The Dark Tower (Good vs. Evil Edition)

[UPDATE: If you’re here to find out what the “Good vs. Evil Edition” actually is, as compared to the movie, I don’t know. I did not see the theatrical release. My best guess at this point is that the “Good vs. Evil Edition” includes a behind-the-scenes featurette after the movie, which I did not watch.]

Mere moments ago, I finished watching The Dark Tower on FIOS-on-demand. This post will probably contain some spoilers for the movie and possibly even the books, but it’s not that bad, really.

My expectations were low. Based on one or two reviews I saw when the movie came out, I did not expect a faithful recreation of the books. At all. But I kept a completely open mind and gave the filmmakers a chance to sell me on this new idea.

The bottom line: I didn’t hate it. It even had some good scenes. I actually paid attention for the vast majority of the running time, and didn’t revert to playing a game after five minutes like I usually do when watching movies.

It was far from perfect or even great. But I would rate it a solid “not bad” which is somewhere between “meh” and “good” on my rating scale. I didn’t regret spending $5.99 on it. (Which is more than I can say for spending $4.49 for the game Necropolis, but that’s another story.)

Did we need a new vision of The Dark Tower story? No, not at all. But did they need to make significant changes to make a stand-alone movie based on The Dark Tower series? Unquestionably. Even if they tried to make a movie out of just the very first book, I don’t think it would have worked.

This vision of the story, by the way, was based almost entirely around the core thread of Roland’s and Jake’s relationship, and the effect they had on one another. Jake helped Roland return to his former glory, while Roland helped Jake … I don’t know, not feel crazy? And also not get killed. Anyway, in my opinion, they could have done a lot worse than that for a movie.

The threads surrounding that core relationship, involving The Man In Black and the plot against The Dark Tower, actually seemed like a distraction to me. I kind of wish there had been less of The Man In Black, but, you know, big paid actor, so, not much choice there.

I was delighted to see this guy make a brief cameo in the background of one shot.

I’m torn on whether viewers who have not read the books will be at an advantage or a disadvantage in terms of enjoying the movie. (Based on reading Roger’s review tonight, I guess a disadvantage.)

If you go into the movie expecting the books, you absolutely, positively will be disappointed. There is a lot more backstory in the books, and the rich culture and history of Mid-World is explored in far greater detail within the books. But to be honest, most of that would have been wasted on the movie. In fact I would imagine the more fantastical elements that were in the movie were the most inexplicable to viewers. They didn’t make much of effort to establish why The Dark Tower or Mid-World mattered, whereas me, as an avid reader of the books, immediately understood why it was important to save The Dark Tower. (Because there were a bunch of books about it! Duh!)

I had heard beforehand, and it was not-so-subtly hinted in the movie, that the events of the books took place prior to the events of the movie as a sort of prequel, which makes sense. It allowed me to use the rich setting of the books to fill in additional layers of meaning, without distracting from the movie’s extremely obvious deviations from the books.

This movie was essentially an origin story for The Gunslinger. The story of the return of The Gunslinger from the brink of despair, with help from Jake.

I thought the gunfight sequences were pretty well done. They weren’t like the (amazing, but too long) gun-fu sequences from John Wick. Instead, they were subtly “enhanced” by the almost magical qualities that we associate with The Gunslinger.

It drove me crazy whenever he dropped his guns, though. Come on! You’d think the mythical order of Gunslingers would have come up with some way to protect their hands better in battle.

I heard a lot of complaints about how short the movie was, but I didn’t even notice. Anything that runs more than 30 minutes is “long” to me. Maybe this “Good vs. Evil Edition” had some additional scenes, I don’t know.

On the more negative side, I have zero memory of any machines that used kids’ souls to attack the The Dark Tower. What was that all about?? I actually have very little memory of The Man In Black as a character from the books at all. Granted it’s been a good decade since I last read them. To me it was always a series about Roland and his ka-tet.

Anyway, if they make a series out of it, I’d watch it. It’s got nowhere to go but up. But given the poor showing from the movie, I’m not holding my breath. Maybe they will try to make another version in a few years. Ka is a wheel, yada yada.

NaNoWriMo Prep

This is a post about my NaNoWriMo process, so feel free to skip it. I’m writing it mostly for myself to remind me what it is, so that I’ll be ready for November 1.

Typically I prepare a Scrivener project with 30 documents named “11-01” through “11-30,” each with a 1,667 word target goal. Each day, I open up the document with the appropriate date and start writing. I try not to read much of what I’ve written the previous days, other than maybe the last paragraph if I need to continue with a scene I didn’t finish.

That, in my opinion, is the most important thing to know about finishing large writing projects: Decoupling the writing process from the editing process.

To accomplish that, I make the text very large for two main reasons. For one, I’m getting old and have a harder time reading these tiny computer screens. I actually got some 1.25x reading glasses recently and it has improved my ability to read text on a computer screen and mobile phone by about 1000%.

Secondly, I make the text big because I don’t want to see very far back in my own writing. A very important thing that keeps me moving forward is not being able to see more than a couple paragraphs back at any given time. I highly recommend it if you find yourself slowed down by constant re-editing (something I am very susceptible to).

