Monthly Archives: May 2007

The festival was over, the boys were all plannin’ for a fall

While wandering around near Bree last night, I noticed it was dark; Lord of the Rings Online has a day/night cycle, and it can actually affect the game. In this case I remembered a quest I’d picked up many levels previously, a farmer who’d been having trouble in his fields, but only at night. It was marked as a fellowship quest (usually needing a group), but as I’d significantly outlevelled it, only having been around Bree during daylight for a while, I thought I’d head up and take a look.

Following the farmer’s directions, I wandered through the area, expecting a bit of lonely sentry duty, but on cresting a hill I was suddenly confronted with a vast multitude of men, hobbits, elves and dwarves… a muddy farmer’s field, crammed with people, minstrel’s lute-riffs ringing out? I’d obviously taken a wrong turn somewhere and stumbled upon Glastonbury. At that point, one of the crop-spoiling ruffians I’d been sent to dispatch leaped from nearby undergrowth, but before he could say “Hello Staddle! Are you ready to rock?”, he’d vanished under a hail of arrows, sword blows, and lute chords with some really nasty diminished sevenths.

On a busy server, LotRO suffers from the old “camp the named mob” problem particularly badly in a few quests (or “camp the lost hobbit you’re supposed to escort to safety”); if there’s a few of you in the area, it’s easy enough to team up so you all qualify for the reward, but as most of the quests are marked as being for fellowships, chances are you’ll bring a few friends along to start with, and when there’s seven or eight people standing around it’s not quite so straightforward forming up groups:
“Is everyone here for the ancient spider queen, yes? Let’s team up to take this hideous foe on! Right, who’s in a group already? You are… and you… is that in a group together, or with… right… “
*the ancient spider queen appears in the background*
“…and then… oh, wait, we can only have six in the group, so… you’ve already done the quest, but you’re here to help your friends?”
*the spider queen taps a foot (or five) in boredom*
“Well how about if you’re not in the main group, but help out once the mobs tagged, OK? Right, well I’m going to kick you, but don’t take it personally…”
*a loremaster turns up, and Alan the Chaffinch pecks the spider queen to death*
“So! The current team here is Team A, we’ll tag the queen and defeat her for the quest objectives, then reform as specified into Teams B and C with these other people here who need the queen but couldn’t fit into Team A, and…”
*someone points out the dead spider queen, and another group arrive*

Once you get ten to fifteen people clustering around, there’s no hope of grouping or orderly queuing, it’s just a race to tag the mob first. I was going to make the suggestion that named mobs should have one of those numbered-ticket dispensing machines next to them, and the mobs spawn with a *bing*, “Group number seventeen, spider queen now being killed by group number seventeen, thank you”, and we’d all laugh uproariously at the comedic juxtaposition of the supermarket queuing system with heroic fantasy questing… but then I thought “why not?” Say, have a quest NPC you talk to in the area, he adds you to a queue of groups wanting to kill the mob, when the mob spawns on your “turn”, it’s automatically tagged for your group. You still have an incentive to kill the mob before your turn, as that’ll speed up the time until “your” spawn, but at least there’s a bit of order to the situation rather than a desperate tag-race.

I suppose such a system would actually take considerable effort to actually implement *well* (apart from anything else, making sure there’s no griefing potential, and that the system’s obvious enough that GMs aren’t inundated with tickets about mobs not spawning or not getting credit for mob kills), and for relatively little benefit; it doesn’t go anywhere towards tackling the root problem of the constantly respawning weeble-mob as a game mechanism. Personally, in the case of the impromptu festival I just ditched the quest as it was so far below in level anyway, and for a few others I’ve just joined the tag-fest and got the credit for the quest eventually.

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.

It is not without some irony that this post started out being about trying to determine why I often can’t stick with one character for any length of time, and it ended up being about something else entirely. I’ll re-roll the other post soon, I just want to get this post to level 20 and see how it parses once it has its new abilities.

It’s clear that developers recognise their players’ desire for their characters to appear unique and for outfits to look, for want of a better word, coherent. Several games have implemented a ‘locker room’ functionality that allows players to try on items of clothing, especially bind-on-equip items, before they commit to actually wearing them. This allows you to reject Voton’s Elemental Leggings of the Almighty Moon which turn out to be tight leather trousers with a hole in the back that allows your fat dwarven buttocks to hang out, for the ever so slightly more appealing full plate helmet with a flaming halo around the crest, which is unfortunately named Chizwizzle’s Chamberpot. This is a Good Thing, but also typical fire-fighting and ignoring of the base problem: people care what their character looks like, and it’s only the most dedicated of munckins that will pick the +5 Str Hat of Stinky Tom the Local Tramp over the +4 Str Hat of Captain Jack Sparrow’s Sexual Appeal.

Incidentally, I think they missed an excellent opportunity to make the locker room a shared area between players, with some sort of mini game where you can gain modest XP by whipping other character’s buttocks with a rolled-up towel. I know, I’m a game design genius.

I like the idea of starting off with poor looking equipment and working up to more heroic gear: LotRO does this very well, with low level hammers, for example, looking like something the character has grabbed from his tool shed to go chasing after those goblin kids from three doors down the street, “I know your Dad, young man!”. Actually, if it was a dwarf, he probably has their dad’s head hanging over his mantelpiece, in which case – in some crazy liberal society – you might view the goblins’ retaliatory attacks on the dwarf’s prize begonias as vaguely justified. Eventually you perform some epic or class quest and your character obtains a shiny weapon that you can actually believe has a bit of history to it, that has been crafted by a master weapon-smith and that wasn’t just picked off the shelf at the local DIY store:

“What is that?”

“It is my mighty sword, Meeshurar, with which I shall smite my foes terribly!”

“That, my friend, is a small metal ruler, and the only thing you’ll be smiting with it is the self esteem of the colleagues who have to fight alongside you.”

Some people don’t want to be the most powerful, some people just want to look cool, and of course the definition of looking cool is a very personal matter a lot of the time. The ePeen brigade who strut around in WoW with their swords that are twice the size of their own body, which they wield one-handed alongside a shield that doubles as the keel of a small luxury yacht look pretty daft to me, but those people probably think they look cool because in many games the size of your purple epic weapon reflects your relative power, although some more cynical members of the MMO community might say it inversely reflects something else.

The main problem with this ‘size reflecting power’ thing is that as a developer expands their game they generally have to create bigger and more exotic weapons to impress the people who are prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time grinding away to get them, and you quickly begin to realise why the majority of MMOs haven’t implemented player collision routines or friendly fire damage: with the size of some of the one-handed swords currently in World of Warcraft a player would only have to back out of a narrow doorway and they’d have six people impaled on the weapon at their side. They’d spin around quickly to apologise and decapitate the bemused audience, who were standing five hundred yards away. Boss mobs in small confined dungeons would actually be defeated by laughing themselves to death through the comedy value of watching twenty melee fighters trying to draw their weapons and getting them stuck in the floor, the walls and each other. Having achieved the drawing of weapons with only a thirty five percent fatality rate, the melee players would raise their weapons in the air in a triumphant salute and promptly get them stuck in the vaulted ceiling.

It’s not just size, though. You might get some of the more outstanding weapons glow with a ghostly light, or have flames springing from the blade as if the weapon itself was trying to manifest its inherent ability to cause pain and injury as a warning to others. As if a twenty two foot long serrated blade wasn’t convincing enough. The problem lies with where the developer goes next, flaming swords become passé and ‘so last season dahrlink’, and so bigger and more enviable effects are applied, until eventually you have a bunch of people running around with weapons that have miniature galaxies orbiting the hilt and the ePeen brigade are comparing whose weapon has the most advanced civilisation living on it.

A simple example of personal preference: in LotRO I like the half-kilt/half-mini-skirt item of clothing for the dwarves, you can see evidence of it in the picture from yesterday. Yes, yes, I love dwarves, and more specifically dwarves in kilts. Read into that what you will, I’m sure Freud would have a field day. Actually, it’d probably be something really boring: “Dwarves in kilts? Ah, now that means you have a slight aversion to cranberries. Now if you’d said you liked cranberries, well, that would mean you’re a hypertensive erotic cavalier with a penchant for fondling bowler hats at passing strangers”. I’m not so keen on the full length smoking jackets though, they look excellent on elves, especially with their dandy hats with a feather in them, all very suave. On a dwarf the long jacket that almost reaches the floor looks like someone threw an old paisley sheet over a traffic cone and glued a weird bearded head to the top of it, like that one poor kid at Halloween who had ideas of being Frankenstein’s monster, and ended up as ‘kid under a sheet’. Dwarves don’t do trenchcoats. It’s the same with gloves: I like big chunky gloves, of which I’ve found examples in both medium and light armour, but I always seem to find better gear that is, unfortunately, in some skin-tight bondage-ventilated version; those gloves probably look foxy on elves, but on a dwarf it looks as though he’s just escaped from a freak-show at the local circus, where he probably had to bite the heads off of chickens, or worse, pretend he was a Cosplay convention ‘babe’.

And let’s not forget colours too; LotRO, like Dark Age of Camelot and others before it, tries to remedy the ‘I look like a principal from the Commedia dell’arte who was tragically involved in an explosion at a paint factory’ by introducing dyes in order to allow players some freedom of choice. This freedom does come at some expense to the character, and there’s the fact that it never seems to dye the part of the armour you actually want, it generally changes the black stitching to the Honeysuckle White With A Hint Of Saffron dye that you used, and leaves the main bulk of the armour colour as Oh My God My Brain Is Bleeding Out Of My Eyes. With a hint of lavender.

The really strange thing is, developers do sometimes put a lot of effort into character customisation, but it seems as though it’s in the wrong place: the face. In the game of Real Life we’re forced to play in a first person twitch gaming environment, and the resolution on this reality is pretty good, thus facial expression and facial individuality is a very important initial factor in determining the motives and attributes of a stranger. In most MMORPGs the majority of players play the game in a third-person view and zoomed-out quite considerably to allow a decent view of the surrounding terrain, therefore that elf running towards me may have the most stunning face ever, with a cute little dimple in her chin and a mole just above her top lip, but I’m never going to see it. I’ll see that she is tall and thin; she isn’t entirely naked, therefore isn’t a warrior class in full plate, and I’ll also see that her outfit has an interesting colour scheme that seems to be making my nose leak meninges. And that’s with the elf wearing a hat: half the characters will be wearing a full-face helmet.

Ok, Moon On A Stick time: what would be nice is the ability to apply a ‘template’ to your armour which you could perhaps buy from a vendor for a nominal value, which would change the way that item looks in line with the template description whilst maintaining the existing stats. Better still, give this ability to tailors and armourers: they could create the templates instead of the armour items, you could imagine them applying a template as reworking a piece of armour to fit the client better. It could be that more expensive templates exist that change all items into a matching set of armour. What’s more, why do I have to be shown wearing armour at all? I’d quite like my character to look like Conan the Cimmerian, for example, with a loin cloth, fur-lined boots and perhaps a green silk girdle for ultimate protection. I’ve played games where I can create this look at character creation, but before long you’re wrapped-up in more armour than a Sherman tank. I can’t understand how you can’t have a Conan-like character charging around slaying stuff because ‘it would be unrealistic and immersion breaking’, when most female characters in most MMORPGs are forced to slay enemies whilst wearing a chain-mail thong; that part in Return of the Jedi where Princess Leia is a slave of Jabba the Hut is ruined now because all I can think is ‘Pfff, as if he’d dress a slave in epic plate armour’.

Let the great chant of City of Heroes ring up to the heavens, because they got the idea of character customisation so right, it’s a shame they forgot about game-play a bit towards the end there, but you can’t have everything. The few promotional videos of The Chronicles of Spellborn that I’ve seen floating around seem to have a similar take on allowing freedom to customise character appearance, and I have to say I’m looking forward to trying it.

Giving the players a little more control over how their character appears is not beyond the ability of developers, we all understand that you have an artistic vision and that customisation is possible but a non-trivial factor to add to a game, but apart from our actions, appearance is one of the fundamental enablers in allowing players to express who they are.

And I’m a dwarf in a kilt.

Tryin’ to find a job of work

After deciding to stick with my Captain in Lord of the Rings Online, I’ve mostly been playing that this past week or so, getting up to level 18 and Chapter 11 of the “book” quests. Along the way, I managed to completely fill my inventory with assorted junk, and with crafting materials taking up more than a bag, I thought I’d better take a while to sort that out.

My Captain is an Armoursmith by vocation, which includes three professions: Prospecting to mine and refine ore, Metalsmithing to make metal components and armour, and Tailoring for cloth/leather components and armour. Crafting in LotRO is obviously designed to encourage co-operation between players, as few professions are entirely self contained; even metal armour tends to need leather straps or pads, which require boiled leather, which can only be made by a Forester. As my Hunter alt is a Woodsman, a vocation including Forester, Woodworker and Farmer, I can send animal hides over (the hides just drop, they don’t require a skinning profession), boil them up, and send them back, which is handy.

I haven’t researched LotRO crafting in great depth yet, but so far it’s quite strongly reminiscent of WoW, not least in forcing you to churn out almost useless items as I blogged about a while ago. LotRO questgivers positively insist on showering you with decent items as rewards, rather removing the market for the sharpened flint sellotaped to a twig you’re trying to sell as a spear. I did get about half an hour’s wear out of one helmet I made from a dropped recipe before someone gave me something better, but that was about it. From what Potshot and Tobold are saying, it doesn’t really sound like there’s much to look forward to either, so if I was only worried about the money I should probably just sell gathered materials (again, like WoW), but there’s something quite satisfying about making items (even if only to sell to vendors), so I’ll probably keep churning stuff out.

Talking of crafting in WoW, I made a half-hearted attempt to boost my leatherworking up to the maximum 375 required for the few not-entire-useless craftable items, the Primalstrike Vest, Bracers and Belt (ignoring for a moment the raw materials required if I ever did make it that far). Originally I’d logged in to try and complete the week’s ten arena matches to qualify for points, but there was a six minute wait for each match to start with, which dragged the whole business out from a half-hour of rapid-fire combat into an hour of queuing occasionally punctuated by random violence. Even that might have been tolerable, if it wasn’t for the fact that every two or three matches we’d turn up in the arena starting area to find no opposition, and if we didn’t leave of our own accord then the characters got logged out. Abandoning that farce, I popped over to the auction house to look for Primal Shadows and Fel Hide, as my leatherworking has reached the point where the only worthwhile item I can make with less than about 500g worth of raw materials are Fel Leather Boots, and they’re yellow rather than orange now so don’t even guarantee a skill-up. Primal Shadows are fairly reasonable, but either people have twigged Fel Hide is a desirable item or it’s just not being skinned as much, as prices for that have rocketed. Course, I could go and try and grind the stuff myself, but even the most optimistic reports suggest that 12 hides in an hour of dedicated grinding is good going… so two solid hours of mindless grinding for enough hide for three pairs of boots which might or might not get me three points of leatherworking skill. Not really an appealing prospect.

Meanwhile, over in City of Heroes, I was… crafting! City of Heroes has always had the advantage that there’s very little “dead” time; there was never much travel time once you hit level 14 (when you qualify for a travel power and can jump/fly/teleport/speed across city blocks faster than a speeding bullet), and the addition of extra stops to the mass transit system and teleport pads in bases has further speeded things up. The drawback was a lack of variety, it was either beat up cultists in robes, or beat up fascists in uniforms, or beat up… well, you get the idea. With the addition of the Invention system, you can also rapidly travel to… the consignment (auction) house!

Crafting in CoH is a much more egalitarian business than in WoW or LotRO. There’s no professions or disciplines or vocations, and there’s no grinding out 500 level 1 widgets to qualify as a deputy-sub-apprentice in order to make level 2 widgets, anyone can make anything (if they have the money and components). There’s no gathering profession, all inventions are built with salvage that drops from mobs, and for the pièce de résistance, just about everything crafted/invented by the players is superior to the quest reward/drop/shop bought items previously in the game (although as “loot” is rather different in CoH it’s not a world-changing improvement, but it’s a nice little boost which stacks up the more player-invented enhancements you equip).

What I’d really like to see is if a CoH-type crafting system could work in a more conventional loot-based MMOG: reduce either the quantity or quality of items gained from mob drops and quest rewards (you’ll still be doing quests for money and XP, so it’s not a great disincentive) to push you towards using player-crafted items for preference, have easy-to-access auction house/consignment house/player shops or similar mechanisms for trading (standing around spamming/reading trade channels is dull and, for large volumes of trade, inefficient), and make crafting more widely accessible with a greater variety of crafted items, so you don’t have a million armoursmiths churning out ten million identical helmets just to become slightly better armoursmiths.

Well, the captain, he might prove true

I experienced a class epiphany in Lord of the Rings Online last night. In the last exciting (for small values of “exciting”) installment of “What Character Should I Play?”, I was vacillating between a Captain and a Hunter, with a nagging feeling that a Guardian might be more useful, and a Burglar could be fun. I thought I should get it out of my system, so I created a Burglar and a Guardian, flipped a coin, entered the world as the Guardian, ran up to the first NPC and… couldn’t be bothered with it. Logged out of the Guardian, logged in to the Captain, finished the Prologue, visited Strider in Bree, and I’m now ready to embark on the epic quest proper.

I can’t say with absolute certainty I won’t pick up another character, but I’m fairly sure I’ll stick with the Captain now. Even though it only takes a couple of hours, at most, to work through the starting areas, having done it once, I really don’t want to do it again.

It’s a sort of psychological inertia, the aversion to repeating content; some people can re-read books or re-watch films, but I seldom do (not that it stopped me buying DVDs, until I twigged that I hardly ever played them… one still being in its shrink wrap after a year or so was a bit of a giveaway). If stuck in on a rainy afternoon with the login servers down, I might glance down the DVD pile and, even though I enjoyed the cinematic masterpieces the first time through, think “oh yeah, bloke heads down the river, mad Colonel, the horror, the horror, know what happens, no point watching that again… three blokes go after gold, Mexican standoff, hilarity ensues, know what happens, no point watching that again…”. The funny thing is, if I get past that initial inertia (like if a few people get together, when Heisenberg’s Law of Film Selection states you can’t find something which nobody has yet seen *and* that everybody wants to see, or a film comes on television and the remote control is all the way over on the other sofa) and start watching something again, I’ll usually enjoy it as much the second time around, sometimes more so, picking up things I missed the first time.

It’s a similar thing in games; I never really progressed with alts in World of Warcraft, as after running through different starting areas, you wind up in pretty much the same parts of the world on the same quests. Even though playing a different class can change your approach significantly, I’d log in, look at the quest log, see the Defias Messenger staring back at me, and then extrapolate from that through Darkshire, on to Stranglethorn, running up and down to Booty Bay, grinding Furbolgs, over to Winterspring, the whiteness, the endless-ness stretching on beyond the human imagination, desolation of the soul… and I’d log out again. If I got past that, I’d probably enjoy playing through it again, but I don’t have that push of the “log out” button being over on the other sofa.

Anyway, I think I’ve reached the decision just in time, as every time I change my mind Melmoth is forced to roll new characters according to some square-cube law which, by my calculations, would mean that had I gone on the play the Guardian and then Burglar, every other character on the server would be Melmoth. Twice.

Wh… who are you?!

I’m Batman.

Wait, sorry, Superman. No, no, no, the Hulk… I mean the Thing! That’s it, yes. I’m definitely Wolverine… ‘s fellow X-Man: Cyclops.

Spiderman! And that’s my final offer.

Daredevil! Damn it!

Ok, I’ll stick with Batman. I’m Batman, yes, that’s who I am. Batman. That’s me.

Hello? Oh the bugger ran off! Well, no matter; I can catch him again easily enough, for I am the Flash.

Flame on!

As you can see, Tim Burton’s Batman movie would have been ever so slightly more surreal had I been cast in the lead role, mainly due to my suffering from a severe MMORPG affliction: Multiple Entity Alternation Disorder.

We’ll take the surrealism of ‘lanky English nerd’ portraying ‘all-American super hero’ as read.

It’s quite difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why I flick around characters faster than the Roadrunner on methamphetamines, but seeing as I’m suffering a relatively strong bout with my characters in Lord of the Rings Online at the moment, I thought I’d try to document my, mostly irrational, reasoning as to why.

As I stated previously I had decided to initially try a hobbit burglar. Hence, once the log-in servers had deigned to let me in (do I detect the piquant tang of bitterness in air?), I rolled-up my character and entered in to that hellish den of iniquity and depravity that common folk call the Shire. Oh yes, don’t be fooled, it’s all butterflies, water voles and fragrant flowers on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you can find the sinister underworld of Michel Delving. For example, the mafia-controlled so called ‘pie delivery service’; did any of you people actually look inside these so-called ‘pies’ to see what you were actually carrying? Underneath that fake pie crust were bags of Class A pipe weed. Didn’t you ever wonder why you had to avoid certain hobbits? A ‘hungry’ is the hobbit mafia nickname for an undercover Bounder. So now you know.

Where in the Inferno was I? Oh yes, a hobbit burglar. Have you noticed that the majority of burglars are hobbits? Criminal underworld, I’m telling you.

Anyway! I reached level eight with my hobbit and everything was going well, but it was then that I made my first mistake. In wanting to not rush off in levels whilst I waited for others to find a character they were happy with, I decided to create a dwarf character to play around with; I do love my dwarves, but not in the way you’re thinking you filthy minded sinners! So I followed my own advice and rolled a guardian and I got him up to around level six or so, but I found the reactionary/tanky/hit-me-baby-one-more-timey method of combat not really to my liking, certainly not for a quick side-character for a bit of fun. I therefore, instead, rolled a champion for a brief taste of hot dwarf on goblin DPS action.

It was at around about level twelve that I realised that I was enjoying this class an awful lot more than the burglar and thus I decided to stick with it as my main character. Again though, I’d slightly leapt off into the distance in level compared to others, so I once more thought to try a different class while I waited for them to catch up, a class that I didn’t intend to play at all.

I imagine you can see where this is going.

It was around level fifteen that I decided I really liked my elven minstrel, and that I would instead make her my main character, I just couldn’t get away from the fact that although I’ve played healing classes to death in Word of Warcraft, the main reason for this is… that I really enjoy playing healing classes. I berated myself for being so silly, and then told myself that I can’t speak to me like that, which was followed by me telling me that I’ll speak to me how I like because I’m in charge here, which in turn prompted me to say that I hate me, and so I told me to go to my room, at which point I stormed out, slamming the door in my face.

Um. With the minstrel sitting at level fifteen and waiting for others, I thought I’d pop back to the dwarf champion for a bit of a blast around, maybe skill-up some professions. Yeah, bad idea, I know. My love for dwarves – not like that – bubbled up to the surface once more. And the dwarf minstrel was born.

Oh dear.

And this is where we leave it, dear reader, with the dwarf minstrel being a level ahead of the others, but with the others now finally decided on what characters they will play, I find him lagging behind in the epic quest line, as he still has a couple of fellowship-required prologue quests to complete whilst the others are waiting patiently at the next stage: book one, chapter one.

The others don’t know about the dwarf minstrel yet. Melmoth hopes the others don’t hit him with sticks; they probably won’t, they’re getting used to the idea of seeing a different character turn up every day and introducing itself as the New and Improved Melmoth.

Flame on!

This indecision’s bugging me

Not much to report from this weekend, partly from being away for much of it, and partly from having three MMOGs on the go. Though I’ve had multiple subscriptions running a couple of times before, I’d focus on a single game, and go with that. Similarly, although I might flick around a few different low level race/class combinations while getting used to a game, I’ve always “locked in” to one as a main character fairly quickly, and hardly played anything else.

Not only have I been hopping between World of Warcraft, City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings Online, but I’ve compounded the problem by not deciding on a single LotRO character either, spending roughly equal time on a Captain and a Hunter (and having a nagging feeling I should actually be trying a Guardian or Minstrel, judging from the Looking For Fellowship calls; seems like, as per usual, there’s never enough tanks and healers…)

Money doesn’t talk, it swears

In wandering around Paragon City and Middle Earth (when the login servers are available) for the past few days, money has been a bit of a hot topic.

In Lord of the Rings Online, it’s the lack of money that’s an issue, as just about everyone seems to be finding. I rolled an Elf Hunter, originally just as a crafting complement to my Captain for a few early quests (the Woodsman Hunter can boil hides and treat wood for the Armorer Captain, who in turn can smelt ingots for the Woodsman), then thought I’d have a little look around Ered Luin… and sort of wound up at level 11. I haven’t spent money on any fripperies like luxury foodstuffs, musical instruments, gym memberships or even new weapons and armour, but even so training the level 10 and 11 class skills has totally wiped out my meagre savings. Just treating rowan wood (a 48 copper piece of wax being needed for each treatment) and sending large stacks of hides through the post become a serious expense when you’re scrimping and saving for every silver piece.

While there are a lot of nicely done quests, some do fall into the old rut of “Kev wants you to talk to Steve; Steve wants you to find an item and take it back to Kev; Kev does something to the item and wants you to take it to Steve; Steve sends you to Geoff who sends you back to Kev (etc.)” (Substitute appropriately Elvish names there for Geoff, Kev and Steve, obviously. Geoffnir, Kevrond and Steveriel maybe.) Fortunately in one case, there was a stable near both Kevrond and Steveriel, so I thought at least that might take a bit of the drudge out of shuttling between the two by speeding up the journey, except the stablemaster wanted ten silver. “TEN SILVER??/? I only want to go up the road, I could get to Bree for one silver, and that’s about fifty times further!” Maybe government regulation enforces low cross-zone prices, and the stablemasters have to recoup their costs with drastically inflated local travel prices, either way it’s quite literal highway robbery which left me trudging back up the road.

I suppose it’s easier to make money scarce then gradually reduce costs/increase rewards rather than the other way around; in City of Heroes, money is anything but lacking…

CoH doesn’t have “money” as such, but heroes gain “influence”, and villains “infamy”, which is functionally equivalent (much like LotRO “morale” being functionally equivalent to “health”). For a long time, there was almost nothing to spend it on, so high level heroes had millions of influence kicking around (that’s not exaggerating for effect, I think my main hero had something like 34,000,000 influence, even after sending a load to alts). With City of Villains, there was a bit of an attempt to take some influence out of the system by introducing Supergroup (the CoH equivalent of a guild) Prestige, used to fund bases; after level 35, you could toggle a mode to either gain prestige for your group or influence for yourself, but not both. Influence can be exchanged for Prestige, but as there was so much influence kicking around the exchange rate is deliberately insane; seeing as there still wasn’t anything to spend influence on anyway, I traded a few million in to boost our group’s prestige total.

Now, Issue 9 has brought in loot; mobs can drop recipes for enhancements to your character, and salvage which is used to make the enhancement from the appropriate recipe. There’s an auction house where you can buy and sell recipes, salvage and enhancement, and I’m a sucker for auction houses (though the total lack of money has restricted my economic experimentation in LotRO). I spent a while last night browsing around, and it’s… a bit weird! But fun. In the CoH auction house, a seller puts an item up with the minimum price they’ll take for it; a buyer puts a bid in for an item at the maximum they’ll pay for it. If an item has been listed at or below the bid price, the buyer gets it for the amount they bid. The auction house tells you how many of an item are listed for sale, how many people have placed bids on those items, and the price the last 5 sales of that item, which, in this three day old economy, is an interesting logic puzzle for trying to work out what things might be worth… (so, the last 5 sales of this item were for 2,000,000; 1,000,000; 150,000; 750,000 and 1,500,000. There are 48 people bidding for this item, and 17 for sale… how much should you bid and/or accept for a sale? Then you start to think… well, if I list an item at 10,000, someone would get it if they bid that price… but if I list it for 10,001, and they raise their bids in increments of 5,000… they’d pay 15,000 for it… but then maybe they’d think I’d think that, and bid 10,002… so maybe I should list it at 10,003, but then they’d think I’d thought that they’d think of that…) There are two main problems I’m having at the moment. Firstly, moving from fantasy games where a handful of silver/gold is a decent sum of money back to CoH and its millions of influence is like trying to work out prices in old Turkish Lira (“a cup of coffee for EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND LIRA??/?” “Yes, sir, that’s 23 English pence”). Secondly, prices aren’t displayed with commas separating the digits, so I’m spending a while just counting zeroes to double check if recent sales were for 100000, 1000000 or 10000000 influence, and I imagine there’ll be ample scope for items suddenly shifting in price by factors of ten.

I’ve no idea how the CoH economy will work out long term, it looks a bit of a glorious, sprawling mess at the moment. I don’t think it’ll really hurt the game as some fear; although the new enhancements can increase the power of your character, it doesn’t look like they’ll make a massive difference unless you really go crazy farming/buying stuff, and being there’s not much in the way of PvP/raiding where those few percent differences are all important there’s not much incentive to go that mad. Equally, it’s not a hugely compelling reason to stick around in and of itself, but it’s a neat enough bonus while bouncing around hurling fireballs to sometimes pick up recipes and salvage, and I can always while away half an hour in an auction house… (so maybe they’d increment their bid in multiples of five… I should make the price a prime number…)