Gemcraft: Achievements

Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows has 419 Achievements.

One is awarded for winning the game in “Iron Wizard” mode, a harder version of the game that becomes available when you reach experience level 100 in regular mode. (Not as big a deal as it sounds — I’m well over level 500 currently.) Iron Wizard doesn’t seem to be the no-failure-allowed ruleset that other games call “Iron Man”, but it removes the experience system, which makes skill points much harder to come by. At any rate, I won’t be able to get that Achievement in my current playthrough.

The other 418 are a varied lot. Some are outright impossible to not get. Some require special effort. Some are tutorial-like, using the achievement system to point out non-obvious things about the rules, like the fact that building an Amplifier right next to your base helps reduce damage to it. There’s a whole set that require beating particular battlefields under arbitrary constraints that you’re unlikely to do unless you’re specifically going for the achievement, like “Harvest 24,000 mana from shards at field K5 before wave 18 starts”, or “Don’t build anything at field H1”, or “Use only armor tearing gems at field R4”, injecting a little extra variety into proceedings.

The one consistent thing is that every Achievement applies to a single battle, and you must actually win the battle for it to count. Even in the few cases where the condition for the achievement is something that happens outside the battlefield, like “Upgrade all skills to level 5 or greater”, you have to actually play out a battle in that state to get credit for it.

No matter what’s in the achievements, they all seem quite achievable. I have the majority of them already, and I’m making a serious go of getting them all. This is clearly what the designers want. These are not your tacked-on Achievements concocted at the last minute to satisfy console certification requirements. These achievements are deeply integrated into the game. Achievements give you extra skill points — it’s a fraction of what you get from leveling up, but every little bit helps. And there’s a very nice in-game Achievements menu that lets you filter them by various attributes, including the attributes of “locked” and “unlocked”. This is useful for planning which Achievements you want to go for in your next battle. Sometimes I can find several that naturally go together.

In fact, the game goes a step beyond that. It lets you access the Achievements menu in the middle of battle. I really didn’t see the point of this at first — it seemed like a case of counting your money while you’re sitting at the table. But the battlefield version of the menu shows bar graphs where applicable, letting you track your progress towards that “Kill 150 Cursed monsters using the Beam spell” or whatever. Better yet, it adds a few new filter attributes, letting you look at just the achievements that are still achievable in the current battle.

So basically, the developers have put a lot of effort into catering to the achievement-mongers among us. The only game I know of with a more capable in-game Achievements UI is Team Fortress 2, which lets you display progress towards selected Achievements on the in-game HUD. TF2 is also one of the few games I’ve played that has more Achievements than this one.

WoW: Capture the Fortress

Let me describe one particular quest in the Outland. It’s a quest that I finished today, but only because I was prevented from completing it yesterday due to the inaction of Alliance players.

In the middle of the Hellfire Peninsula, there are three points arbitrarily designated as places of great strategic importance. Apparently they were one of the developers’ first experiments with putting PVP mechanics into the main map, rather than isolating them in Battleground zones. Like the capture points in Battlegrounds, each of these can belong to either Horde or Alliance, or be neutral. If you stand in one that’s owned by the enemy, and there’s no enemy there to oppose you, it gets slowly converted to your side: a gauge in the quest UI shows your progress towards converting it, and flags draped about the walls show the current winner’s colors.

There is a repeatable quest to participate in capturing all three points (not necessarily all at once). Note that there’s one condition that definitively prevents you from accomplishing this: if one or more of the points is already under your side’s control, you cannot capture it. The premise of the quest is that it’s crucial to control those three points, but simply controlling them isn’t enough to earn your reward. You have to take control of them, even if it means letting the enemy capture them first. (It reminds me of certain Catholic doctrines about sin.) I imagine that when Outland was first opened to visitors, and the zone was flooded with level-60 players, ownership of the capture points must have flipped pretty frequently, making their recapture a convincingly urgent concern. But there aren’t a lot of people in the zone these days, so they can get stuck in one state for a good long while.

