Category Archives: Guild Wars 2

[GW2] Entangled Upwards

Episode 2 of Guild War 2’s Season 2 (that’s a lot of 2’s) feels like rising action, a flashback, and also foreshadowing. Episode 1 was an easily-digestible story in the desert as we figured out who sabotaged the Zephyrites. Episode 2 starts adding a bit more complexity to the story. There’s good and bad, but it’s clear (especially from the teaser for Episode 3) that the picture frame is expanding. Spoilers herein.

Scarlet’s Legacy

Entanglement starts off where Episode 1 left off: with Scarlet. Or rather, with Scarlet’s memory and effects. At the end of Episode 1 we left Taimi in Scarlet’s old holdout to catalogue and research Scarlet’s early workings. Episode 2 sends us scrambling back at the request of Braham because Mordremoth’s (the plant dragon’s) vines have overtaken the town of Prosperity killing virtually everybody off but the bartender. Drooburt couldn’t get away in time because he was overladen with “donations” (read: death weights) of the players. Continue reading

[GW2] Entangled Thoughts

Episode 2 of Guild Wars 2′s Season 2 came out earlier this week. They at least tripled the size of the new zone, Dry Top. There are a handful of new story instances, and there are two new weapon sets. Everything once again feels very tight and polished. The world has changed in bits. The world has expanded in others. All-in-all, ArenaNet’s sophomore production is going great.

Topping Off Dry Top

I haven’t really commented on the design of the new zone Dry Top. I don’t mean the fantastic art design, which is fantastic. The canyon that I saw near the new Uplands sub-zone is amazing. It looks artistic and real at the same time. Mostly it just looks impressive, and I feel trapped in it. The canyon leads to the first hints of the Maguuma Jungle, by way of Dry Top, and then south of that it turns back to windswept desert. There is also a secret place I’ll discuss next week. No, as usual, the ArenaNet map squad has done brilliant work. Continue reading

Loss Versus Failure to Gain

Game developers manipulate player desires by presenting the same options differently. Player reactions are empiricably testable with cash shop setups.

I frequently cite the example of having a “hunger” debuff versus a “well-fed” buff. These can be designed to be numerically identical, where the character has higher base stats that are debuffed by hunger or lower base stats that are buffed by food. You balance content around the higher number in either case. Players will complain about a hunger debuff but feel like they have been given something extra with a food buff. Even if the numbers are identical, humans are unhappy if you tell them you are taking something away from them, whereas they barely notice if they fail to gain something.

Many cash shops have some sort of lottery option. You can give the developers $X for a chance at items or whatever. What you see at least as often these days, because we would predict that it works better, is giving you a lottery ticket or prize you can pay $X to unlock. In the former case, you can play the lottery by giving me $X; in the latter, this lottery ticket is now yours, but you cannot redeem it unless you give me $X. Same lottery, same prize, same $X. If you doubt which implementation yields more sales, look at where the developers are betting. Team Fortress 2? Locked crates with keys in the cash shop. Guild Wars 2? Black Lion chests with keys in the cash shop.

Developers can make this more concrete by adding time pressure: the box/ticket expires in a week or after the event. Some players might still see a locked chest or lottery ticket as a failure to gain, but if it is going to disappear in a few days, they have definitely lost something, even if only an opportunity. The perception of scarcity also plays in here; you always have access to thousands of TF2 crates and GW2 chests for a few cents, so it is harder to instill the idea that you are losing any opportunities, while other games might make those drops less common (but still give the player frequent opportunities to buy things). Hence TF2′s time-limited crates, and doesn’t GW2 have occasional seasonal Black Lion chest items?

: Zubon

[GW2] Gates of Maguuma Story and Writing

Hitherby Spoilers

There are 3+ new story instances in Gates of Maguuma, the most recent update and the start of Season 2 for Guild Wars 2. They are repeatable in that players can always go back to that instance through the new story journal. They also tell the story of how you, the hero, and all the NPC notables travel west to Dry Top.

I need to start with Bhagpuss’s thoughts on the Gates of Maguuma’s story instances:

The plotting now seems to sit somewhere around journeyman comic-book level (that’s a good thing) with the dramatics hitting a solid soap-opera groove (so’s that). No pretensions to be anything more than hokum but at least now it’s competent, professional hokum.

I disagree, and then I agree. His statement infuriates me, but at the same time I think it’s good. One can never tell with a crazy cat. Continue reading

[GW2] Season 2 Beginnings

After what feels like a too-long break, Guild Wars 2 is back in the swing of things with Season 2 of their Living Story. Mrs. Ravious and I were excited, but in a calm, metered manner. It’s amazing how when the pressure of that 2-week window abated to become permanent content, we’ve decided to take consumption of the content at a more metered pace.

This is a good and healthy thing, in my opinion. It makes Guild Wars 2 feel more friendly in my library of never-ending content. I feel Jeromai is taking his time as well. I feel this is healthy for the continuing life of the game. Get people to drop by, the hardcore will always be around, and make something even more sustaintable.

