Monthly Archives: October 2007

The gospel according to St. Dev.

1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the forums were awash with complaints that the darkness was too dark, and that this was an outrage.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And the forums were split into the people who would play light and the people who would continue to play dark anyway, and the players of light complained that the players of dark were going to be miserable PKers, and the players of dark complained that the players of light were going to be too powerful and should be nerfed.
5: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the forums filled with criticism about the names, and that they sucked and nobody would play a game with ‘day’ and ‘night’ in it. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7: And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8: And God called the firmament Heaven. And the forums overflowed with speculation on what heaven was and how it would affect those game mechanics of day and night. And the players of light claimed it as their home zone, which the players of dark objected to vehemently, and proposed their own zone which they didn’t know what the hell to call. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9: And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10: And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. But the forums erupted in complaints that the travel times would be too long, and nobody could get from one dry land to the other because there was no way to cross the sea, and the complaints were so great that God had to lock several threads.
11: And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12: And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13: And the forums said that the design was flawed based upon their speculation that seeds must be some kind of impossibly difficult boss mob and that having them all across the land would make their lives a nightmare and that it was clearly an outrage. And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14: And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18: And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19: And the forums for the players of the dark exploded in outrage, that this was clearly favouring the light and could not be tolerated. Many threats to leave and never even play in the beta were levelled. And the players of light lold at the players of dark and proffered that they should QQ more. And God had to go back and redesign huge parts of the system to try and balance the dark by adding special matter to the universe. And the evening and the morning were the many, many, many sodding days of wasted effort.
20: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22: And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23: And the forums complained that the spawn times were too restrictive and that they would consume all the resources too quickly. And there were many complaints about the name ‘whales’, and also as to why this was the only creature name to have been revealed so far. And wild speculations abounded as to what whales were. And the names of other creatures were made-up. And God had to release information about haddock and jellyfish and krill and dolphins and seals. And then he had to spend days explaining and mollifying forum posters who couldn’t understand why whales and dolphins and seals would breath air when they live in the sea. And the evening and the morning were several days spent heavily drinking and smoking.
24: And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. But the forums were filled with complaints that lions were too overpowered and should be balanced, and crocodiles shouldn’t be allowed to travel so fast on land and in the water. And many, many complaints were levelled at the point of wasps, because they were rubbish and caused the players great pain for no reason. And God spent several weeks redesigning and reworking beasts, and created bees to replace wasps, but then forgot to take wasps out anyway because he was tired after pulling one too many all-nighters.
26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And the forums went super-nova over this new epic class and how overpowered it was going to be, with it’s dominion over everything. And the forums speculated that man must be able to run faster than a cheetah, swim faster than a shark, fly higher than an eagle and be stronger than a bear. And the forums whined and whinged and complained that God should nerf this class otherwise they would never buy the game ever! And God decided to delay the open beta and said that he would rework the player classes to cope with these problems.
27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And now the forums complained that the two epic classes weren’t similar enough, and the female players complained that the male players were overpowered and the male players complained that the females had better character creation options.
28: Nevertheless God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And still the forums were filled with whines and complaints and bitter unreasoning anguish.
29: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat, what more do you want you ungrateful gits. And the forums filled with moans that this made the game easy mode, and that there would be no challenge now, and they would never play such a game.
30: And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31: And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very, very late. And the evening and the morning were the six hundredth day.
32: Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And forums were filled with community managers to stem the tide of outraged and unconstructive whinges from beta players and God worked on bug fixes and other things that he hadn’t had time to finish, but he still never got around to fixing the duck-billed platypus.
33: And on the seven hundredth day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seven hundredth day from all his work which he had made.
34: And God blessed the seven hundredth day, and sanctified it: because he could finally get some rest and would not have to listen to all those pathetic whiners again until he made the first expansion.

