Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Plan Going Forward

Decided to pass out the candy tonight, after all. Just couldn't resist the chirping of the younglings on what turned out to be an amazingly pleasant night. Plus, I think when you're sad it's always good to try and pass along a little joy into the world. Actually had a fairly decent crowd although the night did start off slowly. I blame it on daylight savings time. It was just too light out when kids around here normally start treating. And, yes, people loved the pumpkin.

Didn't get a chance to play the Costume Brawl today and I don't really feel like it at present, so it looks like I'm going to end the event with a mere 150+ victories and something like 1k in Gamer points. I'll take it, considering I only played a few hours a day for the past five days. And I'll hope that format makes its way back some time soon. Did manage to log in and idle in town and score the two hats being offered. A mummy mask in Kamadan and a scarecrow outfit in LA. I have no idea why I bothered but at least my festival hat collection isn't quite so threadbare anymore.

Anyhow, tonight is not only All Hallow's Eve, it's also the last night before November. And I've already booked a ticked on the crazy train and, recent tragedies and all, I don't really intend to miss it. It's just going to be a much sadder trip than I originally intended. November is about letting go, and I've got a lot to relinquish at the moment. I've just realized, for instance, that one of my first scenes involves euthanasia, a pulling of the plug on someone too sick and too weak to continue. And, now, I have no idea how I'm going to write it without turning into a pitiful ball of sheer sadness. Can't really drop it, either since it's something of a lynchpin scene. Something that really establishes one of my major characters. It's been on the books, so to speak, for months and I only just realized just how much it's going to tear my heart out.

As you might have guessed, I have a massively complicated and horribly intricate story planned. Even more so than usual. I've decided to let my freak flag fly this time around. Not to try to channel, to restrict my tendencies towards searing ambition and to just run with them. This isn't a book that's going to sell. This probably isn't even a book that I'll finish. But it's a book that I have in me and I'm going to drag out, piece by bloody piece.

I was intending to start off each day by blocking out a few scenes. Sketching in what I wanted to work on that day, how it fit into my overall plan, and then spend the rest of the day going over it until I found the time to sit and write it all down. I'm tryign to do something of a modified snowflake method which involves going a barebones framework and filling in the details along the way. I've got plenty of framework thanks to the massive outline that I've been working on over the summer. At its height it clocked in at 125k alone. I've since trimmed the redundancies and out-dated material and it's down to a svelt 45k now. In other words, in writing down what I plan to write about I've nearly won the competition already. Of course, getting to 50k was never really my goal, but knowing that, worst comes to worst, I can always just retype my notes and feed them into the magic counting machine is wonderfully freeing. I don't need to meet any word count or daily goals, I just have to let go and write until I'm happy. Or exhausted. Preferably both.

Of course, by now my plans have obviously been shot to hell. And I think I'm going to have to start out of the gate slowly. No staying up late tonight to burn myself out with an initial surge of creativity. No trying to fill that word meter in the first week. I need to take it easy and, you know, maintain.

Instead, I'll be heading to the homestead this weekend, when my mother is planning to put the dog to sleep. It's not that I really want to, it's that I feel I have to. That someone should be with her at the end. And the dog, too, I know my mother won't want to watch them push the needle in. In a lot of ways, this is even worse than the cat who died earlier this year because that was so sudden. Now, we have time to plan and regret and question. And prepare. Like I'm doing for those awful last moments. And I know it's incredibly selfish but at the moment, all I can think about is just how much I've been looking forward to the light of the night, tonight, and just how little it now means to me.

But, you know, art comes from pain. From suffering. From all emotions, really, from joy to passion to the darker threads woven in us all. But mostly from the sadness. Because art is, at heart, creation. An attempt to understand, if not explain, just why we're here and what we're doing in flickering space between the darkness. And if I have to reach a little bit harder, a little bit deeper, I will because the only way this is a truly sad day is if I can't use it. If I can't, somehow, remember it and these feelings and turn them into something positive.

I had also planned, this month, to build up a backlog of posts and subjects that I could slowly run through over the month. A way to keep this site from going dark while I concentrated on other things. Unfortunately, recent events and the whirlwind of the Costume Brawl have meant that I haven't quite made it. Just too many plates to keep spinning and that means the ones furthest from crashing to the ground are left the longest. All I've got are a bunch of outlines and hooks that still need fleshing out, not the polished finished products I could use to save myself some work. I suck at this kind of thing, I guess. I'll see what I can do but I'm hoping to devote all of my energy into my stories or some other side-projects I have going to keep the creative juices flowing. So, if I go silent for a while, it's not because I'm depressed - this time - it's because I'm busy with other things.

You Look Like You're Both Pretty Groovy

Ah, the sweet anticipation.

Only a few hours until I'm into another dimension with voyeuristic intentions.

The Guild Gap

As a disclaimer, I like Tobold's blog. I like it even more now that he's stopped focusing on WoW and has branched out more.

Anyhow, today he makes an interesting point about the impact of large, co-ordinated guilds on PvP. And wonders just how games will be able to allow more casual players to compete with the hardcore. It seems an obvious, if unfortunate, dilemma because asking a random group to compete with a dedicated PvP guild is like asking a pick-up team to play against a professional basketball team. Sure, sometimes you get Larry Bird or Kobe Bryant in that PUG but not only are you much more likely to get the alternative, the established team has built-in advantages when it comes to communication, familiarity, and strategic sophistication. The PUG should and will lose a lot against the sort of team you want to develop if you have a game with anything like a PvP focus. And that's how it should be.

The question is what do all the people who aren't completely hardcore doing in a game like that? How are they kept encouraged and from leaving? As pointed out swiftly in the comments section, a viable model for encompassing both casual and structured PvP play exists in Guild Wars. And the key is providing several different options for PvP formats. Increasingly more intricate and commitment intensive tiers that lead one from a starting point of not having a clue to higher levels of play as you come to understand the game's mechanics and arcane sundries (And by concentrating on only a few of those formats so as not to overly segment your player base and provide a clear-cut progression. Which is where GW really fails. As the game's worn on different formats have proliferated, making it fragmented between players who prefer one type over another and, as the population sinks, increasingly difficult to find groups to play with. They would have been better off, I think, to have simply revamped the existing formats with each expansion, adding new twists and features while taking care of old problems, rather than trying to bolt a new one on with every chapter.) and become more skilled.

At the same time, you need to make sure you have low barriers of entry in the beginning level formats in order to combat the rising tide of competence. The longer people play the game, the better they get at it, and getting involved in competitive PvP requires more and more knowledge of obscure techniques and the areas where the rules are in your advantage than the developers can or will ever be able to include in a tutorial. It's not just that the bad players are driven out, it's that the good players continue to get better. But there's also a continual drain on the player base as players leave the game for whatever reason. And in order to avoid a completely insular group of hardcore players completely closed off to new entries, you have to make sure the game has an avenue for players to travel to the higher levels of play. Otherwise, just like WoW's endgame devolves into massively time intensive raids which only interest those dedicated enough to invest in performing them, so, too, does your PvP game devolve into a bunch of elites running around blowing everyone else off the map. Which makes the game unfun for everyone involved - there's almost as little enjoyment involved in winning a blow-out as there is in being blow-out - if you're there for the challenge, at least.

The difference, though, between GW and upcoming PvP-centric games like Age of Conan or WAR is that you'll be subscribing to those games. Which drastically alters the picture. People like to win. They don't like to lose. And there are very few people who are going to continue to pay for the privilege of getting steamrolled on a regular basis. Which just makes more casual formats where there are low risks and low rewards - where winning is easy and losing painless - that much more important. Not only will they be a place for players to blow off steam or the hardcore to fool around, they'll also serve as a place for the social aspect of the PvP side of things (Always an underappreciated aspect, if you ask me. PvPers aren't antisocial, they're just assholes with an opinion of their own abilities that's constantly inflated by positive feedback. Social networking, making relationships, it's all vitally important to competitive players.). Places where those not in one of those rare awesome guilds can meet or be noticed by the gatekeepers who'll usher them behind the velvet rope of the higher formats.

It's the Economy Stupid

I think Mr. Yglesias is really missing the point here. It's not just that passing the peak oil point will result in drastically increased prices at the pump. That's just where most Americans are going to feel the pinch. But oil and the petrol refined from it is used for many more purposes than fueling our personal transportation. It's used in manufacturing and in agricultural production. Transformed into plastics or fertilizer and much beyond simple fuel. When the price of crude oil rises, so does the cost of all those associated activities. Those costs get passed on to the consumer. And while the average American might notice the rising prices when fueling up their favored gas guzzlers, where they'll really be hurt is when food prices shoot through the roof. Or manufactured goods become increasingly expensive. Or home heating costs. Because once we've passed into this so called "Age of Insufficiency", we'll be out of this era of cheap energy that we're currently living in. And that our entire economy is based around. When cheap oil, subsidized by our massive military budget, stops being available, then the reverberations are going to be felt throughout society, not just on the road.

The danger, of course, that comes with such economic stagnation is economic collapse. That while our elites might enjoy the same way of life they do now, our poor and middle classes won't. They'll have slipped into hardship, maybe even a new Middle Ages of oppression and resentment as the world becomes a hardscrabble search for scarce resources. I don't that will come to pass, though, as we can innovate and assuage our way past those difficulties. But the underlaying problem isn't one that we can rely on improved technologies and industries to get us out of. They can't, not fast enough, not even if they started now, today. And, with the political climate what it is, they're not even going to try.

