Monthly Archives: July 2008

Bonekickers: Week 2

Sorry, no recap this week. Last night’s episode, as a drama, was an improvement on week one, but unfortunately that meant as a crazed work of ludicrous insanity it was a bit of a failure. Plenty of zany happenings, doubtlessly unrealistic archaeology and vastly unlikely coincidences, but mostly to the point of dramatic license rather than brain-popping incredulity (though that might only be in comparison to the first episode, and surely at some point they’re going to run out of hidden chambers that have remained undiscovered in mumble-hundred years… but not next week, according to the trailers). I’m hoping next week is a return to form and features undead Roman ninjas battling South American Libertadores in the Bath branch of WH Smiths.

Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Dear Warhammer Online developers,

I know that you’re kind of busy at the moment what with having to, according to the more dramatic bloggers out there, remove three hundred and fifty billion percent of your game because you felt it wasn’t up to scratch. I understand that you’re trying to make your game feature and content rich, and that you’ve perhaps bitten off slightly more than you had budgeted mastication resources for, but here are a couple of ideas that I had this morning that might be fun to add (if you haven’t done so already, I’m not in the beta so I wouldn’t know):

If you’re going to have a copy of World of Warcraft’s armoury for your players, and I imagine you are because one would think that in a PvP-centric game, bragging to others is basically the core philosophy behind the design, could you go one step further and have a little Flash plug-in that people could stick on their website? This plug-in that I’m picturing would display a nice 3D-model of whatever character the player decides to show, rotatable through three hundred and sixty degrees, perhaps with a slightly tweaked renderer to make the character look like the classic Games Workshop lead models that we all know, love and have chewed upon in our youth more than is probably healthy. I imagine this character model could even be displayed complete with the little 30mm circular base with slightly dodgy looking foam grass.

Even better (and I’m sure you can slot this in too because you’re not very busy at the moment right?) have an interface to allow the player to paint their figure; I mean, half the fun of the miniatures game was painting your troops in custom colours, so why not continue the hobby with the online game. One of the things I find most depressing about many of the current stock of MMOs is the general lack of character customisation, the fact that there are very few options where the player can express their creativity and originality through their character; the reason I’ve stayed subscribed to City of Heroes for so long is the fact that if the generally grindy game-play becomes too dull, I can always flex my creativity muscle, give my muse a prod and create a bizarre new manifestation from my brain spasms.

Secondly, and along the same lines, have the plug-in also give access to the player’s Tome of Knowledge for that character, such that people can see their achievements easily but in the context of the game interface, thus making it easy for players of the game to navigate. Assuming you’ve got a suitably Hemlokian Nifty! feature in the Tome for it to capture screenshots and store them like a photo album, this would provide bloggers with an easy way to share their character’s adventures without having to constantly crop/thumbnail/rotate/gamma correct/frame in oak their own screenshots.

I’m confidant that this would all be easy to do, probably only a couple of lines of code, and so I’m sure you can fit it in during a lunch break or something.

Love and kisses,


To the last, I grapple with thee.

In a conversation this morning, Elf enquired as to how things were with me, to which I responded:

Work is slightly quieter at the moment, which is giving me one less thing to worry about as I continue to try to grapple with parenthood and fail my attack roll.

Now I’d like to blame the fact that I had been listening to the Dungeons & Dragons Podcast featuring Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, and PvP’s Scott Kurtz. However, in actual fact, I’m just one of those sad people – and I’m sure there are many others of my ilk – who can happily describe their lives in the terms of D20 combat mechanics without batting an eyelid.

Money for nothing and your mechs for free.

Zoso pointed out a Rock, Paper, Shotgun article this morning, about the free-to-play, your-soul-in-a-silk-purse-for-upgrades Korean MMO Air Rivals. It looks like a game deserving of a lengthy late night session of manly joystick waggling for sure, but it was Jim Rossignol’s almost throwaway comment about trying the free Robot MMO Exteel that got me to a-thinking, which for me is a rare event indeed.

