Sunday, January 18, 2015

Adrift in Archeage, Part V - Crossing Over

Ever since Hatakeyama reached the shores of the great sea in Archeage the beautiful blue waters have held a deep and abiding fascination for this young Harani. Born and raised in the orange, dusty savannah of the Arcum Iris, she had little knowledge of the sea as a youth - the idea that a body of water could encompass the entire world seemed fantastical to her. But when she finally reached the coast for the first time, and saw the azure waters stretching to the horizon, she was smitten for good. She would love the sea until the day she died, and beyond.
The sea in Archeage is both beautiful and perilous.

It was for this reason that I was resolved that her first oceanic crossing would be done under her own power. She still had her final trading quest to complete - this quest would award her a free 16x16 plot, but it entailed crossing the channel separating Haranya and Nuia and delivering a trade pack to a trader in a hostile port. Noisy had offered to run me across and act as escort/bodyguard, and while I told him I was keen, I was already making preparations for a solo crossing. I gathered up all the mats for crafting my pack, consulted the map numerous times and tried to pick a route which seemed the safest to me. Ollo is a North American server, and so I planned my run during evening my time, which would translate to early morning for the Americans.

Zero hour arrived, and Hatakeyama made her way to the specialty work bench in Mahadevi and duly constructed her pack. Trade packs have heft and weight and severely restrict your movement - they can also be stolen and plundered. This is a nice compromise between the very light death penalty imposed by WoW in open world PvP (i.e. a short res timer at the graveyard) and the total loss suffered when you lose your ship in EVE or when you are killed in Darkfall (all your gear is dropped where you died). In Archeage your gear and your progress as a character remain unaffected by death, but losses can be incurred or windfalls gained when undertaking in commerce in AA via the mechanism of trade packs. Trade packs can be expensive to make, require varying degrees of time and material, and constitute non-trivial losses, thereby giving meaning to these trading runs for both merchant and pirate alike. In my mind I was already adopting the EVE mindset of "don't fly it if you can't afford to lose it" - I mentally prepared myself for the worst case scenario, in which pirates boarded my ship, murdered me, tossed me overboard, plundered my pack, then set fire to my ship and sent it to the bottom.

The journey begins in this deserted cove on the Blackrock Coast in Mahadevi.

Which is not to say that I didn't want to succeed. At the time of crossing I was in my mid 40s, which meant that I was completely defenceless. Any 50 on the prowl would have taken me apart with ease, and so any plan involving combat was out of the question. If I did encounter hostiles my contingency plan was based on outrunning any hostiles, making wide, looping detours if necessary to avoid danger. If outrunning was out of the question I would despawn my ship before combat was initiated (once combat begins your ship is unable to despawn until the fight is over), hit stealth, and dive to the bottom. Yes, I would swim with speed of a constipated elephant, and have the manuovering abilities of the same, but the sea is deep and big, and stealth can be refreshed every 30 seconds. What I envisioned would ensue would be a demented MMO re-enactment of Das Boot, in which I play the part of a U-boat pursued by Allied destroyers. The destroyer (played by the enemy ship) would steam to my last sighted position, and drop depth charges (in the form of enemy players) who would spam AOEs in the vicinity. The danger for me would be the brief interval between stealth and re-stealth - if the enemy got a fix on me I was as good as dead. The speed at which I would swim at with a trade pack on my back meant that as soon as someone saw me they could power to my position, unleash some AoEs and force me out of hiding. But if it came to that I would go to the bottom and drown intentionally. If they want the pack they'll have to bring scuba gear to retrieve it.

Seagulls whirl about off the starboard bow.

As plans went it was pretty shithouse, and not based on reality - I have no idea how pirates pursue their prey in AA, and whether a lone runner in a clipper is a target even worth attacking. But making contingency plans gives you the illusion of control, and is better than just mumbling a few "Hail Maries" under your breath as you cross hostile waters. For good or ill, that was the plan, and Hatakeyama set about putting it into motion. She brought her trade pack to a deserted cove on the Flotsam Shore, and spawned her ship. There she practiced manuouvering in and among the jagged inlets, and also did some mock "abandon ship" drills in which she practiced quickly despawning her ship and diving off the side. After a few minutes of this I was bored senseless, and so I abandoned the drills and pointed the Miyagi seaward to set sail for the Nuia continent. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Who knows what monsters lurk in the depths of the ocean, watching and waiting for the careless or the unwary.

