Monthly Archives: May 2008

Cry havoc, and let… oh, wait, never mind

I’ve never really seen the fuss about “nerfs”. I’m sure there are some examples of game adjustments that resulted in previously perfectly balanced, non-overpowered characters becoming much less viable, but the vast majority of “nerfs” I’ve seen forums explode over have fallen into one of two categories.

Firstly there are the tweaks made almost constantly in most MMOGs; balancing adjustments, fixing of minor bugs, generally making things work As Intended. Half the time you’d be pushed to notice the difference in play if you hadn’t been told a rounding error in the code had been corrected, resulting in your Pokey Sword Death attack doing 22.40 points of damage instead of 22.50. Not that this stops someone on the forums producing an incredibly detailed spreadsheet conclusively demonstrating that this utterly ruins the viability of the class, will stop them ever being invited to groups, and note Graph C in subsection 4.1.2 with a significant increase on the “Slap In The Face” axis following the change. Even better, if multiple attributes of a power are adjusted (say the Pokey Sword Circle AoE attack is slightly increased in damage, but affects a slightly smaller area), not only will there be spreadsheets proclaiming The End Of The Class As We Know It, but rival spreadsheets will clearly demonstrate this is a ludicrous, unjustified buff that will result in raids consisting of nothing but that class. It’s just a bit extra noise, though, in the eternal chorus of “Class X is broken”, “Class X is overpowered”, “Class X is riddocqueuelessss”.

Then there’s fixing of big mistakes. These are much less common, but tend to result in really major explosions, even by usual MMOG forum labour-pain numbing standards. Maybe a decimal point error resulted in the Armour of Anti-Poking ability of the Barbassassin class granting 95% damage reduction instead of 9.5%. It gets fixed. Some poor Barbassassins who never knew any different are a bit surprised when they keep dying, but adjust after a while, as the rest of the class abilities are still fine. Some players who knew perfectly well it was a ludicrously overpowered ability grumble a bit and get on with it (or reroll to the next flavour of the month, until they get fixed). Some, though, can’t let it go. They refuse to believe that anything less than 95% damage reduction is in any way acceptable. They threaten to quit the game, organise protests and boycotts, retain lawyers to sue the games company, contact the European Court of Human Rights wanting to know what’s going to be done about this heinous infringement of their civil liberty and start constructing small thermonuclear devices in their garages to hold the world to ransom until their demands are met. Eventually the storm blows over, though a few holdouts will lurk for years in forums, like Japanese soldiers stuck on isolated islands not knowing the war is over, occasionally pouncing on a passing developer to bemoan the loss of their beloved Armour of Anti-Poking…

So the sound and fury on forums about nerfs normally signifies nothing, and I tend to discount it all as groundless whinging. Genuine issues get overlooked like the boy who cried “wolf!”; actually, more like a vast horde of boys, some crying “wolf!”, others saying “I think it’s probably a wolf”, and some strident factions utterly adamant it’s a whole pack of wolves, or tigers, or elephants, or possibly giraffes (which might not sound so bad, but they’re giraffes with machine guns). Yesterday, though, in Age of Conan, I suddenly got an insight into their pain. I realised the gross, heinous injustice of unwarranted game changes. My character was ruined. Playing him wasn’t fun any more. The Tony Harrison outrage-o-meter was off the scale, and the forums would hear of it.

No, I don’t play a Demonologist (no idea what impact the patch note “Fixed an exploit with Demonologists (infinite stacking of certain spells)” has, and I’m not touching the Demonologist forums with a ten foot pole strapped to a particularly long barge pole to find out). I went to do /emote hugefish_m last night, and… nothing! Funcom had taken it out! I was just putting the finishing touches on a petition to the government, detailing how such a change was tantamount to a declaration of war by Norway and that firm military action was the only possible response, when I thought I’d double check the emote list, and found they’d simply removed the _m suffix to make the command /emote hugefish. Phew. That was a close one.

Inestimable blessing and bother.

An explanation, then, of why I left the Inferno to smoulder quietly deep beneath the tectonics of the blogipelago, and instead moved over here into the slightly less flame-ridden confines of fatal joviality.