She’s got that dark rhythm in her soul

I have a bit of a fondness for rhythm games. It started at the Game On exhibition five years ago, where they had a couple of dance pads hooked up to a PlayStation version of Dance Dance Revolution. I’d never seen it in arcades (having stopped frequenting them sometime around the Teenage Mutant NinjaHero Turtles game), so this strange and mysterious concept of stepping on arrows in time (well, vaguely in time) with music was rather interesting. A group of us picked up the game and a couple of pads, which was good for a giggle, but no good for non-console-owning me, until a bit of Googling turned up Stepmania and a PlayStation-to-USB connector.

Stepmania also had a huge advantage over the PlayStation game in that you could download extra songs, rather than be stuck with the fairly small collection of not-entirely-rubbish tunes on the official version. My personal favourites were the classic rock n’ roll songs (Johnny B. Goode, Surfin’ USA etc.), which bizarrely seemed to come from “DDR: Disney’s Rave”. As games go, it’s not a bad workout either, which is no bad thing for me.

Then there was Guitar Hero and its open source PC equivalent, Frets on Fire, as I posted about a few times, basically the same thing only pushing buttons on a plastic guitar instead of stepping on a mat but very much more my style of music (I can’t believe the scarcity of user-made thrash metal songs in Stepmania) , and I’m eagerly awaiting the third instalment of that for the Wii (and slightly miffed that it’s already out in America). Rayman Raving Rabbids on the Wii also has a nunchuck-shaking rhythm game which is rather fun (and has the bonus of weird dancing mutant bunny things). As a result of all those (and general laziness), my dance pad’s been folded up in the corner of the room for a while, but I may have to dust it off after spotting Dance! Online (follow that link to sign up with me as your referrer for… er… I dunno, really, but still) over at RandomBattle. I thought after the 600Mb-ish initial download I might be shaking my groove thang (as I rather believe they say on the street), but it turns out it wants to patch itself up with another couple of billion files, so looks like it’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow before I strut my funky stuff (man).

Some people say that cats are sneaky, evil, and cruel.

I was enjoying a nice cup of tea and a good book the other day when I was assaulted by my cat – jumping from out of that ethereal plane which only cats can inhabit, allowing them to sneak upstairs without you seeing or, as in this case, leap seemingly out of nowhere from just behind your head, legs gathered together as if performing a tuck dive but which, in fact, form a perfectly focussed point that when aimed directly at one’s groin causes pain on levels that can approach registration on the Richter Scale. As if the sheer shock of such an unexpected assault followed by the continent-shattering levels of crushing pain weren’t enough, the planning behind such an attack becomes clear mere moments later, and I can only imagine that amongst the vast arrays of apparatus that cats have at their command in their umbral realm, wedged between huge banks of humming monitor stations and clicker-clacking ticker tape reports, there is the lit fuse for the cat’s explosive assault: a large red lightbulb that sometimes illuminates brightly, underneath which is the faded, peeling label that reads “Owner drinking hot beverage”.

Mopping scalding tea from an already bruised block and tackle, if the dear reader catches my drift, I took the time to curse the rogueish nature of my cat who had now somehow managed to shadow step through the aforementioned magical cat realm out into the garden and was staring smugly in at me, safe from verbal or physical retaliation beyond the kitchen window. I had at that moment pause to think about my statement, even as I eyed the miscreant moggy: rogue was indeed the class that fit the feline’s infuriating fetish for furtive forays, but was that the only nature of this particular puss?

In short, what MMO class is my cat?

Rogue is the obvious starting point. For sheer backstabbing subtlety and raw damage per second, my cat had only moments ago clearly demonstrated with devastating effect her prowess in these areas. It takes little imagination to envisage a lonely trek to a long forgotten temple in a far away land, where under the tuition of a harsh but fair master she learnt these ancient techniques, honing her martial arts against wooden practise dummies, then other feline students until finally facing off against multiple masters of the art at the same time, all to a rising and rousing musical score. Training complete, my cat was sent from the temple by her now dying master to hunt down and rid the world of small angry dogs that had gotten too big for their own boots. It sort of breaks down around here (if it ever got started for any of you), because my cat seems to have been waylaid in her quest to fight the good fight against canine kind, and instead put her years of martial training into use predominantly by curling up in a ball and sleeping on my lap. She twitches when she dreams, so I can only imagine she’s having suitably epic flashbacks to the monastery, and churning over in her subconscious as to why she didn’t choose to abandon her training and leave with Wei Lin to search for the ancient treasure of the seven mystic dragons.

