Thursday, November 30, 2006

Whoa, look at the time

Promised myself I'd go to bed early tonight because, seriously, I need to sleep a bit. But I think it's not going to happen any time soon. I know I don't have anything to show for my day's effort here - trust me, it's coming, just be patient - because I took it easy today but I wrote a lot and I've still got lots to say and plenty of people to play with again.

You see, I'm still in the rapturous moment of having finished my novel. But my hellish month of hard work is finally over. Yeah, NaNo ends tonight - for this year anyway - and it's a sad/scary/sweet time but I FREAKING DID IT! For once, anyway. So I've been trying to hang around and encourage everyone else because I don't want this feeling to end any time soon. And, you know, I don' think it is. I found someone(s) to race against next year so I have to get in serious training because, man, you think I can spit out words? People have written 50k in a day. These cats leave me in the dust. I don't care if I win or lose, mind, but I'm going to give them a good race. So I'm going to keep practicing and getting better because I just love getting the high score. Even if I only help someone else get there. And, who knows? Maybe I can even write something that gets published - for once - or at least meet some more new friends along the way. I have to think of a suitable tribute to the people behind that fine idea of the insane deadline crunch - I'm not sure yet but I think I know just what to get them. Nothing at all, I'm going to pass it all along to the next person in line for the ride, so to speak. I'm pretty broke so I can't spare a dime at the moment but what I can spare is my effort and so I'm just going to hang there and see what I can do to help out for as long as they'll have me. I'm down to run for the next several years at the very least.

Bad news, though, in that the roof to my house has practically rotted out. It was shingled less than 10 years ago but those roofers say the damage is to the boards underneath and they're not liable at all. An assertation of fact I take some exception to. So now I'm going to have to hunt down a new contractor to do the repairs before it starts to snow (which is, like, tomorrow) and ruins the house further, possibly file some sort of complaint against the previous workers, and probably research the hell out of what it takes into putting up a roof so I can know if I'm getting dicked around or not. That's just going to eat up all my time tomorrow I'm sure.

Also, I've decided against jumping back into the Guild Wars madhouse again - for now. Instead, I'm going to cruise around AutoAssault for a while. So, yeah, yet more time gone to the vidiot box. But hey, I'm giving myself a carrot for staying awake and aware for so long.

Outlook: Fantastic! I'm giving it away and plenty of people are taking me up on my offers. A little positive feedback is all I need to keep my legs churning for just a little while longer.

[1] - I can't even see the clock, my lids are so droopy. I'm going to say 15, give or take.

To all the haters: Suck it. Suck it hard.

Ah, the sweetly sorrowful feeling of accomplishment. The ringing echo of the cymbol is in my ears. The final gun has gone off. In case you missed it, I wrote my novel. Oh, I’m by no means done and I only “won” the NaNoWriMo by moving the goal posts from having a complete manuscript to having a first draft that exceeded 50,000 words. But, well, it’s the longest thing I’ve ever written and damn if I’m not going to be proud of it. NaNo is a blast and I want my place in that particular madhouse cemented. Just don’t ask me if you can read the whole thing any time soon.

Anyhow, I think – for tomorrow at least – I’m going to take a break. I just wrote 50k in less than a week (To say nothing of everything else I’ve written. I’m just saying but I have about 40k worth of half-finished posts sitting in my ghost file this very moment. I I can’t even contemplate how much verbiage I’ve poured into things here. The scary thing is that as the week’s gone on I’m writing more. And faster. Just not sure if it’s better.). It’s taken a toll. The waiting arms of the always welcoming sleep call to me because I’ve been neglecting her a bit. I’m going to take a well deserved vacation and veg out someway, somehow, before I put pen to paper again.

Or, I might just wake up from a good night’s sleep – for once – and feel like there are so many things crowding around inside my head that I just have to write them down before they burst. I could go either way at this point, I think. I mean, I just realized a good way of explaining the veteran’s effect vis a vis the Pareto curve. And heard an idea about treating a fictional message board as a troupe of actors that just blows my novel out of the water from over the horizon. And I’ve had about two ideas for a new novel today. I mean, tell me this doesn’t look good on a book jacket, so to speak:

A casual group of players are friends even though they’ve never met. One day one of them says they’ll be afk for a bit but then when they come back they act incredibly strange, log out, and don’t log in again for a few weeks. Later on, the police contact one of the group to question him about the disappearance/murder of the missing player as well as the wealth of racy e-mails and chat logs between the two left on the player’s computer. He’s the prime suspect, something else his wife isn’t too happy about. The rest of the group hears about it and (along with a CSI type techie person who also plays the game and a message board campaign) begin searching for the missing player. Who logged in *after the police said she’d disappeared*. As the online world collides with the real one public hysteria mounts, the police are under greater pressure to catch the killer, and the whole group falls under suspicion. Which doesn’t help the fact that they’re exploring the shadier side of online gaming with RMT and Asian farmers whom the missing player was an advocate for/friend of (the missing player was a grad student who was preparing a paper on online gaming and its practices or, perhaps an investigative reporter) and up to some mighty suspicious things. And it doesn’t help matters when the game’s publisher puts the lockdown on things to avoid any more bad publicity. But was it some overseas corporation that wanted to silence a voice of protest, the game’s developers who wanted to protect their business model, the jilted e-lover, or something else entirely that’s responsible for the disappearance of the missing player – whom no one is quite sure is dead or alive? It’s up to a ragtag collection of players to mount a real world quest for virtual clues and seek out their illusory friend. The game they played just turned deadly serious.

And the best thing is now that I’ve fleshed out a game like ClotH I have a ready made world and community to plug that plotline into (Wonderful thing about persistent worlds, you know). It’s a paragraph like that I spun into my novel, after all. Oh well, no time and no energy at the moment. But I did it once. I can do it again. And different, possibly better, the next time around. Tomorrow, who knows, but if nothing else I think I have at least one solid idea for the next NaNo. Because, oh yeah, I’ll be running that race again. And tomorrow I think I’m going to be all over the boards as the craziness reaches fever pitch, if nothing else.

Outlook: Hibernation awaits.

[1] Absolutely no clue whatsoever

NaNoWriMo Blogging Finish: Purple Mountains Majesty


That’s right. A winner is me.

To be replaced by the actual winner's certificate once I can figure out how to embed a .pdf file or some other work around.

NaNoWriMo Blogging Ten

Well, I posted this one alread at the NaNo forums but I'm going to repost it here because I'm 1) reviewing my manuscript like mad before I press the counting button for the final time and 2) rather pleased with this one. I've also got something planned for this particular little excerpt so stay tuned.

The warrior clutches his wound and crumples. Land is already moving past him, his feet churning the ground as he desperately tries to devour the distance. Buffing his speed on the way he shoots forward waves of fiery energy trailing behind him. His arms back he speeds forward wearing a cloud of particle effects. Fast as he can he follows the dusty path in the long grass. A quick side-step to avoid the boundary of the hillside and he spins to follow the curving route. Dashing up the hill to the overlook where the massive trebuchet waits he frantically tries to center his mouse pointer. As if he were reaching out his arm towards a lever the length of a man and straining with all his might to make his fingers grow just a little longer he surges forward. But the screen keeps twisting and turning to follow his motions. He races the clock slicing each precious second away. Finally, he targets it and clicks once. Twice.

His character slams into the wooden palisade of the trebuchet and comes to a halt. The giant level dips down. The arm slowly - achingly, agonizingly slow it creaks and groans woodenly - begins to descend. Moving smoothly and magically it loads itself. With the whip crack sound of taunt rope and timbers suddenly released a ball of burning pitch traces its way into the sky with smoke.

Flushed with excitement Land yells out, “It’s in the air. It’s in the air.”

Chris steals a glance at the ground and the darkening pool that’s suddenly appeared. Horror congeals at the base of his skull. “Clear out!”

Lady exclaims, “We’re in the shadow, blast is going to hit us.” A slight crack in the calm, icy waters of her voice.

“It’s going to land right on the gate.” Chris says, having pushed down the initial sense of doom, as he slips into command once again.

Joe begins to strafe backward, up the sloping curve behind the group, and towards the safety of the gentle, flower strewn hills. “Pulling back.”

“We’ve got time, those treb shots take forever to land.” Ross continues to hack at a bowman hidden behind the archery slits of the fort’s walls. Trying to focus on the task at hand he barks out an order. “Let’s get some NPCs down first.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Look upon my works ye mighty and despair

Oh, yes, I’m feeling more than a bit grandiose tonight. Novel’s going well. Breezed past the 35k mark and I’m within spitting distance of 40k (Again, that figures a bit on the high side as it includes some junk text but I’m not too worried). As foretold, the 35k mark is magical and I can feel the bits and pieces coming together in my mind and on the page. At this point I’m worried that I’m not even going to have a complete manuscript by the time I crest over 50,000. There’s a lot I haven’t done yet and if I write like I have (and I’m not about to shift styles) then I’m going to blow past the mark before I can connect everything. Since I’m making a mad dash to toe the finish line just as the ending bell goes off, I’m not sure what I’ll do, I doubt I can get much more than 50k done by the deadline. 50k is an accomplishment but I wanted to write a *book not just a lot of pages. I might or might not have a problem with turning in what I have and “winning” if it’s incomplete. Eh, again, getting ahead of myself and I’ll worry about that on Thursday.

