Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 6: June + July 2005, I Bought the Game

A bit over a month after the release of the game and those two days I spent playing the release version of Guild Wars with the access that my preorder got me, I finally bought Guild Wars.  I bought a retail copy, though I never used the disc, I just entered that key into my beta install of the game.  I believe that the preorder had expired, so I had to pay the full $50, which I was fine with given how much playtime I got out of that $5.

So, from this point on, for the most part this series gets less interesting from a historical perspective — Guild Wars was out, so you won’t be seeing as much of a chronicle of the visual and content changes the game underwent during development.  I have many hundreds more screenshots of Guild Wars that I’ve taken over the years, though, so I want to keep posting these articles anyway.  I hope something here is of interest.

Guild Wars: Prophecies Release, June-July 2005

Comparing the shots in this update from how the game is now, a couple of differences stand out.  Most obviously, of course the Heroes and the party movement control buttons on the bottom of the minimap did not exist yet, as they would not until Nightfall released a year and a half later.  Additionally, the Battle Islands also did not exist yet.  The Random Arena did go through multiple maps, but there was no centralized Battle Islands hub for multiplayer areas, they were still scattered around the main map, with the Random Arena on that island south of Kryta, and the high-level tournament in Tomb of the Primeval Kings in the desert.  A Team Arena did also exist, in the South Shiverpeaks, but I don’t believe that the Random Arena would send you there at this point.  So, as you will see later in this update, you could just keep going in the random arena until you lost, pretty much.

So, I actually never played GW in May 2005; the release was at the end of April, then I bought the game in early June.  The screenshots in this update from cover from early June 2005, the month I bought the game about five weeks after release, until July 11th.  There are 52 screenshots in this article, so there are fewer than the last one.  It ends at that date in specific because some time after that my computer had some issue or something, and the next 133 screenshots do not have accurate date codes in them.  They’re all dated “July 20, 2006” which is most definitely not accurate.  I went back to that computer to see if anything better was there, but sadly no, none of the screenshots are still there; the originals were probably lost in a partial hard drive failure that computer suffered several years back, though they probably also have that incorrect date on them so that wouldn’t be too useful anyway.  From looking at those screenshots they clearly are from after this set ends until fall ’05, though.  Anyway, as far as number of screenshots goes, the next two folders, which cover to spring ’06, are the largest; after mid ’06 I continued playing Guild Wars, but not as much as it had the first two years (from mid ’04 to mid ’06).  That’s next update, though.

At this point, both of my characters are in Seared Ascalon. That would soon change, however… well, for one of them.

I’ve got some quests to do.

My skillbar still has a bunch of these skills in it…

Winter is my favorite season in real life, and it looks amazing in Guild Wars too. I love the look of GW’s snow-laden trees!

These people look like trouble… and like they’re reusing that model a bit too much perhaps? Heh.

The White Mantle are your friends… those Unseen Ones they worship totally aren’t suspicious at all!

Before the Xun’lai chests inventory space was a real problem.

Looks like I’ve fully explored this zone!

Random Arena time! … Yes, I probably should switch to res signet for the arena, but I rarely did.

It can be fun to look at all the different costumes available in this game.

I do have the Necromancer scar pattern armor, but not the Monk tattoo one.

I took several shots of my character here for some reason. … Yes though, that angle the tree takes a few feet off the ground is interesting…

And here is that same image without the image enhancement of Shift+Printscreen.

Similar image, but I like the background better in this direction.

The Searing left some burning scars like this in Ascalon.

This is a pretty cool angle for the sun and lighting on this mural…

Random arena I presume.

Yeah, having a chest to put your rare crafting materials in was a big improvement. It’ll be quite a while after this until they add it to the game though.

Not too much going on here, but GW environment art is great.

And here is how material crafters look in the final game.

And here I took shots of a couple of other female Necromancers with similar hair to mine. Not sure why really.

Here’s another.

And a third, along with plenty of people in the background.

Shortly after this I had to give up on my guild cape, because for a while I joined a guild with some people I knew in college and wasn’t the guild leader. It’ll return eventually though…

Nice heroic shot! But yes, this shows how my Ranger’s still in Ascalon, while the Necromancer progresses through the game steadily. Yeah, I was playing as the latter character a lot more.

When you’ve got life regen stuff and there isn’t an ongoing match, it can be fun to stand in the lava and watch your health not go down much…

I’ve reached the Crystal Desert! Cool. Looks like I died though… oh well.

And here’s an amusingly weird thing about Guild Wars: some things disappear when viewed through water. Guild Wars isn’t a game with an underwater component, but you can walk into the edges of seashores and such at some points. And when you do so, you notice two things: hair, for some reason, vanishes along with the top of your characters’ head, and the bikini clothing parts of Necromancer scar pattern armor also vanish. These parts of your character model disappear completely, and you can see the sea floor on the other side in this shot. It’s a little easier to show off the hair part with a character as short as Talindra is, taller ones can’t get deep enough in many places, but regardless, it’s weird that this is a thing, and it is still like this — you can do this in GW today and you’ll see the same silly disappearing body parts thing.

And here, you see that the above disappearing-hair-and-clothing thing only is visible when you’re looking through the water-surface texture. If you manage to get the camera underwater as I did here, though, you see that the character model is fully visible like normal. Yes, I’m underwater here, and that’s the water surface above me, but my hair is visible because of where the camera is. Guild Wars is amusingly weird sometimes… 🙂 Oh, and yes, this is the first cape from one of those guilds with people from college. It’s alright but I like mine the most.

19 straight wins! Very impressive, this is one of my better winning streaks I believe. I think that later on things were changed so before you reach 19 wins you get sent to the Team Arena lobby, instead of just continuing on in Random Arenas… but as you can see here before that point you could just keep going. Unless this is from the Team Arena? I don’t think so, though.

… And yeah, with one of our team leaving that pretty much ended this awesome run, which is why we’re unhappy in the chat. Random new person (no screenshot after this one) wasn’t as good.

Yeah, I’m progressing through the game nicely with Talindra, farther in the desert now.

This is a somewhat ominous looking cave shot, if you think of it as a picture and not just ‘party standing still in a mission’…

“A new build of Guild Wars is available. Please exit and run the program again.” appears when the game is patched. When this happens you can stay in the game, but can’t do much and eventually will be forced to log out and download the patch by running the game again. Fortunately this usually didn’t take long. It’s too bad we didn’t beat the mission before the patch dropped… oh well.

At this point I decided to make a third character. Yes, it was an Elementalist again, always my third class. As you can see though I redesigned my character from my beta Elementalists. I’d been reading some Drow D&D books at the time, so I chose the darkest skin tone and a character name I made in a Drow name creator online. Of course she’s human though, there are no elves in Guild Wars (or playable nonhumans).

Yup, still in Ascalon. My new character has already matched this ones’ level… though I would eventually finish Prophecies with this character and not the Elementalist (yet at least) so that would eventually change.

Somehow that ultra-light skin never burns. Videogames are nice in some ways…

Once again, we see the way the clothing textures simply aren’t there through water.

Looks like we lost this one.

Heh… here’s another silly glitch. This rock, at this point, still didn’t have the right collision on it, so you could stand inside this edge of the rock. This may have been fixed since then, I’m not sure.

Guild chat? I haven’t seen any of that in like ten years now…

The desert and snow can look kind of similar if you just look at the ground, but this is the desert.

No, I’m not quite at the Fire Islands yet, this is the Random Arena map.

And now we’re in the snowy lands of the South Shiverpeaks. The ground definitely looks kind of similar.

Light and statue

And here it is from a different angle. Not quite as cool from this direction…

I don’t think I currently have Pyromancer robes for either of my Elementalist characters… I should fix that problem, it has always been my favorite female Elementalist outfit… but yeah, that skillbar could use some work. I hope I don’t have many skills yet.

A decent loading screen.

And now I have, for real, reached the Fire Islands, the final area of the story, with my main. I’m probably close to a hundred hours in (since launch) with Talindra at this point, Prophecies took me at least a hundred hours to finish per character.

The Fire Islands are an appropriate end point, being all lava and igneous rock.

First though, let’s go back to the Elementalist for a bit, in this low-level Arena.

This is a pretty good map, it has some nice options.

Next time:  More of release Guild Wars.  After that, Sorrow’s Furnace and the first Halloween event.

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Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 5: Beta Weekend Event, April 2005, and Preorder Release, May 2005

This time I cover a very important period in Guild Wars’ history: the release of the game!  First, though, came the final beta test in April 2005.  Then in May, the game released.  I’ll cover both the April BWE and the first two days of release in this post.  I will explain in the “Preorder Release” (first two days) section below why it’s that period of time in specific.  I was going to put these in two separate posts, but  I decided to merge them together. That means this has the most images of any posts in this series, about 80.  I know that’s a lot, sorry about that.

Beta Weekend Event, April 2005

In April 2005, Guild Wars finally had its last Beta Weekend Event.  There was only one month to go before release, and the game was in great shape!  Indeed, apart from the amount of the game we couldn’t play — excepting previously available areas the Shiverpeaks and Crystal Desert were still mostly unavailable, along with most of the Fire Islands — Guild Wars was almost in release form in this test.  Most notably, the final interface is finally here!  Yes, after almost a year, the look of Guild Wars’ interface that any GW player knows finally comes into appearance.  The look of the minimap and skillbar, the menus, customizable interface where you can drag any interface element to any point on the screen, all of it’s been totally redone since the previous beta, and it would not be changed again, apart from some additions that Nightfall made for Hero and Henchmen control; note how those buttons below the minimap aren’t there yet, and won’t be until late 2006.  Until then you could not control Henchmen or tell them to stay at a point, and Heroes did not exist.  This put much more of a focus on player groups, which I loved.  The addition o Heroes and being able to give your AI party members more direct movement controls is fantastic for solo Guild Wars, but it helped destroy something I really loved about the game, finding random human groups for missions.  I’m very glad I played GW before Heroes were added.  Sure, when playing the game now you’re grateful for them because finding human groups would be difficult regardless, but Heroes have both positives and negatives.  But anyway, that’s getting well ahead of things.

Returning to Guild Wars as it was in April 2005, the added customization is great, but I have always missed that Map button that used to exist to the lower right of the minimap, so I added it back in by dragging a Map icon there from the menu on the lower left.  You can add any of the lower-left menu buttons to the screen anywhere, but that’s the only one I’ve ever put on screen.  It doesn’t look nearly as nice as those integrated map buttons from the previous betas, sadly, but it’s better than nothing.  I wish you could use the old map graphics with the integrated overworld map button.  Also, readers will notice that while you can move all of the icons around, I don’t do it; I’ve kept the whole GW interface in the same exact places it has been since I first played the game in May 2004, with the map in the lower right, skillbar in the bottom center, spell effects in the upper left, and such.  I know many people move things around, but I don’t like change without purpose and the interface as it was works great.

Besides the interface though, which is a big thing, there isn’t too much to say about this beta.  By looking at my screenshots, I clearly was just wandering around doing not a whole lot, and that is reflected below.  Of the 49 screenshots here, about half are from the closing event and half are from before that, but I was just playing little bits as all three of my main characters and such, nothing too special.  Everyone playing knew that a full server reset was coming after this beta, so trying to make progress in the game or get items felt pointless when it’d all be gone in a few days.  If you read the chatlogs in these screenshots, there’s less item trading and more discussion about the coming final server wipe, understandably.  The previous wipe had, again, been between the December and January betas, so we’d had four weekend beta tests to build these characters up, quite a while in beta terms.  I took a screenshot near the end showing how much time I’d played as Talindra during those four months, but sadly didn’t do so for the other characters and again the account-wide time-played counter still was not in the game yet, so I don’t know how much time I spent in Guild Wars  pre-release overall.  My best guess has always been 150 to 200 hours, and after going through all these screenshots again I still think that’s probably about right.  I’m sure there were people who played the betas more than me, but considering the limited number of days and that I was in college I played this game a whole lot pre-release.  My memories of the GW betas are some of my favorites from gaming.  So, on to the screenshots.

Starting out, I took screenshots again of four loading screens. I’m not sure why, except that GW’s concept art is outstanding, I’ve always loved it at least as much as the actual in-game models. Also… 1060 files remaining? That probably took a little while, though thankfully the files were small; GW is not a huge game.

More fantastic concept art for this beautiful game.

And another one, of the desert this time. This has always been one of my favorites, I think…

While these screenshot-as-loading screen deals have always been the worst. The contrast between the amazing concept art and this stuff sure is stark.

And now for some actual gameplay. First, a match from the random arena. At this point, for anyone who does not know, the Battle Isles did not exist; those would be added in 2006. Instead, each arena was a solo affair, tiered by the player levels allowed there. The top-level random arena was at Fort Koga, so that’s the map you saw most of the time. After the introduction of the Battle Isles, a Random Arena with randomized play of a bunch of maps replaced this. The lower level arenas still do exist in the game, but upper-level ones like this are only in the rotation. It’s a nice improvement, because just seeing one map all of the time did get boring.

The Crag, on the Fire Islands? Was this new for this beta? I sure don’t remember it before! That’s a pretty cool inclusion.

It doesn’t look like it went well at all for us, though… But on another note, I find it interesting and kind of weird to see how often I’m changing costumes on Talindra here; I’ve had just one, the elite scarpattern armor, on ever since I bought it in late 2005, so seeing new clothes every couple of screenshots is kind of neat.

And now some exploration in the edge of the Shiverpeaks with my ranger. The Moa Bird / Strider always has been my favorite pet by far. Indeed, I’ve almost never used anything else…

This is a pretty cool looking building! GW’s snowy trees look great, too.  And yes, my Ranger here still has Firestorm.  (It’s a fine PvE skill, really!)

Ice caves look pretty awesome, though they are even better with post-processing reflections on…

And here we see a team led by me in Tombs! this is right at the start of the match and is the only shot I have of the match so it probably didn’t go great, but that’s pretty cool. I don’t think this has happened again since.

I checked in with my Elementalist for a moment. … I know I’ve said it already, but I love that cape design…

More fantastic loading screen art.

So, as that last loading screen and the ice cave shot suggested, my ranger is in pre-Searing this test apparently.  The reality of the ingame graphics can’t match the art, of course, but it does look nice.

I took screenshots here of all four characters, so as to make it easier to recreate them as close as possible in the release game; you kept your character names but not anything else, and had to make your characters again. I’ll only post this first shot.

Ventari the Centaur’s kind of cool looking, as are the mesas above the Maguuma Jungle. Guild Wars has such a great variety of environments…

Here’s a stained glass window of Grenth in the Ascalon Catacombs of pre-Searing.  It’s a particuarly impressive scene to run across.

And here’s a painting of a dragon in the Catacombs.

The framing here, with the column of light extending into the gap between the two sides of the open roof, is impressive.

And here’s another painting, this time in Seared Ascalon.

They didn’t scrimp on detail; even relatively small things like this art of, what is it, dragon wings, on this long mural is done extremely well. It works from both artistic and world-design standpoints.

Yes, Arena.net sure likes its dwarves! Other traditional fantasy races are, again, not even in this game, but Dwarves are quite prominent. They may not be playable, but they do get things like this giant statue…

And here we see, again, the major places you could visit in the betas. This does not show outposts, you need to zoom in to view those, but it gives a good sense of what was revealed before release and what was held back.

In the betas I often wanted to explore more of the snowy areas of Tyria, beyond areas like this at its start… well, not too long to wait now, only a month to go.

Now the Henchmen have actual names and unique looks, instead of their generic names and appearances before.

And now the actual gameplay shots are over, it’s on to the closing event. First, some nice fireworks and old chat. Isn’t it pleasant?

Boom!

Aah…

Ooh

Whee!

What’s going on here?

Game of the year (2005)? Yes, absolutely!

I probably should have cut some of these fireworks shots, but I decided to post all of them to celebrate the end of the betas, even though most are nearly identical.

Nothing this way.

That’s the way to look. I like reading all these chatlogs too.

Everyone’s dancing? I guess I could too then…

The Necromancers basically dance Thriller.

Dance and fireworks together!  What a nice party.

Wait… that doesn’t look right!  What is that thing in the background…

Oh. Infernal Wyrms are here to kill us all. Of course… had to expect some kind of violent end to this! And yes, for the last test, it was Infernal Wyrms, lots of them. And again, we couldn’t fight back…

People are dying left and right, though many would be resurrected randomly after a while.

Time to check the material trader! Why not? It’s not like anything is going on…

That was a close one, it almost got me.

Yeah, the giant wyrms are quite large, and the way they unpredictably erupt out of the ground and damage anyone above them can be tough even when you CAN fight back.

I decided to leave Lion’s Arch and see if the Wyrms were anywhere else. Well, they were also in Ascalon City, that’s for sure, as this shows! The page for the betas on the Guild Wars official wiki doesn’t mention that they were in Ascalon City too, along with Lion’s Arch and a few other places, but here is proof that they were.

Safe… for a moment. But yeah, losing all progress and characters in a few minutes or so is going to hurt, I agree, chat…

Gah, it got me, here in Ascalon City. I tried to escape… but with the betas ending, I took that shot I mentioned at the beginning of this article about how long I’d been playing as this character — 61 hours as Talindra since the January beta. Not bad for effectively eight days of availability! And as the shots show I did play the other characters some here and there, too, so that’s not the overall total for the 2005 betas.

Goodbye, prerelease Guild Wars…

Oops, that’s not good. Guild Wars almost never crashes! But sadly, to finish the last beta, the graphics crashed at the end. It’s pretty neat that it let me take this screenshots remembering that, though!

And with that, the Guild Wars betas ended.

Preorder Access to the Final Game: May 2005, for two days

Once Guild Wars finally reached its release day in May, those of us who had preordered the game, as I had, were allowed to start playing a day before anyone else.  Yes, the idea of giving early access to games to people who pay ahead is not new.  It is more common these days, but it isn’t new.  The difference is, all you and to do here was pay $5 for a preorder copy of the game, which I had done at Gamestop some months earlier, and you’d get that access; you did not need to actually pick up your retail copy of the game to do so.  Instead, anyone with a preorder could play for that zero day and then the first public day without needing to enter a key, but after that you’d need to pay.

