Monday, 10 October 2016

Shades On : GW2, EQ2, EQ

October is likely to be a quiet month here at Inventory Full. At the start of the month my posting routine, such as it is, was somewhat disrupted by an annual event at work that requires a change in shift patterns and now, much more enjoyably, this week we're going on holiday.

I'm taking my dual-boot tablet with me, which means that at least in theory I could both play MMOs and blog about them while we're away. It's an excellent device. The inbuilt graphics can handle full-blown PC games like WoW and Allods under Windows and there's Celtic Heroes and AdventureQuest 3D on Android.

From experience, though, I tend to forget about gaming while I'm traveling. It's true that in October there will be dark evenings to occupy but it's a lot more likely we'll pass them chatting, watching movies and reading than playing MMOs on a 10" screen.

As for posting, I really don't fancy knocking out a thousand words with my thumbs. I need to feel the impact of the keys - it's a tactile thing. I'm also far too disorganized to schedule pre-written posts to pop up automagically - and anyway for that I'd actually need to have written some...

Of course, by taking the trouble to pre-empt the silence with this announcement I'm almost guaranteeing I will end up posting something, just because that's how the universe works. Maybe if it rains.

If the tablet would run GW2, which it won't - I've tried -  things might be different. The next bi-weekly update will drop while we're away and that should move the Current Events and associated plotline forward. I'd clear an evening for that. Also I don't think I'd be able to resist a little WvW action, not while everything is so vibrant and so volatile.

I'll have to content myself with following the fortunes of Yaks Bend on the invaluable page and maybe on the forums once in a while. It looks like we're back in Tier 1 again and likely to stick there for a bit. I was hoping for an extended berth in Tier 2, where there tends to be less hysteria but when you're hot, you're hot I guess.

We'll also miss out on the part of the first of the "Gear up, Level Up" events over at EQ2, although that's no loss. It's already been running for a few days and I haven't felt the need to log in yet. It's a Triple Ethereal Coins event, which is a very big deal for people proposing to perform effectively at the true end-game but of marginal interest to anyone else. I've managed to get by just fine with no Ethereal items at all so far.

Chances are the next one will kick off while we're away, though, and if it involves enhanced xp then I'd normally want to take advantage. I'd be a lot more interested in a bonus xp event for EverQuest itself. That's where my characters - my level 92 Magician, specifically,  - need all the help they can get.

It's harder to come by reminders for things happening in the older version of EQ since it has no real equivalent of EQ2Wire. I look at EQ Resource when I remember and I see from there that there's currently a two week long double rare spawns and double faction bonanza going on, which again I can very easily stand to miss.

By the time we return we should be approaching the final countdown for the launch of expansions for both flavors of EQ, each of which features a return to Kunark. As soon as I finish this post I'm going to pre-order the standard edition of EQ2's Kunark Ascending, which looks outstanding.

I'm particularly excited about the new Wardrobe feature, not least because of the bank space it will free up. I have a whole load of boxes labelled "Dressing Up" that I'll be clearing out as soon as the expansion goes live.

I'm also very intrigued by the four new "Ascension Classes". I'm hoping they will be similar to the Elite Specializations that came with GW2's Heart of Thorns, which I thought were one of the most enjoyable and satisfying aspects of that particular expansion.

That carpet's got to go...

Being still a dozen levels adrift of the cap in EQ, and each level taking me around a month of somewhat repetitive hotzone grinding to burn through solo, I don't feel any need to buy the EQ expansion, which seems light on features other than new things for max levels to do. A "Familiar Keyring" is not something of which I've ever felt the lack until now, to be honest.

I'll skip that one as I have the last nine or ten. I think the last one I paid money for directly was Secrets of Faydwer in 2007. Of course, since EQ and EQ2 went F2P, you get every expansion for nothing in the end, albeit at a slight delay. I'm only about four years adrift in terms of content I can actually use!