Anyhow, earlier today I made a mention – to myself, anyway – of a logical technique called dialectic. It’s something I do a lot of although not in the formal sense and it’s something I’d like to explore further when and if I have the chance. But the idea of starting with two contradictory and mutually exclusive positions that can somehow be brought into harmony is something I first encountered in those strains of Buddhist thought the hold every and anything is fleeting and undergoing constant change. A view that cleaves very close to my own understanding of things. But its one of those big three of the trivium and its desire for synthesis and the resolution of conflicts through rational means is a powerful lure for me. Would be a nice tool to have in the toolbox.

Also, since it looks like my mad attempt to write a novel might actually be successful I think it’s time I start to consider just how I’m going to reward myself for all that hard work. My only question at the moment: Paragon/Dervisher or Dervisher/Paragon?

Outlook: Pen’s scratching, heart’s pumping, eyes are open. Yeah, I’m doing this.

[1] – Call it 10 minutes.

This Just In

Flat Iron Steaks are awesome.

The King is Back

Okay, I’m going to put on my authoritative, forum dwelling, know-it-all hat for this one (I know, I know, I shouldn’t, I just can’t help myself lately). So be warned, I’m swinging some pipes here even though, as usual, I have very little idea of what I’m talking about. I really should break out the dialectic here (I do so love my synthesis) and bounce teh PK against the Carebear in order to seek the middle ground but, meh, I don’t have the time. So, let’s just skip to the fun part.

Thesis: There is no PvE balance[1].

Antithesis: Untrue.

PvE balance is much less rigorously maintained but it is still present. PvP players are much more accustomed to and trained to voice their concerns with any perceived imbalance or exploit. While most PvE players are more accustomed to carefully hoarding anything that gives them an “undue” edge.

But there are still no skills that break the PvE game. Balance doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is resting in equilibrium on the point of some imaginary pivot. It means that the system is regulated someway so that gross abuses are corrected in order to create a level playing field of ‘fairness”. This fairness is different in a PvE context than a PvP context because, in part, of the fact that in PvP there are two human perspectives to consider. For every “imbalanced” skill that creates an advantage for a player there’s another player who’s had a disadvantage created. The goal of balancing in a PvP context is to make sure that there are no skills or, even, techniques that causes that gap to be too wide. At the absurd extreme you don’t want one player to be able to push a button and automatically win any and every battle. But you still want to allow for a disparity in terms of relative position – through any number of means – because otherwise neither player would be able to create an opportunity for victory. In PvE there is no other human concerned with things being “fair” but the game itself, the system of rules and designs that govern how actions are performed in the game. What is “fair” to that game is anything possible within its ruleset. Not merely that which creates widely disparate advantages for a player. On the contrary, the game is designed to allow for players to come up with their own advantages and to exploit them for effect. It’s just that the tolerance for the limits of those advantages are much higher in PvE than they are in PvP.

What needs to be understood is that things like using skills to avoid knockdowns to make the Droknar’s run or careful management of self-healing buffs that allow a single Warrior to tank huge groups of enemies are not exploits as far as the PvE game is concerned – even though such things would be incredibly out of place in the PvP side of things. They are intended accidents. No one person set out to create a system where such things are possible but the sum total of the efforts of everyone from developers to testers to players makes the situation where players are driven if not encouraged to seek the best and most permanent advantage in any given situation. And the tools are in game and in potential in players to create those advantages. And no one, least of all the developers, is quite sure just where they’ll come from. In PvP the goal is to defeat your opponents, somehow, who are other persons sitting behind computers of their own. In PvE the goal is likewise to defeat an opponent but that opponent is not merely the monster or obstacle placed in front of the player, it’s the very game system itself – which uses various mobs and other things as a chess player uses their pieces. The game system is trying to, at the same time, defeat a player’s character and encourage the player to keep playing through the means of rewards like XP or loot for bypassing speedbumps. This is a radically different approach than the average PvPer where the ethos is victory at any cost.

Again, at the logical extreme a situation where any player could press a button which would automatically win a mission or even complete a campaign is intolerable and would not be allowed to happen. Even if such a device was perfectly acceptable in terms of PvP. Something like that would break the game not because it’s a gross violation of the rules but because it has created too much of a gulf in advantages and removed all sense of risk – there would be no way for an opponent to overcome something like my doomsday button – and ends the game itself (or at least transforms it into an extremely different game). It’s only the logical extreme of what already takes place in PvE gaming. Because the game there is not necessarily about defeating a pack of enemies it’s about defeating them *faster. PvE can be seen as a race or a marathon where the player is trying to complete as much as they can as efficiently as they can in a finite amount of time. The advantages they seek are not those to defeat the advantages of their opponent (the so-called threat and response) but those which allow them to optimize their playtime. They want to have a surefire way to defeat one mob because there’s going to be another one and another and another. The more packs they can kill off, say, during their limited gaming session, the more gold or experience or items or progress they’ll have made. And the further they’ll have run in their own, personal race. Balance in a PvE sense is not to make sure that there are no “overpowered” or exploitative techniques but to make sure that no single technique is perfectly viable in any and every situation. The player seeks advantages to shorten or compress the game while the game seeks to make sure that there is no way for a player to completely compress the gaming experience into a single point. It’s that tension between expansion and contraction of the time line that the balancing of PvE lies (Lays? Fuck. Me fail English.). Not the adjustment of points or percentages in minor mechanics. Even though the tweaking of a damage range on a fireball spell, say, will impact the PvE game.

This is because PvE and PvP are not all that different. They are not separate games but variations on the same game. In the same way that different dialects are both facets of the same basic language.

PvE and PvP are played by the same contextual ruleset. A point of energy or a point of damage behave the same in both, among other things. However, what I’d call the intertextual context is widely different. What those points – among other things – mean, exactly, when shifted or affected in any number of ways is altered not by different rules but by different interaction with those rules. It’s the player’s expectations and actions that create the difference just as much as the programmer’s designs. If PvP can be balanced then so can (and is) PvE because they’re not simply two games joined by the same interface they’re separate ways of looking at the same game. This, I’d like to think, holds true for any number of other “games” that are present from the economy to the “games” of leveling up or high end raiding to the various venues for PvP play.

Each presents its own separate dialect to the same language which is encoded in the game’s basic rules. And which is discrete from and cannot be described by those universal rules. It’s only a matter of which perspective you take and how much effort is devote to and how much energy is required for maintaining each separate branch of the overall system. Since there’s a decided PvP focus to the game and, indeed, the developers it gets more attention and more rapid response and not only because the effects of even a minor imbalance to other game systems becomes crippling in the cut-throat world of PvP. But any attempts at balance in one particular area can also be seen as attempts to safeguard the overall continuity of the larger game – the one that encompasses all the different ways the game can be played.

All of which is to say: Scaph, you’re a dick. I kid because I hate you.

[1] – In Guild Wars.

Oh, For the Days of the $5 Work Day

If you’ll excuse me I’ll be huddling under my blanket praying for the storm to pass and the sun to shine again. Have a look at the skies for yourself but don’t say I didn’t warn you:

Ford to Borrow $18bn

The latest chapter in the Rise and Fall of the Detroit Empire or just what it’s going to take to find the Way Forward?

Perhaps not the biggest news as my nation continues to transition to whatever a post-Industrial economy looks like. But, well, it’s got more than a few people from where I’m from concerned. I think, for me, it’s struck home that there is a very real possibility now that the almighty Ford Motor Company might very well go under. Or at least into receivership. This is scary, scary stuff. On any number of levels. As the initial investor reaction seems to attest. And, as always, only time will tell exactly what’s going to happen.

NaNoWriMo Blogging Nine

Okay, I’m going to cheat again. But, c’mon, there’s a novel to write and I’m edging towards the finish line. Because I’m under more than a few guns at the moment I’m going to post something I’ve basically written just for my story and I’m gong to pass it off as a description of my main characters. There are eight of them (I know, I’m insane) and seven are included below along with one minor character and two footnotes. It’s basically a profile of the clan or guild of which my main characters are all members. They all playtest an MMO in development called Clans of the Highborn – abbreviated amongst its non-existent fans as ClotH - and the game design company making the game periodically spotlights such groups and gives them a write-up on their official website. So, my fictional clan, called the Wanderers of Eternity - or WoE for short – got their turn and a little spotlight amongst the game’s following. But it’s one that’s several months out of date as my story kicks off (Don’t ask, I’m all kinds of loopy about things in my text.). The only one excluded from the profile is Heidi, who joins the test as my novel begins. I already detailed her in an earlier post. Also beneath each text are my comments on the character which I’ve included in my notes but I’ll excise from the text eventually.