Admittedly my cat has more adventures in my mind than she does her own.

The whole ‘purring, sleeping, cute bundle of adorable fur’ thing breaks any idea of my cat being a Rogue, clearly when she’s in this state she radiates a feeling of wellbeing and quiet contentedness that is infectious to such a degree that it should probably be classified as a disease. It is my resolute belief that any conflict or diplomatic situation could be resolved amicably if all parties were made to sit down and discuss the problem in front of an open fireplace with a snuggle of recently fed and incredibly cosy cats on their laps. Yes, a snuggle of content cats, you define a better collective noun.

No question, the holy grail of peace for all mankind lies with the satiety of cats.

In this respect the cat can be thought of as a healer, not all cats are this way, some are definitely and defiantly bundles of pain, pointy at five out of their six ends, and would quite happily fall feet first into the more combat orientated classes. My cat is a healer though, so this narrows the field somewhat, and for the ever so slightly whimsical nature of this rambling we’ll say that the field is defined by those classes available in World of Warcraft, partly because the majority of people will know of those classes but mainly because it allows me to crowbar this post into the MMO theme of the blog.

The Paladin class could be a cat class, for certain cats at least: the pious old warrior who would like to think that he can do DPS but in the end finds that he is far better suited to simply receiving assault after assault before strolling off and finding a human lap in which to curl up and begin his healing phase, while simultaneously and inadvertently crushing his owner under his sheer weight. I imagine the big old tom cats – you know the ones, they seem to have been in the neighbourhood since it was first built in 1764 and show no sign of leaving this mortal coil any time soon – who plod around their territory with all the swagger and self assurance of a silverback gorilla, with the same content belief that nothing and nobody can harm them, and with which comes the lethargy and ponderous prowling of one who has never known what it is like to be bested in mortal combat. Other cats, dogs, trees, small children on bikes and even moving cars have been faced down by this veteran of the concrete jungle, he’s taken his share of beatings and yet walked away seemingly unscathed. When finally he is outnumbered, when the hordes of neighbourhood cats have temporarily put aside their inter-faction bickering to take down this old world colossus, he simply looks at his watch whilst twiddling his whiskers, excuses himself with a mention that it is time for his tea, and then he is gone. Ever had that moment when you looked out of your kitchen window and saw your old tom cat out in the road with an oncoming car charging at him, driver and cat both oblivious to the impending collision? You close your eyes and wait for the inevitable, sickening crunch; only you hear nothing and upon opening your eyes there is no traumatic scene of carnage and your old templar of the tarmac is intertwining himself between your legs and calling for his tea. Bubble and hearthstone isn’t just for getting out of dire combat situations with the cat mafiosi, you know.

It quickly became clear to me that my cat was not a paladin; it also became somewhat clearer that I was suffering some mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder from the blow to my boll… um, ego, and that this had made my mind wander in such a weird way. Well, weirder than usual, at least. It quickly became clear that my cat was also not a priest: healers extraordinaire and not inconsiderable DPS, they shun melee and do their most potent damage when in the form of a shadow. I imagine priest class cats to be those alley cats who skulk around at night, their wailing and caterwauling enough to wake the dead, a form of psychic scream if you will, putting all kinds of fear into the minds of small children and grown adults alike, who lay in bed, heart pounding and pulling the bed sheets up higher around their head to shield themselves from the banshee that is surely clawing its way up the very side of the house. During the day these hell sirens transform into the mild mannered cats of little old ladies, and spend their time healing the souls of those who offer them the Samaritan sanctity of a comfy lap. Again, not my cat, who does not so much let out haunting banshee wails, but instead emits a sort of pathetic croaking that sounds like someone is throttling a lamb that has been a heavy smoker all of its short life.