And that has interesting and presumably unintended consequences for player behavior. During my first sally at this quest, I found an Alliance member capturing one of the points while two Horde guys hovered overhead on their flying mounts. When I made to land, they asked me not to: they were politely waiting their turn, waiting for the Alliance guy to finish capturing it so they could capture it back. There was no combat here, just polite cooperation that allowed both sides to fulfill their needs. In another game, I might regard this as tantamount to cheating, like using a TF2 “Achievement server” 1Achievement servers are places where people go to collaborate on fulfilling the requirements for TF2 Achievements instead of actually trying to win matches. I think it’s a good thing that they exist, because it keeps that sort of behavior out of the regular servers, but it’s always seemed to me a way to make the game less fun. , but here, it just seemed like a natural and unavoidable consequence of a badly-thought-out mechanic.

In fact, my thoughts on this matter were so firm that I was fairly flabbergasted when I came back the next day and found that someone in the Alliance was actually defending the things. Someone, moreover, powerful enough to kill me in one hit, and therefore probably not getting any Honor points for it. I kept coming back, hoping that he’d get bored of killing me eventually, and eventually it worked. But I was surprised at his persistence. He was probably surprised at mine, too, but at least he presumably understood my motivations, and I don’t understand his. Was he just in a bullying mood, or was he taking the fiction more seriously than I was?

1 Achievement servers are places where people go to collaborate on fulfilling the requirements for TF2 Achievements instead of actually trying to win matches. I think it’s a good thing that they exist, because it keeps that sort of behavior out of the regular servers, but it’s always seemed to me a way to make the game less fun.

Change of Plans

I think I’ve fixed my recent hardware problems. As you may recall, my system was occasionally turning itself off, suddenly and without warning. Graphically-intensive games seemed to be the cause: I first noticed the problem in Team Fortress 2, but later observed it in other games, including ones that I had played without problems before. This is weird behavior for a PC: the sort of problem that can be triggered by running a game generally manifests more mildly, with the game dumping you back to the desktop with an “illegal operation” dialog. At most, you expect a system lock-up, not a system shut-down.

Well, when I was blowing the dust out of the case the other day, I noticed that some internal cables were out of place. This box keeps its wiring tidied up with plastic clips stuck to the metal of the case walls with adhesive pads, and one of those pads had come unstuck. The cables didn’t seem damaged, but they were hanging vary close to where the video card sits, and some of the dust was actually blackened. My theory is that the cables were actually touching the video card’s heat sink. Once the card started really working, the metal of the wires would carry that heat straight into the heart of the PSU, which has to take things like sudden heat spikes seriously and really has only one way of dealing with them.

With the wires re-secured, I was able to get through all of the TF2 Developer Commentary tracks without incident. So I’m ready to give the high-graphics games another try. Now that I know what was going on, I’m pleased that the system handled the situation as gracefully as it did, and apparently avoided permanent damage.

TF2: More Things

I think I really have to declare TF2 to be off the stack by now, if only because I haven’t been posting about it. Completion was a difficult concept with this one from the beginning anyway. Also, I have an unofficial policy that work-related gaming doesn’t count, and arguably TF2 as I’ve been playing it fits that description. At one point, when discussing the day’s tasks with a manager, he explicitly included TF2 in the schedule. It isn’t mandatory, I objected. He replied that it kind of was: for the sake of morale, we have to take advantage of the lulls in an otherwise frenzied schedule. And, due to my machine’s illness, I’m still not playing it at home at all.

And anyway, I really have met my initial goal of playing every class for a substantial period of time. The one that I took to last was the Engineer, whose main means of attack consists of building an automated sentry gun and then sitting back and waiting. I had found it very difficult to do anything useful as an Engineer on the King of the Hill maps: sentry guns don’t last long when all the action is concentrated in one place. But we’ve been doing some Capture-the-Flag maps lately, and those are positively ideal for the Engineer. In CTF, the general pattern seems to be a raging battle somewhere in the middle of the map, with an occasional solitary player (usually a Scout) slipping through the cracks and penetrating the base where the Intelligence 1In TF2 CTF mode, the “flag” is a briefcase full of important documents. is kept. So there’s a place where enemies will inevitably eventually show up, and when they do, they’ll most likely be alone.