Clan Roll #9: The Wanderers of Eternity [WoE]

Gather, my children as we unravel the scrolls of the clanmaster once more. Within these tomes are the records of all the valiant clans which have ever pledged to defend noble Kaltos from her many enemies. Trapped in these parchments are the heroes of yesteryear and the legends of old. But alongside them are the names of those who’s destiny has not yet been writ. They, too, might one day find their place amongst the stars in the endless sea of the sky. Hark you well, then, and heed my words for these may well be the ones whom our people will speak of in a thousand years time. ~(?) the Crone, Kaltan Academy
A small and closely knit clan, the Wanderers of Eternity has long been involved in the testing phase of Clans of the Highborn. Officially, the fifth clan to ever register with the Kaltan clanmaster the Wanderers are composed of an eclectic mix of many long-standing testers and those who’ve been active in the fan community. Many of their members staff or otherwise frequent our Honored fansite, the Panopticron. Their leader, known in-game as Opticron Prime, is also the admin at Panoptics, known as Guildmaster Joe. And many are also from the area of Coolidge State, just down the road from EuroSoft’s Washington branch office where ClotH is being produced. The group is dedicated to testing all phases of the game. Some members prefer to PvE, some prefer to PvP, but all share a desire to explore the game in all its myriad combinations. And, of course, to sharing that knowledge with others through their website. They believe that information should be free. And that it should be shared with anyone who seeks it. Although not the biggest or the most successful at raids or in battle, WoE has earned a reputation for its thoughtful, intelligent, and dedicated members and for their enthusiasm for the game. So, here are the members who’ve made this clan what it is:

Opticron Prime
Real name: Jospeh Przybylo
Panoptics ID: Guildmaster Joe
Favorite class: Monk
Background: I’m an assistant teacher of mathematics at Coolidge State. Currently I’m working on my dissertation for my master’s degree. I work a lot with discrete mathematics which branches into the information and computer sciences.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: I first heard about it through a mutual friend and fellow graduate who was hired by the company as a designer. Soon after, I started Panoptics to get involved with the game myself. Someone out there noticed my meager efforts and I was soon invited into the early alpha testing phase. Our clan started out as an informal group of three or four testers who often found ourselves grouping up or hashing things out on the development boards. As soon as we could create clans in game it was just natural for us to go ahead and do so. When our fansite was allowed to send out invites we sent them to some of the people who’ve been helping us out at that place.
Why do you like to play Monk?: You might think that I just sit there and cast heal after heal but playing as a Monk is as exciting and tense as it gets because of how the skill system works. I love it. It’s very taxing but very rewarding at the same time.
(Joe – and yes, the typo is intentional - is the declared leader of the clan. He’s really the glue that holds everyone together as he runs the guild, the website, and everything else. He’s the oldest member of the clan and he’s extremely dedicated and selfless when it comes to helping his fellow testers and the larger fan community out. The Panopticron, the site which he founded, is not the largest fansite for ClotH – that’d be the Mead Hall – but it’s developed a loyal and dedicated following among the fanbase. It’s known as a place for more serious discussion and debate over the real crunchy issues of the game. As well as being a place where things can be a bit heated and feathers ruffled. It’s the “cool” place for the community to hang out, basically. And Joe’s the person behind making it that way even though he’s a mediocre and infrequent player at best. But, in my story he’s the calm, steady presence in the background that helps everyone else to do their thing.)

Sirus Lightbringer
Real name: Chris Jordan
Panoptics ID: Sirus
Favorite class: Sorcerer
Background: I’m a student in the mathematics department at Coolidge State and I’ve been playing RTS like Stellar Empires and StarCraft for ages.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: Joe’s one of my GA’s at CSU and we’re pretty close. When he found out about the game, so did I. When he got into the test I wasn’t far behind. I’ve been helping out with Panoptics and the clan ever since.
Why do you like to play Sorcerer?: Sorcerers are, hands down, the best offensive class in the game. They’re incredibly powerful and flexible in the ways they can causes damage along with some other neat little special abilities. I’m a fan of the PvP side of things and a well-made Sorcerer is very dangerous in a battle. Lately, I’ve been focusing on lightning based skills as they’re very well suited to the various playstyles available for PvP. When compared to the Fire skills I was using before it’s almost like I’m playing an entirely different character. And there’s three other elemental lines that I haven’t even tried out yet. It’s great that I don’t have to reroll every time I want to remake my character into something different. And, of all the classes, the Sorcerer has the most options.
(Chris is, to put it bluntly, my favorite asshole. He’s always ready with a cutting remark or a sarcastic putdown. And he has a put-upon, weary attitude that makes me, if no one else, love the little bastard. He’s a real number cruncher. Along with Sage, he’s been picking apart at the game and its mechanics developing the tools to better understand things like how DPS and armor really affect the gameplay. He does it because he’s looking for a competitive edge because he’s one of my harder cored PvPers. PvP combat is the only reason he’s stuck with the game. During such battles he’s the clan’s field leader or target caller, to use a GW term. He’s the one who makes decisions about tactics during a match from who to target to whether the team should retreat and everything else. It’s a role he takes very seriously and one he excels at. Otherwise, he mostly slinks out of the spotlight to the back of the room to take potshots at everyone. But when a game’s on he’s front and center and ready to kick ass.)

Endless Roth
Real name: Ross Klein
Panoptics ID: Endless Roth (I am original like that!)
Favorite class: Fighter!
Background: Like my fellow Chris and Dirk, I’m attending CSU at present. I’m an English major and aspiring author-to-be although I’m a ways away from graduation. As for my gaming background, I’m an old time player of MMOs. And single player RPGs before them. I’ve tested such games in the past but none of them have compared to ClotH.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: Same as everybody in the guild, through Joe. Dirk, Chris, and I were roommates our freshmen year and we’ve stuck together since then. So, when they got involved I couldn’t helped but be dragged into this particular little funhouse. I forget if I signed up for the test or as a mod at Panoptics first but, well, I’ve been in the test a long, long time now. And I’m planning to stick around long past release because it’s been a blast so far.
Why do you like to play Fighter?: A soft spot for the meatshieldry, really. In every game I gravitate towards the biggest, meanest, melee class. The one that stands in there and takes a beating while pummeling the nasty things with big pointy sticks and the like. Whether it’s a raid or a free-for-all or whatever else I like to tank, in so many words. In ClotH, that’s the job of the Fighter. It’s a very solid class that appeals to the way I like to play already. But there’s also the promise of what’s going to happen to it in the future as the game gets further refined. ClotH does things differently than a lot of other games so this particular Fighter class is turning into something a bit more than your standard lump of flesh in heavy metal armor.
(Ross is my exposition fairy. He’ll go off at the drop of a hat about any and every subject and just pour out every detail or fact I want to get across to the reader. Other characters do so at times, too, but when I absolutely need it done, Ross is there. In order to disguise this fact and make him a bit less dry I’ve given him a creative and whimsical manner of speaking. Hopefully even though I have him throwing information at the reader the way he does it will be interesting enough that they won’t mind. Ross is just a know-it-all as he’s a veteran of dozens of video games and RPGs. He’s that guy you run into in games who always has an answer to a question about how the game works. Or a story about an older game he liked.)

Dirk Falchion
Real name: Derrick Falcone
Panoptics ID: Dirk
Favorite class: Sorcerer
Background: I’m one of those people who are going to Coolidge although my major’s a bit up in the air at the moment. My favored genre in games is the hack n’ slash, like Endless Quest and the criminally overlooked Devil Quest.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: I knew that the maker of my favorite Devil Quest, the lovely and talented Ms. Cynthia Jones, was starting a new game. Something that was going to be like a sequel but in an online, persistent world. When my friends Chris and Ross told me that they were going to be testers for it they couldn’t keep me from signing up, too, if they’d tried. In the test, we would group together with Joe all the time and when they implemented clans we founded WoE.
Why do you like to play Sorcerer?: I started out playing a sorc, as they’re known, because that was the best thing to play in Devil Quest. Plus, with Ross to tank, and Joe to heal, another Sorcerer like Chris was the best group we could come up with. I’m pretty happy with my choice as the Sorcerer in ClotH is a lot more versatile than the ones in DQ. And it’s the highest damage class which is great for raiding the harder dungeons.
(Dirk is an interesting character that developed out of nowhere for me. You see, by the time my novel opens, he’s left the guild in order to form another – ostensibly because he wanted a group with a greater focus on high-end PvE raiding. This created a bit of hard feelings and some tension between WoE and Dirk’s new guild as you can well imagine. I wanted to create a “villain”, so to speak, or at least a rival who could spoil things for my group at the appropriate moments – someone who’d been a member of the clan but had left them under shady circumstances. What I wasn’t planning on was that I would turn Dirk into some sort of cross between Ross and Joe. Smart, knowledgeable, generous, and, to me at least, likeable. Which works great because he’s a hard guy to hate leaving my main characters feeling ambivalent about him. They don’t like the fact that he ditched their clan but they can’t help but respect him because he’s such a stand-up guy. I was planning on going the absolute opposite route and making him a selfish, self-centered, opportunistic bastard looking out for himself and no one else but when I started writing him, well, something unexpected.)

