June 05, 2005

Guild Wars

I've recently been playing an Online Competitive RPG, similar to Neverwinter Nights in the way cooperative missions are setup, called Guild Wars. It is an interesting game, as it is setup to ultimately pit teams of 8 against each other. Similar to many FPS and RTS games where each side has particular strengths and is required to use planning and skill in order to execute a victory over the other team. And like those games, the numbers are balanced in such a way that it is always near a 1 to 1. You will notice a disparity in numbers right away if you were playing a FPS like Ravenshield or Unreal Tournament simply because you would notice that your team is losing quite badly.

Whereas FPS played online has always centered around competition, meaning teams facing against each other either in Deathmatches or in Capture the Flag, the RPG world either online or offline has always focused on the single player aspects and cooperation between players. Playing a cooperative mission using FPS is not all that popular because the competition is far more griping, and that is why Guild Wars seeks to combine the two styles of play into basically one style of play. You get to play a role playing character, through the main story arc and gather skills unique to your profession combination, but you also get to use whatever you have unlocked while playing the rpg character in your custom created pvp character that starts at out max level with prebuilt max weapons and armor.

In a sense, you have to play the single player mission first before tackling the multiplayer aspects in FPS parlance. Many players play the multiplayer aspects of a game first, and then the single player. Usually, this means below average players are getting grinded under by superior players. Where the superior players have played the game a lot more. This is no different in Guild Wars, to win in PVP and to be competitive against other human players, you must play the game using aproximately an equal amount of time as your opponents have. Yet, play time is only one factor. Individual skill, intelligence, and teamwork either individually or combined trumps time played 9 times out of 10.

Like a game like Unreal Tournament, average players with superior teamwork can win against a team with great players but lacking in coordination and teamwork. And "unlike" MMORPGS like DAOC, it isn't a numbers game. Or at least not predominantly a numbers game. It is not a game where the other side will have more players to beat up on you, and you lose regardless of how individually prepared and skilled you are. Players will exploit any advantage available, and if they are allowed to get more numbers than you to win more easily, they will do so. That is human nature, therefore it requires the game to set player number limits. On a 16 man UT server, the teams will be more or less balanced out simply because the players want it to be so and they most of the time do not care which team they are playing for. In Unreal Tournaments, you are required to field a minimum number of players. In a RPG where thousands are online, it becomes severely more problematic.

The competitive part of the game is very exciting and rewarding, true. But, the cooperative part of the game can at times be even more exciting and rewarding. It does not happen often, but like any well played and well fielded team, the fun is in the rareness of it all.

One Cooperative mission in particular, the Frost Gate, comes to mind concerning rewarding cooperative missions. That mission has a max team of 6, and we fielded 6 human players to try and finish that mission in order to get to the next town. About half way through the mission, a total of 3 people dropped out. And when I mean "dropped out", I mean bailed. They were unavailable to help us finish the mission, and we could not go back to town to get more players or henchies because that would waste the time we have spent so far. So the three of us, Aeriandir the Warrior/Necro tank, Decoy the White the Monk, and Yukie Kaze my Ranger/Me character decided to try and finish the mission even with 3.

For some reason, we could no longer run into a group of mobs, everyone selecting their own individual target, and just rely on mass "pwnage" to do the work for us. No, given the decidedly weakened yet more balanced team composition, we interestingly decided simply instinctually rather than planned that we lure mobs out, corn cob them, and try to make survival a priority.

I would lure mobs, while the caster stayed way back, and the tank would engage as many targets as possible to make healing simpler. If the caster stayed too close, the healer would be the one that gets corncobbed by the mobs, and since the healer has low armor the healer has to waste more energy healing himself than he would had he been healing the tank or even the ranger.

Every fight was a fight for survival. Each individual of the three man team had to do their best, because one mistake would spell doom rather than simply inefficiency as in a 6 man team. With less people, the responsibility grew for each person. We could not for example, target anyone we wished. No, as a requirement of survival, we were required to target the mobs in this priority, healers, then casters, then tanks.

