Monday, 16 March 2015

One-track mind

I had a lot of fun yesterday evening figuring out the Mountain of Lost Souls. The First of the Arcanes, Ashetaka, and I were itching to get in there and plumb its depths. I had a brief set of notes passed on to me by "word of mouth" from Syldir, who was very generous in giving me a bit of a head start with some the needed equipment during a Bahamut run (thanks, Syldir!). Ashetaka was working with what he could remember from previous MoLS runs. Together we trekked out there and...well, it took us a few hours, but we finally managed to piece almost everything together and emerge from the mountain victorious! We definitely want to go back and do a few more passes, but my pesky work schedule will need to co-operate before that can happen.

What I realized during it is that my brain is pretty poorly suited to exploration. There's really no two ways about it; when we were trying to work out small puzzles, my brain failed to connect some dots, and think outside of the box...I definitely would not have been able to complete the run without Ashetaka, who poked and prodded everything.

I think my problem tends to be the fact that I think very straightforward - I come across a piece of information: does it seem important? If not, throw it out and completely forget about it. If it does, start thinking about that thing non-stop in a very closeminded/obtuse manner. It makes it really frustrating for me when I hit a wall in a puzzle because my brain starts running in a very small circle and it's hard for me to get it to jump off that track and try to approach it from a different manner. It's a combination of the assumptions I make and the way I convince myself of the way the problem must be solved.

I'm not sure how I can get better at puzzle solving/exploring beyond exposing myself into more puzzle-y scenarios around the Realms until my brain finally gets it. I do like puzzle games, funnily enough, with the Professor Layton series being one of my favourites, and I often have little trouble making my way through that game...but when it comes to the realms, for whatever reason, I find myself stumped.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Seeing things in a new light

It's been a quiet month for me ever since the Arcanes' January quest came to a close. I won, by the way, which meant I got a Maniacal Tendencies, which I promptly traded away (and received an extremely generous return...seriously, it was much more than I should have gotten, but the person, who was fully aware of the values, kept throwing stuff at me). As a result, my paladin is pretty decked out now, and my augurer has hit the 1800 hp threshold. Pretty swanky! On top of that, my new thief has more or less been equipped, while my current one has been swapped over to devout and isn't looking super destitute, which is a win in my books.

I've been spending some time lately playing some other games. In particular, I've been playing Starbound (with a friend) and Darkest Dungeon. If you've never heard of these games, Starbound is one of those explore/build types of games like Minecraft and Terraria. Like Terraria, Starbound is 2D. You create a character from one of multiple races and start on a broken spaceship and go planet/system-hopping to try and repair/upgrade your ship, completing different quests to advance the storyline. It's currently in beta, so the questlines aren't complete yet and there isn't much of an end-game beyond "build a fancy home somewhere on a planet you like", but with a friend, Starbound can be really entertaining.

Darkest Dungeon, another early-access type of game, is a roguelike dungeon crawler. You build a party of four characters of varying classes, then go on runs through procedurally-generated dungeons in a sidescrolling format. Combat is turn-based and seems inspired by diceroll systems.

These two games really encapsulate what I enjoy most about Realms: Starbound gives me that feel of exploration and adventure. That tingly feeling of finding a chest somewhere and getting a cool new piece of gear or vanity equipment will never get old! Darkest Dungeon, on the other hand, inspires that traditional P&P feel. It's a gritty affair where a sudden crit can flip your entire run on its head.

What I've come to learn through both these games is the importance of perspective. If you watch the Youtube personality NorthernLion, he's been doing a playthrough of Darkest Dungeon. There is one episode in specific that will boil your blood at the way he spectacularly fails at a run: his objective is to essentially find three corpses in a dungeon. For whatever reason, NorthernLion passes by several animal corpses and doesn't think anything of them; he even talks about them at one point, and how he won't touch them (interacting with various objects can lead to adverse effects; for example, having a character touch a corpse without herbal medicine/anti-venom can lead to your character suffering a temporary DoT from being diseased). So he bumbles around for over half an hour, confused and wondering if the game is bugged because he "can't find any corpses". For whatever reason, he has the image of a human corpse in his mind, and never once stopped to re-evaluate his assumption until near the end when he realizes he's been traipsing back and forth over the animal corpses the entire time without stopping once to inspect it - clicking on them to look costs nothing, only actual interaction with the objects is risky.