In the same way that my cat does not frequent dark alleys, she is also not a nature lover like the druid. Druid cats are those that are always out in the wild, enduring the bracing elements to bring you back wondrous presents from the forest mother, like the unidentifiable entrails of small animals. They create masterful arts of nature in your home, specialising in the medium of mud and your freshly cleaned kitchen floor, perhaps with a little leaf litter thrown in for good measure. And maybe some more entrails. Druid cats are also the ones that get themselves stuck up trees, forgetting that they don’t in fact have a flight form. My cat is not a druid either: the only thing that she’s ever brought back from outside was a pair of Action Man trousers, which she dragged in backwards through the cat flap and then stood over proudly, croaking in that strangled-lamb-tracheotomy manner a message which I believe was requiring praise and acknowledgement. We never found who those trousers belonged to, but somewhere some kid has an Action Man figure who fights his battles ‘privates to the wind’. My cat has also never got stuck up a tree, in fact I’ve never seen my cat climb higher than the sofa, although I am adamant that some form of ladder and platform arrangement must be used to gain the trajectory and velocity of her more formidable ‘lap attacks’.

And so by deduction, mad reasoning and if nothing else default, my cat would appear to be a shaman. It seems to fit well enough, a little bit of healing intermingled with extremes of burst damage that leave her opponents wounded and gasping for breath; she can take on a ghostly form, at least I assume she has some manner of power aiding those stealthy and speedy excursions into cupboards and under beds where she knows she’s not allowed, and when she’s particularly threatened or stressed she has the ability to lay down water and earth totems which, alas, don’t disappear after a set period of time but can only be dispelled with a scrubbing brush and detergent, and even then the lingering oral debuff remains for many hours, even with the windows open; when she’s older I imagine that she could also develop a particularly devastating air totem.

So there you have it, my cat is not a rogue but a shaman. And now I plan to take revenge on her for the ‘burst of flame’ hot tea incident earlier in the week by catching her unawares and strapping an ice cube to her forehead.

Frost shock!

Cats as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by that fact that in Ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods.
— P.G. Wodehouse

Curiously Orange

It seems like the entire rest of the PC gaming world has been swept up by The Orange Box, and after a brief attempt (mostly during the installation process while trying to remember previous Steam login details) to be the cool hipster, swimming against the tide and not liking the popular thing, the current caught me and pried loose my tenuous grasp on an upturned tree-root of curmudgeonliness, dashing me against the jagged rocks of really-quite-goodness… erm… quick, someone throw a lifebelt to get me out of this increasingly strange aquatic metaphor…

Anyway. It says something about a software compilation when the least exciting bit of it turns out to be the multi-award-winning game-of-the-year/decade/century/millenium/aeon/last-five-minutes Half Life 2 and its two expansions. I’ve worked through a bit more of the original game, but it’s vying with Red Steel for “FPS that I’ll probably get around to again sometime, maybe, if there’s nothing else really”. Then there’s Portal. I’m rationing myself, as the two things that everyone seems to agree on is that it’s a sublime work of genius, and also short. Actually it’s probably only the latter that *everyone* agrees on, so I’m not too far in yet (or possibly really near the end, depending on just how short it is). Reduced to component parts, it’s a standard WASD first person game with hints of The Incredible Machine, some crazy gravity/physics like Prey, and the dropping-stuff-on-a-pressure-pad-to-keep-a-door-open-centric gameplay of Eye of the Beholder (and probably about a billion other places, but that’s the one that sticks in the mind), but, like a shot of espresso, caramel syrup and a bunch of ice cubes, when blended together they become this new and exciting thing that surpasses the individual elements. Unless you’re one of those coffee nuts who go crazy for perfect espresso, in which case you’re watering down the good stuff and turning it into some undrinkable sludge, for heaven’s sake, you probably didn’t even hand-grind your own hand-roasted beans you hand-picked; if that’s the case, you can hand-craft your own metaphor here. Finally (if not counting Peggle, which is… Peggle! Mental note: must try running City of Heroes and Peggle in adjacent windows, that could liven up trick-or-treating) there’s Team Fortress 2. I never played the original Team Fortress, and TF2 didn’t immediately seem to offer much over any number of other team-based online shooters, most recently Unreal Tournament 3 and Quake Wars: Enemy Territory which are both with Hellgate: London on my “rather enjoyed the demo but there’s just too many darn games around to justify buying the full thing at moment” list. The cartoon graphics didn’t really do much for me, but hey, it was in The Orange Box, and Melmoth was online and fired up about it (side note: Incredibles MMOG, top idea!), might as well give it a go…

