Monday, January 8, 2007

Guild Wars: The Power of the Run

Brother and sisters, if I might preach to the choir for a moment, I have to testify. That's right, I said testify! Testify as to the healing power of the run. Anyone who's played the game long enough has been there, I'm sure. You're about done playing and you decide to hop back into the fray for one last game or two. Only to rip off an epic streak of wins that carries you deep into the night.

Well, that's exactly what happened to me last night in the Snowball Arena. I started the night with around 2110 gamer points and ended it with 2500. And the bulk of those points were earned during one momentous 30 win streak (Well, alright, I only got to 28 wins, personally, but since I joined up in the middle of someone else's run they reached 34 or so I heard – no way to confirm it myself, mind. But I'm going to say it averaged out and, as a team, we won 30 times. It sounds much more impressive that way.).

Part of what I love about random grouping formats is that you never know what you're going to get. That means you do have to put up with the dregs of the unwashed masses at times. But it also means that you'll luck out and stumble into a good group. As you play together and keep winning it gets easier and you start to get into a groove and recognize each other's tendencies. You start working like team that's been playing together for a while without the need for a lot of communication. There's no need for a plan or a target caller, everyone involved understands what they have to do (And, to me, the great part is that if you asked all your teammates they'd probably come up with entirely different answers. And, yet, you still manage to work it out. Warms the little anarchist in my heart.) and just goes out and gets the job done. People relax and start talking with each other and having fun. It's how friendships can get started – and there's more than one person on my friend's list whom I bumped into that way. The more I've played the game, I'm sorry to say, the more unfriendly I've gotten as I've come to have higher standards about what counts as “good” and lower tolerances for what annoys me. But, well, it's the inexplicable combination of random factors that results in a memorable run that remind me why I play online games in the first place.

Always seems to happen to me when I'm least expecting it, of course. But the gaming gods seem to know just when to send such a miracle my way. Like last night when I had some earlier, smaller runs, and was nearing the limits of my patience and my time to play. But I went back in for one more go-around. And, bam, I was in the middle of my best run yet. I've come close to 30 wins in a row before but only with synced up guild teams I've managed to luck my way into. Last night was pure random convergence. Just four people thrown together who managed to click and were unbeatable. And I mean that because it was people leaving that ended our streak not any other team.

Oh, sure, I'd be lying if I said there weren't some easy wins in there padding our victory. But we had some real tests, too. The early ones where it came down to the last, desperate cap were the worst. Once we were up 4-3 and I was alone against most of the other team trying to prevent a cap. My snowcone used up and my fort recharging I knew I wasn't going to last long. But I juked and I dodged, and I just tried to keep that present from reaching the avatar. Kept their team tied down, in so many words, with trying to keep me from pestering them. They managed to cap but then I saw they were trying to bring another present in. I died, of course, but rezzed up at base where I managed to down the lone enemy on our side of the map who was keeping our team from scoring. And our last present got to the avatar just a few steps before theirs. It was a toss-up, in so many words, and I wasn't sure just who was going to come out ahead. As the night wore on, though, the tense matches became less of a challenge. Because I gained that quiet confidence that comes from having good teammates who'll be able to bail you out when things go wrong. I mean, I like to think I'm good – and playing a lot of Snowball Arena is really good for the ego that way – but it's not like I can lift the entire team on my shoulders and carry us to a win each and every time. And I can make mistakes which can prove costly. So can anyone but the if you have a good team you can survive a lot more of them than you can otherwise. And once we kept winning rather than tense up and worry about keeping the streak alive, I found myself (as I usually do) actually relaxing and having an easier time of it. I hate losing, after all, as I think most people do. And there were plenty of games where we were in trouble but once we really started to roll there wasn't a reason to panic even when we were down.

As the streak wore on, I quickly capped out on faction. As I've testified before, the Snowball Arena is a great place to gain faction quickly. Since I was nearing the end of my night I hit the enter button with about half my capacity – which is pitifully small, I need to get some more fame ranks or gladiator ranks or something. And because I almost went and burned some off it was a given that as soon as it became possible that I was going to hit the wall that I would. I'm not sure why but when I need faction it's hard to get and when I have a lot it seems easy. Ah well, since I've gone from 170k to over 300k since I've come back it's not like I have a lot of things left to unlock, really. I'm through all the runes and inscriptions and I've just got the moderately useful stuff in the two new weapons to get yet. The skills I'll earn through PvEing, eventually, so I don't worry about those. And keeping a bit of faction on hand means I'll be able to unlock a key skill if and when I'm asked to guest again. Buying a full bar would take only 9k (3k for the elite plus 6000 for the remaining six skills) and most competitive builds are going to be a mix of skills from a lot of different campaigns so I shouldn't need anywhere near that amount. So with only a whiff of regret for all that lost faction I was missing out on, I went back to it and the wins kept piling up.

I've always held that you just don't quit on a streak. It's bad luck. Such streaks are like manna from heaven (Even when they're happening all the time) in that they're awesome but you never know just when they're going to dry up. So you have to enjoy them while you can. Leave one early and you'll pay for it down the line. The next group will be an awful one or you'll suck the next time around. Something, anyway. That bad karma will come back to you threefold. Because when you leave a run you're not just hurting yourself, you're hurting everyone you're playing with. Sure, they can survive and go on to keep winning but it's a random place and they'll get a random teammate. Who might or might not be anything like you. In the Snowball Arena it's less of a risk because you don't have to worry about builds or anything beyond that single profession-based skill. But you could be sticking that team you've been having such success in with a complete moron who's going to tank the next round for them. Or, worse, a bot who's going to sit there and do nothing.

Not everyone feels the same, of course. And I fully understand that other people have commitments and things that they, apparently, feel are more important than playing a video game with strangers (Some people have no sense of priorities, I guess, but what can you do?) so I don't blame them at all for leavin gearly. It's just something I, myself, wouldn't do unless a thunderstorm sent a tree crashing through my window ripping out the power lines. And even then I'd probably be trying to tie them back together or scramble for the generator. You just don't leave a run. That's quiting. But, anyhow, that's how last night's streak came to an end. We lost one and kept going even though it wasn't the same. But then another teammate dropped and instead of a live body we got a leecher who sat at our rez pad. The last remaining member of the original team ragedquit and that was that. 3v4 we could have pulled off, maybe. But 2v4 during the Witching Hour? No way, not going to happen. Still, with a full load of faction, a lot of gamer points, and a ton of candy canes, I won't complain.

Put the four of us together again and it might not happen. In fact, it probably wouldn't. Too much went right for that streak to come together that the odds are against it ever happening again. But for those few hours last night, we were unstoppable. The power of the run was coursing through us. We weren't just four strangers. We were a team.

So thanks to those people. And thanks to that run. For just another reminder for why I do this sort of thing.

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