A date hasn't been officially announced yet, or if it has I've missed it, but I'm guessing that when we get back The Mad King will be up to his usual, rather faded tricks again. I'm not a huge Halloween fan in general but MMOs love it and at least it's something to do. Also - 20 slot bags for cheap. Not to be sniffed at.

That reminds me - Nights of the Dead has already started in EQ2. It runs into the first week of November so plenty of time left to get the goodies. Not much has been added this year by SOE/DBG standards, just a lot of new housing items -some crafted, some vendor-bought, all rather desirable - and a new collection with a must-have baby bone dragon pet

Lots to look forward to, lots to be getting on with. Do I even have time to go away?

Saturday, 8 October 2016

No Going Back : GW2

There's a developing trend in GW2 that I very much appreciate. It's the addition of new content without fanfare or publicity.

We have the big ticket drops in the two-to-three monthly installments of the current Living Story and I very much welcome those but for a long time now we have also been receiving a patchwork of events, activities and what in any other game would be called "quests", all dished up under the rubric of "Current Events".

While these are clearly designed to give people something to do between Episodes they are nevertheless a lot more intriguing than that suggests or demands. All of them, even those that seem light on context or narrative, add texture to the weave.

Stop it! It tickles!

I hate to harp back to the good old days of EverQuest yet again. Okay, I don't - I relish the opportunity - but this really does remind me of how things used to be, back before the hand-holding got out of hand and the trainer wheels got welded on to MMOs, seemingly for good.

It used to be par for the course in EQ to log in after a patch and find something had changed but no-one quite knew what. It created a buzz. People puzzled over what it might mean, discussed it in Guild and zone chat, fired up their Wizards and Druids and began porting. It was one of the ways we felt we were all in a world not just a game...well, some of us.

Evon was robbed!

That's not to say I don't appreciate the conveniences that came along as the genre grew and broadened and sought for mass appeal. I was never a denigrator of feathers. I didn't feel I was too good for sparkly trails or blue patches on the map. Like Kaozz I have reservations about the wisdom of trying to turn back progress as Daybreak seem determined to do.

It seems to me that the old rule about always adding something, never taking something away, when you hope to make a change and have it accepted, has weight here. DBG have decided to drop quest markers from their expansion content entirely and I'm sure a goodly portion of their longtime, aging playerbase will accept and even welcome that call-back to the days when EQ was the big name in MMO gaming.

I've been waiting for you.

ANet, however, seem to me to have taken a smarter path altogether. Rather than, for example, remove the orange rings and icons from the map for new Dynamic Events they've chosen to create event-like happenings that operate in a more subtle fashion instead.

The mechanics for the recent Gillscale Pond sequence are positively abstruse. The deliciously named (by players I believe) "Sad Anomaly" plotline floated in like thistledown. Indeed, the Sad Anomaly didn't even signify its presence by the now-traditional single, enigmatic line in the Update notes. It just happened.

Often, when the possibility of smuggling mysteries into an MMO is discussed, the less-easily-convinced point to the godlike presence of the internet, that all-pervading hive mind that relishes the tearing of veils and shines a klieg light into every backstage corner. That misses the point.

Don't cross the streams!

Yes, Dulfy had guides up for both the new rifts and the anomaly in a matter of hours. Good. Very, very good. Dulfy, along with the wiki workers, provides an essential, much-appreciated public service.

These aren't spoilers. They spoil nothing. They are valuable resources to be used, gratefully, by all those who don't find mysteries amusing, or who come home from work tired and irritable and just want to Get On With It.

Their presence in no way detracts from or diminishes the value of the approach taken by the designers, who wrinkled up the surface of the world and left it to us to decide how we'd smooth it out. I chose to work through most of both events based on trial and error, head-scratching, the ignorance of crowds as demonstrated in Map and Guild chat and sheer bloody-mindedness. Then when I'd had enough I looked some stuff up on Dulfy.

Stop shoving at the back!