Initial impressions weren’t great. Picking a Heavy as a fairly simple-looking (in all senses) chap, death came frequently from all sides (snipers half a mile away, a spy right behind you, any number of other exploding and/or projectile based assaults), and nobody was obliging enough to stand still so I could shoot them back. Flipping around a few classes led to similar results, with varying levels of ineffectiveness in attack with whatever peashooter I’d been handed compared to the clearly superior lethal instruments everyone else had been issued with. Not a great start.

The first breakthrough was the Pyro. This class eschews nonsense like “aiming” in favour of getting really close to people and setting them on fire. Of course there can be a great amount of skill in playing a Pyro well, lurking in ambush points, carefully setting up short range attacks on unsuspecting opponents… or! You can exhibit a total lack of self-preservation, and hurl yourself towards the enemy screaming “Mmmmmmf mmmm mmmmmph mmmm mmmmmm mmmmmff!” (your mask slightly muffles your speech, see). You’ll still die, but with a bit of luck you might set a few of them on fire in the process, possibly even fatally. Playing the Pyro for a while, I got a bit more into the swing of things, started figuring out what was going on a bit, learning the maps. I flipped through the classes some more; playing a Sniper had two possible outcomes. If the rest of my team were dominating, I could get set up somewhere, usually next to a couple of other snipers, and ruthlessly pick off the enemy as soon as they stuck their heads into the open. I got my all-time kill record that way, but felt terribly guilty about butchering poor unfortunates who barely had a chance to fight back. If the teams are balanced, snipers usually get into a cat-and-mouse, Enemy at the Gates-esque duel, where one of them gets a helmet on a stick and pokes it up out of their hiding place, and the other one calculates the angles involved and ricochets a bullet off the inside of the helmet to take them out, and in those circumstances I’m usually slightly slower on the trigger… I’ll have them all but in my sights, finger poised, butPOW! Dead again. The Scout is fun, speeding around the place with a baseball bat; Soldiers and Demomen are OK. I must try the Engineer again now I have a bit more of an idea what’s going on; as a Spy, when in diguise I seem to be carrying around a giant placard labelled “HELLO! I MAY APPEAR TO BE ON YOUR TEAM, BUT I’M NOT REALLY! SHOOT MEH!” Either that, or with no friendly fire, everyone shoots everyone… I suspect it’s option B, actually. I know I do.

The one class I didn’t play at all was the Medic. I’ve done my rants about support classes, blah blah blah, I want to shoot things, yada yada. Then, last night, after being counter-sniped for the umpteenth time on the 2Forts map, I was trying to decide what class to switch to, and thought… why not. Just to prove I’ll hate it. Just the once, I’ll play the medic. Finding a nearby Soldier I fired up the old healing beam, and off we went, storming up the map, pushing past a chokepoint in a hail of explosions. It wasn’t too bad after all… After dying, I figured I’d give it another shot, latched on to a Heavy, lasted long enough to get the Ubercharge off for a few seconds of invincibility, and somewhere along the line our team grabbed the intelligence, I managed to heal the capturing scout a bit before he vanished. It’s not as if there’s any hanging around, carefully assessing team-mate’s health and deciding which powers to use, it’s slap on the healing gun and try and keep up with whatever nutter you’re following, while maintaining situational awareness so you’re not in the line of fire, and keeping an eye for bastard spies who are usually your nemesis. It’s not all jam and sardines (even aside from the aforementioned spies); you need to find someone to be healing to start with, which can occasionally be tricky (until your team notice someone’s playing the doc, at which point you’ll hear nothing but “MEDIIIIC!” for the next month or so), and while your healing beam can turn a good player into an awesome dispenser of death, it turns rubbish players into rubbish players who survive ever so slightly longer before pointlessly dying (I’m more the latter than the former myself with a gun, but still). I’m not going to exclusively be a Medic in every TF2 game ever, but if nobody else is playing one (quite probable, judging from the random public servers I’ve been hopping around so far), I’ll give it a lash.

