The Dream

Posted: August 12, 2011 in Brain Fluff

I will be posting more regarding the sylvari but given that sylvari week isn’t over yet (curse being a day ahead of the US) I’ll post this for now. Yes, it’s a poem. Consider it an abstract summary in prose if that helps. I was going to create a sylvari character in Guild Wars 2 already (two in fact) but the reveal of their redesign this week and the expansion of their race page has really struck a cord with me. Despite an embarrassingly geeky amount of character pre-planning I find myself rethinking which race will be my main (sorry norn!).

The Dream

An alien face, yet not so it seemed
Peeked shyly forth, eyes verdantly green
With wonder I watched as the forest drew breath
Then stepped into the glade a creature of myth

Like a tendril unfolding, the creature approached
With footfall as soft as a leaf to the earth
Clad of the forest, of field and of grove
I regarded the creature and slowly arose

Aglow with strange light, to my face a hand raised
Cool fingers touched softly and the creature exclaimed
I mirrored the gesture and cried out in kind
We stood as though timeless, her eyes locked with mine

The glade slowly darkened as shadows embraced
Time now remembered, our reverie ceased
She returned to the forest and faded from view
I fell to my knees, observed by the moon

“What manner of being?” I cried at the trees
Soft whispered the wind


Knock on the Sky

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Wait...What?

In the latest round of blog posts from ArenaNet we were introduced to the rich world of sound that will fill every corner of Tyria, from croaking frogs to creaking windmills.

The first post was a gentle introduction to the almost unbelievable amount of time, work and effort that goes into populating a game world with sound. The accompanying video introduces several of the ArenaNet audio team and demonstrates how they capture sounds both in the field and in the studio. Plus we get to see an old TV being smashed with a sledgehammer. Who wouldn’t love a job where you get to do that?

Post number two is a video which, besides featuring a snazzy little bluegrass soundtrack, delves a little deeper into the intricacies of designing sound for a game. The audio team explain and demonstrate sound randomisation, audio focus (stuff in front of you is louder than stuff off to the side), sound scripting and layering (armour types and terrain dictate which sounds to play for particular events) and tying sounds to animations.

The third post goes into much greater detail about voice processing, mastering and parallel processing. As with all “behind the scenes” blog posts to date, the passion of the staff is obvious and shines through in the information they provide about their work. This post is a little more in depth and, while still a great read for anyone, is a must for those particularly interested in sound design.

Having said that, post four takes the inside look to a whole new level. Again, still a very interesting read for any fan but the level of technical information and jargon can make it a little overwhelming if you’re not familiar with sound and audio work. James Boer discusses the custom built software used by the team, reverb and occlusion (echos and how sounds change when heard through a wall respectively), voice and music. The real gem of the post is this:

We’re giving players the option of choosing external music playlists that the game’s audio engine will use as a replacement for the default in-game music. Players can choose different playlists for background ambience and battle music, for instance. Additionally, when appropriate, such as during cinematics, the game can revert back to in-game music temporarily to give the best possible cinematic experience, then resume the custom playlist when it’s done.

Not only can the audio engine play your music, but it will play it appropriately according to playlists – so no Enya during battles, unless you happen to like mellow Celtic tones accompanying your fireball as it sizzles towards an enemy. Not a feature I can envision using at this stage (Jeremy Soule’s compositions are sublime) but an extremely cool feature nonetheless.

Once again ArenaNet have stepped up to the plate and smashed the MMO genre out of the park. Just when I think I couldn’t be more in awe of the passion and dedication they are devoting to this game they prove me wrong.

Sound and music are a huge part of my life. My job requires excellent hearing and I’ve always been a listener. I love just standing quietly somewhere, be it a busy city street or a quiet country road and just listening. Birds. The wind. Insects. Music fascinates me also. I can’t sing (flat and off key doesn’t count) and I don’t play any instruments but there’s just something profound about hearing through the layers of a song, alternately focussing on all the voices, human and instrumental, that make up the whole.

