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Gamescom 2011 Cliffnotes #4: Little Birdy
Autor: 4thVariety, letztes Update: 18.02.2012

    No gamescom demo is ever complete without an epic set-piece moment. The task at hand was to kill a mocking bird, a giant undead death dealing mocking bird to be exact. To make sure nobody misses the giant dragon, the game abandoned all the regular MMO obfuscation and played it straight. If the final version of GW2 is missing such convenience features to direct players towards special event moments, then it will certainly not take long for fansites to come up with something to the same effect. I also expect some guides to describe min-max efforts for having the dragon reappear by meeting certain criteria. If the loot is any good, that is. Big MMO bossfights are hardly ever fought because the gameplay is so brilliant and engaging you get addicted to the encounter itself. Since that is what I am here to find out, let's click on the button.



     I believe in some weird parallel universe, someone tried to dub the feeling of an imminent bossfight you get when entering a huge open space as Arenanitis; or something similar. Therefore it makes sense an ArenaNet game does have arenas evoking that feeling. You can also see a black question mark, some undecipherable text and a few other black doodles. Let's call it work in... ...oh sorry, iteration in progress. The question mark marks the spot where the dragon will appear; X be damned.



    Back to mincing words, the term Djannor catches our eye. Option one is to call it a reference to the steampunk RPG “Space 1889” in which the Djannor are a race of four-armed humanoids. We can in all likelyhood blame Space-RPG veteran Jeff Grubb (Spelljammer) for putting that reference there and forget about it until we die. As a second option, Google suggests Djannor is a user from a homosexual dating site for fitness fans in England, who weights 100 pounds, does regular weight training and likes boxing. Now that's a mental picture of a fabled Djannor which will stay with you; until you die.




     This ruin will be smashed by Tequatl every time. I wonder, if players need to build it first, in some obtuse quest, sorry, event referencing Kevin Costner's unforgettable, or rather unrepressable, classic Field of Dreams. Building a ruin makes no sense you say? I beg to differ. 135 years ago, the Bavarian king announced he was looking forward to visiting my home town the next year and take a tour of the medieval ruins. Problem was, there were no medieval ruins, but nobody wanted to tell that to the King and spoil the perfect visit he was looking forward to. Thus, in a fit of “because we can” and to further spite the neighboring cities, a medieval ruin was build in the middle of an English garden. The King had a happy visit and today's fantasy nerds a spot to geek out once a year. This is the place where I learned that people in chainmail do not jump and dropping off a one meter ledge in armor with a broadsword in your hand is a scary dangerous thing. Thank god, neither cell-phone cameras nor Youtube were invented back then, else I would be an international near self-impalement meme today. On the bright side, nobody would then complain about not being able to jump in MMOs.



    Back to more serious matters, such as physics in video games. In real life, the rate at which objects drop increases the longer they fall until the friction with atmosphere cancels out the acceleration of gravity and objects reach terminal velocity. This constant acceleration is very specific and hardwired to your brain, so even if you do not know about it, you still predict flight paths according to this law of nature. Your dog can do that and what does he know about Newtonian physics? Don't answer that. In video games, the falling speed of objects is almost always a constant. Which instantly makes all destructibles look fake and unreal. They just do not scatter right and never bounce off other objects correctly. Because the ingame downward force is a constant not an acceleration, you get these weird instances of objects with high horizontal speeds propelling into lower Earth orbit once they collide with an object redirecting their trajectory upwards. It is not a bug, it is the logical result of how physics are implemented. Havok developers like to blame the alleged low processing power of your CPU and try to sell you a special video card doing the same. I wish they just took a cue from the freely available Doom³ source-code which does it better.