Now, there probably was a way to digitally buy Guild Wars, but that wasn’t something I could do at that point in 2005, I either had to or wanted to go to a store and get a boxed copy of the game.  However, April and May were finals time at college and I had preordered at a store back at home, so I could not get to the store to pick up my preorder close to release.  As a result, I played for the two days allowed without entering a retail key, then stopped for what ended up being a month or two before I finally got around to buying a retail copy of GW.  I believe my preorder had expired by that point, so I had to pay full price.  The $5 that preorder box cost me — and yes, it was an actual boxed thing that I still have — was well worth it for the scores of hours it got me, though!  Screenshots from after I finally bought the game are for a future post, though; this is just for those two free days of access I got with my preorder/beta key.

While in the later betas I’d mostly been playing as my necromancer, I remade both the Ranger and Necromancer characters on day one and chose to start with the ranger, since that was the character I had first played a year earlier.  So, here are a bunch of shots of playing pre-Searing again as my Ranger, followed by a couple of shots from Seared Ascalon.  Losing access to all of the later parts of the game that I’d been playing so much for quite some time was kind of a shame, but it gave me something to work for.

Guild Wars is such a beautiful looking game, even today!

What happens to the nice version of Ascalon here is really sad, though…

Very nice action shot here!

This part of the Catacomb reminds me of some areas of Factions, really, more so than most of Prophecies…

That’s water there, not ground. Poison water.

Despite that, I took this closer-up shot of a damaged mural.

You want to run through the poison quickly, so as to not die. Much unlike later parts of the game Pre-Searing is easy, but it is possible to die if you mess up, as always in this game.

Grenth’s statue here emits waves of fog…

Out of the Catacombs, I return to idyllic Ashford village.

Aidan is one of the four heroes, and is one of the three on the poster that comes with Guild Wars. He’s a ranger with a good design. (Why is Mhenlo absent from that poster, anyway? If I knew, I forget…)

Ascalon City has people doing random stuff in it? Who’d expect otherwise from players in an online game…

Cynn is probably my favorite of the four heroes. Here she’s just a normal person, but after the Searing she wants to burn the Charr with fire. That sounds like a good plan, most of the time…  And yeah, she’s also on the poster.  Devona is the one in the center on that poster, but I don’t have a shot of her here.

The Ashford area is really nice, and it looks like the harvest is coming in nicely as well…

No, my Ranger doesn’t still have Firestorm today, I swapped it out at some point for an all-Ranger (and res signet) skillbar. But I sure did keep it for a long time.

It’s that ominous cutscene again… I know what this means.

More fields.  The enemies in this area sure are easy.

Lyssa statue, again.

Here’s the map of presearing. It looks like I’ve explored almost all of it now, so it’s probably about time to move on to the main game… but I didn’t take any screenshots of that.  Instead…

Instead, yeah, my next screenshot is this. I think this is from Seared Ascalon? If it is pre-Searing, it’d be the only screenshot I have of Talindra in pre-Searing, oddly enough. I think this might be from after the Searing, though. For some reason I didn’t take any screenshots of Talindra in pre-Searing other than maybe this one. I don’t know why. I can understand that after playing through pre-Searing pretty thoroughly with one character and facing that two-day time limit I wanted to get through it as quickly as I could with my first character so I probably zipped through it with Talindra, though, and I had just taken a bunch of shots of pre-Searing, but still it’s a little odd.  Oh well.

The Ascalon Arena has been remade and here is its release form, the new Ascalon Arena with a pool of water in between the sides instead of that V-angle of ground.

Bought some new armor.

Shift+Printscreen definitely momentarily increases graphical detail, you can see that again here.

I know I said it before, but Devourers, like a lot of monsters in this game, are ridiculously huge compared to the size of real-world creatures. I don’t ever want to see a scorpion larger than a horse!

The Ascalon Arena lobby isn’t as populated as it was in the betas where this was the only arena, but it was possible to find a match. This wouldn’t last of course, since only low level characters can fight here.

And here’s another shot from a random arena battle in the Ascalon Arena.

And last, the sights of Seared Ascalon. And with that, the two-day preorder release access period (from early in April 27 to early in April 29, 2005) ended, and I would not be able to play Guild Wars again until I bought the game in early June. I treated it like one last BWE, just in the final game this time, pretty much.

To conclude, remember that fan-made map of the whole Guild Wars (Prophecies) world that I said I contributed to?  Well, here is the final map, file last updated May 5, 2005, shortly after the game released.

Remember that world map I showed my contribution to, several betas ago? Well, here is the final map, compiled from maps made by all of the people listed on the bottom, myself (A Black Falcon) included.  Yes, this is the full world; the Sorrow’s Furnace area of the South Shiverpeaks would not be added until later in ’05.

So that’s it, that was the Guild Wars pre-release access period.  I posted most of the screenshots I took during that period, and I hope that they help illustrate the many changes Guild Wars went through during its year in open testing.  I kept playing the game after release, though, and I will make more posts filled with screenshots that I took of the final game.  Don’t worry though, I will get back to writing other articles on this site as well.

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Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 4: Beta Weekend Event, March 2005

It’s time for more “new” Guild Wars screenshots!  I really like that I’m finally posting all these online, anyway, so this series definitely will continue.  If it gets enough parts I might add another top-bar page for the GW screenshot links, instead of having a whole category in the table of contents… we’ll see.  On that note, this time I decided to cover only one event, because I’ve got over 60 screenshots and that’s about as many as I want in one post.  For whatever reason, I took a bit over 80 screenshots of this BWE, the most I took of any of the betas not counting all of those character creation screen shots I did in the first two tests.  And now, I decided to post about 3/4ths of those; from the past updates, I posted most of the E3 for Everyone shots, but lower percentages of the October to February ones; some just weren’t worth posting.  The same is true here, but even if in some ways they’ve gotten less interesting, as the most different things versus the game you can still play today slowly are being removed in favor of the Guild Wars we know and love, as of this update release is still a few months away, and the game is still very much unfinished.  So, on to the March 2005 Beta Weekend Event!

March

As Guild Wars got closer to release, more and more of the final game came into place.  As such, this second-to-last beta mostly refined the game as it was, instead of adding major new content.  The main new addition was a newly improved PvP-only character type and guild halls, forts that guilds can buy to fight in during guild-versus-guild battles, or hang out in anytime if you want.  Along with that guild versus guild battles were also added, though I’ve never done that since I never have been in a guild large and interested enough in that to do PvP together.  Other than that, many more quests were added to the PvE game.  The character creation interface was alsorevamped, though I don’t show that here.  A listing of the changes is in this article here: http://gw1101.gtm.guildwars.com/events/press/interviews/fansite-friday-bwe5.php  The rest of the interface is exactly the same as it was in February, though, so the final interface isn’t here yet; that will have to wait for April.  Yes, the interface wasn’t finalized until just before launch.

Other than adding guild halls, probably the thing this beta was best known for was its closing event.   Probably the most famous of the Guild Wars beta closing events, this one sounds like it was pretty fun… but sadly, for whatever reason I have no shots of it, and instead spent the closing part of the beta in the random arenas.  I had fun there, though, so oh well.  I will say some more about this event at the end anyway though, with some links to others who did experience it.  I do have a bunch of screenshots of the April final closing event, though, so look forward to that!

One thing I do have a bunch of screenshots of this time is scenery, including a lot of large paintings and other interesting sights in Ascalon.  These things can still be seen in the game today and they’d look better now, but I decided to post lots of these screenshots anyway because the amazing graphics have always been one of the many things I love about this game, and what better way to show that than by taking screenshots of that and sharing them?

On screen here, my character and some available henchies.  Henchies are helpful but no replacement for human players. For PvE exploration, though, they’re usually fine.

I’m not sure where I took this screenshot, and it’s kind of frustrating me now.  It looks like pre-Searing Ascalong architecture, but it can’t be that, so where IS this?  Is it somewhere in Kryta, even though it looks Ascalonian?  Bah…

And now, back to Lion’s Arch.  This sure isn’t too interesting of a shot, though… what was I thinking here, that it’s kind of interesting because it’s one of the few places in the original GW campaign where you are actually under a roof?

If this is Lion’s Arch, it sure is empty…

Even in low res and with anti-aliasing off GW scenery still looks pretty good, I think. But on a modern PC with everything maxed and the new graphics option on, it looks really great! This is just an arch, but it still looks pretty cool…

And now for a couple shots of the main addition this time, guild hall islands. This is the first one they finished, the Warrior’s Isle. Buying one for your guild cost a bunch of money, but you could visit them to check them out, as I’m doing here.

More of the Warrior’s Isle. The Asian architecture here presaged the art design direction of Factions and the Battle Isles.

And now, back to (Seared) Ascalon. Such a nice place…

Destroyed houses like this sure weren’t in the original E3 for Everyone version of the Old Ascalon area!

Little bits of dying grass are about as much life as you’ll ever see in seared Ascalon. No wonder so many of the survivors left…

This was flat before the Searing!

Giant crystals like this have erupted all over Ascalon because of the Searing. They’re nice looking but are a sign of the destruction that happened…

Necromancer Munne survived the Searing, though.

Running through Ascalon…

But now, back to Kryta, and this particularly not-great looking loading screen. I get that it’s a straight, way zoomed out overhead view, but the end result looks very pixelated and kind of bad.

Yes, anti-aliasing sure does make these character models look a lot better. This is the Kryta random arena lobby area.

And here I am in battle. Random arena matches are back to 4-v-4, which is probably the right number; the experiment with 6-v-6 random arena battles from some months earlier was not popular.

We lost, apparently after several wins. Too bad, but it was fun while it lasted though.

This mission at the end of the Kryta part of the game is skill kind of hard. It’s easier with other humans like you see here of course, but it’s not easy.

Before someones’ spell hits the enemies…

During the flashy explosion…

And here are the results, they died.

Swamps in Guild Wars are bad news, you take health degeneration all of the time while standing in them. So being at the edge, like here, and luring enemies to you is a good idea.

And now, back to exploring with henchies. This whole scene is the kind of thing most improved by anti-aliasing, but look at that framerate! It’s pretty bad without it as you see here, on the 32MB GeForce 2 card that computer has in it. Regardless, foliage in GW is well drawn.

There’s a lot of running through environments like this in GW, so this is a pretty nostalgic shot.

At this point I decided to try my Elementalist again for a while… though the crazy textures in this area are more notable. That has to be broken! That’s kind of a cool error, though…

And here I’m playing one of the early Ascalon missions, with humans because it was easy to do that during beta.

When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy how oversized things like scorpions are in Guild Wars’ world. A real scorpion as big as those devourers would be terrifying to say the least!

Maybe Firestorm will help this clump of enemies out… … Yeah, I like Firestorm, when fighting people who don’t move out of the way that is. Heh.

On the mission out of Ascalon. Again, most of the Shiverpeaks were inaccessible during beta, so this was one of our few tastes of that beautiful area. Also… yes indeed, Prince Rurik, there are greater dangers ahead…

And now, a bunch of shots of the giant paintings in Ascalon City.  Here is Balthazar, god of war and the Warrior class.  He doesn’t look too happy here…

Melandru, goddesss of nature and the Ranger class.  Green is my favorite color, so I like the color here the best of these.

Dwayna, goddess of healing and the Monk class.

Grenth, god of death. Despite his looks Grenth is not evil. though. Severe, but not evil. I like that GW does not go for the videogame-standard “the death god is evil” plotline.

A dragon, or perhaps wyvern since dragons are in quite short supply in this game, if there even are any.

Here’s another one of those giant crystals…

And here we get a close-up of just how scary Devourers would be in person! I’ve bought one new piece of armor and probably will be fine against weak foes like this, but they look scary at least.

Using a regular attack, prsumablye because mana ran out, or because I was moving the camera for this shot instead of hitting the skill buttons… it was worth it, though, because this looks nice.

I win, but my henchie monk was not so lucky. I still had a resurrection signet though, so that problem can be solved.

And indeed, just as promised, Ascalon has a lot more quests now! There definitely weren’t anywhere near as many quests in the game before. More content is good, and Arena.net did a good job of packing the game with things to do.

This angled area is kind of unnerving somehow…

And here’s another one of those giant paintings of Balthazar.

Tired of the Elementalist, I went back to my favorite, Talindra the Necromancer. Here I am in the Tombs lobby, looking for a group and at the players’ antics, such as the people dancing in the background here.

He’s fine, just upside-down. Heh.

Tombs, like the Hall of Heroes that followed it, is a very nice looking but somewhat intimidating place, since victory is so hard to come by…

That doesn’t seem to have gone well, so it’s back to the lobby.

Yes, in beta you really could find randomly assembled groups for Tombs. This would definitely not continue on into retail, better players stuck more to their guilds once the game was out. Finding random groups for missions and stuff was easy enough for several years, but for high-end PvP areas like Tombs? That quickly became much harder, and I stopped trying after not too long. You need good team coordination to win much in structured PvP areas like this, you see, and that’s hard to do with a mostly-random group.

Guild Wars even has voiced cinematics now! It really is coming together. The first player in the group acts as the speaker in cutscenes, with two voice tracks, for male or female. If all human players hit the ‘skip cutscene’ button it’ll skip it, but it does require all to hit skip for it to be skipped. I often liked watching the cutscenes, even when I’d seen them multiple times before. Sometimes I did skip, though. Not this time, though.

This beta is heading towards a conclusion, but some people are still trying to sell stuff in town.

Yes, that’s right: capes are in the game, and I got one! Back in the earlier betas Guild Wars had little tabards instead of these capes, but they were removed because people didn’t like them, and Arena.net came back with these. I had to save up for mine so I only got it here, but here it is, a guild cape with, of course, the closest recreation I could of a Black Falcon Lego shield logo on it. It’s a great cape and is very similar to the one I have now. GW’s capes look great.

Yes, having a cape really adds to your characters. Meanwhile, chat’s zipping along.

But instead of sticking around for the full ending event, I decided to go to the random arena instead. I’m not sure if I saw any of that infamous event, honestly, but if I did I didn’t take screenshots of it.

Random arena battles in GW are something I have always loved. It’s a perfect balance of strategy and fun, as you don’t need to be as serious as you would in the higher-end PvP areas and many skill builds work, but it still is very much a skill-based mode where better builds will work better. And looking at my build here, I was clearly heading in the direction I’ve gone in ever since, towards a strong focus on the Blood skill line, with Dark Pact and Life Syphon as some of my key skills.

I hope you’re not doing that WHILE also playing in this PvP match… heh.

We won this round, but the end of the beta is fast approaching…

That’s for sure, me, I definitely like the regen skills the most! Regen and degen are some of my favorite things in Guild Wars, as far as skills go. On the other hand though, we lost… oh well. It was a lot of fun while it lasted.

That is, I probably meant that even if somehow our one remaining player lived, this beta is over…

Yup. I don’t think it got out of this loading screen, we were just forced back to the login.

So what did I presumably miss out on while I was in the arena?  Well, the closing event in the March beta here involved a lot of Gwens spawning everywhere and burning people with fire while saying all kinds of amusingly creepy things.  Specifically, we’re talking about child Gwen here, from pre-Searing.  Gwen, the character in the main game, wouldn’t appear until several addons in; in Prophecises there were a few hints that she might have survived, but no proof.  Anyway, she was very much in this beta, killing people.

The GW Wiki has a list of all the things the many Gwens that spawned said during this event: https://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Gwen (“Beta Weekend Event” category).

A couple of Youtube videos also capture it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31Sx90HIcB0&t=23s – This video was trying to be a bunch of Necromancers dancing their very Thriller-styled dance set to the song, before Gwen interrupted…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1kW7pNFW-k (warning: language) – The Gwens spawn about two minutes into this video.

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Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 3: Beta Weekend Events, January and February 2005

Yes, it’s a third part in this ongoing series.  I’ve only ever posted a handful of these screenshots on the internet before, so almost all of them are new.  Well, it’s been long enough, so here they are.  The core of Guild Wars was in great shape, but as it got closer to release Arena.net worked on the interface and balance, as they also slowly showed some more areas of the game.  Readers will see some of all that here, as well as a bunch of shots of the entertaining end-of-beta event from January.

January

With the beginning of 2005 came the fourth Guild Wars BWE, or Beta Weekend Event, in early January. While the game was mostly the same, a few things happened this month in Guild Wars.  ANet continued to work on the game as it got close to release, and the interface took a jump towards its final form this month.  I’ll get to that, but going along with it there was a full character reset, so I had to recreate all of my characters again, trying to make them look like they should from screenshots pretty much.  Character names were reserved for your account, but hours played, items, and such all were reset.  Well, it’s a beta, so you expect things like that.

The big change this time is further refinement to the interface.  The old tabbed side window has been removed in favor of movable windows, with separate panels you can open for each one of the tabs on the lefthand menu.  Oddly the righthand tab, for your graphics settings and such, is still here in this test, but the chatbox, map, and all of those left-side menus have been revamped.   See the shots below for details.  This version of the game was closer to the look of the final game, but it isn’t quite there yet– there’s still a full-map button attached to the minimap, for example, and you can’t just drag buttons onto the screen yet.

Additionally, you seem to be able to take characters to any available area this time, so the previous divide between Ascalon and Kryta characters has been removed.  So, I took my Necromancer to Kryta, of course!

This is a simple shot, but I like it anyway. In the upper right you see a hint of this updates’ big change…

Lion’s Arch. The Party Members panel has been redone.

Denravi looks pretty cool…

Guild Wars does have a first-person camera option if you zoom in all the way. I rarely use it because it isn’t very useful most of the time, but as unexciting as it is here’s a first-person shot to show what it looks like.

The Maguuma Jungle has some pretty big plants in it… though the foliage isn’t nearly as dense as it would be in a real jungle, everything’s all spaced out so you can fight unobstructed. I’ve always thought Kryta and the Maguuma Jungle don’t look realistic because of that, but oh well, they look great anyway.

Remember to set your skills, says this new tooltip!

And here is the look of the new inventory system, with a paperdoll of your character showing currently equipped items, and separate panes for different bags you’re carrying. The visual look would be improved on, but this concept is what went into the final game. By release you wouldn’t start with all those bags either, only the main Backpack. This is as much inventory space as any character can have, still, to this day, but this was before the Xun’lai Chest account storage space system, so in beta if you wanted more storage there wasn’t much you could do.