When I can finally set foot in Tyria I plan to go exploring. I am going to find a place that I know has to exist. A secluded glen with a waterfall, quietly tucked away somewhere in a forest. I am going to /sit, close my eyes, knock on the sky.

And listen to the sound.

The Sum of Its Parts

Posted: June 26, 2011 in Walking the Walk

I’ve been mulling this post over for about a week now and have finally committed to writing it whilst at the tail end of a vicious head cold. Yay me. So please pardon any grammatical blunderings or ridiculously run-on sentences. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

The greatest pieces of information to come to light thus far on Guild Wars 2, for me anyway, have been the little things. Sure, the big things (profession and race reveals primarily) have been great, but I said greatest. Every other MMO out there has profession (or class) reveals, race reveals, information about the game world… all the meat and potatoes stuff that makes their game, well, their game.

ArenaNet have taken this more than just a step further. They’ve taken it a Seven-league boots step further. Peppered in between major reveals have been posts detailing all the little garnishes being added to Guild Wars 2 that will take it beyond the current scope of the genre. After a tumultuous break-up, RPG is coming back to MMO and the make-up se…. er… *cough* and it’s gonna be beautiful.

To date, ArenaNet have revealed a number of friendly (well, most of the time), not so friendly (depending on circumstances), and downright dastardly NPC races, these being (in no particular order) the Kodan, the Krait, the Hylek, the Skritt and the Quaggan.

Spiritual polar bears, serpents incarnate, frogmen, ratmen and the apparent lovechild of a dolphin, a beaver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. All have been lovingly fleshed out with racial histories, social structures, religious beliefs, cultural details, armour, clothing, housing and a recent history of their place within the Tyria of Guild Wars 2. All of that for NPC races.

Insight has also been granted into the three, often at odds, military orders that exist within the human nation of Kryta. Nothing like a bit of political intrigue and “mine is bigger than yours” to increase immersion into an already richly detailed world.

We’ve also been treated to a cinematic flyover of Lions Arch, set to be a major social hub of the game. Above and beyond the eye-candy, we were also given a window into the passion of ArenaNet staff as they craft this game to be everything they’ve promised, and more.

It’s going to be all the little things that really make Guild Wars 2 stand head and shoulders above any other MMO currently out there. From changing weather, to a day/night cycle featuring breathtaking dawns and dusks, to special events that only occur at night, to critters who prefer the cover of darkness when trying to kill you, to weapons that work differently and change their look depending on the time of day, to marketplaces full of ambient noises and chatter. A real world. Somewhere to get lost entirely, or perhaps somewhere to find yourself?

A very recent major reveal, underwater combat, features more minor things that really set it apart. Water droplets sparkle on the screen as you surface from underwater and persist a short time before fading away. Bubbles consume your skill bar as you dive beneath the surface, disappearing to reveal your new underwater skills. The little things.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is suddenly becoming an alarming concept.

I can’t wait.

Frankly My Dear

Posted: June 13, 2011 in Wait...What?

The MMO industry has a pretty lousy reputation when it comes to being honest with their playerbase. Fine, sometimes promises are made that end up having to be broken due to time or budgetary constraints (or because whomever was doing the spruiking apparently got high on all the smoke they were blowing…) but more often than not they’re just flat out lying.

Enter ArenaNet. Now, before you accuse me of being a fangirl – I’m not. Yes, I am very excited about Guild Wars 2 and yes, I have been following the development since actual information started coming out but I am trying very hard to maintain a “I’ll believe it when I load it and play it” attitude.

Interviews like this one tend to nudge me a little more into fangirl territory though. When was the last time you read anything like this from a game developer:

Jon P: I think the ranger pets are terrible right now, no one would argue with that!

I currently intend to run a norn ranger as my main character and if I hadn’t been sitting down when I read that it would have sat me down in a hurry. It takes a very dedicated developer, a wise and patient publisher (take a bow NCSoft) and a lot of chutzpah to do what ArenaNet is doing. Seven of the eight professions have been revealed, with the eighth to be unmasked soon. The game is slated to enter closed beta by the end of this year. Internal test builds have been running for over a year now on the actual game engine. An entire race, the sylvari, were completed until a staff member came forward with a redesign plan and her vision was embraced. The redesigned race was completed many months ago and awaits its reveal.