Within the next week the first mini Melmoth is due to arrive in this great wide world, and rumour has it that this event can be somewhat consuming of a person’s time. Apparently, parenting isn’t as easy it appears on Friends. Who knew? I’d bought a monkey to act as a babysitter and everything.

So it appears that I won’t have much time for playing MMOs or writing on blogs or, anything really. For a while, at least. So I’ve moved over here to Killed in a Smiling Accident such that, when I disappear for a while, the blog won’t stagnate because Zoso will still be here updating you with today’s Hat News. Now. And hopefully, if I can claw myself out from under the pile of nappies, swim through the steaming lake of vomit, cross the barren plains of This Used To Be A Lovely Living Room And Now It’s A Wasteland, and finally climb the hill of mounting bills, I’ll be able to pop back here and update you with the latest happenings in House Melmoth, and possibly try to relate it to MMOs, or something entertaining or funny. Or maybe it’ll just be a short three-line message crying for help. The fun and adventure of ‘when and what’ will be yours to discover!

Raising a child. Mercy. Talk about epic quest lines.

Although I really should try to stop thinking of it in MMO terms, if nothing else because of the dream where I’m in the delivery theatre watching expectantly and waiting excitedly for the arrival of the new born, and then I stare in horror as a yellow exclamation mark slowly appears top-first from between Mrs Melmoth’s akimbo legs, followed shortly thereafter by mini-Melmoth’s head. Yes, that one never fails to be somewhat unnerving.

I wonder if that’s what Native Americans mean when they talk of a dream quest? No wonder they were all sweaty and mumbling afterwards.

Still, it was after this dream, when I was in my sweating and mumbling meditative after-trance, that I experienced that moment of clarity and inspiration that is so often sought after. The great spirit of the MMO appeared before me and spoke in its curiously repetitive and grindy voice, and it whispered unto me a thousand lost secrets from the seven ages of man. Then it took them all back in a giant nerf patch and character wipe.

What is a nerf patch anyway? It sounds like some sort of elbow protector made from the skin of a small burrowing mammal. “Here we see the lesser spotted nerf in its native environment. It has been tunnelling from the safety of its burrow, upwards towards the surface, for nearly four days. Slowly, after a gargantuan effort, this tiniest of creatures gently breaks the surface and sees sunlight for the first time in its five years of existence.” *WHAP* “And now it’s skinned and used to make patches for clothes”. Of course, the whole nerf patch industry collapsed after people realised that applying a nerf patch to a hole in one part of your clothing simply opened another, bigger hole somewhere else entirely, and usually in a more embarrassing place.

Anyway, a vestigial glimpse of insight remained, and I was gifted with the solution to labour pain! Not a cure, as such, but a way to cope with it that is beyond the reach of any mere mortal medicinal aid. It was simply this: a few weeks before the due date, sit the expectant mother down in front of a computer and open a web browser to the World of Warcraft web forums. For two weeks, make her read the posts there, every single drivelling, mewling one. Labour pain after that is going to seem like a hazy bounding jaunt along small country lanes in the springtime. And before an aerie of angry Internet mums swoops down on me from the great heights at which they monitor the Internet below, I am not meaning to trivialise the pain of labour, merely to indicate just how bad MMO forums are. Moving swiftly on!

It seems to me that children are the most demanding quest givers that you’re ever likely to encounter. We begin with the starter area quests: the initial grind of changing ten nappies (an hour); ‘feeding’ quests where the reward is cracked nipples, although admittedly not mine, unless I’m doing something very wrong, because as we all know men get resistance to that as an inherent racial trait at character creation; and cleaning (cleaning baby, cleaning baby’s clothes, cleaning the walls of baby’s projectile orifice effusions). It’s a rough start to your adventures as a parent class, and one is often going to wish that they’d just stuck with one of the comparatively easier pet classes such as cat owner, dog owner, hamster owner… crocodile wrestler, tiger-scrotum flicker.

