Monthly Archives: April 2008


Ever marvelled at how NPCs don’t seem to get confused by player character names?

Spirit: “Welcome wizard, come in, you have been expected.”

Wizard: “I have? Ok.”

Spirit: “I, the great spirit nexus of Umbwanwei, will now bestow upon you the Continual Staff of Magram the Curiously Hairy, as has been told in the volumes of the ancients since beyond memory.”

Wizard: “Oh. Right. Well, thanks.”

Spirit: “Here you are, Gandalf the Wizened, take the staff and lead the forces of light to victory-eternal against the black spiral of the world eater.”

Wizard: “Gondalf.”

Spirit: “I’m sorry?”

Wizard: “My name is Gondalf the Wizened.”

Spirit: “Is it? Hmm, a minor mistranslation of the ancient texts then, for are you not a great wizard? And you have come to me on the only day in ten thousand thousand years when the three suns of Mianos perfectly align. The staff is yours.”

Wizard: “Wow, thanks!”

Spirit: “No go. Go swiftly and fight the invading horde, make them pay for their crimes against our world!”

<Two hours later>

Wizard: “Puff Pant Great spirit nexus of Umbwanwei, I kneel before you your humble servant and offer my praise to you, mightiest of the spirit lords. I have travelled through fire and brimstone, smote the ruins of mine enemies across all the continents of the world in my quest to find you on this great day. I am Gandalf the Wizened, and I come to you now at the turning of the tide, for I claim the destiny that is mine by divine right: I claim the Continual Staff of Magram the Curiously Hairy!”

Spirit: “Oh buggery fuck.”

Shortly afterwards the wizards Gundolf the Woosey, Gondulf the Womaniser and Gandolf Wooler of Wabbits all arrived and the whole situation just got out of control.

The arrival of IamGandalf1347 wasn’t fooling anybody, though.


If I read one more post about how forthcoming game X is going to be more amazing than Jesus jumping a shopping trolley over the Grand Canyon and landing on Elvis, I think I might just climb the proverbial clocktower.

Marketing departments deal out snippets of pure, distilled hype like baggies of crack cocaine, and it would be nice if we could develop some sort of rehabilitation clinic for all the addicts out there.

Thought for the day.

Reading Zoso’s post from yesterday – about Age of Conan’s use of captchas for access to their forum search – made me wonder what sort of clue this might give us as to how their game will operate:

To prevent bots in our game, Age of Conan is pleased to announce a revolutionary new anti-bot technology for our combat system: The Combat Captcha.

For example: you press 1 to activate your Skullsplitter with a Side Order of Extra Gore ability, and a captcha pops up:

It looks like you are trying to crush the cranium of this Cimmerian. To prove that you are a genuine player, please type the word displayed below in order to complete your manoeuvre.

cROm sEz DiE

The letters are formed from the entrails of your previous opponents and framed on a background that looks like the crime scene from a slasher film; if you can identify the word and type it in time, you get to execute the ability, and probably your opponent. Genius!

I think it could work. Gone are the days of mindless key mashing in order to participate in combat, now you have to stay on your toes, improve your typing ability and your reading skills, just to be able to play the game at all!

Look forward to other exciting uses of Internet security technologies to protect your game-play soon, such as the dial-a-spell protection mechanism, where upon attempting to cast a spell a small mathematical problem is displayed on the screen and you must type the answer in on a virtual keypad in order to complete the spell-casting.

Big Brother is watching you play.

Doctor, Doctor, I’ve been CAPTCHA’d

I understand why blogs and forums might need to employ a CAPTCHA; there’s one on this very site for comments, added after spam-bots decided our massive readership would be really interested in wombat accessories or whatever other rubbish they’re peddling (blame/praise Melmoth for the word choice, though).