I’ve managed to get First Milestone with only one class since my last post: the Spy. It happened quite unexpectedly, when there was only one other person on the server, which makes some of the Spy’s Achievements a great deal easier. The one that pushed me over was the one you get for killing the player you’re disguised as. Well, when there’s only one other player to be disguised as, that’s not hard. I have some misgivings about this — I’ve been adamant about getting my Achievements honestly over the course of normal play, and we were just messing around at the time, not actually playing the game per se. But “messing around” is playing, no?

Anyway, I’m mainly playing Scout lately, because that’s where I’m lagging behind in Achievements. There are a couple of Achievements that you basically just get for playing a Scout for a long period of time, but most of the Scout Achievements depend on playing well, and the Scout actually requires skill to play well. Its chief strength is being able to move fast and dodge fire, which doesn’t happen automatically. (This is the opposite of the Heavy, which basically can’t dodge anything but also has less need to dodge anything.) I’ll say one thing for it, though: after you’ve played as Scout for a while, all the other classes seem unbearably sluggish. In fact, pretty much all of the classes have specific virtues that the player can acclimate to, and then miss when switching to another class; I get the impression that a lot of people just play one class exclusively as a result.

Let’s talk about the Team Fortress 2 scoring system for a moment, if only because I had a couple of paragraphs typed up already. (I was intending another “Five Things” post.) TF2 has a scoring system. (In fact, in a sense, it has two. See below.) This was not obvious to me when I first started playing, because the score is irrelevant to winning and losing. You get to see the individual players ranked by score at the end of a match, and the players on the winning team tend to have more points than the players on the losing team, but that’s because the things that get you points tend to be the sort of things that help you win, not because there’s a direct cause/effect relationship. (I can imagine a game mode in which the winning team is simply the one that scores the most points total, but if such a mode exists, I’ve never seen it.) Obviously you get points for kills, but if that were it, it would be unfortunate for the Medic. You get half a point for assisting a kill, which usually means doing damage before the killing blow is struck. Medics get credit for kill assists just by healing the person actually doing the killing. That’s a pretty good bit of design: it gives the medics a way to get points that requires them to be involved in the battle like everyone else, rather than hanging out where it’s safe and waiting for people to come to them. Some other classes also get points for being played the way the designers want them to be played when it’s difficult to do so: Spies score extra for backstabs, Snipers for headshots. Getting a Revenge kill — that is, killing someone who’s killed you three or more times — is worth a point. Working directly towards your mission objectives is worth points: capturing a control point is worth two, defending one by killing an enemy in the process of capturing it is worth one, etc. It’s all rather complicated, which is why it’s fortunate that you never actually have to think about it.

In addition to the in-game score system, there’s a fairly popular server mod called HLstatsX that tracks your lifetime performance on the server where it’s installed. It was recently installed on the server we use in our office sessions, which, since I’m still having problems with my home box, is the only place I’ve been playing lately. You can see my stats here. It tracks many things, but the one thing it makes you aware of during the game (via in-game messages) is its own point system, which persists from session to session. HLstatsX points are usually awarded for the same things as TF2 points, but in different quantities. In particular, kills yield a number of points determined by the ratio of the the killer’s and victim’s point totals; killing someone who has more points than you gives you more points than killing someone who has fewer points. At the same time, the victim loses half as many points as the killer gained. It seems like the intent here is to make the points system into something like the ranking systems used in Chess and Go, but those systems are designed to make the ranking depend solely on the player’s skill, whereas in HLstatsX, it’s not. Because the victim loses only half the points gained, killing isn’t zero-sum; each kill increases the average score. As do the points from other sources. So the number of points you have is only partly a measure of your skill; mostly it’s a measure of how much time you’ve spent playing. (When someone captures a control point, their entire team gets two points each. So it’s possible to get points just by sitting in your base and waiting.) Thus we see the variable score for killing as mainly a way to let newer players catch up to everyone else faster.

