Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Lost Shores - Hits and Misses

So now that the Lost Shores weekend events are coming to a close, I wanted to put up some thoughts on the weekend in general. Unlike some of my peers, I do not by any means consider the event a total fail, as it has been characterized by some. In fact, just the opposite. By far and large I'd consider the event a success. But clearly not everything went according to plan, and plenty of people are writhing their hands in righteous indignation, so lets take a look at what worked, and what didn't.

Like birds on a wire we perched on every surface..
Phase 1 - The Invasion of Lion's Arch, and The Investigation
Upon logging in on Friday, we noticed right away that two new POI's had been added to Lion's Arch, so a number of people began gathering there. Shortly before the event was to begin, word spread through the zone that something was going to happen at the lighthouse. So we all rushed over to the lighthouse, and like crows on a wire we perched on every square inch of space waiting and wondering what would occur. And then.. a short cinematic, and the Karka were here!

And the servers struggled!

Actual number of objects greater than those shown!
Over the weekend this was probably the single most persistent problem that would plague almost all of the big group events, and that was just simply that the back-end architecture was pushed to its very limits, and beyond them, for every event. There's a pretty big take-away from this, and I'll get to it at the end of post. But during the event, mobs were constantly not showing up, abilities were taking forever to fire, and framerates fell through the floor. As the invasion wore on, things got a bit better, and for myself, it ended up being fairly playable, but for a lot of people they couldn't see anything and couldn't do anything. Of the massive events, I think the tight space of Lion's Arch combined with the instant spawning of so many massive veteran mobs made for this to be the worst of the group events. It was playable, but only just barely so.

The invasion event itself gets a C.

Somewhere in this mass of bodies is an
NPC that refuses to fight..
Following the invasion, some new NPC's appeared in Lion's Arch, and they want answers! There's two separate NPC's, each of them start a scavenger hunt style quest that will have you traversing a couple of zones, talking to NPC's. Several of the NPC's, when you talked to them, would switch states and require you to attack them, and upon defeat, would switch back to friendly and give you the next part of the quest. Unfortunately, the state switching code also simply fell down under the weight of hundreds of people trying to activate and complete these quests, and several of the NPC's were quickly put into an unadvanceable state. This was simultaneously the most visible falldown of the weekend, and at the same time actually the least important. Quite honestly there wasn't much of a reward, nor was the event in any way connected to the monthly achievements for the event. It was a nice something to do, but if you didn't finish it, you really didn't miss out on very much of anything. This didn't keep people from foaming at the mouth at not being able to finish. ArenaNet fixed 2 of the NPC's that were broken that night, fixed the 3rd one later, and extended phase 1 past the launch of Saturday's event. I know my experience wasn't everyones, but I was able to log in Saturday morning and finish both quests.

The phase 1 scavenger hunt quests get a C-.

The assault halts momentarily as the Lionguard
construct a bridge..
Phase 2 - The Invasion of Southsun Cove
Saturday it was time for us to take the fight to the Karka! Our investigations had allowed us to create an alchemical solution that would weaken the armor of the Karka! When they invaded again on Saturday, we were ready for them. We coated our weapons with the solution, and quickly dispatched the Karka in town. We were then instructed to board boats, and we launched an all out assault on Southsun Cove!

This event was, in my opinion, an absolute success! The server again struggled in Lion's Arch, and in some areas in Southsun, but overall everything was plenty playable. We followed the Lionsguard Lt's into battle, we built bridges, we cleared roads, and slew many, many Karka - big and small. And the new zone is truly a unique and interesting looking zone. We had some difficulty in that when we zoned to the new zone, some of our group was dumped into different overflow servers than the rest of us. If the game had kept our game together, I would give this event an A+. But with some of the difficulty the servers had, and the fact that it couldn't keep our group together, it gets an A-. Epic event, several hours of fun.

