Friday, January 27, 2012

My Visit on behalf of Gaiscioch to Arenanet

Apologies to my guildmates.  I've been quite tardy in posting this, but work has been busy.  Apologies for many of these pictures looking so dark.  Darn flash wasn't working. 
Here's Arenanet's home.  Some of you may have been lucky enough to party with the GW2 team around the time of PAX Prime when Arenanet opened their doors to the public for one night.  If you partied too hard, this was where you had too much fun.


On January 3rd, I was lucky enough to visit Arenanet to deliver "holiday cheer" in the form of holiday treats such as Cranberry muffins (my own recipe), Gingerbread boscotti (recipe courtesy Astrail aka Maggie), King's cake (courtesy of Laochan aka Melissa), Mint Brownies (courtesy of Zivah aka Kelli), and Chocalate chip cookies (courtesy of Redneck aka Aaron).  I did the baking for all but the King's cake which was ordered from La Panier at Pike's Place market.  Everything turned out great and was eaten with great gusto minus the Chocalate chip cookies.  They died a horrible and sad death.  They were still edible (yes I ate them), but due to lack of flour or too much butter, they didn't rise and were not Arenanet worthy.  Surprisingly enough I had never baked chocalate chip cookies before so I take the blame. 
Apparently all goodies large and small were eaten within 36 hours.  And there was a lot.  This sending of treats is something Gaiscioch is trying out for the first time.  Along with what I delivered, our members also sent en masse more cookies and treats directly to Arenanet as well as Trion.  We did this to introduce ourselves to Arenanet, but also to say a big thank you to the folks at Trion for all the work they've done on Rift which a great many of our player base enjoys. 
Now onto the fun stuff.  You probably don't care too much about what I cooked and what they liked.  You want to know what their studio was like.  I was curious myself.  Heck it's so ridicously close to where I work, I could probably walk there and I've never visited before.  Let me say this.  They probably have the same number of workers as my place of work does, but maybe as three times of work space.  The place was huge.  There was concept art EVERYWHERE.  I recognized quite a few of their concept arts from their website though I'm not sure if all of them are posted.  I wasn't allowed to take pictures of those so there's no way for me to tell. 
I gave the treats initially to their QA staff who then contacted their other departments to spread the "cheer."  A few of their employees gave me a quick tour of the joint and I got to meet a few other employees from marketing and design.  
Their Bellevue sound studio and all its glory.  Can you believe many of their armor clanking sounds came from hitting a car hood?
I was allowed to see their sound studio where they make all their sound effects.  Their voice overs are actually done in Los Angeles, probably because of proximity to Hollywood, but they make all the sound effects in their Bellevue location.   I took pictures, but they didn't turn out very well.  There were various sound "devices" from a car hood, to a various weapons, to a odd looking rope ball.  Apparently they lit this on fire and swung it around to make the fireball sounds.  When my tour guide told me this, I couldn't help but think of the fire hazards.  :P  
You never would have guessed it, but this is the source of the Elementalists' fire ball sounds.
My tour guide took me out to a balcony right next to their lounge room.  Definitely one of the best views around.  You could see both downtown Seattle and Bellevue as well as most of Lake Washington from here.  If you've never visited the Northwest or the Seattle area, Seattle sits on Puget Sound and, like most cities, has expanded over the years.  Unlike most cities, Seattle could only expand north and south because of Puget Sound on its west side and Lake Washington on its east.  Bellevue grew on the opposite banks of Lake Washington to Seattle's east.  In my opinion, the two cities would be one if it weren't for the lake.  Heck of a view though.  
Their lounge room or play room was pretty impressive.  I believe they had a Wii, Xbox 360, tons of books, plenty of board games, and lots of couches and lounging chairs.  They even had the required Ping Pong table.  The floor space of their lounge room is probably as big as someone's appartment. 
Board game table is on the left.  Bookshelf with all their books is in the background and the console couch is on the right with the TV just off the picture to the couch's right.
Their kitchen was no slouch either.  Some of you may have seen the vertical cereal dispensers in previous blogs on other sites, but if you haven't, I'll display them here.  That part hasn't changed.  Decent sized kitchen.  My tour guide told me you could cook entire meals here if you so chose. 
We Northwesterners like to take care of our garbage.  May I also point out the cereal dispensers?  I might have to get these at home. 
So they have lots of couch space, a full kitchen, xbox 360, wii, lots of books, arguably the best view in all of Seattle and Bellevue, and are working on possibly best mmo ever?  So you're saying I should move in?  Eh? 
Let me just pack my bags. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

PAX: Guild Wars 2 Overview Part 3: GW 2 PvP Thus Far

Last, but not least the PEE VEE PEE!  At least the small amount that was at PAX.  Sadly we have little to no new information about WvWvW, something I'm presonally very eager to find out more about.  I did take pictures of the PvP matches at PAX, but alas they were awful so I won't be displaying them here.


I was going to save this topic for last, but what the heck, let's save the best for first instead.  Prior to going to PAX, I had found a couple articles that had quoted a few Arenanet team members stating there was no collision currently in the game.  Going to PAX, I completely expected the game to be devoid of collision.  But to my surprise and fancy...there WAS collision!  Hooray!

