Near Personal Experience

One thing that is really hard to get with pre-created content (as opposed to procedural, personal content of Spore or most roguelikes) is the feeling that you were given a personal experience. That the personal experience you just received was not ground to dust by the masses and posted about on every guidebook and wiki. It was yours.

Mythic Entertainment came awfully close the other night to giving me this experience in an MMO, and the happening definitely through me for a loop. I was running around Talabecland and grinding out quests for Chapter 11 Chaos, when I stumbled around the huge cathedral-building for the public quest Army of Faith. Off in the distance I saw what I thought was a chaos troll fall to the ground. I had seen no trolls of any kind in Talabecland, and was excited with the prospect of taking down a named mob by myself.

As I ran towards the body I saw an out of the way quest icon on my mini-map. It seemed that the NPC hiding behind one of the cathedral pillars knew about the troll… and a young marauder with “a new pair of boots” that was trying to take the chaos troll down. It all came together, and I ran towards the chaos troll to find another corpse underneath. Lord Tzeentch was full of pride when I took the ‘Liberated’ Boots.

The best part was that I saw the chaos troll die. It made no sense at the time, but I didn’t just come upon a corpse that every other player passing through the zone can see. It felt neat that the event happened for me, even if every other player has the ability to experience the same thing.  I hope I come across more chunks of these near-personal experiences.
–Ravious

Guild Wars Halloween 2008

For a non-subscription game, Guild Wars has some fantastic holiday-like events that run through the year.  My favorite is by far the Guild Wars Halloween festival ith the runner up being the Dragon Festival.

Two of the cities, Lion’s Arch and Kamadan, are completely outfitted with tombstones, skeletons, and other Halloween-themed graphics. The circle of glowing mushrooms by a 2-story witch’s cauldron is a player-favorite meeting place/ dance zone. Farmers kill thousands of the denizens of Tyria (read: raptor babies) for Halloween candy and absinthe drops.

There are two jewels that make this festival rise above the others. First is the appearance of Mad King Thorn and his candy corn soldiers. The Mad King comes every few hours (this year on October 31) to play a deadly game of Simon Says, and hand out a festival hat. For a game that is often criticized as lacking community, this is a great time to meet hundreds of festival goers in the “persistent” cities.

The second jewel, is the one I am most looking forward to: Costume Brawl. Costume Brawl is a random 5v5 PvP game which is an amalgamation of capture point and deathmatch (it most closely resembles Guild Wars Hero Battles without the Heroes). The catch is that each class has a set skillbar. So if you enter as a Paragon, you will share the same skillbar with every other Paragon on the field. It is a great change of pace in a game where the player’s build can be so critical. This year they are adding a new map to the Costume Brawl game.

It will be another great Guild Wars festival, and I fully recommend dusting off your copy of the subscription-free MMO for the fun-filled weekend.
–Ravious

Guild Wars Mission Melting Pot

After a long hiatus from playing GW PvE (before WAR I signed on for some quick PvP action now and then), I decided to jump back in. Specifically, I wanted to try out the much heralded quest chain called Zinn’s Task, which requires players owning all three campaigns to hunt down some rogue golems.  The first thing you need to do to start the quest chain is get a new hero named M.O.X. and the Golem Training Guide.  The Golem Training Guide works as a book, which you open up and read, and you can enter a training mission by further using the book.  This led me to reminisce on all the different mission mechanics Guild Wars used throughout its nearly complete lifetime.

Guild Wars Prophecies gave us the mission mechanic for Guild Wars, where you entered an instanced story event with objectives and a definite endpoint. These were unlike the vanilla MMO quests that occured in a sandbox-style zone (persistent or not). Missions were vignettes of story, objective, and activity where if you failed a restart was required. For Prophecies, the mission had its own outpost to start from and the mission area was completely designed and used only for that mission.

The later products of ArenaNet slowly shifted the mechanics and definition of a “mission.” In Factions, missions were nearly identicaly to Prophecies, but you could return and explore the area later on without having to enter the mission. In Nightfall, the missions started from an NPC in an outpost instead of being outpost-wide, and although some content was gated by mission completion, much of the time you could explore the zone prior to the mission.