The Age of Conan forums employ a captcha whenever you want to search, which seems slightly over the top to start with (possibly to stop DoS attempts, I dunno). It suffers from one oh-so-minor flaw, though: it doesn’t show you a slightly deformed word to recognise, it vomits forth a Jackson Pollock tribute which allegedly contains six numbers and/or letters, though you can’t tell ‘cos they’re strangely distorted and rotated to start with, then a five year old has been let loose on them with a whole box of crayons (and not one of those little boxes with about six colours, oh no, we’re talking jumbo deluxe party selection). There were obviously plenty of people posting, maybe it was just me having trouble with the thing; I went to search on “captcha” to check, only I had to… oh yeah, pass the captcha…

Figuring it might only be required for non-registered users, I went to sign up, completed the form and… oh look, it’s a captcha (understandable, on registrations). After a mere thirty or so reloads, I finally found one where the resident child had missed most of the letters with the crayons and got through, and sure enough that avoids the need on every search. Except by that point I’d got bored and forgot what I was looking for in the first place, and went off to YouTube to find the source of this post title (6 minutes in), but at least I’ll be ready next time I need to search. So long as I can remember the login…

Only the most foolish of mice would hide in a cat’s ear.

I had a quick glance at the forum thread pointed to by Nerfbat’s Tales from the Tavern: Volume X, and didn’t see the setting for an MMO that is currently ping-ponging around inside my vastly empty skull, making my teeth rattle, and my eyes gyrate like the much abused trackball on a classic Centipede arcade cabinet. So I thought I’d post it here for the world, all three of you, to see.

A while ago Zoso introduced me to the wonderful comic Mouse Guard by David Petersen, and this would be my setting for an MMO if I were released from care for long enough to unleash my rabid brain at such a project. Like a face hugger the brain would clamp down on the minds of the developers, lay it’s fertile seed in their collective conscious and then fade into legend, only to be remembered too late at the last when it’s effulgent offspring would burst forth from the depths of the subconscious in a searing bright orgy of conceptualisation and gore.

If you hadn’t realised that my mind was like that by now there’s no hope for you I’m afraid, you’re already infected. Sorry.

Mouse Guard the MMO would be cool on so many levels; count them and I think you’ll find there are at least three levels, although fiercer proponents may convince you that they actually counted seven. Either way, there are a number of levels of cool and I shall explore just a few of them for you now.

The world within a world

The idea of playing as anthropomorphised adventuring mice lends itself instantly to the concept of playing in a world that is within world. This juxtaposition of worlds is a staple of fairy tales and children’s stories, we explore through narrative the world of these diminutive creatures, but we can’t escape the fact that this totally alien land in which they live is, in fact, part of our own world. To an adventuring mouse an overgrown lawn is a densely packed forest, fraught with lurking danger. A toadstool of any significant size is shelter from the rain and the gaze of flying predators.

I imagine epic battles that flow back and forth across dining room tables or the tops of refrigerators, over shed roofs and the backs of cows, precariously fought along telephone wires and high in the branches of gnarled oaks. I imagine a miniature horde of muridaen adventurers in their fustian livery with tiny swords and staves held at the ready, marching on the farmer’s grain store where it is rumoured that mountains of treasure lie, guarded by a sleeping beast with fangs the size of a mouse’s sword, and whose golden yellow eyes crossed with black slits stare out from the darkness, as the thrum-thrumming of its contentment rolls out from the darkness and strikes fear into all those who dare to approach.


It’s the age-old story of survival in grim times. The mice have to fight not only their natural enemies of the world – cats, snakes, owls and the like – but there is also the internecine struggle between the various factions within their own society. I would also add to these struggles an overarching fear of the coming of the farmer and his plough, such that the mice also fight to prevent the destruction of their world as they know it, be it through sabotage of the farmer’s tools, or by adventuring across the vast unknown in the search of new lands. Anyone who has read Watership Down or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH will see the potential for great story telling in such a world.


