Monthly Archives: April 2007

You know sometimes you lie

Remember how I said I wasn’t going to bother with Lord of the Rings Online? I may have been ever so slightly economical with the truth. No Issue 9 in City of Heroes, no patch 2.10 in World of Warcraft, I was left without responsible adult supervision for five minutes, and, err, slightly bought LotRO.

I still don’t really see it as a long-term thing, but all the other cool (blogging) kids are doing it, so I figured I might as well succumb to peer pressure. I can’t match Melmoth’s epic, and occasionally disturbing journey through the class-selection process, but somewhat prompted by Zubon at Kill Ten Rats talking about Failure FTW, I thought I’d break out of my DPS comfort zone and try a Captain as a bit of a support/pet class.

There’s plenty of reviews/impressions out there, and having briefly played the beta there were no great surprises. There’s a narrative right away, similar to a traditional single player CRPG and using some instancing to give that feeling that *you* are the hero and saving the day, and that story moves you through the game in a more involving fashion than “You’re level (x), best go here to kill level (x) foozles“. The only thing is that it does make it even more jarring when you’re assigned something like a standard “kill this named mob” quest, and you toddle off and stand in line behind four other groups waiting for it to spawn, but that’s MMOG life until someone can find a better system. Just about everything’s familiar enough from other games that it’s very accessible, but different enough to make it interesting. For a while, at least. Like I said, I can’t see it being a long-term thing, but having already performed one vote-face in actually playing it after all, I’m not going to categorically state I won’t be sticking around.

Why an’ what’s the reason for?

I seem to have been slightly tagged by Melmoth for “Five Reasons Why I Blog”, so without further ado:

1) I get bored at work.
2) Um…
3) Honestly, that’s about it, really. If I could be off doing something else, I probably would be, but I’m at work, and typing away makes me look busy.
4) Pom pom pom… this is awkward isn’t it? Like trying to make small talk at a real life guild meet-up without resorting to talking about the game you all play, as that would be a bit tragic.
5) Sooo… you’ve got a Tauren alt, have you, how do you find the Horde starting areas?

Five reasons why I blog: Revenge of the Meme

It has recently come to my attention that I have been tagged, deliberately, callously, and with beastliness of forethought by the Ancient One. And he didn’t even buy me flowers.

  1. Prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet: The shield of anonymity, it’s a powerful tool. It enables me to sit here and write whatever I choose, in whatever manner of voice that I wish to use, and then put it out for people to read and interpret and react to. Am I Melmoth, or is Melmoth really me? If I had a portrait painted who would I see? It’s wonderful to be able to experiment with who I believe I am without some of the more obnoxious constraints of societal intervention
  2. Because I want to be a writer: Language is funny. Those who are naturally inclined to belittle and mock will have read that heading as me believing that blogging is a way into my becoming a writer. They are wrong, I’m very happy with my work as an aerospace software engineer; deep down I want to be a writer, even though I know that this will never come to fruition. The stumbling blocks are that I have no stories to tell, and I am not terribly good at writing, therefore, blogging is a way for me to live out my desire in some small way, to relieve the pressure of not knowing whether I can put something on a page and have somebody else read it and enjoy it.
  3. Because the voices told me to: They’re so demanding.
  4. Ordinary people can be insightful: You don’t have to be the lord king guru of all you survey to have good ideas, sometimes the little people have ideas too. Blogs are a wonderful medium to convey ideas, and the good ones will be picked-up by others and become buoyant, and the not-so-good ideas will settle to the floor of the sea of blogs, like so much detritus. It harms nobody, but it can empower them to better things.
  5. It is part of my master-plan to take over the world: And if you think that blogging about MMOs is a weird way to go about taking over the world, you wait until you see the marmosets wielding tiny uchigatana and mounted on badgers. Oh, I wasn’t supposed to mention those yet…

I’ll tag Zoso and Elf, because I haven’t seen them tagged elsewhere yet. Plus they’re the only other two people IN THE WORLD who read this blog.

The traveller has come. Choose and perish.