With this method, it’s true I often repeat myself in the writing, but that’s what the revision process is for.

This year I’ll be writing mainly on my MacBook Air, because I had to reformat my PC and don’t have Scrivener installed on it yet. I suppose it wouldn’t take very long to re-install it, so that might change over the course of the month. I store the document files on DropBox so, in the past, I could use the Air or PC interchangeably. (You can work on the same project from both Mac and PC.)

I try not to write all 1,667 words at once per day. I have a hard time staying focused on writing for long periods of time, and unless I’m on fire, it typically takes me a good two hours to write 1,667 words of fiction.

Instead I try to write in bursts of around twenty minutes or a half hour. Maybe longer if I feel particularly inspired, or less if I don’t.

Once I complete my writing time, be it ten minutes or a half hour, I do something else until the top of the next hour. (This assumes I have a lot of time to write, mind you. If I only have a half hour to write for the whole day, obviously the process changes to a more frantic word sprint.) Then I start another short session. I repeat this for as many hours as I have available.

This is the best method I have worked out for myself over the last eight years.

Your mileage may vary. One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that every writer works differently.

I write best in silence or with familiar instrumental music playing. Listening to anything “new” is likely to distract me. Classical music is best. I cannot write when I hear singing or talking. I don’t know if anyone else is like that, but if my ears hear words in a language I understand, I have a hard time concentrating on anything else. My brain goes into an odd emergency identification mode when I hear unfamiliar sounds, to the exclusion of anything else. (You can hear it a lot in my videos. I’ll just stop talking and get immediately derailed most likely because I heard something in the game, or even worse, in my house.)

I like to have nothing on my screen but the words of the current document and a second window showing a list of names I’ve used previously in the text. I never remember names so I have to keep them handy. (I read somewhere that’s how Stephen King writes.)

I typically don’t plot out my story in advance. I like to see where a story takes me, and how the characters develop over time. To me, it’s very boring to write a story when I know how it’s going to turn out.

This year, for example, I have a setting and a genre (“space opera”—never written before), and an opening scene which should propel a handful of unnamed characters into an exciting adventure. I hope. Otherwise I’ll be scrambling on day three or four to figure out what to do for the rest of the month.

This particular setting came about from some brainstorming I did back in May. I keep most of my “story ideas” in Evernote, and when NaNoWriMo rolls around I open up those notes and peruse them to find something that looks interesting.

If I get stuck in the writing, and I don’t know what to write next, very often I will start breaking the fourth wall and get the characters talk to each other about the story and what to do next. Sometimes it results in useful dialog that is appropriate to that particular place in the story, but most of the time it’s going to get cut out later. The point of it is to get me to continue writing something which invariably gets me back on track.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Happy NaNoWriMo’ing!

P. S. And in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I’m not even going to edit this text!

P. P. S. I should have said I haven’t written “space opera” since I was a kid, when that was pretty much all I wrote.

P. P. P. S. Okay I edited it a little bit.

GW2 – Doing Dailies

What’s this then? A ley-line anomaly guy?

Now that I know GW2 dailies give out gold, I started doing them.

They aren’t very fun to do. :) Talk about mindless busy work. No wonder I’ve been ignoring them.

I’ve never been a big fan of “doing dailies” in any MMORPG, and I usually leave a game for something else when I get to the point where that’s all there is to do. So it takes a lot of mental energy to push through these completely arbitrary, meaningless tasks.

I can deal with the ones where you simply harvest stuff on a map, because that doesn’t take very long. Well, I say that, except it does take some time when they ask you do that in Heart of Thorns territory, because sometimes you can walk for 10-20 minutes and not find a single harvesting node. (I did just that. No trees to harvest in certain parts of the jungle, apparently.) Not to mention how difficult it is to walk around in some of those areas, which I’ve beaten to death before.

My favorites are the ones where you have to go to a Vista on a map. Super easy especially with the new mounts. Sometimes I do them “the old way” just for the fun of it. These are also great because sometimes it takes me to a map I haven’t completed yet, so I can get a bit closer to World Completion while I’m at it. (I’m up to 83%!)

The dailies where you have to complete Events on a map are a bit more engaging, but can be onerous in their own way if you have to go to one of the terrible maps. Like, you know, Heart of Thorns.

The first one I tried to do asked me to complete Events in the Tangled Depths. I tried. I really did. But I gave up. I saw Events around me on the map, and I tried to get to them. I really did. But it’s not like you can teleport there; they only provide like two Waypoints in Heart of Thorns. I got stuck in a cave underneath the event with no way to go up. I got stuck in an endless tunnel filled with mobs and no exits. I got stuck in a lake that almost killed me because it was toxic. I literally could not figure out how to navigate that maze of a map to get to the event location. I finally got to what looked like some kind of an event underground, by accident, but I was there by myself fighting waves of chak and I got killed several times. (There were “revive-bots” there which healed me.) Yuck.

No daily for me that day.

