Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Guild Wars: Stepping Into Hero Battles

Finally finished the campaign (Although, I know, I know, I'm behind on the PUs again. Sigh.) and although I haven't got Razah in my pokeball just yet, he's only collecting a few gemstones away. I have no idea how difficult that is but it's only a matter of time and, well, I'm not exactly shy about spending that in case you haven't noticed. But Mr. Ritualist, that means I've got the rest of the set. And with my nightly romps through the RA have gotten me a lot of unlocks - I'm closing in on 400k though the magic number will be 420k or twice what it took me to get to UAX in Factions. I've picked up most everything I can tell I want and what's left is just filling things out or running around to capture a few elites (I don't like to use faction on those because it means I miss out on the XP when I do cap them. I think, I'm not sure if you only get the bonus when you unlock something or not anymore. But, still, I've got most of the good elites already, anyway.) .

Which is to say, you know, I might just be ready to try out this Hero Battle stuff. I'd like to have Razah but I could unlock him tonight if I really wanted so I'm not worried. Anyhow, I need to do some research first, figure out the maps, what other people are running, that sort of thing (The fact that there's no obs mode for the HB is annoying here. Most people I've spoken with seem to treat it as a joke - there's probably a good reason for that but, hey, I'll test anything out.) but I definitely want to give it a whirl.

As far as I can tell, it's not that hard to get ahead. Just as there are bots infesting things like the Comp Missions and the Snow Fights there's this rolling thing taking place in the Hero Battles - people get in match and use a random way (In this case using the /roll emote to produce a random number. I've heard people say they should disable emotes in those sort of places to prevent this sort of thing but, well, if they do there'll be some other way of flipping a coin found.) to determine who leaves and who stays to get the points for winning. That sounds horrible but, hey, that +5k faction cap is pretty tempting (Not so much for now but, you know, for the next expansion. The more faction I have salted away the less I have to grind for to unlock shit when that comes out.). I'd be in it mostly for the competition but I can't say I blame any player for doing that.

The other thing is a holding build. A pair of Monk Heroes and a Rit just loaded with defensive stuff to hold the center point while the player runs around to cap shrines - generally with a Sin because they have the best methods for getting from place to place quickly. And, you know, they can insanely spike someone down in a hurry. That's the way it was the last time I looked at things and with the balance picture frozen I can't imagine it's changed much.

So, assuming that's the case what I'd want to do would be to outplan those sorts of teams (And if it's not, well, I want to play the yomi game with whatever's most common. If this format is treated as unseriously as I think it is then that shouldn't be too hard. I suck at team builds, though. Mostly because I hardly ever make them and I suck at builds in general.) while still being able to outplay the occasional team running something different. I did some thinking about it and I can see a few ways to go.

First, for my character, I'm going to need something capable of stalemating that Assassin. We're in flagger/anti-flagger territory here but at a minimum I want melee shutdown and high mobility. Until I see what others are using I can't really say more about what I'll need but at this point I'm figuring on an E/Mo with hex and condition removal. Probably Air for the Blind and Gale plus Water for the snares and things like Blurred Vision - that would mean I could use Storm Djinn's haste for a movement buff or even something like Armor of Mist (which, you know, stinks with that long casting time and low uptime but the added armor might help.).

For the Heroes, the thing to do would be to have them take the center which means being able to knock out that AI driven neo-healing ball. I see a few possibilities. I imagine most people started out with Warriors/Assassins/Dervishes because, well, they're scary and they'll kill people if they're allowed. And the current defensive setup is made to protect against melee or direct damage first and foremost.

First, Elementalists. A couple SF spammers should clear things out in a hurry. Back them up with a Monk in case the other team actually wants to fight and splash around some Blinds and Wards and hexes, too. That or an SF Ele and a Sandstorm Ele.

Second, Necromancers. If the startup before each match is long enough then we could have a situation where I could sac somebody to death and get a little minion army going - that means JB madness ensues! Although, you know, that's going to be nerfed hopefully soon and if the startup timer's slow that's not exactly a good idea. However, it seems the holding build will be using spirits. We're not in the days of spirit spam but that's still a lot of deaths to fuel Soul Reaping. If I get Razah or figure out a good secondary I could even get some spirit spam of my own going or even do the lv 0 Bone Minions thing (Unfortunately, I'm limited to two Hero Necs or I'd have a N/Rt for this sort of thing. Yeah, Soul Reaping isn't broken at all.). Then, I throw in a Reaper's Mark Hexrocmancer and a Spoil Victor Hexromancer and count on the AI to be stupid about removing the hexes intelligently. And my opponent to be skimping on hex removal in favor of more direct damage mitigation. That combined hex pressure fueled by the spirit's energy just might do the trick.

As I said, I need to hit the books a bit from here. We'll have to see how it goes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Weekly Wrap Six

It's kind of says something that this blog's been rolling for two and a half months at this point and I've only done six of these things. I'm not very good at following through on things, in case you haven't noticed. In my defense, my weekends are pretty busy and the last few have been hectic but, you know, even if this was Wednesday Wrap-up or Monday Morning Quarterblogging, I'd probably still have skipped a few here and there.

Still, even though I've been busy and trying to race forward, I want to take the time to look back every now and again. I don't want to get unmoored, after all, so even though it's a pain to lurch forward and back and spin around and do it all over again, it's what I want to do.

So, we've got a lot to cover since I've been neglect in covering things. Blogger tells me I have over 300 posts now which is more than a lot of blogs will make in a year – some of those are drafts and notes to myself as I move from machine to machine but by my count only 25 or so. Which means I'm averaging nearly 100 posts a month. My posting average's gone down lately but I've been busy and I was expecting that – I've been making longer and more complicated posts when I do make them, though, so I think my output's been holding steady. Picked up another link which means I only need one more in the coming weeks to get the magic three that means I'm an established, veteran, moderately successful blog (The benefits of living on the long tail, it's really easy to move up a notch or three.) – well ahead of the average time it takes for such things.

This month has been about Guild Wars and...precious little else. Which, on the one hand I worry about because it means I've been suckered in by the siren song once again. But, on the other hand, this blog's about nothing so much as whatever I happen to be interested in at the time. In November I was interested in writing (And, you know, starting this blog and all) so that's what I thought about and that's what bubbled to the surface. Lately, I've been playing a lot of Guild Wars so that's what I've naturally been working on. Next month it could well be something different.

And, in fact, I'm hoping it will be. I'm getting a bit burnt out on Guild Wars, truth be told. Once I finish off the campaign with my latest character, I'm probably going to give it a rest. I have a few other games that have been collecting dust the holidays that I want to try out and there's plenty of demos that I want to sample although I'm going to see if I can stop short of completely quiting the game again. That's the beauty of not having a monthly fee, though. I can play a little or a lot, it's up to me. If I want to just drop in for an hour a day to run a quest or romp around the Arena, that's cool. And if I want to spend all day trying to get through the last several missions, hey, it's all good. I'm not bound to play if I don't want to - my costs have already been sunk and, logically, I'm free to quit or re-up if I don't like how my investment's turning out. So, if I want to play a different game for a while, I can. We'll have to see how that goes, though.

In the meantime, though, as somoene once said, “there's a lot of text” about Guild Wars to wade through. It's all under the Guild Wars tag - conveniently listed at the bottom of every post and on the right hand side of the page, just click on it and you'll bring up all the posts with that tag so you can look over them.

  • The continuing adventures of my trip through the expansion's campaigncan be found in my Nightfall Progress updates. It holds the distinction of being this blog's longest running feature although I've scaled back on the scope of it somewhat – originally I tried to detail everything. Which, you know, no one cares and it takes a lot of time and effort.
  • One of the reasons I skipped out on the weekly wraps is I was caught up in the PvP Test Weekend. You can find my feedback on the issue here, here, and here. And in some other places, too, but those would be the big ones.
  • Another series I've started is Tales from Observer Mode. Basically, if I find something interesting on the GW TV, I'm going to post it up. An infrequent feature but it could be interesting.
  • Amazingly, I did find some time to write about things that weren't related to Guild Wars at all. Sadly, not much 'd recommend. The strongest efforts I think you'll find in my take on the whole linkblogging meme.

All in all, I think it's been a pretty solid couple of week's. I might not have gotten as much writing or blogging done as I might have liked but, then, I'm just getting started here.

