The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

Let’s see, other than spending copious amounts of time covered in poop and vomit (have I mentioned the baby at all?), what have I been up to that might be marginally more interesting to those of you who come to read this blog on occasion.

Well time really has been at a premium so MMOs were the first to suffer the +1 Pendulous Axe of Time Management. It’s hard to find an MMO that one can dip into and play with very little commitment; it’s not just the relatively small slices of time that I am afforded to play at the moment, where travelling time in some MMOs would consume ninety percent of my play experience, but also the fact that it’s very hard to just abandon an MMO at the drop of a demanding baby’s +2 Hat of Vocalised Attention Seeking. In a single player game it’s very easy to hit a pause button, press escape to pull-up the options menu (which I suppose is the modern game equivalent of the pause key), or to just abandon the game very quickly wherever your character currently stands, knowing that when you return they will be standing where you left them, perhaps picking their nose or tapping their foot impatiently, but otherwise unscathed. Not so in an MMO: if you leave your character for even a fraction of a second, turn your head to look at something on the television, say, or look briefly out of the window at all the young healthy people soaking up their daily dose of vitamin D, perhaps bend down to rub some life into the numb slabs of jelly that pass for one’s legs, or so much as blink for longer than the requisite human system requirement of four hundred milliseconds, and a thousand angry mobs will have rained down upon your character and have reduced them to zero health points before you can say “By Chronos’ hairy arse! I glanced away for no more than the duration of the blanking period of my monitor! It’s not even visible to the human eye for crying out loud!”.

Having said all that, I have been dipping into City of Villains on occasion, for a quick half hour blast here and there, generally teaming-up with Zoso and or Elf; I’ve created a new character on which I can experiment with the power-set proliferation that occurred in the I12 ‘Midnight Hour’ update, and being that my love for the Earth Control power-set is unhealthy, and in fact illegal in twelve American states, I decided to create an Earth/Thorns dominator, and thus the Iron Cactus was born. Part man. Part machine. Part succulent spiny plant.

I may have also rolled an Electric/Willpower Brute, a Dual Blade/Regen Scrapper and a Willpower/Super Strength tank, although I haven’t played any of those characters at all yet.

But I’m not an altoholic![1]

I’ve also dipped into Guild Wars on occasion, essentially because, like a saucepan of dark chocolate and cream melted over a stove, it’s very, uh, dip-inable. I have a dervish, Wur Lin (WUR LIN! Whirling! As in whirling derv… ok, I was slightly inebriated and it sounded clever at the time) a monk, Mun Ki, (MUN KI. Monkey! As in monk eee… er, eh?) and an assassin, Tri Badism (TRI BADISM. Tribadism! As in… Ah. Well. Look it up some time, ey? Possibly not from work. And not if you’re under 18). Anyhoo, I think that’s plenty enough evidence of my, to be expected, curious naming conventions for my many characters.

But I’m not an altoholic![2]

Guild Wars is terribly easy to just hop into and play a mission or two, with the option of being able to drop it in an instant should a delightful ickle pink bundle of rabid screaming poo projection require one’s immediate attention. Admittedly most of my characters are in the early teens of the level progression cap of twenty, and this essentially means that they’re hardly anywhere at all in terms of game progress, but as with my never having reached the level cap in City of Heroes/Villains, for me it’s a game about the play, rather than the progress.

What makes City of Villains and Guild Wars so readily accessible to what I dub the Radical Casual player, the “It takes fanatical dedication to be this non-committal to a game” gamer? I think it’s a combination of things:

  • The short time it takes to travel anywhere. Both games have travel systems that mean you can get where you need to go, and be slaughtering your way through bags of XP in no time at all.
  • The short time it takes to make some progress. In both games, quests are readily available, relatively quick to complete, and generally not terribly complex. Yes, both games have deeper, longer, more complex missions at the higher levels, but they maintain this quick-access, easy goal, mission structure throughout a large portion of the levelling curve.
  • The time-minimal death penalty. Both games make it very quick and very easy to get yourself back into the fight, especially when you don’t have a rezzing character in the party. Both have penalties that could perhaps be considered more harsh than that in, say, WoW, because in WoW if you make the run to your corpse you suffer nothing but a little damage to your equipment which is easily repaired, but it is the length of that corpse run that hurts the Radical Casual player because it’s time wasted, and time is the defining limiting factor in their enjoyment of a game.