The first few minutes were nerve-wracking to say the least, but nerves soon gave way to exhilaration. The sea in AA is beautiful, perilous, and alive - sea gulls circle above the waves, and sharks and other sea monsters lurk beneath. I've been told that the best gear in the game drops from the mythical kraken, which prowls the deep waters of the central ocean and requires a large armada to defeat. The first hiccup of the voyage occurred when the Miyagi ran afoul of floating sea bugs. Much like packs of jellyfish or blue bottles in Australia, these creatures float together in shoals, and while a single one is just a nuisance, a group of them can pose real problems. Especially if you are just a lone sailor manning the wheel, unable to defend yourself. Unwittingly plowing through a pack of these parasites, they swarmed all over Hatakeyama's ship. A single one affixed itself to Hatakeyama much like the dreaded facehuggers from Alien lore, and started chewing her face off. I was in a quandary. Did I stop the ship, and try to clear the decks of these sea-borne vermin, or did I just keep on pushing ahead at flank speed? I was paralysed with indecision. It seemed that the maiden voyage of the Miyagi was about to come to an ignominious end. Just when all seemed lost, the bugs started falling away. The one affixed to Hatakeyama's face hung on the longest, but it, too, was eventually dislodged. She was at 20% health and badly shaken, but still alive. After that close call Hatakeyama took great care to spot and circumvent these shoals of bugs. She also spotted a shark or two, and these she gave a wide berth - if a pack of mutant sea bugs almost tore her face off, then she didn't want to know what damage a shark could do.
The second hiccup of the trip occurred soon afterwards. The glorious blue of the virtual sky gave way to grey and gloom, and soon flashes of lightning began to light up in the distance. No one I'd talked to had prepared me for bad weather at sea in AA, and what the possible ramifications were. I was reacting on a visceral level - being caught in bad weather in the open sea is never a good thing in real life - but fortunately in this virtual world it was merely smoke and mirrors, and it didn't impact upon my vessel in the slightest. In fact I believe that the doom and gloom had been precipitated by my vessel straying too close to a mysterious island, whose approaches were guarded by tumultuous storms akin to those found in classical Greek mythology. I wondered what secrets the island held to be warded by such dramatic weather, but it was a mystery that would have to be solved another time. Once the Miyagi pulled away, the darkness gave way to blue skies and calm seas once more.

The weather takes a turn for the worse.
With the inclement weather behind her Hatakeyama turned her attention to the dangers posed by enemy players. She was now near the enemy coast, and there would be reds about. In AA you are either a green (same faction), a blue (someone in your own party/raid), a red (a member of the enemy faction), or a purple (a player who is flagged to be able to kill members of the same faction). Doone of XP Chronicles once argued that OWPvP is "thin"  content because it doesn't happen 24/7, and the Nosy Gamer tried to use the same reasoning to argue that EVE is not a PvP game because PvP only happens sporadically. Both commentators are wrong in my opinion, because they limit the impact of OWPvP to the act of PvP itself, while failing to take into account the ramifications on player behavior and the virtual world based on the mere possibility and threat of OWPvP. In EVE the destruction of ships from PvP is the engine which drives the game's economy, and the threat of PvP is leveraged into null-sec politics and diplomacy. OWPvP adds layers to the world, imbuing it with a human element of danger in addition to the PvE hazards. The sea becomes a much more dangerous place in AA simply because of the potential for conflict, loss and gain. I don't have to fight a single pirate to feel danger - just knowing that they are out there made my journey much more immersive and exciting, and turned what would otherwise be a dreary and tedious boat ride into a calculated gamble with something on the line.
The enemy coast is in sight.

Fortunately for Hatakeyama no black sails materialised on the horizon. The coast was now in sight, and another dilemma posed itself. The trader was located on the main docks, and the question now was whether to brazenly sail the ship into the dock, or disembark and despawn some distance away and stealth walk in the rest of the way. Hatakeyama decided to sail the ship by the docks, and make the call depending on how busy the docks were. To her delight she saw that the dock was deserted - she wasted no time in heaving to, despawning her ship, and walking unmolested to the waiting trader. Mission accomplished.

