Daily Archives: November 20, 2007

Stone the crows.

The current character that I’m playing in City of Villains, as part of the Monday n00b Club‘s excursions into all things Strike Force, is a true favourite of mine even though the power-set combination that he utilises is deemed to not be amongst the more ‘uber’, ‘down with the kids’, ‘too hip to be cool’ combinations. Inspired somewhat by other’s detailing of their characters I thought I would ramble on a little about the character that makes me smile every time I come to play them of a Monday evening. A Stone/Dark Brute, he is an absolute joy to play, and despite having not yet gained some of the signature powers of either power-set, nevertheless each gaming session sees me with a face of childlike wonder and merriment, grinning through a bottom jaw set firmly away from the top one as if each had been magnetised as an opposing pole, watery eyes wide open trying not to blink and miss a moment of the utter carnage that is centralised around the ground zero, the focussed point of fury, that is my character.

Stone Melee and Dark Armour are interesting power-sets because they both give up a little of their primary function – that of damage for melee and resistance/defence for armour – in order to have a little more capacity for utility. For these two power-sets the utility provided is that of soft and hard control elements through which develops a very nice synergy, alas it is a synergy at a price, and that price is three pounds, fifty four pence.

Oh, sorry, that’s the price of my lunch. The price of synergy for these power-sets is in fact Endurance, great oceanic swathes of that beautiful bright blue bar which is the steam locomotion, the petroleum ignition, the controlled nuclear reaction, in essence the ‘power’ to any hero’s ‘super’. It’s a high price to pay, and it leaves the player running a tightrope between not taking mobs down quickly enough and not being able to take them down at all. There’s nothing worse than hearing that dreaded “BWOOOoooo” as all your toggle powers (generally these relate to armour and status protection) shut down and you’re left standing amidst a horde of angry hooligans slavering for blood, at which point your character’s limp and impotent body allows for nothing more than a meek smile and a gentle covering of the wibbly bits before taking a beating that would make the eggs in an omelette admit that life was really pretty good, all things considered.

Stone Melee

New Improved Inferno, now with headings! It’ll never catch on.

In short: stone melee rocks in all senses physical, metaphysical and metaphorical. It is for me the quintessential melee power in the City of Supers series of games, with its huge thundering attacks that encapsulate everything that the Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff preached unto us in their song about the joy of boom, right down to the shake-shake-shaking of the room; one feels an instant urge to let rip a wild eyed maniacal roar of laughter as foes walk headlong into fists of solid stone or are flung through the air on the end of a rock mallet, and the dangerous part of this adrenaline rush is the need to fuel it further, to continue smashing saints and pummelling the penitent for as long as your fingers will maintain a point with enough resistance to depress a key, until several hours later you are mashing chunks of keys at a time with the bruised and bloodied knuckles of what remains of your abused and ravaged hands. Now take into consideration the need, nay the very desire of a Brute archetype to keep fighting, for the more that the character fights the greater his rage builds, and as we all know, with great rage comes great responsibility.

I jest of course, because with great rage comes wild abandonment of reason and the reduction of intellect to that of a gibbering marmot that never bothered with school and instead spent all of its days down at the Nevada arcade playing Bubonic Fighter Alpha and Virtua Groundhog.

It is hard to describe to anyone who has not played a Brute just how completely the developers have managed to tap into the essence of our cave dwelling ancestors, to hit that primal nerve that triggers ancient genes long forgotten in the darkest depths of the brain, from a time when the RFC for flight as a method of survival had yet to be ratified, and fight was the protocol of the day. When you are beating upon enemies and they, in turn, are beating on you, then the rage bar builds, and with that comes a seemingly exponential increase in damage; when you stand still and are not in combat the rage bar will decrease until it is nothing and hence, therefore, are you. Given such a choice: between glorious, dry-mouthed, heart-pounding combat, raging amidst the waves of the enemy as they crash and break against your coastal form, immovable as the land itself, and like such, only to be gloriously defeated if the waves determine to rise up so high as to drown you beneath them in a tsunami-like torrent; or to stand limp and feeble, like some frail old man unable to summon even the strength to draw up his incontinence pants to maintain his dignity at the bus stop where he stands, and where moments ago the elastic on his underwear decided unkindly to fail him.

Then I say there is no choice at all.

Having said that, it is clear that allowing the combination of the stone melee power-set with the Brute archetype is in absolute contravention of several articles of the Geneva Conventions.

