Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

26Jun/102

Clan Down!

It amazes me to see how little I've actually posted about my attempted America's Army 3.0 clan considering how much work I put into it and how much it dominated my gaming time for a little while. I intended to post an update about how that whole thing turned out but it seems I never posted much about how it even started out so I guess I'll post the whole story, abbreviated as it may be.

Myself having just suffered a rare, humiliating death by the VIP.
"Myself having just suffered a rare, humiliating death by the VIP."

America's Army 3.0 (referred to as AA3 from here on out) was rumored to be a reboot of the popular online tactical FPS America's Army. It was basically going to be a new game from the ground up. I ran a small gaming "clan" dedicated to these sorts of games with aspirations of playing them in "serious business" tournaments and the like. Since these types of games are few and far between these days I generally keep a close eye on new releases and AA3 really caught my attention - not only was I a big fan of the original game, having played it for countless hours with my old clan [TPG], but it sounded like it was going to be amazing. The more I learned about the game the more inspired I was to take my clan, <8AT>, out of the mothballed state it had been in for years and get things going again. Eventually I got into a last minute private beta of AA3 and I liked what I saw despite it still being a bit rough around the edges. After looking around a bit and not finding any existing clans that interested me I made the decision to relaunch my clan.

And so I did! It took a lot of work - I revamped our website, setup a new Ventrilo server, reserved a ranked AA3 server, and started work on a recruitment campaign, never mind revising all of our rules, policies, and hell, even the entire focus of the clan. This was going to be something slightly different then the last incarnation of the clan and I was quite pumped up to get it going. A lot of my old clan buddies who had played SWAT 4 with me in <8AT> and/or America's Army with me in [TPG] had expressed interest in joining. Things were looking up.

Finally the release date for America's Army 3 arrived and while the game with rife with technical issues it was still quite an awesome and fairly unique experience. There were some troubling things, such as how many of the bugs from the beta hadn't been fixed yet, including some pretty major ones, in an apparent rush to get the game pushed out, and the news that apparently the entire civilian development staff of the game had been unceremoniously fired by the Army the day after the release to move development in-house. Still, many of my old friends joined or rejoined the clan including some I hadn't expected to show up while sadly some I did expect (and hope) to show up never materialized. We started strong though - my old co-leader from the original America's Army days in [TPG], 20kill, was there and took the much needed role of second in command.

For the first few weeks we spent our time suffering through bugs and bizarre issues with the game's central authentication servers, and simply trying to figure out the many nuances of the gameplay. Much fun was had though the bugs and unpolished state were simply too much for some members to deal with and there was a small, gradual exodus of mostly old friends from the clan very early on. Recruiting didn't go exceptionally well either - it seemed that most of the clans in AA3 pitched themselves as super serious, hardcore "realism" clans where members had to follow strict orders, call each other by rank, and all sorts of other silly things. I didn't have any problem with such realism clans but this wasn't what I had envisioned <8AT> as being. Unfortunately though, I quickly noticed that most of the people who were looking for a clan in AA3 were looking for that kind of an experience and the majority of those who weren't simply weren't looking for one in the first place. Thanks to a combination of technical problems with AA3 itself and the fact that we were mostly adults with jobs who didn't play the game 24 hours a day, our server floated around wildly between obscurity and semi-notoriety but never really gained the full on popularity I had hoped it would, putting yet another dent in our recruiting efforts.

The state of the game improved a bit with a fair amount of mostly small patches in the first month of its release in June. Many of the changes seemed like minor fixes and band-aids which did little to comfort us in the shadow of some of the bigger issues that loomed. The communication from the devs also all but stopped during this period which was a shame considering how active it had been in the old days and even lading up to the release of the new game. Finally, after July, the patches stopped, and I had a lot of serious questions in the back of my mind about the decision to dump the previous development team and what it had meant for the future of the game itself. Was this just some sort of fumble? Had the funding been cut drastically? Was the entire project being canned? Who knew.

