Friday, March 28, 2008

Guild Wars: Why I'm Not Playing, Again

I mentioned the other day that 'm not interested in playing in a metagame that sees corner blocking as a crucial GvG tactic. But, in a fit of atypical subtlety, I failed to explain why. Allow me to correct this oversight.

People like Ensign and JR and the like discussing the most effective ways to abuse the AI in GvG is a bad sign because it means that VoD is fundamentally broken. It's become, in part, an exercise in who can farm NPCs the most effectively. If I wanted a competition about killing mobs, I'd challenge someone in a race to see who could clear the Salt Flats the quickest. Because that'd probably be more difficult than beating up on the shortbus squad that defends your guild hall.

But VoD time being busted open like an overripe melon is bad because it was already pretty lousy.

Now, having been involved with the game before the Victory or Death mechanic went in and having endured the hour long matches of attrition that were GvG contests in those days, I'm not saying that VoD is, in and of itself, a bad concept.

It's, in fact, a necessary one by acting as sudden death overtime. Tightening everything up, stressing certain points harder, and shortening a game that might otherwise extend indefinitely. The way it does that - or did that before they started tinkering around with it - was by tilting the balance between offense and defense. With the simple change of more damage and less health kills become a lot easier and keeping red bars up becomes a lot more difficult.

But, at some point, VoD changed from being the end of the game to being the game itself. It was, in all likelihood, when the time VoD hit was lowered to eighteen minutes. But I like to think it was one august day when some old friends of mine managed to shock the world with glyphsacs and a shower of fiery doom from the heavens.
[iQ] beating [Te] through turtling up until the Lords walked and then crunching them with chains of Meteor Showers showed that all you had to care about was the final few minutes of the match. You could concede everything else, play as passively as possible, and still wind up winning. The same way that if you were in the old Hall of Heroes (The king of the dias one we had before the rotating format change) all you had to worry about was getting your Lord to cap before the gong sounded zero and, so, could stand in the doorway blinking at your opponent as the clock wound down.

GvG is a little more complicated than, of course. But understanding that you won the game not before VoD but in VoD and, therefore, VoD was the critical environment you had to prepare for was like realizing that in playing the HA game you design for the Hall, not for getting to the Hall.

Strategies, tactics, shifted to the point where the GvG game is about setting yourself up for VoD when your damage goes nuts and your spikes actually work. Defenses responded by getting massive and harder to punch through. Making them extremely stout without the VoD boost.

As it is now, you either win in a few minutes because it's a noobstomping party that you'd win under any circumstances. Or the game is going the distance. There's very little middle ground. There are few ten minute wins or fifteen minute comebacks as the wacky time approaches and that, I think, is a real structural problem.

In a game that's focused on heading towards VoD not on preventing VoD (Because it's feasible to win without it) then what you do to get there isn't as important, as valuable. What you'll do is run around and try to gain an advantage. To set yourself up to be in a better position once you can actually hammer it home. More realistically, what you're doing is trying to keep your opponent from gaining those advantages. You'll trade flags, you'll defend your base, but what you won't be doing is pressing the fleeting advantages you gain from playing well.

After all, what's the point if you can't win then? It's better to play it safe, play it conservatively, and keep from making the blunder that's going to cost you that edge when it actually comes time to make your move.

There's another way of putting that and it's playing a boring game. A game that relies on a very slender window, a single point of failure in which you win or lose. When you could be playing a fast-paced, exciting one where failure points lurk around every corner right behind the chance to swing a game in your favor.

So, I've long thought that VoD could use some tweaking. And there's a lot of merit to the Victory is Ours approach. In other words, making the NPC advantage count for something which force more decisive fighting in the stage where you're trying for that edge. But I think the initial implementations of ViO were disastrous since they placed too much emphasis not on working up that advantage by outthinking and outmaneuvering your opponents. But, instead, made it even more important to plan and prepare not for the run-up but the launching pad that is VoD.

The format needs some tweaking but ViO wasn't the right direction. It's hard, though, to see what is the correct path to travel without the kind of massive changes that would be difficult at this late stage of development.

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