And here’s the new on-screen map you can view during play. It shows your location and your path through the current zone, which is pretty awesome. When playing now I have a scaled-down version of this map open almost all of the time.

The questlog. Functionally it’s the same, it’s just now a separate window.

And the same goes for the new Skills window. It’s still just a list, click and drag skills to your bar at the bottom of the screen to equip them.

Yes, the ground textures still sometimes broke like this.  I don’t know what caused this bug, but it doesn’t happen on newer computers or anymore, thankfully.

I promised this in a previous post in this series, but here it is, the not-in-retail Ascalon Arena! This arena is the random arena of the original E3 for Everyone, and it also appeared in the November, December, and, obviously, January tests as you can see here. It’s a simple V-shaped map, pretty much. It would be removed before release and replaced with the Ascalon Arena map of the release game, which has a lake in the center. I’m not sure which is better, but I do like this one, it’s simple and you get straight to the action.

The rest of the shots from this beta are a whole bunch of pictures from the end-of-beta event. This time they randomly made everyone do various emotes, and also grew and shrank the sizes of the players, which was pretty cool and isn’t something you’ll ever see happen in the regular game. Here, everyone’s praying.

Chat from the closing event.

And now everyone is tiny! I can understand why this isn’t in the regular game, it’d be hard to click on people this small and wouldn’t be fair for balance purposes, but it’s cool that the engine can do it.

  And now back to normal size I believe.

Everyone’s tiny again.

Yup, more miniature people.

And now, suddenly people have started to get really large! I’m still tiny, as are some others, so I’m an ant surrounded by giants, or something like that…

Can’t even see myself anymore, with the giant naked people on screen…  (Underwear is class-specific, as with the rest of the costumes, and cannot be changed or recolored.  Each class and gender combo has one look everyone has.)

Yeah, I’m still small. Now everyone’s praying again.

Finally I grew in size! That’s nice. Talindra’s a really short character so it’s probably nice to be bigger sometimes…

And now some people have shrunk, but not me. This was a pretty silly event to experience, people who didn’t play the betas missed out. 🙂  I took a lot of shots of it because of how amusing it all was.

Two-day beta over! Come back next month…


February

February brought two big changes to Guild Wars.  First, they continued simplifying the look of the on-screen interface.  This month, they simplified it a bit too much, presumably because the final interface wasn’t quite ready yet so we got this very basic look in the interim.  So for February, the remaining visual details around the map in the lower righthand corner have been removed, though there is still a map icon next to the minimap.  The look of the skillbar and weapon-select icons have also been simplified to a very basic state, as all visual flourishes on them are gone.  It’s fortunat that they didn’t stick with this look, because it lacks the visual flourish I expect from Guild Wars.  The final interface look would add some of those details back in, but the visually complex skillbar and map of the original E3 build of the game were gone for good.  That’s kind of too bad, I liked the look of that ornate interface… ah well.  This does free up a little screen space, anyway.

The other new thing this month is the addition of pre-Searing.  My first introduction to Guild Wars was, of course, Seared Ascalon, as it was in the E3 2004 open alpha.  That blasted, nearly lifeless wasteland is a memorable place!  We players knew that something had happened to the country, but not what.  But now, in February, a few months before release, Arena.net was finally able to reveal Ascalon as it looked before its destruction.  Before the Searing, Ascalon was a beautiful country, of green fields and very European architecture.  What happened to it is pretty sad… which is why, to this day, there is a thriving pre-Searing player community.  Once you leave pre-Searing in the final game you can never go back, so some choose to never leave with a character.  This reveal was pretty interesting, and as a result I took a lot of screenshots.  Comparing some of these sights to the ruins of the main game is kind of sad…

First though, for this beta you could recreate a character in pre-Searing, but just like in the released game you can’t travel back and forth between pre-Searing and the rest of the game.  So, a (probably newly recreated) Ranger is in pre-Searing here, while my Necromancer stayed in the main gameworld.  I mostly played pre-Searing, but not exclusively, as the shots will show.

Here is pre-Searing Ascalon. Gwen here is a young girl who follows you around in pre-Searing Ascalon. She’d become a much more important character several years later…

Pre-Searing is a really nice looking area, with green fields and nice architecture.

Verdant landscapes abound.

Ascalon City, viewed from outside. Pre-Searing is a much slower and easier start to the game than we had before! This area really eases you into the game, starting with only a few skills and very easy enemies. I do have one issue with pre-Searing, though: with it added, seared Ascalon lost much of its challenge, unfortunately. It’s just not the same with so much time to learn and level up before getting there. At least the eventual addition of Hard mode helped some there…

This nice village certainly is nothing like the E3 for Everyone version of Ascalon I first saw, either in life or in level design.

Yeah, they really want you to feel bad for what you know is going to happen next…

The pre-Saring enemies may be weak, but there are some.

Up to four skills now. Pre-Searing may be very easy, but it is a pretty good tutorial space for new players.

Some NPCs, such as this one, can also be found in seared Ascalon… but others are MIA.

There is a little bit of snowy landscape in pre-Searing.

One side of a statue of Lyssa, one of the six gods of Guild Wars’ world. Lyssa is the god of Mesmers.

And here is the other side.

Here I am standing in an oddly shallow lake by a water mill. Guild Wars doesn’t let you do things such as jump or swim, so either you can walk through something in a map or you can’t go there at all. As a result most water is impassable, but some areas are shallow enough that you can wade through them, such as this lake here.

Nice shot of this statue in Sardelac Sanitarium.

Yes, the floor isn’t solid here.

Foggy hills…

That sky sure isn’t looking quite as nice now is it…

This is a cutscene near the end of pre-Searing.

Yes, a storm is coming.  Or worse.  Finishing Pre-Searing would have to wait, though, you couldn’t have a character actually finish it and leave in this beta.

Cutscene over, I return to blue-skies Ascalon.  I celebrated finishing it for a bit before I went back to my characters in the main world.

First, though, I explored the dungeon in pre-Searing some, the Catacombs. Inaccessible in seared Ascalon, the Catacombs are a large and pretty cool network of caves, and in one of them you find this giant stained-glass window painting of the death god Grenth. No, he’s not evil, just unforgiving.

And here I am exploring the Catacombs with another human player. Pre-Searing has a maximum party size of two, with no Henchmen available, so you’re either alone with your pet if you have one, or with one other human. I mostly played it solo, but did party up for this a bit tougher bit.

An ominous part of the Catacomb indeed… this can’t be good.

With the Catacombs explored I returned to the main gameworld, and my Necromancer character.  I had to go to Ascalon first of course to see the contrast.  After the Searing all plant life is dead.

Here I’m exploring the far reaches of the Maguuma Jungle.

I posted some on the now sadly long-gone IGN Guild Wars forum during the betas, and at one point decided to help out with a giant map of the overworld people there were putting together.  I posted an earlier version of the map in the previous post, but new areas had been added to the game this time, including Reed Bog and The Falls and this outpost at Ventari’s Refuge, and I decided to map out the small zone Reed Bog.  My small contribution was to fully explore this zone south of Ventari’s Refuge. Here’s the entrance point on the map.

I added this line in Paint to show where the separation point between the two zones is for that map I talked about.  The only version of the map I have with my part on it is a post-release map of GW’s whole gameworld as of May ’05, though, so I’ll hold off on posting it until I get to that point.  It’ll only be a few more of these posts before I get there.

In order to fully explore a zone you need to run along the whole zone boundary, bumping into the sides to be sure you’ve explored every possible shred of the edges of the map. It’s kind of tedious, which is why I’ve never tried to get 100% of the map explored, but someone has to do it to put together complete overworld maps…

And here we see how far I got in The Falls, the large zone past the smaller one I was mostly focused on mapping. There is more of it past this point, but I wouldn’t see it for many years; you never have to go there, it’s an optional area.

Gathering a party in Tombs. I don’t know how it went, I didn’t take any shots this time in the Tombs battle itself.

This sure does look different from the vistas of Ascalon images above…

Here near the end of the beta, I tried out the Elementalist class again for a bit. I’d remade and renamed my Elementalist since a few months before, with a new name kind of themed after Talindra’s but fitting for an Elementalist. I wouldn’t end up sticking with this name either, after release. I did finally make a new character with this name this year, however (and yes, the name was available!), though it’s a Mesmer in pre-Searing at the moment. I’m not sure, I might keep the character there…  Oh, and yes, it’s always great to see old chat.

Now this sure is some impressively broken ground! The objects are repeating as I move the camera, essentially, in the messed up part of the display.

I hope starting the mission fixed the issue… a zone transition often would do so.

The beta is winding down, so the antics in Lion’s Arch were winding up.

I’m not sure whether there was an event this month from the devs, though, all I’ve got are these two shots which don’t hint at one.

I checked pre-Searing again before the beta’s end. I see someone in chat complaining about WoW… and I agree, I never have liked that game much…

And here’s the last shot I have from this beta. To close it out I seem to be playing this mission again, with henchies this time instead of other players. The interface and menus continue looking more and more like they have since release, but still aren’t quite there.

 

 

 

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Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 2: Beta Weekend Events, October to December 2004

First, I just finished a significant update to my previous Guild Wars post.  I added details about how the game plays and elements unique to E3 for Everyone, and one more screenshot.

Continuing on, though, the second public test of Guild Wars came six months after the first one.  In late October, Arena.net opened the game to the public again with the World Preview Event.  This would be followed by six monthly Beta Weekend Events.  I participated in all seven of these beta tests between October 2004 and April 2005.  After that, the games’ release followed in May.  Anyone who preordered, as I did, could play for the first two days without buying the game, so I did that.   I will start, however, with the remaining tests from 2004.  This time, my post is going to be much more screenshot-focused than before; I’ve explained the basics of the game, so the pictures are the main focus now.  Unlike the E3 for Everyone pics, which are all ones I’d posted online years ago, some of these screenshots are ones that I have never posted online before.

So yeah, image warning!  That last post had 20 screenshots, but this has over 60.  It’s probably more than I should put in a single post, but for now I will do that anyway.

October 2004: World Preview Event

In this second test, Arena.net showed off a new area, the jungles of Kryta.  Ascalon wasn’t available this time, it’d return later.  Kryta is a lush area, very different from the dead wastes of sadly destroyed Ascalon, and it looks great even on the dated computer I was playing the game on.  Sadly the performance monitor is not on screen this time, but framerates were at best what I saw in the first test, and often were worse.  The game is the same it was before, with the same classes, but the areas you could explore and the interface were new.  For the most part, this interface is significantly improved over the one from E3 for Everyone, and is much closer to what you see in the released game, though there are still noteworthy things that would change, including more changes to the interface and skill system. Both of those things improved here, but were not in their final forms yet.

The changes to the skill system were significant.  Skill gems were removed and are gone.  Now, you could just buy regular skills from a skill vendor for a skill point.  Elite skills have been added, additionally.  You can only have one of these powerful skills in your skillbar at a time, and they aren’t freely purchaseable; instead you need to buy a capture signet skill, then defeat a boss that has the elite you want and use the capture signet to turn that cap sig into the elite of choice.  These systems are how you can get skills to this day.  Another noteworthy change is the removal of those temporary 9th skills.   This beta added in another semi-temporary way of getting skills that was also eventually removed, however: more like the skill gems of before, skill charms were added in this October beta.  I don’t remember the skill charm system well, as I think I mostly used permanent skills and not these more temporary ones, but skill charms were items that allowed any character to use a specific listed skill, temporarily.  Yes, you could use any skill from any class.  Skill rings stayed in the game, as they would drop from enemies and could be used, with a skill point, to make a skill charm into a permanent skill if it’s for your primary or secondary class.   You still could get temporary skills from the skill charms, though, in a way that you have not been able to ever since their removal during beta.  They eventually decided that being able to temporarily get skills and trade skills to other characters wasn’t a good idea, which makes sense, but being able to try something out without having to spend as much on it is a nice idea.  There’s an explanation with some reasoning on why skill charms were removed in this interview here; it’s about changes to how PvP-only characters, a type of character that can only play player-versus-player matches and not the main player-versus-enemy AI game, get skills, essentially.  Anyway, that removal happened in March, so skill charms were in the October through February betas.

Crafting has also changed, to a system much more like it is in release — instead of a single Crafter for everything, small traders are scattered around the exploration zones who will give you weapons, rare crafting materials, or such in trade for certain types of monster drop items.  You can also get weapons from monster drops directly or quest rewards, of course, so I’ve always found the traders not too useful.  They’re still in the game, though.  More usefully, armor crafters in certain towns will make armor pieces.  You can only get armor by buying it there in trade for lots of money and certain required materials.  The later in the game you get the more armor costs, so save up.  This version of GW didn’t have much of a preview of what armor pieces  looked like, so I had no idea what I was getting really when I made an armor piece during this test.  Even now it’s often better to look up images of Guild Wars armor online before buying, to be sure it’s one you want.  Fortunately the official Guild Wars wiki has a full database.

As for the new location, Kryta and the Maguuma Jungle both were introduced in this test. Some edges of the North Shiverpeaks and Crystal Desert could be visited, but not those areas in full.  Even Krytanand the Maguuma Jungle were not finished yet; while the six missions present in this build of the game were complete, the explorable areas were not, and would not be for months.  Explorable areas in Kryta often had few monsters, and some had little or no plants around like they do in the final game, in some areas you could walk right through trees and other should-be-impassable objects because collision was not fully implemented yet, and such.  It was a pre-release beta and you could tell.  The graphics issues where things sometimes broke still occurred as well, at least for me.  I think those problems got less common with release, though.  There were also few to no quests outside of the main mission track available in many areas, unlike later; they hadn’t made a lot of them yet.  So you could explore the world, and some areas felt done, but not all.  There was more than enough to do for a four-day test, though!  All of these issues continued on through the December test, so they apply to this whole post’s worth of images.  In the January test they started adding in more quests, so that will be for the next post.

Finally, ANet wiped all characters before this test, so you had to recreate your characters, though their names were saved.  There would not be another wipe until later in the betas, so I was using the same characters through the three beta events in this post.  For purposes of the time-played command, though, because you had to recreate characters time spent in E3 for Everyone could not be viewed anymore, if that command existed then; I don’t know that it did.  Time played was all erased once the game released, so the only records I have of how much time I spent in the betas, for sure, are in a couple of screenshots I have of time-played counters.  One of those is in one of the last images in this long article.

This shot is from one of the Kryta missions.  Krytan missions are for six players, up from the four in Ascalon.  Also noteworthy, I’ve reorganized my skillbar so that heal and rez are on the right end, as I’ve kept it ever since.

This loading screen looks about the same as ever.

Yes, once again I moistly played as my Ranger-Elementalist character this test, though I did try out several others for a while.  On another note though, at this point I still found navigating missions difficult sometimes.  The later addition of a second minimap with a dotline showing your path through the stage was a huge improvement on that regard, but before that sometimes figuring out where to go in a mission was frustrating.  Guild Wars missions are not entirely open, but they are open or mazelike enough to sometimes confuse if you don’t know where to go.

Henchmen, aka ‘henchies’, have been added to the game! These AI-controlled allies are essential partners for the solo adventurer, or for a party who doesn’t have enough people to fill out a full group. More customizable Heroes would be added several years later, but Henchmen are a big improvement over the nothing the first test had.  Guild Wars is a team game, built for team play by groups of players, and it’s fantastic for it, but options for solo gamers are important and Henchmen and, later, Heroes give you those options.

A part of Lion’s Arch, the main town of this beta and, indeed, Guild Wars: Prophecies as a whole. I took a bunch of shots in town but won’t post all of them, though there will be more.

These strange buildings are out in the wilderness… but sadly you cannot get much closer than this. Still, they look cool! I know I keep saying it, but Guild Wars’ art design is some of the best ever.

The world map of Guild Wars, pre-Eye of the North. The icons show areas I’d gotten to that you could visit in this test. They include five of the six available missions in Kryta and the Maguuma Jungle (silver), a random arena (red, on island), Lion’s Arch (gold), and Tombs of the Primeval Kings, a multiplayer arena area for pre-chosen teams (red, in the desert). More on that last one later in this post.

This is the October ’04 version of the inventory screen. It’s still a single panel, it just looks nicer now. I do like the paperdoll of the final game, but this single panel was so much easier to organize… oh well.  This is in a crowded Lion’s Arch zone; see the chatbox behind the dye vendor screen.

Again, the camera in Guild Wars is fully user-controllable. Hold the right mouse button and you can move it anywhere except into the ground, which is amusing at times.

Pets have been added in this update for Rangers, and this is mine, a Moa Bird. My ranger still has one of these; why change from the best? The shot is taken in the 8v8 Fort Koga random arena. More shots from that are later in this post.

A nice looking jungle lake.  When not in missions I mostly explore with just my character and Henchmen/heroes, since the non-linear nature of exploring the overworld makes it hard to play with other humans; people aren’t necessarily going to the same places.  There were occasions where I’d get in a group for some specific quest, but most exploration is done like this, with just you and AI.  If you have other people you know to play with that could be different of course, it’d be easier to agree on places to go or quests to do with people you can talk to and play with regularly.  I should note though that when in a party the game automatically gives each party member a share of the drops, so the more party members the have the less stuff you get.  Sure, it’s kind of too bad that AIs take a share, but overall this is good because it means no fights with other players over loot!  Unless you’re pretty good at the game you’ll probably usually need a party though.

An overlook. I’ve probably taken hundreds of Guild Wars screenshots of things that I think look cool at the moment…

Some (non-interactive) houses in Kryta.

Here the ground has glitched out and disappeared. Heh… the game was very stable, but not entirely bug-free.

As I said in the first post in this series, when the textures went all white like this the framerate absolutely tanked.

This crafter sells armor pieces. Give them the objects listed, they give you that armor. This is still how you can buy armor in the game today, with interface changes of course.

Old chat is always neat to see.  That person saying that there’s no point in getting items because they’re just going to be deleted soon is probably right, but why not do so anyway?  The game’s fun!

