ArcheAge – PvP Jamboree

I got a chance to experience a little bit of large-scale PvP during the ArcheAge Livestream: Beyond Bloodlust a while back. They invited everyone to go to Halcyana to fight it out while they talked about PvP.

Since I’m not feeling terribly witty or verbose, here are some screenshots to commemorate the event:

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The battlefield. Tab, shoot, tab, shoot, tab, shoot.
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Returning to the battlefield after getting killed.
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The inevitable result of all PvP in every MMORPG.

ArcheAge – Austera Trade Run

As an elf, in order to get your 16×16 farm design in ArcheAge, you have to complete four Trade Run quests. I’m assuming it’s the same for humans, and basically the same pattern if you’re one of the Eastern factions. (I don’t know of any other ways to buy these scarecrow plots … I have seen people with multiple plots but I don’t know how they got them. I haven’t been able to find them for sale on Mirage Isle.)

The first run is taking Strawberry Jam from Solzreed Penninsula to Gweonid Forest. The second is taking Goose Feathers or something from Gweonid Forest back to Solzreed Penninsula, at which time you are rewarded with a donkey. (I urge you to grow beans before placing your geese.) The third is taking Stone from Lilyut down to Marionople. It takes a long time to farm up the stone for this one.

The fourth one is by far the hardest, though, because you have to take flowers across the ocean to the other continent.

It is easy and cheap to grow the flowers required, which is a good thing because unless you have friends willing to take you, you may very well lose a few trade packs in the process.

Somewhere around level 20ish, you are given a rowboat in a quest, which makes travel over water a bit faster than swimming. (Not much, though.) Unless you’ve gone outside the quests and farmed up Nui’s Tears to buy a boat on Mirage Isle, that is what you’ll have to cross the ocean with. It is slow and extremely vulnerable to any hostiles you encounter.

When I first got my rowboat, I thought it would be a great way to speed up taking my strawberries down to Marianople. (Selling strawberry jam in Marionople is a quick, safe, and easy way to pick up some gold.) I reasoned that I could stick to the coastline and zip right around the gulf down to the city and shave tons of time off of the land route.

I eagerly jumped in my rowboat and set off. Soon I discovered that the rowboat is only 0.3 “units” faster than a donkey. (Meters per second? I don’t know.) It’s slow, in other words. But it was pleasant scenery. I saw some ships go by and decided to take some screenshots.

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Oh look, another boat out here by the coast. Let’s take a screenshot!

Then I saw a ship turn toward me. Then I saw a ship ram me, impaling my rowbow so I couldn’t move. Then I saw somebody (of my own faction) throw a bubble spell at me and kill me at their leisure. Oops. So much for rowing down the coast as a shortcut.

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Hrm, this guy isn’t sight-seeing at all.

With that experience in mind, I was understandably nervous about attempting to row across the big, wide ocean to Austera, a place that is known to be hostile territory. Every time the issue comes up in the general chat about going to Austera for this trade run quest, the answer is always, “Don’t try it. Get some friends together to escort you. Otherwise you’ll die.”

Well, obviously I had to do it just to spite them. Because I’m a pro gamer, yo. Plus I don’t know anybody else in the game hehe. In the end it took two tries before I made it, with two practice runs beforehand.

Before I attempted to cross the ocean with a trade pack anchoring me down, I attempted a few trial runs. I was able to gather some data about the dangers of the ocean.

In the ocean you will encounter Sea Bugs, which are level 35 creatures who try to kill you. You can avoid them like any other monsters, though, by steering around them. You see them in plenty of time to avoid them, so that’s good.

Unfortunately you may also encounter a Jelly Fish, which is a level 50 creature that specializes in appearing out of thin air right on top of you. It is the most annoying thing in the entire world, because it will kill you.

I also came across a whirlpool once in the middle of the ocean, which did damage while you are close to it.

For my first trial run, I launched from a point south of the Ezna port, hoping to avoid all of the naval traffic around the port. I planned to make my way north up the Eastern continent toward the Austera port. (In retrospect, it was a dumb idea.) That run started well and I didn’t encounter any pirate activity, but it ended about halfway across with a death by Jelly Fish.

