There are two main hobbies in my life that regularly vie for attention with more important things like relationships and work. One is playing – and occasionally writing about – video games. The other is playing – and occasionally writing – music. I also happen to teach music for a career, but I figure that out of school hours it still comes under the ‘hobby’ umbrella as music was a passion long before it became a day job. I’m lucky enough to play gigs in rock and jazz bands as well which further blurs the line between work and play, but regardless of how you classify it I’m thankful for the fun times and extra money it provides.
My point here is that I’ve invested a LOT of time and thought into gaming and music making over the years, but rarely have the two crossed paths like they did today. The particular thought that bridged these seemingly disparate activities crystallised with this video about the ‘best’ gear to use in competitive Destiny play, and will be unpacked in the second half of this post.
In case you haven’t played it, Destiny is an unusual sci-fi shooter that straddles the genres of classic story-based gaming and competitive multiplayer, a la Counter Strike. At the heart of the campaign mode is the process of collecting stronger gear so that you can destroy ever more powerful enemies. As both sides of Destiny (PvE and PvP to use common parlance) exist in the same universe, the equipment you collect while working through the story will be the same gear you use in the Crucible arena, and this is the context mTashed speaks to in the video above. Given this complete freedom of choice in terms of what your guardian dons for battle, it isn’t surprising that there are certain highly sought after weapons that dominate the competitive modes because they reduce opposing players to piles of ash marginally faster than others.
BACKGROUND FOR THE UNINITIATED:
Almost all the weapons in Destiny appear with an array of perks randomly allotted from a pool of potentials. Once activated, these will alter the item’s basic characteristics (e.g. faster reload, greater range or less recoil) and therefore positively influence its effectiveness in certain situations. As the game’s RNG (Random Number Generator) coding determines the perk allocation with the digital equivalent of a dice roll, an item’s abilities are referred to as its ‘perk roll’. Once the community discovers a weapon with strong base stats and the potential to roll a very effective perk combination it doesn’t take long for the acquisition of this ideal or ‘god roll’ weapon to become the focus of every player with a touch of ambition. The dream of possessing this elusive beast that will give you the advantage – significant or otherwise – over your competition is enough to produce many, many hours of ‘grinding’ (repetitive gameplay) in the hope of being blessed by chance, as most of these perfect items cannot be obtained through in-game quests or purchase.
Here’s a god roll auto rifle I scored in just my second Trials Of Osiris (PvP end-game content) run:
The chances of this weapon dropping as your random reward were low to begin with, and the probability of getting the preferred Counterbalance perk in the last slot was only 1 in 4. The likelihood of getting the right gun with the right stability-boosting perk? Really bloody low.
Now let’s switch games for a minute. The other competitive, RNG reward-based collection game that I’ve devoted hundreds of hours to is Pokemon. I’ve written about the journey of discovery that led me to breeding these fictional creatures for competitive superiority before, but basically the process of genetically engineering Pokemon for specific strategic purposes is a slow grind requiring immense planning and perseverance. The outcome can be very valuable however, especially when it results in an ideal combination of maximised base stats (perfect genes). You then train your creation for further stat boosts calculated to give you an advantage in the contemporary metagame and to possess the exact set of moves you require. The latter sometimes needs to be incorporated into the initial breeding process, thereby making it even more complex and time consuming than it already was.
Perhaps more so than with Destiny‘s weapons, the attributes that make your god roll Pokemon desirable can be quite subjective. My Mega-Charizard, for example, leans towards reliability more than outright damage output. She is also intended to function best in the Doubles battle format alongside my Victini (passive 10% accuracy boost and Helping Hand to provide a 50% damage boost) or Rhydon (absorbs all incoming electric attacks and offers strong typing synergy). A Charizard destined for use solely in Singles battles may have been bred and trained for similar stats but wield a different moveset based on player preference and to complement the other Pokemon on its team.
With all of this background knowledge in place, let’s head back to that hobby-bridging epiphany I mentioned at the start.
There is a strong parallel between how competitive gamers often think about their in-game equipment and how musicians often think about theirs.