How many other AAA developers out there have the courage to frankly assess their own creation as lacking? Most of them probably, behind closed doors. Recognising an issue publicly is something else entirely. ArenaNet have stated from the outset they have a very iterative development process. If something doesn’t work or feel right, it’s fair game to be tweaked or torn down and rebuilt completely, no matter how big it is or how long ago it was completed. Races, professions, skills, character creation, dynamic events – not one line of code or idea is sacrosanct. Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be exactly what ArenaNet want it to be – the best game ever. They’ll do it too.

All because they give a damn.

Bushfire Moon

Posted: May 26, 2011 in Off Cuts

Not with a whimper but a bang did the Engineer profession arrive last Thursday. Today, after a curiously extended period of silence from ArenaNet, we have a Q&A for the most controversial profession released thus far.

Lead designer Eric Flannum has hopefully assuaged at least some of the fears generated by this mechanically inclined master of mayhem. I am probably more excited for this class now, as the answers given point towards a profession that will be anything but an “I Win” button on legs. With turrets. And grenades.

With the final, and most complex, profession yet to be revealed *coughMesmercough* I look forward to reviewing the full compliment of professions available in Guild Wars 2 and finding out how many extra character slots I may need to buy to play them all.

And finally for those wondering about the incongruous title of this post, a bushfire moon occurs when there is a large amount of smoke and particulates in the atmosphere from a bushfire and the moon appears vastly larger at the horizon than usual, and is often a rather disconcerting colour also. I feel it rather nicely describes the amount of panic and doom saying that has taken placed about the Engineer based on diddley-squat information.

Wait for the smoke to clear people, lest you step on a land mine.

Flash in the Pan

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Wait...What?

The latest profession to be revealed by ArenaNet for their upcoming MMORPG Guild Wars 2 has caused more outcry, arguments and disagreements than anything else disclosed thus far, including the Transmutation Stones. And that’s saying something.

If you haven’t read up on it yet, here is the Engineer in all it’s glory. Additional, and possibly clearer, explanations about the profession mechanics can be found here.

Just to get it out of the way, I love the Engineer. Sure, maybe a few aesthetic things could be improved upon such as how turrets just pop into existence and that beeping, flashing mine but overall I cannot wait to play the profession. Having played Warhammer Online I don’t find guns, grenades and turrets existing alongside magic, swords and bows to be an issue at all. Heck, I even had an Engineer as an alt. I was a refreshing change to still play a game in a fantasy setting but with different game play and an alternate weapon set.

Guild Wars 2 is set 250 years after Guild Wars 1. War has been a fact of life for much of that time and necessity breeds innovation and invention. The charr have lead the way in this regard, their distrust of magic seeing them turn to industrial and mechanical means of solving the age-old problem of how to kill something before it kills you. They have succeeded spectacularly.

So why the massive backlash against the Engineer? Not being a detractor I can only speculate and of course the reasons will vary from person to person. Much of the outcry seems to boil down to two major points:

1. It doesn’t fit.

Given the very unique mechanics and game play of the Engineer, I can understand the reaction. It is a very radical departure from anything that currently exists within the Guild Wars universe, and from the professions that have been revealed thus far for Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet have stated from the outset that “Since Guild Wars 2 takes place 250 years in the future from Guild Wars, we wanted to introduce new technology to Tyria. From the mystical tech of the asura to the industrial war machines of the charr, Guild Wars 2 unmistakably takes place in a different era than the original game, and the weaponry and machinery reflect that. The Engineer hasn’t been shoehorned into Tyria because a few people at ArenaNet thought it would be cool. The Engineer exists in Tyria because the progression of the lore allows for it. And because it’s cool.