Fair enough, one of those is a touch off the mark because as we all know, cats own you. A case in point: when a baby poops everywhere it’s because it doesn’t even understand the concept of a toilet yet, whereas when a cat leaves a steaming pile of chocolate blancmange in the middle of the lounge carpet, it was most likely to demonstrate their displeasure with your tardy service at elevenses and luncheon. That’s why a cat is never around when you discover the mess, but once you’re fully occupied on all fours, struggling to get the lid off of the carpet cleaner whilst simultaneously maintaining a hold on your nose, the cat will turn up and gaze at you with a look that says “Hurry up and clear that mess will you? And then fetch me my slippers! Do I have to do everything around here?! And when you serve me my tea this evening I want it in a silver dish. Silver! Not porcelain! Or else! There’ll be a rich chocolaty coating on the stairs tomorrow morning…”

Where were we? Oh yes. Current indications from speaking with other parents is that the baby comes with three talent trees in which they can specialise; generally they will be a hybrid of some sort, spreading points between the various trees, but as with most MMO talent systems, if they spec. heavily in one tree, they will only have a enough points to spec. a little way into a second tree.

The three trees are: Cuteness, which is your basic healing line, and like most healers, it’s almost impossible to find anyone specialised that way; Poop, a formidable ‘defence through offence’ line; and Vocal, which is a pure DPS line. So as you can see, if your baby is specialised heavily into Vocal, they tend to be less well specialised in cuteness and poop power. Poop specialised babies, however, tend to be less well specialised in the cuteness and vocal trees; parents of Poop specialised babies may mistake this as the indication that they have a cute and quiet child, but that cute little smile is soon revealed into the smug vindictive little sneer that it really is upon opening of the nappy, and the lack of vocals were evidently just a ruse to make sure that you are caught unawares by the festering payload that has been delivered. Also, a word of warning: if you think you’re having it rough with that ‘Stealth attack’ talent, wait until you experience the full force of the ‘Expedite excretion’ talent which, on activation, clears the cool-downs on all of baby’s poop powers immediately. As I said, the Poop tree is for defence, or tanking, and there’s nothing like a secondary surprise attack mid nappy change to keep a parent’s aggro while other siblings DPS them down with their vocal abilities.

And so, after the madness of forced late-night grinding sessions, we move onto the lengthy story arcs of education, discipline and entertainment. There’s a bare minimum of eighteen years of content in those. I tell you, whichever developer came up with this adventure certainly knew the meaning of polish and innovation. There are highs and lows, unexpected plot twists and multitudinous possible endings. You not only level-up as a parent, but you’re wholly responsible for levelling-up this little pink bundle of adventure, this distilled essence of noob.

Of course, once your child reaches their teenage years they get the puberty respec, where they generally give up their baby talent trees for three entirely new trees: Indignant Rage, Irrational Rage and Furious Salivating Wolverine Rage.

Can’t wait!

Hat News Now Today visits Tortage

Badadadadada dum dum dum dadada daa daaa dum dum daaaaaaaaa![1] Welcome to Hat News Now Today, Today’s source of Hat News, Now.

Much has been written of Age of Conan, Funcom’s new MMORPG, but for the avid Hatter, one question remains unanswered: why did Rudolf Hess fly to Scotland in May 1941? Hat News Now Today has no idea. But we have sent our correspondents to Tortage, the starting area of Age of Conan, to see what sort of hats are on offer.

The most prevalent headgear is the sturdy padded leather helm, favoured by melee combatants.

Then there’s the helm that’s leather, and padded. Iron nose pieces are in this year.

For those wanting something lighter, there’s the leather helm with ever so slightly less padding.

Yes, as far as helms go, the key words this season are “leather” and “padded”. The iron nose piece is ubiquitous, the major stylistic war rages over Flappy Bit Hanging Over The Neck: Yes or No? (Your correspondent apologises to eagle-eyed viewers who might’ve noticed all the illustrated hats are actually the same, but he couldn’t be bothered to catalogue the minimal differences. Also Tortage is a bit dark, and flash photography won’t be invented for a few millenia, so the pictures are a bit murky).

Still, all is not lost for the hat aficionado. Hat News Now Today would suggest that those seeking more exciting millinery opt for a more mystical light or cloth armour wearing class, which opens up options such as the hood:

Perfect for reapers (of the grim variety), monks, mysterious strangers, and petty criminals trying to avoiding having their face shown in Closed Circuit Artist’s Etchings.