It is worth noting that I’m feeling this way without having taken a couple of the signature powers of the stone melee set yet. My character is currently level twenty five and has been developed more on the Tank side of the Tank/DPS hybrid scale that Brutes straddle, mainly due to the fact that as the rest of the formation of the Monday n00bs consists of a Stalker and a couple of Corruptors, it seemed like a good idea to have someone to absorb the bulk of the enemy’s ire. This meant getting Dark Armour’s shields and damage aura (which acts as a very nice field o’ taunt and beats having to shout “Yo Mamma!” all the time) set up early along with the requisite power pools of Fitness (for the lovely and ever-needed endurance booster that is Stamina) and Leaping (for not only the essential travel power but also Acrobatics, which prevents my character spending most of the game getting up from being knocked down); the tank-like setup left little room for actual attacks, and so he has the minimal number of attacks that I felt would put out a decent amount of damage once the rage bar got going but also wouldn’t suck down a lot of endurance before I had Stamina and various other powers slotted with Single Origin enhancements, which make all the world of difference to how a character plays. As such, he has Stone Fist, Stone Mallet and Heavy Mallet only, and is missing the lovely soft-control Fault power, and the insane damage with extra disorienting goodness that is Seismic Smash.

Considering how much fun it is to play with just three powers, I can’t wait to see how things go when the entire arsenal of smash is fully assembled and he realises his full potential. I foresee much tongue-lolling, dribbling and drying-out of the eyeballs.

Dark Armour

Dark armour has toggles, and plenty of them. A toggle power is one that is turned on and left on until you decided to turn it off or it is forcibly turned off by the enemy. In return for whatever ability this toggle bestows upon your character you pay a small debt of endurance that constantly ticks away at a set amount over time; inherent endurance regeneration and the extra boost to this provided by powers such as Stamina mean that you can invariably run one or two toggles with little effect on the overall, um… endurance of your character in a fight. However, the more toggles that you run the more likely you are to chew through your endurance once a fight begins in earnest since you will eventually overcome your natural regeneration from simply running the toggles alone, and the larger amounts of endurance required to power your attacks, especially with an endurance hungry power-set such as stone, becomes very noticeable indeed, until the point that you hear the dreaded “BWOOOoooo” and big bald men in leather jackets come around and repossess all of your toggle powers due to your lack of payment to the endurance lenders. So a few toggles are manageable, more toggles become a problem, and dark armour has a lot of toggles; there are toggles for basic resistances and obscure forms of damage such as fire; toggles to counter status effects such as sleep and hold; there are toggles for damaging your opponents and for fearing and disorientating them, and there are toggles for repelling small Yorkshire Terriers in smoking jackets, for defrosting your car in the morning and for washing wool at sixty degrees without shrinking it.

In return for this drain of endurance the dark armour wearer is blessed with respectable protection from nearly every type of damage that the enemy can throw at them, and on top of all that they get some lovely soft-control powers to prevent the enemy from even having the chance of attacking them in the first place. Alas, the control power of the dark armour set doesn’t come until the later levels and as such my Brute will have to wait some time for this pièce de résistance of the set, irony intended, since all the powers I have taken up until now are actually to do with the resistance of damage, whereas the pièce de résistance is not.

So far the tactics for dark armour – as much as I have developed any tactic other than a Leeroy Jenkins-like charge into the midst of huge crowds of angry protagonists accompanied by a vague hope that the rest of the team noticed my disappearance beneath the angry writhing mob, and more importantly can be bothered to help dig me out again – is the common sense option of only turning those toggles on that are required at the time: if the enemy is mainly firing guns and punching my character, then I only need the most basic armour, if they shoot flames or energy beams then I use the specialised ‘Other stuff that isn’t punching or shooting’ shield for dealing with that while turning off the basic armour, and when a boss or arch-villain comes along, well, it’s a case of turn everything on and hope that he runs out of health before I run out of endurance.

And so far, fighting alongside an awesome team of fellow villains, the tide has always turned once it hit the rocky coast. Or, at least, when the rocky coast hit it back.

Some speak of the future

As Stephen Fry’s recent “Dork Talk” column starts, “Gazing into the techno-future can be fun. We all dream of utopias involving benign robots, food for all and fusion power that is free, safe and unlimited, but then there are the cacotopias too – nightmare visions of malevolent machines that turn on mankind.”