2. Pffft, OP / EZ mode much?

All we’ve seen of the Engineer in action is contained within five highly choreographed and scripted skill videos. Exactly like the highly choreographed and scripted skill videos we saw for the Elementalist, Warrior, Ranger… People cried “OMG OP!” at those too. Only once we see the Engineer in action with other professions participating in a dynamic event or fighting in PvP will we have any idea as to the relative power of the class. As to play style, I see the Engineer as being extremely difficult to master. The keys to playing one successfully will require very high mobility, almost omnipotent battlefield awareness and a strong grasp of tactics. Just plonking down a turret or two and flinging some grenades around won’t do much if the turret is poorly placed and the grenades aren’t thrown where they’re needed.

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit

The knee-jerk of initial reactions seems to be abating some, and a few detractors are even coming around a little. Over 2000 posts in 24 hours (not counting the many that have been deleted) speaks volumes about the community polarisation this profession has caused. Given time, more contextual information and possibly a few little tweaks, I think many people will come to at least accept the Engineer as a valid and logical profession within the Guild Wars IP and perhaps even come to love it.

Bombs away!

Death by Stoning

Posted: October 7, 2010 in Wait...What?

Judging by the reaction to one of ArenaNet’s latest blog posts you’d be forgiven for thinking they had just announced Guild Wars 2 was going to require the sacrifice of a small animal once per month in order to play.

But no. One statement

With the transmutation system, you’ll be able to acquire new items known as Transmutation Stones through our in-game store that allow you to customize your appearance.

in conjunction with principle #3

Guild Wars Principle #3: Players should look the way they want to look.

is what caused all the trouble. Well, most of it. The perhaps slightly clunky way it was delivered probably didn’t help much either.

So, say you have a totally kick ass sword. You’re rank 50 when you get it and, unsurprisingly, by rank 60-odd you’ve outgrown the sword stat-wise (max level is 80 btw). You even have a couple of other swords in your bags but they don’t look anywhere near as cool as sword you’ve got. Transmutation stones solve this issue. Sword A (cool skin) + sword B (better stats) = sword C (cool skin + better stats).

Awesome feature huh? I was certainly impressed and excited. Then I read the “in-game store” bit. Oh. It’s something I need to pay for. With real money! My excitement diminished somewhat, but as I mulled over the matter I ended up pretty ok with it.

Being able to combine items to keep that weapon or armour you love relevant to your level is an excellent option. Many games include a costume slot for just this purpose (for armour anyway, not sure if any give you a weapon slot) but most of these games are pay-to-play. Given that Guild Wars 2 will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor and be buy-to-play, a steady and ongoing income stream beyond the initial surge of box sales are something ArenaNet (and NCSoft) are going to be keenly interested in.

Microtransactions already exist for Guild Wars. You can buy extra storage panes (guilty), costumes (guilty), skill unlock packs (PvP only), makeover packs and a few other odds and ends that give you absolutely no in game advantage.

Transmutation stones will confer no in game advantage. Zero. Zilch. None. Unless you count looking cooler than the next dude an advantage. A lot of the stink seemed to arise from a comparison with Guild Wars end game armour. For those unfamiliar, you can reach max level (20) in Guild Wars quite quickly (so fewer changes of clothes on the way). There are a lot of end game armours to pick from and they don’t have inherent stats so you can choose whatever strikes your fancy then slap runes and insignias all over it to customise the armour to your build.

Guild Wars 2 armour comes with multiple stats on it per piece. These stats can then be further augmented by crests but the largest contribution comes from the armour itself. This then makes the stats more important and creates a dilemma for the fashionistas (and I don’t mean that nastily) – keep wearing that unbelievably cool looking set of armour and gimp your stats, or upgrade your stats and bemoan how that new pair of pants makes your characters bum look big.

Enter transmutation stones. And lots and lots of qq’ing.

After much consideration, I’m fine with the stones. The (much needed) subsequent blog post clarifying the issue somewhat I think will help. Making the stones obtainable in game (somehow or other – super rare random drop? dungeon reward? weekend event drop?) will also help.

Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be an incredible game. Transmutation stones are an amazing feature and if you want to use them you’ll have to pay real money (or not, depends how the “We’re not certain at this time whether or not transmutation stones will be available outside of the in-game store” comment pans out) but that’s one thing that doesn’t affect gameplay in any way, shape or form.

Isn’t there some saying about glass houses?