Real name: Albert D’carto
Panoptics ID: Sage
Favorite class: Sorcerer
Background: I’m originally from Turin although I’ve lived in America for most of my life. Just got accepted to Coolidge State which I’ll be attending in the fall. I play RTS mostly.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: I’ve followed Snowstorm Games for a while and was disappointed with Stellar Empires Online. When I heard Sandy Dunkirk had left the company to work for EuroSoft on their new MMO, I knew it was going to be a great game. Contributed some things on Panoptics – Sirus and I go way back in SC - including a few essays and statistical analysis. When Joe had invites to give out, he gave me one.
Why do you like to play Sorcerer?: Sorcerer’s provide the best damage output in terms of time and mana spent. When compared to other classes they’re the clear-cut winners. I want to play a class that’s the most optimal in any situation and, at the moment, that’s the Sorcerer.
(Along with Chris, Sage is responsible for most of the strategy that WoE employs. He’s an amazingly detailed number cruncher who wants to reverse engineer the game engine for no other reason than to prove he can. Unlike Chris who wants to know how, say, armor affects damage to get a leg up on the competition, Sage sees that competition as a means to the end of discovering how the complex game system really works on a deep, deep level. He’s more than a bit of a geek. And probably as close as my book comes to the mythical ur-nerd. So, he’s shy and socially awkward. Prone to long dissertations on arcane points of mechanics and strategy as well as being the character everyone else turns to for advice about what sort of skills or equipment they should be using. Unfortunately, he has a stuttering problem which keeps him from really opening up. He doesn’t really like talking to other people, even in posts or chats, so he tends to open up in fits and starts. Only speaking when he has something to say. Originally he was going to be much older, by far the oldest player in the clan but I decided that he was better as a young and tireless fanboy rather than some elder scholar. I shifted the older and experienced part to other characters like Joe and Lady.)

Xeno Onex
Real name: Raphael Villalobos
Panoptics ID: Xeno’s Fool
Favorite Class: Sorcerer
Background: I’m from south of the border and am about to graduate from CSU. If anyone’s interested in hiring a recently graduated engineer let me know.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: Joe hired me to do some technical stuff for Panopticron that only us computer geeks really care about. But it means I’m on the staff there and it’s apparently a tradition that everyone who works on that site becomes a tester. Seriously, I hadn’t heard of ClotH except in passing until I started ripping out the guts at Panopticron but I got very interested by what I read there. And I’m thrilled to be in the test even though getting things finished off at school means I haven’t been able to participate as much as I’d like to.
Why do you like to play Sorcerer?: Everyone else does and I wanted to hang out with the cool kids and their designer robes. We have a lot of sorcs in our clan but that’s because they’re very good. You don’t need too many of other classes to group up for most things but once you get a healer and a tank you can’t go wrong with having more spell-casters.
(Xeno is a character I created just to write out of the book. So not too much to say about him. By the time the novel opens he’s graduated from school and gotten a job – possibly out of the country where his internet connection would be poor. So he either no longer has the time or the capacity to play. Either way, he’s pulled out of the guild which, along with Dirk and another character leaving, puts the clan in a tough position as they don’t’ have enough regular players to fully compete.)

Wraith Shadow
Real name: I’d rather not to give that out
Panoptics ID: Wraith Shadow
Favorite Class: Rangers
Background: Mostly FPS, some MMO
How did you get involved with ClotH?: Through Panoptics.
Why do you like to play Ranger?: I prefer to solo. There’s better loot that way. And the Ranger is the best class to play alone.
(Wraith is my strong, silent type. Doesn’t say much. Shows up out of nowhere jus tin the nick of time. Has an aura of mystery about him. He’s the best player in the clan – one of the best Rangers in the test and Rangers are regarded as the hardest class to play to its full potential. Other, more PvP focused clans would love to have him as a member but he’s incredibly loyal to the clan. It’s probably not going to make it into the text until I get much further along in the story but the story of how he became a tester goes something like his winning a spot through a contest at one of the larger fansites. He’d never heard of Panoptics until the first day he logged in and Joe happened to be hanging around and gave him a lot of help starting out when he was a rank newbie. Wraith went on to join the clan and through constant powerleveling and practice become a really good player – but he still remembers when he was struggling and how Joe was the only one who bothered to care. You see, Wraith comes off to everyone else as a cool, together person but he’s really shy and emotional. He just doesn’t show it easily as he’s just a kid. But he’s the clan’s bedrock. He’s always there when they need him.)

Giorgi Utmost
Real name: Helmut Rickenbach
Panoptics ID: Utmost
Favorite Class: Monk
Background: I hail from Vienna where I work in an internet cafĂ© and I’m mostly a player of tabletop games as well as a veteran of several MMOs.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: I got involved with the game through Panoptics, like most everyone in the clan. I’m one of the mods on their forum and when they were passing out invites I was lucky enough to get one. I guess I’m here because WoE needed a token European.
Why do you like to play Monk?: I usually play a healer or other support character in games. ClotH is no different. The healer is often the most critical role in any group and I like the fact that people know they can rely on me time in and time out.
(Utmost is just like Xeno. Created to be discarded. He, too, leaves the clan before the book starts leaving them in the lurch. His loss is potentially the most damaging to the health of the clan because he’s a Monk and most teams need two Monks to compete or raid by that time. With Utmost gone Joe’s the group’s only healer. The humble, dependable air I tried to give him here is what I’d like to call irony. Because in my mind at least he just didn’t quit the clan and the test he abandoned the game and Panoptics altogether to move on to some other, better game.)

Land Ho
Real name: Alan Hoshihiro Ngyuen but everyone calls me ‘Lan Ho
Panoptics ID: Lan
Favorite Class: Fighter
Background: I play everything from console games to RPGs. I love videogames.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: My uncle is on the development team and he helped me apply for the test. When I got in game I wanted to find a cool clan to hang around with. And WoE is just full of awesome people. I mean, I’m a member what more do you need to know?
Why do you like to play Fighter?: Fighters are the greatest! They’ve got the best armor, the coolest weapons, and they can put a hurting on anyone. It’s great getting up in someone’s face and just demolishing them with my trusty battleaxe.
(Land is the clan’s whipping boy. Eternally optimistic, boundlessly enthusiastic, and completely and utterly misguided on just about everything. He’s young, stupid, and full of energy. The other characters rag on him mercilessly especially my two “frat bros” Ross and Chris. Land doesn’t mind, though, as he thinks he gives as good as he gets. It’s all some weird male bonding thing anyway. Land is the youngest member of the clan – at least until his girlfriend Heidi joins, I’m not sure which one’s older there – and he barely squeaked by the age requirement for signing the NDA and only then thanks to his uncle who works for the game – and is the friend Joe mentioned in his piece. Originally I was going to have Land and Joe be related but for whatever reason I decided against it.)

Elisabeth Evermoon
Real name: Gertrude Morgans
Panoptics ID: Lady Elisabeth
Favorite Class: Mentalist
Background: I’m a graduate from Coolidge State and now work in the area for a software development company (No, not that one). My gaming experience is mostly in pen and paper games and LARPing although I do play a mean game of FreeCell.
How did you get involved with ClotH?: Well, I’ve been casting about looking for a game to play for some time as I like the possibilities offered for roleplaying in an online, persistent world. ClotH fits that bill perfectly for me. Joseph, whom I call Sir Opticron, and I know each other through college and when he told me about his website I signed up straight away. I’ve been posting and following the game at Panoptics ever since. And I’m proud to be the latest recruit to the Wanderers of Eternity.
Why do you like to play Mentalist?: Not many people prefer my chosen class but I’ve found it to be very rewarding. Originally I had my heart set on playing a Ranger. However, when the Mentalist was introduced and I saw the rich and vibrant lore that had already been developed for the class as well as the elegant and refined beauty of their appearance, I switched over with no delay.
(Lady, as I like to call her, is an odd duck alongside the rest of the clan. She’s a roleplayer and the rest of the group really isn’t. She’s also more than a little unsure about her little gaming hobby and goes out of her way to conceal it from her offline friends. But she’s the group’s token girl and sticks around because she’s a much better player – the first really competitive Mentalist to play the game – than her friends with tastes closer to her own. She and Joe also have a history as they dated once upon a time when they were both in school.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Frak Me!

Picture me swearing loudly and repeatedly, if you would.

I just realized today that one of the many forum accounts (one of my more important ones) I’ve left dormant has had people trying to get in contact with me but couldn’t because of a full PM box. Among other things. I suck so much sometimes, it actively hurts me. Hopefully, I can figure out some way of dealing with the problem eventually. But it’s at this point that I have to apologize to anyone and everyone who’s ever known me for the disheveled mess I’ve made of my life. So, in repentance and in advance, I’m sorry. To everyone who doesn’t need it yet don’t worry, if I haven’t gotten around to disappointing you yet, I will.

Also, today I finally decided that I’m going to have to put off going back to school for a little bit. Sucks painfully also but just too much is still up in the air and I have no confidence that I’d be making the wrong choice so I’m just going to take some time to reconsider and redress all the craziness that’s popped up. I’m more than a little depressed about it but also relieved that I’ve made the decision. Finality is liberating. Just like when you’re waiting for the axe to drop, so to speak.

Ah well, who cares about all that, though? I’ve got a novel to write. And, since you didn’t ask, things are going great there if nothing else. Flew past 30,000 earlier today and I’m about to head back for more (Although at least 1/5 to 1/3 of that is filler – repeated lines and notes that get included in my rough count. I’m going to have to exclude them when I turn the thing over to the magic counting genies). Once I make a post or two around here, anyways, since I promised myself I would and, well, I’m working on keeping those sort of promises. I’m approaching the 35k mark which is supposedly when things start to crystallize. I can believe it as my text is starting to gel a bit. Almost everything’s blocked in at this point, I know all the beats I want to hit (And I am going to have to cut things short in terms of my overall plot which will leave some of the stormclouds I’m brewing to lay fallow and pointless but hopefully I’m being subtle enough about my foreshadowing that I’m the only one who’s going to notice that they’re not paying off.), it’s just a matter of fleshing out the outline. I’m still not sure exactly if what I’m writing has any redeeming quality whatsoever. My inner munchkin has come to full bloom as I obsessively check my word count and plot ways of filling up that bar. There’s a lot of bloat and things that I’d excise if I was in the editing bay but I’m about additive value at this point, not the simple elegance of good design. I’m over halfway at this point and if I can find the time and energy to write it out I’m starting to think I actually can slip in under the wire. I’m not happy about just how much I’m writing on a per hour basis – I think I can do better – but it’s hard to really concentrate with all the distractions I have available and I know I’m writing more than others so I really shouldn’t complain.

