Cancer and Crashlands

I have cancer.

It’s stage 4 esophageal cancer. You can look up statistics, but as it is “uncurable”… my first oncologist said I was looking at maybe 5-7 years, not decades. I haven’t had this discussion again with my current oncologist.

I am currently being treated at Siteman Cancer Center, which is one of the top 10 cancer centers in the U.S. My oncologist specializes in GI-tract cancers, and I am currently on a pretty good study regime with Herceptin. I have had 4 full chemo treatments in this first round of 8, and I am showing early stages of remission from my latest CT scan.

This is why I’ve kind of dropped off the face of the interwebs.

Crashlanding Back Here

Continue reading Cancer and Crashlands

[GW2] The First Raid

Last night with a new higher coordination strategy my guild took down the first boss in the first wing of Guild Wars 2’s first raid. We did it with half of our team downed at the last 30 seconds or so before the Vale Guardian would get enraged. ArenaNet’s first foray into the realm of raiding is quite good for high difficulty, coordinated group content, and I feel if the winds of Guild Wars 2 shifted with Heart of Thorns, that wind has turned to gale force.

Vale Guardian Overview

The first boss has many pretty simple mechanics, and I have to say with the combination of these, ArenaNet has forged a very intense encounter. The main mechanics are (1) boss leashing, usually with a single high-toughness tank, (2) slowly moving pulse damage AoE’s (seekers), (3) teleport AoE’s, and (4) the circle of lightning wipe. In later phases there is also a (5) bullet-hell break bar and (6) pie-shaped floor-is-lava. Mid-phases occur as well where the boss splits to the three pieces of pie.

What ArenaNet gets really right is that builds matter. For the seekers, they can only really be knock backed. They aren’t adds in the kill sense. They are just floating balls of AoE damage, which can turn from a nuisance to death easily. So, it is usually required that a couple people be on “beater” duty to knock any swarthy seekers away from the DPS (damage-per-second) pile. All of the sudden bear bow knockback can be pretty good!

With mid-phases and the wipe circles, group builds also matter. Mid-phases require condition builds because one of the three split bosses can only be damaged with conditions. The split bosses can also only be killed by destroying their very resilient breakbar which requires stuns, knockdowns, and more knockbacks. The wipe circles usually occur away from the boss melee range so four people have to run in to the wipe circle before it wipes the group. Without a ranged weapon that can be a serious DPS loss.

Already this is quite different from the dungeon fare of stack might, stack self, and swing away.

Vale Guardian Review

The progression of the boss is very good. The first phase is pretty easy. The third phase (after the second phase of a boss split) isn’t so bad because only one piece of the tri-piece pie has a damaging floor. The final phase gets to breakneck speed as only piece of the pie is safe to stand on and there are extra seekers. On Friday night we were barely making it past the third phase. Last night we were hitting the third phase almost every time.

Each mechanic also gets some depth, which adds to the level of achievable player skill. For instance, the teleport AoE’s are easy enough to walk away from since they are about the size of a player and give a few seconds of warning. However, they can also be dodged, and skilled players can be less careful of finding that hard-to-judge safe spot where they can maintain DPS by simply dodging through all the scattered teleport AoE’s. The wipe circle also has some depth in that it will only appear in the pie pieces where players are standing. If players keep to one pie piece (which is what they should do), then it is much easier for the group of 4 to go stand in the wipe circle when it appears. However, if one unlucky soul gets teleported on to lava floor just as a wipe circle looks for a place to spawn… well, that’s a tough bit to pull through.

We were not the best group composition. We were definitely close, but I was a condition necro with all ascended Sinister gear except for exotic Sinister armor (since I was asked only last week to look into being a condition build). The groupthink appears to be that only condition engineers should be brought with their high potential for DPS. If nothing else I should have at least been in all ascended viper gear, right?

We also made many mistakes on the final run. Lots of players went downed. We weren’t knocking away seekers very well throughout the entire boss fight. Players weren’t being very careful of what pie they were standing in or watching for teleports in the final phase, which are just about a death sentence. There was definitely room for improvement. Yet, we won. Many pick-up-groups (PUGs) have beaten Vale Guardian. It’s “raid” hard, not really hard.

Enraged Berserker

What I don’t like about the raids is the enrage timer. For the Vale Guardian there is an 8-minute timer. After 8 minutes the Vale Guardian gets 200% damage boost. So basically it can start one-shotting players with ease. Last night we weren’t really having trouble with that in part because we were largely composed of “meta”-capable builds such as revenants and what not. We kicked a PUG dragonhunter (ranged guardian) because the commander wanted a chronomancer (time-warping mesmer) to add more group DPS.

The timer compounds the pressure that already fairly exists. Yet, it also homogenizes the current groupthink towards “supported glass”-builds, which was acidicly prevalent in the time of Guild Wars 2 dungeons. We only wiped once due to enrage last night, and at that point it didn’t matter anyway because we were so scattered. The mechanics of the fight were good enough to keep us on our toes.

