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Jumping the Shark Podcast #141

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Joining us for Jumping the Shark #140 is the one and only Jason McMaster, he of Cap’n Patch Kickstarter fame. Now, I would tell you that nobody in their right mind would back a game who’s main character is a spider, but even I have to admit the little bugger is oh so cute. I mean he’s got a pipe and a spatula. What more could you ask for? Jason and I then talk up some Guild Wars 2 action. Given that he’s an MMO guy, and I’m incredibly not, it makes for a decent point-counterpoint. For those of you looking to see Bill get his PC Dark Souls on, you’ll be shocked to learn that he hates it. And I mean hates it. Except that he doesn’t. Who’d of guessed? Finally, Brandon is witness to the Fall of Cybertron in the latest Transformers game from High Moon Studios. Find out why the guy with an Autobot tattoo isn’t as blown over by the game as he’d hoped. All that and little Bastion on the iPad talk is coming your way in this week’s JTS!

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The Case for Guild Wars 2

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On Jumping the Shark #139, while talking about upcoming releases, we rather clumsily stumbled around next week’s release of Guild Wars 2. I say “clumsily” only because none of us have really paid enough attention to the mechanics of the game to really know what it’s supposed to be all about. We know it’s an MMO, and in a time when most of the big MMO’s are barely modest derivations of every other MMO/WoW, what else is there to know? The game not having a monthly subscription model isn’t remotely reason enough to buy it. So, Garion333 helpfully posted this link in the podcast’s comments section. It leads to a page loaded with Guild Wars 2 info written for people who aren’t familiar with Guild Wars. This one might really be different, folks. Watch the video above and check the site if you want details that are actually detailed.

For me, here’s the thing – I’m not sure it’ll matter…

Watching the video and reading more about Guild Wars 2 gave me all sorts of favorable impressions. This game targets a lot of the bigger problems I have with MMOs. They’re throwing out the Kill 10 Foozles quests, they’re putting in dynamic quest chains that are capable of spreading across regions so that everybody in the room isn’t repeating the same actions over and over again. If a town is decimated in your quest then that town is decimated for everyone else too, whether they participated or not. That’s pretty damn cool. I haven’t fully read up on the combat model yet, but it’s clearly not the hack-a-skill and wait-for-cooldown tedium we’ve all come to know and be bored with. And they’re specifically designing the game so as to not have to deal with The Grind of spending hours upon hours leveling up your character just to get to that 30 minutes of gameplay that’s actually cool. (Cough. Star Wars. Cough.)

Combine that sort of stuff with a model that has no monthly fee nor (I don’t think) a micro-transaction-driven economy and suddenly the game looks like it’s worth a look when it releases next week.

So how come I’m on the fence? I hate to say it, but because it’s an MMO. I don’t mean that in a smug “all MMO’s are shit” kind of way. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought this week as I try to decide if I’m going to buy Guild Wars 2. The problem is that the big reason I play RPGs is that I like fantastical stories and not just stories, but stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. I want a place to start and a place to finish because that’s what a story demands. If it doesn’t end, how do I know when I’m done?

Sure, I can just be done when I tire of the place, but that’s not really my point. What would the story of Witcher 2 be if it didn’t have an ending? Or Ultima V? Or Baldur’s Gate II? Endings don’t just let you know when you’re (probably) done playing the game. A great ending is the culmination of everything you’ve put into the game. It is pure satisfaction (or frustration). Just playing around in a sandbox until you get bored isn’t the same and knowing that there will be no climax to my adventure in Guild Wars 2 makes it hard for me to want to suit up for it in the first place, no matter how good the experience of playing might be.

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On the other hand, I was a big fan of Mount & Blade and there are some elements to how the Guild Wars 2 world works that seem like an intriguing MMO parallel. Here’s a rather sizable quote from the Mass Info page:

Dynamic Events – So there are no quests in GW2, you never go to an NPC and read a wall of text that says for you to go collect 10 bear furs. You see content as it happens, right in front of you and everyone else. Well how am I supposed to level you ask? The answer to that is Dynamic Events. They’re always happening everywhere around you, when you come across one you’ll get a notification that there are new events nearby. Dynamic Events are structured so that you might see a single one-off event all the way to 20 events within a chain. Though a chain isn’t a very accurate description, they’re more like tree branches. Events aren’t merely black & white though, it’s not as simple as Event 1 goes into Event 2 and then Event 3.

Let me give you an example:

Say there’s a Dredge army making their way out of their base. You could possibly get together with people and defeat the Dredge allowing you to push into their base, defeat their commander, rescue captured soldiers, and then even defend the base against rallying Dredge who try to retake it.