Outlook: Did you not just hear me say I’ve got 30k? We’re flying high at this point.

[1] - Bah, I care about word count not time count at this point.

NaNoWriMo Blogging Eight

Okay, I'm going to cheat a bit now and post another excerpt from my novel. I mentioned yesterday that I was getting into the PvP portion of my text. And here's a portion of a particularly tense fight that I like as it's what lets me join the Trebuchet Club. I've yet to add the "he said"/"then she said" stuff so the letters are there just to help me tell who's speaking when (8 speaking parts, it can get a bit confusing even though I try to give each character a distinct voice.) . To set the scene a bit, my characters are all talking with each other through a voicechat program - Ventrillo or Teamspeak, it doesn't really matter. So they're actually talking rather than typing at each other, for once, and that's changed the dynamics a bit, I hope. They're involved in a battle against another team of players (8v8 or clan vs clan) and things haven't quite been going their way. My little clan of main characters has done well just to be barely holding at this point but things are about to shift in their favor:

R“Fuck it! Mogo’s not healing.”
LH: “What the?”
R“Repeat: Mogo’s not healing. He’s pure Wrath.”
S“That’s four casters they’re throwing at us then.”
C“Fuck load of DPS.”
R“Lady, switch to Nancy, he’s their only healer.”
L“On it.”
R“Keep him out of it and we can roll the rest.”
W “Switching to a sore.”
C: “Right, see if you can’t throw off their damage, Wraith. Wrath blaster or lightning bug, just take whatever you can get. We need to buy some time to regroup here. Lady, focus on keeping that Monk pinned down.”
L “Just keep me alive. She’s way in the back, I’m going to have to get in deep.”
H: “I am running out of mana. Big time.”
C: “Just hold the shrine until Joe’s back up then we’ll pull back to base.”
S: “You don’t want to p-p-press up?”
C: “Not with you and Land down for the next minute.”
J: “15 seconds.”
C: “We can’t hold this position, I just want to avoid any more deaths here. We’ll regroup at base, figure out how to switch up our tactics and bust out.”
R: “Just make sure we don’t lose the treb. We don’t want to get penned in.”
S: “Forget getting penned in, we’re down to our last c-c-couple rocks.”
R: “Can we just pull back to the gates?”
J: “I’m up, I’m up! Buffing. I’m going to need some help here.”
W: “They’re on him.”
H: “Gotcha Joe.”
J: “I’m drained. Oh oh em.”
C: “Lan, Sage, give me a timer check. How long until you’re back.”
R: “Start pulling back, people. Slow and steady, no need to rush.”
LH: “Just under a minute, boss.”
S: “C-c-couple seconds behind Land.”
J: “Lady, you’re getting out of range here. If you want healing start heading back now.”
R: “C’mon you fucker.”
C: “Okay, we fight at the gates.”
L: “They’re going to get the shrine.”
C: “Doesn’t matter at this point. We need some breathing room.”
R: “Got ‘em! Bongo’s down. Heidi, get out of here, start running towards base, I’ve got your back.”
C: “Lady! Forget the Monk! We’re out of here.”
S: “They’re only one up.”
C: “Yeah, but we’re down two and our Monks are overtaxed. We’re going to head back, protect our mine, and we’ll figure out where we want Wraith at. Then we’re going to bust back out and take the shrine.”
H: “So I just stop healing?”
J: “No, just keep in the back and we’ll stagger towards our base. Keep up the healing we’re just looking to hold them off not score kills at this point.”
H: “Oh, okay.”
R: “Delaying action not a full retreat.”
L: “They just capped the shrine. Looks like they’re pulling back themselves.”
C: “Could be a feint. Let’s play it cool until we’re back at full strength here.”
R: “A feint? From will?”
C: “Stranger things have happened.”
L: “Nope, they’re opening their gate. Alright, I’m heading down the side path, I’ll meet you at the gates.”
R: “They must be hurting, too. How many kills do we have so far?”
S: “Almost even. Six-eight, maybe.”
L: “Got a Fighter trailing me.”
LH: “About to rez. Lure him towards the rear gate, I’ll pound him.”
L: “Sigh, if I had Etherial Distortion or this wouldn’t be a problem.”
C: “Okay, Sage you help out Land, then the three of you head back to the main path and retake the shrine. The rest of us, we’re going to push up and get their trebuchet.”
LH: “You want us up with you when we’re done?”
C: “Yeah. No, wait, Sage stay back just in case they try to ninja the shrine out from under us.”
S: “Roger.”
Anyhow, from there they manage to trap the other team and finish them off, winning the battle. I'm a bit concerned at this point that in almost all my long PvP matches I have my characters winning so I'm probably going to have to throw them a curve.

Why WoW beat Guild Wars

I’ve been thinking a bit about Guild Wars lately. It’s a subject I have some measure of familiarity with. I mean, it’s a well-kept secret in that probably only a few people are aware of it but the alias I’m writing under here is a big one when it comes to Guild Wars. Or at least it used to be. “I” was one of the chosen few who tested the game. Moderated some fansites. Helped to start a few others. Joined some guilds – The Illuminati, The Number Crunching Zombies, Idiot Savants, the Fianna, even the Alphas. I’ve been the first to enter a new zone or find a new skill. I’ve gone on raids. I’ve climbed up the ladder. I’ve held the Hall. I’ve done just about anything possible in the game back when I was playing. Not by myself, though, I had a lot of help from friends I’ve lost, somehow, along the way (Mostly through faults of my own. Again, if you know my name from somewhere else, I’m sorry.). Probably doesn’t mean much to anyone who hasn’t been following the game for years by now but, well, at one point I did. The Alphas were one of the first guilds formed in the test, you know, and although I wasn’t there in the beginning I was at one point a member. Nothing but some digits in some computer database and some warm memories at this point but, at the time, it meant a lot to me. In ways I could probably never even been able to begin to express. I’ve faded from the game – pulling the plug like I always prepared to do so - vanishing into the comfortable anonymity of those who only play infrequently, if at all. But at one point I was a member in good standing not just of one guild or another but in what we called the community[1]. Those people who tracked the game, talked about it, participated in it, and, somehow, helped it get to the point where it is today. Each in our own small little way. You won’t find us in the history books or anything – no more than you’d find the names of the people who voted in the first elections following the Declaration of Independence. But I’d like to think we were important if only to one another. Because we were the ones who cared.

It’s by no doubt apparent to those (few) who’ve been following me here but I’m a bit of an evangelical. Not about religion, mind, but by that I mean that I just love to spread the good news. When I find something I like or the latest and greatest thing, my impulse is to run out and let everyone in on the fun. I’m sorry, it’s just how I roll. I joined the community – forced myself upon it, really – not just because I wanted to foster my own interest in the game but, as time went on I realized, to develop the interests of others. Seeing a new fan minted or hearing from someone who’d sampled the game for the first time and become hooked, brought a special sort of smile to my lips. Mostly, the kind no one ever saw because I was sitting on the other side of their computer screen. So I worked at it. Harder than I have at many things, if I’m going to be honest. I poured my time and my energy into doing the things I thought would help. The game, the community, myself, at a certain point it didn’t really matter because they’d all blended into one another. People need hobbies, I guess.

I mean, if you’ll permit me to sermonize for a bit, Guild Wars is a great game. It’s by no means perfect but what, really, is? It’s just fantastically well put together. If, like me, you’re a little sick of some of the trappings of the MMO genre while still liking some of the conventions then you’re going to find something to like in the game. The easy thing to focus on is the fact that you don’t have to pay a monthly fee. No, you just buy a box. You don’t even need the original game, any expansion – and there are two out now – will give you everything you need to hop on and start playing at no added cost (Well, in terms of money, anyway. If you’re like me then this game is going to rob any number of other wallets or bank accounts you might have). As long as you buy that one box you can pick up and put the game down any time you want. I mean, my account’s still sitting there waiting for me to get over myself and log back in (Which I’m not going to do. Not until they put in an auction house, anyway) to this very day – I’ve never had to pay another dime or cancel my subscription or anything. I can just pick right up. Which is what most people seem to overlook, to me at least. My characters (And, yes, I have a few) are all at max level with almost everything they need to play the elder game – it’s part of why I’m not playing, anymore, really. If I wanted to, I could hop back on inside of a few minutes and be grouping up with people to raid the high level dungeons to grind away for the uber loot. Or, I could go and do something entirely else. The low level cap in Guild Wars and the fact that the best items are only incrementally better than the standard stuff means you can grind away for prestige items or differences in percentile points, if you happen to like the treadmill. Or you can just play the game without spending hours hoping for a drop, you’ll be good enough that you won’t be making a fool of yourself. Either way you want to play, it’s there for you. And not just in that way, of course. Did you know that these days for just a few dollars more than the retail price you can purchase all the skills and items you need to create any PvP-ready max-level character at the drop of a hat? People who don’t want to PvE never have to spend a second leveling up or exploring and can get straight to the nuts and bolts of learning the complex and intricate system of moves and countermoves in Guild Wars competitive playstyles. And people who don’t want to become PKs never have to spend a second in PvP. It’s a great game if you’ve never played an MMO before or if you’re a veteran of dozens. And, oh, the complexity. If you want to spend hours pouring over different combinations of skills – over a thousand at this point if you have every expansion with the promise of still more to come - that can be mixed and matched like a hand of cards then they’re there for you. But you can also just find a few favorites to stick with because they’re all compartmentalized based on the classes and campaigns. Whatever way you like to play that sort of game, if you in fact do, there’s something for you. Like the best of game it’s deceptively simple. Easy to pick up, hard to master. It just has so much going for it that, to me at least, it’s easy to see why in a crowded market of “next generation” MMOs that Guild Wars was the one that caught my eye. Most people I know who’ve given it a fair chance have stuck with it.