Anyway, looking at my experience of the game so far, I find that in the heat of battle, when the mind is focused on pursuing a goal, it’s easy to forget to notice the game’s absurdity. Every once in a while we try a new map, and sometimes that’s enough to bring the absurd back to my attention — many of the maps are based around rustic or decrepit exteriors as a facade over secret bases, where you can see gleaming boardrooms and computer banks just out of reach (and of course the secret bases of the two enemies are usually separated by just a few dozen yards) — but sometimes it actually takes me a while for this to penetrate my consciousness, which is otherwise occupied with trying to figure out the lay of the land. But I suppose that it all affects the experience of the thing even if you’re not paying attention to it, as architecture always does. (Are there people with training in architecture working in level design? It seems like a relevant skill.) And besides, the developers have made it clear in commentary and interviews that they, too, put the gameplay first and the absurdity second — that, in fact, the absurdity was developed as a way of enhancing gameplay. The bases are unrealistically close together because that makes for a better game, and once they do that, they might as well play it for laughs rather than make excuses for it. The broad caricature in the character design was adopted to make it easier to recognize different classes from a distance. Rocket-jumping was inherited from Quake 2In a sense, even Doom had rocket-jumping. You couldn’t use it to jump upward, because you couldn’t aim downward, but there was at least one map where the only way to get across a pit was to fire a rocket point-blank into a wall, propelling yourself horizontally fast enough to clear it. , where it was an unintended consequence of the physics model, and didn’t really fit the fiction; in TF2, it comes off as not just unrealistic but downright cartoony, which makes it fit in perfectly. I was recently shown a Youtube video of a Demoman using explosions to launch himself long distances like a missile. There are similar videos for other games — Halo alone seems to have dozens of “Warthog Launch” videos, where players try to get a vehicle up on top of an unnavigable cliff by detonating a piles of grenades under it — but this is the first time it’s seemed like a legitimate part of the game, and a viable tactic.

1 In TF2 CTF mode, the “flag” is a briefcase full of important documents.
2 In a sense, even Doom had rocket-jumping. You couldn’t use it to jump upward, because you couldn’t aim downward, but there was at least one map where the only way to get across a pit was to fire a rocket point-blank into a wall, propelling yourself horizontally fast enough to clear it.

TF2: Five Things

A full workweek of lunchtime TF2 (and one evening session), and no post! I really have been remiss. To make up for five missed days, here’s five paragraphs on unrelated topics that summarize my week.

I’ve achieved First Milestone with the Heavy class. I had been hovering at 9 Achievements of the required 10 for a while; the one that finally put me over was for killing five enemies in a row without spinning down my minigun. See, the Heavy’s gun takes a moment to spin up before it starts firing — it’s a manifestation of the class’s slow-but-powerful theme. What’s not obvious at first is that you can keep it spinning without firing by holding down the right mouse button. While in this mode, you can start firing instantly, but at the cost of moving even more slowly than the Heavy does normally. The notable thing about this Achievement is that it’s essentially a tutorial: it draws the player’s attention to the possibility of not spinning down, and encourages one to give it a try. By the time you’ve got the Achievement, you’ve got a good handle on why, and when, keeping your gun spun up is a good idea. There are other Achievements like this, such as the Scout’s Achievement for executing 1000 double jumps, or the Spy’s Achievements for backstabbing an Engineer and sapping his buildings (in both orders), or the various ones for killing opponents with Taunt moves.

I’m getting the hang of playing as a Demoman. As with the Medic, it’s all about the secondary weapon — the stickybombs, which can be strewn about and then detonated on your signal. At work we mostly play King of the Hill maps, which makes a Demoman partcularly powerful: there’s just one important spot, and if it’s covered in your stickies, it’s very difficult for the enemy to take control of it. An enemy facing a bestickied hill basically has two options. First, they can send one guy on a suicide mission to make you detonate your bombs, then rush it with the rest of the team to capture it before you can set up them the bomb again. This involves more coordination than most ad-hoc teams are capable of. Alternately, they can just send someone to kill you before you can detonate your bombs. There are maps where there are battlements overlooking the control point that are hard to reach from the enemy’s side — ideal for Snipers, but also, I’m realizing, for Demomen, provided they can lob the stickies to where they’re needed. Even so, given the significance of the Demoman in keeping enemies off the point, and the general difficulty of killing people at close quarters with Demoman weapons, it seems like it would be a good idea for the Demoman’s teammates to station someone more melee-capable (a Pyro, say) on the route to the battlements to protect him. Either way, there’s an opportunity here for chess-like gambits involving multiple players, but ones that the gameplay (including the Achievement system) doesn’t explicitly encourage. Consequently, the opportunity is generally wasted.