One time, a daily had me complete a Bounty on the Vabbi map. [Stop changing Vabbi to Rabbi you stupid MacBook Air!] I dutifully teleported over, found and clicked on a Bounty Board, ran over to the Champion Whatever standing in the middle of another group of mobs (including veterans), and got utterly facerolled. One other guy happened by and we tried together, and we couldn’t defeat the Champion Whatever before the event timed out.

So no daily for me again.

But I keep trying. Each morning I assess whether it looks doable or not. You have to complete three out of the four choices, two of which appear to be easy (harvesting or vistas). The third one tends to stretch the limits of my patience (usually events and bounties), and the fourth one I just don’t even bother pursuing because it sounds impossible (mini-dungeons and jumping puzzles and whatnot).

I seem to remember there used to be a lot more options to choose from for dailies. I tried going through the big list of Dailies and doing some of the other ones (like Daily Winterberry Collecting), but it didn’t appear to “count” toward the 2 gold daily. I’m kind of hoping someone is going to kindly stop by and say, “Oh, it’s much easier than that, you just do X, Y, or Z.” (Which sort of makes me wonder why it doesn’t say that in the instructions up there on the screen, but that’s another issue.)

Then there is this: Two gold each day doesn’t really seem to be worth the effort. It’s like a minimum wage that isn’t a living wage. Five or ten seems more enticing to me and more in line with the prices in the game. Which is undoubtedly by design, so I’ll give up and just spend cash for the gold.

Incidentally I went back and started replaying Living Story Season 2. Wow, what a difference! For all the complaints I had about Heart of Thorns and Living Story Season 3, and the minor gripes about Path of Fire, they are light years better than Season 2 was.

FFXIV – Loot Window Screed

I’ve been doing a lot of Alliance Raids in Final Fantasy XIV since 4.1, so I’ve seen the loot window a whole lot lately. This is a 3000-word screed on everything that’s wrong with the UI in this window.

This is probably not unique to FFXIV, by the way. But it’s the one I personally see most often.

First let’s go over how it works in case you haven’t experienced it. At the end of the raid or dungeon or whatever, after defeating the Big Bad, someone finds and clicks on the shiny loot chest (an unnecessary and antiquated step in the process, but let’s just go with it). A window then pops up on everyone’s screen that shows what’s in the chest. You then have an opportunity to choose whether to “roll” on each piece of loot in chest. The game then randomly selects a “winner” for each piece. It’s pretty standard for an MMORPG, though I might argue again that it’s a bit of an antiquated system.

But I don’t have any problem with the concept of how the loot is given out. I don’t even mind the Need or Greed system, although once again I think it’s a bit antiquated these days. (I think there should only be “Roll” and “Pass” options and the game should internally select Need or Greed automatically. Or even better, just give every player a piece of loot, like GW2 and some other newer games do.)

My problem here is with the UI of the loot window itself. It’s so onerous and frustrating to deal with.

I should explain that I’m a software developer. Our kind (in my opinion) prefer computers to do things for us, so we don’t have to. I’m a big fan of Larry Wall’s famous quote that the three virtues of a programmer are laziness, impatience, and hubris. I don’t want to do anything manually when the computer can do it for me.

So let’s talk about that UI.

It’s possible there are keyboard shortcuts for the buttons in that window, but I don’t know what they are. FFXIV is not particularly good at shortcuts for window buttons so I’m skeptical. You certainly can’t tell one way or another just by looking at the window. If they added keyboard shortcuts, that would be a good first step in the right direction to solving my issues, but it wouldn’t go nearly far enough.

So we have to use the mouse to move all the way over to the window. We have to click on every piece of gear in the row, then click on Need, Greed, or Pass, one at a time. So it’s a bit of a clicker puzzle, like a weird version of a Simon game, or an RTS. Click up there, then click down there, then click up there again, then click down there again, again, and again. And it’s not unusual to see a large number of items to decide on, as in the screenshot above.

One odd characteristic of this loot window is that it’s very easy to move it around. You might think that clicking and dragging the title bar would move it, but in fact clicking and dragging anywhere in the window will move it. Including clicking the loot icons. If you happen to accidentally hold our mouse button down a little too long when selecting a piece of loot, the window will move. When that happens, I have to visually refocus and find the new position of the buttons. It’s annoying.

Now keep in mind, often you have to deal with this window while you’re fighting monsters, or running to the next location. It’s not like you can just stand there for five minutes carefully going over everything in this window, carefully clicking in the right spots, carefully assessing whether or not you really need these items or not. Assuming you don’t want the rest of your group to yell at you, that is.

There is a timer on the loot window. If you don’t want anything at all, you can simply ignore it and eventually it will go away. But that takes a solid 5 minutes. That’s a bit rude to your fellow players, who might be anxiously awaiting that one piece of gear in that window. It’s polite to roll on the loot as soon as it’s convenient (at least I think it’s polite). In the case where you don’t want any of the loot, that means playing the clicker mini-game of selecting each piece of gear to Pass on it. Click up there, click down there, click up there, oops, moved the window! Now click down there in a slightly different place.