We did not plan this ahead of time or craft a plan on team channel, out of a need for "efficiency". No, like the best occurences of human nature, this was promoted by the need to simply "survive" each fight. This didn't make the fight shorter so we could get to the next fight, no way. This made it so we could get to the next fight, period. The behavior of each person was dictated by necessity, not words seen on screen or commands handed down the chain of command.

It was an interesting and very educational culling process. Because with the loss of one or two at the very beginning of the mission, it became harder for people to stay. Humans act like pack beasts some of the time, in that if they see someone else doing what they want to do, then their chances of doing that becomes more likely. This is especially the case for fleeing, though it is weirdly not the same for fighting. If a human sees another human fleeing, it will trigger a chain reaction that will cause everyone else to flee as well. But if they see someone fighting a bank robber for instance, people aren't going to jump in. No, fighting requires individual spirit and will, and that is why only 3 of us were left on the team. It came down to the people, 3 out of a total of 6, that had the will and heart to be fighters and not quitters. It brought just a slight hint of pide as we proved to ourselves we could kill the mobs as a 3 man team. And with each successful victory, it became harder and harder for us to admit defeat, to admit that all our effort was in vain and would be wasted. We never spoke a word of this to each other of course, and I can only tell you of my personal experiences, but considering human nature as the basis for my judgments then I cannot help but to believe that it stays consistent in this environment.

Therefore I must conclude that they stayed with the program because they wouldn't give up, that they wanted to show the quitters that they were weak and we were strong, and so on. It wasn't all methodology and throughness however. Like a war, there were times of utter desperation and despair. Where I thought at least, that we had utterly lost and the only thing that kept me fighting was the thought that I had come this far, I am not going to give up until I am dead. Several times one of our team members died, where the other two members of the team had to somehow kill the rest of the mobs and then resurrect the fallen team member with a rez signet. However, whenever that happened, it was because we were holding back superior forces. The healer would have to run to the ranger, me, to unaggro the mobs that were chasing her. The warrior would have to fall back to heal. I would have to make plenty sure I used troll unguent at the start when I was near full health and not when I was severely low. If the warrior died, it was because she got overwhelmed by too much spike dmg. If the healer died, it was because she was healing the tank or me and could not be worrying about her own health, and if I died it was because I was dealng as much damage as possible to the enemy using bow skills and preparations.

Whenever one of us died, I am sure the others felt utter despair and believed that it was all over but the dieing. But they kept fighting, sometimes for as long as 2 minutes for one occassion before resurrecting me. And the same for when I was alive and another had died, I kept on fighting even though I sincerely believed that it was all over. The need for survival was not my motivation, no, rather it was simply pride that kept me going. An esprit de corps that kept the team alive and fighting.

At the very end, the mission objective NPC we were supposed to protect died. After all that effort, we had thought to be finally defeaten. Yet I was glad at least to have had such a great experience of teamwork and fighting for sheer survival. Yet, when we saw the cutscene and realized that we had accomplished the mission regardless, it was one of many uplifting moments. Moments where our spirit was intimately connected to the survival or defeat of the mission objectives on a very personal and human level. We "cared", not because we were sappy dogooders, but because we were human and humans place far more value into what they have worked their asses off achieving than they would things that they breezed through.

For a human to know that he made the difference in the end because of his individuality, skills, and will is the ultimate expression of having fullfilled a Purpose. It is what stunt devils crave, they crave not just the adrenaline but the knowledge that their own skills were the only thing that separated victory from defeat.

Those who want victory vicariously through others, will always lack the heart and the will to continue the fight. And that is why they will always be on the coat tails of the true humans, those who fight against all odds in order to achieve final victory. That is as true of humanity whether it is about Vietnam, Iraq, cancer, concentration camps, or being taken hostage. And it is even true while playing a game called Guild Wars.