Now let’s say you either ignore or fail to kill the Dredge army, that army will then create a base in friendly territory, they’ll build walls, create siege weaponry for defense, etc. They’ll then send out bands of Dredge to sack nearby towns, they might send out a sniper to the nearby hills to kill merchants. Now it’s your job to defeat them, destroy their new base, liberate any taken towns, and even then push back to their original stronghold. This all stems from ONE single event, the Dredge army marching from their base and there are 1,600 of these events currently, all hand scripted.

On top of all of this ArenaNet has said things aren’t going to just respawn 5 minutes later, events can take hours, days, weeks, and even months to be back in the same exact way you may have seen it originally. Also, this has to take into account player interaction, if no player does anything the enemy will still move on and conquer the world whether you’re there or not. Events also affect other events like a chain reaction, some events can have zone wide consequences, some are triggered through player interaction with an NPC or an object in the world, weather systems, day & night cycles, etc. Nor does this take into account the different experiences you’ll have playing with different profession combos making even those experiences unique due to profession synergy.

This, to me, is a lot like what I loved most about Mount & Blade. The world moved forward and how much you participated in that was up to you. If a lord laid siege to a castle I could go help the besieged, or join the group running the siege, or I could just go on my merry and the siege would resolve itself. The idea that the Guild Wars 2 world could operate this way is intriguing as all get out. The flip side of this is the world of Mount & Blade does wait for me when I’m not actually playing the game. If I leave it for a week, what I go back to is the same world I left behind. If I leave Guild Wars 2 for a month and come back, will I be completely lost? I don’t think I want a game that I have to keep playing all the time in order to know what’s happening in the world.

So, will I be joining up when the game comes out? I haven’t the foggiest. I haven’t, however, ruled it out and that is more than I can say for most MMO releases.



Craving More Guild Wars 2

If you bought into the hype of a wholly re-imagined MMO, Guild Wars 2 will likely spark a tinge of disappointment, but it’s a temporary affliction. MMO-players have certain expectations, and some staples of the genre work just as they are, so trashing all of that ‘just because’ would probably amount to video game suicide.

While most MMO developers focus on giving familiar features a unique spin, ArenaNet is re-examining the core purposes and implementations of those features. It’s a subtle, but very important difference.

A prominent example of this reworking in Guild Wars 2 can be seen when numerous players converge upon the same quest-goal. In TERA, which I recently wrote about, I was tasked with defeating a minor boss, as were a dozen other players. Since no one was willing to group together and simultaneously complete the quest, we all waited in a circle in hopes of landing the first blow when the boss respawned.

In Guild Wars 2, every player who participates in a portion of a battle can walk away with a completed quest, XP based on the level of contribution, and a potential reward. I don’t ‘think’ that the presence of additional players reduces the rewards given to others, nor does it matter. A minute shaved off one fight is a minute to jump into another battle. Plus, the lack of competition to snag a kill first imbues every encounter with a sense of camaraderie. I have never seen players so willing and eager to lend helping hands and revive downed players.

Opinions regarding the Dynamic Events have been mixed, with many people comparing them to the Public Quests of games such as Warhammer Online. The key difference is variety. There are some events that continuously cycle, but there are also events that appear sporadically for players in the right place at the right time, and ArenaNet has been vocal about the desire to constantly inject Guild Wars 2 with new events at every level. The overarching feeling is that you can entertain yourself for hours on end, and be rewarded, without officially accepting a single quest.

While roaming the countryside and partaking in battles as I saw fit, I became acutely aware of just how much padding is in a typical MMO – time spent traveling, waiting for quests, crafting materials, etc. With multiple fast-travel options in every zone (no cooldowns required) and the ability to use the auction house from any location (pickup still requires a vendor), it’s clear that boredom is one emotion that ArenaNet wants to eradicate.

This anti-timesink mentality is extremely evident in the crafting system. If you’re a crafter, you undoubtedly know the pain of realizing that someone beat you to punch by a few minutes and is systematically sucking every node dry of materials. In Guild Wars 2, nodes not only respawn faster, but players who simultaneously interact with a node both receive materials. When it comes time to craft a large number of identical items, they are created in bulk; no lunch breaks while waiting for 50 individual timers to count down.

I’ve been trying to find an MMO, new or old, to fill the void until Guild Wars 2’s unannounced release date, but I already feel spoiled. Fallen Earth? Way too much traveling. TERA? Too much quest-grinding. EVE Online? I better concentrate on my real-life financials first. While Guild Wars 2 may not spark a revolution, it is incredibly high on action and low on time-sucking filler, and that is exactly what I’m craving in an MMO.