World of Warcraft has proven that the cartoon style can appeal to players, hardcore and casual alike, and that a game needn’t be powered by the Unreal Engine with its plastic-looking uncanny valley mannequins. The fact that Petersen’s mice actually look like mice (none of that Micky Mouse or Danger Mouse style of comic character here) means that the worlds are deeply compelling, reminding me more of ’70s era Tolkien illustrations than anything maintream Disney has produced.

I think that Mouse Guard the MMO would be excellent, a slightly different take on the fantasy adventure MMO, with plenty of twists and hooks to make it stand out from the standards of the genre. There are stories from all over children’s literature that could be re-told from new perspectives, and with the players in control these stories could end up as feel-good tales along the lines of Beatrix Potter, or perhaps follow a darker route along the lines of NIMH.

So there you have it, my MMO setting. If you feel a slight tingling in the back of your mind, don’t worry, it’s nothing but the brain-seed bedding down. Just watch out for an irrepressible itching on the end of your nose, that’s the sign that it’s about to gestate.

Strontium Edged Rock

I hit 800 “performances” in Guitar Hero 3 last night, if the stats are accurate, which I think is pretty reasonable over four months (or perhaps more accurately “mental”, according to Mentat in IRC). As a result I’m getting a bit tried of the GH3 songs, but not to worry! Exciting plastic-instrument-related news about the European release of Rock Band (available in the US since the early 16th century) finally arrived!

The good news is Rock Band is coming to the UK, for a while it seemed like they were just going to flick V-signs across the Atlantic while rocking out over there. The bad, if not entirely surprising, news is the only confirmed date is for the XBox 360 version (May 23rd), with PlayStation 2 and 3 versions in “the summer”, and the Wii version “when the still sea conspires an armour and her sullen and aborted currents breed tiny monsters”, according to spokesperson Geoff Madeupquotes.

On the plus side, rather than the naff plastic instruments in the US bundle, the UK will be getting titanium drum kits, solid silver guitars with inlaid emeralds and diamond microphones with strontium edging. Either that or we’re going to get stiffed on the price, with it being £130 for the instruments and £50 for the game, so £180 for the lot compared to the US bundle price of $170.

Hrm. I was already wavering over the Wii version, lacking DLC as it does. At £130 I doubt I’ll bother with the instruments; I would’ve picked up the game alone, just for another 50+ songs to guitar along to, but with Neversoft and Harmonix (or more likely Activision and EA) getting stroppy with each other it doesn’t look like a Wii Guitar Hero controller will work with Rock Band, so… bah.

To get a rock fix until Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is released, I’ll have another crack at getting the Wii guitar going with Frets on Fire. I sort-of more-or-less had it running, but the bluetooth stack seemed a bit flaky (least, that’s my excuse for only hitting half the notes), I’ll give it a bit more of a poke.

Nice post. Tideyman’s?

Killed in a smiling accident is brought to you in association with Tideyman’s Carpets. Remember, nothing soaks in to a Tideyman’s!

Advertising. Its creeping, insidious presence is getting everywhere, it seems. Rest assured, though, this blog will always be a haven of product-placement-free tranquillity, and will return after these messages from our sponsor…

Tideyman’s Carpets: nobody walks all over us. Except people who buy Tideyman’s Carpets! And then walk all over them.

Last week, there was an NCSoft announcement introducing in-game advertising for City of Heroes. Needless to say, this prompted a brief, polite discussion on the forum for a couple of days before everyone returned to deconstructing Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. No, hang on, I’m thinking of something else there… It naturally prompted a wide ranging and frequently heated debate ranging over advertising, product placement, privacy concerns, the ultimate meaning of life, and whether one can, in fact, haz cheezburger.