Guild Wars: Fixing Hexes

I had a brainstorm last night about my problems with hexes in the way the game currently plays – namely that they're weak individually but incredibly strong collectively. They push strategies to the extreme and force similar extremes in reaction. The only way I can tell to make hexes really work is in a build dedicated to making them work by covering them and overloading a team's ability to remove them – hex heavy, in so many words. The only way to deal with that is mass removal options like Divert Hexes (Which got a nerf over the weekend – to no end of whining - while a lot of hexes were buffed. That's a bad testing environment of course – did hexes get better on their own or was it the decrease in teams ability to remove them that made them work as well as they did? But Divert Hexes is arguably stronger than any other removal out there while still not being as nasty as condition removal so it's probably a trial that needs to be made.) which aren't very good against teams that don't run a lot of hexes. It's not very viable to run a hex heavy team because if you play enough you'll run into a team running a lot of removal and your strategy falls apart. At the same time it's not very viable to run mass hex removal so when you run up against a hex team you're going to be overwhelmed. But if that happens you don't load up on hex removal you just pick yourself and go again because there won't be many hex teams. So each strategy gets pushed to the edges and I don't think that's exactly healthy.

Anyhow, it's a problem I'm not entirely sure how to fix although I think if hexes were more viable without needing massive infrastructure to support them – if, say, you could sprinkle them throughout a build doing something else and use them to good effect without having to turn that build into a hex heavy one – then they'd be more common. More common hexes means removal gets more common. And that means extreme hex builds have a much harder time and won't be able to steamroll their opposition though they will still have a chance to overwhelm them if, you know, they're well put together. That would, I'd think, take a lot of the silliness out and make the game much more rounded.

The first step for me, then, is figuring out a way of making hexes matter when they're not covered and apt to be removed easily by anything like decent removal options. So, I was thinking about something else entirely – preprotting and why it's not viable at the moment (Basically, any enchantments you put up on a target about to get spiked are shatterbait. They won't stick thanks to how vigorous removal is at the moment – thank you Grenth's - and they're actually going to hurt the target's ability to survive if only by wasting the energy going into casting them which could be spent elsewhere.). And for some reason I thought about what's happened to shouts in Nightfall.

Shouts first came into the game to, well, give Warrior's and other classes that shouldn't be using magic a way of doing magical effects (Interestingly, I believe when Dazed used to be Silence and you know, just completely shut down spellcasting, it also prevented characters from using shouts. Doesn't do that now, of course, but might be interesting if it did.). But by existing as a separate mechanic it wasn't covered by the ways that magical spells and effects were countered. They couldn't be removed and by having no casting time they couldn't be interrupted either. As a general rule, then, what shouts existed were kept low in terms of power because they were effectively uncountered. Enter Nightfall and the Paragon – a class based, in part, around using shouts for a large number of effects. Which, I'm sure, posed a dilemma in getting those skills to actually matter while not overpowering the game.

The developers, as I see it, took two approaches to this problem. First, they designed a series of counters (Which by the standards of spell or enchantment counters are pretty weak but they don't have to be that strong – they just need to be there as a safety valve in case anything shout based gets too out of hand. If the counters are well made then they can be used to shut down anyone relying too heavily on shouts and, therefore, keep everyone from using that overpowered build that exploits a shout.) like Vocal Minority or Roaring Winds. All well and good but what interests me is they also created several new skill types that are closely related to shouts but have different mechanics that make them easier to stop and, therefore, able to carry higher power levels at effective prices. There's chants, of course, which are basically shouts that have a casting time – so they can be interrupted to prevent them – and which end when they trigger a certain condition – so they don't stick around forever.

But what really interested me at the time were the echoes. They're something like meta-shouts, if you will, in that they make shouts better or act in conjunction with other shouts. There are a few different kinds. There are ones like my old buddy Mending Refrain where as long as shouts and chants are going off they'll be continually reapplied and, therefore, step around the duration problem. If unopposed they last technically forever but if the “shouters” in the party run into counters or an energy crunch or are otherwise molested then they're going to fade so even though they can't be removed directly they can be stopped. But there are also echoes that don't do anything until a shout or chant ends – like Blazing Finale.

And that's when it hit me – what if there were enchantments that could d the same thing. Or, to put it a better way, a new skill type of meta-enchantments that could do the same thing. Call it a dweomer or an inspiration or something but what if you had a skill like “Divine Reversal. Meta-enchantment. For 30 seconds the next time an enchantment ends on target ally they're healed for 100 health” or “Divine Grace. Meta-enchantment. For 30 seconds while target ally is enchanted they have 3 health regeneration. When an enchantment ends Divine Grace ends and they're enchanted with Protective Spirit”? Wouldn't be an enchantment itself. Wouldn't be subject to any kind of enchantment removal. And it wouldn't do anything unless someone tried to remove an enchantment. And, in so many words, if you preprot someone and your opponent tries to shatter it, they've just blunted their own spike. The exact details need some working out and you'd have to be careful not to make the effects too powerful but I grabbed onto the idea of hiding enchantments by making them immune to removal. Either by making them trigger on removal as with that skill I just made up or by shunting them into the future with a trigger or a timer.

Here's the thing. You could do the same thing with hexes, too. Hexes, after all, are offensive enchantments (And enchantments are defensive hexes.) and you can apply similar mechanics. Hide hexes so they're not stopped by removal or you can force their triggering to really harm your opponent. That way you don't have to worry at all about covers and stacks – you need one good hex and a way to exploit it and you can cause some damage. Such meta-hexes would also combine with hex centered strategies to make them stronger, too.

Here's what I'd propose. Several new subtypes of hexes or skills that work on hexes the way echoes work on shouts or glyphs work on spells.

  • Shadow Hexes. These would be hexes on a timer like Lightning Surge or Incendiary Bonds. But instead of being a hex you need to quickly remove or else you're hurt they'd read something like “after x seconds target foe is hexed with y.” That way they couldn't be removed and you'd have all that time to set something else up – whether it's casting another hex as a cover or using a spell to attack or coordinating a spike, whatever.
  • Curse Hexes. These would trigger something nasty when the opponent did something specific. An example would be “the next time target foe attacks they're hexed with Empathy.” or “the next time target foe casts a spell they're hexed with Backfire.” They'd work a lot like Clumsiness, then, except imparting hexes instead of conditions (While not being hexes that can be removed themselves so probably with much less effectiveness.). But it could also be as simple as "while target is hexed they also are afflicted with...something." Whether that's extra degen or a slower attack rate or whatever else you might want to throw on there. Either way you create a dilemma - provide the trigger and take the hit. Or avoid the trigger and cripple yourself.
  • Nightmare Hexes. These would trigger when other hexes end or expire. That way you can have mechanics like “The next time a hex ends on target foe it is reapplied.” or “Target foe takes x damage whenever a hex ends.” That hammers any attempts to remove hexes while also letting whatever hexes you're applying go just that little bit further for just a bit of time and energy more.

There could be others and you can mix and match the effects but those would be the three big mechanics I'd want to play around with. First, hide hexes by affecting their time of application. Second, create the ability to apply or reapply hexes on a conditional trigger. And, third, create some immunity to hex removal. They'd all work a lot like offensive shouts (Maybe to the point of being shout-based themselves – it would mean that the existing shout counters could be brought to bear against them. Meaning those counters would have more utility and likely see more play therefore being more likely to stop what they're intended to stop.) in that they'd be very hard to interrupt and impossible to remove so they'd have subtle effects that could hopefully be priced lower than if they worked more directly. Throw in some moderate effects when these metahexes are applied – like Parasitic Bond's one pip of degen, say - and you have a way of making a single hex on your bar pop while also having a way of making a team of hexers more problematic without having them creating massive stacks.

Obviously, something to consider for the next expansion rather than fixes to current skills. Although, like Malaise, perhaps during some test weekend one or two could be tweaked into something similar as an experiment. Not sure if it would work but, hey, that's what testing's for.

Guild Wars: Reaper's Mark

I'm sick. But I did some digging into things to see just how good Reaper's Mark is at the moment. It's not the only problem Necromancers have but it is, in this blogger's opinion, overpowered. During the test weekend it was rebalanced to give back a lesser amount of energy. Forget the energy (Most people do, after all. Since it's in Soul Reaping you'll be getting a massive influx of energy if you actually kill someone with this skill up 33 at the SR 14 breakpoint or a lot more than you can probably use immediately. But the real reason to use it is for the degen.) - by causing up to 6 degen over 30 seconds that skill deals a massive 360 damage for only 5 energy. And it's relatively spammable (And interrupt proof) with a 10 second recharge. Not only can you drain away 360 damage from one target, you can do it to three before you need to worry about reapplying it.