The whole style of the game has really grown on me too, the cartoonish graphics, the magnificently over-the-top accents. It just lightens things up a little; most online shooters take themselves pretty seriously, even the latest incarnation of Unreal Tournament seems to have toned down it’s bright shiny colours into drab dystopian-future industrial landscapes, everyone’s terribly grim faced. They’re a SERIOUS BUSINESS! Team Fortress 2 emphasises the fun, and is all the better for it.

The ticking of the clocks

I’m still flailing away in a vast sea of games; quite literally, in the case of Rayman Raving Rabbids. Its peculiar sense of humour and simple but varied range of mini-games are strangely compelling, plus I get to kid myself that furiously waggling Wii controllers is an efficient cardio-vascular upper-body exercise. I know, like in Wii Sports, small, quick movements give the same (if not greater) accelerometer results as huge, sweeping swings, but that’s not the point is it? If you’re going to play motion sensitive baseball, you might as well launch yourself into a ludicrously exaggerated spin while pretending to hit a virtual ball.

In MMOGland, City of Heroes trick-or-treating continues apace. Well, I say “apace”, it’s quite a slow pace. Standing entirely still, actually. My main badge-gathering hero has most of the previous Halloween event badges for killing assorted witches, werewolves, giant pumpkin-things, ghosts, zombies, people with really cheap plastic tridents and pointy teeth who can’t make up their mind if they’re a demon or vampire and surly teenagers in casual clothes who might stick a plastic mask on if they’re really making an effort before demanding stuff. Something like that, at least… I’ve also got extra costume slots from the event salvage, which I think just leaves the three new badges they added this year, for collecting costumes. In the cold light of efficiency metrics the best way to get these is to stand in front of the same door (you could move around, but there wouldn’t be much point), and click on it once every 60 seconds in the hope of getting appropriate treats. This isn’t the most scintillating activity ever devised, but I just love those badges… On the plus side, the hectic one-click-per-minute (with occasional blasting of spooky villainy) action affords ample time for reading, watching television, chatting, or anything else you can squeeze into roughly-57 second chunks. It’s also proven me entirely wrong in predicting that I’d never use the stopwatch feature of the G15 keyboard.

Mostly, though, I’ve succumbed to the delights of The Orange Box, which I think deserves a post of its own…

There’s no school like the old school!

In between defeating demons – I should point out that down here in the Inferno we don’t condone banishing our own, but, well… Bat’Zul was kind of an arse, always getting really drunk at the end of century parties and trying to shag the boss’s wife. So he had it coming. – and running amok with my druid in World of Warcraft, I’ve managed to sneak in a little time with the zestily named Orange Box.

There’s not a lot of point in reviewing said item when Zero Punctuation can do so with much greater finesse. And much faster too, as it appears that the man does not actually breath air as the rest of us do, but perhaps has a small gill or gland that absorbs air through a form of osmotic reaction and stores it in a small sack under his chin, thus feeding the life-giving gas to his body without him having to interrupt his verbal deluge. I imagine something akin to a bagpipe and it’s constituent apparatus, but in a form that only Terra Mater could devise in her eons long evolution of the shape of all things.

Having completed Portal in a couple of hours (and savoured every minute of it) I moved on to trying out Team Fortress 2. I played the original way back in the day and enjoyed it tremendously, and so it was with fevered anticipation that I awaited the new edition, especially as folk such as those at RPS had given it the two thumbs up, special edition, OMG! OMG! OMG! coverage. Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed the game, and if anyone out there ever wants to know what is meant when MMO bloggers talk about ‘polish’ in a game, if some outsider wants us to quantify and qualify exactly what is going through our heads when all the outsider can think of is a bunch of game developers whipping out the Mr Sheen and a duster and buffing the game CDs to a furious shine, then TF2 is pretty close to a perfect representation, in my mind. They have taken the concept of “The Incredibles meets Team Fortress Classic” put them in the blender of game implementation and created a perfectly smooth and deliciously fruity cocktail of team orientated game play.