The Guild Wars expansion, Eye of the North, had probably the biggest change in mission mechanics, which were nearly the same as Nightfall, except that you couldn’t fail by merely dying and some missions started in explorable areas instead of outposts. If you died you would resurrect at a rez point without the whole mission-story resetting. NPCs were also “unkillable” in that regard (no instant fail from NPC death), but they gained death penalty the same as the players. Then, the Bonus Mission Pack brought us full circle back to Prophecies, where each mission had its own separate zone and if you failed (by dying or an NPC dying) you had to restart completely.

It is interesting how one of their core storytelling mechanics evolved and changed at every step of the way, and leaves the answer wide open as to what Guild War 2’s mission mechanics will be.  Personally, I preferred the Eye of the North style missions the best where there was no insta-fail, but for mission outposts I would prefer something more similar to Prophecies/Factions.—Ravious

WAR-oboros

Ouroboros is the tail-eating snake of legend; which when used as a symbol it usually represents cyclicality.  It should be the symbol for Open RvR in Warhammer Online, especially in regards to Keeps.  In Warhammer Online, I think the developers really wanted the two snakes (Order and Destruction) to fight head on, but I think the players looked at the eternal snake and decided that “the tail tastes better.”

The tail in this case is an undefended Keep in another racial pairing.  There are six Keeps in Tier 2 and 3, two in each racial pairing (I have not yet been to T4 to experience Open RvR, and so refrain from commenting as of yet).  I have yet to see more than two massive zergs, one Order and one Destruction, in a Tier doing open RvR.  So two snakes have their pick of Keeps to devour.  A warband could wait around and defend a Keep when they think an enemy group is coming, but humans (especially MMO players) want to go the path of least resistance.  In this case, that would be an undefended Keep in a sleepy RvR lake.

The other night a two-warband Destruction group decided to sack Keeps in T3.  There were very few defenders at any of them.  An Order group formed up to attack a Keep we had just finished sacking, moving on to greater glory thereafter.  We went back, successfully defended the Keep, and then a small bit of drama formed.  People didn’t want to stay and defend the Keep anymore.  “Why defend, let Order have it, and we can just take it back.  Rewards (renown and loot bags) seem better that way.”  We sacked four Keeps that night before I crashed.  At the very end, we came upon the Order group that was in the process of sacking one of Destruction’s undefended Keeps in another racial pairing with 1-2 warbands.  We didn’t seek them out.  It was more that our snake ate the tail of the other snake faster.

Tobold recently discussed “moving the cheese” in MMOs to get players to move around.  I honestly believe that for T2 and T3 Keeps (can’t comment on how T4 runs yet) the cheese needs to be moved so that eating the other snake’s head is worth more than just eating it’s tail all night.
–Ravious

WAR makes me want to…

Warhammer Online makes me want to play more Guild Wars.  It’s a very weird feeling.  I have a brand new, shiny, nice MMO that I really enjoy playing, and I keep thinking about Guild Wars PvP and the PvE content I have yet to play.

Warhammer Online reminded me a lot about Guild Wars when I started playing. The feel of the skills, combat and PvP (especially with body blocking, at which I feel I am quite skilled at using) really hit home. Prior to Warhammer Online’s Open Beta, I had been playing Lord of the Rings Online and Team Fortress 2 pretty evenly. Guild Wars really had not been touched, except for the occasional 20 minutes of Alliance Battles and the festival events. I had honestly moved on from primarily playing Guild Wars until such a time when ArenaNet will announce exactly how the Hall of Monuments will give rewards in Guild Wars 2.

But, thank Mythic for bringing me back to the light. The Open RvR is far too different than anything in Guild Wars, so I think it was largely due to the scenarios in Warhammer Online that made me pine for the quick, spiky action of Guild Wars PvP.  I am probably going to take week-long sabbatical from Warhammer when Guild Wars Costume Brawl gets re-released for Halloween.  I really didn’t think Warhammer Online would have any competition for my time until 2009, and it’s a weird feeling when you are so wrong.  Feels like blowing the dust out of Nintendo cartridges.
–Ravious

Public Quest Critical Mass

Over at Hardcore Casual, Syncaine writes about the need (mostly aimed at WAR players) to slow down and enjoy the game.  One of the best points, hidden in the middle of the post, is how to “correctly” do Public Quests (“PQ’s”).  Oh allow me to remember those days when I kept up with the hardcore pack, and PQs were constantly rolling over so that one could merely stand in one place and rack up the glorious influence.  Now, I see ghost towns.