Now, if you told an Elemenatlist, say, that they could cause damage at a rate of 72 per point of energy, they'd probably have a heart attack. That's extremely good compared to, well, anything – it's an energy burden of roughly half a pip for each copy of Reaper's Mark you have flying around. What keeps it in check, so to speak, is that it takes 30 seconds so you only has a damage per second of 12. That's a bit misleading because with it up on three targets you have an effective DPS of 36. Still not exactly stellar but not bad for the amount of time and energy you're spending. And very effective because while it's not going to kill anyone in and of itself most degen works best when coupled with some raw damage to push people over the edge. Adding that constant 36DPS to the opposing team with only one skill with whatever else you're throwing at them means they're much more likely to break spectacularly because their health is riding so low.

That's from just Reaper's Mark itself. Since you're going to want it to stick you're likely going to be covering it with other hexes. There's nothing as good as Reaper's Mark you can fit on your bars but burying someone under a pile of them hurts. Especially since hex removal is in a pretty sorry state. Putting aside massive removal options like Divert Hexes everything is expensive, slow to cast, or slow to recharge – meaning it's easy to interrupt and takes you away from doing other things. Look at, say, Convert Hexes or Remove Hex – those two second casting times are deadly to a Monk (The best profession as far as hex removal is concerned? Mesmer. They not only get fast casting which makes those longer cast skills playable but they also have plenty of removal skills in their lines – like Expel Hexes which used to be the best hex removal in the game.). Against a good team or a good player you either have massive, inefficient hex removal built into your own team or you're not going to be getting rid of that damage.

So, Reaper's Mark is a really good degen skill then because it does pretty much anything you'd want from one while being attractively priced. The problem is that it's far better than any other degen skill – even the elite ones – around. Take Life Transfer, for instance.

I remember that was the first elite I ever captured/learned while in the test – and I had an absolute blast with because at the time that swing of degen (I don't believe was linked then but this was also before I, at least, understood about things like pressure and cover hexes and the like.) was about as good as you could get. These days? At the Blood 16 max you're going to get 12 seconds of 8 degen out of it. Or, in other words, a total of 192 damage. For the same cost of 5 energy that's about 38 points of damage per energy spent which is a lot worse than Reaper's Mark. That's also returned to you as healing but that doesn't really enter into the discussion (It's probably why Life Transfer's worse than Reaper's Mark, though. Like a lot of blood spells, it pays for being dual use by being mediocre in each area.) and I'm cheerfully going to ignore it. You get the damage faster than Reaper at 16DPS. What really makes Reaper's Mark a far better option is the recharge – Life Transfer has a cooldown of 30 seconds meaning you can't keep it up constantly to pressure the other team. That 192 damage is only going to show up every 30 seconds which is piss awful compared to the 720 damage (If you're starting from scratch so you get Reaper's Mark on someone for a full thirty seconds, on another for twenty seconds, and someone else for ten. If you've got it up already and you're reapplying then you get 1080 damage.) that Reaper's Mark will kick out during that time frame. Rather than being something you cover to cause a team to crack, Life Transfer's something you throw at them when they're cracking to ratchet up the tension – that short burst of relatively large and cheap degen can be an excellent finishing move but it's not going to help you get there.

Either Reaper's Mark needs a nerf or Life Transfer needs a buff, then (Or, you know, what I think – they both need some work.). Looking at other skills, though, it's clear that it's Reaper's Mark that's pushing the power level to higher limits. Tainted Flesh, for example, will cause 16 seconds of Disease which is equivalent to 8DPS (And it's condition based and caused by an enchantment so it's working in a completely different removal environment.). It will spread around the opposing team (though you can suffer from blowback) and since it has no recharge you can spread it around. But on each target that works out to only 128 damage total. In the rare event you can get the entire opposing team infected that works out to 1024 damage (in 8v8 play) but triggering it is very conditional and any sort of condition removal will bite into that. Reaper's Mark is a much surer bet – the only condition you have to meet is that the hex stick around which is easily done in any hex heavy build.

Granted, most hexes are pretty weak and a nasty one like Reaper's Mark is good to see. But it rests on a level far above everything else I can see. It needs toning down itself but it also points to the fact that most other hexes, especially elite ones, are relatively underpowered for whatever reason.

I'm not sure how to fix Reaper's Mark except, of course, to gut the spell(And I'm really not sure that needs to be done. Good hexes are good for the game and all.) but, like Spoil Victor (Another hex that's at once so nasty and effective it makes everything else look bad – again, I'm not sure if this is so much a problem with Spoil Victor itself as it is with every other Necromancer hex.) I think the answer lies in tweaking the duration time. If Reaper's Mark only lasted for 20 seconds, say, and you could only keep it up on two targets at a time, it probably wouldn't be quite so bad while still being a good way of pressuring the opponent's healing.

Guild Wars: Fear the Reaper

Soul Reaping. It's the hotbutton issue of the day, apparently. The touchstone is the skill Jagged Bones (Which, I just have to say to whoever put that abomination in the game, thank you very much. I'd like you home address so I could send you a package to express just how I feel because, sadly, words fail me. Inside will be a...clock. Yes, a clock. It'll be ticking and when it arrives you should be careful not to get it wet. Or jiggle it much. Oh, and you should make sure you open it yourself in a small space well away from any loved ones.) and certain builds which feature it.

The skill's mechanically sound (Although, again, I'm not sure this is really a mechanic the game should have) in that it allows a player to keep a minion army going without healing them – just enchant them up with Jagged Bones and when they die a new one will pop up. Priced to move, it doesn't take much energy and recharges quickly while lasting a long time allowing a character to have it up on several minions at once. The Jagged Horrors it spawns aren't too bad, either, doing decent equivalent to other minions while adding Bleeding degen (which is good for another 8DPS) to whatever they hit.

The problem, though, is that with a bit of Soul Reaping you get that minion for free. With a lot of points sunk into Soul Reaping (And why would anyone do that? I mean, the attributes a joke, right? Why, hello what's this... Signet of Lost Souls?) you actually start to earn energy back on those minions. A lot of energy, actually. Consider a Necromancer who has Animate Bone Minions and Jagged Bones – that gives them two minions they can convert into Jagged Horrors indefinitely, being paid their full Soul Reaping bonus every time they die. For a cost of 25 en for the initial summoning and 10 energy for each turn transformation of the pair into a fresh set of Jagged Horrors that's a lot of souls being reaped. Say you have Soul Reaping of 10. You just spent 35 energy and got back 40. Next time around you spend another 10 and get back 20. Up by 15 for the cycle – next time you'll be up 25, then 35, then 45, and so on. The longer it keeps going the better your returns are. And, of course, the more minions you have going on at the same time.

Now, that would be bad enough by itself – and as for just why, well, hold on, we're getting to that – but not only does the player summoning the minions and converting them into horrors all day long get to do so for free and fuel anything else they're casting at the same time every other Necromancer on that team gets their Soul Reaping bonuses triggered, too. All you need is one death and and – continuing with Necs at SR 10 – every other Necro on the team gets 40 or more energy. For free.

Now, the math is too complicated for me to care about doing but I hear, theoretically, we're talking about energy regeneration of around 15 pips on top of the natural 4 (A pip, for those who don't know, is the arrow on the bar that points left or right – like pips on the collar of a soldier or police officer or something. In terms of energy each one will return 1 point of energy every 3 seconds. 15 pips would, then, be the equivalent of gaining 5 energy every second. Except you don't gain it over time as you do with regeneration, you gain it all at once so you can spend it right away.). Or, to put it another way, more energy than anyone could realistically spend in a given time frame.

It's about the same as never running out of energy (As long as your minions are dying but they're fragile enough that this isn't exactly a problem) or what people call an infinite energy engine. Getting your energy to go infinite, by the way, is an incredibly awesome thing as far as the player is concerned but it's what keeps the people in charge of the game's balance laying awake at night looking to their ceiling for answers. If anything in the game gets the quick working over with the nerfstick, it's anything that gives out way more energy than people should normally have. Things like 3/-1 Zealous mods (And if your eyes just popped out of your skull because you realized what kind of returns you'd get on that per swing – yes, you should be playing a Warrior.), Ether Renewal (This skill got bombed out so hard that it's still the standard by which all other meganerfs are measured.) , Essence Bond chains (Complicated but by creating webs of Life Bonds, Balthazar's Spirit, and Essence Bonds you used to be able to direct any damage done to your party – from any source – to characters who'd have it drastically reduced and, as a side benefit, have tons of energy and/or adrenaline to do other stuff with. I tried for ages to explain this back in the day when it was iQ's big money maker and I'm convinced that not being able to is what drove me sane enough to bounce out of the game. Ah, good times.), and Energizing Finale (Missed that one. But looked like it would have been fun.) have all been the subjects of drastic and rapid changes designed to take them out of the game – leaving them in a playable state afterward hasn't always been a consideration although they do sometimes become useful again after a while like Ether Prodigy (It was fantastic. Basically made the E/Mo the best healer in the game – this was before Divine Favor, though. Then it was awful because the devs, apparently, didn't like the idea of secondaries being better than primaries – something I disagree with, by the way. But it's trended back up to where it's very decent these days. Although I'd argue that's more a function of the Elementalist, as a class, needing something to give them energy management since most of their skills were horribly overpriced to start with - 40 en skills people! - than pure, unadulterated izzy love.).