Seconds after turning in her trade pack and completing her quest, a pair of hostile vessels steam into the harbour.

To her chagrin, however, mere seconds after turning in her pack two fishing trawlers filled with reds docked behind her. The trawlers launched harpoons to pull themselves into the dock, and several reds leapt off the side of the vessels and glided  in to land beside Hatakeyama. There would be no return trip - there was not enough time to respawn her ship and sail away, and she didn't want to give the enemy the satisfaction of watching her trying to open a portal and escape. There was not enough time for the latter even if she wanted to, and so she just sat on the dock, surrounded by a dozen reds, and waited for the end with dignity.
Surrounded by enemies, Hatakeyama prepares to meet her end with dignity.

The end came swiftly. Despite the presence of the NPC guards, the nearby reds dispatched Hatakeyama without undue ceremony, and escaped reprisal by gliding away from the docks. But unlike real life, death doesn't mean the end in virtual worlds, and soon Hatakeyama awoke to find herself on an unknown beach studded with wrecks. She had accomplished her mission, and in this simulation of reality all her death meant was a loss of time. Her gear remained intact, and the one thing they could have stolen from her, her trade pack, had been safely turned in already. All that remained for this virtual version of Hatakeyama was to open a portal back to her homeland of Haranya. But she tarried awhile, captivated by the lonely, windswept beauty of this beach at the end of the world. Walking from wreck to wreck, and occasionally wading into the surf to place her hand on the barnacle-encrusted remains of these shattered hulks, she eventually returned to the beach and built a bonfire from the pieces of driftwood littering the sandy dunes. Here she waits - but for who or what, she can't really say.

Life beyond death. Hatakeyama awakens on a lonely beach studded with wrecks.
The real Hatakeyama has been gone eight years now, and while by all appearances I have moved on in life, body and spirit, I catch myself occasionally thinking of the girl I once loved, and wonder whether I will meet her again when my time comes. I have long since ceased talking about her with close friends and family, and now only I am privy to how profoundly and tenaciously this memory clings to the essence of what makes me who I am today. It makes me sad to think that her memory only lives on in the minds of a small few, and that eventually all recollections, thoughts and fragments that try vainly to encapsulate the person that she was will be obliterated by the relentless tide of time. An undercurrent of sorrow runs through the sum of all our experiences, and while that is not the be all and end of all of the human condition, it makes the mind reel at the thought of how many ties, connections and bonds have been forgotten, lost and buried in the swirls and eddies of history.  Since she passed all my female avatars have been named Hatakeyama - my EVE avatar, my WoW rogue, my TESO Nightblade, and my AA Harani all sport her namesake in a clumsy, makeshift and fruitless attempt to remember. My world view is rooted in empiricism and the scientific method, and so I harbor no illusions about what dreams may come when we finally make the final voyage over the great ocean of the unknown. But even science doesn't hold all the answers, and my layman's knowledge of physics, relativity and quantum mechanics all tell me that there is much more to reality than meets the eye, and that the nature of the multiverse may be beyond our limited understanding as a species. Who knows? Perhaps one day I will wake up on a deserted beach much like this one, and there, in and amongst the flotsam and wreckage there will be a Japanese girl warming herself by a large bonfire on the beach. Time will have no meaning in this place, and she will spot me and shake her head and grumble, "Osoi yo! Doko ni itteta no?" I think that I would be too full of emotion for words - contrition and joy would render me speechless, and in this dream I can see the look of displeasure on her face giving way to concern, before she finally laughs at my maudlin sentimentality. I've always been the sentimental one, and she the pragmatist. Still chuckling, she takes me by the arm, rests her head on my shoulder, and together we start walking inland into the green of the undiscovered country.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Adrift in Archeage, Part IV - Of Soil, Stone and Sea

This post was written during my second run at Archeage, the first having been terminated prematurely by the advent of WoD. Now that all my toons in WoW are at max level and geared, I have much more free time to devote to other pursuits - I only need to log onto WoW once or twice a week to grind Conquest. I decided to give AA another bash - despite all the negative reviews surrounding the game my experience has been nothing but positive, and I wished to at least hit the level cap before calling it quits. My first run in AA ended with my avatar owning two small 8x8 farms at the foothills of the Windscour Savannah, and her progression halted at level 41. The first three posts of this series chronicled Hatakeyama's wanderings during the first run - the subsequent posts will detail her adventures in the second.