The key to completing PQs is to achieve a critical mass of players. This takes time, and it is very hard not to take the immediate satisfaction/rewards of scenarios. However finishing PQs can pay off. Your best bet to start the petri dish growth is to call out and party up with guild or alliance members. A simple tank/healer combo can deal with most of the early parts of the PQ easily, and if you add in a DPS-type player, Stage II will be nothing. When other players see three (oh my gosh) players hitting a PQ in the open groups panel, the decision is easy. There is now instant gratification.  The PQ population will start gravitating players on its own.  I have seen this time and time again playing as the initial spore for the PQ.

The best part of being the initial player to call to arms at a PQ is you can choose which PQ you want to play. In the nearly bygone days of the rampaging hardcore it was nearly impossible to snatch players away from the PQ that was closest to the rez point.

There are still a few problems with PQs. First, they are unforgiving with class balance.  Not having a tank is the worst when standing against hard-hitting Hero mobs, and life is never easy without a healbot.  Second, the open grouping system still needs tweaks.  I think for PQ open groups, the group should be location-based (ala Meeting Stone) rather than following a free-roaming person.  Many times I have searched out PQ groups only to find they were not anywhere near the PQ that the system claimed. I feel that within the year’s end we will get an update for them, but Mythic has to see what a “stable” population is doing with them.
–Ravious

Roleplay-By-Macro

Players in MMOs are well known to create their own fun apart from the developer-created fun.  Guild Wars has had rallies to save an evil enemy race.  Lord of the Rings Online has had chicken races going all the way to Rivendell.  Even World of Warcraft players will take time to march in-game for presidential candidates.

One of the best fallback player-run events is role-playing, especially in Warhammer Online where dancing is not allowed.  Role-playing can occur anywhere, and if you are imaginative enough (read: clinically insane) you could even roleplay with the NPCs.  So it was that a band of three Greenskins: Bukket the Shaman, Teefs the Squig Herder, and Lolrus the Black Orc, set out to WAAAAAGH!!!, and along the way roleplay by macro.

We each created 3-6 chat macros, where our character would speak upon a simple button press.  I am sure that more complex chat macros could be created, but ours were simply “/say [TEXT].”  An example of one would be Lolrus saying “TEEFS SHOOT YER ARRERS FASTA, GIT!!!”  Of course Black Orcs have to yell, but you knew that.  The interesting part was that with only 3-6 sayings each we were creating whole Greenskin conversations, which probably only really worked because we were Greenskins.

Teefs: Bukket you iz a smelly fungus.
Lolrus: DAS GOOD, BUKKET!!!
Bukket: Shut yer git-face, Teefs, and shootz da stunty!
Lolrus: TEEFS SHOOT YER ARRERS FASTA!!!
Teefs: Lolrus, you iz da biggest git I knowz.
And so proceed ad infinitum (until Mythic told me in chat to think about what I am saying).

It was great fun, and just a few button presses (that really didn’t affect gameplay) enlivened the game a lot. I loved the Heroes (and Henchmen) in the later Guild Wars modules that would speak out during combat and down-time, and the ability to emulate it was great. You too might want to consider a button-press combat shout to make sure the troops are awake. It can only add to the game. There is an add-on made especially for such fun: Think Out Loud for Warhammer Online that activates when you use skills.  If nothing else, it is super useful to auto-call rez’s.
–Ravious

Altdorf Needs Ninjasurance

Looks like Altdorf is falling in multiple servers; even after the postern door fiasco.  On Averheim it took some good coordination, but Altdorf fell within five hours of the campaign starting.  My guild, Xen of Onslaught, started the assault with the alliance at 7:00 AM Eastern time in the hopes of a sleepy Order.  Mythic keeps making it sound like this is a truly epic endeavor, but I am not so sure Mythic has hit the mark.  Sure, the King encounter may be the pinnacle, but that’s not RvR… it’s a raid boss.  I have seen what great PvP players have done to “epic” bosses.  I heard in alliance chat that Mark Jacobs has nodded at the Averheim-Destruction victory, but I have not found the post.  I am looking forward to see if the Sunday morning-type assault on the enemy, while Order is clearly at church, is working-as-intended.

EDIT: Here (3rd down) is the Mark Jacob’s post.

Mourkain Your Face

Mourkain Temple is a Tier 2 Scenario (12v12) in Warhammer Online using the murderball mechanic – where one item is held for points but increasingly damages the player holding the item.  Mourkain seems to get a bit of flak, but I really like the fast pace of the map (especially compared to the other slower paced Tier 2 Scenarios) and the focused game mechanic. The map and game mechanic is most interesting in that it truly allows a better team to rub it in the loser’s face. I’ll explain.