Now for those of us that have played PvP games where collision was included in the game (DAOC, Warhammer, World of Tanks, etc), we know that collision gives that added level of strategy and thinking.  Unfortunately, having collision tends to increase the amount of data needed to be shot back and forth between the player and the game's servers.  Extrapolate this to 100's of players in a large zone and you end up with lag typically.  Warhammer had both friendly AND enemy collision and as a result (and for numerous other reasons) they had some fairly laggy battles at the forts.  They attempted to take out friendly collision but the players screamed bloody murder even though it would have helped Warhammer's lag issues somewhat. 

Fast forward to Guild Wars 2 and a few months ago the game, indeed, had no collision whatsoever.  What Arenanet found, though, is that players in PvE and PvP would attack their opponent, walk inside of them, their opponent would swing but miss because their enemy was now occupying the same space as they did, and so on and so forth.  In other words, players were using the lack of collision AGAINST the game mechanics to avoid damage.  Smart play, but not what the developers wanted.  Thus enemy collision was added.

I tested this thoroughly during my PvE playthrough and had other PAX players try it as well.  We all came to the same conclusions:
#1 There is collision with the enemy npc/monster only if you have them targeted.
#2 You cannot walk through the enemy; the game will make you go to either side of them if you try.
#3 Sometimes you can walk backwards through an enemy if they're targeted (might be a bug however).
#4 You can walk through all friendlies.
#5 You can walk through enemies if they're not targeted.

I also watched the PvP matches to check if the above also rang true, and I can safely say, for the most part, it looked like all the above rules applied.  There were only a few times that I thought I saw two opposing players go through each other.  Otherwise they couldn't.  I imagine that both PvE and PvP collision mechanics are the same code and therefore should act exactly the same.

We'll see if general enemy collision is ever added, but I imagine friendly collision is probably just not in the plan.  General enemy collision would help us use advanced tactics at keep and castle defenses, but I don't see how friendly collision would be a deal breaker if it wasn't in.  After going through Warhammer's issues with numbers of players on the screen at the same time, I'd be fine if Arenanet left friendly collision out so that we all would experience less lag.

Focus Firing

I discussed this briefly in Part 2, but I'll go more in depth.  While watching the PvP matches, more often than not, a solo player would find himself/herself against 2 or more other players.  I actually clocked how long it took to kill the solo player.  The average time was typically around 5 seconds with the shortest being 3 seconds and the longest being infinity; there were quite a few times the solo player got away or used obstructions to block spells until the solo'er got backup.  Not once did I ever see a player get 1 or 2 shot.  Big relief for me.  The biggest worry I had with the lack of a trinity is that the fighting would be too fast paced-that everyone could 1 or 2 shot each other.  It's simply not the case.  While it might take a player of extraordinary skill to beat other players when outnumbered, anyone can stay alive for an reasonable amount of time, at least slowing the opposing side down.  Therefore during structured PvP where you have 5 players a side, it is a completely reasonable tactic to have 1 player guard a point.

Dodge and other utility skills

For the most part, everyone was just trying to figure out how to use most of these abilities, but dodge did work very well when used appropriately.  Players very quickly, however, got the hang of their elite skills.  I can't tell you how many times someone used lich form or tornado.  One criticism I did have was that a lot of players really didn't take advantage of their team's guardian bubbles or line of wardings.  Only once did I see a team correctly use a line of warding (and to great effect).  Otherwise all the players including even the guardians themselves would walk right past the protective bubble, instead of staying inside and either healing or using offensive range spells/abilities.

AoE vs Single Target Dps

To put it simply, no where in Structured PvP did I see where one was overpowered or overused.  AoE, of course, worked best against larger groups and single target dps worked best against, you guessed it, single targets.  Not a big surprise here, but it is refreshing not to see to big imbalances yet in GW2 in spite of it only being in the alpha testing phase.  I can only imagine AoE will become a more important part of WvWvW, but time will tell.  If they make AoE damage spells work like AoE healing spells (increase duration, not damage), then single target dps might actually be more important.  It really remains to be seen.

"Cowboy" Classes

From PAX, the two effective "cowboy" classes, ie loners, seemed be primarily be thieves and elementalists.  Sure Necromancers were great at taking damage, but if something needed to be quick n' dead and allow the player to be able to heal, the player was usually playing a thief or a elementalist.  Elementalists really did well because of their water element and the extra heals granted from that.  Thieves tended to do well because of stealth and their pulling ability, singling out single players at a time.  Granted all classes can effectively solo.  Now don't assume that I'm saying only thieves and elementalists can fight effectively solo; the other classes just tended to play much more effectively in groups of 2 or 3. 

Destructible Environment and Cover
It was pretty neat to see destructible environments in PvP.  Only PvP mmo game I know of that that has destructible objects littered about is World of Tanks.  If Arenanet extends this feature to WvWvW and not just to doors, but walls....well let's just say I'll have to buy myself a drool bucket.  Now all that I saw that was destructible in the Battle of Khylo were the windows in the clocktower, clocktower roof, the wagon by the windmill (if I remember right), and of course the trebuchets.  There may have been more, but without more time to watch and play the map, I didn't find them.  The windows were fairly easy to break, but the wagon, which could be used as cover from ranged attacks, took a few good hits before it was destroyed providing a temporary place to take refuge behind.