The two events felt very different, too. The Rifts are a communal, community-building experience, not least the part where twenty players jostle for a foothold on some wind-tossed crag where the latest port deposits them. The Sad Anomaly, something whose beginning comes upon the player privately and unexpectedly, is a much more personal affair.

I am not at all a fan of what we might call the BioWare approach to storytelling, where your character is confronted with seemingly endless "meaningful" choices, the consequences of which are not immediately apparent. My character is not there to be moulded or messed with by hands other than my own.

That doesn't mean I disdain hard choices. Not at all. I welcome those unpredictable turning points, when an action has repercussions that can be surmised but not yet quantified. They can be nerve-wracking but they add depth and a resonance that echoes.

It was, perhaps, ironic that this evening, when my Elementalist made her decision and allowed Historian Tranton of the Durmand Priory to irradiate her with a mystical object he didn't understand in order to cure a malady he could scarcely define, she did so with Evon Gnashblade's favor hovering over her shoulder. After all, she chose Evon in that fateful election and look how that turned out. She had her Scarlet Briar Hologram mini out too but really, let's not read anything into that...

Ironic foreshadowing?

Now, for good or ill, she goes forward under the twin influence of The Shadowstone and The Priory. It has to be better that than The Consortium and their snake Krait Oil

Doesn't it?

Monday, 3 October 2016

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned : GW2

This weekend saw some lively discussions chez Bhagpuss over the current state of Guild Wars 2's World vs World mode. So much has happened over the last few months it's hard to keep track.

Yak's Bend is back in Tier 1 again after a precipitous plummet to Tier 4 and a cartoonish rebound back to the top. Our Celebrity Commander is back along with a host of names from the past, including our original CiC, now commanding regularly again for the first time in what seems like years. I even saw one of our very first Commanders yesterday, albeit not tagged up; one of the handful who bought the tag when most people didn't even understand what it was for, when a hundred gold was an unattainable fortune for most players rather than the pocket change it is today.

This time round, the ever-controversial linking system brought us Ferguson's Crossing for our new best friends. They'll be with us for a couple of months and they are a great asset, bringing numbers and several strong guilds and commanders.

You should probably keep that to yourself.

FC is a server, like Anvil Rock, who we had when the linkings first began, that I don't remember ever playing against. That's most likely why there don't seem to have been any community problems with the links we've had so far. It would be different if we'd been coupled to any of the servers that have a reason to hate us, which is basically everyone we've ever fought. Someone new to the server asked yesterday if there were any servers that didn't hate Yak's Bend, to which the answer was mostly laughter.

In this week's match we're facing Tarnished Coast, home of several major guilds with whose leaders our own top brass seem to be on extremely bad terms, including one who was a big cheese on YB for a while but left under something of a cloud. TC started out as GW2's self-elected roleplaying server and there's still a moony, renaissance fayre glimmer around much of what they do but they put their spikiest armor on when they play us.

The other server in the mix is Maguuma, GW2-NA's designated bad neighborhood. Maguuma is where some of the more notorious MMO guilds rolled when they thought GW2 might be something they'd enjoy - or enjoy wrecking. Some are even still there - I saw Starfleet Dental out in minor force over the weekend .
That's because it's difficult to type when you're laughing that hard.

Anyway, Maguuma has been known as the Troll Server ever since; accused, often with good reason, of not just tolerating but encouraging most forms of cheating and exploiting, while all the time expounding the virtue of the mythical Good Fight. We've run up against the Magpies a few times and it's always been a bruising encounter but I wasn't really aware of any great animosity, nothing like the deep and abiding hatred between YB and FA or SBI or...well, it's a long list.

Some hot words were spoken at the start of this match, though, and I fear such news travels fast when there are spies around. This time it all seems to have gotten very personal. Of course it's anyone's guess who's actually on Maguuma right now.

The current Maguuma is a bandwagoned version. Everyone who fancies a run at easy karma and effort-free rewards in T1 (everyone who's never been there knows the T1 borderlands are paved with gold) simply chips in a few hundred gems and moves to Mag's linked server, Kaineng. Remember them? They were the original  bandwagon, long ago.