Hatakeyama returns to AA during the festive season.

When Hatakeyama returned to her small dusty holdings at the foot of the Windscour Mountains, she found to her dismay that they were no longer hers. She had been evicted for failing to pay her taxes, so she was once again a landless, penniless vagabond, a rough miner by trade without clear prospects or direction. Forearmed with knowledge now, however, she wasted no time in riding her Leomorph around the circumference of the savannah, looking for places where she could replace her farms. Fortunately the Windscour Savannah seemed to have gained an ill reputation amongst the denizens of general chat, as evidenced by the transcript below. Compounded by the fact that many players had deserted AA for the cultural juggernaut that is WoW, I reckoned her chances of finding a suitable spot were much better now than in the early land rush which accompanied the game's release.

Hatakeyama's search was not in vain. Windscour's reputation meant that there were vacant plots available here and there, and it didn't take long for Hatakeyama to find a new spot to put down two 8x8's (her plot and her alt Beorn's). She couldn't believe her good fortune - in contrast to her previous holdings, which were situated miles from any available amenities, these two farms were literally beside the vendors and the warehouses. She wasted no time claiming them, and as a celebration, she planted a few stands of cherry trees around her plot to thank the capricious gods of Archeage. She was then ganked by a passing red, but she didn't care - she was a land owner again, even if it this province was considered to be the ghetto. She was an immigrant after all, and immigrants historically begin their journeys in places disdained by the middle class and the well-to-do. This was an advance on scrabbling and scratching a living on hidden farms in haunted manses, and Hatakeyama was happy to have it.

Hatakeyama's new holdings in the Windscour Savannah. The vendors and amenities can be seen in the top right, just over the celebratory cherry trees planted all around her humble plots. They didn't last long - they were chopped down by a passing player less than a day later.

It was during this time that Hatakeyama finally met Noisy (Adam from The Noisy Rogue). Despite having played on the same server since October, December was the first time that our paths had crossed in-game. We had both followed Syncaine of Hardcore Casual into the game, joined his guild, and then watched with bemusement as Syncaine fell out of love with AA as quickly as he had fallen in love with it. From initially labelling the game "the spiritual successor of Ultima Online" he has since concluded that "good design can't overcome a bad business model and stupidity" and takes pot shots at AA at every opportunity. He's not alone - J3w3l of Healing the Masses has also fallen out love with the game, despite lavishing it with early praise, and Alysianah of Mystic Worlds, while not giving up on the title, has changed her status to F2P as protest for what she sees as the game's many ills. I'm not going to argue with their criticisms, because a lot of it is justified. I have since concluded however, that the perfect MMO in my brain will never likely be made, and nowadays I now try to weight the pros and cons of each title to see whether it is worth my time. AA has pulled me back in, which means that there is something I like about this game despite all the bad press surrounding it.

So Hatakeyama is back - for now, at least. She was given a re-invite back to <Unreal Aussies> after being kicked out for inactivity. AA is an old school MMO, which means that socialisation actually improves and enhances your gameplay. People who think PvP games are anti-social are flat out wrong - shared danger and mutual gain are powerful factors which compel socialisation, and are much more natural drivers than LFG and OQueue. For now though I have little to offer my guild - I hope to become a decent healer one of these days, and join the guild on a trade run or roam so I can be of some use. It's funny how you can tell what game players come from from the vocabulary they use. I instantly pegged a guildie as an EVE player due to his use of the word "primary". WoW PvPers use the word "focus" or "train" to express the same idea. Being a member of <Unreal Aussies> also introduced me to the phenomenon of cross-gaming guilds, something which I have seen but have not been part of yet. As a relative newcomer I'm focusing on soaking up information, keeping my ears open, and trying not be annoying. You never want to be that "guy" - the annoying newcomer who always has their hand out. So far however my new guild has been quite helpful - I'll detail more in later posts, because I don't want to get ahead of my narrative. Noisy also offered to take my avatar out on the ocean for the very first time on his brand new clipper, an offer which I gladly accepted. He even turned over the wheel to this landlubber, who repaid him by driving straight into a naval battle in progress.

"Erm...are those bad guys?" I asked, peering at the ships in confusion.

