontal scaling seems to go hand-in-hand with player generated content like PvP. It leaves me with the question of what will happen to players who really don’t PvP at all? With no raiding to fall back on, they may leave in droves once they’ve experienced the PvE content with as many professions as they care to create. That would not bode well for life out in the lands of Tyria. Our hope rests with Arenanet seeing the trend and counteracting it, if indeed it becomes a problem at all.

Interrupting Cain

Last night I completed Diablo 3 in normal mode. I finished Act IV in a group of three, so it could have been due to the fact that we were tearing through everything, but the last Act felt like it was over in no time.

I didn’t buy Diablo 3 for its story, and I’m sure most people knew exactly what to expect from this game. It is about gearing up your character and slicing through mobs. It was great fun playing my Monk and trying to break my record for monsters killed with a single blow. I even enjoyed grouping with my husband and friends when serendipity struck and we happened to be at the same story point.

I still think the Lore audio bits that play are awesome. They are a nice way to deliver additional backstory without stopping the action. Many MMOs have some sort of Codex (Warhammer, Rift, & SWTOR come to mind) in which you can read to learn more about NPCs or the world. I always tell myself I will read these entries during downtime, but in truth that downtime never comes. I find it a bit sad that someone wrote all that content and yet it is very likely that only a few people read it. These audio files solve that problem, with one caveat.

Many times I would find a lore book on the ground and start playing it, only they would appear at very inconvenient times. The book would drop right before the conclusion of my current quest, in which an NPC would pop in and rudely interrupt the audio clip. You can go into your journal and start playing the clip again, but I found that too cumbersome during times that I was grouped and we kept plowing on. It made me wonder why the developers didn’t time the finding of these books (or the clips that play when you fight a certain monster type) better.

After finishing Act IV, you can hop back into the game after the credits roll which you will most likely do to identify your loot. You get plopped back into Tristram to start all over. I need some way to process the dissonance, so I will pretend my character had their memory wiped and was just sent back in time.

A Crowded Dungeon

Diablo 3 has a neat feature where if you know someones battle.net tag, you can add them as a friend. It shows when your friends are online and you can instantly join their game. You have regular text party chat just like in an MMORPG.

Last night shortly after I created my first character, one of my co-workers whom I had swapped IDs with just appeared in my game. He was four levels lower than me but that didn’t seem to matter. The dungeon challenge level adjusts and you fight more monsters at once. He was able to catch up pretty quickly to me in level so it would appear you also get more experience when grouped.

The problem with having someone else in your game, especially someone that you don’t know super well on a personal level, is that one person winds up deciding which way to go and the other follows. There are numerous ways to go in a dungeon, and part of the fun for me is to explore every corner. I did not know if my friend felt the same way about exploration, or if he just wanted to get to the objective in the most direct way possible.

The years of playing MMOs have clearly shaped me. When I group with other people I feel this need to be efficient, and to be really good at playing the game so I don’t cause wipes or failures. Suddenly I’m not stopping to take in scenery, or paying much attention to the lore audio clips that play in the background. I don’t want to stop moving for too long while staring at my skills or the stuff in my inventory. I get into the “go go go” mentality.

However I’m also a polite person, so I don’t want to tell my friend to shove off because I want to play alone. It is difficult to convey to someone without it hurting their feelings. There will most certainly be times that I want to group so I’m not looking to burn bridges either.

If Diablo 3 implemented a way to make yourself appear offline even when you were not, it could solve the issue in a non-confrontational way. At the character selection screen you can set yourself as “busy” or “away”, but not “appear offline”. A quick search of the battle.net forums shows many other people want the feature.

If I can’t hide from the world I’ll either have to change my mindset, or become more assertive.