For my second trial run, I reconsidered my route. Obviously I wanted to avoid as much human traffic as possible, so I didn’t want to go anywhere near a direct line between Ezna and Austera. This time I decided to launch from north of Ezna, and travel north of the main route, then steer southward as I got closer to Austera. This plan worked brilliantly, and I made it across during the (game world) night without any incident. I avoided the sea bugs and never saw a jelly fish. I passed one other row boat which seemed to be fishing or AFK. (It was then that I noticed the horrifyingly bright lamp in the bow of my rowboat, which you can only turn off for short periods of time.) I made it to the Austera dock and walked right up to the Gold Trader without seeing another soul. This was early on a Sunday morning, when the server population was quite low.

Filled with confidence, I got my trade pack and rode my donkey down to Ezna and launched myself into the ocean in my rowboat, following roughly the same route. Halfway across, I ran into a Jelly Fish and died.

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This will probably happen to you a couple of times.

I respawned a million miles away, but I finally got back to the ocean and started rowing out to where I died, hoping I could pick up my trade pack and continue onward. But before I could get there I ran into another Jelly Fish and died. At that point it erased my original corpse location so I had no way of knowing where to find my trade pack again. I rage quit. (Rage quitted? Raged quit?)

On Sunday night I decided to try again. I knew it was suicidal because it was prime playing time and people would probably be out looking to gank noobs in the ocean, but I didn’t want to wait until the morning and I didn’t feel like playing another game. So I made another trade pack and set out again.

Of course I ran into another Jelly Fish. But it turns out you can escape from them.

The first thing I did was abandon ship. I noticed that the Jelly Fish attacks your rowboat, not you. So I jumped into the ocean and swam away while my rowboat was pulverized, hoping beyond hope that I could get out of range before it finished off the rowboat.

Soon, my rowboat was gone and I was stuck in the middle of the ocean with an annoyed Jelly Fish that was still well within range. Unfortunately you can’t swim very fast with a trade pack on, so I was not even close to getting away from this monstrosity. It came after me.

At that point I thought I was dead for sure, but I kept swimming and popped a health potion. The Jelly Fish attacks hit me for about half of my health each time. Luckily it attacks very slowly, so you have some time to recover between attacks, and that’s the only thing that kept me alive. I have a couple of healing spells from the Vitality skillset so I kept healing myself and putting up the Sorcery shield in between attacks and swam for all I was worth.

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You know you’re having a bad day when you’re trying to swim away from a Jellyfish.

After an eternity, the Jelly Fish finally turned away. I was really alone in the middle of the ocean, a sitting duck if any pirates happened to come by.

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A leisurely swim in the ocean.

Fortunately, none did. I swam, watching the coastline in the distance that never seemed to change. After a large cooldown I was able to re-summon my rowboat and got rowing again. I passed one or two merchant ships skimming by but they paid me no mind, and eventually I came to the Austera port from the north side, and I got close enough to complete the quest. Mission accomplished!

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Back in the rowboat, approaching the port at Austera.

That is the good news: You don’t actually have to sell your goods to complete the quest for the 16×16 farm. You just have to get close to the port. You could probably do a suicide run with a fast ship and smash into a swarming horde of bad guys and still complete the quest.

I almost ended up doing that. At roughly the same time I arrived at the quest destination, a veritable flotilla of merchant ships came sailing into the port from both factions. I started to see messages about people dying. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I didn’t want any part of it, so I logged off while I was floating in the water hiding behind the docks. I came back the next morning and was able to sell my goods without incident. I got a pittance, making me think I should have dropped my pack and ported back to town the previous night.

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A bit of a traffic jam at the port. I’ll come back later.

Now I face the challenge of logging for enough lumber to actually build the 16×16 farm, and then the impossible task of finding a place to put a 16×16 farm on a server that is completely covered with farms already.

Age of Conan – A Fun Diversion

Indicative of my continuing disinterest in ESO, I downloaded and installed Age of Conan and played for a good four or five hours over the weekend. Enough time to get my highest level character, a Dark Templar, from level 55 to level 57. (I honestly do not remember what role the Dark Templar is, but I have a sword and shield.)

