[GW2] Of Lost Shores and Found Hopes

In 2001 when I was still for the most part playing console games, I became enamored with a so-called social simulation game called Animal Crossing on Nintendo’s Gamecube. It was the first of its kind for me and slightly ahead of a time of many more social sim, build-your-house farmville-whatnot type of games to come – even if not necessarily on console. AC was offline and it was mostly a game about building your own little animal town and community, planting different types of plants, collecting bugs and butterflies and digging up fossils for your personal museum. It was typical in triggering collector’s drive but rather evolutionary and unique on several other accounts which kept me playing with a passion. I am not one for pure Sims games; I love decorating my house in Skyrim as much as the next person but I won’t spend weeks doing that same thing in any game.

What AC did in remarkable ways however was introducing a sense of real time to a classic console audience grown with offline and limited session gameplay. Not just that, AC had unqiue (!) events, impact and a sense of punishment that was completely unknown in that time and space continuum. It blew my mind at the time with its merciless “internal clock”. Just few examples of what would regularly happen to you in AC:

    • Numerous seasonal events to be celebrated with the town folk. The events were announced in advance, either on the town board or by gossip you needed to overhear. The events were entirely restricted to a specific date and time frame synched to your console’s system clock.
    • Unpredictable one-time (or very rare) offers of certain NPCs such as the mayor, to re-arrange roads or bridges for you. Appointments where you were ordered to be “at the beach at 5pm next Tuesday evening”.
    • When neglected for too long, your town would be overtaken by wild plant life, your house needed cleaning from vermin and the townspeople would move away for good (sending you angry goodbye letters or rant at you for having been away and never call). AC’s NPCs had the uncanniest AI in general; they would build different types of relationships with you depending on what you did, how you spoke to them or what “you ONCE promised me!”.
    • If trying to trick “game progress” by resetting the console without saving your game, you would be visited by “Mr. Resetti” at your doorstep. While this angry mole would let you off with a very long speech about integrity and morals the first time around, punishment for such behaviour would increase drastically with every consecutive reset. (He actually once repainted my house in puke green!)

…While this might sound trivial by today’s standards, it was absolutely HUGE in 2001, given its platform. I actually put down a note in my school agenda back then so I wouldn’t miss meeting erm, “my town mayor at the beach next Tuesday evening”. Within two weeks I had my room mates thoroughly hooked to AC (and how glad I was the town had room for four player houses).

Today, I think back very fondly on this particular sim title. It introduced a sense of time and impact in a way that only few games did with such limited means. And that gets me to the core of this slowly unfolding argument, on why things like unpredictable or rare events are exciting in games and why MMO players keep talking about missing impact or punishment all the time. The common denominator behind all these features – impact, consequence, punishment, you-name-it – is time. It’s a sense of time passing and progressing. It is what gives things meaning, not just in games but actually in our short-span lives too. All these different features are mere consequences and side-effects of a notion of time flowing; “impact and punishment” are always after-effects. They cannot exist without introducing progressive time in an MMO. They cannot exist in limbo.

Time adds meaning to things because it creates a before and after. This is fundamental for any game world that is designed to simulate, feel alive and authentic. A world where randomness, consequence and lasting effect exist. A world where memorable stuff happens, events happen.

The amazing Mr. Resetti

On the Lost Shores event

I’ll not bore my regular readers by pointing out again how much I applaud ArenaNet for daring to be different and sticking to one-time events after this Halloween. Apparently the outcry after last night has been significant once more but it’s my very personal hope that three time’s going to be a charm and these loud players will have given up after Christmas, moving on to other MMOs catering to their every wish and personal real-life agenda. One more thing I love about a subscription-less MMOs in that context: not feeling the same pressure to constantly “appease the irritated”, turning game design and direction into loudest-whiner-whack-a-mole.