Overall the more effective teams and players took extensive use of both destructible objects and of cover.  If better team saw a number's advantage, they'd push into the other team.  If they didn't, they'd typically use cover (temporary and permanent) to slowly tear the other team down and/or bait their enemies into making poor decisions.  It was quite pleasant to see this aspect of the game in action.

That's it.  That wraps up my PAX adventure this last weekend in Seattle.  Keep in mind all of what I have wrote is subject to change since Arenanet has just started on some of these game features, but from what I saw, it should prove to be a very fun game.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

PAX: Guild Wars 2 Overview Part 2: Random GW2 Q&A

In this second installment, I am going to be going over a collection of questions sent to me by fellow players and the answers I found at PAX (or in the case of some, didn't find).  Some of them I'll be going more in depth during "Part 3: GW 2 PvP Thus Far" which I should have written in the next couple days.  Without further ado, let's get started.

1.  Does each norn animal form give a special benefit?  For example, does the snow leopard form give a stealth ability?

I've always wondered about this, and initially it was one of the reasons I wanted to play a Norn.  Unfortunately there's still no more information about racial skills yet.  The best information at PAX I could get my hands on about this is during the opening Norn playthroughs where I got a chance to be changed into one of each of the four forms by various shaman.  I got myself changed into a snow panther. Much to my dismay, but confirming old reports, the skill set of the snow panther didn't include any type of stealth abilities.  In fact, I only had access to fighting skills; no utility skills were available while in this animal form.  The good news is movement speed did seem to increase.  So if one could extrapolate that these shaman induced forms turn out to be similar or the same as the actual Norn racial skills, you might have increased movement speed.  This may just keep my hopes up, but we'll see.  My main reason for wanting stealth as a Norn is to really have a good way to get away or sneak up on other players.  Movement speed wouldn't be quite as good, but it would be better than nothing. 

2.  Any idea when we might start seeing a big presentation about WvWvW like we're seeing with structured pvp now? 

I cornered a few Arenanet representatives about this one and for the most part, the answer I received was "I can't answer that."  I expected that response, but since the idea of WvWvW was so near and dear to my heart, I had to ask.  I did find out at least....

3.  Is WvWvW going to be available at launch? Or is there a possibility that it will be delayed?

"Yes, if we've announced something at this stage, it will be in the game."  Thank goodness.  I was getting a tiny bit worried since nothing has really been released except one leaked WvW map.  Overall, all the Arenanet team members seem very excited about WvW anyways so that's also reassuring.

4. How awesome is the character customization screen?

A W E S O M E.  It was a little bit unfortunate that the Norn playable PAX demo didn't have as fleshed out of a character creation as the other races, but I did get to watch another player take a good 15 minutes playing with the Human version.  It was incredible.  It was like the Oblivion creation screen on roids.  Almost anything you wanted to be able to tweak you could.  For the Norn, I had a choice of tattoos, beard styles, height, skin tone, and hair types.  The Human version had that (minus the tats) and you could tweak facial expression, eyebrow size/shape/color, nose shape/size/position and skin age among others.  I was definitely very impressed.  I'm looking forward to spending at least 1/2 hr on character creation once the game releases and I'm not even that crazy about that sort of thing.

5. If there is no body blocking, will there be some equivalent and what will that be?

There's some collision.  I'll explain what I mean by this and going more over this subject in my next blog post.  The good news is there's no complete lack thereof like I had read from a few Guild Wars 2 articles.  I personally confirmed some collision in the PvE demo (over and over).  It was pretty tough to tell for sure one way or the other during the PvP matches, but from what I saw, I'd say the mechanic in PvP is the same as in PvE.  It's something incredibly important to me and increases the strategies (and fun imo) in PvP.

6. What known pets will rangers be able to have? Do they have to go through a taming process? Will Great Danes be a pet?

"Any pets we've shown during videos will be available to play with in the game."  I couldn't get a firm answer on how you got your pet, but if GW is any indication, you'll probably have to tame the animal.  And the dog is available.  I was corrected by one of the reps that the dog that's been in a lot of the Ranger videos is technically a Blood Hound, but if you want, you can just pretend it's a Great Dane.

Hall of Monuments7. How exactly do the Hall of Monuments "heirloom" items work? Are they only good for the first few levels or will they level up like in WoW?

"We don't know yet.  How would you like it to work?" I was actually surprised that I was asked in return by one of the developers.  My reply was that it'd be nice to have the item level up as you go, but for it to always be inferior to other items you could get at your level along the way.  That way, there's incentive for crafters to make superior items and max/min'ers to get the best weapons for PvP/PvE.  Likewise those of us that worked hard enough to get these items, wouldn't have to constantly spend time/money upgrading our items.  Now we'll see if they actually take my advice to heart, but don't hate me or send a curse my way if this is how they do end up making the HoM items.  No matter what they end up doing, the dev reminded me, you could use a transmutation stone to keep the artwork for your higher level gear if you decided to do so.

8. When it comes to pvp and such how big a role is aoe going to be (compared to single target dps)?

The answer of this is really subjective and I'll talk about it more in my Part 3 post, but from what I saw, Arenanet did a good job of balancing out aoe damage versus single target dps.  If there were a lot of enemies in a specific spot, use aoe.  If you needed to focus a single player, single target dps.  Typical stuff and PvP tended to play out how I expected it to.