Also enough time for me to remember why I don’t play AoC all the time.

But before I get to that, there is a lot to like about Age of Conan. It has a very unique and interesting combat style that I have not seen in any other MMO, including all the new action-based games. AoC is particularly good at melee combat. And if you like complicated hotkey rotations and combinations, this game has got you covered. And hey, it’s free.

Age of Conan has some really nice landscapes.
Age of Conan has some really nice landscapes.

The other thing I love about Age of Conan is the realistic look and style of the game. It’s similar to ESO actually, and it still looks pretty darn good for a 2008 game. Personally I think it looks better than ArcheAge. I love the Low Fantasy style of sword and sorcery that is in AoC. I wish there were more games like it, or an Age of Conan 2. Or better yet, an Age of Some-IP-Not-Owned-By-Someone-Else 2.

Fighting, fighting, and more fighting.
Blood, guts, and sword-fighting! Rawr!

But here’s the problem with AoC: It gets tedious. The TTK is pretty high. (TTK means Time-To-Kill, a term I just recently learned, and indicates how long it takes to kill your average monsters.) While it is fun to do all kinds of neat-looking sword combinations and fight huge packs of mobs, when it takes an hour to fight your way to a quest objective, then another hour to fight your way back to the quest giver, it can get old. And the monsters just keep spawning and spawning. The number of mobs you have to fight reminds me of playing an Action RPG like Diablo.

This is the way combat usually works in AoC.
Somebody make them stop! There’s so many of them!

Anyway, it was a fun trip down memory lane. Maybe one day I will get a character up to level 80.

On Hardcore Raiding

After I listened to Massively’s latest podcast featuring an interview with WildStar developers, I realized that I hadn’t said anything about Carbine’s hardcore raiding philosophy, which is a topic of some mild controversy.

One of them raid thingys, blatantly stolen from the WildStar site.
One of them raid thingys, blatantly stolen from the WildStar site.

If you aren’t aware, WildStar raids are supposed to be really hard like the old school raids of yore. They are taking the stance that their raids are meant for hardcore guilds and players only, and they won’t be dumbing them down over time like most other games do. Here is their video on them:

In more unflattering terms, so-called "casual" players will be intentionally excluded from raiding in WildStar.

This is a controversial position because historically we know that only a very small percentage of players are actually hardcore enough to complete difficult raids. (I don’t know if there are any studies to quote, but I always imagine it to be around 1% of the players.) It takes a massive amount of work and coordination to get 40 online gamers working together and playing at a high level of competence at the same time. In fact I have never seen that happen. I have only seen 20-man raids in Rift, where most everyone already knew what to do, and really only 10 of those people were doing most of the work, and even those relatively simple raids took hours upon hours to put together and complete. The vast majority of MMO players simply don’t have the time or energy to do that.

It’s why the so-called "zone events" and "world bosses" in games like Rift and GW2 have become so popular. (To me, at least.) Because you can experience something like a raid, with all the fun of working with other people to meet a difficult goal, without any of the time and drudgery of coordinating a guild. All you have to do is show up and fun happens.

In a way, I respect Carbine for taking this stance. I respect them for keeping hard content hard, because there is a certain thrill in defeating difficult challenges that weren’t nerfed to the point that anyone can do them.

But.

None of the raids I’ve seen are challenging because the encounters are difficult. It seems to me that raids are challenging because it’s almost impossible to get a group of competent players to get online and stay focused for long periods of time.* So completing a raid is not necessarily a gameplay challenge, it’s a social engineering challenge. It’s an organizational problem. This is why it drives me crazy when hardcore raiders strut around as if they are the best gamers in the world. All they’ve really done is show up and suffer through a torturously long experience. It’s like they’re gloating because they sat through a six-hour lecture on accounting.

Still, as a player, I could live with Carbine reserving some content for so-called "hardcore" players. I feel like I could get into a raiding guild if I wanted to turn my gaming fun time into an anxiety-laden chore. What baffles me is how Carbine can justify this logic from a business standpoint.