After hours of battle, the final
attack commences!
Phase 3 - Defeating the Ancient Karka
Sunday began the third event, which was to seek out the head honcho of the Karka, and defeat him! The event started in Southsun Cove. We were gathered at various waypoints, and we got an e-mail promptly at 2:00pm telling us where to go. The zerg set out, and the event began! This was a multi-hour event, as we marched across the zone, first setting some explosives, then herding the ancient Karka across the zone, before a series of epic battles in which we defeated the him! Again the servers struggled under the load, and though the majority of the battle was playable, we definitely ran into the lag issues which had plagued the other group events. This was especially prevalent at the early parts of the event, when we would see dozens of people die to mobs that we couldn't see. Additionally, our group of five was again split across multiple overflow servers. Three of us were together, but the others were split across different zones. Regardless, overall everyone in our group agreed that we had a blast of a time - and not just because we played together - though playing with friend always makes an event more fun. But the event itself felt suitably epic, and most importantly, though none of us were really expecting to get much of anything by way of loot, the final boss resulted in a chest that, quite frankly, dropped some of the best items in the game. Overall, phase 3 gets a B+. Some lagging and server problems, but in general a great time, and our time was well rewarded!

Some of the underwater fractals are truly amazing..
The Dungeon
I hear the Fractal Dungeon had some problems launching, but they were quickly resolved, and I saw people doing runs all weekend. I myself participated in one run. The three fractals we participated in were interesting and challenging. In fact I think initially it might be a bit too tough, but honestly all of the mechanics we encountered in our fractals at least, were things that, once you knew what to do, could probably be defeated fairly easily. Take out the arrow carts and oil before approaching the door.. take a light from the coral plant with you.. put your pets away and lead the ice behemoth under the lava. There is going to be some tuning to do, but I definitely think the fractal dungeon will be a success. It certainly served well over the weekend.

What Do We Learn?
It's a reasonable question to ask as to whether or not these one-time events should be held at all. They're great in that they give a sense of progression to the game, and allow the players that can participate in them to get the feeling they're participating in real changes to the game. But they can just as easily breed a sense of resentment and dissatisfaction for those players that can't participate. Personally, I think they're worth having, but I certainly understand the sentiments of those that can't make it. Putting aside that question for the moment, what are the big take-aways that come out of the weekend?

We're fighting a lot of mobs here,
you just can't see them.
Back-End Needs Work
It's as simple as that. The single biggest problem, by far and away over the entire weekend, was simply that the servers struggled to keep up with the load. ArenaNet needs to do either one or two things: Either they have to continue to improve the server infrastructure, or they have to design around their existing server capabilities. And it's unlikely that Design is going to say "Yeah, you know, it's fine, we'll just redesign so that we don't put as much load on the servers." Unfortunately, by this point, it's a safe bet that there aren't any low-hanging fruit left in this regard. So the server crew still has work to do.

Don't Make the NPC's the Event
You know, the NPC in the swamp in Metrica Province didn't have any problems. Because he wasn't the event. He gave you some tasks to do, you did them, and turned them in for the completion. But the NPC's that have to switch states, that go from neutral, to enemy, be defeated, and then back to friendly, are just prone to breaking. Make the NPC have to do something like run an escort mission, and you're really asking for trouble. Some people on the forums suggested that these NPC's should be instanced - but I strongly disagree. The game is instanced enough as it is, and a huge part of the fun of an event like this is being in the world with a crowd of people, and taking part in the mayhem. But just design the events in such a way that the NPC isn't directly involved in the progress of the quest itself.

Three Events in One Weekend is Two Too Many
I think ArenaNet was a bit overly ambitious with this rollout. Having everything in one weekend presents a couple of problems. First, it forces your players into an even heavier concentration than such an event might typically draw, which exacerbates the load on your server. Second, as we saw, when things do go wrong, it gives you even less time to fix them. And finally, it reduces even more the opportunity for more of your population to participate in the event, by focusing it all over just a few days. This isn't an easy problem to tackle - too long and players lose interest or grow bored or resentful at having to wait. But I think the sheer volume of content they rolled out over the course of this weekend would have been better served using a few more days - maybe a week, to allow the players to consume and enjoy each phase a bit more, before pushing into the next.

I Had a Blast
The event wasn't without its difficulties. And yes, a number of things went wrong. But at the end of the weekend, the end result was that I had an absolute blast. I loved seeing the Karka invade Lion's Arch.. I loved following the zerg as we invaded and conquered Southsun Cove, and had a blast participating in the destruction of the Ancient Karka. And at the end of the weekend, I have some nice exotics and rares for my character!

I understand that people some people had a less than ideal experience - but people need to learn to relax, recognize that things go wrong, and participate in the moment.

Looking forward to the next!

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