The really exciting hat developments come from the Picts, though:

Here, Arthur “Two Skulls” Jackson shows that skulls aren’t just for inside the head!

And finally, the perfect headgear for anyone who’s ever wanted to hide behind a wall, then pop up shouting “argh, I’m being eaten by a giant snake!”

So there we have it. Today’s Hat News, Now from Tortage is mostly padded and leather, but don’t forget to head out to White Sands to see what those crazy Picts are up to. Next time out we’ll be off to Stygia, to see if anyone has had the bright idea of making stuff out of metal yet. B-bye!

[1] I would have added a sound file to this post of dramatic current affairs theme music, a la Panorama (or more probably The Day Today), but I’m afraid I couldn’t be bothered so you’ll just have to hum it yourself. Still, it would’ve been a dead giveaway if you were trying to read this at work or somewhere, so probably for the best. Unless you just hummed it, which would also have been a dead giveaway… Quick! Tell your boss you were reading important company announcements, and adding theme music gives them greater impact. You never know, you might start a trend.

To create man was a quaint and original idea.

Here’s a passage from The Roadmender by Michael Fairless:

In olden days the herd led his flock, going first in the post of danger to defend the creatures he had weaned from their natural habits for his various uses. Now that good relationship has ceased for us to exist, man drives the beasts before him, means to his end, but with no harmony between end and means. All day long the droves of sheep pass me on their lame and patient way, no longer freely and instinctively following a protector and forerunner, but DRIVEN, impelled by force and resistless will–the same will which once went before without force. They are all trimmed as much as possible to one pattern, and all make the same sad plaint. It is a day on which to thank God for the unknown tongue. The drover and his lad in dusty blue coats plod along stolidly, deaf and blind to all but the way before them; no longer wielding the crook, instrument of deliverance, or at most of gentle compulsion, but armed with a heavy stick and mechanically dealing blows on the short thick fleeces; without evil intent because without thought– it is the ritual of the trade.

It struck a chord with me as I read it, because I believe it is a good analogy for the current trends in the MMO market, with a hat-tip, as always, to the danger of overly elaborate analogies.

In essence, MMO developers have stopped being the shepherd of yore to their flock of players; they no longer lead us kindly, taking the risks on themselves and hoping that they can guide us carefully and with encouragement into strange new lands and onwards to fresh pastures. It seems now that we are forced forward, driven through the restrictive and repetitive pens of game-play, and as sheep we follow the content laid out before us without questioning it, without pausing to ponder where we are going or why, and without even trying to leap the barriers and see what is beyond the confines of the treadmill of existence.

And indeed the developers don’t do this with evil intent, they mass produce MMOs like cars at a factory – all the same model, just with different colours and fittings – not because they are lazy, and not because they are unimaginative, but because this production line mentality of the MMO that carefully runs you on rails from level one to the level cap, this polished and perfectly orchestrated treadmill has become the ritual of the trade. It has become entrenched in a custom that no longer focuses, in its part, on the customer, but wholly on the company and the shareholder. The Azerothian Tour bus, if you will, taking you from location to location, rushing you along their predetermined list of monuments and archaeology, with only the briefest of glimpses before you are ushered with impatient waving hands back onto the bus; it can never give the spiritual connection that visiting the sites of your own volition and experiencing them in your own way can, such that you are able to eventually feel that ineffable connection to the past, and to reach an understanding and sense of awe at the mysteries of the place and the history that unfolded there.

The accepted stance for the industry at the moment is to compare every new game to World of Warcraft and ask whether it is doing better, and if not, then whether it is doing well enough. Generally there is this smug aggrandisement of WoW, that the juggernaut cannot be bettered, that they got enough things right that the bar has been set too high for those that follow. I don’t believe this is necessarily so, I believe that they did enough things differently and took the risk of being out at the front leading the way, such that the herd freely and instinctively followed them. Even to this day, when it is evident that Blizzard now stands firmly behind its flock and harries them onwards, the sheep carry on the path laid out before them because they see no other inspiration, there is no company seemingly willing to be out in front, in whom the players can put their trust and follow as a guide and protector through strange and frightening new places.