I spent a little time playing the original Half-Life recently, for reasons I won’t go into, and I was struck anew by how different the feel of TF2 is. By and large, single-player FPS games live in the wake of Doom, which is to say, they’re horror games. (Even Portal, which is about as far from a typical FPS as you can get while still viewing things in first-person and using a gun, has a strong sense of nightmare.) The dominant mood in such games is the adrenaline rush. And that’s something that’s strangely missing from TF2. The cartoony style is a factor, but a relatively minor one, in my opinion. In a game without an exploration element, the sense of of anticipation is blunted, and with it any possibility of dread. Death is swift and frequent and often comes without warning, all of which also works against dread, but more importantly, death is inconsequential. I don’t mean that the only consequence is respawning back at your base — similar things could be said of conventional FPS games, where dying just means respawning at the last save point. I mean that things don’t stop happening just because you’re temporarily tagged out. If you started capturing a control point before you got killed, there’s a good chance that one of your teammates is still there finishing the job. You can even watch it happen while you wait to respawn. As a result, death doesn’t feel final, but like just one of those things that happens. That is, it doesn’t feel like death. Which probably contributes to the sense of exaggerated slapstick I described earlier.

My latest random acquisition in the game is the Sandman, a special baseball bat that the Scout can use. Its special virtue is that, unlike normal baseball bats, it can be used to hit baseballs. Baseballs that hit an opponent leave them temporarily stunned and very likely to get killed by whoever’s nearby. This is very annoying when it happens to you — as always, unexpectedly taking control away from a player creates frustration. But I have yet to actually hit anyone with a ball, as it’s a difficult skill that has to be mastered. Difficult to pull off, annoying to others wen you do — in other words, it’s kind of like playing a Spy. It strikes me that a lot of the special items have the effect of letting one class take on attributes of another. A Pyro with the Backburner becomes more lethal when attacking from behind, like the Spy. A Spy with the Ambassador can do headshots to kill instantly from a distance, like the Sniper. A Sniper with the Hunstman can be effective in melee, like most other classes.

I complained a while ago about my inability to find documentation for this game. Well, I really should have looked for a wiki earlier than I did. Blame it on my retrogaming habits — I’m not used to playing games where the wiki is an essential feature, rather than an afterthought. (Although the ancient Spoiler Files for Nethack come close.) You can call it laziness on the part of the developers, but when you come down to it, no one documents stuff as thoroughly as fans. So, given that people were probably going to make a wiki anyway, why bother with any other docs? It would have been nice if either Steam or linked to it, but I can understand why a company, with legal obligations, would want to avoid linking to something so unaccountable. The wiki led me to the Movies page, which I really could have noticed before, considering that there’s a link to it right on top of, but it’s a link that, paradoxically, is too prominent to be noticeable: it’s part of the page’s banner image, which is something I generally ignore. At any rate, the Movies page is particularly significant, because that’s the one place where you can actually find a summary of the game’s premise. It shows something about the game that I’ve playing it for so long without missing that.

TF2: Tech detectoring

Playing TF2 at home continues to pose problems. I mentioned before how playing the Developer Commentary caused my machine to shut off. Sometimes it does this during a real game as well. Other times it doesn’t. There is one new development: sometimes, instead of shutting the machine off, it just gets stuck for a while, looping a second or so of sound and puting some garbage pixels on the screen before popping up a system dialog stating that the graphics hardware stopped responding and it’s had to reset them. After this, I can resume the game as if nothing happened except the loss of some valuable time during which I naturally got killed.

What’s more, I’ve now seen this happen outside of TF2. It also happened in Darwinia — a game I finished some years ago, but I gave it another look simply because it was in that Steam Indie Pack. Anyway, it’s a pretty clear confirmation that the problem isn’t just in TF2. It really seems like a malfunction of the graphics card, and I turned all my graphics settings down to the minimum during today’s session to see if that would help. It seemed to, and I had a nice crashless session (during which I managed to get one more Achievement as a Heavy), but I still got a crash when I tried Developer Commentary mode.