Creating raids has got to take a huge chunk of development time and money, but if we use my entirely made-up figure from before, only 1% of the players will even see it. (Not counting YouTube videos and streams.) And guess what? Those 1% of players will be done with it and bored a couple of weeks after release, writing angry posts on forums demanding the next 40-man raid. How can Carbine possibly sustain that? They would have to ignore 99% of their players in order to keep pumping out new content for the 1%, and that makes no sense whatsoever. (Which is surely why WoW dumbed everything down, and every other game does too.)

I think they might have been onto something when one of the Carbine guys talked about improved guild tools for raiding. I think it would help tremendously to have some sort of in-guild group-finding tool to put together raid teams. Something that would persist across logins. So for example the guild leader could tell the tool that a raid is scheduled for X date, and then guild members could volunteer for spots in the raid throughout the week with just a few mouse clicks. The tool could be configured so that players must meet minimum requirements, or perhaps the raid leaders could override it and stick people into spots manually. Something like that. The tool could even handle the loot distribution during the raid itself, and automatically invite in alternates if someone disconnects during the raid. (Maybe that is exactly what the LFR tool in WoW does.. I’ve never seen it.)

By the way, I was very glad to hear that WildStar will have smaller story instances (I assume like Rift’s Chronicles) so that us "regular folk" can still have a way to see the story that occurs in those huge impossible raids.

* This herding cats phenomenon goes all the way back to my first multiplayer gaming experiences in Quake. I remember when it was almost impossible to get six people together to play in a match, and five was pushing it. Getting forty people together for anything but a chaotic zergy Guild Wars 2 event is mind-boggling to me.

PvE, PvP, and Racing

The topic of discussion from the NBI Talkback is whether or not PvE and PvP mix in MMOPRGs. At long last I have some time to write about it, now that everyone else has moved on.

Racing cars

The answer is no, they don’t mix. Thanks for reading.

But seriously, we’ve all seen the sharp divide between the PvE and PvP communities within any given MMORPG. In my opinion, it’s not because of the games or the players. The problem to me is that PvE and PvP require two entirely different competitive mindsets.

Competition is the basis of all games at some level, but there are different kinds of competition. Sometimes you are competing with yourself, such as when you play solitaire. Sometimes you are competing with other people, individually or in teams, such as when you are bowling or ski jumping. And sometimes you are competing against other people, such as when you play tennis or volleyball.

To further illustrate the different kinds of competition, I will use a weird racing metaphor.

I’m told that there are people in the world who participate in activities that aren’t on computers, so imagine driving cars as a sport. Let us assume that this is analogous to the “sport” of playing MMORPGs.

At the most basic level, you can enjoy the sport of car racing by getting in a car and driving down a road. You enjoy the wind whipping through your hair on a sunny day. You enjoy listening to the radio. You don’t care if someone in a Maserati passes you at the speed of sound. You don’t care if you have to swerve around an old man with his blinkers on. You just like going fast. You’re not competing with anyone. You are a casual PvE player.

As you get more serious about your car racing, you might start to care about how fast you’re going. Maybe you want to try racing on a track. So you go down to the local race track on the weekend and drive 10 laps in your car. You do this every weekend, and start to record how long it takes each time. You start to compare your times from weekend to weekend to see if you’re getting better or worse. You’re competing against yourself. Maybe you put on better tires or replace your carburetor to go faster. You’re still a PvE player, but maybe you’ve installed a DPS meter and you’re trying to play as best you can. I think the unofficial name for you is a “midcore” player.

Now you want to take your racing to the next level. You start to enter some time trials with other drivers. Each driver takes a turn at the track and does their best. In the end, you compare the times and the fastest one is declared the winner and gets a cash prize. You’re technically competing with other people, but you’re not racing with other people. You’re still a PvE player, but now you’re in a hardcore raiding guild and you’re trying to beat all the other guilds to the world firsts.

Finally you decide to enter a real race. Your time trials qualify you for a pole position. (Is that a real thing? I don’t know. :) Now you’re racing against other people on the same track at the same time. Now it doesn’t matter so much how fast you go, just so long as you are ahead of all the other racers at the end. This puts the racers in direct competition against one another. You have to adjust your tactics based on what the other racers are doing in real-time. Now you’ve become a PvP player, albeit of the more casual sort, playing in battlegrounds.

