Guild Wars 2‘s Living Story So Far

A screenshot from Guild Wars 2 showing Braham, a male Norn, on the left, and Rox, a female charr, on the right in the foreground.

The first major arc of Guild Wars 2’s Living Story just completed and transitioned into the next segment, so I thought I would take a look at what’s worked so far.

If you don’t play GW2, the concept of the Living Story is that, rather than end the story of the world with instanced personal story missions, more storylines are added to the persistent game world–sort of like the holiday events, but not holiday-themed and having a lasting effect on the world. The idea is for it to be “sort of like your favorite TV show,” that players want to check in on regularly to catch up with characters and the development of the world.

I am completely in favor of video games taking cues from the TV format. Like TV, games allow us to spend dozens of hours with a cast of characters and the world they live in, allowing for deep characterization, extensive world building, and lengthy character arcs. Kirk Hamilton wrote about how the TV-like format Mass Effect 2 really worked, and I’m really interested to see what other aspects of TV big games can borrow.

The storyline itself is interesting so far, introducing new characters like Eir’s son, Braham, and an awesome (but weirdly cartoon-eyed) female Charr named Rox. And even though the next chapter of the story has moved from the snowy mountains into a tropical paradise, it is continuing the story of the refugees displaced by the events of Flame and Frost.

So far, the living story has definitely kept me coming back to Guild Wars 2. After playing through beta weekends and launch, I took a long break from the game late last year, and came back during the tail end of the Wintersday event. With new things to discover every few weeks, playing never started to feel boring or repetitive.

More importantly, the living story events make GW2 feel like GW2 at launch, when everyone was low level and taking their first steps into the world. Leveling a character now or just doing map completion, you’ll notice that most of the maps are rather empty. I don’t usually mind the solitude–it’s peaceful, and trying to take down that veteran or complete that group event on your own is a fun challenge–but it does make completing certain events unnecessarily difficult and fighting bosses downright impossible. But both the living story and the area-specific daily achievements funnel players into certain areas, making the game feel like its old self again. The current living story content is located in the Southsun Cove map, and playing there after the update on Tuesday was a revelation. There were tons of other players, and events happening everywhere. If I get into a jam, there’s always someone around to help out. It’s easy to get a group to take on a Champion enemy. I love doing dungeon and fractal runs with my guild, and hopping into WvW, but it’s great to once again play the persistent world PvE as it’s meant to be played.

FFXI DATs

A long long time ago, I was a DAT modder for FFXI. At one point I was actually spending more time making DAT mods than playing the game. And I know there was a brief time where I had unsubscribed from the game but kept making mods. It was a lot of fun and quite rewarding, is what I’m saying.

If you don’t know, all the resources for FFXI were stored in .dat files. Someone had created a program that let you take those files and extract the textures, alpha maps, and meshes from them, edit those files, and put everything back together. Replacing one DAT file with another allowed you to change what that model looked like in-game. Being a huge fan of playing dress-up in games, I was totally charmed by being able to make armor sets that looked cool to me without having a level restriction. These mods were technically against the TOS, but since they were just armor swaps they didn’t actually let you cheat or anything.

I originally uploaded my DATs to some kind of file sharing site, from which they have since been removed, and submitted them to FFXIDATs.com, a site that sadly no longer exists. But I had such a great time and I loved the community there. I learned a lot about 3D modeling and game assets. I recently found an old USB stick on which I had backed up all my DAT mods, so I thought it would be fun to share them with the world.

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HAX Hint System

I made a hint system in Twine for my game HAX. I know I made a couple of the puzzles a little bit too obscure, and some of the comments on the Free Indie Games post about it mentioned the two in particular that I was concerned about. So here is a handy hint system that covers every puzzle in the game, as well as the secret room, and a simple HTML table map. Each puzzle has two or three hints before giving you the full solution. The links are orange because it reminded me of those hint books for old games where you used a highlighter to reveal the answer.

I tested it, but if there are any problems with links or if I missed something, please let me know. I hope this helps!

HAX Hint System

Style Savvy’s Fashion Limitations

A screenshot from Style Savvy Trendsetters. It shows a woman with long black hair and a thoughtful expression in a shop. The text box reads, Maybe what I need is... something... with an edgy kind of feel to it.

I’ve borrowed a 3DS and have been playing Style Savvy: Trendsetters, the sequel to the 2009 DS game Style Savvy. They are both fashion games that are part business sim: players take on the role of a manager of a fashion boutique and are tasked with picking out items for customers according to their taste and keeping the store stocked. With these two elements, the game combines strategy with creativity in a fresh way. A customer will come in and ask for, say, a bold shirt, and if the player picks a shirt of that taste, the customer will buy it, adding funds to the shop, which the player then use to buy more stock. Customers will often ask for entire outfits in a certain style, or if the player puts together a good outfit on her window mannequin, someone will buy the entire thing. That’s the creative part. The strategy part comes in when the player heads to the buyer’s center to stock up on items. There are a number of brands in different styles, and the player needs to decide which items will best meet her customers’ needs. Trendsetters is different from the original in that it adds men’s fashion, a slightly creepier art style as far as faces are concerned, and 3D.