Well, the one real difference in Developer Commenty is the voiceovers. And in fact I had voice chat turned off in my online session — it seems to get turned back on automatically sometimes, and I specifically turned it off while I had the Options menu open to change the graphics settings. So my working hypothesis at this point is that the real cause has to do with sound, and that the reported graphics problems are just a symptom. We’ll see how that works out.

TF2: Pyro

More failure to fulfill the Oath here: I’ve got three days worth of lunchtime TF2 (plus a certain amount of evening play) to report on here, and I’m late even for the third. The only really notable thing that happened, aside from the halos belatedly showing up on the server at work, is that I reached the first Achievement milestone for the Pyro class.

The Pyro is probably the easiest classes to play. The basic Pyro weapon is a flamethrower, which doesn’t have much range, but it covers a largish area and fires continually without reloading. It’s like the opposite of a Sniper: if you can get close enough to the enemy, you’ll probably win. But the main reason that I’ve been playing Pyro so much is that it’s the one class that’s really useful against Spies. Spies have this irritating tendency to turn invisible just when you start firing at them, but no one’s invisible while they’re on fire. So whenever I’m having trouble with Spies, I switch to Pyro for a while.

The Pyro is presented as the least human character, his 1I use the male pronoun here, but there is some debate about the Pyro’s actual gender. face concealed by protective rubber gear, his past and place of origin officially unknown. All the other classes have specific bios — for example, the Scout is “The youngest of eight boys from the south side of Boston”. Does this mean that if there are several Scouts in a match, each and every one of them is the youngest of eight boys from the south side of Boston? Best not think about it — this multiple instantiation of individuals seems to be just something that games take for granted these days. (See the species descriptions in Plants vs Zombies.) At any rate, such concerns don’t apply to the pastless Pyro. He’s also presented as the madman of the team, what with the occasional muffled maniacal laughter from under that mask. This is a little unfair, because when you come right down to it, all of the characters in the game are completely insane by real-life standards. This is something that really struck me on watching a Scout, the game’s designated weakling, charge out of nowhere and beat someone to death with a baseball bat.

1 I use the male pronoun here, but there is some debate about the Pyro’s actual gender.

TF2: Milestones

I said that I’d consider Team Fortress 2 to be off the Stack when I had spent a significant amount of time playing every class. At this point, I’m tentatively declaring a less vague criterion: getting the first Achievement milestone with every class.

These milestones are Achievements that are awarded for getting a certain number of class-specific Achievements — the key numbers are 10, 16, and 22 for most classes, except the Sniper and Spy, which get them at 5, 11, and 17. At any rate, there always seem to be three milestones. Looking at the Achievements, it strikes me that they’re also easily divisible into three categories. First, there are the ones that are likely to happen eventually regardless of whether you’re specifically trying to make them happen or not — for example, the Pryo achievement which simply requires you to kill 3 enemies in a row in the same area, or the Scout achievement for running 25 kilometers. Secondly, there are the ones that are unlikely to happen naturally, but which you can deliberately pursue, such as the Sniper achievement for getting 5 kills with the Sniper Rifle without using the scope, or the Medic achievement for cooperating with two other Medics to deploy three simultaneous Übercharges. Thirdly, there are ones based on unlikely occurrences that are completely beyond your control (unless perhaps you have someone on the opposing team cooperating with you), such as the Medic achievement for deploying an Übercharge on someone less than a second before they’re hit by a critical explosive. To a certain frame of mind, only the second sort are really deserving of the name “Achievement”, but I’m willing to accept it as a term of art.

It’s debatable which of these categories a particular Achievement belongs in, but looking at the list, it’s pretty clear that the majority of them are in the first category — certainly more than enough to clear the first milestone. So really, if I keep on this daily lunchtime regimen, it’s only a matter of time before I meet my goal. Except for one thing: Two Three classes, the Demoman and Engineer [EDIT: Also the Soldier], don’t have mission packs yet! By complete coincidence, these are also my two least-played classes. I expect I’ll give them a larger try when their class-specific content is released.