Anyway, the reason for my posting – and believe it or not it wasn’t to waffle asininely for three paragraphs about random things – was that having played both TF2 and City of Heroes in recent days, and with the very obvious doffing of the proverbial hat to The Incredibles by the simply jaw-droppingly pretty graphics of TF2, I realised what needs to be done: while Sony Online Entertainment grafts away at a DC Universe, and Cryptic crafts a successor to City of Heroes in the Marvel Universe, some enterprising developer needs to create an Incredibles-a-like MMO. It’s already been demonstrated that the graphical look and feel of the Pixar film can be captured in a game in such a way as to make grown men weep with joy. Well ok, me, it makes me weep. And what could be more fantastic, incredible if you will, than being able to play comically over the top super hero characters in a setting like Metroville, where the whole thing lends itself to a light hearted and child friendly environment, but which can have the subtle and cleverly layered adult jokes and nods to ‘real’ comic super hero conventions that the film does.

The Incredibles MMO, it would be… would be…. hoom, hrum, I know there’s an appropriate adjective but incredibly it has escaped me for the moment.

More games to play

Games! So many games, oh my.

First up, The Orange Box turned up last Friday. This is a perfect compilation for me; I got Half-Life 2 with an ATI 9600XT graphics card a while back; at least, I got a voucher for it. Then it got delayed for a while, as I recall, and by the time it actually came out, the system only just supported it. I played through a bit, but was mid-CoH and/or WoW, so never quite finished it, and never got around to re-installing Steam on subsequent builds for that or Episode 1, so to get them in a box along with Episode 2, Team Fortress 2, Portal and (of course) Peggle Extreme? Sorted! In theory, I could gift Half-Life 2 itself to someone else, but only if I could remember those original Steam account details, and though I’m fairly sure I remember the address I used I got bored five minutes after clicking “send my account details/password” and created a new account.

First priority on installation, naturally, was a quick game of Peggle… which took care of Friday. I’ve restarted Half-Life 2, with a view to finishing that before going on to Episodes 1 and 2, haven’t even fired up TF2, and then, of course, there’s Portal…

Friday evening, we had friends round, when once again the Wii came into its own, allowing a veteran hardcore gamer and total non-gamer to duke it out in Wii tennis on a level playing field. I think the hotly contested match wound up at one set apiece, after a couple of epic games that stayed at deuce for ages… The hardcore gamer had already finished Portal on Steam, and spoke of it so highly we had to have a go at the first couple of levels right then, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of it. Inspired by the multiplayer Wii fun, and a handily placed newspaper advert for game discounts at Argos, I then went and picked up Rayman Raving Rabbids (utterly insane game, lots of fun) and Red Steel (seems like a fairly average shooter, but uses the Wii controls well). Oh, and stuck a pre-order in for Guitar Hero 3 while in town.

Then! there’s the Hellgate: London demo, I had to give that a try, and I rather liked it. Hard to make much of an assessment from such a short time, but it was a lot of zombie-splatting fun, with extra loot. Where Tabula Rasa puts a little bit of shooter electroplating on an MMOG, but is really quite conventional at heart, Hellgate seems first and foremost a first person shooter (for the Marksman class, third person stabber if you’re a Blademaster) with a MMOGy veneer of levels, skill trees and loot aplenty. Didn’t really like the Blademaster, but I’ve never been much into 3rd person games, I much preferred packing a pair of pistols as a Marksman. The real classics of the FPS/RPG hybrid (Deus Ex, System Shock 1/2) stood out for their powerful story, but I could easily see myself being drawn into a not-quite-so strong story for more piles of random loot… The post-apocalyptic/alien/zombie London setting looks quite fun too. If not for the huge pile of other stuff I’m building up I’d certainly pick it up; as it is, I might leave it a while. Probably wouldn’t go for the subscription as well, though, I think I’d be happy enough without those extra features (though the extra storage would be a huge temptation for my pack-rat-ism).