Guild Wars: How To Ranger at the Ball

I mentioned the other day that with a Ranger you can out-duel almost everyone. Since the Brawl is drawing to a close (It'll be back, though, in one way or another), I thought I'd give away the family jewels and reveal how it's done.

The basics are simple. You have mobility, damage, defense, and, best of all, disruption in ways that no one else does. How you beat someone else is by playing to where you have the advantage over them. You deal a considerable amount of pressure damage through Apply Poison (condition removal is weak here so it'll stick around.) and Burning Arrow. You're not going to kill anyone in three hits or anything but you can slowly but surely bleed them dry through your degen. You can kill anyone else. And with Troll and Stride, you have enough defense to survive nearly everyone. Because, in addition to packing one of the only block defenses in the environment, you also pack two hard interrupts and can take out anything that bothers you, provided you can hit it. And with Stride you can also tear ass around the map, and with Pin Down you can keep anyone from doing the same. Using those tools, given the time and opportunity, you can wipe any other piece off the board.

Here's how:

Warrior - You can beat a Warrior with two skills. Pin Down and D-Shot. Cripple them and get their HealSig and it's all over. Make sure to use your degen if you don't want to spend five minutes killing them off, of course. Watch out for good Wars. They're tricky and will try to cancel out so your interrupts miss but that's okay because that just means they spend a lot of time not moving and waving their arms ineffectually while they degen off a lot of health, making that sig recover a lot less of their bar. They shouldn't get in Bull's Strike range but if they do, stop moving - cast Troll or something. And, if you get in trouble, remember Natural Stride has a 50% block rate.

Assassin - Here's how you beat a Sin. Stand still, bait them into porting to you - if you want you can Cripple them in advance if they're going to be a little prick and dance around the aggro bubble. You might think this is suicidal but remember that they don't have an IAS (beyond the bonus from some shrines.). So you have plenty of time to pick off one of their attack skills with D-Shot or Savage. Hit part of their chain and the rest of it falls flat. They might nail you with Golden Phoenix but if you fizzle Horns of the Ox then they can't land Falling Lotus and they won't have enough energy for Twisting Fangs. Not for a while anyway. You can try to get Golden Phoenix because that royally hoses them. I prefer to get a D-Shot on the Ox as that's the one that really scares me and it can be a little hard to anticipate when to fire off a shot after they teleport - it leaves you open to a Twisting Fangs but it takes them a while to get enough energy, generally, and that's all the time I need. But you generally know Ox or Fangs is following the off-hand. Once that happens they're annoying buggers who'll use Shadow Refuge and cancel Aura to confound you but the only thing they can do to hurt you is rely on their basic dagger attack, if they can actually reach you - because unless they can get a condition on you they can't remove anything on them, so your Cripples and Poisons will stick. If something goes wrong then hit Natural Stride, cross your fingers, and Troll up, kite away, and try again the next time they try to land a chain. Odds are you'll block something in their chain and survive.

Dervish - A Dervish is a pain, true. If you have half a chance at interrupting Melandru's before it goes up then you absolutely have to take it - and yes, some people are stupid enough to Form up right in your face. But if you can't then you have a hard hitting giant tree that's immune to conditions. And conditions are how you really do your damage. You can't crip and kite, you can't degen them to death, and they have a lot of health to chip away while they do a ton of damage along with a cheap Deep Wound thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, they don't pack anything like disruption (Well, they have Rending Touch but you don't have any enchants) so while the Form is up all you can do is rely on Natural Stride to block and kite (Which doesn't really work so well since Pious Haste lasts so long but the key here is mitigation, every step you take is one more they have to cover to hit you and that sends their outrageous DPS dropping.) while you chip away at them - Burning Arrow won't set them on fire but it does extra damage so it'll hurt them - and your elemental armor helps you out while their form is up. Once their form goes down then they're like a Warrior with lower armor. They don't have much in the way of healing, either, and if you can pick off Vital Boon then they're going to be hurting. Still, your best bet is to avoid fighting them while they have their Melandru's up. Wait them out by running them around and taking pot shots as needed. But they can't stop you and you can't kill them, basically. So, it's the rare wash.

Mesmer - I'll be honest, Mesmers generally give me fits. Lot of scrambling and skin of the teeth victories. They're probably the hardest to beat one on one, for me. But they're also one of the rarest professions at the Costume Ball so they don't show up much. The problem is they have a lot of interrupts and will probably be able to knock out your Troll or Poison - Leech Signet and Complicate can both make those go click. Empathy is a joke, really, as is most of their offense, you can just attack through. But Surge/Burn/Feast means you're going to be sucking on empty a lot once the fight gets underway. You will not have a lot of energy and won't have a lot of time before it gets sucked away. Which means you're going to be relying on your standard attack more than you should. The solution, I think, is to get aggressive. If you know you're in for a fight with a Mes what you want to do is get your Apply Poison and Troll up before engaging and then hammer away with you skills before they start e-denying you. You want them Poisoned and Crippled and halfway dead before they start to work on you. Forget about Empathy, Empathy is a joke, you'll regen right through it and it'll take something like 15 attacks before you kill yourself even if you don't, what you want to D-Shot is Ether Feast. Take the fight to them and hopefully you'll either scare them off or get them low enough that you or your degen can finish them off before they can go to work. I suspect I have so much trouble with Mesmers because I'm too conservative and defensively oriented a player to really go balls to the wall crazy fuck mad berserker and just attack, attack, attack - I'm much more of the plink and run mindset.

- Easy pickings, really. You'll rarely find these guys alone and it's easy to see why. Big glass jaw here. They're got a bunch of degen but you have Troll. They can Weaken you or slow your attack rate but you'll be degening them to death, not using your weapon's attack rate. And they have a bunch of lengthy casting skills that are interrupt bait. You have the advantage of a longer range, too, so, really, Necros should run in terror when you crest the horizon. It's not like they melt as soon as you breathe on them but it's pretty close. But, anyway, hit their skills - Reaper's and Life Siphon are the big ones to get - and make sure you have your prep up, that's about all there is to it. Oh, some of them will run up to use Plague Touch but that just makes them easier to Cripple and/or hit in the face with a Burning Arrow.

Elemenetalist - Your typical Ele will be cocky because they have a lot of damage and the almighty in the Costume Arena Steam to handle any physical characters. It's the bane of Warriors and Sins and even Paragons. But not Rangers. Because you have Antidote Signet which recharges in 4 seconds while Steam takes 8. Antidote Signet doesn't cure much but it does take care of Blindness. If you get hit with Steam, chuckle to yourself while you hit your sig and then proceed to pound the Elementalist into dust. Because you're also wearing the best armor against elemental damage. They won't hit you for as much as they'd like. And for most Eles, it's really easy to pluck off their spells, too. You know they're going to be spamming SF. You know how long it takes to recharge. Odds are if you venture a D-Shot you'll hit that or Glowing Gaze or Steam or GLE. Something vital, in other words. I have become an expert at plucking off Steam - it's easy to tell it's coming since you have to be ablaze first - and if I can do it, so can anyone. Keep Pin Down in mind in case they Djinn up and try to kite on you; snares are greater than run buffs and that'll keep them in range and from dodging.

Paragon - First, stop laughing. Yes, the Paragon sucks. And, yes, a Paragon trying to split by themselves is a Paragon who doesn't know what they're doing. But, you know, it happens. They can actually pack quite a whallop - you're a sitting duck for Cruel Spear since you'll likely be standing there trying to shoot them. If, of course, you let them. Natural Stride works against spear attacks, too, and you should be using it as often as you can while sticking and moving in between shots. Let your degen do its work. Let them waste time with Remedy Signet, if they want, they don't have any interrupts so you can keep Poison up and put it right back on with every shot. Paragons don't tend to kite but I like to Cripple them anyway, mostly because I'm a dick. But as long as you can interrupt Leader's Comfort, then you'll be able to mop the floor with them.

Monk - This will not be a quick or easy fight. But a Monk is most problematic when they're backing someone else up. By themselves, and staring down the business end of your interrupting machine, they're not so tough. They just won't go down quickly. There are two kinds of Monks you'll run into. The ones who, under duress, turn into healers. And the ones who turn into Smiters. The Smiters are going to be using Signet of Judgement and Bane Signet to knock you down before healing up. SoJ you want to pluck off if you can - it's tricky but, basically, you should just spam your interrupts at the Monk, odds are you'll hit something good. With Bane Signet, if you see it coming, stop attacking, use it as an opptunity to Troll up or put on your Poison (Do not. Repeat, do not, try to put those on until you know your opponent's just used SoJ otherwise you will get interrupted.). The healers will start spam healing once you start attacking them, they will use their offensive skills but only as an afterthought. They will use Smite Condition, so try and stay out of melee range, but you should just reapply your poison anyways and if you've Crippled them, it should be covered, so it doesn't really matter. Signet of Devotion is interrupt bait if they're stupid enough to use it while fighting you and whether or not you want to take it out depends on your energy reserves - again, it's the kind of thing that's much better in a group instead of a a one on one situation, there they can cast it and you'll run across it halfway through the animation and you'll have to make a quick mental calculation about flighttimes, squaring off, on the other hand, while you're staring at their health bar, it's as fat and juicy as they get. And Divine Intervention is annoying but nothing you can't power through. What you absolutely, positively have to disable is Breeze. You cannot let them Breeze up and ruin all your degen. You have to take that out.

