Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Came Here To Be Podkilled: Vanguard Spider Cave Edition

I learned a new phrase recently, "rage to master". I have a feeling that at least some of you have a gut-level understanding of what that is, but I'm going to tell you anyway, and relate it to my current gaming, so there! (He says with a toss of his fabulous red hair!)

I've been playing Vanguard again. Karaya suggested it, she said she had run out of things to explore in DDO, so while keeping our regular group time, she was going to go explore the vast world, and challenging gameplay of Vanguard - properly this time.

As it turned out, I had played Vanguard for a while, and was entranced by some parts of the game - the diplomacy system, for example, and the crafting system. The combat gameplay featured classes that by and large followed the Everquest archetypes, with a couple of added twists. And I absolutely hated the models they used for high elves. My face, in Vanguard was positively skeletal.

They replaced those models with something a little more healthy looking, fortunately. So I re-upped and started poking around. Some of the best gear is dropped by quests offered by a group known as the URT - United Races of Thestra. (Thestra being my home continent.) I'm starting to get an impression of URT as a bunch of incompetent nincompoops who keep asking me to do horrific things to cover for their mistakes, but never mind.

One quest in particular, given out at Shoreline Ruins, has us investigating the disappearance of a roughly 10 year old girl while her family was at the medieval equivalent of a beach home. The clues finally lead us to a cave facing the northern ocean. The girl is in a cocoon at the back of the cave. The cave is infested with spiders.

These spiders see through invisibility. So no dice there. I had to fight my way through it. Now, I am a psionicist, which is Vanguards version of an enchanter. So I die very quickly when things go wrong.

I spent probably 10-12 hours last Saturday trying to finish this quest. It would go like this: I approach the cave, buffed. I pull something and start my root-and-rot sequence. Something would wander by and add and I would die. Or, maybe I'd make it a ways into the cave first. And something would respawn on me and I'd die. Or mobs that were around a corner would come when I pulled and I'd die. At first I wasn't using a charmed pet, but after a while I did. Which added the charming new failure mode of "Charm starts to break just as you pulled". Along with the failure mode of "Charm starts to break immediately on recharm and since it was in the middle of a fight, you die."

Every possible wrinkle or complication that can make this difficult was used. The level designer of this cave used every trick that he or she could muster. Hidden mobs, wanderers, fast respawn, and a few mobs that are tougher than the rest and respawn randomly. Psionicists have a snare, and so can kite, but it's not really possible in a restricted space, such as that cave. By the time you've killed your way to the back, the mobs in the front have respawned.

My youngest child, taking a break from playing Skyrim, wandered past and watched me playing for a bit. "Why do you play this game?" she exclaimed, somewhat bemused by the uncharacteristically foul language gracing my lips. It was hard to explain.

All I could manage was a vehement, "I can do this!"

There were lots of little internal metrics that told me that I was getting better at it, and that's something I enjoy. For example, the number of kills I could do between deaths was getting bigger. I revised my damage sequence and the mobs were dropping faster. Sometimes now, I could throw up my fast root when things had gone bad and run away and survive. My experience bar was moving forward even though it was three steps forward, and two steps back when I died.

And I was learning every spawn point, every hidden mob and every aggro range in that cave. I knew what to do in each situation.

At about midnight, I reached the back of the cave, freed the girl and started to fight my way out. This has an extra dangerous aspect to it. Respawn is roughly timed to take place after death. Since I'd killed the mobs from the front of the cave to the back, they would respawn in that order. Which means that when I first hit the edge of the respawned mobs on the way out, I would be standing in the spot where the next respawn would take place - at any time now.

My first attempt failed. So did my second. Part way out, lose it, lose the girl. I had to go all the way back to the back of the cave to get out. My second attempt failed as well. As it turns out, Psionicists have an evac ability. So I started to wonder, "Will the girl come with me when I evac?" If it didn't work, she'd be stuck in the cave and I'd have to fight my way in again.

I decided to chance it. It worked. I took her back to the quest-giver, logged out and collapsed into my bed, happy as a clam. (Ok, I chatted with Phritz a bit first, getting him started on the diplomacy system, for which the tutorial is more than a bit lacking.)

I was describing my Saturday to a friend and she said, "Rage to Master". I blinked. She said that the phrase was coined by someone who studies gifted children. Apparently that someone is Ellen Winner

I found a quote from the book on this wikipedia page (it seems a bit dodgy, but the quote seems good enough).

Gifted children have three telltale characteristics, Winner says. First, they begin to master an area of knowledge, or domain, such as math, drawing or chess, at an extremely early age, before starting school. Second, they need little help from adults in that domain, solving problems in often-novel ways, with each discovery fueling the next step. And third, they have what she describes as a rage to master their domain, working at it intensively and obsessively, often isolating themselves from others in order to pursue it. These children push themselves, achieve "flow states" in their work, and beg their parents for the books, musical instruments or art supplies they need to feed their passion. They need stimulating environments to develop their talents, Winner says of these children, but the demand comes from them, not the parents."

Winner may be describing the extreme cases, but I've seen this phenomenon play out a lot in significantly less rarified air. I often feel cheated if I am with a group that has a known, set strategy for a dungeon or an instance and just want to grind through it quickly.

All the deaths I had meant little to me. They were data points, not judgements. My blood was up, and so there were exclamations and expletives, but the deaths were quickly forgotten. Getting to a flow state includes a lot of failure. And that flow state is like a drug, really.

I don't really think this fits into the Bartle personality type of Achiever, by the way. I am not highly motivated by extrinsic rewards such as in-game "achievements". Leveling is good, but not the point. Standing in one place grinding away for hours with basically no variation and no risk isn't terribly interesting. I'm not a bot, don't make me play like one.

I'm pretty sure Karaya is like this, too. That's probably how she got good enough at videogames that her parents say, "She made a deal with the devil" There was no mention of any crossroads, though. I mentioned the spider cave to her and she said, "stupid spiders".

Phritz also has his moments. When we take the Bartle test, we all come out as some degree of Explorer/Socializer. And right now, we're exploring Vanguard. Normal people think we're kind of crazy, but if you're someone who reads this and thinks, "Yeah, right on!" drop me a line in-game.

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Blogger Rita said...

I definitely agree with your assessment that I work in that rage-to-master realm. Though I think there are two sides to that coin, and you and I each represent a side. This is really just an amusing brain-tangent; obviously the world isn't so categorical as this mental construct:

When I used to play Soul Calibur games all night with my friends, two of us were clearly the best players: Foley and me. For those who don't know, Soul Calibur is a console fighting game series, like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat (Though far superior to either, imo). I was unequivocally regarded as the best player in the group - the one to beat. But once I got into my groove, Foley still had a chance of beating me in any given fight. He was the only one. And everyone else pretty much dreaded having to play either one of us.

There's a huge psychological component to SC when you know your opponent as well as my friends know each other. You really get insight into the way that person thinks in a high-pressure, fast-paced contest over the course of milliseconds. You develop an instinct for anticipating her/his next move. Not to mention, we played so much of that game that our respective characters became extensions of our own limbs, really. So it was all about the mental game.

Now, as the night went on and we played battle after battle against each other, we'd get warmed up and start thinking and reacting faster. And faster still, to keep up with each other.

At our peaks - in our grooves, if you will - we each had a distinct method of mental processing.

Foley's method we called "Synapses", following a battle during which he commented that his "synapses [had] to fire faster to keep up!" His processing during our battles would take place consciously. He had to focus on my movements and keep his knowledge of my idiosyncrasies in mind, and make constant active decisions to counter my actions.

My method we called "Zen". Once I got in my groove, my processing mostly seemed to take place subconsciously. In fact, at times I had to be careful not to actually focus on anything, as I'd risk "thinking too much". I would tend to stare *through* the screen and watch both our characters in my peripheral vision. I would act and react instinctively.

Somehow I see a bit of a parallel when I compare you and me in the role of MMO enchanter. And I think it's most visible in DDO, illustrated by our choices of Wizard and Sorcerer, respectively.

You tend to study the situation at hand and try to consciously choose your tools and strategies to match it. When you fail, your reaction tends to be "I brought the wrong tools" or "I had the wrong plan", and you adjust accordingly.

I go into a situation with the same set of tools every time and no real plan. Because my tools (spells) are always the same, they're practically extensions of my body. I don't do much planning 'cause I hold myself to the standard that my skill should be sharp enough to handle any situation on the fly. When I fail, my reaction is "This is a worthy foe" or "My skill is lacking and must be honed further".

So in our approach to the spider cave, I see you focusing on the spawn cycles, the wandering patterns, the placement of mobs in that particular situation. Then you consider your tools and draw up an over-arching strategy (subject to adjustment, of course).

I, on the other hand, focus on my reaction time, my awareness, my instinctive understanding of myself and the fundamental mechanics of the game. In my mind, if those items are sharp enough, I will be victorious.

Now regardless of where each of us *focuses*, obviously there is overlap in our experiences. And both of us failed many times and then eventually succeeded. It's just interesting to consider the contrast of styles between the two high elf enchanters of Glory ;)

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I have to admit, that does sound interesting. But, given that I've hardly been back on Ghallanda to play with you guys, I imagine getting into a whole new game might be problematic for me.

*sigh* Well, do continue to post. I certainly enjoy reading this adventure and your insights.

4:50 PM  

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