Finally, like that little lot isn’t enough to keep me busy for the next six months, it’s Trick-or-Treat time in City of Heroes, with an event almost identical to the last couple of years, only now with added mob-group costumes which are rather neat (and just as importantly, have associated badges) and our villain posse wrapped up the first strike force, despatching Bat’Zul to whatever pit he came from without too much trouble (though with three Shivans, which certainly helped). Phew!

The sound of the keys as they clink

Back in the world of hand-held gadgets, Nokia announced the N810, and it’s looking really rather nifty. All the WiFi/Bluetooth/open source goodness of the N800 in a more compact (and better looking) package, with added sliding keyboard and GPS. The N810’s single miniSD slot is a slight step back from the N800s two regular SD slots (I’ve got a bunch of regular SD cards kicking around already), but not the end of the world.

Course, just to keep life complicated, Steve Jobs also announced an iPhone/iPod Touch SDK, so they can finally get proper 3rd party applications without going through the “jailbreak” rigmarole. That’s not coming until February 2008, though; maybe the next generation or two of Apple tablets will finally nail my perfect hand-held.

In the meantime, about the only potential sticking point left for the N810 is the price. The N800 managed to turn a US price of $380 to nearly £300; the N810’s been announced at $480, heaven knows what that’ll work out to in the UK. Under £300 I’ll go for it, more than £350 is pushing it, between the two… Well, let’s see…


So a preview of the World of Warcraft comic is out.

And now, a little spoiler from our impish insider at Wildstorm:

Apparently, after the last page we see on the preview site, the human wrestles the crocolisk from off of himself, skins it, and then kills another fifty four of them, until the watching orcs realise that he’s a bot, report him to a GM and then move on.

When the time is right to strike

Our villainous posse had a good old crack at the first City of Villains Strike Force last night, kicking arse and taking names (only having lost our notepads, and chewed the ends of our biros so all the ink leaked everywhere). My previous fevered ramblings seemed to act as a kind of catharsis, and I managed to keep the AoE attacks down to a sensible level. I spent a while preparing, buying up cheap, unpopular, high level invention recipes and selling them on to make a bit of infamy (I could’ve just transferred some from a higher level villain, but that would be a rather un-villainous act of charity), and picked up a couple of invention sets with handy bonuses like +Recovery, and an assortment of other Single, Dual and Invention Origin enhancements to beef up my powers, particularly the recharge rates on the Kinetic buff/debuffs. This was a great help in reducing the temptation to let fly with every attack, almost removing the downtime while waiting for something useful to recharge, when a wandering Corruptor’s thoughts could all-too-easily turn to FROST BREATH! ICE STORM! FREEZING AoE DOOOOOM, MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!1!

I wasn’t the lone support-type this time either (though “support” is a somewhat relative term in CoV, where the archetypes tend to be more DPS-who-can-hide, DPS-that’s-slightly-less-squishy, DPS-with-a-bit-of-support, DPS-with-holds and DPS-through-pets), with Bob‘s Dark/Dark Corruptor dishing out the… dark. Dark Miasma, like Kinetics, has a heal that needs to hit a target, so if one of us missed, the other would usually land (though naturally when really, *really* needed, they’d both miss, demonstrating Murphy’s law laughs in the face of cumulative probabilities). Between our fearsome powers of hero-smiting, and the occasionally slightly more circumspect technique of getting an invisible person to find the boss we needed to defeat and teleporting the rest of the group there, nothing could stand in our way… except Real Life(tm). When it comes to stopping evildoing, The Assembled Crimefighting League Of Avenging Justice have nothing on having to get up for work the next day, so we didn’t quite get to defeat Bat’Zul himself. Next week, Bat’Zul, next week! (So long as no more important commitments take priority, that is…)