In Starbound, you can run into some pretty sticky situations. My friend ran into a prison with a ton of aggro guards, and even with the highest tier of armor and weapons, got shredded quickly. I tried it and attempted to take it slowly, wanting to lure each guard out one by one...but even then, I failed. So I decided to go about it another way: I just dig around the prison, poked small holes in the walls and shot at the guards from my position of safety. I saw an account from another player on Reddit who found an enclosed treasure room full of flame-spewing mechanical spiders. Instead of busting through the wall and trying to kill them all, he instead filled the room with lava, which killed the spiders but left the treasure intact.

So how can I apply these lessons to the Realms?
- When I go exploring, always take a critical look at the assumptions I'm making. This can be pretty essential in the age of Rodpedia, where maps and item lists, and notes/instructions are often kept, which pretty much supply loads of assumptions for you.
- Always look for that other way to skin the cat. There might be another way into a keep, there could be a simpler way to complete a quest. Never assume you just have to kill a mob to get something done.

Anywho, that's enough from my end. If you've got a bit of money to spare, I would suggest trying out Starbound or Darkest Dungeon, if those games seem to be within your range of interests, I'd give them a look and possibly pick them up (and play them in between pops, of course).

Friday, 30 January 2015

The mysterious orb of winter...

You tell Eisengrim 'Hi Eis!'

You tell Eisengrim 'Do you have a moment? :)'
Eisengrim tells you 'hello'
Eisengrim tells you 'possibly, whats up'
You tell Eisengrim 'I found one of your orbs of winter :)'
Eisengrim tells you 'nice. on which char?'
You tell Eisengrim 'This one, actually hehe. I was adjusting align and ran into it'

A small classroom                                          /     -     \
-------------------------------------------------------    - ---(+)--- E
                                                           \     -     /
This classroom is set up in an open style.  Small desks are set in a
semicircle about the room.  Toys litter the floor like yesterday's
castoffs.  A table at the far wall occupies a place of importance.
Several puzzle toys rest upon this table.  Simple drawings of gears,
levers and the like line the walls.
Exits: east
(Magical) A small glowing white sphere lies here, shimmering waves of mist emanating from its core.
A large pool of spilled blood lies here.
An old gnome woman stands here, teaching the class.
A gnome child is here, deep in thought.
A gnome child is here, deep in thought.

Eisengrim appears within a swirling vortex of leaves.
You say 'twas a nice surprise to stumble across it, heh'
Eisengrim peers intently about the area, looking for thieves no doubt.
Eisengrim says 'pass me the orb'

You get Eisengrim's Orb of Winter.
The orb flares, rays of white energy illuminating the area.
The cold arctic winds flare up, throwing powerful gusts around you.
Flakes of pure white snow begin to fall, covering the ground.
At that moment the realization strikes: winter has arrived.


You give Eisengrim's Orb of Winter found by Rentuke to Eisengrim.
Eisengrim smiles happily.
Your glory has been increased by 3.
Eisengrim says 'keep your eyes open'
Eisengrim bows deeply.
You thank Eisengrim heartily.
Eisengrim gives a wink, before crumbling into leaves which scatter to the floor.

A nice way to end the day!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Who are we?


I have most of a post written up about story content and the overall lack of consistent lore throughout the Realms of Despair gameworld...but it made me think about something else, so I'll summarize what that post would have been:

Basically, I'm glad in News 1024 that the imms decided to conclude the story of the Wyrm that destroyed the guilds by having Merlin catch it and trap it inside a cave that players can now run. Realms lacks a lot of this continuity/conclusion of storylines (ie. the guards at the southern gate of Darkhaven have been worried about a goblin attack/balrog uprising for over a decade now, and yet nothing changes). And honestly they could use their own immortal-run quests to continue stories (ie. "The Wyrm's scales have been found across the realms...collect the scales and Merlin can use them to track it down" instead of "Hey, leftover food from holiday parties have been scattered across the realms....go find some leftover turkey legs"), but they don't. It's sad that while each area contains its own storyline, the areas don't often interconnect across the world and create one big story.

But that got me to thinking: if there was a coherent overarching story for the gameworld, how would we explain away things like repops? I mean...entire stretches of land suddenly resetting themselves? That guy you just killed reappears and has no recollection of you murdering him and taking his loot five minutes ago? So I mulled it about my brain for a few days.

My first theory involved magical time travel. We, as the characters within the game, are time travellers, zipping around to various areas. The areas themselves are essentially moments in time captured from an environment - for example, the Duke never seems to age, nor his guards, nor the merchants, because the New Darkhaven we know is just a small snippet of time that's been isolated by a greater power. When it reaches the end of that snippet, it resets, sort of like a VHS tape that's hit the end, and it automatically rewinds. Instead of rewinding with the area, however, our characters are immune and can continue forward. Every entrance to an area would consist of some sort of portal/gate that links the areas together - maybe not a literal portal/gate, but the concept of one.