I enjoy both games a lot, and yet there’s also something deeply limiting about them. Items in the game have a number of different attributes, but the most important are brand and taste, which are related. There’s an edgy brand, a gothic lolita brand, a pop brand, a preppy brand, an athletic brand. So when someone comes in asking for a pop t-shirt, the player just looks for the Mint Sprinkles brand and the customer will be all over it. In the original game, the player had to memorize which brand was which (most were obvious, but some were less so), but Trendsetters adds the ability to search the shop inventory based on any number of factors, including brand and taste, which are separate. In the sequel, if someone asks for bold pants, but the shop doesn’t have anything from the bold brand, AZ USA, something from the edgy brand Stage Dive may do.

So there’s a little more freedom this time around, but it still doesn’t quite capture what’s fun about fashion, which is putting together an outfit with unexpected combinations that somehow totally work, or combining styles that balance each other out. In the world of Style Savvy, only the expected is allowed. Successful outfits generally mean dressing head-to-toe in a specific brand. My favorite kind of outfit is to mix girly dresses with tough boots, jackets, and accessories, but in the game, that would be fashion blasphemy. You can’t mix Stage Dive and Cantata Modo! That’s just ridiculous!

But in the real world of fashion, rules are made to be broken. Traditional rules like “don’t pair brown and black” just don’t hold any more. But I’m a programmer, I know how computers work, and computers need hard and fast rules. A computer can’t judge something as subjective as style (not yet, anyway). So unless a game is purely creative, there are going to be these limitations. I don’t fault Style Savvy for having those limitations; after all, it does quite a good job of making the player feel like a boutique manager within them. But I can’t help wishing that the game gave the player a bit more freedom to mix things up, to create something unexpected.

Chris Traeger’s Evolution

Pardon the television break! I was reading a thread about last night’s Parks and Rec, and I noticed a few comments criticizing the episode for having Chris Traeger behave so out of character, that he wouldn’t despair over being single. I strongly disagree, but I feel like this is going to be extremely long, so instead of taking over that thread I’m just going to post here. Chris was not only in character on last night’s episode, it was an evolution of his central struggle, setting up for continuing his journey this season.

Chris isn’t despairing because he’s single, he’s despairing because he is lonely, and being single is only one part of that. This is actually some profound, meaning-of-life shit he is going through. It’s been established since Season 3 that Chris constantly struggles with his own mortality (last night’s episode reminds us that the reason for this is that he had a very serious illness when he was a baby). It’s one of the motivations behind keeping his body in perfect condition. He says ridiculous things about how he’s going to be the first person to live to be 150 years old, which he will accomplish through eating right and exercising and taking herbal supplements. He’s proud when Ann thinks he is much younger than he actually is. His first freakout about this we see is when he gets tendonitis in his shoulder; he tells Ann he’s “dying”, and he only means this in the sense that everyone is technically dying, yet he says it like it’s this great tragedy, not simply a fact. One of the reasons he is so broken up about Millicent is that one of the reasons she dumped him is because of their age difference–he’s much older than her. Chris has been struggling for a long time with the fact that he is getting older, he won’t actually be able to actually keep his body in peak condition forever, and one day he will die.

Couple this with a second major aspect of his character: his relationships with people are very shallow. I don’t mean he is selfish or anything; one of my favorite Chris moments is in Season 3 when he comforts a random woman on the fourth floor of city hall (“Who was that?” “I don’t know. She looked like she needed help, so I helped.”). He’s a caring person! But nonetheless, he doesn’t engage with people very deeply. In the episode where Ron thinks Chris is trying to be his friend, Chris reassures him that no, “I have me. And five hundred Facebook friends.” The problem is none of his relationships are any deeper than Facebook friends. No one even invites him to the movies until April does after the phone call fundraiser for Leslie. His relationship with Ann was not deep, either (“You turned me into you, and then you got bored because you were dating yourself!” Ann sums it up).

An animated gif of Chris Traeger talking to Ron. The caption reads, I'm not lonley. I have me.

via ParksandRecgifs.tumblr.com

His closest friend is Ben, and even that relationship isn’t very deep. Chris doesn’t see the warning signs about the impending demise of the “Dream Team” in early Season 4, he doesn’t see Ben backing away from the Parks Department as a red flag. He’s close enough with Ben to tell when he’s depressed later on in the season, but that is a much more exaggerated situation (and Ben wasn’t deliberately hiding it from him). On top of that, Ben hurt Chris deeply by going behind his back, and now he’s in a very happy relationship (Chris is, I’m sure, very happy for Ben, but your best friend being in love does often mean you don’t see them as much), and now in Season 5 he’s in DC pursuing a new career path. Chris was also first-party witness to Ben torpedoing his own career out of love; Chris doesn’t have anyone he would do that for, and no one who would do that for him.

So Chris’s loneliness isn’t just about being single. He has no family and no deep friendships. At the end of Season 4, he throws himself into exercising because “stopping is death.” He has a fling with Jen to distract him for a little bit, but it doesn’t last. He’s grappling with his own mortality. Now we can see from last night’s episode that he’s thinking about what regrets he will have at the end of his life. It’s not until Andy says if you don’t have friends and family, you have “Nothing!” that Chris finally physically collapses (“What do you have, Chris?” “Nothing. I have nothing.”). He’s going to die one day and his life is meaningless because he is so alone (of course that’s not true, but that’s how he feels). He says later on in the episode that he hasn’t made his mark on the world. He has sunk even lower than in late Season 4, but there is some optimism in that it looks like he is going to get some help from a “doctor for the mind”, as Andy puts it. I’m looking forward to seeing Chris develop closer friendships and become a happier person who is more focused on living now than living forever. Rob Lowe said in an interview, “No one can keep Chris Traeger down, not even Chris Traeger.” I believe it!