Ritualist - Like the Monk, the Ritualist is a pain when they're tagging along behind a Warrior or a Sin or, worse, another Ranger. Then, the other character is just enough of a threat to keep you from focusing on them completely while they make that teammate better. Alone, they have a bunch of long casting spirits that if you can't interrupt you need to hang up your bow and retire in shame (If they're already up, that's another matter. I generally ignore Bloodsong while making Preservation a priority. But if Bloodsong is being a pain remember that spirits are affected by Burning now. One BA and a normal shot is generally enough to take one out.). Likewise, they have damage dealing skills and spells with healthy enough casts that you should be able to hit them reliably. Once they can't cast or can't heal, then they go down quickly since they don't have any way to stop your hits from landing. Unlike a Monk, they don't have any knockdowns or other ways of disrupting you, so you'll be able to attack unabated. Mend Body and Soul is the spell you want to take out most, especially if there are spirits around, but otherwise they have no way to remove Cripple and that means that they can't even dodge well.

Ranger - The mirror match. Fighting another Ranger is mostly about which of you has the better reflexes and the better luck but there are some things you can do to increase your odds of winning. This comes down to head games, really, because what you want to do is make sure you can put up your Apply Poison and Troll Unguent and they can't. If you can regen and degen while they're stuck without then you win the fight. If you can't then you lose, it's that simple. So, what you really have to worry about is the D-Shot. Use the terrain to your advantage. Hug walls, try and peek out around corners to land a shot, press up against ledges so they can't shoot down, or hover away so they can't shoot up, you know the deal. Keep in mind that most shrines have raised parts that you can use for cover, obstructing your opponent's view. That's a much safer bet, especially if you know the terrain, than relying on Natural Stride. But you'll wind up doing that sooner or later, and when you do you're gambling that their interrupt is going to get blocked while you get your prep on. Won't always work, of course, but it can save you in a jam (Really, the way to go is to cancel bait the interrupts then prep with impunity.). They'll be doing the same and you just have to play the odds and hope your shots land through their cover to disable those key skills. Otherwise, it's a bowslingers duel so the other thing to keep in mind is arrow dodging. If you and your opponent are firing at range, releasing your arrows at the exact same time, you have enough time from when your shot gets fired to when theirs lands to move safely out of the way of the arrow's arc. Try this, when you're about to complete your shot, mouse click somewhere to the side of your character, you'll move a few feet and your opponent's arrow should fall harmlessly to the ground. Won't always work but you'll be really happy when it does. I prefer to work in a bit closer and to Crip up my opponent so they can't dodge, while I rely on interrupts and Natural Stride but I also don't like to mouse move, so there it is.

Above all, remember that if worse comes to worse you can always bug out. Hit Stride and tuck your tail between your legs. As long as you haven't gotten killed you've kept your opponent from adding to the score total and that's good enough to declare victory and head home. This doesn't work when you're down to 50 hit points but if you leave a fight with a reasonable amount of health you have enough armor and enough speed that you can probably get Troll up or get safely away. Get your regen on and you can try again. Or you can move on to another battle.

When it comes to fighting multiple opponents, I have a simple piece of advice: don't. Unless you can avoid it you shouldn't be trying to take on two or three enemies at a single time (Unless you're like me and are both supremely confident and stupid.). And when you're in a duel, if you see support running up to help your foe, that's when it's time to make a hasty exit. It can be done but it's difficult and after a good fight you'll be running low on energy and unable to do anything, so it's not really worth the bother.

When fighting in a group against a group, though, most of the same tatcis hold true. You want to keep the melee characters pinned, you want to disrupt the Eles and Sins before they do a lot of damage, even when there's more than one of them around. When targeting, focus on the characters who can ruin your day first - make sure you knock out Steam or have that enemy Ranger kiting away because you're pelting them - before you concentrate on the characters like Rits and Monks who'll be keeping others alive. Remember to switch targets every so often to spread your poison around. Watch for a key skill to take out with an interrup. And get in the habit of ducking behind a wall or hitting Stride before you use Troll or Apply.

Mano a Neo

This is equal parts inspiring and frightening.

Podhoretz, by the way, is one of Rudy's chief foreign advisers. Multiple Choice Mitt wants to double Guantanamo but the next Mayor of the United States wants to double Iraq.

A Day Late and a Lot Short

I typed this last night - along with a lot of other stuff - but only just now am getting around to posting it. I'll let you guess why.

Just barely under 4.6k now.

My lingering cold has progressed to the crippling head pain stage. My head is killing me, I'm nauseous, and the screen is shaking or my head is, I can't play like this. It's just as well because I think the bloom is off the rose for the CB for me.

I think I've successfully broken it.

Finally got a run going with my dream team of a pair of Rangers, a pair of Monks, and an Ele. Actually, it was a Rit and a Monk but, on second thought, that actually makes a lot of sense. And a PUG rather than having everyone on vent to co-ordinate tactics. But, as I expected, it worked like a charm, especially once the team figured out that the best way to win was to forget about the shrines and just camp the spawn. Newbs rez up, try to fight, get smacked down. Try to run, get Pinned Down. The score climbs up and you win. It's just that simple. The hard part is getting those first few early kills that mean you can pen them in their base. But if you can do that, there's really no way to lose.

Also, since my reflexes were shot, I made the run to Rata Sum to get into the Polymock game. Always been intrigued by that since it wasn't in the preview weekend. But, having seen it, I think it's rather more like the Rollerbeetles than Dwarven Brawling. Interesting enough but more of an example of just how far the developers can push the game engine to encompass formats they weren't originally intended for. And, in this case, the answer turns out to be not very well since there's a rather clunky interface where you have to hunt down and click on an NPC to move from turn to psuedo-turn. There's also not as much variety as I'd like since each piece comes with 8 skills but 5 of those are common. Shared between all of them. So the real difference is in those three skills and the real test figuring out the best way to block and interrupt and guard them to finish off your foe before they finish you off.

Anyway, I beat up on the first opponent, who was rather easy. My reflexes were sapped by my illness and all but even I can still interrupt 3~4 second casts and flash up a stance before a hit lands. Flush with my success and wanting to explore the format a little more, I moved on to the next opponent, who was at an outpost I'd already visited. He was a bit more difficult. Even more so since I didn't notice - thanks to Hero panels covering up my chat box - that I'd won a new piece for beating the entry level guy. I was stuck with my original three pieces including the abysmal Merlock guy who's just a waste of space, really. And the critters the second guy rolled out were much more impressive than the first. Even handicapped by my own lack of attention, though, I was able to finish them off. Took a try or two but I eventually managed it. And that's where I got off the Polymock boat, because to continue I need to get to another area I haven't visited yet, find another NPC in another outpost. Which sucks since I want to keep fighting, not race through the countryside. I can't even play a non-quest round since you need a common, uncommon, and rare piece before you can schedule a match. After beating the 2nd annoying little Asuran bastard, I got a Kappa who's grape flavored but I still need that golden piece (And I've noticed I have a Fire Imp, too, from beating the 1st. That probably would have been useful.). Which I've looked into and is only available after the end of a lengthy string of quests. G fucking g, devs. I want to practice and try out my new pieces, I want to see the ins and outs of their bars, I want to try out different sequences and combinations, I want to play another match. But I can't. I can't even go back and redo the quests I've done. Until I make the trek to that distant outpost, I can't play another round of Polymock at all. And, you know, that suits me just fine at the moment. Stupid little Asuran game anyways.

Tomorrow is the last day before November madness consumes me, so I'm not sure I'll get to play much. I've got a lot of last minute preparations to go through first.

Guild Wars: Why I Hate the Costume Brawl

It's going to be gone in a few days. It's just that simple. It's got its flaws and foibles that I'd want to tweak (See here, for a list of some things I'd change. Here, too. Otherwise, I think the biggest problem is how the Ranger build is heads above the rest good. And I think that's as simple as switching out Natural Stride for another, less effective, run buff, like Dodge. Sure, it's awful but this kind of format is best when everyone's awful.) but my main problem is that it's a temporary glimpse into a better Guild Wars world. One where awesome casual mini-games are studded around to create places where you can go to blow off some steam. Multiple quick formats that don't take a lot of time to play, don't take a lot of thought to set-up your character for. That you can log on to the game for with a few stolen moments and still feel like you're walking away with some fun in your pocket. Alternatives to the RA, in other words. Lower barriers of entry for new players. A game that focuses on an enjoyable experience rather than its own unique version of grind, also known as "practice".

Because, the Costume Brawl is amazing. It's better than the Random Arena at this point. I wouldn't want to play in the Arena if it was like these mini-games. There should be a casual, penalty free environment where you can go to mess around and try out builds and techniques. Because a big part of the game is mixing and matching your skills and equipment. But it's not the only part. Other things go into the PvP experience and some of them aren't nearly as daunting.

More pure, more simple, more of a quick way to log in and blow off some steam. I wouldn't mind it if the CB replaced the RA completely. Hell, even the Alliance Battles or Comp mission in general. Maybe you could add a few more options per profession, a few different builds to pick from, if you really wanted to get rid of the RA. Work on balancing and fixing the inconsistent equipment crap but it could be done. Because at least that way I wouldn't have to have teammates who are running absolutely mindboggling stuff or have to deal with idiots who load in with a tanking/stalling build to get their kicks. You know, at least, what everyone is doing and while that takes a lot of strategy out of the game (And that's an important part, part that I love, but it's a part that's already well-served in other formats, like HA or GvG.) it removes a lot of the frustration and intimidation associated with GW PvP as well. It could be serving a valuable place in the game as a stepping stone to greater PvP play instead of being a transitory event. And a similar argument could be made for any of the mini-games. A lot of time and attention have been spent coming up with these things that are only in the game a few weeks out of the year.