During this lull in official activity the influx of good new recruits into the clan still hadn't been strong enough to counter the previous departures and I found myself losing a lot of interest. Originally I had to more or less force myself to carve out a section of my free time, especially on week nights, to play AA3 and with the state of the clan and more so the game itself it began harder and harder to do so. I also changed jobs from that of a programmer to that of a network engineer and while the programming tasks I was assigned left a lot of breathing room to surf the web here and there, reading about the state of the game and keeping up with the clan, my new position was hectic and saw me putting in quite a lot of overtime. At around the same time 20kill, who had been instrumental in keeping the clan alive and active, suddenly departed. At first he returned a few times but eventually left and was never heard from again. The clan probably could have survived my reduced commitment but with 20kill now completely out of the picture and interest from the rest of our membership waning I knew the end was near.

Fighting the fog.
"Fighting the fog."

Finally, after a month of silence, another patch was released in early September. Everyone was hoping it would improve things in big ways and breath some new life into the game but it didn't seem to deliver and certainly didn't help out <8AT>. I felt like the depression brought on by the state of the game was something we were all feeling across the board to different degrees. Even the official America's Army forums seemed to have noticeably slowed in activity. Eventually the few remaining members dispersed unceremoniously. The clan was dead.

I stopped following the game and hadn't even really played it since around this time though I did keep my eye out for patches: there weren't any. Surprisingly there hadn't been any patches since that September until February. Finally, another patch was released just yesterday which is what prompted me to write this post. The last two patches were large but don't include any new maps or promised features and seemed largely unimpressive for having taken so long. It seems my original suspicions about the change in development were quite possibly correct - depressing since I did in fact enjoy the game and, even after <8AT> dissolved, hoped it would succeed and I could possibly even return to it.

I have no idea what the state of the AA3 community has been like for the last year (I picture a lot of rage posts) but I can't imagine it had been as healthy as it was in the America's Army days when communication from the development team was frequent and, while patches were often few and far between, they were usually also fairly major. In my opinion if a company wants their game to have "long legs" online it has to try to create and maintain a community and it needs to feed that community with at least little chunks of carrot on the end of a proverbial stick semi-often. With AA3 that online community was literally all there was to the game so it was critical to keep people playing, especially considering the goals of the project as a whole. Personally I find it to be a bit insulting when a developer asks players to commit themselves to a game yet does not offer any commitment in return, at least in the form of the occasional bug fix here and there. This was why the original incarnation of <8AT> stopped playing SWAT 4 - I loved the game but it had issues and the development team and/or publisher seemingly washed their hands of it as soon as they had our money.

Then there is me. Over the years I've participated in several different clans, guilds, and the like, and have often found myself quickly rising up the ranks into positions of leadership. I'm not sure if I have a natural knack of leadership and/or management or if I was just better suited to it (or maybe just to be nominated for it) then others in the particular situations I've been in. At times while being in these kind of "officer" positions I felt the urge to break out from beneath whatever structure or leadership was above me, frustrating me, to start over and do things my own way which is, in part, how <8AT> came about. In practice, however, I've consistently found myself to be much more suited to those kinds of secondary leadership roles where I'm not under quite as much pressure or commitment yet can still be useful and contribute the group. I suppose with this, what might prove to be my final run at running my own clan, I've finally come to terms with this.

Being out there, putting the whole operation on the line by myself was often a big bummer, even with friends backing me up, the pressure felt like it was solely on me - others could come and go as they pleased and often did. I especially disliked having to worry about recruiting and now better understand some of the attitudes I encountered when joining or watching others join past clans and guilds I was in. For me, I suppose, there is a delicate balance in the feelings of pride and accomplishment, and even control, gained from running or helping run a group, and the enjoyment I need to have in actually playing the game. When running the group saps the fun out of the entire thing, or worse, the stress bleeds over into day to day life, then the balance is too far off.

I may give running a clan, guild, or some other type of community another go at some point in the future. It's quite possible, even, that <8AT> itself will have another run some day. Hopefully if that does happen I'll be able to concentrate on running the group and playing the game without also having the state of the game being as much of a concern as it was the last two times. For now though I think I'll be content to let others run the show and try my hardest to resist the temptations of sweet, sweet power. πŸ™‚

25Jun/100

The Tale of Garn Chapter 23

Warning: potential side quest spoilers ahead!

From Garn's recollections:

The Hunted

The next day I spent most of my time hanging around in some of Bravil's taverns. Unfortunately most of the taverns in the city were more of the inn variety thus most of the relatively few patrons were travelers rather than regular locals. Still, it was only a matter of time before I heard rumor of a woman who was claiming that her husband had been kidnapped. This, naturally, sounded worth investigating.