9. How susceptible are players to focus fire?

Focus fire does help, but you can't get one shot.  I saw multiple 3 on 1 instances were the single player lived at least 5 seconds if not longer.  The more the single player used dodge effectively and obstructions such as corners or obstacles, the longer they could survive against poor odds.  Much better than I expected. 

10. Do the utility skills provide enough of an escape for you to stay alive if applied well or it a big frag fest?

Yes, they do help you escape.  No, it was not a big frag fest.  Now I can't speak to what will happen in WvW, but utility skills did help each player when used in the right situations. 

11. Will the Gear/Loot rewards in WvWvW gameplay be as good as in PvE game play?

"We don't know yet..." but assume they will be since it's Arenanet.  It would be bad business not to. I am not particularly worried about this.

12. Do they plan to have more than 1 map to fight over in the WvWvW campaign? If so, will the maps be different on each Server/Neutral Zone in WvWvW and will they be shuffled when they reset the server match ups after each campaign?

Great question.  Really liked this one myself.  However... "We don't know yet" is all I could find out.

13. Will there be a benefits/rewards system for Guilds? Any hints on what these will be?

Yes.  I mentioned it in my Part 1 and it has been briefly discussed elsewhere.  As a player you can help your guild earn influence which in turn can be used in your guild tech tree.  What exactly this tech tree is or what guild abilities you can get are all still very much in development.  As in they're making them right now as I type this.

14. What is the size limit for guilds in Guild Wars 2?

They don't know yet.  They're still designing their guild system.  The Arenanet representatives did let us know we can have multiple characters in multiple guilds however. 

15. Are you able to release any new information (maps, videos, screenshots, etc) about WvWvW?

"No."  ./smile  No worries.  I had to ask.

That's Part 2 folks.  Short and sweet.  Stay tuned for "Part 3: GW 2 PvP Thus Far."

Monday, August 29, 2011

PAX: Guild Wars 2 Overview Part 1: Supporting the Community and Designing Dynamic Events


Coming back from PAX, I'll be writing a series about the various things I was privileged to see and learn about.  I'll be writing it in three parts.  Apologies for not writing the last article on evaluating my warhammer tactics as a leader using Sun Tzu yet.  Real life kept me too busy and PAX was upon me before I knew it.  I will get it done once I'm done with PAX: Guild Wars 2 Overview Part 3.
From left to right: Robert Land, Troy Hewitt, Andy Belford,
Martin Kerstein, and Regina Buenaobra

You may be wondering why make a blog post about PAX in general when my blog focuses mainly on PvP and the use of informed tactics.  The point of this blog in my mind is the spread of and making good use of information.  "Don't Fight In Darkness"'s primary meaning is to not engage in battle without foreknowledge, but in my mind it also can mean information gathering is necessary before making any decisions, not just martial in nature.  In general I'll be discussing in this blog anything related to Gaiscioch, a guild I'm a part of or Guild Wars 2's PvP, but in this blog post, I'll be going over two PAX panels I went to that both have a very large impact on either subject.  Without a good community, guilds don't matter as much and WvWvW will be much more difficult to be successful at.  The first panel's focus was about how different NCSoft Games are trying to support gaming communities within their game.

Supporting the Communities within the Community

I was lucky enough to meet some very key figures in the NCSoft Community Manager realm.  Arenanet's Martin Kerstein (Community Team Lead) & Regina Buenaobra (Community Manager), Paragon's Andy "Zwillinger" Belford (Community Manager), and Carbine Studio's Robert "Robeardo" Land (Community Manager) & Troy "Aether" Hewitt (Producer) were all there to discuss how they had worked with gaming communities in the past and what they saw as promising opportunities in the future.

Relevance to other Guild leaders

The Gaiscioch Social Gaming Community
Before I get into what the panel discussed, I feel like I should give some background information on why I was there.  Gaiscioch, a guild I joined in 2009, is a guild that's built about one major thing: community.  Once we join a game as a guild, everything we do is targeted to help support and encourage engagement and fun within that community.  I joined it because of that number one reason when I decided to give Warhammer a second chance.  As I mature as a gamer, I am coming to realize, while it's fun to get the "best" gear and be the top dog, that no game lasts forever and/or you can't be top dog forever.  At some point, all that work you did to become #1 vanishes when that game code is deleted (game dies off) or upgraded (ie expansions).  When it comes down to it, the community and how much I enjoyed that community will keep me logging into an mmo long after I have consumed the game's content.  So for me as a guild officer, going to this panel and being able to "peek" into different community manager's heads and see what they had to deal with on a daily and personal level was a real treat and will help me better create community driven events in the coming future. 

Favorite Community?

The panel opened up talking about their favorite or least favorite parts of communities.  Andy really got interested in communities with Asheron Call's PvP community and really loves the communities in City of Heroes and also jested "do catgirls count?"  You City of Hero folks probably will understand this comment better than me.  Robert revealed his preferance was the social scene inside town and would wander around, but if he was "outside," he tended to play more independently.  Troy's main fascination focused on the PvE and PvP communities and how they tended to loathe each other and how community managers had to deal with that micro culture so that both communities are happy. 

