jumping puzzles

Jumping puzzles are not exactly my kind of thing. Still, I don’t mind them too much, as long as there is no pixelwalking and/or invisible collision walls involved (Spires of Arak </3). GW2 vistas have mostly been ok so far, and recently I even stepped up and did a proper jumping puzzle (Tribulation Caverns). This just happened casually, since I climbed the Tribulation Rift Scaffolding for the vista anyway (I like completing zones for the feeling of checking them off, and for the handy crafting material rewards as well!), and then there was this entrance that clearly said “I am a jumping puzzle”, and I thought “why not, let’s try”. It turned out to be fairly straightforward (it was clear where to go at every point and how to play to avoid damage); some parts took several attempts, but failure didn’t cause me to die or throw me back to the start of the puzzle. King Jalis Refuge later, I gave up after a couple of tries. Lazy, I know. But I don’t get any specific kicks from the feeling that if I make even a slight mistake, it is going to cost a lot (negate all previous progress), and having worked hard for a reward doesn’t make the reward any sweeter for me. So, why spend my time doing this when I could be doing something else? I’ve been there, seen it, figured out how to beat it, for me that’s enough. Still, having completed Tribulation Caverns felt good. I could be doing more of this in the future.

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Apparently I was too busy messing with alts in GW2 so now Heart of Thorns is out and my highest character is level 37. Thankfully, there are other people to share their impressions, and upon reading that (for some reason I can’t find out how to comment there) I want to say: oh snap. Progression in the form of hour-long random events? Count me out. I definitely prefer bite-sized and controlled by me, as in started when I feel like it. Oh well, I expect to have more fun messing with alts and the “old content” and by the time (in the distant future) I am done with that hopefully something changes.

RuneScape’s Barbarian Assault: a minigame done right

As I wrote previously, RuneScape’s core gameplay is incredibly monotonous (even though it is alleviated by the variation of skills and processes required to train them), road-of-thousand-miles-one-step-at-a-time style. Distraction from The Grind is provided by quests (and those aren’t of the “kill 10 wildlife” variety – stories! puzzles! limited amount of hand-holding, so you can be genuinely stuck unless you listen carefully to the dialogue and search every corner en route) and so called minigames. A minigame is an instance, most often with limited time and typically with a limited or preset number of players, where you pursue minigame-specific goals and, again typically, get some kind of points for it that can be exchanged for useful stuff. Some of these are PvP, some are PvE, and some are non-combat entirely.

I want to talk about one of them, called Barbarian Assault. It is a PvE minigame for a team of 5 players, and it provides what Syl of mmogypsy.com demanded here: an activity where every player has a strictly set role and certain tasks that can’t be covered by the others. The roles aren’t the traditional trinity though; nevertheless, in order for the team to progress and get decent rewards, everyone should honestly and diligently do their highly specific job. There are, however, two other points about that minigame that Syl doesn’t mention, but I feel they are highly relevant to the traditional trinity problem as well (and it would do the trinity games quite well to make some motion in that direction).

  1. Communication is enforced. Not quite the chat-based communication (I, for one, find it hard to type long sentences while playing. I’ve seen people who are much better at it than I though), rather a kind of signals through the interface, but still. In short, each role has 3 or 4 ways to perform it, and at every moment only one of them is the “right” way which gives you points, and the other “wrong” ways make you lose points instead. This changes at random every 30 seconds, and the current “right” way for every role is not revealed to the players performing that role, but to another player instead, who then has to use the interface to communicate it. So, you have to be aware of that 30 second interval, and every 30 seconds you see the change, signal another player, and receive a signal that tells you what you should be doing next. This alone makes it feel like a team game rather than 5 people happening to do their separate things in the same room, which it very well could have been with all the specialization.
  2. Personal rewards are tied to performance. Your reward from the game is points, and the points you get depend on the team’s overall performance, but on your individual performance too. The way it works, if you fail at what you should be doing, you harm everyone’s score, but before that, your own score is utterly destroyed. If you slack or troll, you don’t get anything at all out of it (except entertainment? maybe? but it seems like entertainment alone is not worth the time spent). As a result, there are clueless players (the minigame has its ropes to learn), and there are leavers who abandon mid-run so the team has to disband, but I have not seen a griefer there, not once. Granted, there is not a whole lot of players doing the activity, but still – not once.