With plenty of time to spend thinking about LotRO rather than playing it, I pondered on my final decision of class and race. And then I pondered on my pondering. And then it all got a bit existential; I think at one point John Wayne rode in on Neil Gaiman and tried to lasso me with rope made of Dolly Parton’s eyelashes, which had been hand-rolled by Guatemalan maidens.

Anyway, when I woke up I decided to write a little bit on my method of character selection. I also decided never again to eat jalapeño peppers stuffed with cheese when drinking large quantities of port.

When it comes to fantasy MMOs I tend to be pretty set in my ways when it comes to the choice of race. I usually rule out playing a human pretty early on; it’s not that I find playing a human in a fantasy setting dull, there are a lot of cool human characters in the fantasy genre, it’s more that the representation of humans in most MMOs is just… wrong. We’re not talking Uncanny Valley here, we’re talking Ministry of Silly Walks. To my eyes, the human representation more often than not looks awkward and that grates too much for me to be playing one for any length of time.

When I was younger and playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I used to love elves. Back in the day they were elegant, aloof and refined. Their weapons were unique and mysterious, their fighting style was unnatural and yet in complete harmony with nature. Surfing down staircases on a shield was a big no-no, in fact they had a punishment along the lines of rafanizou if anyone was caught doing that, but obviously it was a mystical and antediluvian ritual, with elven radishes which had been bred especially over a thousand millennia. These days elves seem to have been reduced to the status of pretentious, borderline-anorexic humans with pointy ears. They’re the Paris Hiltons of the fantasy genre.

We’re running out of fantasy staples, but never fear, because I like dwarves. I guess if I’m honest I am a dwarf at heart these days: grumpy, rough and ready, loyal and devoted to friends and really quite hairy. Well maybe not the last one, but I did try to grow a beard once, and in the end isn’t that what counts? I like playing races that have some sort of obviously distinguishing height difference, mainly because it’s something that will actually stand out in the World of Wealllookalike, so short of stature dwarves or hulking ogres always appeal to me. Dwarves are feisty, tough, usually in the thick of battle and rarely back down from a fight, and that’s the sort of character that I admire. And if nothing else, there’s always the beer; the vast vats of lovely, frothy-headed bitter ale.

I don’t have any aversion to playing the more diminutive races, in fact I find them fun as I stated above, but there is a caveat in that I can’t play the overly cute ones. I probably wouldn’t play a fae in EQII, but I would play a Ratonga. I like the Yodas, the Angs and the Belkars of the fictional world. I make an exception for Sir Didymus, he’s borderline cute, but so very funny with it.

Anyway, there’s an outline of the general preconceptions and prejudices that I take with me when I approach a new game.

So I expect that you have an idea of what race I’m likely to have chosen – there will be an exam at the end of this post – but what follows is an outline of how the decision was refined and how I arrived at my initial character for LotRO. So let me take you on a journey further into the murky depths my brain; please wear the protective goggles provided at all times, and take time to read the instruction leaflet on how to assume the crash position correctly. In the event of excessive cynicism, oxygen masks will drop from the compartment above your head, please fit your own mask before attempting to fit masks to those less tolerant or understanding than you. Don’t worry about John Wayne and Neil Gaiman, they’re just after your Lucky Charms, and are mostly harmless.

It will be fairly obvious to those paying attention that fairly quickly I ruled out the race of man. (And woman). And woman, thanks Stan. They stand awkwardly, they’re gangly, and they run like they’ve watched Forest Gump one too many times, including, the last time I played in beta, leaning into corners but from the waist-up only. I mean, what the hell? Maybe it’s a Tolkien thing, I’m sure there is probably a five page song in the Silmarillion on why the gods made all humans lean around corners but only from the waist-up. Anyway, the one stumbling block at this point in my decision was that out of the choice of classes, the Captain was the one that first caught my eye, which is exclusive to the race of men. (And women). And women, thanks Stan. This made it a bit tricky, because the Captain class is very much my style of play: a jack-of-all-trades group support and all-round good guy. However, after a little research it seems as though the Captain class may be just a little too much of a JoaT, this coupled with their being a pet class which I can never really get on with, and the fact that I have played hybrids in WoW for the past *mumble mumble* years, meant that I could convince myself that this wasn’t the class for me. So that ruled out playing a human, awwwww no waist-leaning for me.