Tomb of the Primeval Kings, the team-based multiplayer mode, is the predecessor to the Hall of Heroes of the game today. It worked a lot like that, except it was based out of the Tombs outpost and there weren’t constant updates in global chat about the latest team to win, if I remember right. Tombs was cool, because the game was pre-release and less serious even someone never in a big guild like me could play it and have fun!

Here’s how Tombs worked.  You started by making a team of eight players in the Tombs lobby area. Then you enter and fight monsters in a ‘hold off the enemy’ scenario for several minutes until several other participating teams are lined up and ready. Then, the mission starts. It is a random choice between several game types, including straight 1v1 team battles to the death, giant 4-team, 32-player melees with a resurrection station that will return your party to life if it all dies and the NPC priest is alive (with a NPC warrior ally to guard them), and another game mode I never ran in to, a capture the flag variant or something. If you lose, you go back to the start zone. If you win however you get another fight — against another winning team and in a new arena. The team I played this mode with didn’t win the one time we got there so I don’t know what happened next. In this mode you do get more rewards — Fame. A win in the first round (not counting the PvE ‘hold them off’ part) got you 1 Fame point and a win in the second (victor’s championship) two. Overall, in this beta I got a whole 4 points.  Heh.  Yeah, I didn’t play it too much… it was fun, but I wanted to focus more on stuff that got me rewards I could use for crafting with limited time.  Guild Wars is an exceptional PvP multiplayer game, but I like the versus-AI experience better overall.  At least I got a few points, though; this would not be possible for me in the final released game…

As for screenshots of it, I do have a couple from in a Tombs mission in the December image set below, but they’re not too thrilling.

Here you see one of my dozens of screenshots from the character creation page. I once again took screenshots of all the classes in both genders here, but one should be fine to show the new, nicer interface. The actual options are the same, though.

And here we return to Fort Koga 8v8 Random Arena, and those silly little tabards.  You only got experience and nothing else for winning, but it was fun anyway.

… Yeah, removing these in favor of capes was a very good idea. This map as an 8v8 really was pretty cool, though.  The full Fort Koga map was only available in these early alpha and betas; parts of the map were blocked off later when it got cut to a 4v4 Random Arena stage.

Lastly for the October WPE’s part of the article, I did not make this image, but this is a fanmade map of the Guild Wars world, circa the WPE, made by people on the IGN Guild Wars forum that I read and posted on at the time.  I would participate in adding a little bit to the map later on as more zones got added to the game; more on that in the next post.

Click on the image to view the full map.  Comparing this map to Kryta and the Maguuma Jungle in the final game it’s pretty interesting to see how many pieces they would later add to these parts of the game…

In this three-day test I once again piled in the hours.  I was in college, but all these tests were over weekends so I had time.  As these shots show I mostly played as my ranger again, but I did create a few other characters, most notably my necromancer Talindra Darkbane.  Unfortunately the only screenshots I took of playing as her are no good, so screenshots of the character will have to wait until the November test post.  By the end of this test, though, I thought that I really wanted to play a lot more as the Necromancer, and that is exactly what I did in November.  Given that the time commitment to each character is significant changing characters is a pretty big deal in this game changing characters is hard and means you’ll be replaying many hours of content you did already with somebody else, but sometimes it is worth it.

Other than that though, it was just awesome to play this game again, after six months.  No matter how long it is between play sessions Guild Wars is always amazing.  Running around, using your skills judiciously, fighting monsters, collecting items, using those items to get stuff with, it’s a fantastic gameplay loop that the game pulls off to near-perfection.

Oh, and the tech held.  Hundreds of thousands of people played during the four-day October WPE, and the servers held up great.

November Beta Weekend Event

About a week after the October Halloween weekend event, Arena.net held the first monthly Beta Weekend Event, or BWE.  These six monthly tests were semi-open, in that they eventually did require access keys to play in, but those keys  were not too hard to get.  At first, such as in November here, just about anyone could still play.  They also held contests to give out keys over the months.  Or, you could pre-order the game, and get access to all of the BWEs with that preorder purchase.  I got keys from various sources for the first few BWEs, but eventually pre-ordered, and never regretted that $5 for a second; I got dozens of hours of fun for that money.

Only a week had passed since the last test, but things changed in Guild Wars.  As you will see the interface is the same, but with this test came the return of Ascalon!  It had been more than six months since we’d last seen it, but the dead ruins of Ascalon returned in November, and I was glad to see them.  With that returned the Ascalon tutorial stage for new characters that I mentioned in the E3 article.  You could keep your characters from October, there was no wipe in between these two tests, so I didn’t need new characters, but I did mix things up by switching from mostly playing as my Ranger, to mostly playing as my aforementioned new Necromancer character Talindra Darkbane.  This character name I made up myself.  The first name was the result of me thinking about making up names that started with “tal” and that was what I thought up.  I ended up liking it quite a bit, it’s a name I’ve used for characters in other games too.  I like to make character names in games that are fitting to the gameworld, and aren’t just the kinds of silly names anyone reading this has surely seen a lot of in these screenshots.  However, this last name… well, it’s kind of an over-reaction; like, she’s a necromancer but not evil because I don’t want to play evil characters, so, Darkbane it is!  Heh.  It’s not great but it works I guess.  Guild Wars necromancers aren’t evil anyway, so the distinction’s kind of pointless, but it means something to me.  Oh, and no, I won’t have character-name-origin-stories for many other characters; I just had to for this one because of how it is the one I’ve played as the most by far.

So with that said, here’s my first usable shot of Talindra, though given how broken the graphics are here that’s a borderline statement at best… this does show that Ascalon tutorial stage, though — Guardsman Jax was a character in the tutorial zone these early tests used. Yes, the same guy was in Kryta for the October test, then went back to Ascalon a week later. Long trip…

The Great Northern Wall in all its ruined glory. Here we see Old Ascalon as it has looked since, as the E3 ’04 version has been entirely replaced with this one.

A battle against a Charr. I still hate Charr, no matter how much Guild Wars 2 tries to get you to think about them as not evil…

The Great Northern Wall mission. I really miss being able to play Guild Wars missions with random groups, it was something I really, really loved in this game…

Progressing in that mission.  It looks the same now.

Trebuchets are cool!

This loading screen image could use some work, but I think it’s still the same.

Fighting Gargoyles again!

Is it the edge of the world? Seems so…

I played as the Ranger for a while in this test too. Most of the snow part of the game was not playable yet in this beta, but a few bits of it could be accessed, such as this one.

Is this a cold pond or a hot spring?

Ice caves in Guild Wars look really cool.

The arena lobby.

World map, Kryta characters edition. See, in this test you could either play level 15 characters in Kryta, or create a new level 1 character in Ascalon, but not connect the two. So the Ranger is in Kryta, the Necromancer Ascalon.

And on that note here’s the Ascalon-characters map, as far as I’d gotten in the missions up to this point.

Got a new armor piece!

And here’s more of the set. Here we see the new Ascalon City, which is the one in the release game. My first reaction was that it isn’t as cool looking as Khylo was… which it probably isn’t. It has some nice aspects to it though.

The character select screen.  As with the release game, you had four slots available.  The third character is an Elementalist I didn’t play a lot of and would later recreate with a different name.

I wanted to play Nolani Academy (nee Stormcaller) again?  Really?  Well, okay…

 

December 2004 Beta Weekend Event

While mostly a continuation of November, December did add one thing: you now could access much more of the North Shiverpeaks and their beautiful snowy landscape.  I love snow and winter, and it’s particularly great looking in Guild Wars.

Additionally, Arena.net added the function where if you hold Shift down when pressing Print Screen it takes a higher-detail and sometimes higher-resolution screenshot with the interface momentarily turned off.  So, some of these shots show that nice new feature off.  Some of the shots I took without Shift+Printscreen show the performance monitor again, to see what kinds of framerates I was getting.

For comparison here’s the game as it looked by default.

And here it is with Shift+Printscreen.  Beyond the disabled interface the graphics are similar, but there is a clear improvement here.

When the ground broke in a mission in a human group, there’s not much I could do but try to go on regardless; you don’t want to bail on other people just because the graphics are a mess!

More from that mission with the glitchy ground, this time with Shift+Printscreen.

The snow areas are some of the best looking in this game…

Fighting monsters.  The cast of Guild Wars enemies is so interesting, they did a great job making unique foes that are not just fantasy-standards.

Outpost in the jungle.

Tombs mission outpost. That sun behind the pillar looks pretty cool.

Tombs was hard… this waterfall is kind of nice though.

Resurrection shrine priest and ghostly hero in Tombs.

Entering battle, Tombs.

And here’s the last from this Tombs set. I don’t think we did great.

The Shiverpeaks, as Talindra. The falling-snow effect looks so nice…

A nice action shot.

This one’s probably one of my favorites I’ve taken, as far as action shots with the Shift+Printscreen combo go. The enemy Dwarf on their Dolyaak is rearing up as we strike back…

An entrance to a mine that you unfortunately can’t enter; Guild Wars: Prophecies is an almost entirely above-ground game, dungeons wouldn’t really be added in numbers until Eye of the North. Still, it looks good.

Another snowy vista, this time from a mission.

I believe this is in Ascalon City. Those giant paintings are pretty cool looking.

At the end of some of the betas, including this one, they had a fun closing event in Lion’s Arch. For December, they alternated between burning people and summoning the great zombie dragon Rotscale.  Lots of Rotscales, in fact.  Too many Rotscales and people burning for my poor old computer to handle well.

One Rotscale. Since this was a town, there was no way to fight back… but they sure could attack us!

Fortunately people got resurrected after dying, but it still was a little annoying… though mostly fun. I like that they did these closing events, people who weren’t there missed out!  Yes, and I do say that despite seeing that the frames-per-second here on my PC dropped to 2 fps when I took this shot.

The green-name people are developers watching/participating in the fun.

More Rotscales!

During the closing event, after people mentioned them I decided to take a screenshot of my deaths and time-played counters. It says that over the 38 days since the last account reset before the October BWE that opened this post, I had played 47 hours with this character, Falconess Ysaye the Ranger, and had died 212 times as that character. That’s 47 hours played, in only one of my two main characters, in eight actual gameplay days, since the October test was 4 days and November and December two days each. Considering I was in college that semester I played this a lot while each test was active.  I do have a time-played screenshot for Talindra from a later beta, but not a definite total for how much I played the game pre-release.  At release the counters were reset.

Trying to survive this was a doomed effort…

We tried, though. It must have ended soon after this one, because this is my last shot from December.

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Guild Wars: Memories and Screenshots, Part 1: Introduction and E3 for Everyone, May 2004

Sorry that this website was offline for the last week, I hadn’t checked.  It’s back now.

Anyway, how do you write about your favorite games?  I’ve often found it harder to write about games I really love than anything else, which is part of why I’ve rarely said much about some of my favorites.  Well, after going back to start playing this game again a few months ago after a new patch was released after many years, I got hooked on Guild Wars again and it made me decide to write some posts about it.  I will be writing a longer summary of at least some of the reasons I love this game so much, but I decided to start with this, a screenshot-heavy look back at the early days of Guild Wars.  It’ll take a bit to get to the screenshots, but if you scroll down there will be a bunch of them.  The screenshots in this post are all ones I have posted on several forums years ago, but that was before I had this site and I never posted them here, and as I started playing the game again recently, I decided to finally post them here too!  While the screenshots are not new though, most of this text is; I didn’t just re-use my old posts from 2004 and 2009, though I did go back to them and incorporated some parts of them here.  This also will not be the last Guild Wars screenshots-and-text post I will write, I am planning more soon.  I know that it might be better to start with something more like a review that explains how the game plays and such, but I want to start from the beginning, and the beginning is when I first played the game.  Guild Wars’ best days as a game with an active community are behind it, and that is an issue for new players, but I want to remember how great the game was, while also appreciating how amazing it still is, with this series of posts.

Now, most of the screenshots on this site aren’t mine and are just there for illustrative purposes to show what the games in the text look like, but this is different: all of these screenshots are my own.  They are the story here as much or more than the text is.  This article has more text than later ones in the series will, but it still does have 30 screenshots of mine.

Introduction

 

Guild Wars, for anyone who does not know, is a cooperative online role-playing game, or CORPG by its own description.  This is a game of skill, where planning and strategy matter more than anything.  I think that CORPG is an accurate genre listing to put the game in, because it is somewhat unique.  Mixing elements of massively multiplayer RPGs, collectible card battle games like Magic the Gathering, and single-player RPGs, while removing most grind and leveling requirements, Guild Wars is a unique mix which is nearly perfectly suited for what I want out of an online RPG.  Guild Wars is a unique mixture which somehow fits perfectly together.  It is a singularly exceptional experience and has a most-likely permanent place in my top 10 favorite PC games of all time.   I will go into more detail about the gameplay soon, after the first small batch of screenshots.  The concept here is to go through this test as I did back then though, while also talking about how much I still love this game today, so that will have to wait.  With the first Guild Wars Arena.net made something amazing, and it’s still one of the best and most fun games around.  I played many hundreds of hours of this game between 2004 and 2007, probably nearly a thousand in that time in fact.  It’s surely high on list of games I have put the most time into.  However, after ’07 I slowly started playing the game less, as despite its greatness it does get repetitive over time.  At the same time I was getting more and more interested in classic games, and the developers switched from working on GW to developing its sequel so new content updates slowed to a crawl.  After playing probably 900 hours of this game by early 2007 I had only played 200-something more hours in the eleven years afterwards, until getting back into the game a few months ago that is.  Unfortunately, Guild Wars’ developer, Arena.net, hasn’t made anything nearly as good since sadly, as its sequel Guild Wars 2 is a massive disappointment in my book — in fact, despite being decent to good on its own I’d probably consider that game to be one of the most disappointing games ever made because of how much of a downgrade it is from its predecessor — but see my First Impressions article on Guild Wars 2 I wrote years ago for more on that game, I think I covered it fairly well there.

So as I said above, my interest in going back to the first Guild Wars originated with a new patch for the first Guild Wars that some Arena.net developers released a few months ago, five or six years after all active development on the game had ceased.  This patch did a few things. Most notably, it adds a new graphics option that allows you to enable full-detail models at all draw distances, removing all distance detail reduction that the game previously did.  This makes the game look better.  Sadly, at the same time, perhaps by accident, they broke all remaining Windows 9x compatibility, so I cannot play the game on my old Windows Millennium computer anymore, like I always could until before this summer’s patch.  KernelEx doesn’t work anymore with GW… it’s a real shame, oh well.   You can launch the game, but can’t log in anymore.  Despite having much better machines, I like playing Guild Wars on that old computer sometimes because it is the first machine I played the game on, and it is the game I played this game on the most — I didn’t get a newer computer until early 2007, by which point I wasn’t playing GW as much as I had for the couple of years before that.  A lot of my best Guild Wars memories come from playing it on that WinMe machine which, as many of the screenshots below will show, does not exactly run the game at a good framerate.  Heh.

So with that, I should get to the point, and talk about Guild Wars as I first played it in May 2004, mixed with comments about how different some elements of it are from what the game later became.  As some background, I had been a big fan of Blizzard Entertainment, and their Warcraft and Starcraft real-time strategy games in particular.  Meanwhile, online RPGs had been a huge thing for some time, and while I’d never been interested enough to want to try one, by ’04 I did want to see if I’d like them.  I really didn’t like the idea of paying a monthly fee, however!  I still wanted to pay once and then have the game from then on, as it’d always been.  So, when I heard about Guild Wars, an RPG being made by some former Blizzard developers who had built Blizzard’s Battle.net network infrastructure and had done some early work on the then not-yet-released game World of Warcraft, which would be an online RPG but would not have any monthly fees, I was very interested.  Blizzard was also working on its own online RPG of course, World of Warcraft.  I’m sure everyone reading this knows how that competition turned out, but I still like GW a lot more.


E3 for Everyone Begins

 

Because yes, as soon as I played GW for the first time I was hooked!  In May 2004, a full year before the games’ release, Arena.net did something special: for five days before and during E3 that year, they opened up a then-alpha version of Guild Wars to the public for free, allowing anyone who wanted to download the client and make an account to play the game for those five days as much as they wanted.  Known as E3 for Everyone, it showed the game to be in a pretty impressively complete state given how far from release it was.  originally E3 for Everyone was going to be a three-day test, for the three days of E3, but ANet decided to open the game two days early.  I heard about this either late at night of day one or early in the morning of the second day, probably less than a day after it opened.

Arena.net’s founders’ background making Battle.net shows in the games’ advanced-for-the-time network infrastructure.  Guild Wars runs rock-solid; if it has ever had unintentional downtime I don’t remember it.  The game never needs to go down for maintenance, and all you had to do to start playing is to make an account on their website and then download and run a 76 kilobyte client.   No installation is required, the game will download all necessary files from the internet as needed, either before you launched the game next or during loading screens while playing.  The game knows which files have changed since you last logged in, and only downloads changed files.  I would learn later that there is also a command to make the game download everything at once, but downloads during each zone transition were a normal thing for a long time and they work well.  They showed off their network tech right from the start, as tens of thousands of people played during E3 for Everyone and the servers handled it with no issues.  They even patched the game during the text, and all players needed to do was close the game, launch it again, and the update would immediately download no problem and you’d be back in in moments!  Compare this to almost any MMO and this is pretty impressive stuff.  In order to show this off, they actually added a boss and associated quest during the test who was not there before.  I took a screenshot of this boss, Stank Reekfoul, below.  They may have added a mission as well. I remember being pretty impressed that they could add content so easily, with no server downtime or anything. (https://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Fansite_Friday/Stratics has some more info on the streaming tech circa E3 ’04.)

In the game, if you hit the Print Screen key it saves a screenshot to a folder on your hard drive.  If you hit Shift+Print Screen, it saves a max-graphics-settings screenshot with the on-screen interface off, for nicer shots.  Yes, when you press this it’ll flicker on higher detail graphics for an instant to take a nicer shot, if you don’t have the settings set to max.  Many PC games have a screenshot function, but I don’t usually take a lot of screenshots of games… except for Guild Wars.  I took a lot of screenshots of Guild Wars, dozens over the course of the first five-day test and hundreds more over the years since.  I still regularly hit the Print Screen key while playing, when I see something interesting.  And I’m glad I did, because that is what made the image part of this article possible!