TF2: Halo Wars (cont’d)

It turns out that the lack of visible halos is isolated to the server we play on at work — which is mysterious, because we didn’t do anything to disable them. At any rate, the halos are still around, and stirring up all manner of trouble on the Steam TF2 forums.

I don’t normally read these forums — good gravy, why would I subject myself to that? — but one of my colleagues drew my attention to them. He was trolling them. Fanning the flames, so to speak. He hardly needed to, though. I realize that pretty much any change to any online game is going to produce angry forum posts, but this one drove out all else. People saying that they’ll ban anyone with a halo, refuse to heal them as a healer, etc. I haven’t seen any evidence of this behavior on the servers I’ve played on, though, which seem to have gotten used to them pretty quickly. That doesn’t stop the vocal minority from declaring that “Valve is tearing the community in half”. It’s all pretty childish. Some people were threatening to stop playing. Considering that Valve isn’t charging subscription fees or anything, I can’t imagine they’re much concerned. If these people do stop playing, it’ll probably improve the experience for the remaining players.

My trolling colleague pointed out the thing that really sticks in the vocal minority’s craw here: These are completists. They cheated precisely because they wanted all the special items in the game, and now there’s one that they don’t have and can never get. Well, I self-identify as a completist too, so I can sympathize a little, but not very much. Cheating, to me, defeats the point of completism. The virtual items in your virtual inventory are just tokens of the feats performed to acquire them. Heck, I’m even a little leery of acquiring pokémon by trading with people who aren’t actively playing.

And ultimately, if you’re going to be a completist, you have to learn to discern which games, and which aspects of those games, are and are not suitable for completism. Take Kingdom of Loathing. There are a number of collectibles and unlockables there, many of which have been available only for a limited time. The most extreme case I know of is a trophy that you could only get for being logged on and not wearing pants at the stroke of midnight on New Years Day 2006. There were apparently some oblique hints about this beforehand on the forums, but the vast majority of players are simply ineligible for that trophy. Some players grumbled when the developers started pulling stuff like that, but in the end, it set a precedent that probably altered the tone of the game for the better. The completist will was broken. I suppose that that’s what Valve is trying to do now. I hope it’ll be successful.

TF2: Halo Wars

Something amusing happened the other day. As described before, players can get random special items in Team Fortress 2 simply by playing a lot. Some players game this by just leaving themselves logged on and not actually playing — apparently there are special apps to facilitiate this, presumably by making the idling player keep rejoining matches as they end. Obviously this isn’t what the developers intended, and yesterday, they announced that they would be (a) taking away all items procured using external idling applications, and (b) giving everyone who showed no sign of ever cheating like this a new hat.

The hat was of particular interest to me. Hat items, unlike weapons, affect nothing but your appearance, but I wanted a hat simply because I didn’t have any yet. Well, it turns out the the hat, called the “Cheater’s Lament”, gives the player wearing it a glowing halo.

Now, the announcement states that “only about 4.5% of the players in TF2’s community” had cheated. I’d expect that the proportion among active players would be somewhat greater, because the casual or occasional players aren’t the ones likely to grow frustrated with not having every item available. On the other hand, there are apparently servers that cater to idlers without using an external app, and surely the hard-core players would know about those, so who knows? All I can really say is that when I played on a public server last night, only a minority of the players were haloed. (That minority included myself. It’s my only hat, so I wanted to wear it.)

Furthermore, there was a considerable amount of anti-halo sentiment in the chatter. The word “faggy” was used. “Aim for the people with halos!” was a much-heard battlecry. Perhaps there were people in the match who were encouraging this attitude to cover for their own shameful lack of halo, but it seems unlikely that this was the cause for everyone. More likely, the idea simply backfired. No one likes a goody two-shoes, and the halo smacked too much of parading your moral superiority — and without much justification, if it’s only superiority to 1 in 20 players.

The halos seemed to be gone the next day, during the lunchtime session at the office. That is, people still had the Cheater’s Lament equipped, but it produced no visible effect. Maybe the server was out-of-date. There are rumors of technical problems, that the halo’s glow was still visible on an invisible Spy. But maybe, just maybe, the devs decided that wasn’t working out the way they intended. Again, who knows.

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