Elves were a lot simpler to rule out, thanks Lord of the Rings the Movie, and your shield-surfing Legolas that has spawned a million “Kekekeke” bouncing clones. It’s still hard to escape the fact that they’re skinny humans with pointy ears, even with all the background lore behind them, I can’t help but feel that. I know it’s hard to make attractive humanoids in games, but those elves are pretty fuggly; we’re not talking Liv Tyler fuggly, where the fuggly meter goes all the way around and comes back on the other side, and you actually find yourself deeply attracted to her even though you keep thinking of her Dad half the time. Maybe that’s just me. No, the elves in LotRO just look like really bad plastic surgery mistakes: you know those celebrities who no longer look like they’re part of the Earth gene pool any more? Put pointy ears on them, and you’ve got LotRO elves.

So, mentally kicking dirt into the weird-running, plastic surgery reject races meant that I had then ruled out the Loremaster class. At this point I had to review my reasoning again because I liked the idea of that class, I mean who doesn’t want to be Gandalf? All the Legolas-loving men-in-tights can put their hands down. Gandalf is the sage. The wise man of ages. The force for good. If Tolkien had had just a shred of forethought he wouldn’t have named him Gandalf the White, and the film would have instead gone: “Gandalf? Yes… That’s what they used to call me. Gandalf the Grey. That was my name. I am Gandalf the Daddy. And I come back to you now at the turn of the tide.”, and there would have been the classic line of “Who’s your Daddy?” when he forced Sauron out from Theoden King. However, in LotRO the Loremaster is a strange class which doesn’t seem to have a strong enough definition, and again there’s the pet thing. Why do pet classes annoy me, well in this instance it’s the choice of pets that you’re restricted to:

Captain of Gondor: “Loremaster, the enemy horde outnumbers us by three to one, whatever can we do against such odds?”

Loremaster: “Fear not little one, for I shall send my faithful companion to tackle them!”

Captain of Gondor: “Your faithful companion?”

Loremaster: “Yes, Alan, here”

Captain of Gondor: “Alan, is a small bird”

Loremaster: “Well… yes. But he is a fearsome fighter! He can perform great angry feats of rage if you give him a chance”

Captain of Gondor: “Loremaster, there are four hundred orcs out there, and you propose to attack them with a chaffinch”

Loremaster: “Alan is not a chaffinch, he’s a lesser spotted wren.”

Captain of Gondor: “Oh well then… Go on then, show us. Show us what mighty… “

Loremaster: “Alan.”

Captain of Gondor: “What mighty Alan can do.”

Loremaster: “Right Alan, this it, don’t let me down. Off you go.”

Alan: “Squawk!”

Loremaster: “There he goes. See! See him bravely attack the enemy head-on!”

Loremaster: “Oh dear.”

Captain of Gondor: “They’re… eating Alan. Is that a… dip? They actually brought some sort of herb dip, Loremaster.”

*looks around*

Captain of Gondor: “Loremaster?”

Ok so the way the Loremaster class is implemented is actually a fairly clever way to get around the First Age Non-proliferation of Magic treaty of Middle Earth (Sauron is so getting a visit from the United Nations inspectors), but as I say, it just wouldn’t work for me as far as I can tell, and so I could happily move on to the next race.

Dwarves. Now we’re talking! Those hairy tin-barrels on legs, armed and dangerous even when they’re doing the spring cleaning, they’re the nutters favourite nut. Hopefully you’ve latched on to the subtle vibe that I like dwarves. However, class choice was a problem for me here. The Champion was my initial preference, but being one of the major DPS classes, everyone and his wife will be playing one, and this is a big turn-off for me. Flavour of the month classes are never on my list of Things I Must Do To Be Popular With The Cool Kids. The Hunter suffers like the Champion for the same reason, in my eyes. In addition, dwarf hunter? Eh? A dwarf. With a bow. Oh yes, I can see the dwarves of Tolkien, all lined up at the back of the battle with their bows. And then, when the battle commences and the Captain of Gondor orders the archers to attack, the dwarven archers all barrel down the hill, overtaking the charge of the Riders of Rohan, and then smacking in to Sauron’s forces, beating them about the head with their bows and stabbing them with arrows. The Guardian is tempting, and I may well try a dwarf guardian at some point in the future, but the whole YO MAMMA issue puts me off, although I have to confess that I haven’t played the class so I don’t know how well taunting has been implemented in LotRO. And finally, the Minstrel. For me the dwarven Minstrel suffers the same as the Hunter: I have visions of the dwarf charging in to battle with cloth armour and clobbering enemies with a lute and garrotting them with the strings; any injuries in a party with a dwarf healer had better be curable with beer, because that’s all there’s going to be in the medicine kit. I hadn’t ruled out the Minstrel, but playing one as a dwarf wasn’t going to happen.

So finally I looked at Hobbits. The Hunter was more tempting with this race and certainly more believable, but again everyone goes for DPS, and so I rarely do. The Guardian similarly tempted me, since it’s always fun to play a diminutive race with a tanking class, but seeing as I had already dismissed a dwarf Guardian, a hobbit one wasn’t really any better. The Minstrel, could work very well: I like playing support and healing classes, and this was a strong consideration for a while, but I’ve played healing classes to death in WoW, and the whole Minstrel ‘strumming his instrument in the middle of battle’, if you know what I mean, just seems a bit weird.

“Hey guys, here’s a little number I wrote the other day.”
“Die! Die! Die! You Orc bastards!”
“Thank you. Thank you. I’ll be here until the end of the battle. Try the salmon it’s delicious.”

Which left the burglar. I’ve never really gone for stealthy, tricksy little characters before, and the concept intrigued me. Even better, they’re not the insane DPS machines of other MMOs, so they are less likely to attract the ADD-bouncing “Kekekeke!” player to them. What’s more, they’re actually a group support class in LotRO, providing debuffs and the opportunity to start the ‘game-mechanic formally known as conjunctions’ at will. A change of pace from healing seemed pretty good to me, and so with all the other options considered, this is the race/class combination that I settled on, with the alt-o-holic in me keeping the dwarf Guardian in mind for later, if I really take to the game.

I rolled my character on an RP server as I’m very much a fan of the RP in RPG, and I will always try to make sure I’m somewhere where I can at least get the opportunity to try it; this doesn’t happen too often as I’m unfortunately a bit shy and retiring even with online anonymity as a shield, but having the opportunity to role-play even if it never comes to fruition, is something I aim for. I won’t go into my deliberations on character naming, but a post on character background and professions is in the works.

So there we have it, a journey through the weirdness that I like to call my mind. Please stow your trays and return your chairs to the upright position, we will be landing in normality shortly. Flight attendants are now coming around to collect your sick bags. We hope you weren’t too freaked out flying with Melmoth Airways, and we look forward to you flying with us again.

Have a sane onward journey.

Blood dryin’ in my yellow hair

OK, so the previous triumphalism of going 8-2 in the arena was grounded by five matches last night (I was a bit pressed for time) when we returned to the more familiar territory of 1-4. I’d be interested to hear from anyone in a two-man arena team as to whether they’ve reached a fairly stable rating, or whether it tends to yo-yo from week to week.

I suppose, as I tend to play the minimum ten matches per week, the small sample size gives more scope for deviation (in statistical terms, not the outfits of the participants), exacerbated by the “rock/paper/scissors/tiger hand/pen missile” nature of the 2v2 arena whereby team composition can be a significant factor in match results. We’re leaving our other five matches to Monday to test Hypothesis B: the later in the week (in WoW terms, weeks begin and end with Wednesday maintenance), the easier the fights…

LotRO: Shadows of Angmar. First imdepression.

Or should that be LotRO: Servers of Fubar?

Still, I’m sure the issue with the servers not restarting properly after a scheduled reboot will be sorted out quickly enough.

It’s just ironic that I’ve just bought the game and a full house of offline servers is what greets me when I load it up for the first time.

Wait, it’s not ironic is it? It’s that other thing that sounds like ironic.

Bloody annoying. That’s the one.

Just step into the arena

The World of Warcraft arena is a ladder system, with all teams starting with a rating of 1500. When your team joins a queue for a fight, you should get matched against a team with a similar rating to yours, then after the match you gain or lose rating points depending on the relative strengths of the teams, e.g. if two evenly matched teams meet, the winner gains 15 points, the loser loses 15 points; if Team A is ranked higher than Team B, then Team A might only get 13 points from winning (with Tean B losing 13 points), but if Team B wins they might get 18 points (with Team A losing 18 points). In theory, after a while, you should end up with a fairly stable rating, winning roughly 50% of your matches around that level.

Every week at maintenance time, so long as your team fought in at least ten matches, and so long as you were in at least 30% of those matches, you get awarded arena points based on your rating (and what do points make? Shiny purple items!) The actual formula for calculating the points for a five man team is (apparently):
X = Team Rating, Y = Arena Points
If X>1500: Y = 2894/(1+259*e^(-0.0025*X))
Else: Y = 0.206*X+99
A two man team gets 70% of those points, a three man team gets 80%. If, like me, you haven’t broken out your Casio fx-82 since A-level maths, the English version is “High rating: LOTS OF POINTS! Low rating: NOT MANY POINTS!”

For those of you who might like to optimise your arena point gain (not me, obviously, I play for the competition and camaraderie, I’m not some kind of min-maxing munchkin, no no no), your strategy depends on whether you’re above or below average. If above, you’ll want to play a lot of matches within the first week to reach your stable rating; if below, you’ll want to play few matches per week, eking out as long as possible the time when your actual rating is above your stable rating. It doesn’t really make much of a difference; in the murky depths of lower ratings you maybe get all of about 20 more arena points for losing 10 matches in a week instead losing 20. If there was a really noticeable difference, there’d be a greater temptation to form a team, fight ten matches, get your points, disband the team, form a new team (resetting the rating to 1500), fight ten matches etc. As it is, the 40 gold per person cost of starting an arena team makes that prohibitively expensive for most sane players.

Now, I’m not under any particular illusion about my own PvP “ability” (and just to forestall the inevitable flamewar, for “ability” substitute “skill”, “class/spec”, “gear”, or whichever other element you think is by far the most important part of PvP, obviously *everyone* knows any noob can win easily if they’re wearing epix/(insert class here) is so overpowered they win every time/skill is the only deciding factor). A first week’s record of one win and nine losses crushed my very-briefly-held fantasy of stepping onto the arena sand and suddenly finding myself transformed into the ultimate fighting machine dispatching opponents left and right in a dazzling series of blows, and confirmed my more pragmatic forecast of dying horribly a lot (our one win came when facing a single opponent, his team-mate presumably having disconnected). We emerged in Nagrand from our final match, PvP flagged from being in the arena (you can see where this is going, right?), and were just engaging in deep tactical analysis (something like “I’ll…no. No.” “Hrrrmm.”) when an Orc hunter opened fire. Not being at all prepared (we’re not on some kind of PvP server, you know, we don’t expect oiks to actually go around attacking people standing around in the middle of a zone, even if they are flagged), the resulting corpse run really rounded off that week’s PvP as Not Much Fun.

Still, you can’t put me off prospective EPIC LEWT! so easily, so I’ve carried on fighting in the arena for the last month or so, starting matches at the Shattrath battlemaster to avoid wandering ruffians. Due to participating in a mix of team sizes, and re-forming the two man team to shuffle the participants, most weeks have consisted of ten matches, losing the majority of them while on the way to a stable rating. As I wrote a week ago “we’re hopefully not too far from being lowly enough to be pitched up against other suitable incompetents”, and last night our two man team, with a rating around 1350, prepared to die heroically some more. I don’t really have a point of reference for arena ratings, I don’t know whether 1350 is “fairly bad”, “astoundingly bad” or “a hamster running over the keyboard would do better than this”, but as our most recent bouts has been five straight losses to end up at that rating the previous week, I thought we had a bit further to slide before encountering more suitable opposition.