I’m somewhat ambivalent myself. I can certainly see the point of the anti-advertising lobby (especially when articulated by the great Bill Hicks), but on the basis that the genie won’t go back in the bottle, I can generally live with product placement and adverts so long as they aren’t too intrusive; I don’t really mind what kind of watch James Bond wears, but pointing it out in dialogue is a bit clunky (the recent version of Casino Royale: “Rolex?” “Omega” “CHA-CHING”!) There’s a post about adverts in Brothers In Arms, a bit of a puff piece, but at least it shows they try and blend things into the environment; I can even buy the argument that they’re doing players a favour in making things more realistic. The City of Heroes adverts should be fairly similar, placed on billboards that already exist in-game. Sounds fairly reasonable, and there’ll be an option to turn them off if they turn out to be particularly garish.

Potentially more insidious than the mere presence of adverts in an online game is the possibility of associated data gathering. Now, in general, I like the idea of targeted advertising, so long as it’s based on information I volunteer myself and I know what I’m letting myself in for. If I search for hatstands on Google, it’s sometimes helpful when it pops up a sponsored “BUY HATSTANDS HERE!” link (as an option, if I want to look there). I think Amazon’s “My Store” is pretty nifty, suggesting things I might like based on what I’ve bought/rated, though it shows a distinct lack of imagination (“After buying a Radiohead album, you reckon I might like… every other Radiohead album? Steady on there, Amazon, let’s not go too crazy!”) It’s not a huge leap from there, though, to the looming shadow of the Panopticon, where the insurance company can check your online shopping from the supermarket and raise health insurance premiums because of all the high fat food you’re buying, and you lose out on a job because the employer found some embarrassing photos of you on Facebook. The recent revelations about Phorm in the UK (today’s exciting instalment) show it’s not exactly tin-foil helmet stuff, the amount you need to worry depending on how far you believe Phorm’s assurances about anonymity (general conclusion would seem to be: not very). Again, though, there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about that in City of Heroes, I don’t believe it has any interaction with the rest of your ‘net use, so won’t run into the dangers Penny Arcade warn of…

I’ll give the adverts in CoH a go, if it means more money for NCSoft to invest in the game, so much the better, but I hope it’s not the start of a slippery slope, there’s nothing worse than terrible, blatant advertising, so don’t forget: when you think carpets, think Tideyman’s, the deep shag that really satisfies.

Blog roll.

I have mentioned in the past that I am somewhat of an alt-a-holic when it comes to my game characters. Be they MMO based, single player RPG or otherwise, as long as there’s a way to customise a character then I’ll need to re-roll at some point, usually it’s because I find the dot product relationship between the eyebrow vectors to be sub-optimal, or some other desperately important trifling niggle. I can’t explain it, like crop circles, it just is.

However, it occurred to me this morning that I recently re-rolled my blog.

It would seem that the disease is spreading. I begin now to wonder whether I am the singularity for a world-wide epidemic, the focus point from which a wave of alternative zombies will spread out and ravage the Earth with indecision.

Or maybe alternative mummies, yeah I like mummies better.

No, wait! Make them werewolves. Yeah. An army of werewolves would be awesome.

Hmm, maybe I should just stick with my original zombie main. I know, I’ll create one of each and see how they get on. Whichever one destroys England the quickest is the one that I’ll stick with and use to destroy the rest of the world. That’s it! That’s the plan.

Although vampires would be pretty cool…


Via Slashdot, I just found out I’m in mortal peril. When they talk about the “nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet”, I know just what they mean, it’s not easy coming up with random waffle here every couple of days (apart from weekends, public holidays and when I can’t be bothered).

Actually, it is *quite* easy. And if I get stuck I can just post links to the New York Times. Mind you, the advertising revenue isn’t so hot, the Welcome Break, Low Wycombe still haven’t sent us the promised 74p, makes me glad I cleared them out of little bottles of shampoo at the time, the bastards.

Thought for the day.

Imagine if we, the mass of massively multiplayer online gamers, joined together and formed a corporation, and spent as much time grinding stock markets or crafting real items for sale or farming… well, just farming, as we currently do in MMOs.

Do you think it would be long before we destabilised the world economy?