Several thoughts followed this: what of new areas? New areas would basically be new moments in time of different lands that are captured and connected to the world we know. But the question arises: who's doing the collecting? And to what purpose? Are we basically playing inside some greater being's collection of "moments" across the universe/dimensions, and that greater being is watching us? This would seem to play into the idea of the immortals: they connect and manage the areas, we delve into them.

But then...was the Shattering our version of the Matrix? Was it a group of individuals trying to break free of the system? Ultimately, that group failed and the immortals prevailed, and though the system sustained heavy damage and was changed forever (astral disruption, etc.), the immortals patched everything back up......which, in the analogy of the Matrix, would make the immortals the Agents...aka, the villains. Or at least the anti-heroes. And that would explain how whimsical and fickle the immortals can seem at times, tasking mortals with quests like gathering supplies for a beach party, or just slaying people for fun.

There are small inconsistencies that don't work with this theory, however, like the destruction of the guilds. New Darkhaven was clearly reacting to the Wyrm, with the Duke suddenly coming up with a quest to rally an effort to thwart the dragons. That failed, though, and the guilds were destroyed and reformed...this suggests that things aren't static. The quests for eqsets also affect older areas; merchants that were part of the loop before suddenly have new information - but that's the only new thing about them. The only explanation I could come up with is that all of these events could just be those mysterious immortals pulling the strings and manually inserting new events into the isolated loops of time.

However, something that puzzles me in relation to this theory is character death. Our characters clearly die, at least from what we can tell: physical corpses exist that decay over time...yet if we're immune to the time loops (and somewhat immune to the effects of time itself as there are characters who are tens of thousands of years old), why do we respawn? And I don't mean that as in a "what revives us" because the answer would sound something like "magic". I mean...for what reason do we respawn?

The second theory I had, which I personally like more, is that we, the characters in the Realms, are in a state of purgatory or limbo....or, we're possibly in a version of hell/the underworld itself. Think about it: we all enter the Realms at the age of 17 through the Sunless Sea. Not only is that name a depressing one, the Sunless Sea, (we like to imagine a beach with sparkling waters, a blue sky, and a radiant sun, don't we?), but here's the description of the area:

"Tales of the Sunless Sea are legendary: endless underground seas populated 
by horrific monsters, entire underground cities where Drow scheme and perform 
elaborate rituals, and vast mountain ranges where Dwarves work secret mines are 
only a few. One such story tells of an intense magical battle that took its toll even 
above ground. What is known for certain is that an ancient tower crumbled,
leaving an exit from the Sunless Sea."

Every character passes through here, this underground abyss with monsters and even cities...doesn't this seem hellish in theme? Furthermore, could the cities mentioned be a reference to cities like Pandemonium, the capitol of hell in John Milton's Paradise Lost? intense magical battle above ground...perhaps the fall of Lucifer? 

Having arrived at this point, I concluded that the Sunless Sea is an area within hell. But it's not over for our characters; far from that, hell is apparently the beginning, because at the end of the area, all characters line up before a great tapestry and a cord they pull. What happens when the cord is pulled? They receive judgement...after which they are torn through realities and deposited into the Halls of Knowledge. Isn't it interesting that it's the Halls of Knowledge that we're introduced to first upon our descent into purgatory? According to the Christian Bible, wasn't it the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve ate from, which triggered their banishment from the Garden of Eden? Just as Knowledge was the fall of man, this place of Knowledge marks the beginning of our own plunge.

There seems to be many ties and references to concepts and themes within Christianity, whether or not it's intended - after all, it seems fairly intuitive that when you're starting out in the game, an academy/educational institution would be a safe thematic area from which to begin. Nevertheless, the references are there.

The funny thing about this theory is that it would mean the immortals are actually sort of like our demon overlords. But that doesn't sound too far from reality, does it ;) They could also be angel-figures tasked with supervising hell, but I think the demon overlords would be funnier.

However, the idea of the Realms being a state of limbo isn't limited to our characters, but to every NPC and mobile in the game. For whatever reason, every living soul in the game has been rejected from some state of heaven and left to rot in the Realms of Despair. It would explain repops and deaths; since everyone is already truly dead, they can't really die again, so they merely reform and suffer the trip back to recovering their belongings. Repops are much the same; all the individuals in an area sentenced to hell, and they can't do anything but die at the hands of the adventurers...only to respawn and be subject to it over and over again for the rest of eternity.