Graphically, the game had come a long way in a short time; on Youtube you can find a trailer for GW from E3 2003, here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydyueTjyl80 With relatively basic-looking graphics and a much more cartoony, simple look, the game looks nothing at all like it would a year later.  It looks like an okay game for 2003, but the 2004 version I first played is dramatically improved over what you see in that trailer.  It is fortunate that Arena.net spent the effort to improve the visuals; Guild Wars still holds up well today in a way that I don’t think that 2003 version would.

So, when I launched the game, I saw impressive graphics.  The first thing you do is create a character.  While this game is set in a fantasy world, you can only play as a human in this game.  I’m fine with that, it works just fine.  Arena.net tried to create a unique setting, so you won’t just find the usual fantasy races here.  A few do make appearances, such as Dwarves, Tengu, and more, but most are unique to this game.  The sequel continues on with that trend, so it does that right at least.  Right from how it starts in a medieval apocalypse, with your humans facing off against giant furry … uh, wolf-men or however Charr should be described, Guild Wars’ setting is interesting.

One thing to know though is that each of the games’ classes has an entirely different visual look, so your class choice matters a lot as it determines how your character appears.  In the first test all six classes were available, but had only one costume each.  Character customization is limited.  In E3 for Everyone, all you could do is choose between three hair styles, four faces, four skin colors, and a few hair colors.  You couldn’t change clothing yet, so everyone of each class and gender looked the same, until they got some Dyes to change color with at least.  Later many, many costumes would be added, but Guild Wars does have pretty limited character customization; there are only maybe a dozen faces, hairstyles, and such available for each gender/class combo, and you can’t fully redesign the face and such, only change your height.  Oh well, it’s enough for me.  The base game’s six classes are as follows: the front-line Warrior is first, and is a very popular class though I’ve never liked it.  The other classes are all ranged: the Ranger who is an archer with combat pets you can send out, though E3 for Everyone didn’t have fully implemented pets yet (they also were thinking about having a stealth component for archers, but most of it didn’t end up getting implemented); the Necromancer, who has stat-down and health-drain skills, as well as summoning undead, though that wasn’t implemented yet at this point; the Elementalist with battle magic — fire, ice, and earth; the Mesmer, with stat-affecting magics and a lot of skills that require precise timing to use well; and the Monk, the essential healing class.

In E3 for Everyone, you chose both a primary and secondary class when creating a character.  In addition to their unique looks, each primary class also has an exclusive ability that only characters of that primary class have.  Your secondary class allows your character to use skills from that other class, but not the other classes’ exclusive ability.  For instance, the Necromancer gets mana back each time anyone dies nearby, but only when the character is a primary Necromancer.  A secondary Necromancer can use any blood, curses, or death magic skills, though.  In the release game you only choose a primary class at first, and pick a secondary later.  You can also change your secondary at will eventually, but not your primary.

The login screen, during E3 for Everyone, with my password and email partially blacked out.  This screen would change in later tests, but this was how it first appeared.

The character select screen.  I mostly played as the selected character in this first test.  Those other two were just test characters I made, and did not keep; I do not remember what I named them.

Character creation, E3 for Everyone style. I took shots of all of the classes in the character creator, and it might be amusing to post them all sometime to show which costumes they had and such, but for now this shows what the interface, and female Necromancer outfit, looked like.  At the time I thought that the female Necromancer was the second-coolest-looking class, after the Ranger.

A loading screen. You saw these screens often.  A red-toned version of this art piece is also the one on the small poster that came in the box with the retail release of Guild Wars.  I have that poster on my wall now, right behind my computer.  This also shows that network tech, as the game is downloading this 288-file chunk of game in this loading screen.


Basic Gameplay and Ingame Shots from E3 for Everyone

Guild Wars is a third-person online RPG.  I’m no fan of third-person games in general, really, but this one I love.  In the game you run around, using skills from a skill bar by clicking on them or pressing the 1-8 number keys on your keyboard to fight human or AI-controlled enemies. You can move in three different ways: with the arrow keys or WASD, you move directly; by clicking on a nearby point on the screen, your character will automatically run to that point; and if you press the R key, you will run forwards until you hit something and stop.  All three are very useful at different times, so it’s great they include them all.  When you hold the right mouse button you can freely move the camera anywhere except into the ground, which can be helpful or amusing.  The mouse wheel zooms in and out.  Oh, and the Tab key switches between targets, which is convenient when you’re otherwise mostly using the keyboard.

Characters have two meters to watch, health and mana.  Health auto-recovers when not in battle, but during combat you will need healing skills to stay alive if you take damage.  Mana always auto-regenerates, though usually slower than you’re using it so you need to watch mana usage.  Your main interaction with the world comes through your skillbar.  Having a bar on the screen with images for abilities you can use is standard to online RPGs, but Guild Wars has a unique implementation of it.  You can equip eight skills at a time, meant to represent skill rings, with eight skills for your eight non-thumb fingers.  You are limited to eight skills at a time while playing, and can only change your skill build in towns, while it is locked while in combat zones.  Again, this is a game of skill, with a high skill ceiling.  When you die, as I have done often, it’s your fault.  Getting rid of grind is one of the best things about this game, no question!  Yes, you can make a compelling online RPG that is fun for thousands of hours, AND doesn’t have required grind and leveling, or great items that give players absolute advantages.  Guild Wars shows that it is possible.  This was clear across the board right from this first test, as the test locked players to level 15 throughout.  I am someone who hates grind, so this games’ design is the best I’ve ever seen in an online RPG.

One other thing unique to the game is that Guild Wars does not have your usual consumable potions for healing, it has skills.  This is a game about skills and skill, not grinding and who has the best pile of limited-use items, and I love it for it!  Getting rid of consumable items, apart from a variety of silly festival items and boosters they would eventually add, was a fantastic idea which helps make this game great, and I have often wished more games would copy it.  Coming up with a good build, or collection of eight skills, is an awesome part of the game as well.  Right from this first test the game had a lot of skills available for use, so it was apparent right from the start that finding good combinations of skills would be key, as indeed it is.  This is a game with a deep strategic layer in a way you do not always see in the online RPG space, and it has balanced, challenging, skill-based single and multiplayer gameplay as well. Again, it’s an exceptionally well thought through cross between MMO and Magic the Gathering.

The way the skill-purchase system worked in E3 for Everyone was different from the released game, though.  You start out with a set of starter skills, but could get more by getting skill points through experience, getting skill gems for your class as loot from beating bosses, then using the skill gem at a skill crafter or rare crafter to make a skill ring of that skill.  You then could learn the skill from the ring.  This system would be refined over time until by release all you need to do is use skill points to buy skills from traders or take elite skills from bosses after killing them with a specific skill that allows you to do that, but I like the ring concept because it explains why there are eight skills.  Simplifying skill buying is fine, but the ring concept is important.  In E3 for Everyone you could even try out a 9th skill temporarily, though that option would be removed afterwards.

One of the great things about Guild Wars is that the game design forces the players to work as a TEAM. You have to work together to get anywhere. The games’ level design encourages this, as you are often moving along clear paths with regular fights against monsters along the way, but so does the way that the classes rely on each other.  Warriors go in the front and other classes behind, essentially, with Monks being protected if possible since they are always the first to be targeted.  Only characters with very specific builds can go on their own past the very easiest content in this game, and I have always loved it for that.  Sure, the enemies don’t have the best AI of all time, but it’s decent enough to make the game fun, and that’s what counts.  They attack when you hit a certain range and use skills well.  You can see what skills enemies are using, too, which is awesome and very helpful.

Now, while Guild Wars does not have potions in the usual sense, you do have an inventory.    Enemies in Guild Wars drop materials that make sense for that kind of monster to hold, such as hides, carvings, weapons, and such.  The game auto-distributes drops, so each player or AI character in your party gets an equal share of money and item drops.  You will only see your own item drops, not anyone else’s.  It’s a good system.  You can then choose to either keep those items, filling up your inventory quickly but netting you some money if you sell unnecessary ones to a shopkeeper or other player through chat, or you can use Salvage Kits to break those items down into component materials.  Those materials are the ones you’ll need to buy armor and such with, and are more convenient to store than piles of different monster drops are.  You do need to keep buying Salvage Kits, though.   They need to get money from you somehow.  In E3 for Everyone the basic inventory and item-drop system was in place, though changes would be made to how the crafting and crafters work in the betas and release; see the Crafter screenshot below for more.

So, no grind for experience? No grind for potions?  No artificial mechanics restricting exploration such as limited mana and, again, potions?  And yet, at the same time, a game with a high skill ceiling and significant challenge if you want it?  It’s amazing, but all true!  Guild Wars is an online RPG specifically designed to not require inordinate grind, and to be fun and competitive for all players.  Skill and playtime are both rewarded, but it’s nowhere near as unbalanced as many games.  Awesome stuff.

The game has three main aspects — towns, player versus enemy exploration areas or missions, and player versus player areas.  Now, the game is not an MMO, because the main world is not “massively multiplayer” — gameplay areas are all instanced, while you will see other players in towns.  First, towns are the only place you will encounter random other players.  Everyone is not together, though; once a certain location reaches a certain number of players it splits to multiple “districts”, or divisions of the server.  You can switch between districts at will with an on-screen menu if space is available, to meet with someone, but this helps keep the server and graphical load down while letting as many people go into towns as want to enter.  The rest of the time, though, the game is instanced, with your party on its own server fragment.  This means you will only see your party in missions, which is fine with me because it allows a more player-responsive world.  In an MMO, because everyone is in one world, everything has to reappear constantly, so that other players can interact with the enemies, do the quests, and such.  However, in Guild Wars, while you are in a play zone it keeps its state for as long as you are in the zone.  This means that enemies you kill in Guild Wars stay dead for as long as you are in the zone, which is awesome and plays a huge role in the game!  Guild Wars’ Player vs. Enemies (PvE) game is built around this, in fact.  When you kill enemies, they die.  When you die in an exploration zone, you get a 15% death penalty, which reduces your health and mana, and respawn at the closest resurrection shrine.  Your DP (Death Penalty) maxes out at 60%, which is a quite harsh penalty that makes progress difficult.  In a story mission you still get death penalty if you die, but the party won’t auto-resurrect, so you only come back if someone in the party stays alive and resurrects you.  If your whole party dies in a mission you are sent back to the mission starting area and will have to try again, so they have even higher stakes.  Missions also have cutscenes that tell the story, though it is entirely linear — you can’t make any choices in Guild Wars, unfortunately.  In Prophecies, missions and exploration zones are entirely separate.  The later chapters would blend this by allowing you to freely enter mission areas as exploration zones, but that isn’t possible in Prophecies.  Several years later they would even add a Hard Mode, with an option which keeps track of if you kill every single enemy in a zone.  I haven’t done that as it is quite difficult, but I do really love the semi-permanent nature of killing enemies in this game.

Zones in Guild Wars are large, but you do not have totally free movement.  Instead, you can only go through free areas.  You can’t jump off cliffs, swim in the water, or such, and there are invisible walls in some areas blocking things off.  Usually the game uses visible ‘walls’, such as water, cliffs, or such, but corners of paths to go up a cliff face, the edges of beaches, and such often have invisible walls.  Zones, either in exploration areas or missions, are widely varied in design.  Some are mazelike nests of corridors, while others are simple loops or consist of large open spaces.  I absolutely love Guild Wars’ level design, myself.  The restrictions on movement don’t bother me, because figuring out how to explore areas is part of the fun!  And it’s a lot of fun.  One of my favorite things in this game has always been exploring a new zone, and figuring out its paths and secrets along the way.  Even if side paths lead nowhere, I need to explore all of them… and that was as true here as it has been ever since in this amazing game.

The game has great in-game mapping as well.  There is a nice on-screen map in the corner, and in the released game you can also open a second map which shows what exactly you have explored, with a line showing your path through the zone.  This version did not have that yet, but even in this first alpha, in addition to the minimap there was a full-screen map showing the whole map available to explore, with areas you have explored shown in detail.  I didn’t take any screenshots of it unfortunately, so anyone interested will have to find a picture of that online.  Still, mapping is important to me in this kind of game, so the exploration, mapping, and that enemies stay dead while you are in a zone are all very important parts of why I like this game.

The full Guild Wars game, later re-titled to Guild Wars: Prophecies, has seven major areas you travel through, or eight depending on how you count. The E3 for Everyone alpha has one, Post-Searing Ascalon.  All Prophecies characters start in Ascalon, the games’ only medieval-European-style country, but it has been destroyed in an apocalypse.  This first test does not show how the country was destroyed though, that would come later to us in the general public.  It’s a unique setting for a fantasy RPG though.  This first test had a whole lot of post-Searing Ascalon available to explore and fight monsters in, allowing for a lot of hours of play.  There were a bunch of missions too, organized pieces of the story telling of the aftermath of this apocalypse and what your characters do from this early point in the game.  And for PvP play, the test had an arena where you could fight other random teams of four, and the Tombs of Drascir, a chosen-teams PvPbattle mode that was the precursor to the Hall of Heroes. I either never reached that place on the map or got there but didn’t take any screenshots of it, though, because I have no screenshots of the Tombs of Drascir outpost or mode, unfortunately. I did play the (random) Arena some, but didn’t take many screenshots of it. One of the arena is below though. It played like 4v4 Guild Wars random arenas always have, just on a map that would not be in the final game.

For this first test, I almost exclusively played as a Ranger that I named Falconess Ysaye.  Now, Guild Wars requires all character names to be made up of at least two words separated by a space, and it does not have an automatic name generator; you need to come up with names yourself.  All names must be unique of course, so you can’t use a name anyone else has taken for their character.  Of this character name, the first part references my usual online handle name but changed for the characters’ gender, and the latter is a character name from a book I had read recently at the time.  I chose a ranger because the class sounded cool, and in a game like this you need to choose a character and focus on them, so playing as one character seemed like a good idea.  I still do still have a character of this name, though they would not end up being my post-release main.  Still, rangers are great!  I should note though, in this alpha each character class and gender combination had only one outfit, which is why everyone looks the same.  You could change colors, but not design.  This would change later of course.

After creating a character, you went into a tutorial area which taught you the basic controls and such, before sending you to the city.  I didn’t take screenshots of this, unfortunately, but there are a few in the later 2004 betas, as versions of this tutorial were in the game for a while.  After finishing it you were sent to Khylo to begin the the main game, as seen below.

This explorable zone is The Ascalon Wilds, the E3 version’s name for the area outside of the main town Khylo. The E3 for Everyone version of this zone was removed between this alpha and the next public test and was replaced with Old Ascalon and the town with Ascalon City. Those are the versions of these zones you can play today, but I remember this much boxier version of the zone well.

The original Wilds zone fits with the visual look of most of the rest of destroyed Ascalon better, perhaps, than the redone release version of Old Ascalon does, which makes sense considering that the Ascalon missions and the unchanged zones were present in this test, while the redone areas were added later.

Character and scenery

Looking up at the still-burning sky…

This is a pretty nice shot, with the sun and cool sky and ruins…

There are a lot of parts of Ascalon that look like this still.

This is one of my favorite Guild Wars screenshots, it shows the environment and really cool sky well.    Also note the framerate and triangles counter in the upper right, it’s often amusing to see what numbers that system got.  It rarely hit 30.

Casting Firestorm on some gargoyles.  My character is a Ranger-Elementalist, so I had Firestorm.

I believe on Gargoyle just died…

Stone Elementals were in this version of the zone too.  I remember enemies chased you an absurdly long way in this test; once I ran along the whole length of the Great Northern Wall trying to escape some enemies, only to eventually be caught.

Shooting an Elemental at close range by a barren hillside.  Also, one thing any Guild Wars player should notice is that the minimap here doesn’t seem to have a circle around your character showing the range at which enemies will attack you.  It’s a really useful feature they added later on.  The U-key map with its where-you’ve-gone tracker also was not in the game yet.

The old version of the Ascalon Wilds (Old Ascalon) really was much more canyonlike than the release one.  Most of the E3 for Everyone version of Ascalon is in the release game, but not the main town or first zone.  I’d love to be able to explore this version of Old Ascalon again…

Dead Gargoyle, live Guard Captain.

Looking at the entrance to Khylo, the main town in Ascalon at this point in development.  The hazy thing in that doorway is a portal which will transport you to the city.  It would be renamed Ascalon City before release apparently because they thought Khylo sounded too much like Cairo.  As with the Ascalon Wilds/Old Ascalon, the town was entirely redesigned before release; in E3 for Everyone it was very fortlike, with tall stone walls all around and crafters standing on platforms.

Khylo. Sometimes the textures would mess up, as you see here on my character. As you can see when this happened the framerate got much worse even with not much going on on screen. Also, I like these bits of old chatlog… even though people knew their characters would not be kept to the next test, trading went on right to the end!  Also, yes, the game did not have any built-in trading interface, so you just had to use the chat to advertise that stuff.

Part of Khylo.  18 active districts… Guild Wars was popular right from the start!

This is the Crafter, where you could combine collections of monster-drop items for weapons and such.  Having a single Crafter in town would later be replaced with people scattered around the world to trade items with, but at this point it was done at one centralized location.

Guild Wars did not have AI companions yet at this point, or even Ranger pets or Necromancer undead summons, so in E3 for Everyone you had to go alone or with other human players when in exploration areas or missions. The explorable areas in this test could be attempted alone, but this game is designed to be played in a group, so in missions playing with other people was absolutely essential! This is a player group I was in a mission with.

No, the graphics are definitely not set to max… not on that computers’ GeForce2 graphics card. The card does not support the games’ post-processing effects option either, and I believe I have anti-aliasing off for performance reasons. The game looked a lot better even then on more powerful machines.

The hero panel.  At this point the menu interface was on panes you opened on the sides of the screen, instead of the movable windows they later went with.  These four were on the left, and graphical options and such are on the right.  I don’t have a picture of the right-side options menu from this test, but I have the left ones here.  As I go through the betas the changes to the interface are interesting to follow. I really like the detailed artwork around the minimap and skill bar in the E3 version here, they look great!  Also, again, there was a level 15 cap during this test.  You could get experience for skill points to get skills with, but that’s it.  It was a good introduction into how unimportant levels are in the game.