Managing and Encouraging Communities

From here, we segued from the panel's favorite communities into how to properly handle or manage them. Martin mentioned that he enjoyed the feel of the pvp community like some of the other panelists, but has noticed various communities need to be dealt with in very different ways.  For instance, he mentioned, as a moderator in the forums, he had to make sure he didn't cuss, was firm and not wishy washy, and use a "different voice."  If you didn't, players, and specifically pvp players, would tear you apart.  Andy jokingly added he prefered to "deflect and distract" while moderating the forums to manage players, but all jokes aside, he very much enjoyed helping create dialog between all players of all kinds.

He went on and discussed how, while players LOVED it when developers ran events, it was really a headache to do so.  It required a ton of logistics, time, and effort as a developer to run events.  Holiday events such as the ones in Ultima Online or Guild Wars that ran themselves were much easier to deal with.  The third way that most of the panel agreed was another easy way to help out was if the community itself ran event, the developer(s) could provide some small type of support such as adding a specific boss to kill at the end of the event, give out particular items anonymously, or help in other ways.  Andy mentioned that in City of Heroes (CoH), for instance, the developers would code in power suppression in a particular area for a limited time if they knew a costume party was going to be held there to prevent griefers from disrupting the party.  Troy added that one of the biggest reasons he went into the video game production business is because of the great events Ultima Online had back in the day.  Hear, hear! That's actually the #1 reason how I got hooked.  I can still remember a particular event where undead just poured forth from the graveyards for a whole 2 hours straight-probably was one of the most fun events I've EVER been a part of.

From the overall discussion, I got the feeling that the less the developer was actually "seen," the better.  In fact, Martin added that helping the community create and run events by giving them tools or by using developer tools to encourage events was much more successful in his experience.  In the past, he had tried engaging players in "person" inside the game itself and this mainly lead to disaster as chat would just explode with questions, unmanageable for any mere mortal to contend with.  Along with trying to answer too many questions, he added, inevitably you'd also end up with griefers that just showed up to make everyone's experience painful including the developer's.  In contract, Andy said with CoH, they approach the in-game relations a little differently with much more success.  At first, you tended to get just the scenario Martin mentioned, but if you showed up consistently and often enough, it became part of the game and helped bring the community closer together.  He added that this type of one on one interaction between developers and gamers tends to be more successful with smaller gaming communities such as the one in CoH, but the biggest key was mainly repetition. 

Guild Wars 2 and Guilds

File:Destiny's Edge 03 concept art.jpgThe panel was sadly only 45 minutes long and it flew by.  Luckily my guild leader, Foghladha, and I got to grab Martin and talk to him a little bit one on one.  We talked about guilds and how they would exist in Guild Wars 2.  Martin mentioned that they had just started working on them and very little details were known at this point, but there were a few neat things that Eric Flannum had talked about earlier in PAX.  First off, you could have different characters in different guilds; you weren't going to be stuck with just having all your characters in one, single guild.  Second, as a guild, you could earn some type of influence or guild experience, and third, that influence could be spent on some type of guild tech tree, helping to specialize the guild as a whole.  He added that all of this was subject to change.  One last thing we asked him if there was a guild cap and he responded that they didn't yet know if there was going to be a guild size cap or how large that cap would be. 

All in all, it was a very fun experience and I learned a lot about what these guys and gals have to deal with as community managers.  The next panel I had to chance to see was about designing different parts of Guild Wars 2.

Designing Dynamic Systems and Content

From left to right: Mike Zarodojny, Colin Johanson,
Jonathon Sharp, and Isaiah Cartwright
(not pictured: Eric Flannum).

In another 45 minute long panel, we had the lucky chance to to a variety of folks from the Guild Wars 2 development team including Eric "Commissioner of Common Sense" Flannum (Lead Designer), Isaiah Cartwright & Jonathon Sharp (System Designers), Colin Johanson (Content Designer), and Mike Zarodojny (Game Designer). 

Overall it was a mix of grab bag questions and answer as well as the team going over the process of skill design or event design. 

Skill Design process works something like this:
1. Come up with an idea for a skill.
2. Write all the skills on a post-it note.
3. Mix and match the post-it notes until you feel like they all fit each class fairly well.  Throw ones away that don't match any class.
4. Choose an individual skill to flesh out.
5. Is that skill more a weapon or utility skill?
6. Write a very simple, quick code to test the skill action in game and see how it plays.
7. If it makes it this far, what art effect does it need?
8. Send to QA.
9. Redo 3 through 8 based on feedback.

Event design isn't too dissimilar:
1. Brainstorm possible events depending on need.
2. Work with environmental artists to make sure basic map is completely ready.
3. Have prop artists make props for the event.
4. Figure out specifics of event (ie npc's involved, event triggers, etc)
5. Send to QA to see if the event is playing how the devs intended.
6. QA sends back formal feedback.
7. Add in "amazing" ideas here.
8. Redo 2 through 7 based on feedback.

Commando 02 concept art.jpgThe event design initial process can take from 6 hours to 3 days (ie steps 1-4), but the rest really depends on how many QA feedback iterations occur to finalize the event. 

Now onto the grab bag questions.
Q: What's the 8th profession?
A: (Much laughter) Eric Flannum: "We've announced 8 professions already! Remember the Commando?" (More laughter)
We will announce the 8th profession by the end of the year.

Q: Will there Guild Halls in Guild Wars 2?
A: Yes, but not at release.  We intend to have housing and Guild Halls at some point, but we will not have them at launch.  We need to focus on the items we've announced already and finish them.  But you can hold a castle or keep in WvWvW in the meantime.

