[GW2] On the Sleeve, On the Mad King’s Tower

I had a blast for Halloween in Guild Wars 2! It was one of the best holiday events I can remember. I sadly did not get to participate in the new meta-events in Kessex Hills, Queensdale, and Gendarran Fields, but I made sure to try every other new thing at least once. One whole night was dedicated to the Mad King’s Tower, which was the most  controversial addition to the Shadow of the Mad King.

The lead designer for the Mad King’s Tower, Josh Foreman, has taken the brunt of feedback head on. This amazes me. Not only is ArenaNet’s policy to let their employees have a voice, but Josh is stepping directly in to the line of fire. I believe that this humanizes the relationship between player and game. It reinforces Guild Wars 2 as a service for a community.

For example, I think the biggest problem we had at Kill Ten Rats was that the combination of the puzzle with the grouping mechanics was akin to ice cream and oil. Josh, on his personal blog, came out and agreed that a soloable instance without a wait time would’ve been “no-brainers”, but technological limits were stopping the player’s route of least resistance. He reinforces this on the official forums. Josh goes on to say:

From the ground up, we designed our game mechanics to encourage cooperation and altruism in the community, and this JP’s mechanics broke that design aesthetic. It was an accident, but I still accept responsibility for it.

Another big issue, I think, was that players did not seem to understand that the Mad King’s Tower was optional to the main achievement for Halloween. There was still an achievement for completing it, but the title did not rely on the jumping puzzle’s completion. Here’s how Josh designed it for more casual players:

When I made this map I was HOPING that people who aren’t into jumping would do exactly this. They’d see a fun Halloween looking environment, maybe get to the first chest and snag a goodie, then be on their merry way. I see now it was a mistake to make the hardest jumping challenge in the game part of an in-your-face update like a holiday event.

Josh goes on to also discuss his method of testing jumping puzzles (as the biggest norn), and on his blog mentions that Wintersday is going to more “chill” (pun included). Come next Halloween, Josh is also on board for taking the Mad King’s Tower down, literally.

I think Josh appears to know how to take this in stride. Reddit’s top comment is he shouldn’t even apologize. Josh’s other jumping puzzles are some of the most heralded portions of stunning game design on an MMO not really intended to be a platformer. (For more of Josh’s works, also check out his deviantART gallery.)  It seems he has incorporated that knowledge in his responses to the feedback.

I am glad that ArenaNet allows its developers to push forward in game design. It is a risk not to play it safe. We wouldn’t have Guild Wars 2 if that was not a key part of their studio’s philosophy. Unfortunately, some things simply won’t work as well as they seem to on paper. ArenaNet, and Josh, seem to appreciate, respond, and iterate on feedback quite well in that regard. I am also glad that ArenaNet gives their designers voice. Josh handled the feedback with humility and aplomb, and responded in kind. Hopefully by this weekend, we’ll all be missing the pain and joy caused by the Mad King’s Tower, lost in the Mists for another year.

said the joker to the thief

12 thoughts on “[GW2] On the Sleeve, On the Mad King’s Tower”

  1. I’m not going to lie, I’m not really good at the jumping puzzles and haven’t really been a huge fan of them. But I spent 4 hours on the Clock Tower, trying to reach the top, and it was some of the greatest fun (and greatest frustration) I’ve had with Guild Wars 2 in a while. After finally completing it, I’ve got a much greater appreciation for jumping puzzles (in GW2, at least), and I would actually look forward to more like the Clock Tower (harder, even).

    I’ll admit, the grouping aspect was the most frustrating portion. I managed to get lucky, and stuck around in an overflow map long enough for it to shrink down to myself and 3 other players. That, I think, was actually a very good size – the waiting was killing me (as I always failed first, ha), but after everyone had left, I was rather lonely and less motivated (it was almost a competition, before).

    So I guess if I were to make a point with this post, it’d be that I think the difficulty was great, but the grouping mechanics do need some work – perhaps smaller groups, or the ability to see myself through everyone else (akin to Torchlight’s draw-behind-walls?).

  2. Yeah, there’s always a problem with perceived “optionality” when new content pops up in an update of any kind. Especially if it’s got some kind of prize at the end of it that is only attainable by completing it. I think the only way players tend to accept stuff as optional is if there’s another acceptable alternative to getting the shiny or if there’s no unique reward for it. (Channeling my immense distaste for City of Heroes’ Incarnate raids as first presented without a solo path here.)

    Hypothetically, if the chests just gave ToT or PToT bags and no exotic slippers or achievement, I wonder if the outcry would have been as bad?

    Truthfully, my only major issue with the clock tower’s design is that it inadvertently became a breeding ground of conflict and trolling possibilities. (I’m a pretty big fan of JPs though, and generally confident of my ability to eventually get it right and get the shinies.) He has my immense respect for acknowledging that flaw in the JP. It really goes to show how hard ArenaNet worked at making the rest of the game very hard to annoy others in.

    I’ve seen him say in other threads he’s made a few tweaks to the start of the clock tower since, though we will only see if that works next year, if it remains in for the Halloween event.

    And if the technology supports it, I’ve seen the suggestion made that they ought to transform everyone into see-through ghosts or same-size skeletons or some such – which should cut down on the annoyance possibilities. Chat bubble spamming will, alas, still have to be combated with block or hide interface.