One simple suggestion might be to add a way to Pass on everything all at once. But that wouldn’t help without other, more dramatic changes. Given the number of people who would accidentally lose their loot, FFXIV would undoubtedly add two or three confirmation dialogs, which would effectively negate the benefit of passing on everything in the first place.

One other quirky problem that I think is specific to FFXIV: While you’re running to the next boss, making your decisions in the loot window, you might encounter a transition to another zone. (In the alliance raids, for example.) If you do, that loot window closes and once you’re in the new zone, you have to re-open it to continue where you left off. It’s very irritating. I try to stop before I get to those transitions, but sometimes I forget.

You might think that would be all there is to complain about in that loot window. We are just getting started!

Obviously the game won’t let you Need on a piece of gear for another class, which is why the button is disabled in the above screenshot. I believe I was playing Dragoon at the time and that’s probably a tank chest piece. If I had been playing a tank, though, I could have clicked on the Need button to roll on it against other tanks. But if I was already wearing that chest piece, or had it in my inventory, after I clicked the Need button, the game would tell me that I already had it and couldn’t roll on it. After I clicked the Need button. (This applies to Greed as well.)

Why does it have to wait until after I click the button to tell me I can’t roll on it? If it knows after I click the button, how does it not know before I click the button? The Need and Greed buttons should both be disabled with an explanatory message to say that I already have the item. For bonus extra credit, the entire item should be disabled so I can’t even select it, so I don’t need to click on the Pass button either.

Now after playing FFXIV for four years or so, your inventory is probably a bit full. You probably moved a lot of gear from your inventory to your retainers for safekeeping. You might not be able to use that tank chest piece now, but if you happen to get it in a Greed roll, you can put it away until some day when you’ll eventually level that tank job to 50. The problem is, once you move that gear to your retainers, that loot window can no longer tell whether you have that gear or not. The game is fine letting you Need on an item that you already have sitting on a retainer.

If you’re a nice person, you can find out if you really need the item or not. If you right-click on a loot item (and this applies almost anywhere in the game), the game provides a Search For Item menu which will search your retainers to see how many of that item you have. So you can use that feature to determine whether you already have one or not, but it’s an extra step.

You might ask, why do I care? What’s the harm in rolling on a piece of gear I already have somewhere on my retainers? I can just throw away the one I don’t need (I don’t think you can sell or trade it). Basically it comes down to not wanting to be a jerk to other players in the group.

Here’s a fairly common situation: Right now I’m leveling my Dragoon from level 50 to 60 by running Alliance Raids. I’m already wearing most of the full set of Demon gear from World of Darkness (the highest tier raid), because last time I played my Dragoon, World of Darkness at 50 was the endgame. I replaced my gear from Labyrinth and Syrcus Tower (the lower tiers) and moved them to my retainers.

Now I’m working on leveling my Dragoon, and often I get Labyrinth or Syrcus Tower in the alliance raid roulettes. After a boss, sometimes I see a piece of Dragoon gear come up as loot. I’m playing Dragoon, so I can roll Need on it. But do I really need it? Maybe, maybe not. I have a lot of the Labyrinth and Syrcus Dragoon sets, but I don’t know if they are complete or not without going through the extra step of using that Search For Item feature. It would be nice to finish the gear sets just for completeness’ sake. I could roll Need on it and throw away the piece if I don’t need it, but what if there’s another Dragoon in the group who just got to 50 and really does need it? It would be rude to deny him his loot.

(I actually just found out that when you reach level 50, the game now gives you a complete set of item level 90 gear, so these days nobody technically “needs” a piece of gear from Labyrinth except for cosmetic purposes.)

There is also the issue that my Dragoon is already wearing the better Demon gear, so technically I don’t “need” the older gear at all and really shouldn’t have the option to roll Need. I have actually been yelled at before for choosing to Need on an older piece of gear to complete a set that I clearly didn’t need, when somebody else in the group wanted to Greed on it so he could use it for an alternate class. I think he was wrong to make that demand, but I can sort of see his point. The game should have forced us both to roll against each other for that piece, because for both of us it was a “want” and not a “need.”

Looking so far into the minds of players might be beyond the capabilities of a loot window, though. The game would need to know a lot about the gear sets we have and don’t have and be able to compare it to the gear we’re wearing.

For now, I would just like the loot window to be able to look at what’s in my retainers’ inventories so I don’t have to use that Search For Item feature.

(Search For Item, by the way, is better than nothing, which is what I thought we had for a long time. I only recently discovered that Search For Item feature, and this might have been a much longer rant without it.)

Surely that must be all there is to complain about in the loot window? Ha! Read on!

After the chest piece, there’s four items in that loot window above which are used for “augmenting” gear to make them better. I only know that because I’ve looked it up before. The first time I encountered them I had no idea what they were. And even now, I don’t know any of the specifics about which gear it augments or how much it augments it. Since that’s a loot list from Syrcus Tower, I know it’s not going to be much use to me in leveling up my Dragoon, but again, it’s possible some of that could be useful to an alternate job. It’s possible the augmented gear looks really cool and I might want to use it for a glamour.