The simple single inventory screen of this version is in some ways easier to manage than the multiple-pane one of the release game.  The crystals seen in my inventory were used to get skills with at this point; this system would be removed later, along with the skill rings, but it’s cool to see them here.  You can find more information about how buying skills worked in this test on the official Guild Wars Wiki’s E3 for Everyone page (link at end of article).

Most skill icons have not changed, but the skill selection screen sure did.  That healing signet skill would also eventually be replaced with class-specific healing skills, but the resurrection signet is still in the game as are those Ranger skills.

The questlog.  All three of these quests are E3 for Everyone-exclusive quests, which do not exist in other versions of the game as is; the top was renamed, the other two removed entirely, along with the skill gem system.  But as that top quest shows, yes, this is all taken in one of my many failed attempts at Stormcaller, later renamed to Nolani Academy , the fourth mission in Ascalon.  This mission was HARD then, in a way it hasn’t been since launch.

The Stormcaller/Nolani Academy mission lobby.  It looks the same now, with fewer people most of the time of course.  I apparently tried, and failed, this mission at least ten times during E3 for Everyone.

And here’s the (Ascalon) Arena lobby. I found a purple dye in the last hours of the alpha, so I used it on the pants part to see what it looked like.

Waiting for the doors to open to fight our opponents in the arena… but this is the last ingame screenshot I took in this test, so who knows how we did.  This version of the Ascalon Arena had a different map from the release version.  I have a shot of combat in this version of the arena in the January set I will post later.  That “/bug” command would be removed when the game released, but was used, and useful, up until then. And lastly, I should comment on the tiny tabards.  These cover characters on front and back to show what team you are on in multiplayer, and were unpopular enough that Arena.net replaced them with the guild capes that will be seen in later tests.  I think the capes are a nice improvement over these.

Not seen in these screenshots, but also present in E3 for Everyone, were a couple of test areas showing later parts of the game.  You could explore some jungle and snow zones, though they had no enemies in them, and compete in a multiplayer 8 v 8 mode in Fort Koga, a defense-versus-offense PvP map that was pretty interesting.  Fort Koga made a lot more sense as an 8v8 competitive mission than it does as a 4v4 random arena location as it is in the release game!  8v8 Fort Koga was removed before release but did return in the next public test, where I did take screenshots of it, so see my next post for that.

And with that, E3 for Everyone ended.  I had played several dozen hours over the four days of the test, far more than I initially expected.  If there was a time-played command I did not take note of it yet, so I do not know how much time I played this beta, but it was quite a bit given the four-day time limit.  The next test would be almost six months later, in late October.  At that point monthly beta tests would begin, with one each month from October until the game released in May 2005.  I played in all of them, and will post screenshots from those in subsequent posts in this series.  I have never been hooked to a pre-release game like I was with Guild Wars!  Over the course of the year from E3 for Everyone to launch, despite the very limited number of days the public could play the game I played a good 150-200 hours of this game, and thought about it a lot in the month between each test.  From the graphics to the music to the gameplay, this game is amazing in ways nothing else has matched, and that all began with E3 for Everyone.

Again, I will continue this with screenshots from those beta tests, then some from the released game as well later on.  As a fan of this game I find it really interesting to look back at the games’ evolution before its release, so I’m really happy to have all these old screenshots; the game was different in a lot of ways, as I reference here but not in full detail.  To sum it up, some of the most significant differences between this first public version of the game and later ones include the skill-ring system with those crystals and actual skill rings, that temporary 9th skill slot, the different-looking interface and menus, Khylo and the Ascalon Wilds, areas I’d love to explore again someday, and the absence of AI henchmen companions.  You can find descriptions of these things online, but finding screenshots of each alpha or beta test, clearly marked, is trickier.

Here are a few resources for GW E3 for Everyone information I found:

This site has a nice interactive map of the E3 for Everyone game, with clickable links showing the descriptions of the various towns and such: http://jerrith.org/gw/default.htm

The Guild Wars Wiki has an E3 for Everyone page, though it’s just text and doesn’t have screenshots: https://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/E3_for_Everyone#E3_for_Everyone_2004

On Youtube there are a couple of videos of E3 for Everyone Guild Wars gameplay:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi-LoDLfl8I
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta40sVo6t8w
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsL-aMeCQkw

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First Impressions: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (Vita)

Ys VIII, which released in 2017, is the latest game in the very long-running Ys series from Falcom. Dating back to the mid ’80s, the Ys series of simple but fun action-RPGs. While the Ys series has never been as popular as the top series in this genre, particularly in the West, many of the Ys games are great and deserve attention, often more than they have gotten.

This game is no exception, as it is really good and addictive! Ys VIII is a great action-rpg, with a well-thought-through mixture of elements from both the classic Ys games and modern titles. I’ve been playing a lot of this game over the past few weeks, and quite enjoy it. As always in the series, Ys VIII is a very combat-heavy action-RPG. The way they keep the combat system simple, but add depth as expected from a modern game, is great. You’ll spend a lot of time in combat here and it stays fun.

Historically, you play as one character in Ys games, the red-haired hero Adol. However, in Ys VII that changed as the series moved to having three party members you could switch between. This game works like that again, as the game has three characters active at a time, and you control one while the AI control the other two. You can switch between the three active party members with the press of a button, and once you get more than three characters you can swap out the others on the pause menu anytime. It seems that only the three active ones get experience points though, unfortunately, so you will need to switch characters out to keep them levelled. There are three main types of characters, with a rock-paper-scissors-styled system determining what type of enemies each one is good at fighting, either regular enemies, flying enemies, or highly armored foes. This encourages you to switch characters while playing based on which enemy type you are fighting, which adds to the game.

Beyond that, combat is mostly centered around pressing a single attack button, but there is also a vitally important roll button used to dodge incoming attacks, and you can equip four special attacks per character as well that you access with button combinations. A meter on screen, shown as a ring around the special-attack icons, controls how much you can use your specials. Additionally, as you defeat enemies with specials you fill in the background of the specials icons with yellow. Once this is full, you can use a super special move with another button combination, which differs for each character. Again you’re fighting a lot in this game, as expected from the always-grindey Ys series, but combat is fun so it’s not too bad. The game does seem a bit easy on Normal difficulty though, so I’ve mostly been playing on Hard. Maybe it gets harder later on, I am still not too far into this fairly long game. On Hard the game is plenty challenging from the beginning, though. Dodging is critical to survival, and selecting the right character and using your skills well is important. It’s rewarding when you get past a tough boss fight in good shape. Fortunately, as always in Ys games you can save anytime. I know I said it already, but I have also been playing some Ys I for the Sega Master System recently, and this game feels like half classic Ys, and half modern action game. It’s great stuff.

Ys games have always had a plot, but Falcom mixed things up this time with an original concept for this fantasy adventure series: you are stranded on a deserted island. Ys has always been a gameplay-first, story-second series, but there are always characters to care about. This game goes farther along on that route than before. The game begins on a large oceangoing ship. Adol and his friend Dogi are working on this ship as crew members, wandering the world as he usually does. However, after not long the ship wrecks, and you wash up on a forbidding deserted island. Starting out with only Adol, you quickly add a second party member, then set up a base camp. The whole game is set on the island, and you explore it, find new survivors to add to your party or who will stay at the base camp and do something there, and collect stuff. Every so often, Adol sees dreams of a woman called Dana who lived in some long-ago civilization perhaps on the island. She becomes important much later in the game, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Along the way, there are many fully voiced cutscenes which give the characters personality in a way I don’t remember seeing in this series before. Ys VII also had a party, but this one makes you care about your party members a lot more than that game did and the party members interact much more. The deserted-island setting is also reasonably interesting, if inordinately dangerous in that way only a videogame could be. The game is definitely anime though, with anime-style character designs and constant anime-style humor and design elements. I have long found it weird to see how there is almost nothing actually European-medieval anything Japanese “medieval fantasy” games have in them… it’s kind of comical, how impossible this ship’s contents are for this ostensible world setting! Apparently this world has advanced far enough to make some guns, so there is that, but still. That ship in the beginning or most any characters’ clothing doesn’t fit the ostensible setting at all, as usual for fantasy anime. Oh well.

Returning to the gameplay though, since you are stuck on a deserted island a money system wouldn’t make sense, so there isn’t one. Instead, it’s all about collecitble monster parts, plants, and such. All purchases in the camp are done through barter with the stuff you collect, so the monster-parts-collection element of this game fits the setting well. Yes, as with many modern games this game has a crafting system, but they did a good job making it simple enough that I don’t mind it. There isn’t any complex crafting system here, you see; you just get stuff that people say they want and bring it to them, either for side quests or for getting new items in the shop and such, and then they will give you the reward. That seems simple enough, if you know where to find the things they need, but that latter part can be a challenge sometimes. Yes, finding the right items can be tricky.

Story quests, on the other hand, usually have you going to a specific point in the map, either to search for a survivor, kill monsters there, or just to explore to that point. These points are marked on your map, whether or not you have reached that place yet, which is very helpful; when you have a story quest you always know the direction you should be heading in, you just need to figure out how to get there. This can be trickier as it sounds, as areas can have multiple paths and are often gated either with obstacles you need a specific item to get past that you may not have yet, or obstacles that you can only get past with the help of a specific number of survivors. So yes, rescuing people doesn’t only add to your little town, it also allows you to unlock new areas on the map. It’s a good system.

I like exploring the world a lot. Vs VIII has a fairly large world made up of interlocking areas. The area sizes are designed for the limitations of the Vita, but each one is plenty large, allowing for a good amount of space to explore and fight in. They can have multiple floors, and in addition to a wide variety of monsters are also full of treasure chests, collection points where you get plants or minerals or such from, scenic vistas, and more, all marked on the map. On that note, graphically the game looks great for the Vita, and is probably one of the best-looking games I’ve played for the system. I’m sure it looks even better on PC and PS4, and probably the Switch too, in framerate particularly as the Vita version is 30fps and the others try for 60, but I am quite fine with 30fps and I think this game looks very nice. Some Vita games look dated compared to major-console titles, but with its great graphics and art design this game impresses. The soundtrack is fantastic too, it’s great stuff. Ys games have often had memorable soundtracks and this one is no exception. The good grpahics and music help make this already-great game even better.

So I mostly quite like this game, but though I am ‘only’ a bit over 10 hours into the game so far, there are a few issues to mention. First, this is a long game, as much as 70 hours to finish, and a lot of that time will be spent levelling or killing monsters for parts. I’m sure the grind gets old after a while, and not everybody has time to finish a game as long as this. You surely can finish it faster than that if you ignore all side content, but it is not a short game. And second, the Vita version of this game here is the original version of the game, and does not have a whole list of features that were added to all of the later ports, including the PS4, PC, and Switch releases. The additional content of the other versions includes a bonus dungeon at the end of the game for Dana to play through, more combat modes for Dana to switch to when you play as her near the end of the game, a bunch of interface and map improvements and such, and more. On the other hand, the improved versions also cost a lot more than the Vita one does — this version is easy to find for under $40, while the other three are still a full $60. So despite the cuts I got this version, and don’t regret it. I probably will also get the PC version someday as well, but Ys VIII is a great game and a nice showcase for what the Vita can do. It looks great on the OLED screen. It would make more sense to just get one of the ports and stick to that, but there is more than enough here in this version to keep gamers occupied for a long time, and so far I am quite liking what I have seen. I recommend playing Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, it is a good game worthy of attention.

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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 16: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 13)

Yes, I’m finally going to start this series up again.  It’s been way too long!  I probably should have a full update ready, but I don’t, so this will have to do.  For this small update, first I’ll post the new list of 2d platformers I will be covering here.  I’ve bought a bunch of them since I last posted a new article in this series back in April 2017, so before moving on to 2.5d games I need to cover these games first.

New 2d platformers I will be covering
—-
8-bit Bayonetta
Airscape – The Fall of Gravity
Alwa’s Awakening
Archibald’s Adventures
Castle in the Darkness
Cuphead
Jazz Jackrabbit 1 Collection
Kero Blaster
GunGirl 2
Miracle Fly
Mighty Switch Force! Academy!
Mighty Switch Force! Hose it Down!
Mushroom 11
Odallus The Dark Call
Pharaoh Rebirth+
Reverse x Reverse
Rosenkreuzstillette
Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel
Secrets of Raetikon
Slain: Back from Hell
Sonic Mania
Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe
Tetrobot & Co.
The End is Nigh
Unmechanical

I think that’s all of them for now.  If anything is missing from this list, I will add it and note the change.

I should start from the top, but those summaries aren’t ready yet so I’m just going to post the two that are.  Yes, it’s only two games, but both are long summaries with good detail about the games.

Summaries in this update

Miracle Fly
Rosenkreuzstillette

Miracle Fly (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supposedly supported (xinput only). Miracle Fly is a clever Japanese indie release with a unique idea that it executes on fairly well. This entirely mouse-controlled game is a mobile port and it shows, but unlike most such games I have covered in this list, this one is actually kind of good. This side-scrolling game with simple 2d grpahics is a flight-based puzzle/action/platformer, and as the name suggests, you can fly, though your flight is limited. There are three playable characters, all witch girls, and you can choose a character before each stage. The three are a faster red one with a spread shot, slower purple one with a laser, and middle blue one with a gun-like shot. The differences between them do matter. How movement works in this game is that your character will move towards your mouse cursor’s location if you hold the right mouse button. You move by shooting backwards from the back of your witch’s broom, which happens automatically while you hold the right button. If you press the left button, however, you will fire forwards. This is your main attack, but you do need to watch it because the recoil of each shot pushes you backwards slightly. You can also play with a gamepad, but the mouse is recommended because it is much more accurate.

Being able to move towards the point you click on sounds easy, but this is actually a pretty tough game. First, flight is limited by a meter. You have health and magic meters, and when your magic meter runs out you will drop straight down. Once on the ground it will automatically refill. Additionally Miracle Fly has a momentum system, so you need to carefully manage your movement clicks to get where you want with just the right amount of speed, so that, say, you will be able to stop just in time to make it into a narrow opening at the bottom of a vertical shaft before you fall through the one-way door at the bottom due to your momentum, while also not running out of magic; and that’s one of the easier stages, it gets much harder once walls covered with spikes everywhere get involved! Again, this game may start out easy, but it gets hard as you progress, particularly if you want to get everything in each stage. Fitting its mobile roots, within each of the games’ many levels there are three red gems to find. These allow you to unlock more levels once found, and levels are gated, requiring certain numbers of gems to unlock. There are also coins to collect, stars that give you chances to continue within a level, and single-use powerups that refill your magic or health.

Levels in Miracle Fly are small to medium in size, but are fairly well designed. The sprites are small, but characters and enemies have detail. The walls and such are pretty plain looking, though, and this game has a simple, platformer-creation-tool-like look. It works fine for the game, but the visuals are average. This is a tile-based game. You have your basic walls, spikes, several kinds of enemies which are usually easy to deal with (until they aren’t), one-way walls, and, crucially, several different kinds of switches and the things that they affect. One type of switch then allows you to move around certain types of blocks while you are standing on it. This lets you solve puzzles by dragging blocks around until you get them in the right place. Others are simple switches, which open one of several different types of colored walls once stepped on. You will often need to hit these in the correct order to get all of the gems, as you may be blocked from going back after accidentally hitting the wrong one. Because of this getting all three gems in levels often requires replay, but thankfully you won’t need to get everything in one go; instead, gems you’ve gotten count as gotten, and when you replay the stage you will only need to get the ones you previously missed. That’s nice.

Now, for the most part there are no checkpoints within the levels. This works at first, but once you reach the longer, more difficult levels having to restart every time you die gets frustrating. Fortunately, there is a continue system that uses those stars you will get along the way. If you want to continue where you died you can use two stars. After that, each subsequent continue in the level doubles the number of stars required. If you give up and quit out of the stage, though, you do not lose those stars. It’s a good system that allows you to have a chance at the harder levels while also keeping things challenging. The game autosaves after each stage you complete. Overall, Miracle Fly is a good game. Getting used to the physics can be tricky and sometimes the game is frustrating, but with responsive controls, some unique design elements, lots of levels, and plenty of challenge this game is worth a look. Also available digitally on Mac. The mobile version of the game is available on iOS, Android, and Ouya, though this PC/Mac version released a year after the mobile versions and is improved over them.

Rosenkreuzstillette (2007 (original Japanese doujin release), Win2000+. The English-language Steam release is from 2017.) – 1 player, saves (settings and replays to system, progress to passwords only), gamepad supported (directinput strongly recommended). Rosenkreuzstillette is a pretty good Japanese indie Mega Man clone with an all-female anime-style cast. The game has a Gothic-anime-fantasy story and visual theme which fit well together. You are Tia, one of the few mages in a troubled Gothic-style city which persecutes magic users. While out of the city, the other mages all revolt against the city, and you decide to stop them, as they go too far. The game mixes some comedy elements into the conversations though, so it’s not all darkness. The setting is original, but the core story is very much Mega Man, or Mega Man X rather. The plot is clearly inspired by the standard Mega Man X series plot, where X is the one loyal robot fighting against robot uprisings that partially are the result of bad treatment of robots. It’s fine Mega Man-inspired plot, in a different kind of world setting. I like that the protagonist is female, too. If Capcom or Inafune aren’t going to make Mega Man-like games starring female characters, then it’s great that someone else has.

As far the modes and options go, you can play the main game from the beginning, play Arcade mode which is a more linear affair, enter a password to continue a game in the main game — and yes, you can only load via passwords, so write them down after beating a boss! — and change the options. The game will save your options-menu selections, so I wish that they had put in save files for progress as well but it’s not there in the name of being a bit too much like console Mega Man games. It’s a minor issue though, and some classic PC games did use passwords too. You can also save replays of your gameplay, which is nice.