     Good thing the event marker is here telling me to defeat him. Because I was just about to get a bucket of water and I swear I saw a Ranger trying to tame it. This is a prime example of how modern MMOs differ from really old MMOs. Instead of giving each player a quest to kill X amount of some enemy type and then have the players compete for a limited amount of these enemies in the woods, the game simply gives one event to all player in which X amount of creatures need a spanking, regardless by whom. Bottom line is, X enemies will still bite the dust, but since players inadvertently work together, the pace at which things move forward is faster and you do not see people attempting the quest you just completed. It removes the temporal fragmentation created by everyone being on a different quest. Even if events do not cause you to do something different than the quests of old, they remove one very annoying thing: constantly seeing people one minute ahead/behind of you in their questing. The feeling of everybody on screen really being in the same moment than yourself is great. Existing MMOs sometimes offer a mix between the old school of questing and the new “in the moment” public quest. But the feeling just is not as immediate as in GW2, where you only get to see the new type of quest structure. Everybody on screen lives in the present and is not some ghost of your own past and future, while working on his questlog.



     That is what I call a convenient location to have built a floating laser. It is also one of the spots where you indirectly fight the dragon, by preventing its spawn from disabling the laser. If 50 people are to fight one dragon, then there is no real alternative to breaking down the fight into smaller segments. Reasonable Co-Op has barely evolved to four players on average. Eight player Co-Op might exists in GW1, but you very often have either exact copies of builds, or functional copies of builds to reach that number. Add more players and you just add more functional copies. There is no point in that.



     Depending on how many players are present, defending the laser is more or less of a task. This screen was taken before gamescom opened, so there were an estimate of three people fighting this encounter. This resulted in Teqatl being scaled down, not sending minions towards the laser and taking the hit without me doing anything. The video is a mixture between that an a session I played when gamescom was open and the encounter was bustling with player activity. In that case, you had to kill a lot of enemies to protect the laser. For an asuran device, I felt oddly safe standing next to it when it went off. Might have been the sound-design which appeared to be incomplete. After all, the initial dragon animation tried to convey the feeling of “run away, it's a Tequatl, he is going to kill us all”. I somewhat expected the mega laser to make me shout “run towards the dragon for cover, it's an asuran mega laser, it's going to kill us all”.



    This cannot be seen in any video Wartower uploaded. But I teleported away in the middle of the Tequatl battle to see how fast the sound adapted. In GW1, the mood of the battle can shift far more quickly than the music adapts to it. A reason why the battle music introduced in Nightfall never worked as well as the idea sounds on paper. In the GW2 demo, the music did not react at all. In this screen, I can still hear the dramatic dragon battle music. Call it a fun quirk of the demo and nothing to worry about; incomplete games are incomplete.



    Someday, an internationally renowned psychologist will be able to explain to me why ArenaNet likes its players to fight walls so much. Those who have seen my Guardian fight Barradin know what I am getting at. Also someday, a crazed QA person will probably smash all walls at the ArenaNet offices, bringing down the building in the process. Let's all pray that happens after release.



     The “I swung a sword” quote has gained some notoriety in the past. The way ArenaNet implements turret sequences, sure does not help their cause. Fixed viewing position, no interesting targeting mechanisms and two buttons to mash mean there is as much interactivity as ringing a door bell. Just click the red crosshair, press [1] and you do damage, even if the shot itself appears to miss its target. Somebody please call the i-Team, a Los Angeles underground crack commando of mercenary programmers dedicated to iterating details such as this. You may think there was no I in Team, but they put it there, so don't you dare.



    This picture taken from the Wartower Youtube channel can be used for two things. First, a thirty minute presentation on Youtube's quantisation algorithm and how it fails to make use of many of the suggested mpeg-4 (and beyond) implementation guidelines, causing it to waste bandwidth in unimportant spots and not having enough of it in others. I spare you that. Secondly, a thirty minute presentation on how high detail graphics are important in action games with very direct boss battles and often go to waste in games which have the player fight a monster indirectly or more abstractly. I also spare you that.




    This is a boss from Dark Souls. You run away, because he is scary. What you see is the visual cue for one of his more devastating attacks. So you either run away or die, causing you to loose all the unused souls (gold and XP rolled into one) you have. That is why you fear him and run the other way on your own.