But they could, they should be around longer because the mini-games can teach things. Dragon Arena strips out build choices and teaches you about reflexes and positioning - it probably needs to be four players instead of six but that's just me. Snowball Arena teaches players about the importance of class differences, slowly, simply, by making everyone the same except for a few minor differences - it's maximizing those differences to your advantage that separate the true snowslingers from the rank newbs. I'm not sure what Rollerbeetles teach except that the devs can do some wacked out shit with the game but I'm sure it has its uses. Even the mini-games introduced in GW:EN have their place. Or, at least, would if they were multiplayer instead of a game to figure out how to beat up on the AI. But the Costume Brawl is greater than all of those because instead of deforming the game's rules, twisting the way you normally play by introducing new rules for that specific place, it instead boils gameplay down to one of its essential cores. It takes away all the build making and customization but it leaves you with actual skills and actual characters that are used the same way you use them in the arenas or a guild battle. It has such promise, such potential to lure new players into the PvP realm that I want it to be around year long, sitting there on the Battle Isles, with an NPC in every major town, tempting people to go. I don't see why these mini-games aren't available year round.

Okay, so if they were around all the time, they'd lose some of their allure. Maybe if they were always there then they wouldn't be so tempting and they'd be just another PvP format to further dilute a dwindling playerbase instead of a gateway for bored PvE players to step into a brave new world. I don't know but I do know that I'd like to find out.

Guild Wars: A Simple Fix for the Ball

Over at the Clam's, we've been going over the Costume Brawl. As usual, the bi-valve makes some good points as we've discussed both what makes the format shine and where it could be better. Along the way, I think he's come up with an idea that would help correct one of the biggest problems I have with the format: the long waiting and down times associated with the point-capture mechanism. They suck the momentum out of the game, taking away from the frenetic pace of action and excitement to leave you standing there doing nothing.

I can't count how many times this has happened to me - with a group or with myself. I get to a shrine to find an enemy standing there, engage them in the deadly dance of move and counter-move as we circle around the area, kiting in and out of range, pushing ourselves to the limit, testing our knowledge of our skills and our builds. And when I, of course, win what happens to that rush of emotion? What happens to that surge of confidence, of power, that comes from finishing off a worthy opponent? Do I rush off to the next spot, do I hunt down my next prey, do I try to join up with the rest of my team who are fighting for their own lives somewhere else on the map? No, I watch for the little capture bar to finish its achingly slow crawl. That's time I'm not doing anything. Except waiting. Sometimes another opponent comes along and it's go time again. But that just means I'm going to be back to the tedium again once that fight is over. Or maybe it's a bunch of enemies in which case it's time to beat a hasty retreat so I can live to fight for another spot.

Worse still are those times when I'm at a shrine and I can see, just on the edge of the radar screen, a fight going on. My teammates engaging with some opponents within easy traveling distance. Maybe they're in trouble and need some help or maybe they're winning, either way it looks a lot more fun than watching a progress bar. But I'm tethered to the shrine by the capture range. Do I abandon it and rush off to join in? Should I wait and get the cap? Is the shrine's bonus worth it to the rest of my team or can I just neutralize it and move on? (I've come around to the point of view that if there's a fight nearby, it's best to forget about the shrine and help win the fight. If it's a losing one those enemies are going to be on top of you soon anyway. If it's a winning one you can finish them off and come back to finish off the cap. But killing stuff is a much quicker and surer way of putting points on the board while the shrine bonuses are neglible. Not everyone agrees with me, though, and I have a hard enough time trying to convince people or the best paths to take on those maps with the limited text buffer to bother trying to explain it.) A game mechanic that where the incentive is for standing around while there's combat going on nearby isn't working nearly as well as it could, if you ask me.

And as the Clam suggests, the Costume Brawl is a winning idea and one that just might be around to stay - if not in this game then in the sequel. So, it makes sense to try and make it as good as it possibly could be. Clamatius's idea, then, is to speed up the process. As long as no opponents enter the capture radius, that bar will go up progressively faster in the same way that if you're not attacked or attacking you'll slowly gain health regeneration. The net effect would be to make it easier and quicker for a single player to capture a shrine and get back into the action while still having multiple characters capture them faster - they'd essentially get a head start on the speed progression, starting out and reaching the maximum faster. At the same time, you preserve the importance of fighting around each shrine by allowing you to spoil an opponent's efforts and, at the very least, set back their timetable. And it puts a premium on split-squad tactics, making the lone player running around trying to recap all the shrines much more important, forcing their opponents to respond. That means they have to, say, stop camping the rez pad to chase around the map trying to stop them from erasing their advantage and allowing their opponents to mount a comeback. Since the Costume Brawl is a beginner's environment that's exactly the swingy kind of play that helps erase skill disparity and encourage poorer players to try again since they were "so close" instead of simply blown out. In a newb friendly format you want to make sure everyone has a fighting chance and that losing is as painless as possible.

Guild Wars: Random Thought of the Day

You know, this disguise thing makes for a sneaky way to get templates back in the game. You head to an NPC, you ask to change into a disguise and, poof, you become some NPC will a pre-selected skill bar guaranteed not to be completely awful. Given how the devs handled the Costume Brawl builds they, of course, cannot be entrusted with coming up with decent stuff. But the basic idea of giving new players a serviceable guide for where to start could be achieved.

Guild Wars: Costume Brawl Lies, Damn Lies, and Strategery

Don't listen to the strategy on the GW wiki Costume Brawl page. It's awful. Play that way if you want my Ranger to poll grind over your smoldering corpse. Actually, come to to think of it... No, no, I must rail against the spread of disinformation here. Here's how you do from someone who's done. Check the trick-or-treat bags, son, I stack candy like mad. Or, in plain English, I've played the format to exhaustion and tallied over 150 wins in only about 15~20 hours of play. I know what works and that mishmash of bad advice and wrongheaded thinking isn't it.

There are only two maps you play on. Originally, I got a bit messed up - despite cautioning others to know their maps - and mistook the flipped side of the map with two health shrines as a separate place. It's not. There's just the larger five shrine map and the smaller three shrine map.

On the larger map, there are five shrines. Two morale shrines (+2 pips on the score meter) just outside of each base, two health shrines (+120 health each), just down the hill from each base, and a Battlecry shrine (+25% movement speed, +15% attack rate, +15% skill recharge). The base has two exits, above and below the morale shrine. You want to go with a 2/1/2 split at the start. Two pairs head to the far shrines - the Health and Battlecry - while someone stays behind to cap the central morale shrine. Afterwards, that lone charcter can rejoin whichever party they want as you try and collapse whereever your opponent is weakest. But, done right, you should either be engaging the enemy on equal terms at the stress points of the health and battlecry shrines or have an early advantage when it comes to capping if you're opponent is overloading on one side or the other. Don't forget the bridge in the middle which acts as a quick shortcut between sides. This is a really easy map to trap the other team in their base and mow them down repeatedly to rack up the score, there's a bonus effect in there that gives them 50% bonus damage and 50% damage reduction but if you can kill them once it generally doesn't matter and you can do it again and again as needed, if you can just get them to auto-rez initially. Otherwise, there's a lot of running around in relatively narrow lanes and a lot of cover to hide behind if you're getting pelted. As a Ranged character, this entire map is downhill from the Battlecry shrine, and you can get some pretty amazing distance on your shots.

The smaller map is a lot cozier with only three shines. A morale shrine in the center, with a Battlecry and Energy (-20% skill cost) to either side. Each base has a single exit - the red's side points towards the Battlecry shrine and the blue towards the Energy shrine - and a teleporter which puts you on a hill just off the center pointed towards the opposite one - note you can teleport out but you can't teleport back. There are two paths from each of the side shrines down to the center, one leads across a bridge to the teleporter's destination where you can go down a little hill. The other goes under the bridge (The path from the Battlecry shrine leads you around a big rock which blocks line of sight, the only thing that does this near the energy shrine are the ledges.). The lower path under the bridge is generally faster but keep in mind the other route if the enemy is heading towards you en masse. North of the center shrine there's a small rise and some trees that make line of sight difficult, a little closer to the bases is a little cutaway with two walls that's a dead-end but can be used to duck into if, say, you're dodging fire. The ledges on either side of the bridges can be used for sniping, letting your bow shots travel far into the central area - you can't quite hit the area directly around the shrine, but you can hit anyone coming from the shrine towards you or trying to run away. Some people like to move as a big group to the center but I like to go with a 3/2 split from the start since I think it makes you much more flexible. The smaller group heads to the closest shrine while the larger group either takes the other shrine or the central one, depending on what the enemy is doing. Once those are secured and anyone trying to stop you has been killed off you can regroup and grab whatever shrine you missed in the early rush.

When capping shrines the morale shrines are worth a lot less than the bonuses you get from the others. Those make your fights a lot easier and allow you to capture any shrine that your enemy is holding. So, get the Battlecry and Health and Energy shrines, then worry about the morale. In fact, ignore the shrines altogether because the easiest way to get them capped is when your opponents are all dead. You earn a lot more points from killing people than you do from the morale bar anyway. Kill off your enemy, even if it means hunting them down when they go rabbit on you, then cap up.