I found the woman, Ursanne Loche, chatting with several others outside of the city chapel. She was easy to spot as she wore the look a person who had done much grieving in days passed. After I introduced myself she told me that her husband Aleron had manged to get himself into a significant debt thanks to an out of control gambling habit and had been kidnapped by a loan shark named Kurdan. This sounded like absolutely none of my business but I figured it couldn't hurt to at least go chat with this Kurdan character.

Since you're obviously incapable of getting it yourself I guess I'll accept.
"Since you're obviously incapable of getting it yourself I guess I'll accept."

After asking around a bit I located Kurdan hanging around at The Lonely Suitor Lodge. Kurdan was a large Orc who seemed suspiciously well armed for a loan shark. I was surprised to find him offer me a straight up trade without much discussion at all. Kurdan simply wanted me to travel to a nearby ruin and track down a lost family heirloom of his. While this sounded reasonable the whole setup seemed a bit too casual, and I remained suspicious of his intent even as I agreed – or perhaps that was why I agreed! Once I accepted Kurdan's offer he seemed eager to have me leave and said he had even provided me a small boat to take me to the ruins. After agreeing he seemed oddly rude and forceful, even for an Orc, insisting that I leave immediately and not dilly-dally. My hand never left my sword's pommel as I stepped into the boat and made my way down the city canals.

Looks like a nice place...
"Looks like a nice place..."

I reached the ruins of Fort Grief, just across the bay from Bravil. The ruins consisted of a large, destroyed tower poking out of a sandy beach. For being so remote the area looked well traveled and used, even having a dock to tie the boat off on to. The only entrance to the ruined tower I found was an archway blocked by a large metal portcullis. A small leaver raised the portcullis and I cautiously stepped inside.

The portcullis fell back down with a loud clanging noise as it slammed against the stone. While I wasn't too surprised by this my attention quickly shifted to trying to locate a means to reopen it from the inside. Unfortunately I couldn't locate one near the archway itself though my search was soon interrupted by the shouting of a man. As shouts of β€œHello?” and β€œIs anyone there?” echoed through the ruins I made my way towards their origin. Much to my surprise I saw a Breton man who matched Ursanne's description of Aleron perfectly.

Doh!
"Doh!"

After introducing myself Aleron hurriedly told me that he had been lured here by Kurdan in a similar way as I had, and that we were now apparently unwilling participants in some kind of bizarre hunting game run by Kurdan. Unfortunately it seemed that our roles in the game were to serve as prey, and that the only way out was to go into the sub-levels of the ruins where the hunt took place and survive the hunters, one of which would have a key to the outside. I had heard tale of such β€œman hunts” while in prison though I never bargained I'd ever see one myself, never mind be the one being hunted in one. I told Aleron, who certainly didn't look like the fighting type, to hide himself nearby on the outside while I searched down below.

Thankfully I still had my equipment and my magic so I didn't feel like I was at a large disadvantage in this game. I lit a torch, drew my sword, and walked down a stairwell into the enclosed portion of the ruin. The inside seemed to be relatively well kept, with obvious attempts at recent repairs and modifications made to much of the structure. Near the entrance was a locked room containing a leaver – likely the key to our freedom. I attempted to pick the lock for several minutes only to discover that it was an uncommon sort of lock that my picks were not suited to working with and continued on my way.

Ok, I'm reporting this to the Better Business Bureau.
"Ok, I'm reporting this to the Better Business Bureau."

The walls were scarred with signs of battle, pocked with arrow hits, and there was even the occasional humanoid skeleton to be seen – obviously Aleron and I were not Kurdan's first victims. My train of thought was broken by a battle cry as a man wielding a massive poleaxe rushed towards me. I sidestepped his attack and slashed across his belly as I did so, landing a lucky hit on a weak area of his armor. As I turned to continue the fight he was already dying, clutching his wound.

Shield bash!
"Shield bash!"

As I continued on I came across many traps – some of which were probably part of the original structure while others, such as crude pit traps, were obviously recent creations meant to spice up the hunt. Some of these traps were hidden quite well as the second hunter who attempted to ambush me discovered. A large boulder smashed into the hunter, sending him flying off of a ledge and to his death before I was even aware of his approach. Finally I reached the end of the accessible part of the ruin, and the last hunter – an Orc who fiercely charged me as I entered the chamber. I struggled to keep the Orc at bay with fireballs while continuously moving away from him before we finally clashed and I finished him off. I claimed my key from his corpse and started to backtrack.