Anyone fancy a game of footie?

Kaineng languished at the bottom of the table for  months until some bored high-tier guilds set out to see if they could bootstrap a server all the way to the top. If I recall correctly they got to Tier 2 before the wheels fell off. Well, Kaineng is the ghost in Maguuma's machine, clinging to the running boards as it tries to drive Yak's Bend clear off the track. It's a real team effort, too, because Tarnished Coast are dead set on achieving the same goal, to the point of really, truly double-teaming with Mag to get the job done.

As a rule I dismiss claims of double-teaming out of hand. Every single match features loud claims that X is allied with Y against Z although it's rarely anything more than an ad hoc, momentary partnership of convenience if it's anything at all.

This time, though, there apparently really is a formal alliance between the other two servers - across one time zone at least. The evidence of this brutal weekend is convincing.

Brutal? Yes, but also wildly enjoyable. Mrs Bhagpuss, like many on YB, is not a fan of 2v1 grudge matches but I tend to favor the views of a forum commenter philosophizing  on the subject recently : "Organised 2v1’s are very fun and should be encouraged, the fights happen at your doorstep instead of having to chase them down."

I certainly spent far more time in WvW this weekend than I'd planned, including an unbroken six-hour session last night. The action quite literally never stopped. It was heating up even further when I had to go to bed. As someone who rates sieging and defending structures against heavy and determined opposition as about the most fun you can have in a PvP mode, my main problem right now is having too much of a good thing.

The problem, as mentioned already, is that not everyone sees it that way. Indeed, the real problem with WvW is that almost no-one sees anything "that way". Everyone has a different conception of what the game mode is, is for, could be, should be.

Theorycrafting for Dummies.

MMOs at large are portmanteau formats but usually there's some clarity of intent when it comes to the individual components. There's generally a consensus on how to use an instanced PvP battleground or a 5-man dungeon and everyone knows what a bank is for.

WvW has never had that clarity. To some it's a stage for large-scale PvP battles, for others it's a siege warfare sim. There are those who want to roam alone or in twos and threes to test their skill and prowess and those who are interested only in the current score or their server's standing in the league. There are vocal constituencies arguing that WvW should be geared towards Guild vs Guild contests or even individual duels.

Many of these interest groups do not play well together even when they are supposed to be on the same team. The whole mess isn't helped by Anet's unwillingness to truly own the form and settle on a clear and unequivocal direction for development.

Across the summer we suffered a series of often fatuous, occasionally momentous polls. We've been in a running series of "Live Betas" for most of this year and there seems to be no prospect of that awkward scenario ending. The entire game mode is being warped and twisted around us, changing from week to week, as a handful of developers attempt to wrest meaning from chaos without apparently having a set of blueprints or even some notes on the back of a napkin.

Sorry. Sorry! I didn't mean you!

And yet, despite all of that, WvW remains enormous fun. Great entertainment. A compulsive, stay-up-too-late, miss-a-meal-without-noticing thrill. If you read the forums you'll hear that WvW is dying or dead but if you log in and play you'll find the corpse up and dancing the polka.

As I write it seems from the scores that we have recovered from our weekend mugging. We will still most likely end the match in third place and next week we should be back in Tier 2, where indeed we should be by rights, having only drawn a wild card to breach T1 these last two weeks in any case.

Our glicko rating will almost certainly have risen but straws in the wind suggest that may not matter for much longer. WvW looks set to endure a lot more tinkering under the hood before someone finally declares the old jalopy ready to race.

When that day comes, if it ever does, I feel confident that there will still be plenty of us left playing, no matter what lunacies we've had to endure along the way. Whatever the final outcome - and of course MMOs rarely have final outcomes until they sunset and sometimes not even then - the one thing I remain confident in predicting is that WvW will remain great fun.