This is not necessarily about innovation; it’s about developers taking a different direction, and in doing so putting faith in their flock to follow them. The trust has to go both ways though, the developer must give the players reason to trust in them, they must guide them with kind intent, with the wish to lead them to better places lush with the green pastures of gaming fulfilment.

Then we come to the most important part of the analogy, where the developers wait for their flock of players to have their fill, and then take them all to slaughter, before baking them in a huge pie and serving them up at the shareholders party. You see, this is why analogies suck. Oh well, can’t blame a fellow for trying.

Perhaps there’s a deeper sadness to the sheep analogy, which for me was trigged by the current crop of “World First” and “Server First” entries popping up on the Age of Conan forums and various blogs. Here we have guilds, two days into the early access and they’re already half-way through the known content and building their villages and cities. If, at general release, you rolled onto a PvP server with one of these guilds on it, I’m so sorry that you lost the game so quickly, because let’s face it, these guilds are going to be ganking you from level 1 to, well, whatever level you manage to stick it out to. Some of you will probably get to 80, I’m not sure whether that shows strength of character or some serious personality disorder. Being one of the Carebear brigade, it’s not my place to judge.

But if we’re honest, you’re completely bonkers in the brainpan.

These guilds, with their server firsts are really just the MMO equivalent of the “First” reply that comes with every new post to a forum these days (let’s not get into the fucked-up futility of the “Second” and “Third” replies). It’s pointless beyond words, beyond insanity, beyond the mental faculties of any normally adjusted human being. This is the wide-eyed, bleating mentality of sheep following the trend, trying to be first, trying to stay ahead of the predator behind them. Except that the predator is simply herding them, driving them into the temporary comfort of the truck of fleeting fame, and onwards to the slaughterhouse of endlessly repetitive raiding.

In Age of Conan, Zoso and I were the first on our server to perform an act of Hamlet entirely through the use of the hugefish_m emote.

Let the sheep bleat on, it’s infinitely more relaxing and fun to run with wolves.

You should’ve seen the one that got away…

There comes a time in every new MMOG when you’ve created your character, deleted them, re-created them again with slightly different facial tattoos, run through the tutorial, gone back and re-rolled a different character class, run through the tutorial again with them, decided you preferred the first character, re-logged back in to them, got out of the initial single player tutorial area, found the /friend command (hint: for Age of Conan, it’s (obviously) /cc addbuddy , or there is an “Add by name” button, but it’s in the Players/Groups window rather than the Friends window), sent a message to your friend, found out where they are, found out where you are, managed to negotiate yourselves to the same location, in the same instance, and then it’s time for the traditional MMOG greeting: trying out every funny-sounding emote in the list (starting with /hi, /hail, /wave etc., and building up to anything vaguely insulting).

Age of Conan is slightly finicky to start with, needing you to type /emote greet rather than just /greet (I think, unless anyone knows of any shortcuts). Usefully, tab completion works with slash commands, so /em (tab) (tab) completes the emote command, then pulls up a full list of available emotes. One curious aspect is some emotes are appended with _m and _f, which seems to indicate they’re only available to male or female characters; if that’s the case, there’s no dancing for hulking (male) barbarians, or flirting, or clapping excitedly, whereas females don’t get to cheer, scratch their arm, or be apprehensive.

Anyway, bumping into Melmoth the other night, after a quick /emote greet, it was on to the fun stuff. /emote vomit naturally provided hours of enterainment, as did /emote bearhug and /emote embrace, particularly trying to get the aim right. The epic jewel slotted in the crown of Conan emotes, though, are the fish series of /emote smallfish, /emote mediumfish_m and /emote hugefish_m. These, as you could possibly deduce, cause your character to hold up their hands indicating the size of a small, medium, or indeed huge fish, the latter being particularly impressive as you fling your arms wide to convey just how huge the fish was. Frankly, there wasn’t any need to proceed further through the list, as there is literally (in the Kermodean sense, which is “not literally, actually the opposite of literally”) no situation for which /emote hugefish_m is not perfect. Greeting the rest of your party? /emote hugefish_m! Celebrating a victory? /emote hugefish_m! Roleplaying entering an inn, being wary of those around yet confident of your own abilities? /emote hugefish_m!

