A View from Atlas Park: A Failure to Communicate

I’m driven to write a column I’ve been considering for a while by one of the most frustrating CoH sessions I’ve had. It was last weekend. Part of the frustration was the pressure placed on me at the end of the session by a crying, hungry baby who had woken early and refused to listen to my pleas of “I’ve almost finished the mission!” (and he was soon fed, before you go writing emails to me about child neglect). But the majority of my frustration was driven by the inability of my team-mates to listen to each other.

It all went down on the Cavern of Transcendence Trial that I’d seen was looking for members via broadcasting. It was a badge I wanted, so I sent a /t to Mutantess (team leader and the only person I’ll name in what is to come since none of it was her fault) and was lucky enough to score the invite. She exemplared me – my first time in such a position – and I joined the group. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come when I was quickly killed by another team member who dragged some Minions of Igneous on top of us without warning. But such things have happend before to me and I’m not so fussed by character death – after all, that defeat and debt count just goes towards me earning another badge. And besides, if that had been the worst thing that had happened, I wouldn’t be ranting today.

In order to complete the Cavern of Transcendence Trial, you need eight members on your team. It took a little while to grab enough heroes to form a team, but we entered the Tunnels quickly enough. I found that I’d been un-exemplared during the loading of the zone and that my teammates had abandoned me. Except for one hero… who subsequently turned out to be away from his keyboard – the first of many such disappearances from this character. But anyway… I eventually got a teleport to the zone entrance of the Cavern of Trancendence. Without a word, the team entered the Cavern…

… which isn’t good, because without speaking, no hero had any idea of what they were doing. Fortunately my un-exemplared character was practically invincible given the lower lvls of the Minions of Igneous in the Cavern, because if I’d relied on my team to save me I’d have been a dead duck on many occasions. Heroes were running back and forth, away from each other while drawing villain aggro onto other team-mates. Some left the Cavern, while others valiantly fought on. A few heroes died, meaning they had to go to a hospital, then back to the Cavern. Mutantess did her best to bring order (as did a few higher lvl players), leading me (and presumeably other heroes) to the obelisks they needed to touch to complete a mission objective.

For those who don’t know, to reach the end of the Cavern of Transcendence Trial, eight heroes must touch eight obelisks within a fairly tight time span. I spent quite a while standing at my obelisk, waiting for certain players to arrive back from the hospital (which is acceptable) and certain players to return to their keyboards (which really isn’t). Finally, a good 50% into the time allocated to complete the mission, all eight heroes were in position, ready to touch their obelisks. Which sounds absolutely filthy, when put like that…

But here was where the fun really started (and by fun, I mean “things that cause blood to run out of your ears due to exploding veins in your head”). As a team, we could not get the timing right. There were about three different count downs for each of the many, many attempts, plus those heroes who would specify a time on the mission timer to press the obelisk. Everyone talked; no-one listened. It didn’t take long for the heroes to get aggravated with each other and start to yell, or throw insults, or start their own countdown that no-one listened to. I kid you not when I say it took 30 minutes to correctly press the obelisks so that the final part of the Trial opened up.

When it eventually happened, the last part of the Trial was a let down (although I’m sure everyone was relieved that it happened at all). Poor Kroaga, the Minions of Igneous Monster and big bad guy, was mowed down in about 30 seconds due to the un-exemplared higher lvl players. The guy who needed to be rescued was rescued, Mission Complete! and we all got our badge.

Drained, we left the Cavern. Some players apologised for behaving badly, others just quit the team and vanished back into the general hero population. As team leader and mission holder, Mutantess had finished the mission, but I’m sure the success felt hollow given the way it was done.

On the other hand, a poor success is better than the alternative. If we’d failed the mission because we couldn’t press the obelisks correctly, I’m sure we would have all sworn blood oaths to hunt each other down and seek revenge. Or put each other on ignore lists, or something.

I’m sure some of you are saying, “Well, that’s what you get for playing in a pick-up group.” And it is, to a point. But you need eight players for the Trial and not everyone has eight friendly players in CoH. The majority of my teaming experience is with players in pick-up teams and some of them have been absolutely fantastic.

But, as my above story demostrates, some of them haven’t. The major difference I’ve noticed between good and bad teams is that good teams talk to each other. They have a plan. They pick their targets. Bad teams just run at things headlong and hope for the best. While this tactic works at lower lvls, it’s less likely to work as you progress, especially versus bosses / monsters that also have minions or special abilities. A good example are the Tsoo. If you think you can just bash away at groups of the Tsoo when there is a Sorcerer (or two, or three) around and win, you’ve got another thing coming.

The moral of the story: talk to your team-mates. Please. Organise a plan. Know what your role is and what other players should be doing (they may not do it, so be ready to cover as best you can). If that means you have to take charge of a team, so be it. Because an organised team – one that knows when to attack, how to attack and when to rest – is an effective team. And let’s face it – being in an effective team is a lot more fun than one where everyone ends up staring at the carpet because no-one communicated.

A good point about naming heroes was sent to me by Ben Prior. Apart from educating me that there was a hero Defender out there with the moniker of “Anal Leakage” (his mother must be proud), Mr Prior raised the very valid point of there not being the names to go round do to players creating alternate / placeholder heroes with names other players may want. (For the record, I using the term “placeholder” to include heroes created by players who have quit CoH).

I agree completely with Mr Prior’s point, and also with his solution – Cryptic have to start cleansing unused heroes who are just wasting hard-drive space (and good character names). It would be easy – all heroes who haven’t been used in a set period of time, based off their lvl, get wiped. The timing should be linked to hero lvl to be fair – a lvl 1 hero that isn’t used for two weeks could probably go, while a lvl 50 hero could probably hang around a year (or more) before even there was even the possibility of erasure.

As with all sweeping, generalised ideas, there would be accidental casualties with this system. Perhaps players could also get one hero “lock” – something they assigned to a hero in character creation that made them immune from being wiped if they went on a round-the-world-holiday (and kept paying their account fees). But each account would only get one “lock”, reducing the chance of players just holding on to names for the sake of having them.

In turn, Paragon City would spared yet another player just bashing the keyboard to get a name (eg “Boonagognione”) or having to delve deep into the dictionary to find a name otherwise forgotten by time (eg “Jimp”).

– UnSub [email protected] 6 December 2004

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