If I were asked how to improve any kind of pick-up group content, I’d probably name these two things, the second one being higher priority. And this is not exactly a “what if”: as I said, there is at least one example of it working, to a satisfactory (at least to me) result.

Time as gating mechanic

I have met recently with an opinion that in MMOs, in particular WoW, time equals difficulty, so an activity that takes a lot of time equals challenge, any mechanic that makes something take less time is dumbing down the game, and anyone who thinks that doing the same thing over and again for hours is boring just wants to have everything easy, and also should get their business somewhere else. Well the last part makes sense – I did quit WoW after all. I was running out of new things to learn (all the zones, all the quests, old dungeons and raids, different classes and crafting professions – I didn’t cover 100% of all that, but I was approaching saturation), and the things that seem to constitute the core of the gameplay these days I find either annoying (dungeons with PuGs) or boring (killing trash mobs by hundreds) or both (camping rare spawns). Puny me, shirking away from the challenge of pressing the same buttons in the same sequence for hours in a row. Thinking about this however I realized that I do play (and enjoy!) a game where time is the utmost gating mechanic (it takes years of continuous play to max out), and the grind (doing thousands of repetitions of the same simple thing) does not just “happen”, it is omnipresent.

This game is called RuneScape.

And the difference between the two games that makes WoW “boring” for me and RuneScape “playable” is that RuneScape does not attempt to make the grindy parts “challenging” by demanding the player’s undivided attention. Instead, it is enough to check the game screen every minute or so – dump the items you crafted into the bank and take a fresh batch of raw material, or move to the next tree or fishing spot, or eat a piece of food and attack another mob. I usually do this while reading or writing in another window, for the same reason people fiddle with things or doodle when their brain is working. Another important distinction is that in RuneScape I always have a variety of things to grind (think couple dozen options instead of 2-3), and it takes minimal time to switch to a different activity. So is time spent playing the game a gate to higher level/more gameplay options? Absolutely. Do I feel that time spent doing the grind is a toll I have to pay that has been taken away from my life? No, because the game allowed me to share this time between itself and some other process.

I get the point about an “immersive gameplay” (that’s from a completely different blog post), but for me, according to my personal preferences about a game I want to play, this shouldn’t ever go together with “mindless repetitive gameplay”. And any game has its dynamic parts (PvP; in PvE WoW, quests and group content; in RuneScape, quests, Dungeoneering skill, and minigames about which I am tempted to write another post). It is the love for immersive fully engaging grind that I personally find hard to understand.

GW2: can I slow down please?

I might be the only person out there who is unhappy that the leveling process in an MMO goes way too quickly! My “main” is level 50 now, and I have barely brushed any level 40+ zones (of those, I spent some time in Harathi Hinterlands the other day because there was a daily event completion challenge, and that is it, mostly). Now I have another dungeon to go to, and another chapter of my personal story (these seem to last forever). Then, my crafting lags behind my level (as in, I still need materials from the level 30-40 zones), but if I gather these materials and craft enough to raise the bar, I will gain enough levels that between them, the dungeon, and the personal story, I will hit the next milestone again. I just want to be free to explore the world! And postponing the personal story doesn’t feel right either, because receiving quest rewards that are obsolete because of my level makes me sad, like unwrapping a gift to find a pair of baby socks.

I think I’ll quit doing dailies. The reward chests mostly contain writs of experience anyway (the irony).

GW2: PUGs will be PUGs

So, despite the concerns I addressed here, I ended up involved with a guild (these things just tend to happen by themselves, it seems), and ran a few dungeons with them. It is a small (about 20 total) new-ish guild, and the people there are knowledgeable and good-spirited, in other words, just my kind of establishment. Guild being small though typically means we run as three plus two from LFG. And LFG in GW2  is being just what you expect of LFG – a house of obnoxiousness.

Well, maybe not the most odious epic obnoxiousness you can think about. Just the regular “I don’t want to think, plan, or communicate, I want to press buttons and expect everyone else to take care of the fallout” sort. And if the fallout proves fatal, there comes the inevitable second part: blame the others for “not doing their job”. Like here or here.