So, you might be thinking that I'd be complaining about Jagged Bones and calling for that monstrosity (Why don't I like it? Well, it boils down to corpses – where minions come from – are supposed to be a limited resource. Something you can fight for control of or race to claim. So you have things like Consume Corpse and Bloodstained Boots and the like that become important as counters when minion based builds are around. Jagged Bones lets you step around that and create an unlimited supply of minions from that finite source of bodies. That's the whole point of the skill, as far as I can tell, but I don't think that should be allowed. So I hate the skill and am using it as much as I can at the moment.) to be rebalanced right out of the door. But as someone very wise said, Jagged Bones is just the symptom.

The real disease here is Soul Reaping. This isn't the first time it's led to such an abuse. It took the Ritualist's ability to kick out spirits rapidly to really bring it to light but it's always been a problem – there was bloodspike even before Factions came out, after all (And that it's still around is depressing. There've been others, too, like spirit shitting and others I'm probably not aware of. But at the heart of all of them has been an attempt to make Soul Reaping explode.). But any way you can guarantee a lot of things dying quickly you've effectively broken the game's energy constraints. And any Necromancers on your team can make use of that free flowing energy to do pretty much whatever they want including supercharging the casting of expensive skills from other professions. Put a band-aid on Jagged Bones and the problem's just going to crop up again with some other skill or build down the road. A change has to be made to Soul Reaping.

Which means, of course, altering a central feature to one of the basic professions – touching Soul Reaping will involve changing the Necromancer. Personally, I don't have much of a problem with this although I suppose this far along on the game's lightcone it's a real test of just how far the developers are willing to go to address problems with its design – this goes way beyond tweaking a few numbers and into fundamental game mechanics that have been built on for years now – and whether they have any sacred cows or not. But, really, the Necromancer's been broken for a long time now and in need of some serious fixing.

I'll settle for a change to Soul Reaping but, really, the profession as a whole needs an overhaul. It was a lack of good things to do with a ll that good energy that's really held Necromancers back (And forced them to rely on secondaries whenever they broke through the energy barrier) but with Nightfall, that's begun to change. There are a few things beyond the utility skills that a Necromancer does – deal damage through life stealing, throw around hexes, throw around conditions, transfer energy, and raise minions. When dealing damage they're weak and underpowered Elementalists. Their ability to transfer energy is kept in check by the fact they have to sacrifice life to give it to someone else (Meaning they'll need to be healed up which costs time and/or energy) and outside of elite skills they don't do more than transfer their own energy to someone else – likewise, not really sexy. Conditions don't do too well in today's game especially the Necro's preferred conditions like Disease which really need time to work and other professions have better, shorter living, higher impact conditions to throw around cheaply – like an Elementalist with Blind. Running a build around minions requires a lot but it also doesn't do anything to actually help you get those first few minions you need before things go insane. Their hexes are starting to get nasty but they're in a weird place where, on their own, they're trash but when used with others in a dedicated hex build where they don't have to worry about being removed they're lethal. In other words, there's a lot of potential there for a unique profession but it's not being lived up to.

Necromancers only get used when they're broken. Or somehow abusing the game's rules. And not just in PvP. I'm sure people won't like to hear it but everything I've seen Necromancer's used for (And used them myself. I've never really developed a Necromancer character in PvE since the game's release – although I've kicked myself that I didn't make a N/R way back when instead of going with the reverse. But I did have one during the test and all. Mostly I worked on making it into an Orders bitch or something like a touch Ranger but I did mess around with minions and all. Beyond the new professions introduced in my absence – if only I had the slots and the time, it would be different - I've messed around with pretty much everything. Might not have mastered these things but the concepts aren't unfamiliar.) involves things that aren't exactly healthy to the game. Spiteful Spirit Necros, for example, were abusing the game's monster AI to get quick and easy kills. Along with the design philosophy that favors groups of similar creatures in clusters rather than treating mobs like actual teams – which might, for example, include effective hex removal to deal with things like SS or at least require such characters to learn how to cover their hexes and such.

I've hopefully illustrated why PvP minion masters are a bad idea but, you know, I happen to think they're pretty awful as far as PvE is concerned, too. I remember running through the missions in Factions and how easy things were when there was an MM around and how difficult it was when there wasn't – Monks were a dime a dozen but the Necs were kings of the lobbies in those days (Of course, now with Heroes, I don't even have to bother with that anymore. Yay, progress?). And while you could say that's all well and good, personally, I took this to be a sign that something was wrong. It's just, you know, by the time I realized it and how to say something about it, I couldn't really bring myself to care. But they do for PvE what a minion engine does in PvP. It's just PvE so people tend to be happy when they find something to abuse rather than run screaming for nerfs.

Now, changing Soul Reaping is going to be a nightmare. I've mentioned my idea for a solution in the past: Basically, turn Soul Reaping from a flat energy gain into energy regeneration. You want to dicker with the numbers, fine (I like just +3 regen for a number of seconds equal to the Soul Reaping rank. Doesn't stack but will reapply when something new dies.), but a slow, steady influx of energy that's capped by that regen max helps to blunt the insanity when things are dying quickly while at the same time strengthening the attribute where it's poor – when not many things are dying. That trickle of energy into your bar is a lot easier to spend well than a sudden lump of energy. And potentially a lot more useful in a tense fight. And even when things are dying a lot you're not going to miss out on any of that energy bonus the way you do at the moment. It's the kind of change that hits the issue where it's problematic and improves it where it's not performing well. In other words, a good one. The specifics I'll leave to a future after rigorous testing or to people who like to fiddle around with the numbers on such things.

But whatever's done it's going to upset people because it's going to be far reaching. There aren't two separate rulesets in this game for PvP and PvE or for RA and GvG so the kind of fundamental tweaking I'm advocating here is going to be far reaching. It's going to hit the PvE MMs just as much as it's going to hit things like bloodspike in the Halls (Which is part abusing Soul Reaping and part abusing the design of the Hall.) and there's going to be no end of wailing. Simply put, I don't care. This kind of change needs to be made and it's long over due. The fact that it hasn't been made yet and all the inertia that entails shouldn't deter us (And, you know, I say us like I can actually make these kind of changes. It's that sense of entitlement if not connection that I feel towards something I've cared about for so long rearing its head, in part. But, really, I'm talking about the community that embraces the game – which I'd like to think I'm a part of, after all - as well as those who work on the game and everyone else.) from making the change. If a limb's rotting, you anesthetize it, and you cut it off – you don't leave it there to fester and infect everything else.

Yeah, we'll have to do something about the built-in Soul reaping costs that are tacked onto lots of Necromancer skills. And maybe we're talking about the death of minions as a viable tactic (Having played one before a lot of the things that make them pop went into the game I'm kinda doubting that. We're talking about pulling down the power level and making PvE less brainless which is a good thing. To me, anyway.). I don't care. It's time to rip the band-aid off and reap what's been sown.

And while we're at it some other things that bother me about the Necromancer:

  • Sacrificing yourself to death. Shouldn't be able to do it. When I'm holding the wrong weapon the game won't let me use a skill – why can't it just give me an error message when my health is to low instead of letting me kill myself? Being able to produce a body on demand just leads to stupid stuff – whether it's edge bombs or building up a minion army before the game starts or whatever.
  • Reaper's Mark. I'm sorry, I get to do how much damage for how much energy? This is absolutely brutal when the opponent doesn't have proper hex removal (read: playing in the RAs with my hex-weak Monk build. Yes, I do have a dog in this fight. But, then, since I'll play just about anything given the opportunity, I usually do. It's either be weak against hexes or be weak something else – I've only got so many slots and skills to work with and I've picked my poison. I'll live with it but that doesn't mean some things aren't grossly overpowered.). At the Soul Reaping 14 breakpoint – which, if you're using the skill I don't see why you'd be any lower – that's 6 pips of degen for 30 seconds or 360 damage total. For 5 energy and I can cast it every 10 seconds? Sold.
  • Hexes. The problem here is what I mentioned earlier – outside of builds dedicated to creating a lot of hex pressure, hexes are useless. Unlike conditions which float around and are central to how the game's played you can live without them. And since you can live without them you can skimp on defending against them. Only to be crushed by a team running a hex heavy build. Hex removal works great in that situation but it's dead weight in other situations. This is a problem more widespread than just the Necromancer but since they're heavily invested in hexes it's something they have to deal with. What the game needs is more dual purposed skills that remove hexes and do something else besides- like Dismiss Condition which, under the right circumstances is a powerful heal and effective condition removal. You can use it in either case so it fits easily into your bar. That's removal, though, at the same time the game needs more hexes that act quickly and you won't mind when they're gone – I want more skills like Phantom Pain, in so many words, and less like Conjure Phantasm – so the whole thing gets faster and individual hexes are more annoying. Yet, at the same time they can't be too grossly damaging and need to have subtle effects you can capitalize on – not a bunch of Ice Spikes, in other words or the slow acting degen skills the Necromancer seems to specialize in (Those have their place, sure, especially as covers but I want a whole new breed of hexes that you don't need to cover for them t hurt, basically.). Things that hang around a while should be removed quickly so you want skills that either work fast or kick you in the teeth on the way out, I'd think.
  • Battery. I know I shouldn't when I just got done making the point that allowing free energy is a bad thing but, really, I'd like to see things like Blood Ritual and Blood is Power really shine. If only during a test weekend to see what having a character devoted to funneling energy into others effectively could really do – and just what people would do to stop it. Of course, I wouldn't mind if energy denial was a lot nastier, too, so maybe it's related to the counter.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Where Did the Time Go?

Man, what the hell happened? I don't know what I was doing but all of a sudden it's the end of the night and I'm about ready to call it a day. And I've got nothing to show for it blogwise (Except, you know, the nearly 100 posts I've made this month already. I was worried I wasn't going to get there for a while but if I can get some things off the production line, I should pass that mark just fine.). I want to get some Guild Wars in so I'm putting off the weekly wrap for yet another day - I've skipped so many, I'll just do it as an end- of-the-month thing, I think.

I think I've been studying too much math - I've got a test coming up and I want to do well on it (Not that I actually need to, mind, because as long as I pass this class I'm taking I'll have the credits to transfer to any other degree. But it's more of a pride things which I take far more seriously than a GPA.) so I've been cramming and trying to get caught up on my homework and all. My professor doesn't collect it at all (Not until the end of the semester to determine your grade if you're on the borderline. I'm not planning to be on the borderline, by the way, as one of my stated goals for the Big Crazy Year is to ace the class.) so if I'm feeling lazy it's easy to let it slide.

At the moment we're well into the geometry/Cartesian plotting portion of the syllabus. In other words, the stuff I'm really, really good at. I happen to have a very good sense of spacial logic and a mind that thinks in pictures (Well, symbols, but that's a post in and of itself.) so manipulating graphs around is a breeze for me. Where I fall down is in making simple arithmetic errors or in not knowing the terminology that lets me communicate what I "see" with my mind's eye to someone else (I know, you'd think as wordy as I am hear this wouldn't be a problem, but, really, I have a lot of trouble communicating because there's no backspace in real life.) like, say, on a test where I'm getting graded. That's what I need to study up on - and just practice with a lot of problems so I can get better at doing the intermediary steps that solve a problem instead of looking at it and knowing the answer or getting frustrated it's not coming to me (This isn't just a problem with math for me, by the way. Step One, collect all the underpants. Step Two..... Step Three, profit!). Which is where the homework comes in.

Just got done watching Colbert so I'd be remiss if I didn't pass along the link to the Wikipedia entry on elephants and a stern warning not to deface it. Under any circumstances. I'm totally serious here (It's protected at the moment, anyway. But, hey.). The wikipedia is one of those tentpoles to digital culture that even thought people realize it's important I don't think anyone quite realizes the real impact of it - sort of like the Gutenberg press or the first work printed from it - the bible. Not even me. In other words, it's not going to be until years from now when people are able to look back and see the results that it's going to be understood just what that thing is - if it's even important. All I can tell is that it's a fascinating idea. One that sparks my imagination with possibilities. In the wake of the recently revealed Microsoft's attempts to wikimpose on the site with what amounts to paid writers, it's something to think about, anyway.

Sadly, no writing going on - it was a busy weekend and, apparently, a busy day. I have noticed I'm starting to dream more. Well, not quite dreaming as most would think of it. Something like lucid dreaming - the launching pad for reams of bad fanfics - where I'm aware and awake but not consciously directing my thoughts. I'm a bit of an insomniac so just laying in bed and letting my mind race until it exhaust myself, at times, is the only way I can get to sleep. And one of the things I'll do in what amounts to a meditative semi-trance like state is tell little stories. Like dreams they don't have to make sense and I wouldn't exactly want to transcribe them or anything but I've found this is usually a sign that I'm about ready to burst out with some creativity - I've been penning it up lately so let's hope that dam's about to break.

Anyhow, I'm about to head in game. Think I'll go and Monk it up again. I'm feeling the need. The need to make other people bleed (Or, I guess, to keep other people from bleeding since I'm going to be Monking. Doesn't quite have the same ring, though, does it?). I haven't done much PvP lately because some time Sunday I realized I've had Nightfall for more than a month now and I haven't finished off the campaign yet. I'll get around to detailing it eventually but we're in full-on powergaming mode as I'm rushing through the campaign - on the second to last mission (Gates of Madness. Which is proving aptly named. Twice I've gone through it and worked Shiro down only to have him pop off Incredible Odds and slaughter most of my party. Cue thirty minute attempts to combat rez and try again without getting slaughtered because he's so close and I just need a bit more to pop him only to fail and get kicked out to the lobby. Sigh.) and I've capped 29 of the 31 elites - including the Lightbringer one (Which seems useless for anybody who's profession isn't Warrior.) - I'm only missing two Paragon elites - one in Dasha which I can't get to until I complete the campaign - and the other in an out of the way EA in the Desolation I haven't bothered to trek through yet. Love the late game missions, by the way, they're very well done and feel appropriately epic. And the designers have really tied together a lot of the threads left in the game especially with the quests they've scattered around in the Realm of Torment (Um, how do I find time to play when I'm complaining about all this math studying. Simple. I play while I'm studying. Just turn the game on and point my henchie horde at the nearest pack of mobster, walk away, and come back later on to check on them. It's slow going but it works.). But, for the day, I've burnt out on that game for the moment so it's time to play another one.

Outlook: Yeah, I still like this game. Dammit.

[1] - 30 minutes. But the dam broke.

Frozen Rain Delay

Busy day at el casa de Rex. Including travel in a freak snowstorm and a pile of Math homework to wade through - so I didn't get much done. Again.


In any event, I'm postponing the weekly wrap (which is fast becoming the monthly wrap considering I put it off the past two weeks and all.) until tomorrow.

Outlook: Sleepy.

[1] - 5 minutes.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Done For the Night

This weekend's Guild Wars event increases the drop rate on unique items in Cantha - the setting for the first expansion, Factions. In case it's not apparent by now, I'm taking a pass on it. While it's nice and all to see that Factions is still getting some love and support (A lot of people didn't like it but compared with just how I felt about Prophesies when it was released, I thought it was pretty good. Did a lot of things right but had a few real big design blunders.). But by this point I've already gotten the greens I wanted.

I thought it would be nice to have a weekend away from the GW but overall it's just been kinda blah. Tried to get some Arena time in but my game was completely off.

Outlook: Feels like I'm coming down with something.

[1] - 5 minutes.

Guild Wars: The Ballad of the Twenty Minute Match

Sit right down and let me tell spin you a story. A little ditty about a match in the Random Arena that lasted a good twenty minutes and could have gone on much longer. Could it have stretched on into the night and beyond? Threatened whatever the record is for the longest Arena match ever? Well, I'll never know because I skipped out on it once the timer hit twenty minutes. But, you know, I think it just might have.

To set the scene I was once again practicing my Monking with the tried and true ZB build I've been using for the past few days. It's definitely showing signs of paying off for me. I'm getting much better and a lot more confident in my abilities, I think, although since I've mostly been playing in the RA, it's a little difficult to gauge. But I'm staying in matches I would have blown when the week started and I rolled up a Monk because the Ritualist healer I'd been smitten with over the test weekend just wasn't going to work with the rollback and I take that as progress. Granted, I don't have any glad points or, really, all that much faction to show for it but in the Random Arena what you can't control is your teammates so that doesn't surprise me – as a Monk, I keep my team alive, getting kills and earning faction is everyone else's job and, you know, I really can't trust them to do that well in the RA and all.

Which by my particularly roundabout way leads me to that long-running match. Personally, I think I did a great job during it. My team just couldn't get kills but that's not my fault. So the match dragged on and on thanks, in no small part, to me keeping the battle from being lost.