Beating a team of five that sticks together is a simple matter of running them around. Although they can hold a single shrine or two, if they're not splitting that means you can control the rest of the shrines by splitting yourself. Your squads should be avoiding combat unless you catch a straggler or something because the surest way to lose against the juggernaut is to tackle it head-on. You don't want to fight unless you have the odds on your side. Instead, you want to avoid combat, minimize your deaths, and let your morale advantage eventually earn you the win. Or, at the very least, force that large squad to split up so you can take them apart.

Otherwise, you want to split around like mad and force mismatches. You want to get your Ranger, your Ele, on their Wars. You want your three person squad hammering their two-man team. Whatever it is, you want to get the advantage when it comes to numbers and builds. The key things in the CB are mobility and disruption (The first is abundant, the second in short supply.). Always move. Always ruin your opponent's plans.

Wolverines Blogging: Rival Tribes

There was a chance, however small, that this week's showdown between UofM and MSU wouldn't be televised. Not locally anyway, thanks to the ongoing stand-off between Comcast (Who act like fighting off a cable rates increase is akin to curing cancer) and the Big-Ten Network (Who act as if watching football was an inalienable right not to be deprived from no man). The BTN might have used it as another excuse to turn the screws on Comcast with hordes of angry customers demandig the annual contest on their televisions. But they've passed that up, meaning that the game will be on national TV and my planned post entitled "Why They Can Both Go To Hell and Die" will never see the light of day and I need to come up with a new angle before talking about the match. But since this is the 100th go-around, that's not too difficult.

A century of games between Michigan and State. It's hard to encapsulate just how important this rivalry, this week, is to a Michigan fan. Especially those who've been bred and raised to the Maize and Blue. As I explained to my out-of-state roomies, OSU is the big game, the decisive one that makes or breaks a season. But MS is the rival. OSU is important, I have a special hate in my heart for ND, but MSU is the game that matters. Like when you play your little brother in a pick-up game, you just can't lose. Not unless you want to hear about it for ever. Or, in this case, the rest of the year.

Not within the state, anyway. This week, it's been divided into two camps. The Spartans and the Wolverines. And we're going to play a game to decide who's best. Kids fight in the hallways, choose up sides based on alliegence as they play out the game in minature, adults fly flags and sneer at one another. This is beyond dislike, this is beyond simple competitiveness, this is about identity. You're either a Michigan Man or a Sparty. You're a haughty Maize and Blue blood or you're a Green-blooded couch burner. This week, this game, there is no middle ground.

As usual, this year the Wolverines have held up their end of the bargain and arrive at the game with a 7-2 record (5-0 in the Not So Big Ten). While the Spartans arrive still looking for their sixth win to make them bowl eligible while looking just impressive enough to be scary when playing spoiler. There's a reason the all-time series is 66-28-5 in Michigan's favor, after all. But there's reason to be worried this year.

Riding a 5 game losing streak, the Spartans are due, for one thing. The game's in East Lansing, for another. And memories of the phantom second that robbed Michigan of a win in '99 aren't vanquished by the switch to league officials rather than stadium employees for timekeepers. If MSU can find some way to screw over UofM, they will, because it's all they have to live for in their sad, pathetic lives which revolve around beating Michigan and only beating Michigan. The crowd will be rocking, the players amped up, and the field shaking from all the emotion pouring into it. And the biggest concern of all is that the Spartan's new coach, Mark Dantonio is a disciple of Jim Tressel. And, like Tressel, he's declined to downplay the rivalry. Instead, he's bought into it, made it the center, the focus of his regime. One day a year, he plays Michigan. The other 364 he figures out how to beat them. They're not just determined, they're driven to win this game. And in a year when the Wolverines are shaky, in a week where their star players are getting off the injury list, that's a frightening prospect.

This isn't a game I watch for the enjoyment. Not one where I can appreciate the subtle nuances. This is a game I watch with my nails poised for biting, with my stomach in knots. Because you just can't lose to State. You just can't. I'll never hear the end of it.

Oh, yeah. GO BLUE!!!

Tigers Blogging: In the Shadow of Smoltz

So, well the New York press was busy with A-Rod and Giradi, which apparently means the national press was busy with the Yankees, the Detroit Tigers made a pretty big splash in the free agent market. They've picked up Edgar Rentaria from the Braves for a pair of prospects. Further turning your 2008 Tigers into your 1997 Marlins, I guess. I'm of two minds on this one.

First, I believe that the way the big teams not only get ahead but stay ahead is by building up their farm systems. By spending their money advantage on development. Sinking those funds into what will make them better over the long run instead of burdening themselves with pricey free agent signings or rent a season mercenaries. That's what New York and Boston have done and that's who the Tigers ultimately have to compete against. Making a move for a player that costs you prospects especially ones as promising as the two here (Jurriens, for example was the latest Tigers pitching prospect to make you sit up and take notice last year during the wild card push.) were supposed to be, then, is the wrong move.

On the other hand, the reason you build up that farm system is so you have a chance to win championships. And that means both developing the players to plug into your team but also having the assets to move in order to acquire what you don't have. And what the Tigers had was a glaring hole at shortstop. Last season, Guillen was, if not awful, then at least a liability there. Now, the Tigers have another .300 hitter and can shift Guillen over to first base. That just might be enough for those few more wins needed to make it back to the playoffs next season.

That just might be worth giving up two promising pieces of a future that's not here yet. If there's one thing the Tigers have, it's strong pitching. And if there's another, it's outfielders - Granderson makes Hernadez expendible. So, the Tigers seem to have done the right thing here and made themselves stronger by giving up some useless surplus. That's exactly what you're supposed to do as the window for you to win championships with your team closes.

But, it's just the memory of trading away John Smoltz lingers. He was a local phenom, nearly went to MSU before being drafted (500 something, proving how much of a crapshoot the baseball draft is.), and played for the Tiger's farm team. But, in 1987, probably the last year the Tigers were any good before the last few, he was traded to the Braves, for veteran pitcher Doyle Alexander. Since he pitched amazing down the stretch helping the Tigers to win their division and get into the playoffs it made sense at the time. When they got bounced in the first round, Alexander went into rapid decline over the next few seaons, and Smoltz went on to become the centerpiece of the 14 year Atlanta dynasty, it didn't look so good in retrospect. Detroit, after years of futility needs to be wary of making a similar mistake. Because those temporary gains can be fleeting while building for the future can pay enormous dividends.

Down the line or up the middle. I can't say which is the right move here. But I can say that I like the attitude from the front office. Not sitting pat, not biding their time, they're out to make the improvements they need to make this year's disappointment doesn't last.

And That's It

I was just sitting down to enjoy my meal and wait for some trick-or-treaters. It's a little weird this Halloween - thanks to the lack of daylight savings time it's going to be light out when people normally start. We don't normally get many around here but, still, I'd feel awful if I didn't pass out the candy. Or carve a pumpkin. I'm not exactly a pumpkin carving king or anything. I don't do those bits where you shave off the skin and make subtle gradations with the light, I just take a kitchen knife and start hacking. But I like to think I do alright. My carvings always garner at least a few compliments. I think I did particularly good this year, went for a look inspired by those Chinese Lion things and made some good use of the negative space. It's the kind of thing that makes me wish I had a digital camera so I could take a picture to show you. Actually, I don't have any camera at all now that the one on my phone's broke. I should really get around to fixing that. Had the candy set out by the door - a nice assortment of gummies and chocolate bars that I'd hand out a few of each so no one walked away disappointed. And I was just settling in to enjoy my meal and sketch out some last minute thoughts on my novel when I got the call I've been dreading.

It turns out the dog is worse than we thought. My mother thought she'd eaten a plastic bag and, so, took her in for an ultrasound. It revealed a mass on her liver that's most likely cancerous. We wouldn't know for sure unless they operated. And, in her present condition and advanced age, there's no guarantee she survives that exploratory surgery. Or that the cancer's confined to only one lobe of the liver - my mother explained it looked rather widespread on the ultrasound. So, that's it. We're going to have to put her to sleep. And soon. It's just a matter of time.

This is the sort of night when I'd love to leave the lights blazing on my front porch, just for the symbolism. As a small beacon of warmth on a chilly, windy evening. But, at the moment, I don't really think I'm in the mood for smiling and passing out candy. So, now, I'm thinking of leaving them off.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sleep Calls, I'm Answering

Logged in this evening for my customary 10 win run. It's like falling off a log at this point, as long as I get some halfway decent teammates. Turned into the run that never ends. 28 wins. By the end, I was the only person left from the original team and we just kept winning. It took roughly forever, though, and I'm bone tired now. Up to 4.5k Gamer points, though, and I've hit 750k Balthazar faction total on my account.

Afterwards, I finally broke down and ordered Gw:EN. I would have waited until the end of next month what with not wanting to get sucked into the GW vortex during the Nano and all but I also wanted to get the Bonus Pack so I needed to spend that money before the end of the month. As a nice little bonus, I had a discount for being an ANet fanboi so I only wound up spending $35 instead of the $40 and tax I would have at the store. Almost spent the surplus to get a character slot but thought better of it. Money's a little tight what with the holidays coming up and all.