Where is my BattleTech MMO? Where are our decent stompy robot MMOs? Yes there’s RFOnline and Exteel, but you’ll notice that I pre-qualified my statement by using the word ‘decent’. Surely it’s not just the Koreans who are madly, deeply in love with giant mechanical fighting machines?

EVE Online, now there’s a game where they have character development, and to a certain extent vehicle development in parallel. Vehicles aren’t just expensive mounts in EVE, or a convenient representation of how a player deals damage, they’re so much more. The ships in EVE are tweaked and upgraded and enhanced and even named. ‘Love my badger’ is no longer just a search term that will get you to a website with strangely bearded West Country folk who maintain questionable relations with members of the Mustelidae family.

So if you’re listening CCP, seeing as you are already working on the other MMO that I want to see most of all in the world, how about expanding your EVE universe to have giant mechanised combat on the surfaces of the various planets that the players fly past on a daily basis and pay little heed to, or simply buy the BattleTech rights from Wizkids and give us the decent stompy robot MMO we all desire.

The pessimist complains about the wind.

I had a chance to pop my head into the Wizard101 beta last night briefly. I didn’t get terribly far, but I managed to get through the character creator. Even from that stage of the game alone it’s readily apparent that it’s very similar to Toontown Online: big cartoon fonts, a simple interface and a naming system that forces you to choose from a series of lists, one for your forename, and two to make up your surname. I can see why they do this and it’s not a bad system, it certainly allows for creative combinations within the strict confines of names that don’t refer to frantic fornication between friendly flexible females.

However, a word to the wise at KingsIsle Entertainment: in the UK and possibly other places, pants are underwear, not trousers or pantaloons.

So without further ado, I present my new character: Brian Boompants.

He’s a storm wizard, you know. Lots of wind.

It’s currently in beta so there’s the Inevitable NDA at the moment, but there’s plenty more information available on the Wizard101 website and on places such as West Karana.

And if playing as a windy-panted wizard sounds appealing, you can still sign-up to help test the game at the time of my writing.

TYALIW: Batman Begins.

Today on Treating Your Audience Like Idiots With we’ll be Treating Your Audience Like Idiots With Batman Begins.

Good Evening, Mr Begins.

BB: Good Evening, Melmoth. And please, call me Batty.

Well Mr Batty, it seems like you have been treating your audience like idiots, and we’d like to ask you to respond to this. But first, let’s have a look at the evidence shall we?

It starts with a quick exposition for those of us who are perhaps a little lost as to why you’ve gone on and on and on earlier in the film about a microwave emitter – a device capable of vaporising a water supply – having been stolen, and how this could possibly be related to a plot where the villains have poured a deadly poison into Gotham’s water supply. One might have assumed, for example, that you were merely highlighting the plight of discarded microwave emitters, often overlooked by charities and aid workers around the world for more fashionable weapons of mass destruction. Give a home to a microwave emitter this Christmas: the vaporise that really satisfies.

So, we have a brief plot meeting between two board members, Mr Big (played by Rutger Hauer) and Mr Plot Exposition (played by someone obviously overjoyed to get his meal ticket in Hollywood for that night), to work through some Powerpoint slides as to what exactly is going on with this missing microwave emitter that can vaporise water supplies, apparently.

Then along comes our hero and his plucky sidekick who is thankfully not Robin, to spell it out for us:

Bruce Wayne (He’s Batman really, you know): “Somebody’s planning to disperse the toxin using the water supply.”

Lucius (Not Luscious) Fox (Not Batman): “The water supply won’t help you disperse an inhalant. Unless you have a microwave emitter powerful enough to vaporize all the water in the mains. A microwave emitter like the one Wayne Enterprises just misplaced.”

Ah! So they’re going to use the stolen device that can vaporise a water supply, to vaporise a water supply! Ingenious! That’s the thing with these modern villains, always thinking outside of the box. The box labelled Original Plot Devices.

However, I’m confused, because how is vaporising the water supply filled with a deadly poison with a water supply vaporising device going to cause the collapse of Gotham as the world’s leading city?

Batman “If they hit the whole city there’s nothing to stop Gotham tearing itself apart.”

Well yes, but how ar…

Gordon: “How are they gonna do that?”

Yes, ok Gordon, I was just about to ask th…

Batman: “The train. The monorail follows the water mains to the central hub beneath Wayne Tower. If the machine gets to the station it’ll cause a chain reaction that’ll vaporise the city’s water supply. Covering Gotham in this poison.”

Well ok then. Despite the rude interruptions, we thank you for taking time in your busy ‘last minute against the clock to save the city’ crusade to explain all that in such agonising detail. Especially the bit about vaporising the city’s water supply, I think we were all confused on that issue.

Meanwhile, whilst Batman and the ‘cop who can suddenly drive a high-tech tank by pressing random buttons’, race off at break neck speed to save Gotham because they’ve realised they’re late, probably due to all the time they’ve spent expositing plots (they’d just started on a detailed analysis of Twelve Monkeys when they spotted the time), here’s a helpful fellow at Water Supply Central, with a public information broadcast:

Old Father Exposition: “The pressure’s moving along the mains, blowing the pipes. If that pressure reaches us the water supply right across the whole city is gonna blow!”

Oh my god! So it’s the water supply! I thought they were going to use the water-supply-vaporising microwave emitter to vaporise all the honey in the supermarkets in Gotham, such that the entire population was stuck in a sweet sickly mess, and as such all their precious hairstyles would be ruined. I mean that seems like the obvious thing a villain would aim for. Hair. But no, you’re saying that they’re going for the water supply? Huh. Waiiiiiit. Didn’t those villains put something, you know, like stuff, in the water supply earlier in the film? I’m sure I saw something about that. Yes, there was a huge scene with a factory and loads of men standing over a hole saying things like “Let’s get the last of this poison in the water supply”, “Careful with that poison, make sure it only goes into the water supply!” and “Don’t fall into that hole, it’s the water supply to Gotham and we’ve filled it with poison!”. I’m sure I recall something along those lines. Oh lordy, but wait, I’ve forgotten what’s happening in the film now, because my poor tiny mind can’t keep up!

But wait, who is this dark crusader swooping across the floor at Water Supply Central in the manner of a slightly agitated sloth, why it’s the hero of Gotham, Old Father Exposition! Save us, Old Father Exposition, tell us where we are in the film before we blow!

Old Father Exposition: Evacuate the building. We’re on top of the main hub and it’s gonna blow.

Thank you Old Father Exposition! Thank you!

It’s gonna blow?! Why the hell didn’t you tell us earlier so we had a chance to evacuate! Now we’ll probably have to rely on an aging police detective to use a prototype, highly technical, military bridge-jumping vehicle with which he has had two and a half seconds training from a strange pervert in a rubber neoprene suit who turns up at his house in the middle of the night when he’s trying to feed his kids, to destroy one of the stanchions on the monorail causing the train to crash, and in all likelihood kill thousands of homeless people sheltering beneath the track, one of whom only moments before had probably complemented the police detective on his rocket-powered black armoured tank as a ‘nice ride’, in some sort of bizarre attempt at surrealist humour.

Or something, I’m just speculating in a panicky fashion here because, you may not have heard this, but the mains are gonna blow! I know; it took me by surprise too.

So there’s the evidence, Mr Batman Begins, any words on this for your audience?

BB: Well yes, I think they’re all idiots.

Thank you, Mr Batman Begins.

Until next time on Treating Your Audience Like Idiots With. Good night.

Wave upon wave of demented avengers

That nice Mr Sony celebrated the 5th anniversary of Star Wars Galaxies by sending an e-mail saying my Star Wars Galaxies account had been reactivated for July, which I thought was particularly decent of him as it was only ever a free trial account. During the trial I’d done a few quests, tried my hand at dancing for a while as a Mon Calamari named after a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, but spent most time flying around space shooting down TIE fighters. Still no word through about the Jumpgate: Evolution beta, so I thought I’d pop back into SWG to see if I remembered how to fly a Y-wing. I did. I also remembered Y-wings are lumping great assault fighters that handle like bricks, which is a bit of a problem as a rebel pilot. The next available fighter is the good old X-Wing, but I was approximately sixty eight billion XP away from qualifying for it. Alternatively I could go back to the previous ship, the Z95 Hyphen-wing, a lovely nippy little thing, the only drawback being it’s so small that you can only mount very lightweight components (and if you need to stick some shopping in the boot or pick the kids up from Jedi Academy, forget it). The ideal solution would be a “High Mass Variant” Z95, still agile but capable of mounting heavier components, but a quick browse of Intergalactic eBay only turned up a couple of people selling them for way more money than I had.