Maybe there's a way to break even that but if so no-one seems to have found it yet.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Ready For Prime Time? : AQ3D

In his September In Review post, Wilhelm observed "... if you want to be popular, post about WoW". To this sage advice I can add a corollary: if you want to be ignored, post about AdventureQuest 3D.

My previous post on that particular game drew fewer page views than just about anything I can remember writing; certainly fewer than any post this year. No-one, it seems, is on the edge of his or her seat waiting for the upcoming Open Beta of this one.

Ah yes, the open beta. The open beta that's scheduled for "October". That's now.

Is it ready? Not according to most posters on the forum. Here are some sample quotes:

"After playing for quite a lot over the past few days, I feel that this game isn't ready to be launch to the public yet at its current state"

"I personally think launching the game in October is dangerous when the game is at this current state"

" might be a good idea to postpone the beta"

"Really can't see why you'd put the game in open beta in this state so soon."

"The game, at the current state, is not ready for Open Beta"

I do love how my character looks.
And so on.  Now, I've beta tested quite a few MMOs. Comments like this are not all that unusual because there's a contingent that thinks things could always be better and that nothing should ever be revealed to the general public until it shines like the Spirit of Ecstasy on a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. They're usually drowned out by the majority that just wants to get on with it.

The last time I had access to beta forums so determined that the doors should stay shut must have been the original launch of FFXIV. We all know how that turned out. AQ3D does not have the kind of problems SquareEnix did. The game works. You can play it. It doesn't claim to do a thousand things it doesn't do. It doesn't have a rabid fanbase hammering at the doors trying to get in. As far as I know...

The reason AQ3D may not be ready for Open Beta is not what you might think. It's not overly buggy or filled with half-finished systems that don't work. It runs fine for the most part - for an MMO in closed beta. No, the real problem AQ3D has is this: it's bloody hard!

Ye gods, is it hard! If you yearn for those glorious days in the late 1990s, when Level 3 took you six hours grinding orc pawns, get those rose-tinted specs on and sign up now.

Remember the fun you had killing hundreds of lions in East Karana in the vain hope that this time, this time, the High Quality Lion Skin would drop and you'd finally be able to craft your Fleeting Quiver? Imagine how much more fun it would be if that drop rate applied to all crafting mats!

Drop table needs work.
Disgusted by the way MMOs have shifted over the years to favor soloists over groups?  Here are dungeons so hard that solo players can't expect to get through the first room; where even being grossly over-levelled doesn't guarantee you won't die horribly.

Don't just take my word for it. Have some more quotes:

"... the drop rate for the items are terrible, you will be sitting in 1 farm location for 1-3 hours and still not have any of the materials you were farming for"

"...part of the dungeon is almost impossible for me, and I'm a level 14 player with Nightlocke weapons. I don't think it's a level 7 dungeon at all."

"The drop rates to get crafting items are horrible, and you need to run the same dungeon approximately 10 times (if you have some luck) to get ONE item. ONE upgrade."

"Made it to level8, and still lvl4 monsters in the first dungeon are impossible."

"I have been fighting the monsters ... for over four hours and I am still only level four. ... I am level four and a level two monster can almost kill me".

I could pull out dozens of quotes like these. Surprisingly, perhaps, most of the players complaining
have actually taken the time and effort to grind their way up the levels, through the dungeons and into the meat of the game. I haven't. I'll just have to take it all at face value because although I've played three or four times, I've already decided there are more entertaining ways to spend an evening than grinding the same two or three mobs for incremental advances and identical drops. And that's at level three.

Camping a single spawn for a quest drop. Two more mobs trained on me by another player. Both of us dead in a second. Brings back so many memories. Sadly, none of them good...
Part of the problem is the extreme dichotomy between what the game looks like it's going to be and what it is. It looks like a cheerful, cartoon-colorful knockabout MMO aimed at a younger-than-average audience. You come to it expecting a light-hearted, unchallenging romp and you get something that plays like EQ circa 1999. Only more so.