The point is, I have no idea whether to roll on those augments, and there is literally no way to find out within the confines of that loot window whether I should or not. (The popup item descriptions of augments are notoriously unhelpful as to what they are for.) I suppose I could alt-tab out and go to a wiki page, but that’s going to take a while, and it’s not something I can do while running to the next boss. I just have to guess whether I think I might need them or not. I still have the option to be a bastard and roll Need on them whether I need them or not, but again, I don’t particularly want to be rude to someone else who might genuinely need them.

In reality, if you don’t roll Need on those kinds of things, you’re not going to get them anyway. I honestly don’t know why I still cling to this notion of trying not to be rude about loot in the Alliance Raids. I’m pretty sure everybody in PUGs automatically rolls Need on the augments, minions, and orchestration rolls no matter what, and I’m the only one struggling with this moral dilemma about accidentally denying other players a chance at the items. To be honest, it’s more of a concern to me in FC groups.

Next in the loot list is the Onion Knight minion. I don’t always remember whether I’ve gotten a minion or not. In the Onion Knight case, I thought for sure I already gotten it from countless runs of Syrcus Tower, but I didn’t. I passed on it for a week before I finally wondered what it looked like, went to summon it, and found I didn’t have it. And again, the game doesn’t tell me if I have it already or not. I feel it should disable the minion icon and automatically pass on it if you already have it.

(Somehow I had it in my head that the game would let you roll on minions you already owned, but it turns out it doesn’t. But it does the same as with gear: It doesn’t tell you until after you click the button.)

Now you can open your Minion list and sort of eyeball it to see if you have that minion in your list already. It’s better than nothing, but again, it sure would be nice if the game would automatically figure this out for me.

You have visually spot the minion icon in that grid or roll the mouse over every icon and read the tool tip to figure out if you have a minion already. And there are multiple pages of them to look through. And I don’t even have that many.

There’s more?? You betcha.

The last two items in that loot list are a pair of Orchestration Rolls. In Final Fantasy XIV, you use these to play music while you’re in the inn or presumably in your house or whatever.

As you might be able to guess, I never have any idea whether or not I’ve already unlocked an Orchestration Roll, so I typically have to guess on whether to Need, Greed, or Pass on them. As I mentioned above, I would have to Need to have any chance of getting one, because everybody Needs on them. But again, I don’t want to deny somebody else a chance to get one if I already have it. There’s a good chance I would already have it, considering that I’ve run these Alliance Raids a hundred times before, but sometimes they add new loot to these windows. Like, for example, Orchestration Rolls, which I think were added to the game after the Crystal Tower raids.

You have the option to open up your list of Orchestration Rolls to look up whether you have one or not, but the Orchestration window is poorly organized and you have to first find the “category” that the music is under. In this case, we assume it would be under Raids. You have to hover over the item in the loot list to look at the tool tip, which tells you the name of the Roll. Then you have to look through your list to see if that name is already there. It’s better than nothing, but it’s a laborious searching process and something that I feel like the game should be able to do automatically for me.

Here we have to identify the Orchestrations by name, there are no icons to look at. The “only display rolls obtained” checkbox helps whittle down the list a little.

In this case, you can’t use “Search For Item” to find them, because that only looks for physical items in your inventories. Once you unlock the Orchestration Roll, it “consumes” the item, which disappears, so you can no longer search for it.

Unless the Orchestration Roll is a “Faded” Orchestration Roll, it turns out. I didn’t even know these were a thing until the past week. I kept trying to double-click on them to unlock them, and I would stare dumbfounded at my screen when nothing happened, over and over again. It turns out these are crafting components used to make Orchestration Rolls. I don’t know how to craft with these things, so they sit in my inventory. Conveniently, this allows me to use the Search For Item feature in the loot window to determine whether to roll on them or not.

Okay now I’m tired of writing about this, and will end here.

I love Final Fantasy XIV but there are some areas where the game’s UI is a primitive mess, and this is one of them. They created yet another one of those “generic” window UI systems which should be more specifically tailored for the specific needs of the game. A whole lot of games do this, and it’s annoying.

It’s on the rise, too, because of the rise of games using “generic” game engines, like the Unreal Engine or Unity, and “generic” middleware components. The developers spend their time on the models and animations and sound effects in their game and ignore the systems that are “built in” to the game engine, which results in awkward UIs that people “just get used to.” I say enough! Power to the people!

P.S. I happen to be available right now if anyone wants to hire me to fix their game’s UI design. :)

Passing on PC Destiny 2

The-guy-that-Nathan-Fillion-voices from the open beta.

Soon you will probably see a lot of talk about the launch of Destiny 2 on the PC.

I’m trying to be more discerning with my game purchases these days, so I have no plans to pay full price for an over-hyped, mediocre shooter whose main attraction seems to be a large cult following. Maybe if it goes on sale I’ll take a look at it, but who are we kidding, this is Activision/Blizzard and it’s never going to go on sale, so I’m probably never going to buy it.