I’d been thinking about the malevolent machine (or “robot nutters”) myself after finishing Portal, with GLaDOS taking her place with the likes of HAL 9000 and Shodan in the upper pantheons of the Robotic Nutter Hall of Fame not least due to “Still Alive”, which easily leapfrogs HAL’s rendition of Daisy, Daisy to share the number one spot of the Machine Dystopia Top 10 with “Robots” (I would’ve added spoiler space in case you’ve still to play Portal and wanted to be totally shocked by the revelation that the nice computerised voice you hear isn’t entirely benevolent, but really, has there ever been a case of a synthesised-voice-AI-type-thing not going bonkers in the nut and trying to kill all meatbags? To really subvert expectation, someone should set a game on a spaceship controlled by an AI that never tries to systematically kill all on board. Call it Starship As Much Cake As You Can Eat (No Death), perhaps.)

The mechanised loon is a marvellous staple for a single player game, giving a convenient explanation for the fact The Humans Are Dead (or murderous cyborgs, mutated zombie-fiends or other form of creature not particularly interested in a nice cup of tea and chat about last night’s telly). By and large, the less direct human-to-human interaction you can get away with in a single player game, the more immersive it can be; valiant as efforts at NPC AI have been, most still come off second best to ELIZA in terms of stimulating dialogue, so the worlds of Portal and System Shock, where your only contact with humanity comes in the form of corpses, audio logs, scribbled notes or pictures of cake are particularly chilling (and conversely in Half Life 2 it’s difficult to build up a rapport with the nameless resistance fighters who join your squad from time to time due to their sub-Doctor-Who-assistant levels of self preservation: “I’ll follow you, Doctor Freeman! Right down the middle of the road! Cover? Nope, not ringing any bells, that. Hey, over here, a rare form of beetle, I must take a closer look! Although it seems to be somewhat mechanical, and it just turned red and beeped almost like it was a landmine or something… awww! Doctor Freeman, you didn’t have to throw the nice beetle away. Hey, look, down this road, it’s a laser show! I can’t hear the Pink Floyd, though, I’ll just wander a bit closer… oooh, that laser beam is lined up right between my eyes, it’s almost like it’s attached to a sniper’s rifle or something!”)

I think there’s a great opportunity there for MMOs as well, a scaled up version of the post-machine-apocalypse with all players as fellow-survivors instead of just you vs The Machine. Basically… Terminator (the future-y robot infested bits, not chasing around after a curiously accented cyborg in 1984 LA). Only not exactly the same, to avoid copyright infringement and having to acknowledge the existence of Terminator 3. This would be very much a PvE world, humans vs the machines, with all machines being computer-controlled rather than a playable faction. After all, if you want to log in and repeat a set of mind-numbingly simple tasks over and over again until you log out, you’ve got plenty of options already (*badum-tish*, thank you, I’ll be here all week). You could get PvP in there with a couple of human factions (say, a suitably generic EastBloc and WestBloc, who haven’t quite been able to let go of traditional animosities, then you can play entirely PvE, just taking on the machines, or have a zone on the borders of their territory for a bit of PvP as well), but mostly the unending supply of implacable machine opposition would give a slightly more believable and ethically justified framework for your standard PvE quests, rather than “Kill ten spiders. Now kill ten snakes. Now kill ten bears. And vultures. And wolves. ANY WILDLIFE YOU SEE! DESTROY IT! WIPE OUT ALL NATURAL LIFE ON THE PLANET AND BRING ME ITS INTERNAL ORGANS!1!1!!”

Course, for a dystopian machine-ruled future MMO, we’ve already had The Matrix Online. And I still mean to get around to trying that at some point, only last time I could be bothered to look I couldn’t find anything saying “HAY FREE TRIAL THIS WAY!”, and I must’ve searched for at least thirty seconds, maybe even a minute. There’s a couple of things that put me off, though, namely The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions (I mean, they’re not the most appalling films in the history of time, but after the first they’re a terrible anticlimax). Also, I gather one of the careers you can follow in The Matrix Online is a programmer, and me, a programmer, on a computer, playing a programmer, who finds out that “life” is an artificial construct, wakes up, hacks back into the matrix… that’s getting just a touch meta for me. I’ll stick with big guns and robot nutters, I think. I need your clothes, boots and your motorcycle…