Anyhow, I intend to not play during November in order to save the campaign as a reward for myself for finishing my novel. This plan is going to be broken in a matter of days, I'm sure, but for now I'd rather play the Costume Brawl than explore the frozen wastes. I think, though, before the month is over that I should grit my teeth, head to the dreaded Asuran lands, and track down the Polymock guy because that's another mini-game I've been wanting to try out. Although I gather it's going to be a long slog. Damn, I hate the Asura.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Guild Wars: Redoing the Costume Brawl

After talking to some of my PvP buddies over the weekend, I think the consensus is that the Costume Brawl is a fine little format but not exactly one for the PvP afficiandos. That's fine, of course, since the game benefits from places like that. But if you wanted to make a real format for real pro players instead of a scrub spawning ground, you'd have to make some changes. The first thing to do is realize that the Costume Brawl is a place that's going to be weak on healing and heavy on offesne by design. That the constraints are no secondaries and concentrating on one narrow band of skills instead of splashing in a lot of lines. And that, within those limitations, there are some design decisions that could have been made differently to promote the kind of skillful, intricate play that drives high-end PvP instead of a capping gank fest. Opinions split from there, of course, but I think if you tweaked some of the builds and drastically redid some of the others, that's about all it would take.

Starting with the easy changes first, I'd actually leave the Monk alone. Not because it's particularly good but because I have no idea how you'd optimize something so deformed. You don't want a bonifide healer here, that's for sure, so this Frankenstein mess is probably for the best - maybe you want Smiter's Boon or something in favor of Banish but I don't know so I'm leaving it alone.

The Ranger is almost note perfect, it just needs better attributes. 12 Expertise is weaksauce, that has to be at 13 so you hit the better breakpoints even if it means sacrificing a few seconds of Poisoning or a bit of raw bow-slinging damage. This is a bit of a controversial position on my part, as most of my friends think I smoke the crack rock on this one, but I'd prefer CripShot to BA. The Costume Brawl is all about mobility and disruption and what CripShot does is allow you to keep multiple targets snared while working them down with degen. You won't kill as quickly as with BA but you will have an easier time when dealing with multiple attackers - which is probably why this would be a bad idea for balance unless you want to keep the Ranger as the hands down best class - but I think a Ranger that focuses on disruption and denying the opponent free movement is the best thing you could do with the character. And I think it sets up a nice little RPS where Rangers have real problems with the Dervs and that's the chink in their armor that good players can exploit so they don't run so completely away from the pack.

Next, the Warrior. It's going to suck because you don't have any removal and you really can't because there's none within the skill lists. So you're always going to be in trouble when there's a Ranger or an Ele around. Some people have argued that the best thing to do with the Warrior is to go Hammers for the knockdowns for the same reason I want CripShot on the Ranger but I'm fine with CripSlash. But Tiger Stance and Enraging Charge are suboptimal. E-Charge lasts for one hit after which you're chasing your kiting opponent around in a format where everyone should have a run buff or a snare. You need an always on speed boost and while there's a case to be made for Sprint, I favor Rush here. And for the IAS I'd stick with the classic Frenzy. It's better than Tiger Stance although it's the sort of thing that scrubs turn up their nose at and frightens the newbs - but we're building an expert's Arena here so we don't have to care about that.

Likewise, the Dervish is only a few skills from being where it needs to be. You want Ermite's or Mystic for the damage compression from the 3/4 swing speed. And, at the same time, I'd drop Pious Fury for Heart of Holy Flame as the IAS because it'll let you keep Pious Haste up at the same time and it's better regardless. Tweak the attributes a bit, too, so you get to 12 Mysticism so you hit the 4 energy return breakpoint and, presto, deadliness in tree form.

The Sin is a scrub class. I don't like. But if we're going to be making it as optimal as it can be, then it should be a Shadow Prison build. Aura is good because it's much easier to counter, strip it off and the Sin is blinking away, helping newer players to survive the spike test. But Shadow Prison is much better from an effectiveness standpoint so it's in. That means switching to a different attack change although not necessarily all that different - swap in either Black Lotus or Black Spider for Golden Phoenix and you're not doing to bad. I'd like Impale and a different dual but that's me, Twisting Fangs and space for some self-healing works. Expose doesn't really matter in this format but Siphon Speed would be a nice secondary hex to throw around, giving the Sin a snare although the bar's awfully crowded at this point.

The Ritualist is fine as is but I'd drop the spirits in favor of, you know, actually good stuff. Instead, I'd go with a Resto weapon build with channeling nukes since you'll be picking up Splinter anyway. There's nothing wrong with Weapon of Rememdy, so that's what I'd use. Switching to weapons means you have to get some different offensive skills, so, instead of Essense Strike and Spirit Burn you get....Wielder's Strike and I have no idea what else.

Mesmers need a complete overhaul. The lack of a run buff hamstrings them and it doesn't have to since, unlike the Necromancer, they actually have a speed buff in their skill lists. At the same time they need some defense to survive the ubiquitous Sins and Dervs that you know are gong to run rampant throughout the format. All signs point to Illusion and what I'd do is drop the Surge/Burn e-denial/interrupt thing and go with an Illusion hexer. You have your degen staples like Conjure and Phantom and you can pick up Crippling Anguish as your elite for a snare. Distortion for the defense. Illusion of Haste for a run buff. Then you dip into Inspiration for things like Ether Feast and Power Drain and Drain Enchantment and I think you're good to go. Maybe throw in Spirit of Failure or LeechSig. Obviously, I have no idea how to set up a Mesmer bar with the current skill situation but I think you get the basic idea. Degen for damage, snares to control movement, an interrupt or two, some e-management, and a run buff and something to help them live longer when they get targeted.

Necromancers, too, need a make-over. I think the way to go is to flip things with the Mesmer. Making the Mesmer a sticky hexers means that having the Necro as a sticky hexers is probably going to be a bad idea. There's not a lot of removal in this format and we don't want there to be in favor of fast play and avoiding defensive enchantment webs but also offensive hex webs. If the Mesmer's going to become a sticky hexer then the Necro needs to go shutdown - because that's the only way they'll survive. The problem is they can't. Unlike the Mesmer they don't have any speed, snares, or defense available - at least, none that I'd seriously run. The Necro, as a class, is poorly suited here. But, they do have a few ways of not just hampering attackers - which is the problem with the current build they can slow the Sins and Dervs and Rangers down but they can't stop them and they can't outheal even the reduced damage - and that's what they need to focus on. I'd get Wail of Doom - the out-of-place interrupt that locks attack skills - as the elite and then work on a blood spiker. Again, I have no idea here and I'm not even going to try but the idea would be to make another offensive caster like the current SF Ele, one who'll steal health in order to be more survivable. It's not going to be particularly good, mind, but it will at least not be so vulnerable while actually being a nasty threat to some of the physical based classes instead of a nuisance.

Speaking of the Ele there's a bit of a split in opinion here. I'd like an Air Ele. A blindbot with Gale and Storm Djinn's who'll be able to disable attackers, interrupt, and knockdown to prevent kiting, who'll pack enough of an offensive punch to spike people out. But I've been informed by reliable sources that Air completely blows at the moment and it's just not going to work. Instead, the consensus seems to be to go with Water. A Shatterstone build, maybe, with things like Frozen Burst and Freezing Gust and Blurred Vision and Armor of Mist. Someone who'll snare through hexes and devour people who are disabled. Again, I'm a bit leery of making things too hex heavy here but the nice thing about Water hexes is that they're not sticky. They're the kind that do their damage and get out quickly, that aren't really affected by removal because it just can't race them. So, I think it could work. Either way, get rid of the newb-friendly SF build and get a character who gives up a bit of offense for the ability to shut opposing characters down hard.

The Paragon has to focus on what made it so broken at Nightfall's release - party wide support. Like the Necromancer, this is a class that's just not at its best in a capping format and is probably never going to be particularly good. But the thing to do is not to create a spear-chucking psuedo-frontliner who lacks a snare and an interrupt and any way of surviving contact with the enemy and, instead, creating a character like the Monk or Ritualist who's going to be standing behind some teammates making them better. I have no idea what that means, really, since most of the stuff you really want them to be popping off from the midlines is cross-class.

So, taken altogether, we have an environment where the damage dealers are a lot nastier. Where nearly everyone should have a speed buff or a snare. Where hexes are a lot more common while removal is almost non-existent. But, hopefully, one where the Ranger isn't completely dominant. Add a few more maps and I'd play it. And I think a lot of other people would, too.

Guild Wars: Costume Re-appraisal

Okay, having now had a chance to play over a hundred games in the Costume Brawl, I feel much better about making judgments about the classes. So, throw out this post - everything except the basic information, really, as I was making some poor assumptions. Monks are much better than they look at first glance, everyone writes the off, everyone should load in and faces a team with a good Monk and rethinks the preconception. And the real stinker is the Paragon who's a non-splitting character saddled with an awful build.

Here's how I rank them from worst to first.

  1. Paragon
  2. Necromancer
  3. Warrior
  4. Assassin
  5. Mesmer
  6. Ritualist
  7. Dervish
  8. Elementalist
  9. Monk
  10. Ranger

Rangers are the hands down best class. They exist on a plane far above everything else. You're only a Mending Touch away from being something you'd run in GvG. Counters for everything, very survivable, and in the right hands you can take down anything and everyone. And in the run and gun environment of the Costume Arena, ranged attacking is better than melee fighting - it's all about spacing and movement and being ranged lets you take the fight to your opponent or escape one easier.

Next, I'd take the Monk. You need to stick with your teammates and use them as a screen but, if you do, you're an annoying little bugger who's going to drag every fight out even if you're outnumbered. You just have to remember that you are not a healer, you are a disruptive character who can heal.