Another thing I find interesting is that we have access to the Underworld, and at lower levels of it, our characters can encounter the figure of Satan, and even kill Satan...I mean, if this is hell itself and God intended to punish Satan as much as the sinners within, wouldn't it be a pretty fitting punishment that Satan, because of his (or her, as Satan is female in the game) hubris, would also be subject to dying at the hands of lowly mortals? At the same time, while we have Satan in the game...why do we never encounter God? The closest we seem to get within the area "The Realm of Worship" is one of the game's ultimate mobiles, Divine Retribution. Again, thematically fitting that one of the toughest mobiles in the game for our medieval sinners is divine retribution.

It's not too difficult to imagine why every character would be sent to hell, either. Look at how we level up and obtain gear: we kill things. Animals, creatures, people...even children. All without remorse, so we can gain power and wealth. One thing that might stand as an obstacle to this theory is why infants/babies exist in the Realms for us to kill as well, as the Bible does imply that babies/others incapable of professing their faith are given lenience and permitted to enter heaven...but I would respond by saying that the infants we encounter in the Realms are tests of our character's...character, in various ways. The two that come immediately to mind: the baby in Tull Manor, and the merbaby in Coral Depths. Killing the former proves that our characters are being watched and judged. Meanwhile, if you kill the latter, the merbaby, unlike most other mobiles in the game, cries out for its mother if trying to appeal to your sense of guilt to make you stop. But we don't. We never do. No surprise our characters are down here, huh?

Through all of this, a frightening proposition arises: what is happening in the mortal world? Every character that enters the game begins right when they turn 17 (based on the fact that it takes the same amount of time to age to 18 compared to aging to 19). Is it some sort of disease that's killing people in their teens? Not likely, seeing as the timing is so specific and precise. A form of age-based genocide, perhaps? For whatever reason, as soon as someone turns 17, they're put to death?

What about the apocalypse? You might think it unlikely because of the steady stream of new entrants to the Realms. The end of the world would mean everyone dies and enters the Realms at once, then no more afterwards, right? Well, it depends on how you view the end of the world. If we're look at it from the Christian perspective, the world doesn't end with one big explosion, followed by nothingness. According to the Christian Bible (though there are varying theories on the sequence of events), the return of Christ signals the beginning of the world. Following that are the trials and tribulations, upon which much death will occur. The population of the world will be reduced to a fraction until the end of the process...

Sounds like what happened with the Realms population, doesn't it? Back in the early 2000s, the game was positively humming. Thousands of active characters exploring the one seemingly big boom.........and then, as time goes on, a slower pace of new faces to the Realms...sounds like the end days began, and the human population was culled. A large amount at first, due to the total size of the human population, but then less, because there are less humans left alive to die. Kind of an eerie prospect, huh? While our characters are roaming around the Realms, the end of the world has been going on...

Anywho, this post has gone on long enough and is a clear indicator that I've been watching far too many Youtube videos on video game theories. But it was a fun concept to think about and led much farther than I initially thought it would. And it's doubly amusing because I'm planning to do a few minor runs in the Underworld with my shiny new Nasr soon!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

January questing begins

Happy new year!

Arcanes has begun a new quest for January - one that I think I can take part in, maybe (just maybe) get top spot! The prizes are pretty handy, too.

A wordsearch was posted on the noteboard with the names of 30 different items hidden inside...I've found 28, possibly 29 of them. I'll have to check on the 29th to make sure that combination of letters wasn't just a coincidence. I'm missing the last one, but looking at the puzzle too long gives me a headache :P

The goal is to collect as many of these items as we can within the month; one main stipulation is that we aren't allowed to buy any of the pieces, which is fair. Some of them are easy items like scorched band of glass and so on, while others are a bit trickier like shifting black flames (time to prep my ranger!), and still others require a bit of teamwork to make easier. Nonetheless, I hope to document the progress of my quest as I go...I'll obviously be revealing the items I've found, but honestly the wordsearch isn't *too* difficult.

I had some spare time at work today, and was already able to nab a few of the easier items on the list:
scorched band of glass, ice girth, crystal dragon bracer, sash of the magi. Off to a good start to the new year, too, because I already learned something! The Grand Mistress in the High Tower of Sorcery felt like it should have been much easier than it actually was. It wasn't until I'd already defeated her and looted the sash that I realized I'd been wielding a magical weapon the entire time, when only non-magic weapons hit her, hahaha. So the fight should have gone a hundred times quicker...but shieldbash eventually got her down ;)

Here's to a newer, and greater, year!