What I don’t like is that the timer presses group builds towards an edge. It doesn’t want to seem to allow builds where DPS is sacrificed for some survivability. I feel the raid could be a lot more fun if more players felt they could bring knockbacks or spread the healing out instead of DPS, DPS, DPS. Raids, I feel could be more fun, without that extra pressure. Groups can employ a wider range of builds instead of going towards that one.

Now, I fully agree that an enrage timer probably needs to exist. A group of 10 players in nomad gear, which is full tanky gear, grinding away at the boss for half an hour should probably not be feasible. Yet, I feel with only 8 minutes on the timer for this boss (I think the final wing boss has less?), it is too razor’s edge. ArenaNet had a beautiful chance to push a variety of builds, professions, and play, and I feel the timer undercuts that all.

This erodes the “play the player, not the class” philosophy that so many believe Guild Wars 2 to promote since the playerbase believes that certain classes are required. There are also classes that are deemed worthless. Thief is the main one it seems, but necros and rangers and even guardians appear lower in the pile. Is ArenaNet going to raise their “raid stock” somehow? They didn’t with necros and rangers throughout all of the dungeon age.

To be devil’s advocate, according to Dulfy the Vale Guardian has 22,000,000 HP. With the enrage timer and 1 minute per split phase that requires a per-player DPS of about 6,000 damage-per-second. As a sub-optimal condition necro, I’d say I was hitting 6,000 DPS pretty easily with some spiked up to 10k, and some hardcore raiders boast 20k+ DPS at spike, which when averaged out saves crucial seconds for the whole group.

So many mechanics affect DPS. For example, there are +10% attack speed mushrooms located at the three-pie piece pillars around the arena. Hitting those is a very nice DPS boost. Not being teleported is another huge DPS sustain. Not being downed another one. Knocking seekers away so they don’t affect players trying to DPS is a big one that we struggled with.

Yet, what I think this adds up to the player path of least resistance is that relying on internalized DPS (full DPS glass gear) is easier than relying on skill, therefore go DPS. I believe ArenaNet has likely created, for at least this first boss of the wing, an encounter that can be killed without full glass DPS players, but the skill required to do so is higher. The reliance on group cohesion is higher. It’s much easier for players to go full glass and pick up for other players mistakes.


Ultimately, Guild Wars 2’s raids are a serious boon to the game. I haven’t felt that small group struggle since perhaps getting to the Hall of Monuments in Guild Wars 1 so long ago.  Guild Wars 2 had many similar moments of triumph, but it was a triumph of the herd led by a few commanders. With 10 players it becomes a lot less hive-like where a few dead drones are necessary.

I am hoping that as players get familiar with the raid mechanics, the community will open up a bit more to teach players wanting to try out raids. I think ArenaNet succeeded in making difficult group content, but I hope in the end the acidic, exclusive raider mentality doesn’t grow roots in my favorite MMO.

I am definitely looking forward to taking on boss 2 (Gorseval!) as well as running more guildies through the Vale Guardian.


p.s. If you haven’t read Jeromai’s thoughts, they are pretty good and thorough!

[GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 2

The first part dealt with the really good entry in to the Heart of Thorns’ map metas. Now we get in to territory that I feel could use some smoothing.

Thanks to Aspeon who commented on there being an event timer, which is super helpful! I personally like GW2 Ninja’s, but I believe it’s kind of all the same.

Tangled Depths Overview

Much like the first two maps Tangled Depth is about the outposts. There are four, similar to Auric Basin, and again like Auric Basin building them up helps the final meta event.  Continue reading [GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 2

[GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 1

The Heart of Thorns expansion brought with it four new open world PvE maps. Each map has a “meta”, a map-wide goal, much like the core Dry Top and Silverwastes. Overall, there is good and bad. I hope that ArenaNet takes the time to smooth out the rougher issues, and I hope they learn from what works.

To just jump in, the overall issue I have is the player knowledge requirement of when a map starts. I have to remember that the Auric Basin boss occurs on the odd hour. I think Verdant Brink resets half an hour earlier with night then occurring an hour and twenty minutes later. No idea about Tangled Depths, which is not fun, and Dragon’s Stand does its own thing.

It was easy enough to learn one map, Dry Top, which reset on the hour, every hour. Silverwastes, like the new Dragon’s Stand, was map dependent; although, the latter is timed. Now there are a bunch of new maps with varied start times, and I feel that there needs to be something in-game, such as the map UI, that tells players the timed status of the map. Then armed with that knowledge, and knowledge of how long I can play, I can make pretty good decisions on what I want to do. Anyway, off to each map… Continue reading [GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 1

[GW2] Masteries and Markets, Part 2

Besides masteries, the other giant gameplay piece is the markets. They are moving and shaking! The current drivers are precursor crafting, guild halls, scribe crafting, and collections. Plus, ArenaNet really brought the stock up on a lot of items.

With precursor crafting, the big ticket is getting to and getting through the second tier. I have been working on Dawn, a greatsword precursor, and I really enjoyed getting through Tier 1. It was a collection where I basically had to save the free peoples of the realm. Very thematic. I did it, got my flash new recipe for creating the first step and hit a gorram wall. This crappy, mangled weapon required 10 Elonian leather and 30 Deldrimor ingots! Leather raised in stock quite a bit from that step alone, which is there in some fashion, I believe, for every precursor’s precursor. Continue reading [GW2] Masteries and Markets, Part 2

[GW2] Masteries and Markets, Part 1

The initial furious dust of an MMO expansion launch is beginning to settle in Guild Wars 2. People are beginning to claim about the PvP meta more. Lore delvers are finding hidden nuggets and putting things together. And, Mrs. Ravious and I have moved from the immediate to the long-term.