The story may be Mega Man X-inspired, but the gameplay here is classic NES-style Mega Man all the way. Like Mega Mans 4-6, Tia can shoot, charge up for a more powerful shot, jump, and slide. Your shot, jump, and such all are just like Mega Man’s, of course, just with different visuals. The controls may not quite match Mega Man’s precision but it is very close, and they are responsive and feel great, just about like how a NES Mega Man game would. You can configure the buttons, but on an xinput controller you can only move with the analog stick, so a directinput pad that either only has a d-pad or allows you to select whether the pad or analog stick is the main X-Y axis is recommended since this game is a lot better with a d-pad than an analog stick or the keyboard. I’m using my classic USB Microsoft Sidewinder Gamepad, which is still great!

The game structure is again Mega Man-like, and there are the expected eight bosses to fight before you move on to the final set of levels. The game has one Mega Man X touch at the start, though, an intro stage before you reach the main level-select screen. The levels in this game have pretty good designs that vary between copying design ideas straight out of various Mega Man games some of the time, to coming up with new ideas other times. It’s a good mix, and all eight main levels are well-designed and fun to play… well, maybe apart from the requisite stage with the Flash Man-like instant-death laser beams, those are tricky. The difficulty here is balanced much like the NES Mega Man games, so it is a challenging game, but quite doable and not THAT hard once you learn the correct order to play the levels in. There are some excessively difficult Mega Man games, perhaps most notably Mega Man X6, Mega Man & Bass, and Mega Man Zero, but the six original NES games are not on that level and this game isn’t either; this game is probably not as hard as Mega Man 9, it’s closer to the originals in challenge. That’s great, as the NES Mega Man games have incredibly well-balanced difficulty levels that are tough while almost always staying fun and engaging. I prefer that to the crushing difficulty of the hardest games in the franchise, myself. These levels are pretty good and hold up well compared to Capcom.

The enemies in those stages are almost all analogs of Mega Man enemies. So, you have enemies just like Met Hats, Sniper Joes, those guys who blow air at you, the birds which drop eggs that split into several projectiles, and more. Some enemies appear in all of the levels while others are exclusive to only one, as appropriate for their design. Some levels have Mega Man 4-like minibosses as well, while others don’t; it’s a mixture, as appropriate for a game emulating a whole series and not a single game. Perhaps some more originality in the enemy selection might have been nice, but I love Mega Man and miss the series, so this homage is pretty good despite that.

Visually, Rosenkreuzstillette is a tile-based platformer with a somewhat simple look to it. This is an indie game from Japan and it shows, though all the art here looks original and is well drawn. Now, the backstory may be a bit dark, but this is not a full-on tragedy; the plot and visual design here are a mixture of comedy and drama. Mega Man is a cartoony series, and most enemies have a cartoony look to them a bit like that from the Mega Man games. Some enemies are grimmer, particularly in the Castlevania-inspired level, but most have a lighter tone. Environments, however, are mostly ornate Gothic structures, in different palettes and looks such for each of the eight levels of course. I do think that the mixture works in this case. and while obviously a limited-budget homebrew release, the game has solid visuals.

Overall, Rosenkreuzstillette is a very good, but just as unoriginal, game. The game looks nice, plays great, and will take at least a few hours to finish, though it is not an overly long game. The game is balanced well and is one of the best Mega Man-style games I have played that is not actually part of the series. If you love or even like Mega Man like I do, you almost certainly will like this game, so get it! The game also has a sequel, which released in Japan a few years after the original. The same developer who localized this one is also working on that, and hopefully it will also see a Steam release soon, I’d really like to play it.

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My Thoughts on E3 2018 – It Was Kind of Average

First, I just noticed that none of my four yearly E3 report articles are in the Table of Contents page!  Sorry about that, this oversight has finally been corrected.  Anyway, on to the article.

The last few years, I’ve written up long summaries of my thoughts on each years’ E3 show, focusing on the press conferences and Nintendo’s show, along with some other topics.  There was a lot to say!  For this post on the 2018 E3 show held earlier this month, however, I haven’t written as much, though I do have some things to say as usual.  This E3 wasn’t as interesting as the last few, unfortunately, but some things worth mentioning did happen and I did watch quite a few hours of E3 coverage despite the overall mediocrity of the event.  So, here’s something anyway. It’s just a lot less of something than I had to say last year.

All in all, E3 2018 was a good show for seeing more gameplay details of games releasing in the next nine months or so.  From many conferences and booths on the show floor, publishers showed off lots of games releasing in the near term and those of us at home watching got a lot of information and hours of footage out of it.  That is an important thing, and E3 served its purpose in this respect.  Apparently the addition of paying non-industry visitors was significant on the show floor, but watching at home that alone didn’t seem to change much.  E3 was still E3, and it was fun to watch.

However, E3 2018 was not a good show at all for what is usually the most fun thing about E3, new game announcements of titles you had never heard of.  Indeed, this was the worst year in recent memory for this!  As a Nintendo fan, that their big surprise announcement was a Mario Party game was not thrilling; sure, it’s something, but I’ve never been much of a Mario Party fan so it does not get me excited for the second half’s Switch lineup.  But more on that later.  I will start with the beginning

Day One, Saturday: Electronic Arts

 Day one was earlier than ever, as EA had their conference midday Saturday, pushing forward from last years’ Sunday start to the show.  EA’s show this year was an okay but unexciting presentation with no major new announcements, unless you think things like a Command & Conquer mobile game and that Madden will be on PC again significant. I don’t, at all.  They spent way more time showing the mobile game than they should have; it does not look great, and surely will be ruined by microtransactions and pay-to-win anyway even if it is any good for a cellphone game.  I’m no cellphone fan to say the least though, so I won’t be playing either way.  As for EA Sports, the sports segment of this show was as short as it’s ever been, which was nice.  Yearly sports sequels don’t change too much, usually, so they probably don’t need lots of time in an E3 presentation, though they should be mentioned.

More interestingly, Unravel Two was announced, which is kind of surprising given the mediocre response the first one got, but it must have sold alright. That’s nice, I hope that the game is good.  It was released at the show and seems to be fun going by what I’ve heard, though it has some of the same drawbacks as the original.   The other EA Originals title after that, a lonely post-apocalyptic adventure game starring a semi-human female character, might be interesting, but I’m not sure.  I will definitely want to see more on that one.  The main focus of this show, however, was on Bioware’s Anthem, a big third-person sci-fi shooter multiplayer action/adventure game.  It looks like it could be pretty good and definitely has great graphics, but we’ll really need to see more of the actual game to know; it was not shown off well at all in the conference, as they started with a far too long interview segment before showing not much gameplay, but apparently people who did play it at the show say that it it does actually play well. The game is definitely going for gameplay with a Destiny or The Division style, but with jetpacks and some classic Bioware elements, and I hope it works out. Still, overall EA’s conference was not great. I usually find EA’s the least interesting conferences, though, so that’s no surprise really.

Day Two: Microsoft and Bethesda

On the second day, Sunday, there were two conferences, Microsoft and Bethesda. Microsoft had a good show, and showed a lot of games.  There are two problems with that, though.  First, none of the games showed are are exclusive to the Xbox One, though I am fine with that, as I really like their enhanced PC support.  Worse, though, excepting the handful of first-party titles, almost everything else shown is also going to be released on the PlayStation 4.  This was a good conference, but how many of the MS-exclusive titles are actually really interesting?  Microsoft also showed a LOT of games with 2019 release dates.  Seriously,  most of the MS show felt like it ended with a message saying “coming 2019 or later”, which is not great when their game lineup for the rest of this year seems to be very thin.  Nintendo may have only a few games due in the second half of this year, but Microsoft has even less.

And for one more criticism, the exclusives MS does have are mostly long-running franchise titles, including new Halo, Gears, and Forza games, and another trailer for the upcoming Crackdown title as well. They had a few second-tier new projects, but from an IP standpoint this was a pretty safe lineup. From Halo, Halo Infinite was announced but with no gameplay details.  Despite the title it’s apparently a sequel to Halo 5, though I’ve never found the series very interesting so I’m not too excited.  Gears 5 was also announced, and looks similar to the past games but with a female protagonist this time.  I doubt that that will be enough to get me to care about the ur-cover-based-shooter, another series I have never cared for.  They also announced a Gears strategy game for PC and a Gears Pop mobile game as well.  Yes, it’s a Gears x Funco Pop crossover… just what everybody wanted?  I don’t get the Funco Pop appeal really myself, but I’m sure some will find it amusing, if it isn’t horribly exploitative that is.  The PC strategy game could be good though, we’ll see.  Forza this year is Forza Horizon 4, which looks similar to the past games except it is set in the UK this time.  The Horizon series is fun, but too simmish for my tastes; I like the themes and idea of the series quite a bit, but wish the driving was less frustrating and more fun.  Ah well.  As for Crackdown 2, you seem to be playing as a character voiced by the celebrity Terry Crews, who I’ve never seen in anything other than some ads but sure, that’s amusing.  The game was delayed again, into next year, but hopefully when it finally releases it’ll be worth the wait and not the troubled and not hyped game it has been for a long time now.   Oh, and last but not least, Microsoft announced that they have a team working on a new Battletoads game.  They only showed a logo and no gameplay, and I’m expecting a smaller downloadable title and not a big-budget thing, but still that’s really cool and I definitely want to play the game.  Battletoads is a great NES game and it’d be kind of awesome to finally ee them return.

Microsoft also announced that they bought four new studios and started up one new one on top of that. They bought Ninja Theory (Hellblade, etc.) and Playground Games (Forza), along with two others, and are starting a new team in Santa Monica, California. MS needs more game studios, given how many they’ve shut down over the last few years such as Lionhead and Ensemble to name a few, but any new and exclusive game projects from these teams will surely be quite a ways off so this isn’t helpful for MS’s seriously thin exclusive game library anytime soon. They’d better hope that Sea of Thieves holds player attention long term I guess, because again Crackdown is a 2019 game now, along with most of the rest of the games Microsoft showed.

Microsoft also showed a whole lot of third-party games, but I won’t try to list all of them here.  Trailers for a lot of the major third-party titles from the next few years ran, as MS promised to show 50 games on screen in their presentation and delivered on that.  They had a nice indie reel, which is always great to see in the major conferences.  Sony used to care about indies but doesn’t anymore, so it’s important that somebody does.  Overall MS had a solid but predictable conference.  I do want to play a bunch of the games shown, but it’s not an amazingly inspiring lineup for me.  It was a good confernece though, sure.

As for Bethesda, I’m often a critic of theirs but despite my dislike for their business practices and many of their games, they have done some solid press conferences. Bethesda’s conference was a little different from the other 2018 briefings, however.  This year Bethesda spent some time on games that are going to release this year, most notably Fallout 76, which now has a 2018 release date, but unlike most of the other conferences, put a lot of focus on games which are still well away from release.  They showed what seems like everything they have!

My favorite part of the Bethesda game library are the games and IPs of id’s, and id’s shooter ip catalog made a strong showing at this E3.  They showed something from all four once-id shooter franchises!  New Doom (a sequel to Doom 2016 was just announced here), Wolfenstein (Young Blood, a game where you play as BJ Blazkowitz’s twin daughters in a Nazi-run 1980s Paris, apparently), Quake (Champions, an online arena shooter that has been shown previously but isn’t formally released yet), and Rage (2, a very cool looking open-world shooter with driving) all showed up in the conference. I’m not a fan of the rest of Bethesda’s lineup, but they showed a lot of games.  The Elder Scrolls had several projects announced, including more about TES Online (the Argonian swamps will be the next expansion), the announcement of a new TES mobile game, and a far-off announcement of TES VI; Fallout (76, an online-focused Fallout game releasing this year); Prey (DLC for the last one); and an announcement of the rumored, but still far-off, space-based Bethesda game Starbound all also made appearances.  They had a segment on some upcoming VR games as well.  It was a good conference but it kind of felt like Bethesda decided to toss almost all of their major IPs into this conference, regardless of how far along the projects actually are. It made for a packed show, but I wonder how many of these games we’ll see at the next E3 or two.  Also, to return to the subject from the top of this paragraph, do all four of id’s shooter franchises need projects in development at the same time? I know each is different — modern Wolf is much more story-focused; Rage is open-world and has driving; Doom presumably will be single player smaller-level focused; and Quake is a multiplayer arena shooter — but still… huh.  Showing all four of those at once kind of felt like overload.  If they release over a period of years it could be fine, though.  Overall the Bethesda conference was solid, and was one of the better ones this year.

Day Three: Sony, Ubisoft, and Square-Enix

Sony decided to try something different this year, but their weird conference style did not work out well for watchers, and it sounds like it was even worse for people in the audience.  For anyone who hasn’t watched it, Sony started start out with a segment focusing on The Last of Us 2, and held this part of the conference in a room that looks like a church from the game that appears in the gameplay clip shown at the event. Then after showing that game — it looks quite brutal and unpleasant, like the first game — they … spent 20 minutes moving the whole audience from that room into a normal theater for the rest of the presentation. During this time you had to watch a panel of talking heads talk, like a post-show show that I don’t want to watch, but have to because it’s in the middle of the show.  This is really annoying stuff and totally ruined the flow of the event and any excitement for the rest of the show, unfortunately.  Sony did show a few short trailers during this in-between segment, but for the most part this split-conference idea was really annoying to watch.

Oh, and Sony had several far-too-long musical numbers during their conference, too. And even including the twenty minute break, it was only an hour and ten minutes long. So yeah, Sony didn’t have much to show. They said going in that they were going to focus on four games, and that’s what they did: they focused on four games, all third-person action-adventure games that are probably single-player focused. Specifically, the four games are the aforementioned The Last of Us 2, Spiderman, Death Stranding, and Ghosts of Tsushima. Of the four, TLOU 2 looks like a good game but, just like the first one, is not one I probably ever would want to play due to its story, content, and gameplay.  Death Stranding’s appearance was weird and unexplained yet again.  Some scraps of what might be gameplay were shown, but what the game actually is is still very unclear.  I’ve never been a Kojima fan so I don’t care all that much, but as a fan of gaming in general I do wonder what this famous creator’s next title actually is. What they did show here of the actual gameplay, and not story, didn’t seem all that thrilling though; there are invisible monsters to avoid and you spent a lot of time walking around carrying things, or something. Spiderman looked, well, the same as every other Spiderman game made in the past fifteen years or so. I haven’t played any Spiderman games made after the ’90s, and never cared much about the character anyway, so this isn’t a draw for me at all. The game looks like a boring beat ’em up with probably a lot of QTEs and nothing of any particular interest. I have no idea why some people keep praising it so much, it did not look good.  I was actually disappointed, as Sony’s hype has been about how different this game is, but no, it looks about the same as ever for the franchise.  However, the last of the four major focal titles was by far the most interesting, for me at least.  Ghosts of Tsushima does look pretty cool, and is the game Sony showed I had the most interest in playing, unless Dreams actually ends up being good; we’ll have to see on that one.  Tsushima looks like a good action game set in medieval Japan,and has fantastic graphics that evoke its setting very well.  The sword-based combat also looks like it could be pretty good if it has some depth. I hope the gameplay lives up to the visuals.

Overall Sony’s show was disappointing for several reasons.  Some interestin games were shown, but Sony didn’t really announce anything new, apart from a few short teasers of games that may or may not release in years and may or may not amount to anything.  They focused on titles releasing soon this time.  That might be better than the shows Sony has had in the past where they focus too much on games that are years away, but it lessens the excitement; a balance is good.

Ubisoft’s conference was thankfully a lot better. I’ve thought for several years now that Ubi has the one of the best conferences every year, and that was again true. Ubisoft puts on a good show, with musical numbers that are actually entertaining, unlike Sony; good developer segments on the stage, unlike EA; and a nice variety of games and genres, again unlike Sony or very Smash-focused Nintendo. Ubisoft didn’t make any new announcements at the show other than a new Trials game, which is kind of too bad, but what they showed of their previously-known games were good.  They started by showing a new trailer for Beyond Good & Evil 2. It’s a great trailer and I highly recommend watching it, but there was zero gameplay here, and barely even a hint of what the gameplay even might be, so the game looks like it’s still a long way off. Even though I was definitely not one of the first games’ biggest fans — I was pretty critical of a lot of things about that game, though it is good — anything designer Michel Ancel makes is worth following.  BG&E2 interests me a lot and I hope it’s great. I definitely want to play it, whenever it is that the game actually releases.

As for the rest of Ubisoft’s stuff, some of their major highlights were The Division 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle Donkey Kong DLC — complete with a stage show musical number conducted by Grant Kirkhope! –, the new Trials game, a fourth faction which is being added to For Honor, and more. It was a solid showing in every way other than surprise announcements.  I definitely want to play the Donkey Kong DLC addon for Mario & Rabbids, it’s just about to release and sounds like it’s great.  Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks pretty good too, as I love the ancient Greek setting and think that it’s fantastic that they finally included a full female player option, for the first time in a major Assassin’s Creed game.  As usual with the series I kind of expect that my interest in the gameplay will lag far behind my interest in the setting and world, but we’ll see; I have not played Origins yet and know it mixed up the formula.  As for The Division 2, I only played a little of the first one but it seems good, though not as much for a mostly solo player like me as it would be in a group.  Still, it could be interesting.  The Trials game looks like a lot of fun too.  I’ve never gotten into the Trials games like people might think I would, but I’ll definitely play this one sometime.

Last and unfortunately least, the first conference of last Monday was a prerecorded half hour video from Square-Enix, who announced almost nothing and mostly just showed games which also appeared in other conferences, including the next Tomb Raider game, the next Just Cause game, and Kingdom Hearts 3, a game which appeared in a full three different conference videos, this one, Sony’s, and Microsoft’s.  The short length and lacking content of this video made it feel kind of irrelevant, unfortunately.  It’s not a bad little video, but what here was actually interesting and only shown here? They did announce a new game called Babylon’s Fall, but the trailer was only CG and had no gameplay details, so that’s not saying much yet. Square’s conference was pretty insubstantial.