Q: If I see an npc wearing a particular kind of armor or weapon, can I jump him to take said item? (Laughter)
A: We won't have anything like that in game.  With that said, a large percentage of npc's do use the same armor and weapon skins as players.  If you find a weapon or armor that a npc has that you really like, chances are there's a cheap knock off...err....player version that you can obtain.

Q: How many skills should we expect in Guild Wars 2 versus Guild Wars?
A: Right now GW2 has about 800 skills some of which are monster specific.  Currently Guild Wars has about 1300 skills due to all the expansions, but at launch GW had about 400 originally.

Default armor colors render.jpgQ: What about variety of end game armor for Guild Wars 2? Should we expect more than Guild Wars?
A: In Guild Wars, we were limited by the fact that we had to make class specific armor and that tended to slow down the process.  Because armor is type based (ie heavy, medium, light), we can make a lot more in Guild Wars 2.  So if you're a Guardian, you can wear any kind of heavy armor, not just Guardian only armor.  So yes, overall, there's a lot more armor skins for Guild Wars 2.

Player vs. PlayerQ: We know that there's not going to be the "Trinity" of healer/tank/dps in Guild Wars, but is there still going to be a rock/paper/scissors?
A: There's not going to be a "hard" set rock/paper/scissors because we have a much more complicated system.  We've built GW2 so that you're going to have to constantly react or constantly cause your opponent to react.  "It's like playing rock, paper, scissors with two fists..." quipped Colin Johanson.

Q: Are we going to be stuck with red or blue uniforms in structured pvp?
A: There will be uniforms for your team.  Default will be blue and red, but you can choose a different set or mix. 

That's all for now folks.  Hope you enjoyed my write up.  In the next few days, for Part 2, I'll be posting a list of questions that I had brought to PAX on behalf of myself and my guild as well as the answers.  Part 3 will involve me going over various parts of the PvP I saw while at PAX involving the good, bad, and ugly.  Stay tuned.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gaiscioch Guild Wars 2 PvP Daytime Player Recruitment

Many of us are eagerly awaiting any more information on WvWvW pvp, not to mention when Guild Wars 2 might actually be released.  The guild Gaiscioch, a casual guild born from the objective based pvp fires of DAOC and Warhammer, also cannot wait to get its hands on Guild Wars 2.

We are starting recruitment early for daytime for Guild Wars 2 players for two reasons:

#1. Having a daytime presence for oRvR in Warhammer helped our night casual players achieve more once they started getting on after work.  But many years have passed since then and a lot of our past day players have turned into more night casual players.  In years passed, college students, military service men and women, and retirees were among our day players and we hope to recruit players in similar circumstances.
#2. For similar reasons as in #1, some of our prominent daytime pvp leaders, such as myself Vampiresbane, have become night pvp leaders and so we also need a few good daytime pvp leaders for us to mentor and help take over the daytime damage and destruction that we all became so accustomed to.

Our European and Oceanic players also want to put out the welcome mat and recruit other similar players.  For an American based guild, Gaiscioch actually has quite a few players from Britain and mainland Europe as well as various Oceanic countries.  One thing to keep in mind is that Arenanet isn't sure if players will be region locked or not on servers so make sure to have a backup plan if possible.  No matter what, we'd love to have you if players aren't region locked.

Our guild's two main claims to fame are encouraging players to play how they like and to host server wide events.  In Warhammer, we hosted "Battle for Badlands," a pvp event in Tiers 2, 3, and 4 meant to provide a fun reliable time for both Order and Destruction to pvp in all levels.  A few of our members or allies also hosted other events. "Redhammer Tavern," a weekly roleplaying event on Mondays, was hosted by Clanorton and a weekly event called PQ Madness was hosted by Ltol, where players would do all the Public quests in the entire game, a few during each time.

Currently, our guild is more involved in RIFT, though a large part of our players base longs for the good ol' pvp days.  Our current main event is "The Telara Saga" in which our guild attacks different zones each event night.  Another member, Aethenrbrior, holds "Warfront Wednesdays" as well. 

To get a better taste of what we'll be up to, watch the following pvp video of one my personal favorite nights as a leader during Season 3 of our old "Battle for Badlands" eventline. 

Next week, I'll critique how I led during this battle using Sun Tzu's rules of War.  Even though our side won, though barely, Sun Tzu would have a few criticisms of my orders and of my strategy.  Also make sure to visit for current projects, guild structure, and guild events.

In meantime, between now and Guild Wars 2's release, sharpen your swords, practice your fireballs, and shine your armor because Gaiscioch will be eagerly waiting for you.

Whether you be friend or you be foe.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Comparing PvP mmo's using Sun Tzu's Art of War

Anyone studying warfare will inevitably run into a quote or theory from "Art of War" by Sun Tzu.  It's near impossible not to.  I have always been intrigued by history's battles and wars, and when I first read Sun Tzu's book, I couldn't have been more impressed.  Sun Tzu's teachings are surprising for two big reasons:
#1 The rules he laid out apply so well even today and probably forever will.
#2 His teachings are so thorough it's basically impossible to find any other single document that covers how to conduct war as effectively.  