    That is a black skull above your head. You are in no danger of dying, or loosing anything, even if your Sylvari snaps the big twig. This is why you do not fear Tequatl and only get annoyed by this game mechanic. With the respawn shrine only a few feet away, Tequatl could easily send signals to players telling them to run away or face instant death. Why Tequatl chooses not do that remains ArenaNet's secret.




     Depending on where you stand, you get a more or less good look on Tequatl falling back into the ocean. Technically he drops in the water beyond the invisible wall of the level, so you can't chase him to the ocean floor and re-kill him. Trust me, I tried, I never forget rule #2: double-tap! So with Tequatl dropped into the ocean, I guess I now have to drop the ocean into another ocean.



     Never forget to click on chests either, especially, if they are bigger than yourself. Have you ever seen a chest bigger than yourself that was not a coffin? So who is buried in there, does he cook the Grumble Cake himself and how do I get in there? Greedy looter, the chestlevel shall be your undoing.




     Playing at a convention is a very special thing. You planned the trip in advance, you stood in line to get in, you are overwhelmed by the booths, you see developers walking by while waiting in line at the Demo-PCs, and you are nervous while you play. If a giant dragon then lands in front of the player and roars, the encounter is instantly sold to you. But was it sold to the player on the merits of the gameplay, or on circumstances unique to that experience the game companies so carefully groom on convention floors? How good is the encounter if you strip away all that? The final game has other things going for it, the greed for loot, the experience of playing with friends, the novelty of the unfolding story, the events resulting from the outcome of the battle. Strip away those as well, then what do you have?


     The answer to that question is something no developer likes to give. Mainly because there is no good answer to the question to begin with. At the core of this encounter is a battle 1vs100. A giant bossfight with players galore, a feature no game so far has pulled of well. Many have tried, all of them were fairly stupid and broken. Guild Wars 2 also squirms under the pressure, it tries to pull all tricks known to men. It compartmentalizes the battle to prevent a mob of 50 player hugging the leg of the dragon. It spawns enemies everywhere, turning the fight into a huge proxy battle. Before you know it, you are not fighting the dragon anymore. You fight the same bunch of critters you fought everywhere else, now with 100% more dragon roaring in the background and an occasional stray bullet in his direction. Those who man a turret and actually do fight the dragon directly get the worst experience. Unsurprisingly, you do not have to wait in line to get into them.


     The undisputed strength of the combat in Guild Wars 2 is small groups fighting each other. Guild Wars 1 was the same and it never dared to venture into 1vs1 for a reason, no matter how much the fans demanded it. Guild Wars 2 seems to have fixed that and on top of that marches towards the other extreme, with one dragon trying to fight half a server full of characters. The players can still have plenty of reasons to visit those fights aside from the amount of fun the 1vs100 combat gameplay provides. However, bossfights remain one the things to keep a close eye on and observe how they will undoubtedly change over time with patches and new content. The (relative) letdown of the actual gameplay while fighting a dragon is not a dealbreaker; for that it is too small an aspect. Guild Wars 2 is rather good at breaking down the bossfight into smaller chunks it can actually swallow. Even if that means cheating you out of getting the impossible encounter, which Shadow of Colossus and Dark Souls spoiled you with. Good bossfights and good co-op are rare things to come by in gaming on their own. ArenaNet tossing both into one and cranking up the number of players to hundreds is insane. If it worked perfectly, it would be at least an expansion of its own, possibly an entire game. ArenaNet does not have a working template to copy in the way Battlefield's single player campaign mimiced Call of Duty. Even though this multiplayer bossfight encounter has its flaws, it still works better in this demo than it does in most games on shelves. Keep your eyes open for iterations on this one, we will certainly see a lot of change across the lifetime of Guild Wars 2.


     In the meantime, you can enjoy the encounter in motion and see a few things the screenshots could not capture, such as the falling speed of objects and the turret sequences.


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