So that’s it for MMO, or MMO-like, games at the moment. As Zoso mentioned, many bloggers, of which we are no exception, seem to be experiencing the Anticipatocene era of the MMO timeline, sub-heading: “What We Do Whilst Waiting For WAR”.

My other gaming action in recent times has been Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, a Final Fantasy-alike, with the various elements of a JPRG but with the rude, crude and not-for-the-prude humour that any fan of the online web comic would come to expect. With the speed of encounters, and the fact that they are not sprung on the player, but initiated by them at their choosing by walking into an area containing enemies, it’s again an ideal play style for those of us who have to regularly acknowledge a priority interrupt, we who experience random encounters of the tot kind. The game was entertaining enough to keep me playing until the end – the humour quite successfully treads that fine line of juvenile puerility without being obnoxious – but I found the combat mechanics a little frustrating, perhaps dull is the better description. I seemed to spend most combat encounters waiting for the most powerful combos to charge, and just blocking or healing damage the rest of the time, which essentially consists of pressing the spacebar a lot, or clicking a few menu options. I’m not sure if this is just indicative of the JRPG style of combat – it’s been a while since I last played Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Trigger – but seeing as the combat constitutes the bulk of the game-play, I think there could have been a greater emphasis on tactical decisions, perhaps the Tactics style of play might have been more engaging. Nevertheless, the story was fun, the writing and art direction excellent, and the game-play was certainly not tortuous, indeed the idea of having mini-games to play through to get the maximum damage from your high-power combos was a nice touch. I’ll certainly be purchasing the next instalment when it arrives. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is available on Steam and also through PA’s Greenhouse.

In non-gaming related activities I’ve been trying to read when I can, which seems to be predominantly in those periods where one hand is occupied in holding a bottle to Mini-melmoth’s chasm-like, gorging mouth hole. I fair blasted my way through The Lies of Locke Lamora, an easy to read fantasy heist with likeable characters told through fluid, playful prose. Charles Stross’ Halting State got me through many a late night feeding session. It is, however – like Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother – one of these near-future novels that rubs one’s nose in the techno-jargon of today, tweaked slightly in attempt to appear 1984-like in its predictive nature. Which, frankly, just annoys the hell-fired pants out of me, because it’s just a jarring interruption to show how clever and techno-savvy the author is, rather than a commentary on anything in particular. Constantly having your protagonists use ‘weird’ and ‘wonderful’ futuristic Google applications, by having them (in some sort of Star Trek parody) hax0r in an improbable fashion an application to produce an inverted BitTorrent flow through Google’s forward deflector shield, in order to undermine the authorities in that hip, cool and subversive manner that only asocial computer nerds can manage, is just tedious, frankly. If you want to see a near-enough-to-be-scary prediction of the future that was written in recent times (1984 is still the unassailable granddaddy, and the story that every author of this type of book should strive to achieve), then you read Gibson’s Neuromancer. No Google, no 5000 jiggerbyte iPods or Xbox 2020 editions, but it still predicts a future that we can overlay on our current reality, like a virtual map, and plot the route, as clear as the neon-bathed streets of a Chiba district at night, that humanity is taking.

Having said all that, Halting State isn’t a bad book, other than for that minor personal nitpick, which probably nobody else shares. Oh, and it mentions Scotland far too often to be subtle, often enough to be blatantly jarring after a while. Yes, we get it, you’re Scottish, and a big fan of Scotland and you believe in it as a nation, and you probably hate the English, and all that, so it’s not the UK, because that would include the English and they don’t deserve any advertising unless it’s in a bad light, such as a Hollywood villain. So it’s a story about how the Scottish police were called into investigate a Scottish crime in the heart of Scotland’s Scottish hi-tech infrastructure, or Scotlandstructure, as they call it in the Scottish suburbs of Scotland’s Scotlandscape. There’s a subtle subliminal message in there, but I’m just not quite getting it.

In other news, Mrs Melmoth and I are taking Mini-melmoth to Scotland on vacation this year. No idea why, it just seemed like a good idea.

[1]May be a lie. Regulations and guarantees apply. This statement does not affect your statutory rights.

[2]Yeah, ok, it’s a lie.