As several commenters point out, this is not likely to sit well with the audience it's sure to attract, particularly as a cross-platform game appearing on Android and iOS. This final quote neatly sums up the situation:

"I have not even touched the game for weeks now, simply because of all the issues with the XP curve, progression difficulty curve and combat system. If they can't even hope to keep their already loyal players entertained at this point, then the game will most likely not survive the general public".

It's not that AQ3D is a bad MMO. Not at all. It has a great feel, tons of personality, huge potential. Neither is it that there's no audience for a game that harks back in difficulty and challenge to the world as it was before WoW. Lord knows there have been enough calls for that Return to Values for years now.

In fact, there's nothing very much wrong here that can't be fixed with some tuning, tweaking and a general reality check. The game probably could use at least the rest of the year in Closed Beta, where major changes could be rolled out and rescinded as required, after which it would stand a good chance of launching to resounding applause.

Once it goes to Open Beta, though, the reviews and Let's Plays and Steam Ratings will roll in, like it or not. On this evidence, launching as it stands, that verdict could be as harsh on the game-makers as the game itself is on the players.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Revelation Of A New World

When Amazon began snapping up discarded MMO developers there seemed little doubt they had something massively multiple in mind for their game division revamp but as the "unboxing" approached and the tease reveals rolled out certainty dipped a little. It seemed we weren't getting a ragnarok-themed version of WoW after all, just another MOBA, because the market for those is desert dry right now, after all...

That never felt right. For the brief few days when the seal was split but the lid remained unlifted I still believed there'd be something interesting inside. And there kind of was. Is. Will be.

Somewhen, in some future time as yet uncalendared, exists an Amazon MMORPG. Faint ripples in the chronosphere suggest some kind of "massively multiplayer, open-ended sandbox game". The signal is occluded. All we know is what's in the single paragraph.

Oh, wait, no it's not! There's a video!

It's only fifty seconds but I think it answers a lot of questions people seem to be asking; questions raised but not answered by the text description on the website.

This is going to be a PvP Sandbox. Probably one with a non-consensual free-for-all ruleset. Check these quotes:

"...the players are our content." (25s)
"...whatever they do with it and in it and to one another is really up to them." (43s)

Or that's the plan as it stands right now. The game itself is who knows how far out? Two years? Three? Five? We all know the MMO you get is very rarely the MMO you were promised. Sometimes it's barely even similar.

Which is why I can't see much point getting hyped up or riled up. Yet. Let's wait at least until there's...something. At least the setting, one of the very few elements that has both been announced and is extremely unlikely to change, sounds promising.

The elevator pitch would seem to be The Secret World in Colonial America:

"...everything they were afraid of, everything that they hoped for, everything that they wanted to believe in, that they wished wasn't true, all of that stuff is real".

I could go for that. And, as many people have pointed out, Amazon is the epitome of a mainstream mass-market service provider. It does seem unlikely that Jeff Bezos will want to restrict the potential to the relatively small FFA PvP market when there's a much greater restricted PvP and pure PvE audience to tap.

The developers may anticipate a true New World but chances are they'll end up with much the same compromised old version we usually get. Some combination of level restriction, safe zones or even PvE/PvP server splits. Yes, the real target for all these new games seems to be the Twitch viewer (the Wooden Potatoes video linked above is very good on that) but I'm sure they want to sell a few million boxes too.

Not, as far as I can see, that there's been any mention of payment models, although I didn't watch the main stream. Still, it's probably safe to predict these will not be pure F2P titles. Amazon is in the box-selling business, be those actual boxes or digital downloads. There's going to be some kind of fee in there somewhere.

That's all a long, long way off. We can worry about how much it costs when there's something to buy. What interests me more right now is the idea, expressed by both Syp and Syl, that the MMORPG genre needs news of a big AAA release like this right now.

Why is that, exactly? Wasn't it only a year or two back that everyone was claiming it was big budget releases from megacorps that had crushed the life and spirit out of MMOs and the true future of the genre was and always had been niche? Did I miss a memo?