Day Four: Nintendo

Normally I have the most to say by far about Nintendo, which makes sense because I am a Nintendo fan and play their games a lot.  This year, however, Nintendo had very little to show apart from one game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Switch.  Yes, Nintendo decided to focus on a single game for the third year in a row. In 2016 it was Zelda, last year Mario, and this year it’s Smash… but people seem to be a lot more upset at that focus than they were the last two years, as this time there was a lot of criticism of Nintendo’s lack of games this E3. That criticism is accurate, as they had very little to show other than Smash, and there may be even fewer games shown than there were the last couple of years — they aren’t mentioning the 3DS at all for example, sadly, unlike 2017.  And yes, this is really unfortunate! The 3DS is a great system I’m still playing a lot of and needs more games.  Still, though, the single-game focus returns, so I didn’t think it felt THAT different from the last few years.  It might just be the nature of the game which is the issue, more so than the focus on a single title?  Smash is a great and very popular series, but probably doesn’t have quite the same level of universal appeal as Mario and Zelda, particularly at the detail level of Nintendo’s half-hour presentation.  I thought it was interesting, but I can see how many people were bored by the long part detailing the sometimes-minor changes made to every single character in the roster.

That said though, I’ve never loved this focus-all-on-one-game thing, so yes, once again I wish that they were showing more. In particular, what’s going on with Retro? It now has been five years since they last released a game, and still we heard nothing about whatever it is they’re making. They must be having development problems, five years of nothing is not normal. And not hearing anything about Metroid Prime 4 is also a disappointment, they should have had something to show of that here.  Yoshi also was a no-show, and Pikmin 4 as well if that is even still really in active development.  There weren’t even any new Wii U ports announced to fill in the roster!  Nintendo’s second half of 2018 Switch game release library is, so far, incredibly thin, with only Smash Ultimate, Pokemon Let’s Go, and Super Mario Party as major tentpole releases.  I’m sure all three of those games will sell very, very well, Pokemon and Smash especially, but for me this isn’t anywhere near as exciting a lineup as 2017’s was; I am not a Pokemon or Mario Party fan, and while I like Smash I don’t unreservedly love it.

Nintendo did have a few non-Smash games to show, including a DLC addon for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, that new Mario Party game that was announced during their E3 Direct and showed some gameplay of during the show, a mech combat game called Daemon x Machina that looks pretty interesting and will release in 2019, and details on the upcoming Switch Fire Emblem game, which looks like a Fire Emblem game and has been delayed to 2019, but there wasn’t a lot. And there wasn’t even been any 3DS on their E3 gameplay stream from the show floor that they call the Treehouse stream, which, again, I do think is a mistake. Oh well.  I have a Switch now, but with this library being all that’s releasing for the next six months… well, I’m kind of glad I only got the system recently, because I will have plenty of games to play as I catch up on last years’ releases and play the new DLC addons some of those games are getting this year.  People who got Switches last year will have less to do with the system.

As for Smash though, it looks pretty good. It was Nintendo’s main focus on the show floor and on the Treehouse stream, as well as in the conference, so they showed a lot of the multiplayer at the show and it’s looking great.  It seems that they’re building it on the core gameplay of the last one, Smash 4 (Wii U / 3DS), but with a lot of changes. The last game’s good, if not quite on par with Melee, so that’s fine. It’ll have every single character from all past Smash games, plus a few more, and every character has had some changes to their looks, moves, and such. The E3 Direct mentions some of the major changes for just about every character, and some sound good. Link now is the Breath of the Wild Link, for example, and bombs can be remotely detonated. I don’t like the new design for Zelda’s character model, however; they went with the Link to the Past / A Link Between Worlds Zelda this time, and I think it’s the least good Zelda design yet in a Smash game.  She’s just so bland looking compared to the great Twilight Princess design, and going from the fantastic TP Zelda design from Smash 4 to this is a huge downgrade!  I like playing as Zelda, but with this change… I don’t know, maybe I’ll play more Palutena or something, along with Sheik and Kirby.

Visually, Smash Ultimate has a very cartoony style, more than I remember past Smash games looking. It looks nice, but a little different from how it looked before. The gameplay is mostly the same however, though just like with the changes to the characters there are some balance changes, such as to dashing.  I have one major question about this game, though: they showed nothing of the single player side to the game, and as a result I wonder about what content the game will have outside of local or online multiplayer.  Will there be a substantial single player mode, or not?  The series has gone back and forth on this, and it is always nice when they have one.  I hope there is something.  Regardless, I am, of course, not the biggest Smash fan — they’re good games, but I’ve never loved them enough to play huge amounts of the games, Melee sort of excepted — but the game does look good and I’m sure I’ll get it eventually. Smash is very popular and should be enough for a good holiday season this year, but it’d have been better to have a bit more than they seem to have… though Microsoft doesn’t seem to have much either, almost everything major they showed was for next year. It’s kind of a weird year, it seems.

Conclusion

In the end, the gaming press, and most gamers, decided that Microsoft won this E3 because Sony kind of disappointed, particularly in their presentation, and Nintendo didn’t show enough games for core audiences who don’t care about Smash. That consensus makes sense, though MS’s very Gears/Forza/Halo-focused show didn’t exactly hugely excite me, for sure. I’m not sure who was best, really.  My default answer is usually Nintendo, as I did like some things about their show such as potentially Daemon x Machina and I’m sure Smash Ultimate will be great, but while good it was one of the weaker Nintendo shows in some time.  Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Bethesda’s were also good, while Sony, Electronic Arts, and Square-Enix brought up the rear.  Ubisoft’s was probably the best show, so maybe they were best?

But really, the story of this E3 was that it was not great.  I know I have almost entirely focused on the pre-show media briefings, aka “press conferences”, in this article, but it sounds like it was little different on the show floor, as everyone focused on games they’re releasing this year or early next year.  E3 2018 was one of the worst I can remember for surprise new game announcements, which has always been one of my favorite things about  the event.  It was a fine show for seeing more gameplay details about previously known titles, though. And that’s okay, it’s always great to see more about upcoming games.

On a more positive front, one thing that came out of this E3 was press about how representation of female characters in the games shown was probably better than ever. Though the vast majority of games shown still had male-only protagonists, some major titles like The Last of Us 2 and of course Tomb Raider have female protagonists, and lots of games have gender choice as well, such as the new Battlefield game.  That’s great!  Even Nintendo’s show was less sexist than usual, since Smash does not have the built-in sexism of the Mario and Zelda franchises, you aren’t rescuing a girl every time, or ever.  By this point I have sadly very low expectations from Nintendo on this issue, but maybe someday they will get with the picture.

For me though, overall this was an underwhelming E3.  As an overall event, while I did once again watch a lot of hours of E3 stuff this year and had plenty of fun doing so, mostly from the press conferences, Nintendo’s Treehouse stream, and Giant Bomb’s late-night shows, I didn’t come out of the show having any one game I saw and feel like I absolutely must get.  There were good-looking games that I’m sure will be fun, but there wasn’t a show-stoppingly-awesome announcement or game shown.  Ah well.  You can’t always have that, but we will surely be playing a lot of good games over the next year.  Gaming is in pretty good shape these days, if the industry doesn’t collapse because of financial concerns or such.

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The Nintendo Switch and Modern Console UIs: Why is it Hard to Find and Play Your Games?

In this article I’d like to discuss several important elements of console system menu design which are done … oddly to say the least … on many modern systems. The Switch may be in the title, but everyone is guilty here in different ways! I have two main points.

These two points are, essentially, one good and one bad thing about the Switch UI, with lots of comparisons to how other consoles do things. Before i start though, I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the Switch OS on a lot of fronts, including its lack of visual customization, lack of cloud saves, limited options in the shop (though Nintendo did just slightly improve on this), and more, but for the Switch or any other console, those things, while important, are secondary. These are, after all, gaming consoles, things which exist to allow us to play videogames. So, the top issue, of primary importance, is simple: How hard is it in any given console’s operating system to actually find and run the games that you own and have installed on the system and/or own a physical copy of? And why does every modern system make this a lot harder than it should be, though each in very different ways?

First: Is the Game Playable Right Now?

On the last generation of consoles, including the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, DSi, Wii, and usch, each system had a menu system for digital titles only, but ran physical games from the disc or cart. As a result, their OSes clearly delineate your digital game library from the game currently in the system, which they also easily let you play. Two more current systems, the 3DS and Wii U, still work that way. The rest of the current generation of systems, however, work differently, and the way they do so cause some really annoying problems in every case. The rest of the modern, current-generation consoles, including the Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Playstation Vita, have a menu system which list every game you have played on the system, digital or physical, in the system menu’s games list.

This is an important change because all consoles which list all games you have played on the system on your system menu also require any game you own a physical disc or cartridge copy of to be in the system in order to play the game. Even though the PS4 and Xbox One fully install all games to their hard drives, for DRM reasons you need to put the disc in to play any game you didn’t buy digitally. This makes sense and is a good thing, since it still allows for used game sales. I really like that even on these systems I can still buy used games.

However, the Xbox One and Vita all have a critical flaw in their interface design: they do a terrible job of telling you which games you own physically and which are digital. On the Vita, there are no hints at all about which games are which. All games you’ve put into your system have an icon, as do all digital downloads, and those icons all look the same. You’ll just need to remember which are which. On the Xbox One, there is an icon on the home screen with a disc logo on it, which shows you what’s in your disc drive right now. When you put a new disc game in it’ll automatically appear and let you launch that game. However, it’s just an icon in the recently-used-things section of the home screen, so if you just leave a disc in while playing a bunch of digital games, that icon will be pushed off the list. At this point you’ll need to go to the full games list to find the game… but this screen has absolutely no indicators whatsoever of whether games are physical or digital. That is, it won’t tell you until you try to launch a game you own on disc, when an error message will pop up prompting you to put in the disc. Yes, Microsoft doesn’t want you to know which games games you need to put a disc in for, and which you own digitally and can directly play! This is just insane stuff, and I have no idea how not one, but TWO current consoles all completely mess up this very basic element of user-interface design. All I can do on my Xbox One and Vita is just memorize which games I own a physical copy of and which I don’t, so I know which ones I’ll need to get a disc out for and which I don’t. This is possible of course, but it’s an annoying and perplexing thing for console hardware manufacturers to force on their userbase. Microsoft has done a great job with backwards compatibility, including the ability to play even backwards compatible original Xbox games on your Xbox One with the original disc, but in this important way they’re behind.

What is the point of this, to encourage digital purchases over physical? That seems like a fair guess, because there is no good reason to annoy and inconvenience your users like this when it’s an issue that would be so, so easy to fix, but regardless of the reason this is a problem that it’s kind of crazy to see has never been fixed…

It is different on the Playstation 4 and the Nintendo Switch, however. Both have nice, clear little icons next to each games’ name in the system menu for games which you own physically and thus will need to put into the system in order to play. It’s great! Any game you own on cart/disc has a little icon next to it, which is empty for the games not currently in the system, and filled in for the game that’s in your system right now. It’s a great touch which all consoles should have. With the Switch there’s never any confusion about which games I can play. Its OS has another major problem, however…

Second: How Do I Find the Game I Want to Play?

In the past, console games all were on physical media. Every game was on its own cartridge, card, or disc, and you put the game in the console in order to play it; it was simple, on a console-UI front. However, thanks to the advent of digital downloads things are very different now, and console operating systems need to be able to allow the user to sift through a potentially very large game library. Most modern consoles deal with this by allowing the user to search and sort their game libraries, in order to either display games the way you want, or at least to be able to find the kind of game you are looking for in the potentially-long list. Some consoles do a better job of this than others, but from the Xbox 360 and on, every console had sorting and/or search functions.

Nintendo, on the Wii, DSi, 3DS, and Wii U, allow you to fully customize how the games appear, as each has an icon which you can drag around the screen to put them where you want for easy finding of the games you want to play more often. The 3DS and Wii U additionally allow you to make folders, in order to further categorize your collection. Neither system had folders when they first launched, but their addition was welcome. These interfaces have some issues, particularly on the Wii where the decision that all games on external storage, that is an SD card, must be copied into the system memory is a crippling flaw for anyone with a larger collection, but this issue is fortunately fixed on Nintendo’s other modern consoles, or rather, it was. The 3DS and Wii U game-selection UIs are fantastic, among the best ever in my opinion. With nice icons for each game, nice-looking OSes, easy customization, and more, they are very good menu systems that get you to your games quickly and allow you to organize things just how you want. Nintendo should have stuck with something along these lines, but sadly they did not. I will I’ll get to the unfortunate, absolute disaster that is the Switch’s UI later.

Microsoft, in contrast, does not allow you to directly move your game list around, but does give some nice sorting tools. I particularly like the Xbox 360’s, which has a great option to hide game demos, an option sorely missed on all the rest of the consoles here. I really wish the Xbox One, PS3, and Switch had that option, it is needed! The 360 also allows you to sort either in alphabetical order or by how recently you have played a game, and both ways are useful. The system displays only about five games at a time, in a long horizontal list, but it switches through batches of five quickly. The 360 has the easiest to use single-wide list I have seen in a console. I’d still rather be able to customize it by having folders and such, but this works. The multiple sorting options and move-five-games-at-a-time features are key.

The Xbox One changes interfaces from the 360, and while still functional and sometimes good, most of the changes are for the worse. First, I have often found it difficult to figure out which game is the one in the drive, if I’ve forgotten, as the main menu doesn’t necessarily show the icon for the game in the system right now and, as point one above says, the OS doesn’t tell you which games even need the disc inserted until you try to run them. All other systems with physical media have a clear location in the OS where it shows what’s in your console’s disc drive or cart port, but not this one for some weird reason. I know MS wants people to buy digital copies of things and not physical, but come on! Once you do get into the list of games though things improve, as it is displayed in a nice, quick-to-navigate grid, but there are still some limitations. You can still sort your games list, thankfully. The Xbox One isn’t quite as good as the 360 in this respect, as the hide-demos option is gone, but you can still sort alphabetically or by most recently played, and it also has options to display games only installed on one specific hard drive and more, which can be nice depending on how you have your games organized. It also shows a lot of icons on screen, in horizontal rows. It’s not the best, but is a solid interface and finding games isn’t too hard.  And to address one of the system’s bigger issues, Microsoft is apparently working on folder support for the Xbox One.  It’s a needed addition and I hope that they add this soon.  Just being able to separate disc-required games from digital games alone would be great, if they won’t add a disc icon!

On the positive side though, on both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, Microsoft also has very good search tools which allow you to use voice commands (if you have a Kinect attached to your console) or text search, better if you have a keypad addon for your gamepad, to directly search for games and such. I don’t use this a lot, but it is a good option to include that I’m sure some make use of. Having a search box in their console OS is something that only Microsoft does, I believe, and it is actually useful.

Sony has tried several interfaces, but the PS3’s is, as I have said before, pretty bad. The PS3, and also the PSP which uses nearly the same interface, but all games installed on your console one massive vertically-scrolling single-wide list, and there are essentially no good sorting or search tools available. The only sorting options are to list in order of the last time you used each game, newest to oldest; by platform, separated for PS1, PS2, PS Minis, and PS3 (or PSP games, as the case may be) games, with unsortable listed-by-last-use lists within each category; or in a single folder which again is sorted by use only. You cannot create your own folders, sadly. As a result, the alternatives to the main list are mostly useless, so basically you just need to scroll down a massive list of games, or mixed demos and games in my case, hoping to eventually find the one you’re looking for. You can’t even sort alphabetically instead of by use, or quickly move through the list! It’s a huge pain. The PS3/PSP user interface is terrible and barely works if you have more than a few digital games. No, I do not want to scroll 100 items down a slowly-scrolling list in order to find the one I want! You can’t even scroll very quickly, a group of games at a time, like you can on MS’s consoles, either. The absence of customizable sorting options, user-creatable folders, and a better design than a single list are sorely missed.

The PS Vita abandoned that bad old interface in favor of one much more like the Wii or a cellphone’s, as there are now icons for each game, in pages which display about a dozen games or folders each. You can make folders and put icons in them, and move icons around the screen just like on the Nintendo interfaces it resembles. This interface works great and is the best interface of any of these Sony consoles, except for that annoying bit I mention in issue one above about how it doesn’t say which games require you to put the cartridge in. Like the Xbox One it doesn’t highlight what game is currently inserted into the system either, you just have to remember. But that is a separate point here.

As for the PS4, I’ve never used it myself, but from what I see it seems to have a horizontal list of recently-used stuff, and a separate page with all of your games. It looks much more like the PS3 interface than the Vita’s, though, unfortunately, but it is at least a lot better looking than the PS3/PSP’s. The horizontal list of recently-used stuff allows you to create folders here for quick access to games, and the library has a three-wide grid and actual good sorting functions finally, for the first time on a Sony console — you can sort by name forwards or back, install date, or recently used. That’s good, and that folder support allows for at least some custom organization support, but other things about the PS4 OS still look clumsy and slow, like Sony OSes always seem to be. The PS4 also has voice support if you have a PS4 camera, like the X1. Features-wise this is pretty decent stuff, but I’d need to use it for a while to know how I think it compares to the X1 OS, which has issues but mostly works fairly well.

So, how does the newest console, Nintendo’s Switch, handle things?

With one of the worst interfaces of the last couple of console generations, that’s how. Seriously, how did Nintendo mess things up this horribly? It all starts off so well, with those great icons I mention in point one, showing if games are actually playable right now or not! That’s great… but the list they are a part of is the worst. Very much like the PS4 but without any sorting or folder support, the Switch’s game list is in two parts, a horizontal scrolling list of the ten or so games you have played the most recently, and a list, which you have to scroll all the way over to the end to access, of all of your games. This list is a grid of maybe five wide by however many deep as you have games. It’s easy to scroll through, but has NO customization or sorting functions WHATSOEVER, which is unbelievably awful! Instead, it has only one sorting method: by most-recently-played. It will sort from what you have used the most recently, at the top, to the things you’ve used the longest ago or never, at the bottom. I can’t even begin to understand why Nintendo decided to remove the great, fully customizeable interfaces of the Wii, DSi, 3DS, and Wii U in favor of this stripped-down debacle, but this is almost PS3 levels of bad, maybe better because the list is quicker to scroll through, but maybe worse because there are even fewer sorting options — literally zero other than the default. What the heck, how did this happen?

So, here are one very good and one very bad thing about the Switch’s OS UI. I really hope that at some point Nintendo adds options to the Switch game library list, because they are desperately badly needed. Nintendo should be commended for showing users which games you own physically and what game is in the system right now, though.

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