There is, of course, one exception to the rule, left as an exercise for the reader to work out; suffice to say it involves griefers or other malcontents, an estimation of certain lengths and the /emote smallfish command (note to Funcom: tinyfish could be handy if you’re ever adding more…)

Postcard from Tortage.

Hello dear readers. Greetings from Tortage, where I am currently enjoying sun, sea and slaughter. The locals are very accommodating: they’ve all accepted my two-handed hammer against their noggins with nary a complaint. There is a whole abundance of wildlife on the nearby islands, fascinating creatures with the most amazing pelts, all of which are now hanging on the wall of my room in the Thirsty Dog Inn. I’ve met all manner of colourful members of the local villain underground, although they were all a rather a sanguinous colour after I’d finished visiting with them. Many of the natives have never seen a bear shaman before it would seem, as they are all very keen to rush up to me and greet me in their traditional way: sword waving about their heads and screaming. Still, my trusty war-hammer Gunhilde was happy to greet them in the equally traditional manner of the bear shaman: whistling and singing as she swings through the air and then vibrating with pleasure as she makes contact with these new peoples of the world. Anyway, must dash, we’re continuing our tour over to the White Sands, where apparently there are some ancient ruins that are worth visiting. Something about ancient treasures and demonic lords of the underworld; I must remember to take my camera. Hope you are all well, don’t forget to feed the plants while I’m gone.

Otherwise Gunhilde will be having words when I get back.

Love Gunnbjorn.

(outr)Age of Conan

The Early Access to Age of Conan has kicked off; a few hours late, which wasn’t really a problem (Doctor Who was on anyway), and with a minor glitch when the patcher failed to update itself properly (Quis patcheriet ipsos patcheres?), but once those were sorted out it’s been pretty smooth. I’ve been running around the rather pretty starter area, administering much pointy-stick based justice; it’s busy, but not to the “please take a numbered ticket, you’ll be called when we have a mob for you to kill” levels of some other games at launch. All in all, on the Tony Harrison scale of outrage, it’s not even at “getting lost on a flying carpet”, let alone “being used as a volleyball”.

Reviewlet: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

I finished Last Argument of Kings a few weeks back, and I’m still not quite sure what I think of it.

To sort of sneak up on it unawares, I’ll talk around it for a while, with a few Western references, so apologies if you’re not into cowboy films. Minor (sort of, not terrible I hope) spoilers may follow…

So you have “classic” westerns, say the Lone Ranger: a sound, morally upright, heroic, white hat wearing hero, doing battle against injustice, never shooting to kill. Then you have films like Leone’s spaghetti westerns, of which my favourite is probably For A Few Dollars More. The morality is more complex, everything is much grittier, much more violent, but, broadly, you’re still rooting for your heroes against villains (though it’s harder to tell them apart).

The first two books of Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged, are like For A Few Dollars More compared to the Lone Ranger of more traditional fantasy. They’re gritty, violent and morally complex; they use a lot of common elements, but twist them into something new, so although you’ve got wizards, and kingdoms at war, and a quest, the key characters are a fop, a crippled torturer and a couple of psychos instead of a lantern-jawed farmhand, a jovial beer-swilling warrior and a sneaky thief with heart of gold (only stole from the rich and all that, bonus points if it’s a feisty teenage orphan/runaway). There’s a barbarian, but rather than a Schwarzenegger-as-Conan type, Logen is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, older and weary, and Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter, living with the notoriety his actions have brought.