There are only two immediate goals in Heart of Thorns. The first is the story, which does have some very soft mastery walls, but I felt getting through the story was as available as going from level-limited quest hub to quest hub in any conventional MMO. The other, which was changed on the fly, is getting the elite specialization. It is interesting because initially getting the elite specialization would have been more of a mid-range goal. Now, it is much more accessible from the beginning.

The rest of the goals feel really sticky. There is one reason for this: masteries. Continue reading [GW2] Masteries and Markets, Part 1

[GW2] The Word of Heart of Thorns

My review of the Guild Wars 2 expansion Heart of Thorns after a full weekend and many full weeknights of playing comes in two parts: (1) the amount of foreseeable entertainment is absolutely worth the price of admission, and (2) it is sticky.  The first part is an easy, subjective absolute for me; getting hours upon hours of stuff to do. The second part is good and bad.

Heart of Thorns is sticky. That is clearly the design intent behind just about everything in the expansion. It permeates so clearly that I feel it overwhelms the sense of bite-size. There are no micro-accomplishments, or rather there are, but the sense of stickiness overshadows them. For fans of Guild Wars 2 that have the MMO on top of their playlists this is a fantastic feature. For players looking for lighter fare, I am not sure. Continue reading [GW2] The Word of Heart of Thorns

[GW2] First Weekend in Heart of Thorns

Mrs. Ravious stared at the computer screen at one point this weekend and exclaimed, “there is too much to do.” The weekend was filled with that. Imagine heading to a grand Vegas buffet and instead of heaping a plate and walking away  you have to stand at each steam tray and eat from there. You start eating beef’n’broccoli while eyeing the roast carving station and listening to the chocolate waterfall behind you.  Continue reading [GW2] First Weekend in Heart of Thorns

[GW2] HoT Ultimate Limerick Contest

ArenaNet rocking down to the launch of the Guild Wars 2 expansion Heart of Thorns at midnight (Pacific) tonight decided to hand me a code for the Ultimate Edition. The Ultimate Edition gives access to all the upcoming Heart of Thorns content as well as 4,000 gems, another character slot, and a bunch of other goodies.

Well, I decided, having just re-read the Kingkiller Chronicle that limericks are fun and underused in our day-to-day musings. A contest with them would be a fun and necessary thing.

So you can enter once, and each entry costs a limerick from your mind about ArenaNet or Guild Wars 2. No personal attacks or other such nonsense. Please be sure to have an email I can use to contact you in the comment. I will randomly select a winner for the code, and to sweeten the pot. Second place will get a Shadow Sword skin for their revenant. Third place will get a Daydreamer’s Shield skin. A Guild Wars 2 account is required for each winning.

Colin’s smile was like a fable
He spread it across the lands as he was able
He thought it untoward
to swing another sword
But, you know, nothing is off the table

Good Luck!


EDIT: I forgot to say. I will pick the winner when I wake up tomorrow (10/23/15). I am guessing around 4-5 AM Pacific.

EDIT: Mach Dice has randomly spoken. Congrats to Vlupius (HoT Ult), Ithurien, and Jacob!

[GW2] The Last Core Weekend

I would say I’ve been diligently keeping the coals warm in Guild Wars 2. Every Sunday is guild missions, every day at some point (before work or post-kids) I do the daily, and then I dally here and there. Silverwastes farming is a decent go to since I can still gamble for the bee jewel. Recently, I’ve decided to slowly get actual alt’s to 80.

It might surprise many that I only have on alt. I have many tools, but I don’t really care about them beyond their function. I don’t play them with the joy of them being a “character”. I just started three more alts, and I plan on enjoying when I play them. This might be a rare thing, rarer after the expansion launches.

Over the course of the year I have stockpiled a bit, splurged a bit, and kind of kept a wary eye on the horizon. Sometimes there is not else to do but wait.

Yet, the waiting has a comfortable energy of goals long in the fire. Of having completed what I’ve wanted to. Next weekend will be one of a fury and fervor. Already, I feel there is too much coming.

Will I explore the new WvW map? Work on finally getting a legendary? What about the Heart of Thorns maps and that content? Stronghold PvP where Mrs. Ravious will surely be every day? What will my guild be doing? I don’t even want to think about raids and the time that will take away from everything else. Oh, and Halloween. Halloween is the worst and best of all because it is temporary.

Will I focus or dabble? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I don’t have time to do everything.

I will enjoy this last weekend of comfort and boredom. I will dally with my alts. I will complete the daily on the usual whim. This is the last time for that. Maybe months from now it will return. I tend to doubt it. If ArenaNet falls silent like they have this year after Heart of Thorns they will have wasted momentum. I expect them to ride this surge forward for a long time.

Enjoy this last weekend. Things are sure to change.