If you want to go pure offense then Elementalist is the way to go. Rangers and Mesmers will eat you alive but if you're smart you can take care of most other threats. And you are probably the most lethal. Just be aware you will crumple when the other team focuses on you and that they will focus on you.

After that, I'd actually go with the Dervish. They do a lot of damage and being immune to conditions half the time stymies Eles and Rangers and even your fellow frontliners. If you want to play melee, this is the way to go.

I'm a bit down on the Ritualist compared to others, I think. I suspect it's a personal preference thing. People seem to really like them. I'd rather have a Monk, when it comes down to it. Because the secondary effect of the Monk's nuking skills are better while the Rit is good if you want to litter the field with crappy spirits. I don't think the spirits are worth much, obviously, beyond fueling MB&S to help against Sins and Rangers although the weapon skills are awesome.

Mesmers, I feel, are underrated. Sure, you don't want to run one if you're a rank newb but in the right hands, you're a bundle of pain for nearly everyone. If you know how to run a Mesmer, this is a good choice. The thing is you lack a run buff and you lack defenses so you're a sitting duck.

Sins, I think, are a bit too vulnerable. There's enough enchantment stripping and interrupts around that you're not going to land your chain against a good opponent and that means you're useless. Against poor opponents - and there are a lot of those - you'll get kills but you can beat those already so why bother if you can't beat the better teams? Good for scrubs, not for people who know what they're doing.

Warriors I put near the bottom because, as a Ranger player, I get all happy inside when a War tries to get after me. Cripples, interrupts and they're dead. Elementalists have similar feelings thanks to Steam. Necros will hex them to all blazes although they really need to kite well. Monks will sig them to death. They're nasty if they can get up close and wail on someone but that's not exactly easy when there are run buffs and snares floating around. Plus the hate you can't do anything about. I'd rather go with a Dervish than a Warrior, if I wanted a melee character, and that means they slide down the list.

Necromancers sink to the bottom here, sadly given how attractive they looked initially, because they just don't have enough. They don't have a speed buff to kite from melee. They merely slow and inhibit attackers, they don't prevent it. And their degen doesn't kill fast enough. In a group, protected by other characters - like A Monk or Ritualist - you can be effective but I'd rather use that slot for something else, if I had the choice because there's a much greater chance they're going to do well.

Paragons are dead last. They suck. Don't play one. Why? Well, Paragons are best when they have a lot of characters around so they benefit from Leadership. That means you want the group to stick together something that's not going to happen in a split-happy random group. They have decent enough damage but they don't have any interrupts or other ways of shutting down an opponent. Half your team has a speed buff so Fall Back is useless. And they lack the chants that would really make them pop, like Anthem of Flame to synergize with the ubiquitous SF Eles.

Guild Wars: Costume Frequency

Here's what you're likeliest to run into at the Costume Ball. Keeping in mind that this is just based off of my own observations and impression but certainly not any kind of empirical data, there are certain professions which show up more often than others. Those are the ones that are popular, effective, and you should understand how to beat if you want to excel.

The most common classes, as you might expect, are the flashy high damaging ones.

Sins, Elementalists, and Rangers abound. Those are the classes that are reasonably self-sufficient, do the killing work easily, and are also fairly easy to pick up and use without understanding the deep mechanics of the class.

They're followed by the two healing professions the Monk and the Ritualist. I say healer, but those are the classes that are most support based, best at making the rest of your team better if not exactly keeping them alive consistently.

Next you get the melee classes, the Warriors and Dervishers (Which seem to be increasingly popular. It's all because of Melandru's, of course.) who aren't as easy to master or quick to kill as the Sin and who are much easier to shut down.

Then you get the other casters, Necromancers and Mesmers who require you to be good before you become a pain and, even then, just aren't the best. I thought Necros would be amazing and, in the right team, they can be but I'm pretty disappointed in how they play out, actually.

Bringing up the rear is the Paragon who'll show up infrequently and be a laughingstock when she does (Yes, female skins seem to be more popular than male ones. Tombraider principle in action, I guess.). Just not working as hard as it could. It's really just an awful build for a character that's awful on the split and splitting is what the Ball is all about.

From most common to least.

  1. Assassin
  2. Elemenatlist
  3. Ranger
  4. Monk
  5. Ritualist
  6. Warrior
  7. Dervish
  8. Necromancer
  9. Mesmer
  10. Paragon

That's not exactly how I'd rank them, in terms of which would be the best to play, of course, but that's about how often they show up - although there's been a definite trend away from the Sins towards Eles and Rangers.

Guild Wars: The Designers Fail at Build-making

God, the attributes are crap here. For example, I'm sick of paying 5 en for BA on my Ranger. Or 8 for Apply. Just kills my energy.

This Is Insane

Behold the new Standford Band play:

I Am Not Obsessive

Well, another day another couple hundred gamer points. I'm up to 4.3k now. Over a hundred wins. I've sunk enough Faction into the sink to have nearly 40 tokens. And I've killed enough people to level my PVP character. More importantly, it's still fun. The Costume Brawl is a blast and while I might not be able to play as much during the week, I'll definitely be trying. I have some thoughts and points to make but, for now, it's time for sleep.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Blogger Needs Soup Badly

I woke up this morning with a massive cold. Also, half my electronic devices were convinced it was daylight savings time while the other half weren't. Needless to say, my entire head swimming in a bowl of mucus didn't help matters.

Fortunately, people playing the Costume Brawl are so bad that this hasn't really hurt my winning percentage. Kinda hard to keep playing when I break down into fits of coughing, though.

Anyhow, at the moment, I'm fleshing out some thoughts I jotted down over the past day or so of playing. And settling in to watch Detroit take on Chicago. This is, surprisingly, a really important game. The Lions beat the Bears last time around but only on the strength of an amazing 34 point 4th quarter. The rest of the game they scored a measly 3 points. That was Michigan Man Griese's (Who gets infinite credit with me because of the undefeated '97 season.) first game. He's gotten a lot less rusty since. But the Lions actually come in with the better record, 4-3 to the Bear's 3-4. If the Lions win, on the road at Soldier Field, not only have they legitimized themselves but they also put some distance between the two in the division race. It'll also be the highest win total of the Millen error, I mean era. And the Bears will be 3-5 and in trouble instead of 4-4 at the midway point of the season. I don't know, going into this game. Detroit has been really up and down this season - like the best impressions of the Wayne Fontes era, winning when they shouldn't and losing bad when they should win easy - but I suspect they'll be up for this game. The Bears' defense has not looked particularly impressive while the Lions have been rounding into form, so I think if they can get up early - always a threat with their circus show offense - they might just pull this one out.

Update: It's now almost the half and the Lions are up 10-0. I'm starting to feel cautiously optimistic.

Guild Wars: Why I Like the Costume Brawl

Do I like heading to the masked ball to enter the Costume Arena? Put it this way, I rolled up a PVP character to start off the weekend and I've played enough, by now, to have leveled. I'll let you do the math for how long that takes when you only earn 10XP (or less) a kill. Ton of Balthazar tokens, too, because it's not like I have anything better to do with my faction. But since I'm no longer grinding for the next level in my gamer track, it does beg the question of whether or not I actually enjoy it enough to continue playing.

And the answer is, yeah, as far as these mini-game formats go, Costume Arena is pretty good. I think I'd prefer the Dragon Arena or my first mini-love, the Snowball Fights, though, because I'm still not entirely sold on the whole point capture mechanism. It seems to discourage people from fighting, instead pushing them to run around the map avoiding one another and, then, to stand still for a while while they capture a point. Instead of, you know, bashing on one another until someone wins. It just seems like there should be a better way of discouraging the scrum and allowing for swings in gameplay or, at the very least, more active ways of going about it. Although, there's no denying it's pretty newbie friend. And that influx of inexperienced players who have no idea what they're doing is what lets me have any measure of success at all.

But, although now that I've gotten my title I suspect I'm going to slow down some, I'll happily be playing the Costume Brawl for as long as it lasts. Because it's the kind of fun, simple mini-game that the game really needs. It's like you had an Arena and the only builds you could run were pre-mades. What it does is turn Guild Wars into Team Fortress. Taking away all the dilemmas and decisions about which secondary to bring or which skills to slot and, instead, handing you a menu and telling you to pick which flavor suits you best. You get ten characters to pick from and, with each one, a distinct twist on the basic gameplay. It's a great format for someone who wants to learn the PvP game or to hone their abilities at one of a few different archetypes.

Because the builds that are provided with your costume aren't exactly awful. Most are based on existing, tried and tested PvP builds. There are some quirks since the format is balanced for individual not team play (Sync teams notwithstanding). And for fast-paced action without a lot of interrupting, blocking, or healing going on. Everything's tilted towards the offensive and that's a good way for novice players to learn the attacker's mindset and how to avoid damage without relying on a healer to save you. If the RA had a subbasement in the supposed hierarchy of PvP progression, it would look a lot like the Costume Brawl. A place where people can load in and just pick up and go without minimal preparation before hand. Not a complete lack of thought because you're still picking out which class to run. And not a complete abandonment of the game's rules since, once you're in game, you're using the same skills in the same way you would in AB or RA or anywhere else, just in a unique environment that makes some skill you wouldn't expect (Like Steam. I'd rather have Gale but, then, I have a signed a top secret document which commits me to loving and supporting the best skill ever put in the game for the rest of my natural life. Forget you just read that. But there's no denying that Steam's conditional hate promotes some skillful play, a lot more than simple B-Flash spamming, and it's also a decent enough nuke. Probably the best skill they put on the Ele's bar. I'm as surprised as anyone.) shine.