What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality? I’ll tell you what turns a man neutral in Star Wars Galaxies, the Mark 2 Dunelizard. The heavy version of it packs the same punch as a Y-wing Longprobe with the manoeuvrability of a Z95, for less than 1/10th the price of a Z95 HMV. Bargain! Course you can’t fly them as a rebel pilot, so I toddled off to the nearest Rebel officer and told him I was resigning my commission as I’d been slightly mistaken when I joined up in saying my whole life had been dedicated to fighting the Imperial scum and faithfully declaring to fight for the Rebel cause forever, and what I really meant was I’d only be sticking around until I found the neutrals got much snazzier ships. Then it was off to a neutral recruiter, and back into space to shoot a bunch of pirates.

While battling the titular waves of demented avengers, marching cheerfully out of obscurity into the path of my laser cannons, some of them would engage in a bit of banter, the typical sort of NPC thing, “Hah, lucky shot!” and that sort of thing. The effect was slightly undermined, though, by the fact that the early ships were typically blown apart in just a few salvoes, so their threats rang a bit hollow when, by the time the little vidscreen popped up with the smug pirate taunting away, their actual ship had been reduced to dust, the dust to atoms, and the atoms to nothing, MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

Reviewlet: Bonekickers

The new BBC1 drama Bonekickers was supposed to be Time Team (or possibly CSI) meets Indiana Jones. They lied. Bonekickers is speed archaeology WITH DIGGERS meets The Da Vinci Code (which isn’t a good thing, just ask Stephen Fry).

Totally spoilery spoilers follow, don’t carry on if you’ve got it recorded or are intending to catch it on iPlayer, but if you missed the first episode here’s a quick recap:

So Time Team is already fairly “sexed up” (possibly not quite the right description for a programme featuring Tony Robinson and Phil Harding, though there’s doubtless a fanfic site devoted to it) as archaeology goes, but even so spending three days and turning up a series of low walls and a couple of fragments of pottery isn’t going to work for a drama, so Bonekickers kicks off (if you’ll forgive the lack of a pun) with “I’ve DUG a HOLE and found DAMASCENE STEEL SWORDS and BONES and SARACEN COINS and STUFF”, they’ve uncovered the site of a battle between Saracens (not the rugby team) and Knights Templars… in BATH! (The city in Somerset, not some jacuzzi, though the latter would have made about as much sense.) “But that’s unpossible!” exclaim our team. “You’re not kidding!” exclaim the audience. I’ll gloss over the character introductions (Scary Archaeologist, Posh Archaeologist, Baby Archaeologist and Other Archaeologist), as the writers did the same, and get straight onto the hunk of wood they pull out of the ground. “I’ve run some tests and it’s a hunk of wood from the Holy Land dating back to 34CE of the sort that, ooh, say, the Romans might have used to make crosses for crucifixion and by the way it’s got some blood soaked into it”. “It looks in pretty decent nick for something 2000 years old that’s spent 700 years buried near Bath” says absolutely nobody as the team chuck it around for giggles.

Then! We get to the Da Vinci Code bit, where a modern-day Fundamentalist Nutter has built an army of modern-day Knights Templar Nutters (is “army” the right word if there’s two of them?) to wage holy war and drive other religions out of England. He’d quite like a big ol’ cross to rally the faithful to his cause. Cue some rushing around of Knights Templar Nutters With Swords trying to get hold of the hunk o’ wood and find the rest of the cross (which wasn’t at the original dig site), inexplicable acquisitions of 14th century texts (one seemed to be in a second hand bookshop where the “14th Century Monk Books” section was helpfully next to the Len Deightons and Jeffrey Archers, our heroes found a second that Mr Nutter had bought by the devilishly cunning method of wandering up to a receptionist and saying “Univesity of Wessex, we’re here to ransack your bosses office”).

Anyway, I lose track of the exact chronology for some mysterious reason, but at various points the programme morphs into That Bit From A Police Drama Where The Detective Needs 48 Hours (“Dammit, Scary Archaeologist, the builders want to get on and build and someone else is buying the land and stuff” “Give me 48 hours, chief!” “Dammit, the DA’s got my ass in a sling over this!”), and Highlander (Knights Templar Nutter swings a sword at a random heretic, the head flying neatly off in one clean sweep, not sure if it was a monofilament sword or he’d carefully selected a victim with no spine and a neck made of tissue paper), and then we build up to the dramatic climax.

First, we discover that the Saracens in the original battle weren’t Saracens at all, but English mercenaries hired by a bunch of Random Monk Types to wipe out the Knights Templars, and they covered their tracks by leaving Saracen weapons and coins around the place, a plan so devilishly cunning nobody even batted an eyelid, as we’re told every five minutes there’s no record of a battle in the area (“Hey medieval peasant #2, a bunch of dead Knights Templars and some Saracen stuff scattered around, shall we pass word of this on through local legend and stuff?” “Nah, medieval peasant #1, not worth mentioning to the others back at the village, and we definitely won’t bother taking any of this stuff”). It’s a good job there happened to be a survivor of this battle who fortuitously turned out to be a 14th century blogger who wrote everything down, though obviously nobody had read it since (probably hadn’t finished everything by Len Deighton, so hadn’t got onto the next shelf). The Random Monk Types had taken the cross to… some old Abbey! LET’S GO!, everyone piles in the Range Rover, while elsewhere a Knights Templar Nutter just *happens* to find the clue pointing to that Abbey at the same time.

Range Rover pulls up in a village, “Hello country bumpkin villager type, we’re looking for the church” “That big church looking thing with a whacking great steeple RIGHT THERE?” “Why yes! Don’t suppose there’s any secret hidden vaults under it, HA HA HA HA HA!” “Ha ha ha ha no, definitely no secret vaults around here, but if you like churches why don’t you look in this dovecot” “It’s designed to hold SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY SIX DOVES!!1!!1! And look! A well, that somebody has covered up with a couple of small pebbles! No wonder nobody bothered to look at in in the past seven hundred years!” Two of our heroes descend into a MASSIVE CATHEDRAL SIZED VAULT, which is chock full of crosses. “Hmm, the Templars can’t have known which was the One True Cross, so they brought them back wholesale”. A torch (battery operated) stops working. Our heroes follow the approved procedure for such a situation (not, as you may think, shouting “has anyone got another torch?”, but tearing off a random piece of clothing, wrapping it around a twig and setting fire to it. You can tell it’s standard procedure, as the clothing is obviously pre-soaked in petrol, the way it instantly bursts into life as a nice torch (flaming).) But oh no! The Knights Templar Nutters have arrived! Chief Fundamentalist Nutter abseils into the vault looking like nothing so much as Batman (or BatFundamentalistNutter, as the case may be), a struggle ensues, and in a turn of events that nobody could possibly have foreseen the flaming torch vaguely brushes a cross which, also being soaked in petrol, instantly bursts into a raging inferno. Meanwhile, Highlander Knight Templar Nutter is descending on a rope, Scary Archaeologist is halfway up an adjacent rope trying to escape, and the two engage in a bizarre-o swinging rope sword fight type thing while BatFundamentalistNutter chases Baby Archaeologist around the burning crosses. Baby Archaeologist stumbles, she’s lying there helpless, BatFundamentalistNutter raises his sword… and… Baby Archaeologist sings “Jerusalem” at him. This is obviously a foolish thing to do, she should have shouted “MATTRESS!” to make him put a paper bag over his head (you stand in the tea chest and sing Jerusalem to get him to take it off again), but it bought just enough time for someone else to shove the nutter into a pile of burning crosses, whereupon he, like everything else, instantly burst into flames. Guess that’s what comes of wearing a cheap polyester suit and using petrol instead of hair gel. Second Knight Templar Nutter gets an attack of conscience (I *think* what swayed him was Other Archaeologist telling him that the original Knights Templar used doves to tax peasants, so it might not have been at attack of conscience so much as beaten into submission by a barrage of non sequiturs), cuts the rope of Highlander Knight Templar Nutter who plunges into the blazing inferno, the archaeologists leg it and they all go down the pub. The end.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain.