This wasn't one of those "got snare?" situations where I'm kiting around some poor team in an effort to string things out. I pretty much don't do that. I mean, I don't take a dive or anything, I try to be as hard to put down at the end of the match as I am at the start (good habits and all) - but when it's down to me against the whole opposing team it's more a matter of how long I can keep myself alive by casting my way out of trouble, not lapping the track.

No, this was pretty much a battle of casters against casters. There was an Assassin roaming around but I loaded in with two Mesmers and an Ele. I was the only Monk but there was a smattering of secondary Moes around the group. The other team was pretty similar with a Monk, two casters and the aforementioned Sin.

In other words, lots of staying power but not much offensive punch - these sorts of things happen in the Arena. Neither of us could do much against the other - our team took a few deaths but that was only because one of the Mesmers liked to run off to the otherside of the map and out of range of my sweet, sweet healing (Seriously, has there been a metashift towards overextending or something? That was pretty much the theme of the night. And something that makes me feel like I'm improving. All my deaths either came from hex pressure - an admitted weakness of my build - or from people running too far away from me and putting me out of place to heal them in time. Still no glad points, though.) he got spiked down once, then twice, and after that my teammates were out of rezsigs and he mapped out. This happened fairly quickly around the five minute mark or so.

If you've played in the Arena you know something's amiss when five minutes is considered early in a match. And it was - once the Rambo Mes had gone neither team could get a kill. Hexes, spells, enchantments, they flew back and forth as we scrambled and my energy tightened or I was stuck in recharge hell momentarily. But no matter what, my teammates got saved from reaching that 0 hitpoints mark. Unfortunately, so did the other team's.

At the ten minute mark, I was feeling good and wanting to see just how long I could last. At fifteen minutes, it was readily apparent we were in a stalemate and it was a contest to see who would crack first - we were down a player making our job tougher but, well, we had me healing so we had a better margin of error. By the twenty minute mark I'd had enough of constantly testing my reflexes and decision making capabilities - good practice and all but wasn't getting me any faction, in so many words. I resigned - no sense in depriving my opponents from some well earned faction (good sportsmanship and all) - and mapped out so I could get some more rounds in.

If I'd stayed, I'm not sure just how long we could have dragged things out. Judging by the way things had gone so far and the way the other team had tried just about every way to kill one of the three characters on my team to no avail, I'm going to guess quite a lot. Might have been interesting to find out, I suppose, but not particularly rewarding. To me, anyways.

Tales from Observer Mode: Too Hot for GW TV!

Haven't had much time to turn on the Guild Wars noob tube lately. But here's a little match from my notes that I never got around to writing up up.

So, I'm sitting around not doing much of anything – waiting on someone or something, no doubt - and decide to open up the obs panel. Wasn't really planning to watch any matches, just take a peek and see what was going on and all. But the first game on the list caught my eye.

It was there because Treacherous Empire, one of my favorites from back in the day (Although I gather that the guild's rather imploded and only a few of the players from the old days are left – I count three, only two of which were in this match. This sort of thing happens all the time with PvP guilds – they form and break up and splinter and collapse with frightening regularity – and the rules about how you have to be with a guild for so long in order to participate in competitions isn't going to change that, if you ask me. Still, [Te]'s been at the top of the ladder before and that core of player's they've retained knows what it takes to get there again – I'm keeping one eye, in so many words.) had barely managed to break into the top 100. They were in the high 90s meaning they'd passed the magic threshold between being anonymous opponents on the ladder and being obs mode All-Stars. But it was their opponent that made me drop everything and take a look at the game.

It wasn't because I recognized them or knew them to be a good team or anything. I thought they had a funny name – I Grawls Gone Wild I. I'm easily amused, obviously, but with a name like that I just had to check out their tag because it was loaded with potential for another twist of the comedy knife. Turns out it's the rather uninspired [gRwL] but in order to see that I needed to load up the obs match (Again, I really wish there was a lot more information presented on the observer mode menu – all it tells you now is the title of each guild, their rank, where they're playing, and how long ago the match was. In other words, almost nothing of value.). Now, as of right now, the Grawls and [Te] aren't ranked that far apart. [gRwL] sits at 135th with 1071 rating points in 101 games played. While [Te]'s slid out of the top 100 (And, sadly, off the obs mode menu) and rests at 104th with 1087 ranking with 64 matches under their belt. According to my notes, the Grawls were ranked much lower when this took place – in the 2~300s somewhere so I must have caught them when they were first starting to play GvG and climb up the ladder – that'll teach me to leave a date on these things I guess. So, at first glance the match was even more lopsided than it would be today. Still, using the points per game statistic as a measure, [Te] is the clearcut favorite with a healthy 1.35PPG that would put them at or near the top of the ladder if only they played enough games (And could keep up that pace against better competition, of course. I'll note at this point that [cow]'s lower PPG has finally cost them the top spot.). On the other hand, the Grawls earn less than a point for each match they play and have only 0.70PPG. Less than half of the Empire's. So, on paper, this is a match that the Treacherous Empire should win.

I've cautioned in the past, though, that PPG and even ladder ranking is a relative measure. They don't guarantee you a win. Which is why when I loaded into the observer match my ears, as it were, perked up – there was an “upset” in the making here. I was fortunate enough to load a few minutes into the match and I can't explain why I thought the Grawls had a shot – there's just sort of a sense about these things that you develop when you watch or play enough matches, I guess, that the game's opaque mechanics don't reveal explicitly and viscerally. I've also said in the past how difficult it is to actually watch Guild Wars unless you know what's going on already and, well, I guess I'm starting to get a feel for these things again.

It wasn't anything in the builds which weren't anything to write home about. [Te] was running with two Wammos – both swinging axes. One had Eviscerate while the other was using Skull Crack of all things – I know Dazed is devastating and all but Skull Crack takes forever to charge (Because: see my point about Dazed being devastating) and conditions just don't stick in today's removal climate. They had a Burning Arrows Ranger backing them up and often splitting off. A Panic Me/E and a Reaper's Mark N/E with Gale and GLE made up the midline. The Monks were a little off – to me, anyways - with a ZB Mo/E with Grasping Earth and a prot-based Light of Deliverance Mo/A. As their designated flagger (Although, like a lot of good teams I think [Te] gets away from having one flagger. They have several characters that can flag and the choice of who does it depends on what their opponent is doing. In other words, it's more like how flags used to be run back in the beta and early release before teams began building dedicated flag runners.) they had another Me/E. It puzzled me a bit because while it had sensible things like Storm Djinn's Haste it was primarily an Illusion Mesmer (Rather than the more meta approved Domination variant) with the old Conjure Phantasm/Phantom Pain combo with Crippling Anguish as the elite. That was until I realized it was one of Trex's builds and he was again giving the plan away with his name – Trex Speed. The idea being, I guess, to speed himself up while slowing any opposition down. Which, you know, isn't a bad idea for a flagging build.

The Grawls were, if anything, even more puzzling. They had a trio of A/W as their front line and they were using Death Blossom. Which, yeah, nice PvE skill but would I use that instead of Twisting Fangs or something in PvP? Not really. They had an E/Mo with Blinding Surge paired with a Ritualist with Wielder's Zeal putting up weapon spells – both defensive and offensive (Although, again, I'm not really a fan of the Ritualist's weapon spells in general.) backed up by an RC Mo/A and a Light of Deliverance Mo/W with a Mo/E flagger.

Interesting stuff but, as far as I can tell, not exactly cutting edge, in so many words.

Fascinated for some reason I couldn't quite put my finger on, I settled in to watch the match. And, as I'd suspected it was an upset (Perhaps not as large a one as I'd thought at the time but, still.) and not to ruin the suspense or anything but the Grawls eventually took it during VoD.

How they did it, though, is what I'm interested in. I point to a few key factors.

First, bad splitting on [Te]'s part. [gRwL] split off a pair of their Sins and managed to slip them into [Te]'s base on a regular basis. They managed to work down a few of the NPCs there and the players sent back by [Te] were quickly spiked down by the pair of telespiking Sins. They weren't able to penetrate too far into the base but they scored kills and forced [Te] to rush back with an overwhelming response more than once – spoiling any progress the main team was making. On the other hand, [Te]'s splits were disasterous – they generally sent a Warrior and the Ranger off and they just couldn't get anywhere against the Grawl's defenses.

Second, the Wild ones managed to get a morale boost about six minutes into the match. It had been fairly even up to that point but that boost let them recharge their sigs and gave them a decisive advantage whenever they had to pull back and turtle up. With so many defensively oriented characters bolstered by the NPCs [Te] just couldn't crack through and they had an easy time pushing back out. The Empire's DP mounted and their rezsigs were burned out while the Grawls were unscathed. [Te] did manage to get a late morale boost and another one as VoD hit but they weren't able to capitalize.