    1. The reward is an exotic pair of slippers, that can be bought from the TP for 1.4-1.5 gold or less, the exact same items dropped from the chest at the end of the Mad King’s dungeon and I think from chests in the Mad King’s labyrinth too. That part of the reward is easily accessible even if a player couldn’t do the puzzle and I don’t think it was unreasonable to have a difficult puzzle in order to get a guaranteed exotic, which only leaves an achievement that doesn’t count for the halloween meta nor have a title attached to it. So the main reward was mostly the sense of accomplishment for finishing the puzzle.

  3. I liked that it was run with other people, there was a certain camaraderie to it, even if you was just people using the /cry emote and other players joining in on the sobs. I wouldn’t like to see that aspect go. Neither does everything have to be co-operative, having other players along for the jump added to both the tension and the difficulty, trying to avoid getting distracted when someone in front of you misses the jump, to keep things steady and not mess up your own jump was a gripping experience. Don’t think I am the only one that feels that added to the chaotic and hectic nature of the jumping puzzle. Would love to see it return with as few as tweaks as possible, give everyone identical models with distinctive colours for instance and keep group sizes smaller.

    Then again, a bigger design challenge would be to create a truly co-operative (timed) puzzle, for instance only one person has to reach a checkpoint and players help each other through obstacles for that lucky one or two to get through and the rest of the group is respawned at the checkpoint, but that is equally likely to be fraught with difficulty like getting people to work together without complaining when others mess up or not pulling their own weight. I think it would be hard to design a co-operative, challenging jumping puzzle without unintentionally allowing some way that a weaker team-member impedes progress and that leads to frayed nerves and less happy people. So I think they went about it the right way, and some of the fixes will come from outside this particular puzzle like better camera and tighter controls, and a more solid feel to the jumping animations.

  4. For me the sense of accomplishment was also the main reward. I grew to love the challenge of the jumping puzzle, especially after I realized I could do it if I tried hard enough! :D

  5. if u accept responsibilty also accept the joy and frustating times you gave us with that puzzle! it was amazing and fun :D

  6. What really frustrated me more than anything else was the wait time for the next round *and* the unskippable cutscene. I wouldn’t mind having to learn by muscle memory, and there’s a certain satisfaction to pulling off a tricky series of jumps flawlessly, but as I was trying to learn the first few jumps I literally spent more time on waiting than playing. That drove me off pretty fast.

  7. I accepted the fact I could not complete it. I only managed to get on to the 2nd series of steps after the first stop point. For me personally frustration does not equal fun therefore after an hour of trying I decided to move on to other fun aspects of the game that are not frustrating. I was not going to let a once a year halloween event ruin my enjoyment of the rest of this superb MMO.

    I have not been frustrated at other jump puzzle events like I was with the clocktower. I completed the Asura sky jump puzzle with no issues at all and many other jump puzzles.

  8. I believe the Mad Kings Clock Tower was perfection.

    However, it has created a special place in hell for those oversized norn and charr.

  9. For me the Clocktower was the absolute highlight this Halloween. Sure, there were some frustrations, but I think that added to the charm of the Clocktower. And considering the possibilities for removing some of the “big characters blocking your view” problems I don’t think that any would have been satisfactory.

    Making it a solo instance as it was originally designed would make it a very lonely experience. Part of the fun was racing up the tower together with everyone else, difficulty and all. Reducing the charr and norn in size for the event would be like the game telling them that their character is broken; it’s bad enough when the players do this let alone the game. And turning everyone into something like skeletons or skritt would remove the sense of it being your character accomplishing it (not to mention the problem of “uh, which one of those similar looking models was me again?”). And making the other players partly transparent or such, while probably the best option, would still reduce the sense of doing this together with others as it would feel as if they weren’t really there.

    I also think that if you polish something too much, take away all of the irritations and little bumps too much, then it loses a little bit of its soul. The Clocktower was, in part, good BECAUSE of its problems. You had the mad rush at the start where you hardly knew what you were doing, making the jumps partly based on luck, where as the route continues the group steadily thins out. And when I died and was back at the starting spot I found myself looking at the bar in the top-right mentally encouraging who was left, letting out a sigh of regret when it started jumping forward as that meant nobody made it this turn. It would’ve been nice to have kind of a live-feed screen in that waiting area (though no spectator mode as you need to be able to chat with the others waiting), but that’s about the only change I would make.

    In the end, I think the biggest problem with the Clocktower was nothing to do with the content itself, but with the community. I can well understand the frustration when it feels as if someone else is to blame for you failing (I’ve definitely been there), but as a community we need to learn to get over it and learn to encourage each other, help each other despite our differences. Whenever one person would make a negative comment about another character I would hope that five others would tell that person off and be inclusive to the other character.

    It is not the Clocktower, but we who must be better.

    1. For every one person looking at the bar encouraging others to make it to the top, there were likely nine others wishing the bar would shrink and start the new round faster (aka hoping the others would fall and fall faster.)

      Community culture and people’s mindsets are shaped by the game’s design. Not completely controlled, no, but definitely influenced.

  10. @Jeromai (for some reason it didn’t reply to your post)…

    While true, there is also inherent benefit in having to wait. While you’re waiting it naturally facilitates communicating with the others waiting. Maybe not a lot (as time tends to be too short for that), but enough to create a sense of camaraderie with the others waiting.

    Instead of removing the wait time altogether it would be better to give everyone a little bit of reason to hope that others make it. Like, perhaps, a little treat for everyone whenever someone makes it to the top. That way people are encouraged to hope that others make it too.

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