In more practical concerns, I also don’t particularly want to jump into a game with a whole slew of people moving over from the PS4 who already know all the tricks. There won’t be any fun phase of discovery for the PC launch crowd. No feeling out of what works and what doesn’t work. It will be all business from the very first moment.

So I’m just not going to feed the Gaming Industrial Complex this time.

And this just in: I just read Belghast’s first post on PC Destiny 2. He describes making it to level 14 (of 20) on the first night. He is hoping to be done maxing out his first character’s level and finishing the storyline in the first three days. Granted he is a veteran so I’m sure it is old hat for him, but still, it’s more evidence to support my decision. There are plenty of other games around to keep me busy for three days.

But if you are playing it, have fun! :)

P.S. I’d be interested in watching a blind Let’s Play of Destiny 2 though. Must be blind, and the player must not have played Destiny 1 before. Let me know if anyone sees anything like that. I’m finding bupkis from a cursory search of YouTube.

FFXIV – Raids ‘n’ Things

That’s the World of Darkness minion.

I started to write this as a comment on Aywren’s post about Alliance Raids, but it was getting too long.

I agree completely about using the Alliance Raids to level from 50. My testing shows you get 200-250k experience per run (tested at level 58 and 59), not counting rested experience, and Roulette bonuses, which add that much more. That’s a crazy high amount of experience-per-instance, bested only by dungeons, which usually take longer to get into and finish.

Before 4.1, my Samurai was stuck at level 56, the only alt job I have over 53 at this point, and it’s felt like an incredible slog to gain levels. (It also felt like an incredible slog to level my main Bard job to 60, too, which is one reason I didn’t play Heavensward very much.)

But when I (finally) realized Alliance Raids give out experience points in addition to tomestones and gear, I felt like I started to make tangible progress and got my Samurai job to 60. My “power leveling” strategy involved selecting the 57 or 59 dungeon, Labyrinth, and Syrcus Tower in the Duty Finder, wait for the pop which usually came within 5-10 minutes, and repeat ad infinitum. 90% of the time I got the raids.

Incidentally I don’t think I’ll be leveling the Samurai job further anytime soon. At first I thought it was fun, but as new abilities were added on the way to 60, it got more and more complex, to the point where I just don’t think it’s worth it anymore for the cool running-holding-sword animation. :) I had to rearrange my entire hot bar scheme just for this one job, so I could see and understand the chains of combos better. I initially said it was “like” the Dragoon, but now I would say it’s more complex than Dragoon, which was already fairly complex (not even counting whatever they’ve added after 50).

Having finally reached 60, I was finally able to spend my Poetics!

Rawr! Frog minion is a bonus. I have no idea where I got it.

Also, you know, everyone plays Samurai now. It wasn’t unusual to get two in a dungeon group. I will probably go back to Dragoon for my melee DPS of choice. Sadly I don’t like many of the armor sets and I’m too lazy to glamour. :)

Oh one other thing about Samurai: I didn’t complete the level 54 class quest until level 58 (“Blood on the Deck”). That thing was insane. I kept expecting them to nerf it but they never did. It’s a three-phase encounter and the third phase is unmercifully brutal; the boss guy does crazy high damage to you. I had to run in circles around him until my health regenerated enough that I could take another couple of swings, then run away again.

Back to the Alliance Raids. The three Crystal Tower raids are quite fun. But I want to push back a little bit on the idea that the current raids are tailored more for the hardcore crowd whereas the older raids are more casual. They may be casual now, but when Labyrinth first came out, there was exactly the same chaos, wiping, and mental anguish that exists in Rabanastre today. Alliances wiped all the time, particularly on that part where you split into three groups, and on the Bone Dragon boss, and the Behemoth boss. I remember quite well having to run to activate those towers as a Bard because tanks were dead all over the floor and healers were desperately trying to raise them while the raid-wide damage was getting too high. I even healed Labyrinth a bunch of times and it was brutal (at least for me). There was much hand-wringing and blame passed around. Perfect runs typically took about 40-45 minutes. (I used to run it once a day on my Bard for the gear and tombstones.)

The point is that the Alliance Raids have been tuned to be fairly hard when they come out. As the community learns them, and especially as people out-gear them more and more, they become more and more casual. I haven’t been in any of the level 60 raids since I got to 70 but I imagine they’re a lot more friendly than they once were.

That being said, Rabanastre seems a little bit easier at launch time than some of the previous raids were when they came out. I don’t find myself feeling confused and overwhelmed by mechanics, and I’ve only completed three raids as of this writing. Previous raids took way more completions before I felt really comfortable with them.

As for the Crystal Tower raids, personally I’d like to see them sync the item level for those first three raids down a bit more, so that the mechanics are more relevant. Especially on the first and second ones. You can more-or-less completely ignore the mechanics on those two now. (Most alliances do exactly that.) Even if half the raid gets killed for some reason, the other half can still finish the raid.

World of Darkness, though, still has relevant mechanics—I know this from a sad personal experience of getting stuck in a group that wiped 4 or 5 times and took a total of 55 exhausting minutes to finish.