On to the Lost Shores, I was actually there for the full thing. Mixed is a very mild way of calling an experience that I would otherwise describe as two thirds horribly boring, repetitive grind and one third epic encounter. Now, I don’t know how many players ANet had in mind when they designed their one-time scenario, but I happened to be on an overflow with about 40 more players in that same spot. And for a good 2.5 hours it was painful drudgery, as we slowly escorted Mother Karka across a map swarming with the same bunch of normal, veteran and champion bugs coming at us over and over, wave after wave after wave, while the world’s slowest progress bar mocked us in the right-hand corner of our screens. 50% of the time players were ressing each other, which is one of the remarkable things that keep happening without fail in GW2 – players paying attention to one another. Other than that though, there was wayyy too much of the same…and after two hours it started showing. The “raid” lost focus and got increasingly chaotic. Some players quit, no doubt finding a good night’s sleep (Sunday night too) more appealing than another wave of one hundred karka. I have to admit I was tempted to leave myself but stubbornness to see this through got the better of me (hardcore raider remnant, no doubt).

Silithus – I did not ever wish to see thee again! The Lost Shores came awfully close to those bug nightmares of yore. While I cannot complain about lag like some other players did, I am once more marveling at some of the design choices ANet made in preparation for this event. How many players out there would seriously find several hours of more or less the same bug-slaying remotely appealing or at least epic? Was the event actually designed with smaller groups in mind, banned to overflow servers? Could there not have been (better) ways to address group size and pacing issues?

Like with GW2’s dungeons (on which I have my personal observations to share soon), I am cringing at the discrepancy that is “a good idea vs. execution” in some of ANet’s gameplay and design choices. I am starting to wonder if this company actually still believes in the old fashioned virtue of suffering? Already the badly designed Clock Tower event for Halloween showed this ambiguity between what constitutes difficulty in games vs. what is actually just bad, lazy or broken design (even if it results in some particularly torture-proof players feeling horribly challenged and thus rewarded after attempt 501).

And I get it: mass events and zergs can be lots of fun and certainly feel epic in scale. I’ve no issue with such events in GW2, in fact I find them quite enjoyable. I could’ve lived with one part of the Lost Shores event being a zerg against the same few bugs, but there was nothing epic in that as the night stretched before me and all I could think of was to “get this done with”. Maybe I just put my expectations too high?

On the bright side (yeah there was some of that) our little troupe of the persistent found back to a hysterical sense of humor in zone chat, which is always one of the nicer social side-effects in MMOs – that “bonding through pain” effect when things look dire or simply beyond reason. There were some great laughs later into the night although I doubt the developers would’ve shared any of it. There were also some parts of the battle that were more challenging and fun (such as the veteran karka “steamroll”) and for those who actually made it past the final battle there was – wait for it – some nice loot! I couldn’t believe my eyes when the chest dropped several exotic armor pieces, a 20-slot bag and exotic accessory upgrade!

This must have been the first time in GW2 when I actually got a useful reward for doing something special – especially hard or long or painful. So just maybe ANet are learning their lessons step by step as we go along and sooner or later we’ll not only get to see epic scale, one-time events with good loot, but also enjoyable combat with great stories to tell on top? As long as things are going somewhere, one can always hope!

8 comments

  1. As I’ve commented in various places already, my main complaint about Phase 3 was that it was too short. On the Overflow server I was on it lasted just over two hours, by which time I was just getting warmed up. It had been trailed as a “multi-hour” event and I was expecting that to mean five or six hours at least.

    It started at 8pm in my time zone but given that it was happening on Sunday afternoon in the US I was fully prepared to stay up until two or three in the morning. Indeed, I wondered whether I’d be waking up the next morning to find it still going on.

    Far from being bored by the battle with the Karka I thoroughly enjoyed it. I could have done without the culling that lead to deaths from invisible mobs, but the waves of Reinforcements were great fun, as was pushing the Ancient Karka back across the map.

    I very much hope they stick to one-time events. I completely agree with you about that. I hope they make them last longer though – a couple of hours is an appetizer, not a main course.

    1. Yep – I can see why in your timezone a longer event would’ve been preferable. Personally, I didn’t like getting to bed so late on Sunday evening, but in general I too would welcome longer events IF they’re actually enjoyable. They can work on the timezone issue – what worries me more is trivial, repetitive content. if you want to call it “content”.

      For a special event, I expected a bit more, also in terms of narrative, than what basically boiled down to several hours of grinding mobs. the same mobs…. -.-

  2. Ah, Mr. Resetti.

    …I can’t stand him. He is just such a waste of time. The life lesson is an important one, perhaps, but Resetti is just annoying.

    It *will* be interesting to see if ANet sticks to their guns on this sort of design. It may take some time to train expectations, but it may well be worth it.