WAR is, as they say, coming.

We can take that in its literal sense of course, or as I like to do, interpret it as some sort of new kiddie street slang for ‘fantastic’ as in “Man, have you heard that coming new CSS track?”; “This new Apple gadget is totally coming!”; “That was the most coming race I’ve ever seen” and onwards to the slightly more abstruse “We’re going out, are you coming?” and “Oh God! I’m coming! I’m coming!”.

Nevertheless, it’s comi… on its way, and this was reinforced a few days ago by the pre-purchase codes for the collector’s edition turning up. Brilliantly packaged it was too, an entire (albeit slim-line) DVD box for essentially a single sheet of paper folded in half.

Tell me, human, of this Earth device that you call email.

Despite the ludicrous packaging, the codes were all there: there’s the one for beta access, the one for the in-game bonus XP item and the one for something else, which I must confess I’ve entirely forgotten in the staggering excitement of having several strings of alphanumeric characters and nowhere to use them. It’s a dangerous item to have around though, because every time I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye I feel the hype clawing at me, like the cold hard feeling of a general anaesthetic slowly crawling up your arm, and the irresistible wave of blackness sweeping over you as it quickly claims your consciousness. “I’ll just have a quick look at the website, what harm could it do?”; “I guess… I guess I should probably register, you know, just in case there’s a mad rush later.”; “Oh, there’s a screenshots section, is there? I’ll just have a quick peak… oh, shiny!”; “It’s probably a good idea to research the races and classes ahead of time. I mean, all the information is there, it would be rude not to.”

And then it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you struggle out from under a pile of papers of character sketches, and skill trees, and maps of the starter zones replete with quest objectives and optimised pathing routes for levelling. And you gaze in stark horror at what you’ve done, the monster you’ve created, and from beneath the corner of a pile of paper you see the pre-purchase box looking at you. And it laughs a deep, booming, maniacal laugh of victory. And you hold your hands to your head and scream.

And then you wake-up. And it’s morning. You’re in bed. You let out the calming, shaky sigh of the dream-waker, as you smile sheepishly to yourself at the foolish faux horror. But as you open your sleepy eyes in order to greet the day you find yourself staring into a papier-mâché face. And the camera quickly pans away to the ceiling to show you curled naked around a life-size recreation of your newly planned character. And you hold your hands to your head and scream.

Of course your experience might differ, I’m just saying that that’s what usually happens to… someone. Else. Who’s not me. No.

I am, unfortunately, getting the first twinges of excitement now. I say unfortunately because, as soon as the excitement gets a hold, as soon as it manages to find that first footing in the rock face of your resolve, it begins its gecko-swift ascent and plants the Flag of Fleeting Fanboyism in the summit of your mind. I’m trying to resist, trying not to get too interested in it because it’s a long way off; it’ll probably be disappointing at launch, either because it’s rubbish, or because it’s so good that the servers crash from the player load; it’ll be full of PvPwits for at least a few hours, until they’ve all buggered off and reached the level cap, and it will almost certainly not live up to the ludicrous amount of hype that the company is putting out, let alone those fanboy bloggers who orbit through the hyposphere above us in their Delusion Balloons, at the insane heights that only the most pumped-up, unrealistic, wholly conjecture-based analysis can reach.

However, having explained that I’m trying not to get excited, the gecko of excitement has indeed begun his ascent, and I’ve had a look at the various races and classes in order to get an idea as to what I’d like to play, and hopefully I’ll be able to provide a brief Melmothising of them in the near future.

In short though: War Priests and Ironbreakers are totally coming.