In other news, I’ve leveled my dinky level 25 Gladiator into a slightly less dinky level 41 Paladin, thanks to the Command Missions. I think I prefer the old school Paladin over the Dark Knight as a tank job. It suits my character’s lifestyle, if that makes any sense. But again, I don’t like to wear a lot of bulky armor so eventually I’ll have to glamour something more suitable. I’m liking my current set of “infantry” and “cavalry” gear. It’s nice and compact. I would love to eventually have an endgame tank glamoured with newbie gear just to see people freak out about it. :)

Sporty tankwear for the summer months!

I didn’t quite plan for how much it costs in Company Seals to go on Command Missions, though. It costs a lot. I guess they didn’t want people to spam those missions all day every day. Which is basically what I was doing on Paladin. I mean, why would you not partake of an easy lower-level experience point dispenser? It’s a bit dull to run the same dungeon over and over again, but they go by fairly quick without other humans involved.

Speaking of tanking and Paladins, I noticed that holding onto aggro suddenly got a whole lot easier as soon as I hit 30 and got the Shield Oath ability. If I work at it, I can actually keep the super-aggressive AI Bards from grabbing threat all the time. (Usually I don’t bother.)

GW2 – Fun While It Lasted?

I hate to say this, but once I finished the GW2 Path of Fire story, I found that my drive to keep playing rapidly dwindled. I think I understand now why they didn’t put very much of the story on the final two maps. They are less fun to play on.

Bhagpuss alluded to this early on in his first first impressions post. There is a very noticeable ramp up in difficulty from Elon Riverlands to The Desolation. I have to admit I chuckled at his nailing the exact difficulties that I routinely experience in Heart of Thorns in his description of Path of Fire:

There are mobs everywhere.  Traveling the Path of Fire is like running an endless gauntlet, assaulted at every turn. … I’ve found it nigh on impossible to do anything at all without two or three unnecessary and unwanted fights. … Every encounter seems to have at least one veteran – often several.

Yeah, that was the story of Heart of Thorns for me in a nutshell, every part of every map. At least in Path of Fire it’s only on the last two maps.

I think the essential difference between Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire is that the story of Heart of Thorns ran straight through all that difficulty (see Chapter 9!), while in Path of Fire, it doesn’t. I only started encountering increased difficulty after I finished the story. Getting 100% map completion on the first three maps, where most of the story resides, was a casual picnic, but getting the same on The Desolation is more of a grudge match, an exercise in sheer determination and willpower. There are even invisible walls blocking the jumping bunny rabbit in some places!

One thing that may have killed my enthusiasm for finishing up the maps was the Jackal mount. I was very excited to find it way down there in the corner of The Desolation where I wasn’t expecting anything. But frankly it’s not worth the effort to get it. It’s certainly not worth the outrageous 20 gold you have to spend for it. For you GW2 veterans who can’t even imagine wealth so low, 20 gold is basically my GW2 life savings.

As soon as I finished the heart and opened up the vendor (no small feat, as I fell off once trying to get those floaty energy things), I rage quit in frustration as soon as I saw the cost. I was expecting another 5 gold mount, or maybe 10 gold. When I came back later with a fresh attitude, thankfully I didn’t have to do the heart again.

I had to sell all those stacks of unidentified gear laying around my inventory. Then I had buyer’s remorse afterward, as it’s not a terribly useful or fun mount out in the world (compared with the bunny rabbit). Especially on The Desolation where you have to use the Skimmer to get over half of the terrain. I guess it could be fun to finally use those Jackal portals, but who’s going to stick around to get that many Mastery levels?

Because, like Bhagpuss, I too have noticed that the player population on the Path of Fire maps seems pretty low. In Heart of Thorns, it’s not unusual to find myself alone for a long time, but then I’ll stumble onto a big mass of people doing an event, and I’ll tag along until I get bored or need to go a different direction for whatever reason. But I don’t see anything like that on the later maps of Path of Fire. I hardly ever encounter other players doing activities on The Desolation. Nobody worked on the big meta event to get into Bad Guy Central. I had to carefully fight my way in there by myself to get to the vista and points of interest.

I hate to criticize Path of Fire, because I did enjoy the expansion while I was playing it, and it was a good price point. ArenaNet probably got a lot of good press out of the whole thing, which is great. It just seems like MMORPGs should strive for more than a week of casual fun with their expansions.

FFXIV – 4.1 Features

Last time I only talked about the story, but this time I want to talk about some of the new features in Patch 4.1.

Royal City of Rabanastre

The new Rabanastre Raid is typical for an alliance raid. Lots of mechanics and most of them try to kill you. By now I’ve learned that it’s pointless to try to watch a guide beforehand for these things, so I just jumped in totally blind. (The guides out in the first week aren’t that great anyway. Video guides just drone mechanics at you in a monotone with background video that may or may not be related to what is being said. That means you, MrHappy. :) Thankfully I recognized many of the mechanics from previous instances. But some of them are brand new, especially on the last boss, and some explanation is needed. That first PUG wiped three times I think. (Though honestly I don’t remember dying on the last boss even though I had literally no clue what to do.)