    1. Hehe, I didn’t like him at the time much, but oh hindsight. ;)

      I REALLY hope they will stick to the concept myself; on a content level though, there’s room for improvement. am willing to give things time as long as ANet respond to feedback on event and encounter design. it baffles me a little how ‘oldschool’ things currently feel in their events/combat/dungeons department. :)

  3. I was a bit upset that i missed the final part of the event, but after the tragedy of the opening event – no thanks, i’ve killed enough of the bugs now over the course of the weekend and once you’ve killed one …

    What would be nice in future events would be to have simultaneous things happening in different zones to spread the load – and also try to encompass more of Tyria into the event. I personally enjoy the bonus jumping puzzles and small little side quests that get included in the events. That side, i do have patience and am a bit of a glutton for punishment. F.ex. i LOVED the Clock Tower jumping puzzle. That was quite a test of nerve and patience. Though I can completely understand why people hate it

    1. More global happenings would definitely make sense and could be quite interesting. the island seemed rather small considering most of a server’s population would want to partake in this. I guess they rely on the overflow mechanic, but apparently many players still struggled with lag and bugs.

      And no, you really didn’t miss much later into the night, loot and hysterical humor aside.

  4. I missed the previous events around the lost shore, so I was determined to make it to the final one. First hinderance was that the “start” of the counter attack from Lion’s Arch started in the middle of nowhere, a place I had not ventured to before.
    From the description I figured we would start as a big army from the beach and conquer the island, but ok.

    Getting to the cave and stumbling into a bizarre and laggy running up and down like a headless chicken, getting beheaded by invisible mobs and generally having no idea what we were doing wasn’t that fun. Especially as a staff/sword pistol mesmer getting no kill recognition.

    The first part of the karka escort went better. Bought a white greatsword from the vendor, did less damage but actually got exp it was fun till the wave of adds. I too was on a rather small overflow server at that time and it took us ~45 minutes. When someone in chat (the only funny thing of the evening as you mentioned) told us about 2nd wave his girlfriend on another server jsut encountered, I nearly quit right there.
    most of us just stood around the mortats doing nothing waiting for the last 2 champions arrive before we engaged again. We were tired of pressing 1-4-2-3 for hours.

    In the end it was ok, but there would have been more potential to such a one time even. Progressing over the island, maybe even from different sides and you can only participate in one. Using those poison weapons that were lying around in barrels. Letting us build siege engines similar to WvW ones to counter the hard armor shells of the big karkas. Trapping parts of the endless reinforcements under a rock avalanche or a lava trap that apparently us under the ground. Anything would have been better than slaying the same 3 types of karka for 2 hours.

  5. I also loved Animal Crossing. I played it a lot for a few months, but eventually I saw the patterns in the game and moved on. Great fun for a while. I’d love to see an updated version of that game. Maybe something with better AI for the NPCs. (*hmm* ;)

    I showed up for the GW2 event, but I didn’t read the part where it was going to be a multi-hour marathon event. I figured it would be about the same length as the starting invasion event. So, about an hour into it I had to leave to make it to the farmer’s market, otherwise I wouldn’t have fresh vegetables for the week. I got back just in time to get news I had missed the rest of the event.

    Lag wasn’t as bad in he last event as it was for the launch event, but there was still problems with monsters not showing up even when they were attacking you. The big sprays of AoE acid damage kept me in a perpetual downed or dead state. I’m pretty sure the group on my overflow server actually wiped once, only to be saved by people who showed up late.

    I wasn’t a fan of the event for four reasons:

    1. There was no in-game way to really prepare. I heard about the event on chat, but didn’t hear the “multi-hour” part. It just so happened that I had something else I had to take care of.

    2. The event itself. Waves and waves of the same enemies? Blah. Others have covered this.

    3. The rewards. I was around for every other part of the Lost Shores events. From the starting event to running all over the place for the quest (and waiting for a hotfix because one guy was bugged). I got minimal rewards. But, people who were around for the final event got 20 slot bags and rare items? Oh, that’s nice. (And the 20 slot bags are sadly another way to marginalize crafting.)

    4. The effects. So, what’s the result of the event? A zone that nobody seems to visit after that first weekend? A bit of architecture change in Lion’s Arch?

    So, yeah, the event left me dissatisfied in many ways.

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