Now this blog and the series of articles I will write over the next year or so will not be analyzing this or that historical battle, but rather how Sun Tzu's "Art of War" applies to a series of very warfare infused video games, more specifically PvP (Player vs Player) oriented mmo's.  Ultimately I hope to use his teachings to have more fun in World vs World (WvW) in Guild Wars 2 (GW 2), but for this first article, I will be analyzing and comparing three big video games and how well Sun Tzu's rules apply to each.  In the end, I think it will be come apparent that if you "Understand the Art of War's lessons and you will prevail. Ignore them and you fight in darkness."

Don't fight in darkness.

Most of us pvp'ers play PvP styled mmo's for the challenge of going against other players and beating them within a set of given rules.  Because of the human condition, most of us love to learn how to fight more effectively or how to outsmart our opponents.  However there are particular limitations to how well some PvP mmo's can intellectually challenge us.  Most games typically include at least a form of instanced pvp fighting such as World of Warcraft (WoW) with battlegrounds or Rift with Warfronts.  Others have objective based world pvp such as Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC).  Some have both like Warhammer Online (WAR) and possibly Guild Wars 2.  In most cases, instanced pvp fights act more like chess.  Typically the healer(s) was considered the "Queen" or "King" depending on your point of view, and every class had a specific and limited role.  In contrast, objective based pvp tends to be more like the Chinese game of Go where the emphasis is more on the holding of territory with the least amount of manpower.  That's not to say chess like situations don't occur in objective based pvp fights (ie if two small pvp groups attacked one another), the overall emphasis just isn't on small scale fighting.  I will say this though: having both types of pvp in one game increases the challenge and as a result, fun.  The instanced pvp helps train smaller groups to become the more "elite" and effective fighting force and therefore can hold objectives better, in some situations, than a big mob of players.  In this case, these "elite" players will often have to think and strategize on TWO levels: on the chess level (which favors attrition) AND on the Go level (which favors hitting weak spots and using Sun Tzu strategy).

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Let's narrow our focus.  I want to evaluate how current PvP mmo's handle Sun Tzu's rules of war.  I'll be comparing DAOC, WoW, and GW 2 (using what has been announced so far).  The amount of information in Sun Tzu's "Art of War" is staggering even though volume wise, it's a fairly small book.  I've narrowed down a few big rules and grouped them to use to compare the three games:

1. All warfare is deception.
Sun Tzu's famous overall thesis.  If Sun Tzu could write his book in one sentence it would be this.  In instanced pvp, there's some deception, but not a lot.  You're fairly limited to small scale feints.  Perhaps you could charge a large group towards one end of the instance and then split at the last second or if it's arena (ie WoW) have your healer out in the open as bait, but as in most cases you could do these types of deception in objective based pvp as well as have ambushes and more involved feints and deceptions.    In this case, GW 2 ~ DAOC > WoW. 

2. If instructions are not clear and commands not explicit, it is the commander's fault.  But if the orders are clear, it's the fault of the subordinate officers.
Forever true.  Whether it's PUG or a premade, arena or pvp instance, the leader has to be clear.  This applies to all levels of pvp.  Clarity of orders effects all types of pvp equally if the leader isn't succinct and clear with his orders, but there are tools to make giving orders easier.  The major tools players use to achieve this are voice communication softwares such as Ventrillo or Teamspeak.  WoW has a slight advantage as a game over DAOC and GW 2 since it has a built in audio chat system, but Ventrillo and Teamspeak are still used much more since they tend to be more user friendly.

3. It is essential for victory that generals are unconstrained by their leaders. 
This has no effect on whether you're playing GW 2 or WoW or DAOC, but has EVERYTHING to do with what guild you're in and what leader you have.

4. Know your enemy and know yourself and in 100 battles, you will never be in peril.
In most situations in all three games, it's really more important to know yourself, your players, and the tendencies of the PUG's within your group (if you have any).  However, WoW and DAOC actually trump GW 2 in this regard because there is NO rotation of enemies which means you can actually get to know your enemy.  There is rotation for arenas in WoW, but I'm fairly certain you'll face a rotation of teams in GW 2 arena fights as well.  Pre-Lich King WoW and DAOC had you pitted against rivals that you got to know and hate over time.  Real rivalries could spring up (and you could get to know your enemies' tendencies).  The one downside to rotating who you fight against in WvW for GW 2 is that your enemy never stays the same.  Though WvW rotation is superior in many ways to RvR in DAOC, in this one way, it is inferior.

5. To win 100 battles is not the height of skill-to subdue the enemy without fighting is.
I don't know of many instances where instance/arena fights end with one side never fighting, but I know of several times in DAOC or Warhammer where you could take a keep without ever fighting other players, especially if you feigned an attack somewhere else. 

6. Avoid what is strong.  Attack what is weak.
7. More important to outthink your enemy than outfight him.
8. To move your enemy, entice him with something he is certain to take.
9. In battle use a direct attack to engage and an indirect attack to win.
10. Make your enemy prepare on his left and he will be weak on his right.
11. Those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle.  They aren't brought by him.
All of the above Sun Tzu teachings describe using your intellect to beat the enemy as well as using deception to make your enemy make mistakes in order for you to gain a objective more easily.  There are definitely times where this applies in small scale, instanced fights, but it's definitely much more applicable in objective based warfare such as in DAOC or GW 2.