Incidentally, a week after it was introduced, people are already whining about wipes. Seriously?

I don’t think Rabanastre is as hard as some of the previous raids were when they came out, but I’m not a great judge. I love the alliance raids, even the hard ones. I don’t feel any pressure to perform well in them, because I feel like I’m pretty invisible in a group of 24 people. They are like Rift rifts and GW2 world events in that regard (except you get awesome loot!). You know, unless I accidentally wipe the whole raid. But so far that’s never happened. I think. :) Also I think they specifically design the alliance raids so that even if a certain percentage of people have no idea what is happening, you can still get through them. (As opposed to the 8-man “real” raids, which are designed so that every participant needs to be on their game to at least some degree.)

The gear drops are item level 330, which is awesome for me, since I’m still wearing the drab green-and-orange item level 310 gear. The first drop I got was a pair of orangey-brown gloves, though, so I’m a bit dubious about what this gear is going to look like.

The Alliance Raid Roulette is a nice addition. I initially pondered on Twitter why anyone would need or want to go back to the level 50 and 60 tier raids. I have only done the raids at 50 and 60 specifically to get the endgame gear needed to do the next tier of activities, and/or as a casual way to get the newest tombstones. But Aywren rightly pointed out that these raids are now a useful leveling activity for getting from 50 to 70, which currently isn’t a very easy path after you finish the Main Scenario Quest on your main job. At least it isn’t for me. I almost wonder if they are intentionally making it more difficult to level alternate jobs above 50, passively urging people to choose and stick with a “main” job for endgame.

Command Missions

I really haven’t played very much FFXIV for the last couple of months. The only thing of any note that I’ve accomplished is sending my Adventure Squad on missions now and then. They reached Rank 2, which conveniently is the requirement to try out the new Command Missions in 4.1. (Incidentally I seem to be “stuck” at rank 2.)

My first Command Mission was the dungeon Halatali. I played my lowly level 26 Rogue class. Running Halatali with the AI squad was like no PUG experience I’ve ever seen. :) Trying to get my squad not to stand in the purple AoE on that last dragon was quite a chore. I can’t say it was terribly fulfilling, compared to a human run. But it had the very impressive advantage of popping immediately as opposed to waiting thirty or forty minutes in a DPS queue, and of course no human interaction was required. I even gained a level, so not bad. I only did that dungeon once, though.

Next I tried Toto-Rak, the dungeon that almost every human player I’ve ever seen groans about whenever it pops for a PUG. I always want to apologize when I’m at that level. Rest of group doing leveling roulette: “Oh god, not THIS dungeon!” Me: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s the best dungeon I can do at this level!” I personally don’t mind it, but there’s a lot of mindless running toward the end.

Anyway, armed with the knowledge that my AI companions would be behaving like drunk teenagers, Toto-Rak went a little better. I abandoned any pretense of using “normal” dungeon behavior. My basic strategy now is to run headlong into each pull and attack the nearest mob, then switch to whoever the tank decides to attack, which may or may not be the mob I started with. (I have a macro key that selects the tank’s target.) It’s faster than trying to direct the tank to “engage” first.

The last boss in Toto-Rak, unfortunately, is a chaotic mess that basically boils down to a DPS race of me killing the boss before the mechanics overwhelm the party. Sometimes I die and have to run all the way back through the slime that slows you down, and it’s annoying. But still, I gain levels very fast, so it’s a minor inconvenience. It’s far, far quicker than waiting for real dungeon queues if you’re a DPS.

This zone better be in the next expansion. It looks amazing!

The command missions are great for leveling alts, but I don’t think they are very good at teaching dungeon behavior. The AI tank behaves strangely, and the AI DPS pulls threat almost constantly. The AI healer is generally okay… it even does some DPS, apparently afraid that the AI party will yell at it for slacking back in the squad room.

If, like me, you thought you could learn to tank better so you could do more PUGs as a tank and maybe even level a tank somewhere closer to the endgame, you might need to rethink. I tried to tank normally using my Gladiator job, trying to maintain threat on everything. I pull a mob, then watch as my party attacks the other mob, pulls threat instantly, and I’m left fighting one mob while the party fights the other mob(s). I gave up and went back to the above method. I pull something, the party attacks whatever they feel like, which is usually not what I pulled, but it doesn’t matter because eventually everything dies.

Admittedly Gladiator is the worst at establishing threat at low levels, and back when I tried to tank, “real” dungeon runs typically went roughly the same as I just described with me trying to chase mobs all over the place to regain threat because DPS just blasts away without giving new tanks even one second to establish threat. (Insert comments from veteran tanks saying, “It’s so easy! Just do so-and-so and everything sticks like glue!” Sure, okay, whatever. :)

Bottom line: Command Missions are fantastic for gaining alt levels fast, not so great as a learning tool.

As for what they do for your Adventure Squad, I have no idea. :) It doesn’t look like much.