We were doing the last boss (The Patriarch) in Ascalonian Catacombs path 2. The encounter is very mechanical: there is a boss at the center of the room, and three traps around him. The boss is invulnerable, but gets vulnerable for a while after being lured into a charged trap, so the strategy is 1) charge the traps without aggroing the boss 2) pull him into one of the traps and spank 3) when the buff reappears, pull him into another trap and spank some more. To charge the traps, players use special guns that lie around the room. The guns have two skills: button one, “lift”, button two, “pull”. Channeling lift on the ghostly boss makes him spawn ghostly adds. Channeling lift on an add lifts it up, and channeling pull on an add while it is in the air pulls it towards the player. You need to pull three adds into a trap to charge it. Complicated? Yes. Mind-boggling kind of complicated that no one can understand and remember? No.

So the Guild Leader of Awesomeness briefly outlines all that (mostly for me, since it is my first time there), and some rules to follow: a) take care to only use the “pull” ability of the spectral guns on the adds, because if you “pull” the boss, he will aggro; b) two lifts on the same add don’t do anything that a single lift doesn’t, a pull on an add that isn’t lifted doesn’t do anything, but several pulls on the same lifted add do stack and increase the pulling speed, so it is best if the designated player lifts, and the other four wait for the lift and pull the one lifted add; c) if the boss gets aggroed prematurely, you don’t fight but run – it has a short aggro radius and will reset if everyone breaks distance; d) when the traps are charged and it’s time to pull the boss in, you must stand pretty far behind the trap, otherwise the boss will stop short of the trap and start wreaking havoc with its ranged AoE while still being invulnerable. Of these, part b is optional (it just speeds up and facilitates the process), but the other three are absolutely not.

But apparently, for some people following someone else’s instructions is insufferable, even when failing to follow these instructions makes the mission impossible (again, rules a, c, and d above – break one of them, and the encounter doesn’t become harder to complete, it becomes outright impossible, because whatever you do you can’t hurt a 100% invulnerable boss). One LFG person doesn’t do much harm, just whiffs all of their “pulls” on adds that are on the ground (after acknowledging that pulling an add on the ground does nothing). The other person completely ignores the “1 lifts 4 pull” scheme too, and also keeps standing up to the boss (who gets pulled all the time – either someone targets him with a pull, or someones sigil of fire procs) when everyone else scatters to reset it. Then, after a while, he starts talking back to the leader, telling her to “stop belittling”. Note that she wasn’t flaming (beyond an occasional “[professsion] lol what are you doing” when everyone was hugging the walls and that one player kept fighting an invulnerable boss). She mostly kept asking them to “please do this” and “please don’t do that”, this and that being the core things to do and not to do if we want to get anywhere with this encounter. Then we finally manage to keep all of the a,c, and d at the same time, and the boss gets downed fairly easily. Then after we get out that player starts whispering the Guild Leader of Awesomeness saying she was “annoying” and whatnot, and that we only struggled because “people there didn’t know how to use their skills”.

Er, no, dude. This is not how it works. Hard mechanics encounters mean you have to follow the moves or wipe. For everyone to follow the moves one needs coordination and communication. Coordination means someone tells the others what to do. Communication means if you disagree you can say so. Ignoring what has been said and doing your own thing because you can’t be bothered is not the way to succeed.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a common attitude in LFG, that talking to other players , telling them what you are going to do, asking them to please do something, and listening to them and maybe sometimes doing what they ask you to do, is annoying, belittling, and generally shouldn’t happen. And also, if you are doing enough damage, any trouble must be someone else’s fault. Of course, LFG didn’t create this attitude, but it doesn’t have any means at all to keep this attitude in check, and that is why it flourishes there.

And the other thing I learned about LFG in GW2? Most groups that advertise firmly state “80s only”. Yeah, not going to ever join one of these even when I turn 80. It just reeks of the same attitude: “If we have 5 people who are fully maxed at their professions and have good gear, the dungeon goes smooth”. How about “if we listen to each other and cooperate, the dungeon goes smooth”? Not happening in a PUG.