If you’re still not satisfied, you might turn to a demolition derby. Now there are no rules, and anything goes. (Sort of.) Now you’re not only trying to beat the other racers, you’re trying to knock them completely out of the race by smashing their cars to bits so they can’t race again tomorrow. Now you’re a more hardcore PvP player, perhaps playing in world versus world events or structured PvP matches.

But wait, there’s more. After the apocalypse, you still need your demolition derby fix. But now there are no more laws, and nobody to enforce them even if there were any. You attach thick, bullet-proof metal plates to your car and sharp spikes to your hubs. You don’t care about competition anymore, you just want to destroy things. You drive into random neighborhoods and start ramming minivans and mopeds, tossing grenades through windows and blowing vehicles into flaming fragments, shooting at defenseless people walking by on the street. You join a gang and terrorize whole towns together. Now you’ve gone as far as you can in an MMORPG: You’ve gone into open-world, full loot PvP, and you probably play EVE or you think Ultima Online was the greatest MMO ever made.

Hrm. That metaphor works, right? Well, it’s something along those lines.

I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with PvE or PvP. The point is that each of those examples is a different kind of competition with different emotional risks and rewards, and they don’t all appeal to the same group of people. That’s why there isn’t just one kind of racing sport in the whole world. There’s a bunch of different ones. I’m assuming. I’m not much into racing.

Yet modern MMORPG games typically try to jam most of those styles of competition into their games, with varying degrees of success. Instead of focusing on one core style of gameplay, they divide their attention across a dozen different styles. Inevitably, something suffers, or the game changes completely when you enter different phases.

For myself, I generally don’t play MMORPGs to compete against other people. I play them to chill out, and competition has the exact opposite effect on me because I must win all the things all the time. Ahem. Honestly I don’t consider PvP in most MMOs to be a legitimate form of competition anyway, because there is almost never a level playing field on which to compete. It’s always a competition of group size. And if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck in an even 1-on-1 matchup, it’s mostly a competition of class stun abilities and gear. (I am coming from a Quake background, where everyone had the same abilities and gear and there was no crowd control except when you hit the floor at someone’s feet with a rocket and bounced them across the room, like God intended.)

Did I have a point? I’m not sure any more. I think it’s this: It takes a certain mindset to play PvP, and it is antithetical to the mindset of the typical PvE player. In my opinion, studios should develop one game for PvE, and another game entirely for PvP.

But then I’m not a game publisher trying to keep players and appease shareholders. From a business perspective, you would want all players in your game no matter how they play. So in that case I would keep them separated as much as possible. I would probably go so far as to have PvE classes separated from PvP classes, and you couldn’t go into PvE zones with a PvP character and vice versa. (Like for example at character creation you could make a “Warlock” class that can only level in PvP, or make a “Wizard” class that can only level in PvE. Something like that.)

Many other great thoughts on this topic can be found in these posts:

Co-existence of PvP and PvE

NBI Talkback, pvp-pve mixing!

Memories of PvP!

To PvP or not PvP, that is the Question

And I’m sure many more that I have missed, sorry!

Inadequate Naming

I need a new name.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I like the name of the blog, Endgame Viable. But I don’t like using UltrViolet as my personal identity.

It’s weird, because I am UltrViolet. Ever since I was in the Crayola Clan back in NetQuake days. Ah, good ol’ ]CC[-UltrViolet.

But in this age of cross-media brand recognition and whatnot, it's a terrible name. There's no 'a' in my UltrViolet, which is vitally important to the name. There's a reason there's no 'a' which goes all the way back to Quake in 1996. (Reason: "]CC[-UltraViolet" was one character too long to fit in the 15-character limit.)

But when I'm streaming, it's really awkward to say UltrViolet without an 'a' in it. I say "ULTER-violet" instead of "ULTRA-violet" to emphasize the difference. I'm quite sure nobody gets that, and people just think I have a weird accent or a speech impediment or possibly a brain defect.