I’m obviously mor than a little biased. But Guild Wars was a game with, as they say in the marketing biz, “mainstream appeal”. It was more than a little designed to appeal to those people, like myself, who were interested in playing online but weren’t really interested in playing any existing MMO for any number of reasons. There was, correctly in retrospect, a large, untapped market for a game that was an MMO but better. Guild Wars was it for me. So, I’ve always been a bit sad to see that it wasn’t quite Guild Wars who became the game to break multiplayer roleplaying out of its niche. No, it was World of Warcraft.

Just take a look at MMOGChart[2] which tracks the amount of people playing these sorts of online games. WoW shatters any and all records by other games. Over 7 million people are said to play it. That’s more than double the peak of the historically second most played MMO – Lineage. More impressive is the rate at which WoW has attracted new players. That steep climb makes Lineage’s rise look positively gentle. That amazing growth seems, to my untrained eye at least, to have leveled off. But, well, how many other MMOs have national commercials or South Park episodes devoted to them? And how many people are going to get a copy of the game for the holidays this year and send that subscription base higher still?

WoW is just a massive success it’s hard to imagine a world when MMOs were hoping to get a million people to sign up if they were lucky. But that was the case when both WoW and GW were in development. The two games, after all, were released only months apart. And, had Guild Wars come out on the schedules I was aware of, it would have been even closer still. It’s impossible for me to look at things and not wonder what if?

Because, and I’ll share another little secret about myself (And this is one that no one else has known), but what got me involved in Guild Wars in the first place was WoW. You see, I’m an oldschool Warcraft fan. I’ve played, enjoyed, all the games since the first. More than that I’m a Blizzard fan. I’ve played all of the games they’ve made, even hunted them down, from the days of Rock & Roll Racing and Lost Vikings. Never had a major disappointment with their games. They take their time but they always turn out a quality product. And sometimes, as with Diablo or Starcraft, they come up with something revolutionary. They really came into their own with the original Warcraft. The release of which happens to coincide with the start of my own particular golden age of computer gaming[3]. So, well, I kinda sorta grew up alongside those great games of yesteryear that Blizzard made. I’ve hung around and run through Hardcore mode. Some of my first online experiences involved finding someone to dial-up Warcraft II with. I am, after all, an avid player of many sorts of games. I might not be particularly good but I do enjoy the diversion from time to time.

But, one game I’ve never really enjoyed is the online one. Truth be told, I play video games to get away from people not to interact with them. So, although I had plenty of chances to sign up with the very first MMOs he way I’d occasionally foray into an FPS Deathmatch or twelve, I just never bothered. If I wanted to play and RPG I’d play with my tabletop friends. Or some other form of CRPG where I could go at my own pace. So, I missed out on things like Ultima Online and EverQuest the first time around, no matter how much my friends tried to convince me they were fun to play (Don’t worry, they got theirs back when I tried to tell them about the power and glory of Guild Wars. Repeatedly.). But, well, times and tastes change and somewhere along the line I heard that Blizzard was going to try their hand at making one of these MMOs that people seemed so keen on. I was sold, sight unseen, because I knew that any game that Blizzard released was going to be polished and well-crafted at the very least. Not having to worry about playing a game that was going to sour on me in a few months or be a bug-ladden mess meant that I was more than willing to throw some more money Blizzard’s way. I made noteof the game and kept checking back to see when it was goin to come out. I registered on their boards, applied to their beta test (I’ve been in more than a few, myself, in case it’s not obvious), and settled in to wait until the developers were ready to launch.

While waiting, though, I happened to stumble on a free trial for this little unknown game – to me, anyways – called Guild Wars. It was something called the E3 for Everyone, just a few days where the developers let everyone who wanted play a bit of the unfinished alpha version of their game. And, man, after a few nights of cramming every hour full of gaming to explore every nook and cranny of this online demo, I was hooked. Still am, really. The game was everything I wanted from an online RPG back then, anyway. And I wanted that rush to continue even after the test ended. So, I went back to the resources I’d found while on my whirlwind tour just to keep involved – the places where I’d found maps and skill information and guides and tips and, more than that, kindred spirits who were likewise enthralled with the game’s potential. Made a post on this fansite, then that fansite, and before I knew it, I was sucked up into the whirlwind and spinning more than a little out of control as the game and the community grew around me. It was a hell of a ride, if nothing else, and I’m not sure I’d trade my experiences during my time with the game for anything else at this point. It could easily have happened with WoW, it’s just Guild War’s fanbase was a little smaller and easier for me to find my place in, I think.

See, I never really forgot about WoW. When they had their own free trial, I made a point of investing just as much time into it as I had during GW’s demo. But, well, I can’t say I had a bad time, just that I found the experience wanting when compared to the amazing, fantastic time I’d had with my namesake[4]. WoW was a wonderfully well-done MMO, it hit all the right notes and did everything in a way I liked. It’s just that I’d found something better. I’d found Guild Wars. And I fully expected other people to, eventually, if only they’d give the game a chance. At least enough that the game would be a success and attract enough people that I’d never have to worry about the devs pulling the plug and ending my fun.

Well, it turns out that I was right, somewhat. Guild Wars is a success, too, just not on the same scale as WoW. But it’s been up and running for a while and it looks like it’s going to continue for a little while longer, if nothing else. So I take some small measure of satisfaction in that. As well in the continued success of those organizations and people whom I happened to run into in my Icarus-like trajectory through time.

It’s just I read things like this comment (#2 by David Glover, about whom I know absolutely nothing about except I like the way he thinks) and I can’t help but think about what might have been. As David says, I couldn’t understand how “[Guild Wars] didn’t appeal more than World of Warcraft”. It was a bit of a running battle between our two communities, you understand, as the fans of each unreleased game attempted to convince the other they were deluded – something like Baptists trying to convince Lutherans they’ve gotten things horribly wrong, I imagine. Although I’ve tried. And I’m not really sure I have the answer but it does make me wonder two things, really.

First, if things had bounced another way would I have felt this passionately (That I can start off trying to quote a small blog comment and run off with a good couple thousand words inside of an hour when I have a novel to write) about World of Warcraft? I was never as deeply involved with things on that side of the fence, so to speak, but I think the potential was there. Did Guild Wars really suit my preferences or was it simply the right game at the right time with the right people to keep me active and involved?

Less navel-gazingly, I wonder what would have happened if Guild Wars had been called something like Diablo Online. Because, really, to me at least, it could be. It was something of a joke amongst the community that we could call the game “Diablo III”. To some that was a way of insulting the game but, for me, it was a major selling point. Replace the text based lobbies of BNet with graphical ones, add in some extremely rigorous balancing, and include the latest gaming innovations to make the next sequel in that franchise and, really, you’ll get a game that’s going to be a lot like Guild Wars. This isn’t really all that surprising because the developers of Guild Wars, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet although I doubt they’d remember me, were lead by the very same people who created those Blizzard games I loved so very long ago. They were the designers and programmers of things like StarCraft, Diablo, and even itself. And, from my admittedly limited understand, they were heavily involved in the early stages of Warcraft Online, what became what we know as WoW. They just were forced out of the company or left of their own accord because they wanted to take that game in a different direction than it was going. Those are the people who formed ANet and whose first (and to this date, only) game was Guild Wars.

And it’s here that I think I’m touching at least one edge of the answer to Mr. Glover’s question. To explain, unlike Guild Wars which had to start from scratch my fictional Diablo Online would use all the familiar names and places that fans of Diablo have come to know. It would have a built-in fanbase the same way James Bond does. People who’ll sign up no matter what the actual product looks like because they’re sold on brand reputation alone. Like I was going to with WoW, they’ll buy the game or the movie ticket or the song or book or whatever else simply because they trust the makers to deliver a quality experience, somehow, for their entertainment dollar. I’m not alone in my regard for Blizzard as an excellent game making factory, after all. Many other people I know feel the same way. So, Warcraft and Blizzard itself draws people and lets them overcome their skepticism, for whatever reason, about a generic MMO in a way that something new and unproven like EverQuest can’t. It breaks into the mainstream and makes such an impact on our popular culture not because it’s particularly innovative or experimental the way, say, StarCraft was, but because it’s an expertly crafted version of an existing product by a company that people trust. If it was called Land of Conflict or something with no other difference than removing the intellectual property that remains Blizzard’s property, I am convinced what we know as WoW wouldn’t have been nearly as big a hit. There are a lot of other reasons it appeals to people including the fact that it is a good game and some people do like the treadmill style of the traditional MMO but, I think, it all starts with the fact that it already had some name recognition to help get its foot in the door, so to speak. The fact that most upcoming major MMO releases – the ones people are looking forward to, at least - are based on existing IP like Lord of the Rings or Star Trek would seem to suggest that this is something that gaming companies have already realized. The way to mainstreet isn’t paved with creativity so much as it is with familiarity. The mainstream is where most people wade, of course, so it’s where you’ll find consensus if you can find it anywhere these days. And I’d think most people would agree that they like things similar to what they’ve liked in the past.

[1] – One of the things I’ve always been impressed with about the makers of Guild Wars, (ArenaNet, is the way they handled their fanbase. Especially in the early stages of the game’s development when they were an unproven and unusual product, they really did things right. One of these days I’ll have to get around to setting down just why I feel that way but not today.

[2] - I’ll note that Guild Wars isn’t listed on MMOGChart – likely because it doesn’t match the strict criterion for being consider a true member of the genre. No monthly fees and the developers has gone out of their way to brand it a “CORPG” would be the most likely causes. The official site states that Guild Wars has sold over 2 million copies by this point. And while that number is somewhat circumspect because it doesn’t account for people who’ve bought multiple copies and the like the numbers for “subscribers” to an online game is likewise an imperfect measure of how many people are actually playing. My admittedly brief investigation reveals nothing further about other metrics from the world of GW. Still, it’s useful as a comparison, if nothing else, and were there actually anything close to half that number of people consistently playing the game – the way I’m not – then Guild Wars would chart quite well alongside of WoW. Better than everything else besides the two Lineage games and possibly even passing them at this point in time.

[3] – This comes from the world of comic books. The quote is by Mr. Roy Thomas who said “The Golden Age of Comics is five”. I suspect the golden age of gaming for most would be a bit older than that but the basic point that when things are their best is when you’re too young to know any better is a particularly nicely put one.

[4] – Yeah, one of my characters is named “Sausaletus Rex”. First one I ever made and one that got recreated more than a few times. I’m not really playing right now but feel free to add me to your buddy list because even I don’t know when I’ll be back. Just that I’m going to be someday.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Playa Killa

I'm going to keep the review brief tonight (Yes, I can write less that 1,000 words at the drop of a hat at times). Not that I don't have a lot to talk about, for once, I actually have a few things I'd like to get out. But, I'm blazing away at my novel. I've hit the fun part, for me, anyway: the high intensity PvP matches. And I've been struck by a sudden bolt of inspiration so I want to let the words flow while they're queuing up for me. Achingly close to half way to 50k so if I push things I just might make it. I might also go insane but you makes your bets and you takes your chances in this here writing game.

Outlook: Word pwnage. Ink stained fingers as I write my little heart out.

[1] Maybe five minutes? Who cares, ClotH awaits!

NaNoWriMo Blogging Seven

Now, for my own benefit if no one else’s I’m going to detail a bit more of the fictional mechanics of the fictional game in the, well, fiction I’m writing. In yesterday’s post on attributes I conveniently left out the attributes for the various classes. Well, I’m about to address that oversight as I share a bit about the five classes players have to choose from.

As I mentioned yesterday, underlying most things in my game are the five elementals – Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, and Water. These map to each of the five character classes as each typifies a particular facet of each class. Air is the element of change and it goes with Mentalists who are about making trades and misdirection. Earth is the element of growth and it gets Rangers who are known for being in tune with nature. Fire is for passion and warlike Fighters. Metal is known as the element of knowledge and learning so the scholarly Sorcerers are devoted to it. Water is for soothing and healing so it gets attributed to my healing class, the Monk.

Clans of the Highborn Primer: Classes

Each class comes with its own attributes which affect the basics of the character. Most of those attributes’ focus is improving the special skills each class has. These are divided into three lines each having a linked attribute which when raised will improve certain things about those skills and one general line of skills which are not influenced by an attribute. Classes also have their own armor sets which only members of that class can wear and players can craft their own suits of armor. And they can also craft certain other items that no other class can.

In my book, the game is still under development and the classes are very much in flux throughout the story. New features are added and old ones removed as the developers refine the game prior to release. And the players discover new ways of using their chosen classes as the game becomes deeper and more mature. So, each class undergoes some shift from where it is at the beginning of things.

For starters, as the novel begins each character is limited to one and only one class. But as things progress characters will be able to acquire a second class (In fact all of them and they’ll be able to switch back and forth with relative ease). From their second class players can select one attribute and its associated skill line. These skills and any general skills from their second class can be used by that character just like the skills from their first class. Everything else is unavailable unless they respec and select a new attribute line. Once secondary classes go in, the classes also receive a class-specific attribute that only primary members of that class can use. This helps to set a Fighter/Ranger apart from a Ranger/Fighter, for instance, even though they might both use the same skills and attributes otherwise.


Element: Water
Nicknames: Mon, Monkers, Monkeys, Ade, Adds
Role: Healer, Buffer, Support
Notes: As the only primary healing class in the game (Other classes have minor methods of healing themselves and even others but none are as devoted to it as this one), the Monk is an extremely desirable and important class. A good Monk keeps a party alive whether its in PvP or PvE and are an extremely valuable target for any enemy. They also have the ability to manufacture potions which can heal or cure status effects and even temporarily increase some statistics when used. As the game progresses, the class is overhauled and renamed as Adepts. Once implemented the Monk class-only attribute is Purity which heals anyone “friendly” whenever the player casts a spell on them, which means the Adept heals for more health for less mana than any other class. Originally, the other Monk attributes were Healing, Holiness, and Furor. But as the novel begins the later two have been scrapped in favor of Defense and Divine Wrath, respectively. The Healing attribute restores some of the casters health whenever they use a skill from the Adept class (which when combined with Purity makes them incredibly effective when healing themselves) and ties into the skills a Monk uses which directly heal or recover their allies. Defense lowers the cost of any magical buffs the character uses (again combining with Purity to provide for extremely efficient healing) and includes skills that are protective buffs which lower or otherwise mitigate damage. Divine Wrath is the Adept’s offensive line and compared to the Sorcerer’s skill lines is decidedly underpowered. However, it makes up the difference by ignoring armor and also having a passive benefit that increases its low damage. It also contains several offensive buffs in addition to directly damaging spells. The Adept’s general skill line is Piety which mostly has skills that deal with status effects, debuffs, and other problems for characters.
Crafts: potions
Attributes: (Key attributes – Resilience, Intelligence)

  • Purity (Class): Gives bonus health to target when casting spells on allies
  • Healing: Bonus health given to caster when casting Monk~Adept skills. Increase effectiveness of Healing based skills and items.
  • Defense: Decreases enchantment mana costs. Increases effectiveness of Defense based skills and items.
  • Divine Wrath: Bonus damage to target when casting offensive spells. Increases effectiveness of Wrath based skills and items.
Example Skills:
  • Health Ball: Healing. Spell. Target ally gains x health.
  • Healing Words: Healing. Chant. Target ally gains x health regeneration. Costs y mana regeneration to maintain.
  • Divine Shield: Defense. Enchantment. Absorbs the next x damage to target ally.
  • Spirit Armor: Defense. Enchantment. Target ally gains x armor for y seconds.
  • Wrathful Strike: Divine Wrath. Spell. Target takes x holy damage. Ignores armor.
  • Zealot’s Furor: Divine Wrath. Enchantment. Target ally gains x% attack speed and does y bonus fire damage per attack.
  • Uncurse: Piety. Remove once curse from target other ally.

Element: Fire
Nicknames: Fi, Fit, Fits (tanks), Hits (offensive), Meat
Role: Melee attacker, Tank, Offense
Notes: The Fighter class is the prototypical melee banger typical of any RPG. They have short range, good offense, great defense, and are generally regarded, as my story begins, as a meatshield to absorb the damage that would otherwise kill weaker classes like Sorcerers who provide the real killing damage. They have the highest armor in the game and they can craft the weapons they use to attack. However, as the test progresses there emerges two different ways of building a Fighter. Fits are high-defense tanks who absorb punishment and protect their teammates. But Hits are offensive battleships who use some of the nicer special tricks that get designed into the Fighter class to provide the best damage in the game, easily outpacing the previous dominant Sorcerers (But, because they require melee range being much easier to deal with). In the test, Fighters are somewhat looked down on but at release they’re the most popular class. A Fighter’s class-only attribute is Durability which gives them more hit points and making them harder to kill. Their attribute Arms makes them deadly with a weapon even without the many attack skills it provides. Fear makes a Fighter much more effective in battle by allowing them to bypass some of their target’s armor with their attacks, it also grants direct damage skills and crippling debuffs to further devastate the enemy. Rage lengthens the duration of any buff the Fighter casts on themselves which is nice because it has several buffs for a character to use. Their general skill line is Chivalry which provides defensive measures.
Crafts: melee weapons
Attributes: (Key attributes – Strength, Dexterity)
  • Durability (Class): Increases health.
  • Arms: Increases critical hit rate of melee weapons. Increases effectiveness of Weaponry based skills and items. (direct damage offense and weapon proficiency)
  • Fear: Increases armor penetration when attacking. Increases effectiveness of Fear based skills and items. (direct damage offense and debuffs)
  • Rage: Increases duration of self-buffs. Increases effectiveness of Rage based skills and items. (self-buffs and movement)
Example Skills:
  • Strong Attack: Arms. Melee Attack. Target takes x bonus damage if hit.
  • Taunt: Fear. Shout. Target loses x armor for y seconds. Attracts aggro.
  • Fighter’s Edge: Rage. Style. Your attacks gain x% accuracy and y bonus damage for z seconds.
  • Defender’s Cant: Rage. Chant. Increase nearby allies armor by x. Costs y mana regeneration to maintain.
  • Gird Your Loins: Chivalry. Skill. Gain x health regeneration for y seconds. Ends if you stop attacking.


Element: Air
Nicknames: Men, Ments, Mentos, Mentals, Psychos (PvP), Crazies
Role: Spell-caster, Counter, Mana management
Notes: The Mentalist class has the tools to counter every other class in some way or form. In addition they have the best abilities for managing their mp pool (Not to mention the pools of their teammates and enemies) and for controlling crowds of monsters. It’s a tricky class to play, though, and not one that’s easy to pick up, so it’s the least played of any of the classes. As my novel begins, Mentalists are extremely poorly regarded. Most testers and fans consider them poorly suited for PvP and useful in PvE only because of their ability to snare, root, or mez mobs to prevent them from attacking. Their ability to craft magical, stat boosting items like rings and necklaces isn’t highly prized either as better options are available from other sources. However, thanks in no small part to the efforts of one of my characters, the change in the Intelligence stat, and gradual improvements to the Mentalist’s skills they soon prove their worth in every aspect of the game. By the game’s release a Mentalist’s ability to juggle mana – draining it from an opponent and shunting it to a teammate – becomes impressive. With their many specific counters a good Mentalist can spoil the efforts of any monster or PvP team all by themselves. Their class-only attribute is Empowerment which picks up Intelligence’s previous ability to increase the rate at which a character regains their mana – making a Mentalist a real mana engine. As for their other attributes, Enlightenment increases the duration of magical buffs and powers the skills that a Mentalist uses to drain mana from opponents and buff their teammates. Entrapment lowers the recharge of any spell cast and it contains the many mezes and snares and other counter-measures for physical attackers. Enervation increases the length of any magical debuff cast as well as providing skills that cause damage indirectly through those debuffs and can shutdown opposing casters. Meditation is the Mentalist’s general skill line and it has those skills that let a Mentalist regain energy and transfer it elsewhere as well as some other “meta” skills which improve the effectiveness of other skills.
Crafts: magical items
Attributes: (Key attributes – Intelligence)
  • Empowerment (Class): Increases mana regeneration.
  • Enlightenment: Increases enchantment duration. Increases effectiveness of Enlightenment based skills and items.
  • Entrapment: Lowers magic skill recharge. Increases effectiveness of Entrapment based skills and items.
  • Enervation: Increases curse duration. Increases effectiveness of Enervation based skills and items.
Example Skills:
  • Mana Drain: Enlightenment. Spell. Target loses x mana.
  • Spirit Bonds: Entrapment. Curse. Target cannot move for x seconds.
  • Enchanter’s Bane: Enervation. Spell. Target loses all enchantments. They take x damage for each enchantment lost.
  • Sudden Inspiration: Meditation. Skill. Your next spell recharges instantly.

Element: Earth
Nicknames: Ran, Archers, Archies
Role: Ranged attacker, Scout, Stealth
Notes: The “rogue” class. Rangers start out as a difficult class to play and, for the most part, remain a class that appeals to expert and skilled players. For starters, ranged weapons in the game don’t automatically hit the target but must be aimed with the mouse as in an FPS, so to deal damage with a Ranger’s preferred weapon requires greater twitch skills than Fighters or Sorcerers. They also have fairly weak armor and must rely on avoiding damage either by sneaking around enemies or through careful use of their defensive skills. While they initially have devastatingly high damage potential, their offensive output is gradually reduced over time in the test until they require extensive buffing and intricate skill chains in order to be effective. They craft bows which are of use only to Rangers. It all makes them slightly undesirable for the average player, though, so as the game develops the Ranger gets several features to attract other characters. First, they become the only class in the game to have pets, giving the Ranger a companion to absorb damage and another weapon to attack with. Pets – any sort of normal animal creature like a bunny or a wolf - must first be captured from the game world and can be leveled up to be even more effective. Next, Rangers are given the ability to duel-wield any single-handed weapon (Although they need the Fighter attribute “Arms” to be truly effective with it). And Stealth is the Ranger’s class-only attribute. As it gets higher, the character is harder for enemies to detect resulting in a smaller “aggro bubble” and a smaller distance before they show up on enemy player’s radar. At the same time, the player’s radar gets more accurate and has a longer range for detecting others (essentially, two Rangers with equal Stealth cancel each other out). It, along with a tanking pet, makes them great for players who want to play the game solo. And since Fighter/Rangers can duel wield, too, it makes them a popular second class choice for that Fighters. Their attribute Archery increases their effectiveness with a bow or other ranged weapon and offers several attacking skills to further increase their damage. Call of the Wild is the attribute linked to their pet and features several attack skills for use with the pet as well as several buffs for increasing offense. Huntsman provides protection against characters using weapons and has some debuffs and trap skills for providing indirect damage. Survival is the Ranger’s general skill line and offers mostly defensive buffs.
Crafts: ranged weapons
Attributes: (Key attributes – Dexterity, Intelligence)
  • Stealth (Class): Affects radar and aggro ranges.
  • Archery: Increases damage and critical hit rates of ranged weapons. Increases effectiveness of Archery based skills and items.
  • Call of the Wild: Increases pet attributes, accuracy, and damage. Increases effectiveness of Wild based skills and items.
  • Huntsman: Gives a % chance to evade physical attacks. Increases effectiveness of Hunt based skills and items.
Example Skills:
  • Kill Shot: Archery. Bow Attack. Target takes x damage if hit and begins Bleeding for y seconds, losing health over time.
  • Charm Beast: Call of the Wild. Spell. Capture high-level creatures.
  • Call Pet: Call of the Wild. Skill. Summons your pet. Will revive them with x% health if they are dead.
  • Animal Rage: Call of the Wild. Style. You and your pet attack x% faster.
  • Hunter’s Balm: Huntsman. Curse. Target foe cannot evade projectiles.
  • Calm Waters: Survival. Spell. Lose all enchantments, curses, and styles. Lose all aggro.

Element: Metal
Nicknames: Sor, Sorcs, Sores, Wounds, Spellchuckers
Role: Nuker, Spell-caster, Support
Notes: The basic offensive spell casting class. As my novel begins the Sorcerer is what everyone wants to play. Their ability to deliver massive damage nukes combined with the technique of spiking damage from multiple players means that this class has come to dominate the fledgling competitive PvP scene. Their AoE ability and high DPS makes them pretty nice in PvE play, too. Combined with the overpowered Intelligence stat they are lethal spellcasters. However, by the game’s release their damage output has been lowered and other classes have improved to the point where the Sorcerer is something of an afterthought. Other classes provide better offense relegated them to using their utility skills – buffs and debuffs - in support of other players. Most players select them for their crafting possibilities as they alone can craft powerful enhancements which upgrade armor and weapons – other classes have to rely on NPCs or acquiring such things through item drops or quests. They are a popular choice for a second class, though, because of the mana management available through their general skills. The class starts out with an attribute for each of the five elements – giving them the most attributes of any class, by far – but the Metal attribute is removed and many of its skills turned into the Sorcerer’s pool of generic, non-attributed skills. Their class-only attribute is Craft which gives a Sorcerer more mana to cast their mp hungry skills with and once it’s added they again have 5 attributes compared to the 4 every other class has. Their other attributes, one for each remaining element, each provides some protection against damage from that element as well as enhancing the Sorcerer’s skills. Air skills are the quickest to cast and the cheapest but have the lowest overall damage. Fire skills have the best damage and affect the most targets but are the most expensive. Earth skills have fewer damaging skills but compensate with lots of defensive buffs. Water skills offer the most debuffs and status effects but are slow to cast.
Crafts: item enhancements
Attributes: (Key attributes – Intelligence)
  • Craft (Class): Increases mana.
  • Aeromancy: Increases resistance to lightning damage, increases effectiveness of Air based skills and items.
  • Geomancy: Increases resistance to physical damage, increases effectiveness of Earth based skills and items.
  • Hydromancy: Increases resistance to cold damage, increases effectiveness of Water based skills and items.
  • Pyromancy: Increases resistance to fire damage, increases effectiveness of Fire based skills and items.
Example Skills:
  • Arc Lightning: Air Magic. Spell. Causes x lightning damage to target.
  • Fire Lash: Fire Magic. Spell. Causes x fire damage to target.
  • Iced Feet: Water Magic. Curse. Causes x cold damage to target. Target will stumble if they stop moving.
  • Unnatural Growth: Earth Magic. Enchantment. Target gains x Strength and y health for z seconds.
  • Deflect Magic: Metallic Magic. Enchantment. Gain x% chance for spells target against you to fizzle.
  • Mystic Gemstone: Metallic Magic. Skill. Lose x% maximum mana for y seconds. Gain z mana.