Syp found so many upcoming indie MMOs of interest to examine on MassivelyOP that he had to split his preview post into two parts. That list is just shy of three dozen titles. If this is a genre in the doldrums, heaven only knows what would blow in on a fair wind.

Let's not be negative. I'm a big Amazon fan. I've used their services for many years. I've found them to be reliable and good value. I recommend them often to others. There's certainly a smaller-than-usual chance New World (clever title, by the way) will end up being rushed to market half-baked due to the developers running out of money. It will almost certainly be polished and as finished as MMOs ever are at launch.

Whether it will be anything I'd want to play I have absolutely no idea. I won't know that until there's a game. Call me when that happens.

Oh, and the post title? Apparently all that writing carved in to the face of the guy in the pot helmet up top there? That's from The Book of Revelations, that is. Now you're scared.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Everyone Loves A Parade : GW2

It wasn't long after I began playing EverQuest, seventeen years ago this November, that I stumbled upon a community-organized event. Not specifically something by or for the then-substantial role-playing community, although there were many of those; something looser, more inclusive, with which anyone could join, in or out of character.

The one I remember  most vividly from those very early days was Talent Contest held on The Stage, an open-air theater on the west side of the much-missed original Freeport. Mrs Bhagpuss and I just happened to be passing by when we heard the event being announced in /ooc so we went to see what was happening.

We ended up sitting on the dusty Freeport ground for a couple of hours, watching mostly inept and amateurish performers take the stage to recite poetry or act out barely comprehensible skits. It felt like being in a true alternate reality. It was magical.

Over the years I've seen countless similar community events, from ad hoc improvs that drew a crowd
to huge, organized extravaganzas that took weeks of planning and were trailed across the interwebs months in advance. There have been mass protests and sit-ins, marches for and against all kinds of causes or outrages, demonstrations and celebrations of every stripe and kind.

The biggest and best known can require detailed rules of conduct for the audience like Weatherstock in LotRO or dire warnings for innocent bystanders like Burn Jita, which even managed to break into the real-world global news agenda, because EVE.

The best community events, though, are always the ones you just happen upon. I was in Citadel sorting through my banks as usual on Sunday when someone in guild chat mentioned they'd just seen a whole load of Quaggans marching through Lions Arch.

Quaggan Parades are a thing in GW2 and have been for a while. If you google you'll find a whole load of links to YouTube videos going back several years. Here's a small and annoying one from 2013 or a somewhat larger, better-organized and certainly better-shot version from the year after.

I can't say I've ever shared the widespread affection for Quaggans. I prefer to make jokes about their culinary potential rather than coo over their supposed cuteness but it can't be denied that to catch a whole gaggle of Quaggies toddling along is a bit of cultural milestone in Tyria. Kind of like naked gnome races in EverQuest and about as ethnically sensitive.

It took a bit of effort to find the amphibian posse. The first instance of LA didn't have them so I whispered my guildmate, partied up with him and zapped across to his map, where I found the Quaggan horde trundling through the east side of the city.

Arriving in a rush I hadn't thought to grab my own Endless Quaggan Tonic from the bank, where it waits, hopelessly, not having seen use for a very long time if, indeed, ever. Even if I'd had one on me I still wouldn't have blended in because I only have the Black and Blue versions and almost every Quaggan in this particular parade was red.

It was a very well-organized event, with two Commanders leading the way and everyone following at walking pace. Large turnout too. There was some mention of  charity involvement but in the fifteen minutes or so that I spent following the Quaggs no-one rattled a bucket or linked to a website so I remain none the wiser on what we were supposedly supporting.

Eventually the conga line arrived at the portal to Lornar's Pass and all the Quaggans passed through into the snowfields beyond, where, in a marvelous piece of theater, most of them turned blue. We all hung around for a few minutes while the organizers started to sort out advanced parties of non-Quaggans to head out along the proposed route and clear it of hostiles.

Around then I made my excuses and left. A parade is one thing but this was starting to look like a recreation of the Long March. How many Quaggans made it and where they eventually made it to is going to have to remain a mystery.