12. Let your plans be as dark as night-then strike like a thunderbolt. 
I seem to remember a different translation of this rule that states "Make your plans formless until at the last moment," but in the end it's the same idea.  Again applies more to DAOC or GW 2 since it's really hard to ever have a form in instanced pvp or arena fights to begin with. 

13. The way a wise general can achieve greatness beyond ordinary is through foreknowledge.  (is also related to #4)
14. Use spies for every kind of business.
15. It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to spy against you and bribe them to serve you.
There's two main ideas to these 3 sets of rules.  Use spies to gain knowledge and the general with most knowledge tends to win in much bigger ways.  Now in all three games, you really don't get to use spies because it's consider cheating in most regards, but scouts are the next best thing in pvp fights.  It's still a toss up between all three games in this regard since you really should scout your situation whether or not you're fighting in an instance, arena, or objective based pvp.  

16. Put the army in the face of death where there is no escape, and they will not flee or be afraid-there is nothing they cannot achieve.
Nicknamed Death Ground by many philosophers, it really only applies in objective based pvp settings where you have a small group that has the odds stacked against it.  Instanced pvp and arena settings tend to have BOTH sides in Death Ground scenerios and so doesn't really apply.  

17.  When a falcon's strike breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.  When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of momentum. 
This is basically stating that you want to maintain momentum.  Here's a very large difference between instanced/arena based pvp and objective based pvp.  With the instanced/arena pvp, the winning team has a very hard time keeping their momentum because each fight makes them start from square one AND the team they fight each time may ALSO have just gained positive momentum.  In contrast, if you gain positive momentum in objective based pvp, you tend to keep it and the loser tends to keep losing momentum as fighting goes on.  In the end this rule applies more to DAOC and GW 2.  

18. The winning army realizes the conditions for victory first, then fights-the losing army fights first then seeks victory.
Another big Sun Tzu teaching.  Applies to all types of pvp.  No big difference here.  

19. There are five fundamental factors for success in war: weather, terrain, leadership, military doctrine, and, most importantly, moral influence.
20. Must maintain will of the people.  
Of the subjects mentioned above, it would very progressive if a game had weather that affected battle, but I have yet to see that happen.  All the other subjects tend to be equally important in all types of pvp except for one. 

Will of the people (morale) and moral influence really only affect games that have entire sides of servers fighting each other.  WoW never really had server on server fights.  Vanilla WoW had some great fights at South Shore and Tarren Mill when the Honor System was first released but the effects of these battles didn't really have any affect on the morale of the Alliance or Horde.  Conversely, DAOC and GW 2 have entire realms fighting each other.  The morale or will of your people aka server matters greatly in these two games.

21. No nation has ever benefited from prolonged war.  
Really only applies to objective based pvp games, but it's more of a detriment.  The longer there's a stalemate in DAOC or GW 2 world based pvp, the more often players get bored.   In this case, WoW players would be affected the least, but in a positive way.

22. Move only when you see an advantage and there is something to gain.  Only fight if a position is critical.
Applies fairly equally in all three games.  

23. In war, numbers alone confer no advantage-Do not advance relying on sheer military power.
Since in instances/arenas numbers are always equal to start off with, this really only applies to objective based pvp games.  +1 for DAOC and GW 2.

24. When the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him.  If he attacks downhill, do not oppose him.
Holding high ground gains some advantages in instance/arena fights, but not many.  This definitely applies much more to objective based games.  

25. There are some armies that should not be fought-some ground that should not be contested.  
Even though I'm sure all of us faced that "oh crap, not these guys" groups in instances or arenas, you still had to fight them.  It's only in objective based pvp where you can actually avoid them.  Win for DAOC and GW 2.

26. When troops flee, are insubordinate, collapse or are routed in battle, it is the fault of the general.
Applies equally to all three games.  

27. War is a matter of vital importance to the state-it is a matter of life and death, survival or ruin. 
This Sun Tzu rule doesn't really affect my arguement, but does have a profound effect on how developers should approach pvp games in the first place.  You could read "states" to mean servers or entire mmorpg games and "war" as pvp fighting.  Thus "translated," pvp is a matter of vital importance to the video game-it is a matter of the game's survival or the game's economic ruin.

It appears Sun Tzu approved of pvp in online games long before they were ever made.  :) Doom to developers and their games that ignore pvp.

Overall, it really wasn't a fair comparison to begin with, but as you can see Sun Tzu style warfare greatly favors objective based pvp in DAOC and GW 2.  For the comparison itself, with no regard to anything outside Sun Tzu's "Art of War," DAOC and GW 2 are fairly even.  There's a few things game wise that would probably tip things in GW 2's favor, but  the game isn't even in beta yet so who really knows if it will become DAOC's true spritual successor.  It does help you realize why DAOC is considered the best pvp game ever made-it requires a level of thinking and strategizing WoW never did.

I hope you enjoyed my video game run down using Sun Tzu's "Art of War" as a measuring stick.  If you wanted to learn anything, make sure to try to read and understand Sun Tzu's theories that I typed in bold text.  His ideas are quite impressive and could help you beat my guild in GW 2.  You can bet I'll be using them against you.  Yes, you.

Next up, Recruitment for Gaiscioch.   After that, I'll critique one of my own nights that I led in Warhammer using Sun Tzu's "Art of War."