Anyway. Continue reading

Shifting Priorities

I have written previously about storyline paths differing between development and live teams in MMOs. I find myself looking at recent Guild Wars 2 updates and wondering whether there was a change in development teams or the same team deciding to shift directions. One could easily look at the first year of GW2 and say, “Wow, we made that way too zergy. Let’s dial that back.” But recent content has been not just dialed back but punishing of zergs, which means either they wanted a hard break with the past or someone different took over the reins of design.

On the one hand, some content encourages zergs, other content discourages it. Yes, not everything calls for the same strategy; that’s good design. On the other hand, almost everything did, for the better part of a year, call for the same strategy, so current players feel punished for doing what they’ve been taught to do, and it is not as if a huge wave of players loving non-zerg content will sweep into GW2 because a few updates were not pure zerg. You need to upset the apple cart atop your current playerbase for a long time and hope they stick around while you right it and turn it in a new direction. On the gripping hand, as I said of “punishing,” quite a bit of content did not encourage zergs so much as require on the order of 100 people to have a reasonable chance of success. The content being rebelled against still requires dozens of people but now requires you to herd those cats in multiple groups before the tools to manage that have come into existence. To say nothing of the switch from the original “show up and do what you want” approach of GW2, where content requiring synchronized dancing was hidden in a few instances.

Also, the boss blitz is just bad.

You have certainly seen that changeover in design philosophy, usually coupled with a changeover in design teams. The original GW1 was very different from the final game after the expansions. City of Heroes under Statesman was very different from City of Heroes under Positron, and I am not sure who was helming the switch to Incarnate content around the time I stopped playing. “Trammel” and “NGE” are famous design shifts that veteran MMO players will still debate in some forums given half a chance. A Tale in the Desert saw quite a few design shifts under the same management, but Teppy was always an experimenter; I have no idea where the game is headed under its new management.

Ingress has had a shift in emphasis over time from a geocaching-like game that focused on walking to rewarding car-based play. If you can’t see why that transition could be rocky, remember that my job was analyzing traffic deaths when I started blogging.

: Zubon

Wow, we don’t even have a post category/tag for Ultima Online. Then again, we don’t bring it up enough for me to want to create it.

Easy Spring

On the MMO side, I’ve been taking it pretty easy this spring. However, I’ve not been lazy on the game front. Most of my creative juices have been towards revising UNE and also creating two other system- and setting-agnostic TTRPG supplements. One supplement is aimed at quickly creating character histories or downtime stories, and the other one is a GM-emulator. They are nearing draft completion, and I’m going to have art and layout done professionally. The goal is have them up on DriveThruRPG under the pay-what-you-want model.

Guild Wars 2

The only MMO I’ve touched this year has been Guild Wars 2. I’ve slacked off big time since the feature pack. If I sign on it’s either for Tequatl (or the Wurms) or WvW hijinks. I am pretty excited about the upcoming Festival because it seems like a better way to ease back in to the game rather than start Living World Season 2 right away. I do hope that Season 2 starts pretty soon thereafter though. ArenaNet has been silent on that front, except for the mention of potato cooking times and gravy. Continue reading

Time Investment

Phillip II: I can’t lose, Henry — I have time. Just look at you — great, heavy arms, but every year they get a little heavier. The sand goes pit-pat in the glass. I’m in no hurry, Henry. I’ve got time.
Henry II: Suppose I hurry things along. Suppose I say that England is at war with France.
Philip II: Then France surrenders. I don’t have to fight to win. Take all you want — this county, that one — you won’t keep it long.
The Lion in Winter

How do we feel about games whose competitive balance privilege the investment of time?

I do not mean games where you become better with experience. “Easy to learn, hard to master” is a classic design goal, and games without that learning curve often become dull quickly. Instead, I mean games where players can spend different amounts of time on the field, with points accruing to players/teams that invest more time. This includes bringing more players, playing for more time, or often both.

In contrast, think of a round of an RTS, FPS, MOBA, board game, or sporting event. The temporal bounds of the game are fixed, and the rounds are generally distinct. I can play as many games of StarCraft as I like, but I start each game fresh. If the other players are not there, I cannot keep rolling the dice in Monopoly to keep going around the board, nor can my football team show up at midnight to score unopposed while the other team is asleep.

Many computer-mediated games allow and even encourage this sort of play, especially where territorial control is involved, and the economics of the game may create this on a smaller basis if you can farm during off-hours to create an advantageous starting position. For example, your server’s score in GW2 WvW is largely driven by how many players you field over how much time, whereas GW2 sPvP at least tries to have equal players for equal time. EVE Online, Darkfall, Shadowbane, and Ingress are other games where bringing more players or continuing to play before/after the other team does allows you to win through superior time investment. You may be really good at the game, but you only have two hours per day to play, while the opposing guild might be college students who just finished finals (although you dominated during finals week).

On the one hand, it seems like something is wrong with such a game if superior time investment does not yield results. If you are trying to simulate a war, great ways to win a war include bringing more allies, bringing more economic resources, and sacking your enemies’ cities while their troops are elsewhere. On the other hand, now that I am long past the age where I have time to kill, why would I want to engage in competition where my competitors can score while I am not even playing?

: Zubon

To say nothing of the general MMO incentive to keep grinding.