Look out behind you!
"Look out behind you!"

I was quite surprised to find that the key that I had found on the Orc hunter didn't fit the locked door to the gate room either but I had little time to contemplate the situation as I heard screams coming from the outside. I rushed back up the steps to find Kurdan himself standing over Aleron's body. He turned to me and smiled before lifting his sword and approaching me. I didn't hesitate to engage him. Kurdan was a strong warrior but I quickly found that his brutal, overbearing attacks were of little match for my sword skill and I finished him as a brief but violent sword fight. Upon searching his body I found the actual key to the gate room – Kurdan obviously never intended to let us leave the hunt alive regardless of the outcome.

Leaving Bravil...
"Leaving Bravil..."

I loaded Aleron's body onto one of the small boats still tied off near the ruins and rowed back into Bravil. I sent for Ursanne immediately upon seeing the first city guard and by the time I had tied off a small group had gathered around at the docks. I told her that Kurdan had double crossed us and that her husband had been brave despite the circumstances. I left the somber scene quickly and headed off to the stables to purchase a steed. This job hadn't gone at all as I had hoped and I wasn't very pleased at failing to bring Aleron back alive. It was time to continue on to the Imperial City where I was hopeful that better fortune awaited me.

18Jun/100

The Tale of Garn Chapter 22

Warning: potential side quest spoilers ahead!

From Garn's recollections:

Nightmares

Practically as soon as I stepped foot back into Bravil I was approached by a young messenger who told me that my assistance was needed at the Mage's Guild. I was slightly annoyed to have been harassed before even recovering from my last task but also rather happy that my reputation had been spreading so quickly. After a quick stop at my inn room to unload and clean up a little I made my way to the Bravil Mage's Guild.

As I entered the guildhall an Argonian woman immediately took notice of me and discretely waved me over to her. She introduced herself as Kud-Ei and told me that her friend, Henantier, was missing and that there was a reward for helping locate him. As we walked and Kud-Ei and I reached a more secluded section of the hall, however, her story changed. She explained that Henantier was in fact trapped somewhere and that she could lead me to him when I was ready. Very odd indeed. Still, I didn't think the Argonian was attempting to manipulate me for any ill reasons and agreed to accompany her.

It's too bad he didn't build in an exit.
"It's too bad he didn't build in an exit."

Kud-Ei lead me to none other than Henantier's house. As we climbed the stairs Kud-Ei explained to me that Henantier had been experimenting with a magic that gave him control over dreams and had enchanted an amulet to let him enter and explore his own dreamworld at will. Sure enough, there he was sound asleep on a bed. Somehow though, she explainied, Henantier had become trapped in his dreams. He and Kud-Ei had apparently taken various safety measures and Kud-Ei knew what must be done to rescue him – the amulet could be used by someone else so that they could join Henantier in his dreams and attempt to help free him. Unfortunately, this person had to be someone Henantier had never met before, a complete stranger, which is where I came in.

But he looks so peaceful.
"But he looks so peaceful."

Truthfully I wasn't very keen on the idea of entering someone else's subconscious. This seemed like a powerful and potentially very dangerous magic which was probably why Kud-Ei didn't want to discuss it openly at the Mage's Guild earlier. Even so, still being quite keen on learning and experiencing new things, and perhaps secretly hoping to learn a bit of my past self from my own subconscious, I agreed. I sat on a bed across from the one where Henantier slept and looked up at Kud-Ei as she slipped the amulet around my neck. Almost instantly the world went black...

I found myself standing in a strange, twisted version of the Henantier's house wearing only the enchanted amulet. Before I had completely gained my senses Henantier himself approached and spoke to me. He didn't seem to know where he was or how he got there but he did tell me that he had lost a few things and wanted help looking for them. This was a vague statement and I was quite conscious that this world wasn't reality and he could be referring to literally anything.

I'm pretty sure my dreamworld would be a lot more interesting than this.
"I'm pretty sure my dreamworld would be a lot more interesting than this."