This minor, meaningless, serendipitous happenstance is a very small example of what's spoiled offline RPGs for me forever. No matter how brilliantly written and realized, no matter how finely-tuned the AI, with current technology there is simply no chance that you'll ever experience anything like this in any virtual world that isn't populated at least in part by other people.

Maybe one day we'll have algorithms or even sentient AIs that can provide the same level of found fun-making on the fly although the recent example of No Man's Sky suggests that day could be a long time coming. In the mean time I'll just carry on enjoying every new online gaming day as it comes - freighted with the unexpected courtesy of my fellow players.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Just The One, Then : EQ2

Syl started a discussion last week on what she might choose if she was only going to play a single video game for the rest of her life. Telwyn followed suit.

It's actually something I've pondered, idly, a few times over the years, along with that perennial favorite "if you had to live inside an MMO, which one would it be?". For me, the answer to both questions is probably the same: EQ2.

It's not that EQ2 is the best MMO, although it's certainly one of my personal top three favorites. It's more that it's so many different games all bundled up together. It almost feels like cheating to pick it as the only game I'd play.

There's such a portmanteau of ideas, all layered thickly, often chaotically, across each other that it runs far greater risk of overwhelming than boring any player, new or old. It would take a very long time indeed to understand, let alone exhaust, them all.

For example, Crafting in EQ2 is a fully realized MMO all of its own, complete with storylines, solo and group content, quests, gear progression, even "dungeons". So much development time has gone into adding so much content it could quite literally be released as a stand-alone game by now.

In what you'd usually call the main part  of the game, Adventuring, there's a plethora of classes - it sometimes feels like dozens of them - each of which plays significantly differently from the next. Famously - or infamously - every one of those classes has enough spells or spell-like abilities to fill forty or fifty hotbar slots. If that's not variety enough, there are over twenty races, each with its own flavor - although why you'd want to play anything other than a ratonga...

You can start in half a dozen different zones and level up in many, many more. There's absolutely no need to follow the same, worn path each time, although over the years you will certainly develop preferences. You can race to max level and back-fill your AAs or set the slider to any point on the scale you like (always assuming you've ponied up your sub for the privilege), allowing you considerable control and variation in the leveling process.

Like crafting, leveling in EQ2 is a full game - provided you like making multiple characters - but at the top of the level curve the endgame waits with its minutiae of never-ending incremental improvements for those that care for that kind of thing. That's a Zeno's Paradox you'll never outrun.

For pure explorers things aren't quite so infinitely extensible. You will inevitably run out of new places to see before the developers can patch more in. Still, while Norrath after the moon exploded isn't as indescribably huge as the original sprawling Norrath of EverQuest Sr. (itself an extremely good candidate for the One Game) it's big enough for you to have forgotten the start by the time you come round to the end.

Of all the games-within-a-game that would keep me going indefinitely, though, I think the clincher is Housing. Housing in EQ2 ranges from the simple decoration of a basic inn room to the construction via break-out of entire new zones. Indeed, decorating and building are tantamount to two separate games in themselves, especially once permitted player-made third-party tools like the Layout Designer come into play.

If EQ2 was the only game I had to play maybe I'd learn to use that editor. Mrs Bhagpuss did and she created wonders. I just filled all my houses with stuff. Of course I'd carry on doing that, too.

So, yes, if I had to settle on just one game to play for the rest of my game-playing life I think it would have to be EQ2. If Vanguard was still going and growing I might have gone for that instead, since it had all of EQ2's attractions plus Diplomacy as well, but sadly that option's no longer on the gaming table.

EQ would be my second choice. It, too, shares most of EQ2's benefits and adds plenty more of its own but EQ2 is just a more comfortable place to hang out for extended periods, somehow. I guess the only other contender would be GW2, in which it seems I can spend thousands of hours despite there really not being all that much in the way of variety.

Pushed to a choice, though, I'll take EQ2 as my One Game

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