Last Argument of Kings carries on where the first two left off (weird, that, for the third book in a trilogy), with lashings more war, torture, stabbing and humour (mostly black). It serves up further twists on fantasy clichĂ©s, particularly a lovely take on the mysterious orphan finding his True Heritage, but if the first two books had kicked down the door of The Shed Of Fantasy Tropes, leaving it battered but standing, Last Argument of Kings lobs a grenade through the window. One thread you can normally cling to in stories is that main characters are heroes, The Good Guys, and they fight, and beat, The Bad Guys, whether it’s in a simple, Lone Ranger, white hat-wearing way, or a more complex blood-soaked scenario where one side are only good on a relative scale as they’re killing the really, really bad guys, and a lot of people get caught up in the middle. The first two books of The First Law, that’s pretty much the case. None of the main characters are saints by any freakish definition, but when the other side are cannibalistic devil-worshippers, you know who you’re rooting for (hint: it’s not the ones that snack on the odd leg here and there).

By the end of Last Argument of Kings, though, there is no winning, no vanquishing of great evil. There is no Greater Good. There isn’t even “Well At Least They’re Not As Bad As…” There are surprisingly few deaths in the key characters; if the Good Guys don’t win outright, another sure fire way of wrapping everything up is to kill everyone off in a massive shoot-out (c.f. The Wild Bunch), but Abercrombie doesn’t do that either (not least because it’s harder to do a shoot-out with bows, and stab-outs don’t seem to have caught on so much). It’s quite an unsatisfying finish in some ways; although some strands are tied up, many are (quite deliberately) left dangling. It’s challenging, thought provoking, not something you put down and wander away from whistling, and that’s why I’m still not sure what I think about it. Which is a good thing. I think. Probably.

Thought for the day.

The various statistics for these blog sites can be fascinating: browsing through who came to visit you and from where, what posts they read, where they went to afterwards, the colour of their underwear at the time.

I assume then, that it isn’t only me who can’t help experiencing the “I see you” Eye of Sauron effect, every once in while.

I see you. I see you, Frodo Baggins, and your webmail links and Google searches.

One post to rule them all; One link to find them; One keyword to bring them all and in the blog-feed bind them…

Aug ‘ur? I hardly know ‘er!

By Balin’s braided beards! A calf was born with two tails last night. A grey fox crossed my path. The auguries are ill indeed for the dawning of Age of Conan. Thirteen rooks were perched in a tree. Thirteen! Worst of all, though, worse still than all those, the head start requires a 13Gb download, the Funcom patcher manages to stumble along at about 50k/s (possibly because it’s torrent-based and swamping the upload, even with an upload limit set) giving an estimated time to completion of “when the moons of Voron align with the twin towers of the temple of Veerun (or about two of your earth weeks)”, so, leaving it downloading overnight, I come down in the morning to check how many nanometres the progress bar has shifted to find the devil himself has kicked me square in the nuts through his earthly emissaries of Microsoft. I’m *sure* I have XP set to “Download your myriad security patches (if you really must) but don’t bloody apply them until I say so”, but the PC was sitting there with a smug just-rebooted expression, and sure enough the event log shows it applied an update and rebooted around 3am. I’ll leave it running the next couple of nights, but unless the patcher pulls its finger out (and Micro-bleedin’-soft can refrain from rebooting the PC) I suspect the client won’t be ready for THE VERY INSTANT the head-start servers are up, which is clearly an outrage of Tony Harrison proportions, but not to worry, who wants to be cooped up when it’s such a lovely weekend in prospect? What’s that, you say? Thunderstorms forecast for Saturday? Oh.

Course, I’m a fool for being in such a rush anyway. A wise man would give any MMOG six months or so to get early kinks worked out, let the population distribute itself over the whole gameworld rather than everyone being crammed into the starter zones like an episode of Mythbusters testing that “entire population of the whole world could fit onto the Isle of Wight” theory, and allow the developers to release an update or two so it finally has all the features they really wanted to get in for launch but didn’t quite have time for (like an end game, player housing, different character classes, combat, graphics instead of the interface being a text parser, that sort of thing). Unfortunately I’m not a wise man, I’m a rash impetuous fool, and worse still a rash impetuous fool with a credit card who’s easily swayed by shiny baubles like a three day head start, so I’ve brought this all on myself. Oh well, I’m off to see what a sheep’s entrails say the coming week holds…

Note: no sheep will actually be harmed in the fulfilling of this post, unless the forecasts are totally wrong and it is a lovely weekend, in which case some minted lamb chops might get barbecued.