Based on what we’ve ascertained so far it seems appropriate to question whether setting your heart on the holy grail of competitive tools is a healthy or positive mindset that will bring greater enjoyment/success in your chosen pursuit. Maybe it will. Or maybe not.
As a musician I’ve come across plenty of players with incredibly expensive equipment. This usually means that it is (a) of very high quality which effects its playability and inherent tonal qualities, (b) that it is rare/old, or (c) all of the above. Unlike Pokemon these instruments exist in the real world which means that money tends to be the determining factor as to whether or not someone can possess them. Most of us have a limit to how much money we can invest in our musical gear, so the question becomes “How can I use my money most effectively?” or “What do I really need at this point?”. If you’ve ever leafed slowly and lustfully through a music shop sale catalogue you’ll know the powerful emotions and dreams that arise to inhabit your consciousness until you’re gently brought back to your senses by your caring partner/co-dependent.
What’s your first-world vice? Motorcycles? Pop culture merchandise? Outfits for your pets?
I’d wager than the enticement to fixate on what you don’t already have feels the same.
Of course having your ‘god roll’ dream guitar or trumpet will be beneficial to an extent, but it is possible for musicians to make stunning music and recordings using very average equipment. Whether its a paint bucket percussion ensemble, a banjo or a singer with ‘poor’ tone pouring out their soul onto a 4-track cassette recording unit, the magic can still happen. After a good deal of consideration, my conclusion is that this musical magic is most achievable when one of the following situations occurs:
Great/Good player with Great gear
Great/Good player with Good gear
Great player with Average gear
There is a minimum threshold, however, below which the magic is much harder to come by. An average player with great gear is still likely to sound average unless they have a lot of musicianship and self-awareness (i.e. knowing their strengths on that instrument or in that musical style). And an average player with good or average gear will sound just as average, as their equipment isn’t the limiting factor.
I’ve got a good electric guitar rig that in more skilled hands than mine would cut any pub gig it needed to. Would my guitar performance benefit from having my dream instrument(s) and amp(s)? Perhaps, but I guarantee it would be more beneficial to book some lessons and practice more. Of course if someone was offering I would love a custom Stratocaster hewn from exotic tonewoods, but honing my skills so as to play more like Gilmour or Hendrix would be a wiser goal.
Hopefully the gaming and music connection is pretty clear at this point: a great musician will make an average instrument sound better than it should, and if you take a great Destiny player like mTashed and hand him an average weapon opponents are still going to end up dead. They’ll even end up dead much more often than if you give an average player like me a god roll weapon like this sniper rifle I landed back before Bungie nerfed them.
Undoubtedly an extremely effective weapon, but when constrained by my skill set and experience level far less effective than a trusty shotgun. As stated in the video, it is of greater value to develop your skills – both general and map or weapon specific – than to go from a great weapon to a perfect one. Another of my favourite YouTubers (True Vanguard) has a made a name for himself by playing at a very high standard with non-meta loadouts like this:
If you play games like Destiny or Pokemon at least semi-competitively then perhaps its worth considering where your own greatest potential for improvement lies. Is it really in the grind for a god roll Grasp Of Malok or Clever Dragon when you already have the old vendor Hawksaw? Is breeding for hidden abilities or to put Tail Wind onto a Pokemon that doesn’t naturally get it likely to be as valuable as spending the same amount of time watching pro players battle and reading up on strategy?
And for the musos out there, if you play guitar for fun or for money do you really need a USA Telecaster for those two country rock songs you cover each gig, or could that money go into getting lessons and improving your hybrid picking skills?
Does your pedal board need an octave synth stompbox? Yes, I’m serious…
I realise that it isn’t always a case of buy this or buy that – and that guitar pedal collections are a Wonderland rabbit hole all of their own – but these are questions worth asking.
I didn’t expect to write 1800 words on this topic and I have no doubt that it could be summed up much more succinctly. So let’s leave it here and just remember to consider one thing next time you’re feeling competitively or musically frustrated: