Monthly Archives: August 2007


Attack of the meme! Hoom, sounds a bit like the title of a bad 1950s sci-fi movie.

“My god! Memes!”
“Run for the hills, the memes are coming!”
“Martha, fetch me mah gun, them thar god damn memes are after the sheep again”.

One man and his fight against the invading horde of… The Memes!



1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. List eight (8) random facts about yourself.
3. Tag eight people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving them a comment on their blogs.

So then, eight factual facts of factitude:

1. I am not currently, nor to my knowledge have I ever been, the Earl of Huntingdon.

2. I once tried to overcome my irrational fear of bees by joining the bee keeping society at school. On my first trip to the hive, twenty or more bees got inside my bee keeping suit and stung me about the head.

3. I have a completely rational fear of bees. Because they’re little evil genius bastards.

4. I’m a software engineer who works in the aerospace industry where I’m part of a team that builds some of the leading pilot interface technology in the world. We build this using 1970s processor technology. Each day when we leave the site we have to go through irony-decontamination procedures so that we don’t flood the world outside with our deep sense of discordance between reality and our ideals. Nevertheless, the next time you fly on a jet airliner, remember that there’s a chance that the lunatic from this blog wrote some of the software running on it.

5. I’m introverted enough to be painfully shy and retiring even in online games, where nobody knows who I am and will very likely never find out. Once I get to know people and feel more comfortable around them I still have a propensity to remain silent until someone else speaks first.

6. I once sat with an adult tiger; we formed quite a bond and she licked my arm like a house cat would. It really hurt, and my whole forearm was raw for the rest of the day. Despite that, I still prefer tigers over bees.

7. My first introduction to gaming was the Warhammer 40k source book. I was probably ten years old and I didn’t even know what it was at the time, I was just drawn to the shiny blue Ultramarines fighting on the front cover. My first introduction to computer gaming was Arcadians on the BBC B microcomputer. Shortly thereafter I started writing my own games. They were rubbish.

8. In the time it took you to read this blog entry I will probably have drunk a cup of tea. I drink a lot of tea. I do not, however, regularly wear a bowler hat, wield a long black umbrella or a walking cane. I do not sport a handlebar moustache or wear a pin-stripe suit. I don’t say “Chin chin” or “It’s just not cricket, old boy”. I could drink tea for England, though.

So there you go, eight things that you’d probably rather not know about me.

The Meme commands further tagging of people, which is always the awkward part. Who to tag? Who not to tag? Who has already been tagged? I don’t know about you, but at school if you tagged the wrong person, even if they were actively playing the tag game, you’d get clocked on the nose. Ok, maybe that was just me.

So I’m going to disobey the meme, scallywag that I am, and say that if you’ve commented on the Inferno and you’d like to partake in this meme, please feel free to undertake it, let me know here and I’ll add your name to The List. That probably covers about eight whole people, so I’m only being partially disobedient.

Don’t fear The Memes.

He came to steal your socks.

He stayed to save your world.

The Thief of Socks, my latest character in City of Heroes.

An Illusion/Kinetics controller, he plays very differently from the other controller characters that I’ve played, in the fact that he sacrifices control abilities for greater damage and utility.

I’d been put off of Illusion as a power-set in the past mainly because of the pets factor: I’ve never been a great fan of pet classes, partly because pet classes seem to have a stigma of ‘easy mode’ attached to them, but primarily because it’s like taking your own pick-up group with you wherever you go. Pet AI in most MMOs falls into one of two categories:

a) You have to tell them what to do, in excruciatingly painful detail:

“Go forward two paces. Ok, left a bit, left a bit more. Too far! Right a bit. Ok attack! No! Attack the enemy not our group warrior, damnit! Ok, why have you stopped attacking? Oh, the mob is dead. And you’re not attacking the other mob that’s standing right next to you because? Because I haven’t told you to. Right. I dismiss you, you stupid pet. <pulls another poké ball from his pocket> Hyperactive Bouncing Pick-up Group Mage, I choose you!”

b) You can’t tell them what to do, so it’s excruciatingly painful in a different way:

“Go forward two paces… No, no! Forward. Two paces. That’s not forward. Or two paces. Where are you going? Hey, we’re not attacking that group of mobs, we’re attacking these ones over here. Please! Come back. Are those cigarettes? Are you taking a cigarette break? I’m being violated by large green monsters here, don’t you care? I am your MASTER and you WILL obey me otherwi… Hello? Hello? Oh, they’ve buggered off.”

However, sometimes it’s good to get out of the comfort zone and try something new, and although the Illusion power-set has an abundance of pets compared to other controller classes, the other powers in the set (invisibility and deception through illusion) tied in well with the theme of a miniature magical entity who comes in the night and steals odd socks from your airing cupboard, so I thought I’d give it a go. The Kinetics power-set has a host of useful team and self buffs which I thought would be handy to bring to a group, especially since I was going to be lacking the traditional control powers that people would expect of, well, a controller.

So far he’s been a lot of fun to play and I’ve been able to mix and match solo and group play without any trouble. However, at his next even level he gains a new power and it will be time to grab his first pets, who are firmly ensconced in category b from above.

They’ll be my very own pick-up group of sinners to summon at will to cause me intense psychological trauma. What in the Inferno am I thinking? I’ll let you know how it goes, but if you don’t hear from me in some time it may be that I’m off chasing around Paragon City trying to find where they’re having their secret cigarette breaks, laughing over a cup of coffee about their stupid ‘master’ and his delusions of authority.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

I thought I’d take a brief interval from the main performance of this infernal MMO farce to acquaint you, dear reader, with those games that can currently be described as ‘consuming my time’.

My gaming attention has been focussed primarily on a couple of games recently, whilst I wait for the next Great Game Rush to occur, and I have to say that it’s been enjoyable to just pootle about here and there and not have to worry about a schedule; the whole ‘I’ve got to get two levels, two hundred gold and one thousand rep. in five minutes or the bus I’m travelling on will EXPLODE!’ thing gets a bit dull after a while. You know, now that I think about it, the number 76 bus has been awfully empty since I shouted that out from behind my laptop screen while sitting on the back seat that one time; there’s always a huge queue of people in the morning still, but they’re all so friendly, they just move aside, let me on, and wave me off. Polite society is alive and kicking in the south east of England, it would seem.

Where was I? Games! Always a handy topic of conversation in the Inferno. City of Heroes has been a weekday evening staple recently; it’s such an easy game to hop-in to and play in short bursts, generally I will get something done, and if not, well I got to encase some villain in rock and then blast them through a wall using one hundred mile an hour winds.

Always soothing to the soul when you’ve had a bad day at the office

Again though, not the best topic of discussion when you’re sat at the back of the number 76: “Yeah, I set him on fire and then blasted him and his friends off the top of the building, I’m amazed I didn’t destroy the whole neighbourhood”. Little old ladies have the most evil stares, and a staggeringly powerful handbag-swinging action.

The other game I’ve been playing on a regular basis is not actually an MMO.

<A stunned silence descends.>

In actual fact, it’s an FPS.

<People start to get up and leave.>

It’s not Bioshock!

<People turn back in interest.>

I’ve been playing Counter Strike: Source.

<An enraged audience storms the blog-stage and beats your humble narrator to a bloody pulp.>

I had relived the wonder days of FPS life recently by playing Half-Life 2 and its expansions, and hankering for a little hot DPS online action I decided to go that one step further and pick-up with an old friend: Counterstrike. An old friend who’d had a royal metric crap-tonne of plastic surgery and looked like some sort of shiny Mattel doll version of their former self, but nevertheless an old friend of whom I had fond memories. I won’t go into too much detail, since it was quite painful; suffice it to say that had it been a reunion of the person-to-person variety, I probably would have ended up punching him somewhere delicate, pouring my hot drink in his lap, and then making my speedy getaway on the ever available and vacant number 76 bus.

Yes, I suck. I always suck at PvP. But when someone can shoot at your feet and get a headshot, well, I mean, it’s just…

<punches his old friend somewhere delicate again>.

And this is why the Inferno is primarily reserved for the absurdities of MMO life, because not only can I spit out no more than two syllables of FPS mockery before frothing at the mouth and falling into a strange catatonic state that requires medical intervention to alleviate, but because the absurdities in FPS games are made doubly worse because often the game is trying to convince you that it is real. That this could really happen. Look! It’s the real world! And if aliens invaded, you’d be able to defeat them by getting shot FIFTEEN HUNDRED THOUSAND THOUSAND HUNDRED THOUSAND times, and then applying a small CONVENIENTLY PLACED medikit or herb (HERB!) that repairs all your wounds, all the while firing a GIGABAJILLION rounds of ammunition from your indestructible, non-misfiring gun of choice, whilst CONVENIENTLY finding ammo clips for it just lying around. LYING AROUND. You’ll go into a kitchen, you know, wander in and help youself to some stranger’s house, and there’ll be a young mother with her new born child there eating, but she’ll JUST HAPPEN TO HAVE five fully loaded clips of ammunition for the PIECE OF ALIEN WEAPONRY YOU PICKED UP THIS MORNING ON THE MOON…

Code blue! Code blue! Fetch the defibrillator.

Oh hades, my head. Where was I? Oh yes, BLOODY FPS GA…

Code blue!

Uh-oh, dangerous feedback loop!

40 GOTO 44
44 PRINT "Ah, there we go".

Ah, there we go. So those are the two games that I’ve been predominantly playing, along with dabbling in getting my Monk/Necromancer to level twenty in Guild Wars: Prophecies in order to get down with what the cool kids are playing, but also in preparation for the Eye of the North expansion… patch… content update… thing. Having played both an MMO and an FPS (you don’t have to boo every time I say FPS) I noticed a minor but interesting dissimilarity in one particular game mechanic, which I’ll hopefully delve into in another post.

And now, the beta song!

I’m not in any betas!
At least none that I can tell you about.
And even if I was, I couldn’t give you details of them.
But I’m not in any. Not really. No.

Oh it’s NDA and NDA with NDA.
So the NDA is not as good as NDA.
And the NDA is NDA, but NDA is only NDA.
NDA, the NDA, oh NDA!

Actually, I’m not playing any betas. I hear gasps from this modest virtual auditorium! And I must hang my head in shame before the MMO blogorati, for it is not Madame Fate’s hand that has dealt me into such ignominy, but my own petulant perfidy. I would like to claim that it was some form of sneak-peak gaming asceticism that nobly drove me to avoid the temptation of getting in to an MMO before the writhing, pulpy, sweaty, multi-limbed fundament that is the hoi polloi, but really it boils down to a more practical and mundane reason: I have decided not to apply to the recent spate of betas. Cutting off my nose to spite my face? Maybe, but I’ll get to play the games eventually, and at the rate with which I seem to tire of an MMO game at the moment it’s probably best for me to extend the time between games as much as possible.

I did, however, receive a beta invite anyway; having subscribed to several NCSoft games in the past I’m well aware of their tendency to attach a beta bomb to games that they are publishing such that, when the time is right the bomb detonates, delivering a devastating wave of beta invites to every subscriber that they’ve ever had. Even if you only thought about subscribing: beta invite! Went to the website once? Beta invite!

I played the game for a few levels because, well, it would be rude not to, but I left it at that. I won’t be playing any more until release because I don’t want to spoil the experience, and so I can’t tell you anything about it, and even if I could well…

<The Curtains part. The lights go up. The chorus line appears on stage. Fireworks go off in the background. Elephants with can-can dancers on their backs, ride through on unicycles.>

It’s, Ennnnnnn Deeeeeee Aaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy!

Da da de dum dum dum. Da.

Just the dust of a plague

There’s nothing like hearing John Humpreys talking about Warlocks on the alarm clock radio for waking up in the morning. Unfortunately I had to haul myself off to work before the actual article in question, but it seems someone’s picked up the Corrupted Blood plague from a couple of years ago, and decided it could offer an insight into real world epidemics (or, as Melmoth put it, “Hey, we can use a simulated world to simulate stuff. Who knew?!”)

I dunno exactly how close the parallels are with a “real” plague, and thus exactly how useful it would be, but I’d hazard a guess that in 1666 London General Chat didn’t look too much like…
“Anyone know where I can find Samual Pepys’ wife?”

Everything is broken

OK, not quite everything. It was the CPU after all, which decided to stop working for no apparent reason. Oh well. Replacement should be sorted in the next couple of days, just in time for me to go back on holiday for another week. Three weeks of MMO withdrawal…

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.

Rethgood the Redolent was in trouble. Somewhere, out beyond the jade curtain of the forest lurked an ancient evil. And it was looking for him. With his back against a tall gnarled oak he let out a slow painful exhalation, realising that he had been holding his breath yet again. He listened to the sounds coming from the surrounding forest for some time, trying to see whether he could determine from wither his impending doom approached. Then the cry came, screeching through the dank foliage like the sound of a thousand elephants crying out in unison upon discovering that they’d all simultaneously and most improbably forgotten the way home after a heavy night out. Sweat beaded about his brow as he ducked out from behind the tree, battle axe at the ready, and made a crouching run across the glade. He had reached no more than half way before stopping abruptly; there, calmly watching him with the steely look of quietus in its eyes was his nemesis, the one who had hounded him across a quarter of the country of Grindland.

There stood the Death Shrew of Khuridim.

One inch of unbridled antediluvian fury, it’s tiny whiskers all a-twitch with unreasoning malevolence, the amber eyes of the shrew did not leave him. Without warning it leapt for him and the battle was joined!

Rethgood slumped to the floor and let out a bestial cry. As he nursed his injured left leg, hideously ravaged around the ankle, he looked towards the shattered corpse of the Death Shrew and noticed a subtle glinting amongst the ruin of bones. Hauling himself over, his savaged leg dragging limply behind him, he picked up the remnants of the tiny shrew body in his hands and carefully parted the fur on its back from where he had seen the glinting. And there it was. Parting the final few hairs back had revealed the mighty Immortal Songblade of Nefronggrevat! Its six foot blade, impaled in the back of the miniscule shrew, had remained hidden all this time, and now it was Rethgoods for the taking. With some effort he pulled the mighty blade from its shrivelled shrew sheath and tested its weight. It was heavy even for the seven foot tall barbarian, and it would have to be worn across his back due to its almost unwieldy size, but he now possessed one of the mightiest weapons in the land! And his friends had said he was a fool to hunt the shrew, that the greatest weapons of the land would be found on the evil warrior overlords who looked down upon the land from their lofty castles. Ha!

Rethgood turned the shrew over in his hands as he searched the body; in a small cleft beneath its chin he found ten gold coins, four silver pieces and seventy two copper pieces. In the fold of its neck he found several large sheets of silk cloth, enough to make a fine strap for the Songblade to sit in until he could have a real sheath made. Just behind that was a potion of healing. Surprised that the shrew had not used it during combat, Rethgood could only surmise that the shrew had quaffed one earlier in the fight and was unable to use another due to that curious immutable property of potions: once taken the imbiber is suddenly rendered completely unable to remember how to take another potion for precisely two minutes thirty seconds, after which the memory of how to drink potion-like beverages is suddenly returned to them. Finally, just behind what remained of the shrew’s left ear Rethgood found a large tome, its bindings covered in an ornate script that appeared to change shape in the light, he would have to take it Tina the Archmage of Mestonville, to find out what it contained.

Rethgood looked at the large pile of items that he had found, and then looked towards his meagre backpack, tucked behind the oak tree where he had left it earlier. He wondered if he was going to be able to fit everything into his bag, or whether he was going to have to throw some items away, he hoped not and he now regretted looting the shrew so hastily, rather than popping it easily into his pocket and looting it later when he got home…

Seriously, if I loot another piece of giant, spiked armour from a pigmy mouse and then can’t find room for it in my backpack, I’m going to make a really teensy weensy area of the Inferno, and then cram all the loot-mechanics developers into it.

“Why Melmoth, that’s impossible: they’ll never fit!” I hear you cry. Well, it will be fun to try, and then perhaps they’ll understand that in the Inferno WE OBEY THE LAWS OF EUCLIDEAN GEOMETRY. Unless we have a letter from the doctor saying that we are exempt.

Thought for the day.

Pacman as a sandbox game:

Developer: “There you go, have a play.”

Player: “Well, what do I do?”

Developer: “Anything you like!”

Player: “Ok, I think I’ll go talk to those ghosts over there, make friends.”

Developer: “Ok, you’ve made friends with the ghosts. See how they start to follow you around.”

Player: “Nice! Ok, I think I’ll explore a bit. Ooo, what’s this glowing item over here?”

Developer: “Explore! Find out!”

Player: “Well it’s different to the smaller glowing items I’ve been eating. I’ll try to eat it though.”

Developer: “You feel different.”

Player: “In what way? Oh ok, I get it! I have to work it out. Hmm, I’ll ask my ghost friends if they have any idea.”

Developer: “There, you’ve walked up to your ghost friends, eaten them and spat out their eyes.”

Player: “Ok I… wait, what?!”

Developer: “You’re a bad person. Bad, bad, bad!”

Build a sandbox game, don’t try to force your game into a sandbox.

A man said to the universe: 
"Sir, I exist!"
"However" replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."                  -- Stephen Crane

One for All or Alts for One?

As Zoso so rightly stated, although we seem to play together harmoniously, we are chalk and cheese when it comes to our approach to characters in MMOs. If you imagine us walking down the quiet country road of MMO progression, he would be the calm, sagacious traveller, walking the straight path with unswerving focus. A look of determination mixed with serenity is on his face as he takes in all the sites and sounds whilst making good progress. I, on the other hand, would be a small yappy dog, running around his legs in frantic circles, bouncing up and down in a near coronary of delight and then dashing off into the hedgerow, distracted by some random movement or change in the shadows. Sometimes Zoso waits patiently for me to burst back out, all tail wags and plant-matted fur. Sometimes he carries on, knowing that I’ll catch up again, but that I’ll most likely be an entirely different sort of dog. Sometimes I come back as a cat.

And sometimes he has to wade into the undergrowth, wrestle a bear into submission, and then prize its jaws open so that I can sheepishly crawl out from its gullet, ears flat back and my tail between my legs.

In short, I like alts, and while Zoso and others are making steady progress on their main characters, I’ll be frantically trying to level-up my latest and greatest, this is definitely the one, I’m never playing anything else, character and catch up with them. On a bad day that character will be in an entirely different game.

So in the tradition of Zoso’s post I’ll have a go at exploring my motivations for my altoholism. *Reclines on the psychologists couch* I suppose it all started as a child, where I was raised in the wild by a pack of wandering miniature poodles… Hello?


Zooosssoooo, I think I broke the psychologist agaaaaaiiin.

A little confession: I don’t finish games. I can count the number of games that I have completed on one hand. Ok, two hands. Maybe two hands and half of one foot, but that starts to get a bit painful. Either way, it’s not very many in the grand scheme of my gaming life. In general the games that I have completed have been exceptional examples of their genre, original and have provided motivation for me to continue playing in the form of, and here comes the revelation, entertainment and enjoyment. Games need to have a challenging element to them, it’s in their nature: Pacman would be a pretty boring game if there were no ghosts in it. However, the challenges have to be such that you can achieve them through more than sheer luck, and the penalty for failure should not be so harsh that it makes you feel pain: golf would be a lot less popular game if the penalty for failure to reach par for a hole was that you had to go right back to the beginning of the course and start again. Therefore I see challenges in games as both enabler and potential destroyer of my enjoyment of the game, and MMOs provide a get-out clause when it comes to dealing with these challenges, namely the alternative character, or alt.

The thing with a new character is that you know you’re going to face encounters that are pretty easy, designed with the new player in mind as they are, and that there is going to be little challenge to them at all. The fun thing about this is that it leaves you free to set your own challenges, which you can make as difficult as you choose. The thing I enjoy about rolling a new character with respect to challenges is that I know the content slightly better and I can organise quests in ways that optimise their execution to allow me to achieve more in less time. It’s this dramatic sense of achievement, combined with the freshness of a new character class that is quite seriously addictive to me. It’s like I have my own drug dealer inside my mind “Pssst, hey kid, want a hit? I’ve got new characters here, never been played. Check out all the lovely new abilities on this class, should get you high as a kite for hours, that one”, “Ok, ok! Give me a hit of paladin, and a couple of baggies of new starter area quests”. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

I mentioned freshness in that last paragraph, and that’s a big one for me. After a while in your adventuring career you get to that point where you’ve achieved a new level, and as you enter town your trusted mentor is beckoning you with a smile that promises advanced training. Actually it’s the smile of someone who knows he’s about to fleece you for all your worldly possessions in exchange for a bit of crappy advice, but you’re still a young adventurer so you don’t know this. Anyway, you reach the mentor and after handing over every copper penny you’ve ever earned – you’re even made to strip down to your underwear to make sure you aren’t hiding a little purse of gold somewhere on your body, thankfully Bernard’s Body-Cavity Bag of Distinct Discomfort dropped for you earlier in the day, you just hope it doesn’t ‘drop’ now while you’re being searched – and finally you’re ready to receive your training, which turns out to be an upgrade to two of your existing spells. Oh, thanks. So what you’re saying is, my spells don’t naturally increase in power as I do, and they don’t naturally increase in power as I use them, you know, with practice, they only increase when I’ve paid some smug git in my home town a whole load of money. Yes, I can see how the process of evolution would develop that. Luke Skywalker never had this problem:

Luke: “Master Yoda, I have learned so much already, and I have come to learn further the ways of the Jedi.”

Yoda: “No. No new powers will you learn. Only slight and insignificant upgrades to powers that you already know.”

Luke: “But Ben said you’d train me…”

Yoda: “Sucker, you are. Grind womprats you will.”

Yoda: “Your money, give it to me now.”

Yoda: “Noob.”

With an alt everything is different and exciting and new! Not only do you gain new and interesting powers but because you’re blasting through content that you know about, you gain them at an even more accelerated rate than you do when initially playing a new character. It’s the crack cocaine of the alt world, a big hit and everything is ‘yeah’ and ‘wow’ and ‘I can take on the world’! But like any drug, the down is always just around the corner, and eventually one day you’re walking in to town and there’s your mentor with this huge grin on his face…

I don’t even need levelling rewards to be new powers necessarily, I would be perfectly happy receiving the odd ‘party trick’ power, where you are able to turn yourself into a stove, fire peanuts from your belly button at high velocity or blow smoke rings with your eyes. Just something that adds a little variety to the day-to-day game. I believe Everquest II has such powers (although perhaps not quite the ones described) and I also believe that they have a pretty constant stream of new abilities through a large part of your adventuring career, but I haven’t played it in anger so I can’t be sure.

So yes, in part it’s because I have a short attention…

Uh, where was I? Oh yes, to some extent I have a short attention span and constantly hitting the same buttons to activate the same powers without any chance of a change of pace really depresses me; I don’t know whether I’m fickle or if justified boredom is taking hold, but at some point I know that I am in need of a change or I will quit the game.

However, I’m not sure that I would be quite so ready to abandon a character if I could empathise with it in any way, but in general characters to me are just that, virtual avatars to allow me to interact with the game world. A lot of this comes down to the lack of customisation in many games. Never in any game have I been able to play a Yoda-like character, a cloth wearing class with melee skills and a few magic tricks up their sleeves, for example. Things are dictated so stringently when you create your character that it’s very hard to create a connection when most of the input into how that character is formed is out of your control, you get pseudo-customisation, but to fit in with the game world it is very much limited. Since you can’t create your character the way you want, because the race you want to play can’t take on the profession you want to play, you create alts to fill in the gaps and you play the single character you’ve always wanted through a mixture of ‘lesser’ characters. If I could create the character that I would like to be, I imagine that I would connect with it on a more fundamental level, because I do want to feel like I’m connected to the character in some way, I really do. It hasn’t happened yet in any MMO that I’ve played.

Failure to empathise, to want to make great, any character that I play is possibly the reason why I have joined the ranks of the MMO nomads at the moment, those players who wander from game to game, doing a little bit to save a kingdom here and destroy the evil empire there. Maybe it’s a symptom of the next stage of the disease that is altitus: new characters are no longer enough, now the game world and mechanics need to differ to stem the ennui. I’m hoping that it’s not the case, that I’ve just run out of steam on the current crop of games, and that the next wave of new talent will deliver games that give you characters that you feel happy about investing your time in, because you want them to do well, because their doing well is achieved through you having fun and being entertained, not because you had the iron nerves and enough caffeine on tap to grind your way to victory.

I live in hope that if not soon, then in the future, I won’t need to be a yappy dog anymore.

And if not, well, then there’ll be plenty more fuel for the Inferno.