The other major problem with UltrViolet is that someone already has @ultrviolet on Twitter. I mean, what the crap. Who else in the entire world would have any reason to spell "ultraviolet" without an 'a'? (That person on Twitter is not me, in case you're wondering.)

A third major problem with UltrViolet is that some years ago a major motion picture came out with a girl character named Ultraviolet. So now half the world probably thinks that UltrViolet is a girl's name, when in fact it's a crayon's name.

What to do. Before I was UltrViolet, I was Salamander, but I see a lot of Salamanders out there in the gaming world and it's just too common. And I don't even need to look on Twitter to know that someone already has @salamander. Pretty sure someone wrote a bot to claim every dictionary word on Twitter soon after it went public.

Why not just call myself "Endgame Viable?" Well, to me, it's a brand name, so to speak. It's not my name. It's the name of the web site. I feel pretty dumb using @endgameviable for "personal" stuff on Twitter. I feel like it should be reserved for announcements and information about the site itself.

Of course it's even more dumb to change my Twitter handle now that I've built up a handful of followers for @endgameviable. If I come up with a new one I'll be throwing away all of those followers.

On the other hand, there aren't that many followers so now would be the best time to change. Better than when I have a million followers, for example, because that's totally going to happen.

You might be wondering why I would care about separating my gamer identity from the brand name of the blog. Well, obviously I'm going to rocket to success and become super famous any day now. When that happens I will need to sell the blog to a major media company for millions of dollars. But I would want to retain my personal gamer identity so that I can use my star power on whatever my next project will be.

That sounds realistic, right?

Black Gold Online Closed Beta Impressions

I happened to get a closed beta key for Black Gold Online from an MMORPG.com giveaway (I think) a while back. I was super excited, because I thought I was getting a Black Desert key. But alas, Black Gold is not Black Desert, so I forgot about it until I tried it out in a fit of boredom over the weekend.

It seems that there is no NDA so I guess it’s safe for me to post this.

The fantasy side of Black Gold Online.
The fantasy side of Black Gold Online.

I’ll just cut to the chase: Black Gold Online is not good. It’s one of those games designed and developed by businessmen rather than gamers. You know the kind I mean. It’s a free-to-play business model with a graphics engine attached.

It’s supposed to be a steampunk-themed game, which is cool. But there is no reason whatsoever to pay attention to anything that is happening on the screen. When you get a quest, you can click on a button that will pathfind you to the objective. (Apparently there is a setting so you don’t even have to trigger the pathfinding.) None of the mobs aggro so you can walk right through them. You kill the one mob you need to kill in two or three swings of your most basic attack. New loot is automatically equipped if it’s better so you don’t even have to look at your inventory or the stats. Then you pathfind back to the quest giver. More often than not, you gain a level. You gain like 10 levels in the first hour of gameplay. Tutorials lead you through every mouse click with mind-numbingly condescending step-by-step instructions.

That is not the kind of gameplay that I enjoy, and the graphics are not good enough just for sight-seeing. They aren’t bad by themselves, but the UI clutters the screen with a lot of junk, and the fonts are absolutely horrible. In fact, the UI looks a bit like it was designed by someone whose credentials consist solely of making web pages for Geocities back in the 1990s. Sorry if that person is reading this. I know I would be crushed if someone said that about anything I’d done. I think if just that one thing could be improved, it would vastly change the first impression this game makes.

Such a lovely font and UI you have, Black Gold Online.
The Geocities Interface, complete with blinking.

Oh, and the Snail account password only accepts letters and numbers. Let that sink in. I feel compelled to point that out whenever I see a web page that does that.

On the plus side, I did not experience any bugs and the game appears to be quite finished and ready for launch. (Unless it’s a bug that none of the mobs in the first 10 levels of the game attack you.) Of the many kinds of beta you see these days, it is the “it’s basically done and it’s not going to change before release but we want to test it under some more load and if you happen to find something, that’s great” kind of beta.

So I would only recommend trying it out if you are incredibly bored, have a fast download speed, and need something to chuckle at for an hour or so. I can’t condone paying any money for it. Though I think there is room for a good Steampunk MMO in the market, this game is not it.