A basic match goes like this: (a) players rush the murderball, (b) one team gets the ball and goes defensive, while the other team tries to kill the ball holder and his support on the offensive, (c) the ball gets dropped and someone else picks it up.  Points are made for picking up the ball, holding the ball, killing the player with the ball, and killing other players.  It’s a pretty simple concept.  In most games, the team with the murderball will fall back so as to get closer to their resurrection point. This has quite a few benefits because your healers don’t have to worry about rez’ing as much when you are standing next to your rez point, your newly rez’d players can jump right back in the fray, enemy players that rez at their point have to run for ~30 seconds to get back in the fray, and your ranged players can stand on top of a ridge gaining immunity from melee enemies. Seems like a good plan to fall back.

Going back to the psychological gamesmanship, it is quite a defeat when one team can “hedgehog” so as to impenetrably defend the murderball the entire match. I saw this tactic when I started playing Mourkain’s. Now, I am seeing a different “tactic” where a heavy tank (Black Orc or Ironbreaker) will pick up the murderball and push forward.  When I first saw this (and I am a Zealot healer, so it was all the worse) I could not believe the stupidity of the Black Orc I was following. “We have the ball, fall back, and make them come to us!” However, I kept dutifully healing, and my teammates did their jobs effectively. We then handedly defeated Order with the ball in our control on their turf.

It is an interesting strategy because it shakes up the “set” tactics an armchair general might bring to the table. The team without the ball should be on the offensive, but if they are getting pushed back things get muddled. Then the DPS are unsure of who to target, and get cut under in the confusion. Healers have to spread their healing around more.  And of greatest effect of all, in my humble opinion, is the psychological one where the losing team is told “you are getting beaten so bad, we won’t even let you go on the offensive like you should.” I cannot think of another MMO PvP map/mechanic where a similar effect could take place – where you can rub their noses in their loss through gamesmanship and skill.  That, or players could just be bored with hedgehogging and turtling tactics.
–Ravious

Simply Epic Public Quests

I badgered a few friends to run back to some skipped Public Quests in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning last weekend, and we decided to try out the more difficult Public Quest for Chapter 4: Chaos called Salzenmund, aptly named for the walled town that the Raven Host is corrupting from within.  The Public Quest deals with the actual direct attack of the Raven Host on the town.
 
The Public Quest Salzenmund starts out with the objective to steal the supplies from the city, which requires players to dispatch one or two simple guards and then interact with a box of supplies (50 times).  At the second stage, you have to take out two of the city’s leaders who are both Champion level mobs.  The surrounding city becomes filled with fighting as Raven Host warriors rush in to contend with the remaining Empire defenders.  It feels like the whole area’s conflict escalated from the tunnel entrance of the city where one or two NPC battles occur to the whole town.  The (anti-)heroes are of course rushing to deal with the enemies that the lesser of the Host cannot deal with.
 
Once you defeat the Champions, a Hero Bright Wizard boss appears.  As he appears the entire city erupts in an inferno, and it truly feels like the war for Salzemund has erupted to another level.  Buildings are burning.  Raven Host NPCs are running around sacking everything.  And in the middle of the chaotic inferno you go toe to toe with a huge flame mage.  When the triumphant Chaos players win, the city continues to burn until the Public Quest resets.
 
I felt in this Public Quest that Mythic’s developers truly took the reigns to use their unique play mechanic as a story-driving device –  a simple epic story.  Quite a few Public Quests are rather boring escalations with no true story except ‘your killing ten rats has angered a bigger wolf/boar/rat/man-thing.’  However, there are some true gems like Salzemund.  Another thing to note is that this epic-feeling event takes place around level 10-12 (out of 40), so players do not have to go through to the so-called “end game” to feel like a hero… or killer of one in the Destruction sense.
 
Guild Wars and Lord of the Rings Online both have similar story telling devices (missions and instanced epic quests), but in neither instance did I feel the story was as world changing as some of Warhammer Online’s Public Quests. Only in Guild War’s case did I feel that the mission was readily available to do again.  Mythic has created a persistent, game-driven storytelling device, and I cannot wait to explore the Public Quests at the higher tiers of play.  I hope that there will be quite a few more that have me saying “cool” outloud.