I looked around the room a bit searching for clues and soon opened the door into the next chamber. The area inside contained a massive, black void filled with all kinds of strange looking objects, with a series of narrow paths winding their way throughout. I grabbed a nearby torch and began following a path. I immediately started noticing the subtle but telltale signs of various common dungeon traps sprinkled alongside a few much more bizarre ones. I carefully continued, avoiding pressure plates and tripwires while being as observant of my surroundings as possible. Finally, upon reaching the end of the path I found a shining jewel perched upon a stone pedestal. Despite all of the traps I had just carefully avoided I was compelled to pick it up. As I lifted it up it started to glow brightly and then disappeared, right from my hands! Suddenly I was standing back where I had started next to Henantier. I questioned him a bit more about what he was missing and although his answers weren't helpful it was clear that his mental state was more sound than it was the first time we spoke - had I somehow help restored a portion of Henantier's sanity? Is that what he had lost?

Perhaps I had to face more of these challenges to further restore Henantier's mind so that he could guide us out of his dream world. As I entered the second chamber it appeared similar to the last – a large, open black void on which only the ground I stood upon seemed to be consistent with the normal laws of reality, and even it seemed to be floating unsupported in the ether. In front of me sat a small chest in which I found a scroll. The scroll contained a cryptic series of diagrams which made little sense to me at the time. As I walked forward I approached what appeared to be some kind of strange maze of tiny platforms. When I stepped forward I realized that each platform was in fact a kind of pressure plate, and thanks to my keen reactions just narrowly missed being perforated by a barrage of poison darts. I quickly jumped back off of the platform and took another look at both my surroundings and the scroll.

Studying the maze.
"Studying the maze."

After studying the scroll for a while I finally noticed a pattern which I hoped would indicate the correct path to take through the deadly maze. Sweat no doubt rolled down my brow as I set foot back on the first of these plates, yet no trap was sprung. I stepped upon the second a little less fearful, and before I knew it I had conquered the puzzle and the next element of Henantier's sanity had been returned.

All dressed up with nowhere to go...
"All dressed up with nowhere to go..."

The next puzzle I faced was quite different indeed. As I entered the chamber I found myself in a small stone room containing a series of chests and a large, armored door. The chests contained a selection of weapons and armor which, still being quite nude, I was quick to don. Opening the door I found myself standing in the center of a small ruined arena. As I turned to survey the place the door I had entered from simply vanished – I was trapped. Spinning back around and drawing my newly claimed sword I was startled to see two large minotaurs, possibly minotaur lords judging by their massive size, standing on the other side of the arena. They had noticed me as well and wasted no time charging directly towards me.

Well they certainly don't look happy to see me.
"Well they certainly don't look happy to see me."

I attempted to cast a fireblast at one of the beasts but found that my magic had no power in this place. I raised by sword and prepared for impact. In a matter of seconds one of the huge beasts had slammed his massive axe down upon me but deflecting its blow I turned into my parry and slashed at the minotaur, cutting it deeply. I continued this tactic of dodging and parrying the huge beasts and landing my own strikes when I had opportunity until I finally stood victorious over both of them. After taking some time to recover I located another one of Henantier's elements and was yet again whisked away.

The prize!
"The prize!"

The fourth area led down to a small, rocky, well-like chamber, leading down still further to a water filled tunnel. A chest contained what seemed to be a water breathing potion and I guessed that my challenge was to swim through the tunnel. Unsure of what lay ahead of me I drank the entire potion and dove in. The murky tunnel seemed to be leading me down further and further. As I continued to swim I began to worry about the longevity of my potion as I was already quite far beyond the normal capacity of my lungs. Finally, at the end of the long, dangerous swim I found myself in a damp, but somehow mostly dry cave containing another of Henantier's missing elements.

Once again I stood in the twisted, dreamworld rendition of Henantier's house and was again approached by Henantier. Thankfully he seemed to finally have his wits about him. He told me that he now understood where he was and, better yet, why I was there with him. I said that we should leave immediately. Before I could reply and ask him how we should accomplish this I was waking upon the bed in Henantier's house - Henantier's real house. Kud-Ei, who had been patiently watching over us, rushed to Henantier's side as he sat up and rubbed his eyes.

Later after we had both gathered ourselves Henantier thanked me for the assistance over a warm glass of cider and offered me a selection of picks from his spell scroll collection as a reward. Some of these scrolls would be useful for my own arcane studies and the others I could surely trade for a tidy sum when I returned the Imperial City. Another job well done, even if it was only a dream.