A funny thing happened, though. We won our first match. And… our second match. I won’t regale you with the full play-by-play gory details, much as I’m sure you’d enjoy my commentary of “then I was all, like ‘shiv’, and he was all, like, ‘mana shield’, and I was all, like, ‘kick’, and he was all, like, ‘no way’, and I was all, like, ‘way!'”, but we ended up with 8 wins, 2 losses, and a rating around 1460 (this isn’t a great boast, there’s still 8716 better teams than us on our battlegroup alone, but it’s my best results so far).

I’m not really sure what changed since our last matches. We hadn’t been madly practising tactics; I’d improved my gear, but not by a huge amount (the slight run speed boost of the Swift Windfire Diamond meta-gem in my Helm of Assassination being particularly handy in a couple of Benny Hill-type chases). All I can think is we were lucky in getting the opponents we did (or we’d been particularly unlucky previously). Look out for next week’s exciting update to feature more triumphalism if we manage to bump our rating above 1500, or for a stony silence indicating this was an aberration and we returned to our losing ways and plummeting rating.

The horizon has been defeated

This weekend, with not much Real Life(tm) stuff happening, I spent a fair bit of time in WoW, but didn’t really get anything done. A few quests, a few battlegrounds, a bit of crafting… On a couple of occasions there were two or three friends or guild mates around amenable to the idea of a bit of an instance or something, but never quite enough to actually get started, and nobody (me included) had enough motivation to round up likely recruits and try the search for an alt-of-a-friend-of-a-guild-mate of a suitable class to round out the team. Many of the people I’ve been grouping with over the past couple of months were in Karazhan, or Gruul’s Lair, or heroic instances. Chatting to Melmoth, he came up with a marvellous phrase for the problem: the Raid Event Horizon. Once you get into raiding, that’s your main focus (naturally enough). This isn’t an “us vs them” thing, or a “why raiding sucks” post, some people raid, some people don’t, let’s all just get along, eh? (Group hug, now!)

The thing was, before the Raid Event Horizon, everyone tended to be doing the same things, so there were plenty of grouping opportunities for a non-raider like myself. Working on getting the key to Karazhan (involving 5 man instances), increasing reputation with the Outland factions (mostly involving… 5 man instances, once you’ve exhausted the available quests) and improving gear (probably a few quest rewards, augmented by drops from… 5 man instances). Explorers were seeing new areas, Achievers were boosting their characters, Socialisers were chatting away quite happily. On a Steamvaults run, someone might be after a Karazhan key fragment, someone else is hoping a piece of their dungeon set drops from the last boss, everyone’s increasing their Cenarion Expedition reputation.

After a while, though, a raider will have decent gear with no real upgrades available in non-heroic instances; they’ll have enough reputation to get into the Heroic version of instances; they’ll have the key to Karazhan, and have started making a serious attempt on it. There’s basically no reason for them to do a non-heroic instance any more aside from helping others out (and plenty in my guild are splendid people who are perfectly happy to help others out, but I’m not expecting anyone to be some sort of crazy uber-altruist who frequently forgoes raids or chances to improve their own character).

If I pushed, I guess I could make it over the Event Horizon myself; a few more Steamvaults run should get me to Revered with the Cenarion Expedition for their heroic key, a saunter through the Black Morass and Medivh ought to let me into Karazhan. I can’t summon a huge amount of enthusiasm for it, though, so I can seem myself playing a bit more City of Heroes in the future with Issue 9 (hopefully) out soon. I would have played more STALKER over the weekend, but after restarting the whole game due to a patch, it was particularly annoying to have it crash-to-desktop every time I tried to load a most recent save game, forcing me to re-do an entire level *again*.

MMO Blogger All-stars

As a thought experiment, I wondered what it would be like if a bunch of the more famous MMO bloggers out there, got together with the aim to creating a team/group/guild/fellowship/dance troupe within a game. It would be interesting to see how blogs differed on experiences when the group adventured together. It’s possibly a recipe for eXtreme Dah-rama[TM] but it could also be an interesting insight into how different, experienced gamers see the content they play in direct contrast to one another. There’s obviously the left-pond/right-pond time difference to complicate matters among other things, but sorting out details is left to others.

I’m more of a (dumb-)ideas person. Now, back to work on my battery powered battery charger…