Third, the Grawls played defensively. Protecting that NPC advantage they'd clawed out thanks to their splitting and the morale boost they'd earned early. Those both proved crucial during VoD when the lower health and higher damage proved a lot more deadly to the DP weakened players on [Te]'s side than it did to those on the [gRwL]'s. Even thought [Te] managed to stall their NPCs at their gate and allowed their NPC army to claim the center. But they couldn't hold it as their players were swiftly cut down and the larger Grawl force quickly overwhelmed the Empire NPCs trying to hold onto the flagstand.

By the time the Lords started walking, the Grawl were in firm control of the center with most of their NPCs left and it was only a matter of time.

Without knowing more about the builds and all, I'd still give that advantage to [Te]. They had some curious choices but they had a fairly tested setup of melee and degen pressure with enough melee-hate to survive against the Sin heavy Grawl in a heads-up fight, I think. But it's matches like this that point out the build a team uses is only one piece of the puzzle. An important piece, to be sure, but not the only one and, often, not the decisive one (Not at higher levels of play, anyway, where the difference in builds and strategy becomes far smaller and less important.). The Grawl won thanks in large part to their tactical moves – splitting and playing defensively – which nullified any advantages the Empire might have had in a more straight forward battle. In other words, they got outplayed - which is not something I'm used to seeing from Treacherous Empire.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Saw my brother (Well, one of them, anyway. The one who makes me feel old because he's about to graduate and land a good, high-paying job while I' Yeah.) today because it's going to be his birthday soon. So, since we won't see each other in the intervening space, we celebrated by taking him out to eat.

Now, me, I'm a bit of a foodie. I love good food, interesting food, new tastes and flavors and dishes - I'd be happy if I never had the same thing twice, I think, because there's just so much to try and experience. My brother's jut about the opposite. Really takes after my father and likes to have just plain, simple, boring food. As a result we ended up going to Applebee's which represents just about everything I hate in modern culture. Right down to the stupid memorabilia tacked to the walls according to some franchise plan in place of any real attempt at making it into a warm and welcoming place - all style, no substance. Make a nice Appletini, though.

I'm from Michigan, after all. We know from our apples. And I'm a sucker for a good cider or some scrumble or something. Speaking of which, I should really make some along with some donuts - all this cold weather's got me wistfully thinking of the fall and a trip to the cider mill - a good jug of the stuff and a paper bag full of freshly baked cinnamony donuts comes along with every memory.

Acting as hostess for the relation pretty much put a crimp in any plans I had to get much done writing-wise, though. For me, writing's like masturbation - I just can't do it with an audience. Some people lke to go to coffee shops or parks or don't mind chatting while they're working on something - not me. I need to be alone with my headphones on and the rest of the world tuned out. It's only then that the worlds inside my head can start rattling off onto the page.

It's too cold to go out, though. I don't feel like freezing my ass off even just walking to some club or bar at the moment. Yet I'm really not in the mood to get any quote unquote work done
either. I think I'm just going to fire up Guild Wars and see if I can't get some rounds in.

Lately, I've been thinking about premades. And how they were removed, it seems, when the skill templates were implemented. While I love the skill templates - lack of in-game support and ease of use notwithstanding - I think that's a loss for the game. Not so much for the established players, like myself, but for any newcomers attracted to the game. That's what the premades were really there for, after all. To help people get a leg up and have something to play around with. It seems to me that the developers could easily include several premades within that skills template folder that would be there for new and inexperienced players to experiment with. I don't see why they couldn't be streamed in or updated along with the game itself, either.

Beyond, of course, the fact that most premades were awful and it's a lot of work to maintain them. If you ask me, though, that's because the designers of those things went about it in the wrong way - they tried to make good builds when they should have been making good archetypes. There are roles in Guild Wars, after all, and certain professions fill those roles - wihle the individual skills might shift there are some basic things that are going to remain the same. By concentrating on having a good gimmick or putting together something competitive the premades opened themselves up to becoming outdated and redundant thanks to changes. But ones that tried to be more basic and timeless would be both more useful (As people could swap a few things in and out with even a little bit unlocked and get something approaching the current metabuild for that particular role.) and require a lot less maintenance (Since you'd be providing a framework for people to build on, you'd only need to tweak it in the event of some major change to the way the game worked.). I'd also have a lot more such "premade" templates - at least one for every core profession combination - but that's another story.

Outlook: Meandering and maudlin. Trying to figure out why I care again.

[1] - 25 minutes.

Guild Wars: What the Heck is a Scrub?

Clamatius and I had a good chuckle about this the other night. But, okay, picture this:

You can have your choice of two Monk/Warriors. One's running a Zealous Benediction build tricked out for the latest metagame play – RoF, heavy on the quick skills, light on the preprotting, and every other trick that someone's ever thought up. The other's going to cast Mending, Live Vicariously, and Retribution and head straight for the nearest foe and start hacking away. Which one would you rather have as your teammate?

Here's the thing, though, would it change your mind at all to learn that the ZB build was lifted from somewhere else and was being run by someone with very little practice (relatively speaking) with it? And that the melee Monk monstrosity was something that person came up with themselves and used day in and day out?

Yeah, me neither. That's because as Clamatius and I said last night, “We might suck but at least we know enough not to use Mending.” (Seriously, Izzy, that thing needs a nerf. Now. Everybody uses it so it must be good.) That one fact alone pulls us out of the teaming masses of clueless people who play the game. Because we might not be good – yet – but we at least know what's bad. And a lot about what it takes to be good.

It's that distinction that makes us scrubs and not nubs.

And yet, it's the fact that we'd never consider running Mending that makes us scrubs and not, you know, actually good players. They'd have put it something like “We might be sucking but at least we know when not to use Mending. And when to use it.”

Let me back up here and explain just what I'm talking about. There is in Guild Wars – as in so many other places[1] – a hierarchy. There are many bad players and fewer mediocre players and a precious few good players and perhaps a handful of excellent players. That's just the way things go thanks to the harsh rule of the inverse square[2]. No matter what your skill level making that jump to get to the next level is difficult and most people are going to drop off along the way – for any number of reasons.

There are many ways of ordering it but I do it thusly. At the very bottom of the pyramid you have the n00bs. These are the people who've just started playing the game and have absolutely no idea what's going on whatsoever. They're not familiar with the rules and the mechanics, have no clue about the metagame or what's good or not. They just play and have fun ignorant of even their own ignorance.

It doesn't take much to climb past that point. A little bit of experience or some knowledge and they become nubs. At this point they understand the rules of the game. Say, the way the controls work and the difference between a hex and an enchantment, maybe. But they have no understanding of what even makes something a good skill to use or not. They might or might not be naturally talented – have great reflexes or a knack for making the right decision but that doesn't help them if they're running junky stuff.

Beyond that you have the scrubs – the people who know better but are still held back from being truly good. There are many reasons why someone remains a scrub but it mostly has to do with their limitations. Either self-imposed or naturally made, even though they have that understanding that a nub lacks there's a barrier to their advancement. In most cases, this is a failing of natural talent – they just don't have the reaction time, for example, to think and act at the speed the game requires. But it can also be because they have a set of self-imposed rules they and they alone follow. If you've ever met someone who, for example, refused to play IWAY because it was “cheap” then you're dealing with a scrub[3].

Past that you have the actually good or pro players. The ones who not only know what to do but aren't bound by any limits or preconceptions in how to put that knowledge into practice.

Got it? Here's a handy refresher:

  • N00bs – Don't know what to do and don't know how to do it.
  • Nubs – Don't know what to do but might be able to do it.
  • Scrubs – Know what to do but don't know how to do it.
  • Pros – Know what to do and how to do it.

A pro player wouldn't bat an eye at running Mending. If, of course, that skill was the right one to use. They wouldn't think twice about not running it, either. They care about what works and approach every skill and every build with an eye towards making it better – they don't just copy something mindlessly, they take a good, long look at what they're doing and understand why they're doing it.

That's not easy, of course, especially if you want to, you know, actually be right more often than you're wrong which is why there are so few pro players[4].

That's the big difference between the best player and an average one. Sure, there's things like talent and experience and activity to consider but, really, it comes down to who thinks and who doesn't. The vast majority of players don't think. Not the right way, in any event. Just being aware of what amount to some very simple and basic things vaults you ahead of the pack. But that's also a difficult thing which is why there are more people who are trapped in incompetence and mediocrity than there are who'll ever be anything resembling good.