Fleeing from pirates on Noisy's clipper.

"Yes." Noisy replied. I had to admire his restraint - if I had been him I would have been shitting myself and screaming turn the boat around now FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Instead, he very calmly said, "Just turn around, and head straight for the coast." Which I did, as best I could. Which was not as easy as it first appeared, as I had removed my turn left and turn right keys from my keybindings, in an attempt to transition to mouse turning. Luckily, Reck, another Kiwi on TeamSpeak, told me I could navigate with the arrow keys. Boats handle fairly realistically in AA - they don't turn on a dime, and you have to gauge the degree of your turns to get the boat going in the direction you want. I managed to get the boat on the right heading, and after a few tense moments, we were once again back in the safe waters of the coast.

This encounter did nothing to dampen Hatakeyama's love of the sea, and in fact, only fuelled her desire to get a seafaring vessel of her own. Noisy was able to give me some advice on how to acquire the plans on the AH, and how to raise some gold. He also alerted me to the fact that Hatakeyama was unwittingly sitting on a fortune of raw stone.

"You're a miner, right?" he queried.


"Stone bricks sell for about 45 gold per stack."

A cursory check of my inventory revealed that I had over 10 stacks in my inventory, and after a brief and anxious struggle with the AH interface, Hatakeyama was transformed from a penniless pauper into a woman with a stake. Mining serves two purposes for me in AA - as a way to gain experience (I'd levelled from 35 to 45 chiefly by logging on and mining), as well as a means to dump Labor. Who knew that the humble raw stones accrued along the way were going to become her main source of revenue? I guess when people are building houses and consuming Hereafter Stones to teleport from zone to zone it creates an endless demand for stone. All those hours spent mining in the Anvilton mountains had been worth it. Just pure dumb luck that I had chosen to mine as a way of levelling.

Hatakeyama constructing her very own clipper.

Hatakeyama knew exactly what she wanted to do with her newly won gold. She acquired the plans for a harpoon clipper from the AH, and then set about buying the materials required to fabricate her very own seafaring vessel. She made her way to the port of Austera, created her own dry dock, and set about manufacturing her own ship. There was another anxious moment when she brought the packs down to the dry dock in the wrong order, and she was forced to stash her fabric pack at the end of a dingy alley and hope that no one would find and walk away with it. She quickly created an iron pack and hauled it down to the dock as fast as her donkey would allow, then darted back to the alley, recovered her fabric pack, and then brought it to her ship.

The clipper takes shape after Hatakeyama lugs shipments of iron, lumber and fabric to the dry dock.

The ship was completed shortly thereafter, and Hatakeyama was now a proud owner of her very own seafaring vessel. It cost her around 150 gold (50 for the plans, and a further 100 for mats) which for Hatakeyama, translates to about one and a half hours of mining - not really a grind at all, especially compared to some of the rep grinds I have undertaken in the past. According to my own limited knowledge, the harpoon clipper is one of the fastest ships in the Archeage armada. Unlike her sister, the adventure clipper which sports a single cannon on her starboard side, the harpoon clipper is armed with a harpoon which is used to anchor itself to enemy ships and to keep them from escaping or despawning. They serve the same function as tacklers in EVE Online. One of my AA dreams is to become involved in a naval battle - the larger the better. That would be an MMO dream come true.

One of the proudest moments for this young Harani, as her new clipper slips her berth from the dry dock, and enters the sea for the very first time.

Every ship needs a name however, and I played around with a few before finally deciding on the Miyagi. Japanese convention named battleships after provinces in their nation, and so I called the new ship Miyagi, after Miyagi-ken in the north-east part of Japan. The real Hatakeyama was born in Miyagi, and while the clipper is no battleship, it seemed to fit nicely. Besides, I also like how the name coincides with the name of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. Serendipity all around.

Now that Hatakeyama has a ship the world is her oyster, and immediately a course of action came to mind. She still had to complete one more trading quest to acquire her free 16x16 plot, and this entailed crossing the ocean and delivering a pack to a trader on hostile shores. I was going to swim it, the same way Noisy had, but now I had a ship of my own. Noisy and a couple of other guildies had already offered to take me there and to provide an escort, but I fobbed them off with excuses. This one she was going to do on her own.

The Miyagi sets sail for lands unknown.