That's okay because if you want to learn to play GvG, go play GvG. The point of a format like this is to act as a gateway. A lure for players who've only ever touched the PvE side of things. That NPC sitting there in the Halloween towns is a temptation. A promise that there's something new, something different, something fun. With big money and prizes for them to win. When this kind of thing works right, some of them, enough of them to make it worthwhile, will be hooked. Will look around, dazed, when the holiday event is over wanting more. To keep that rush, that excitement of competition going.

It's what worked for me, after all. I only tried PvP in Guild Wars because I ran out of things to do during the E34E demo. Ran all the missions, farmed all the dye, explored all the maps, and although I'd been avoiding that little red Arena pip, I gave it a whirl - out of curiosity if nothing else. And I was hooked.

The Arena of E34E was a random one. Full of broken skills and misguided mechanics. I played a Warrior or, as they were known at the time, a Lightning Rod, because they had a huge armor penalty against electrical damage so an Ele could turn them into a grease strain with a Lightning Orb or two. You'd get hit for 240+ damage in a single shot - and if that doesn't sound too bad, you have to understand that this was before health and damage figures topped out, before Fortitude mods and the like you had only 290 health to start with - and even if you could dodge that death ball you'd get Galed and kept out of range. Elementalists had their own problems, of course, since Dazed was Silence and Rangers could bite their tongues into ineffectiveness. And the best thing you could do for healing was hide in a corner and spam Heal Party - which had no range limitation - while someone BiPed you. It was awful, is what I'm trying to say. There was no such thing as toggle stances or adrenal spiking, people struggled to just figure out which skills were best to run. We had no idea what we were doing and the game was still stuck in this idea of class-based RPS to be anything like balanced while a lot of key skills were missing or only rough sketches of what they'd become.

But it didn't matter because it was such a thrill ride, for me. Flying by the seat of my pants, risking getting smacked down by a mage as I bore down on them. But, oh, when I caught them? I learned, I loved, to take them out. How to bait them, work them, shut them down and kill them off even when they were supposed to beat me hands down. It meant I had to think about things like positioning and terrain, concepts I'd never bother with in PvE play, along with what skills were going to work, which ones weren't. I became an Arena Rat, spending every free moment playing match after match. When I wasn't out farming for the iron for better armor or the crystals (don't ask) for better skills. And when the demo was over, I was left blinking, rubbing my eyes, as if someone had just turned out the lights and it's wanting to keep that feeling going, to continue to explore the game's mechanics and how to take advantage of them, that drew me into the fan community and everything that entailed.

Three, no, four years later, the Arena is a much different place. It's not like it was during that demo or the BWEs or even after release. People know too much now. The basics of builds have been mapped out. Warriors, good Warriors, know to bring HealSig and IAS and a run buff, and how to spike in ways that I'd never have dreamed up while trying to block out a rough knocklock chain back in the old days. To say nothing of how good Monks and Eles and Necs and Sins and everything else have gotten. Or the leavers and folks trying to farm those glad points. Someone new to the game, someone just starting out, is going to get mauled. If they don't know the basics, if they don't have some grounding in how builds start or the someone to tell them that I lacked, they're in for a lot of frustrating losing. Those are players driven out of the PvP scene because of the rising tide of quality.

But players who might be drawn back in with formats like the Costume Brawl. Places where the stakes are low and the rules are rigged to help out the uninitiated. Oh, sure, you have sharks like me and other experienced PvP players running around but that's a good thing. Because we're going to teach those newbs about things like kiting and canceling. The smart ones, the ones we actually care about getting to play PvP they're going to watch. And they're going to learn how it's done. When the format is painless, when it makes losing quick and easy for you to get off the mat, that works. Because I might have caused more than a few rage quits with my snare string or with preventing someone from casting with a hail of interrupts but I'm only serving to make those players better. Even if I win, it takes something like five minutes to play out a match and get right back in after you've lost. Little waiting, little consequence, and they'll be right back. Banging at the same wall but, hopefully, a little more wise the next time around.

That's why I like the Costume Brawl. Why I like all the mini-games, really. Because they're not just fun to play. They're training grounds. Places where players - newb and pro alike - can go to get better in a way you really can't anymore in the Arenas. And at the ball, by boiling things down to those ten simple choices, you're training at one of a few solid archetypes. Ones that are optimized, custom-made to be competitive and viable in the environment. But if you can learn to use them there, you can take them elsewhere. You could switch almost all of these builds over to the RA with only a few changes and not feel out of place (Well, maybe not the Monks.) so they not only give players a useful tutorial they also give them a guide to what works and what they can use to continue to delve into PvP. Where it's a short step from being handed a build to opening it up and tweaking with it.

Okay, so I really just like pwning down srubs with my invici-Ranger. But maybe if I can justify that well enough the devs will keep putting things like this into the game so I can keep having fun.

Guild Wars: Accomplishment

Gamer Points check. 4.1k. And some change.

That's right, my skills are no longer pro and are, in fact, related to numchuckery.

More importantly, I have invested massive amounts of time into discovering the secret of the waterfall VIP lounge.

Pics or it didn't happen:

I know, awful and I should have cropped or picked a better angle or something but keep in mind, I'm really really sick at the moment.

Yep, female Ranger. It's a fetish. That's about all I played today. Did enough fooling around with the different sets yesterday, today, I went with my favorite. I have a feeling if I could figure out how to play the Monk or Rit builds, they'd be pretty good and probably a lot more valuable - everyone and their brother is on a Ranger today, it seems - as they can be really annoying to play against in the right hands but I like to kill stuff.

You also get a bit of a look at the weird HUD I'm rocking at the moment. It's a bit of a work in progress but the idea is to eventually set the skills at set health amounts - like 80%, 50%, and so on, and then use the little icons in the lower left for the same with the enemy's health bar. The health and energy bars are vertical in order to give me a sense when it's falling that it might be time to bug out before it drops completely. All the important information is crowded along the top in line with the theory that you have better peripheral vision below your line of sight than you do above it - this way when I'm checking out my skills or health or the mini-maps, I'm also noticing the field instead of tuning it out. Oh, yeah, and huge mini-map. Huge as I can stand it.

Now, of course, I just need another 3k to properly represent my mad skillz. That's something like 400 more wins, though, so, yeah. But my goal is to get 100 wins this weekend. And I'm well on my way there. If I hit that then I want to get a full stack of the trick or treat bags which is 250 wins (More, actually, since i accidentally deleted a few.) and insane but there it is.

Oh, the waterfall? It's not actually hard, there's just a glitch where if you stand in the right spot, near the side of the waterfall, and click past the line of guards you get to a place you're not supposed to be. I find it easiest to stand directly in the middle a few paces away from the guards and then click on the waterfall on the left side. You'll path to the glitch and warp to behind the guards although you can get there in other ways, too.

Random Wolverines Football Thought of the Day

Boy, that loss to Oregon isn't looking too bad now, is it? But that still doesn't explain dropping the opener against Appalachian State.

Guild Wars: In Praise of the Run

There is nothing like a good long run. The kind where you only lose because someone drops or has to quit when you start to work like a well oiled machine. The unspoken communication that comes from knowing the habits of your teammates. Anticipating the way they're going to move and respond.

This Sin I've been playing with for about fifteen matches now are absolutely on the same page. Our team's evolved into a 3/2 split with a Monk/Rit/War team on the other end while the Sin and I handle the other side. We are just so in sync, it's scary. We know which shrines to head to, which character to target, even when to cut and run. And believe me, a Sin and a Ranger can cut and run in the Costume Arena. Very lethal combination, too, since he can spike things down and I can interrupt anything giving us problems.

Thing is, the guy has a Chinese name. And we haven't said anything to each other more deep than a "gg". Chances are we wouldn't be able to talk even if we were together on vent. Too different, too far apart, to reach that next level of communication. But, by now, we don't need to be because he knows.

He knows I'm going to nail that Steam slinging Ele before they can blink - taking out SF or Steam or both - so he can concentrate on some other target. He knows if someone tries to bamf at him, I'm going to pick off part of their chain. Knows that if there's a Warrior chasing him it's going to get Crippled in a hurry. And I know that he's going to nail that Melly Derv trying to carve me up with the shocker, with the Ox Horns, letting me kite away (Not that I really need it, there's this little thing called Natural Stride. Dervs are tough to take out but I can kite them around and peck them to death with ease. But, you know, it's the thought that counts.). That he thinks Rits are higher priority targets than Monks (And I tend to agree with him) which means if there's two around that I'm going to be putting a D-Shot helmet on the Monk while he kills off the Rit. I like to bug out when things look grim, even if that means healing right through the enemy's forces. And I know he's going to be right behind me.

And we both know that while we're doing our thing that the other half of our team is somewhere else, holding down their end of things. And when things inevitably get chaotic as we're shifting and flowing across the map, we'll join up and split off. Forming our mini-squads based on what's going to best counter the enemy's makeup. Generally that means shifting one of the healers over. But sometimes that means it's me and the two frontliners charging ahead while the more defensive casters hold the fort somewhere.

I've completely jinxed us now by writing this, of course. And, indeed, a bit after I jotted this down, we started to splinter apart with players leaving. Their replacements were serviceable but, lacking the familiarity born of multiple wins, just not the same. It wasn't long before we lost and whatever it was we'd built through those few matches was scattered to the wind.