And, yes, that includes me and you and probably everyone else you know who plays the game. Face it, we're not good and getting better takes a lot of work and effort. You have to play and practice and struggle and learn and adapt and hope you're good enough that it matters. Remember, I'm not talking about not being bad – almost anyone can do that with a little bit of effort. I'm talking about being good.

If you really want to know what a bad player is then wait until the next time you're about to insult someone else and take a good, long look in the mirror. Because a scrub's someone who'd never take that step at all.

[1] – If you're reading down here it must because you want an example. Okay, to pull one out of the air, you might have noticed the NaNo winner's banner over there on the right. If not, feel free to ogle. That's a rare and precious thing that only gets handed out to those brave, foolish, and dedicated enough to write 50,000 words in a single month – that's about a 175 page book, by the way – and I have it there not just because I've forgotten to remove it but because I'm one of the few who did so (Wonderful event. You should try it if you haven't already, by the way.). Almost 80,000 people signed up this year and, of those, only about 13,000 managed to crawl to the finish line. I know this because the NaNo people keep statistics on this kind of thing. That's a 16% winning rate, by the way, which is about what it's been for the past few years – ever since NaNo really began to expand and get to a point where statistical measures could be used. But, here's the thing. There are much more detailed statistics available or which can be derived. For instance, of the 80k people who just signed up, only 42k bothered to input a word count at all. Counting out the people who didn't bother to continue, the winning percentage rises to 30%. Look at the number of writers who posted on the boards – about 23k - and the winning percentage gets even higher. A similar phenomenon happens for writers who come back for a second or third year – the veteran effect in action. And for writers who donate to the program – ownership of something is generally a pretty strong motivating factor. My point here is that if you were to come up with some way of measuring just how successful, how skilled, someone was at NaNo you'd find that the number of people would get smaller as the group got more successful. A very few would be really successful, maybe half would be mediocre (The average word count for people who bothered to log one was, in fact, about 25k or halfway to the goal) and the largest group would be the people who are just hopeless – in this case the 38 thousand people who didn't bother to put in their word count at all. Same holds true for things like wealth or athletic talent or intelligence and any number of other things. And, I'd hold that the success distribution in Guild Wars is the exact same way. I'd just, you know, need to see some figures before I could prove it.

[2] – That's right, I just got all Pareto up ins.

[3] – It's only “cheap” according to their personal code of e-honor. In other words, they don't like it so they won't do it. A sure warning sign of scrubhood if ever there was one. If they're going to say they wouldn't play something like that because there are better ways of winning and they'd rather run something that has a better chance of winning, well, you might not have a scrub on your hands after all.

[4] – Probably a lot less than anyone thinks there is.

Guild Wars Nightfall: Progress Update Twelve

Way behind on these so it's time for the lighting round.

Moddock Crevice. Dumped Master of Whispers (Or the Lawn as I've taken to calling him. Give it a minute, it'll make sense.) who I'd been using primarily to level him up to 20 and had a janky SS build for Tao, my sweet little Assassin. Resolved to try and get the bonus on as many missions as I could. Headed in and promptly failed the mission – first time since running up against the Apocrypha. The first few parts of the bonus were easy but the last one where the two runners take off gave me problems. Took me a few tries but I finally just loaded me, Tao, and Godiva with snares. Assigned the Heroes to the one runner with the longer path while me and the henchies worked the one with the shorter path down – scrambled back to kill him in time and complete the bonus. That left the rest of the mission, which led up to another battle against another demonic opponent – the Hunger. He and the Monk Kourna boss he rode with were pushovers but the area to face them presented an interesting problem – it was ringed with archers attacking at elevation. Attempting to pull the bosses out or fight underneath the overhang and block the archers proved fruitless so I finally just had Dunk preprot me up and raced past the archers to the far side of the room. Once my party was out of their range it was simple to take down the Hunger and his lackey. Full bonus.

That let me roll around the new area of Vabbi for the first time. Awesome looking place. Seeing as how Nightfall has the whole “African” theme going I was fully expecting a Middle Eastern type place – and looking forward to it, of course – but Vabbi just blew me away. It's something out Arabian Nights or Gaiman's Ramadan. The graphic designers have always impressed me with their ability to present old standards – recognizable tropes like Dwarves and giants, say – in a way that's familiar but distinctive. The whole place and the gorgeous palate of blues and greens and yellows that it's constructed from is just the latest example.

Tihark Orchard. This mission was an interesting one – completely a solo affair. Getting the bonus was easy but the first time I tried it I failed because my build was light on the self-healing (I'd been playing around with the various god forms and neglected to put it back in after using the Dwayna form.) and I got away from my NPC escort. The second time around, I swapped some things out so I was more resilient and breezed through it. Full bonus, once again.

Dzagonur Bastion. Got this mission – which quickly became a favorite - instead of Dasha because I picked the Master of Whispers or Margrid. Around this time realized I was being foolish by ignoring Lawn and Olly, my two Necro buddies. Having played around with skills and taken a critical eye to the game's balance over the PvP weekend, it became clear – to me, at least – that Soul Reaping's still pretty broken. It's always been, of course, and it's never been fixed. But the thing about it is one minion master Necromancer allows any other Necros in the party to go nuts. My first instinct when picking up Olly had been to try and turn him into a MM but since the skills had been tweaked around my favorite way of doing so in the past had been nerfed into oblivion. Enter Jagged Bones – which I'd unlocked with the fat faction from over the weekend. Set Lawn up as an MM – since he leads an order and everything, I figured he'd be better off controlling lots of minions – and then turned Olly into an SS guy just loaded down with nasty yet expensive hexes. They became mainstays of my team which helped out immensely when running this mission. A failed attempt to get my bearings – I tried but quit out when I lost a bombard and then the gate behind it – and I was ready to run this thing. I tasked the Lawn to guard one of the side bombards and directed a group of his Order of Whispers friends over there to hopefully get some kills and start his minion ball rolling. The other two NPC groups I stationed in the center while I took the rest of my party and set up camp around the western bombard. I'd also picked up Fall Back! through Hero Skill Points and had been using it to help run around – it helped out immensely during this mission as, with Devona's Charge! (Probably the first time I've ever found it to be so useful) I was almost always speed buffed when racing between points to defend. At first I roamed around and killed off the groups but when the bosses spawned, I hung by the western bombard – rushing to the other points if there was a warning or if they looked to be in trouble – until I saw an opportunity and took out the Warrior boss (On the first run through I noticed they hung back unless the bombard went down – going for them too soon was my mistake last time around.) then rushed over to the east and took out the Elementalist. After that, it was a simple matter to down the Paragon then the Monk bosses. Finished the mission without losing a single point. Full bonus 10 out of 10.

Took the time to pick up the Mesmer Hero Norghu and level him up. Have no idea what to do with him at the moment (I set him up as an interrupter with a side order of hex and enchantment removal for the time being) but that means I'm only four away from completing the Hero set – another Ranger and Warrior along with the Ritualist and Paragon henchies I lack at the moment.

Grand Court of Sebelkeh. Although I'd been using my Necros that wasn't going to fly for this mission – Minion Masters are based on the steamroller principle but it takes time to get them going. Since this is a timed mission, I needed to kill a lot of things and quickly. So, I switched to Godiva and Uzimaki for dueling Searing Flames action – they're not really the best at using it but, man, that's mad AoE damage. I'd have left Lawn in for the minions but I was required to bring Powder, my second favorite Monk Hero (Since there are only two of them...that's really not saying much.), so I couldn't. This was a slugfest and it took loading my party with Monks – Powder plus the two henchies – before I could last long enough to figure out just where to go. I started off trying to rush the portals around the side but I wound up camping in the center until the spawns stopped and then taking care of the portals around the edges – heading back to take care of the Blasphemy after each one. Ran it a few times looking for the masters but, unfortunately, my best time was still several seconds over the magic 6 minute mark. I'm resolved to waiting until I can, convince some other people to come back with me and try it out – with several people in the party hitting the Lightbringer's Gaze those demons don't stand much of a chance and that should let me shave a few more seconds off, I think.

That's right, I've capped out on Sunspear points now – putting me at rank 8 until the way to get the max level's implemented, I guess – but that's not a problem because I've moved on to a title track that actually has a benefit to it – Lightbringer. Oreon's at 554 points at the moment, which puts me at rank 2 and lets me use the nifty Lightbringer's Gaze – just a shame I can't slot it on my Heroes (Though the change that lets them benefit from the title's effect is nice.).

And, for the record, Oreon's at 454k XP with 72 skill points and 17 elites captured. I'll probably pick up some more caps before I head off into the Desolation, though. That'll have to wait until next time. And, you know, for me to actually do it.