Monthly Archives: August 2008

Reviewlet: Wisdom

As I mentioned in the previous comic catch-up, I picked up Paul Cornell’s Wisdom mini-series, and it’s really rather good. It’s very Marvel in style but with a distinctively British voice, an American art form with an English accent, like rapping about tea. Featuring fairies, Martians, Jack the Ripper(s) and a shape-shifting Skrull who’s adopted the form of John Lennon it’s far from po-faced, with some glorious one-liners dotted around the place (a couple of my favourites being “Mr Thompkinson, have you succeeded in finding S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Yellow Pages?” and “In my day, we only had the one universe. Now it’s like satellite telly, there’s billions of ’em. And they’re all shite.”) There’s also plenty of big fights, though, and some touching moments, particularly the end. Great stuff, and I’m looking forward to Captain Britain and MI13.

A Druid in training must be a bard before he is a priest.

Having seen over on Book of Grudges that the Warhammer Online Open Beta client was finally available for download by those of us in the rural gaming backwater that is the European Union, my mind was sent wandering along those ancient paths that wind through the Forest of Contemplation, and after several minutes of travelling I found myself once again breaking out from under the canopy of foliage and into the open spaces of the Grove of Character Class Cogitation. It wasn’t really so much of an angst-ridden introspection on why I can’t just pick a goram class and stick with it, but a more general ponderment as to the number of classes and the variation.

Concerning the number of these classes there can be no question, there is most definitely a number of them, and ‘dat shit be huge yo’ as I believe the children of today say down on the roads and byways. Can we really say that there are twenty honest to goodness classes, though? Everyone is aware of the mirroring of classes between the forces of Order and Fanboys, sorry Destruction, and that, for example, the Warrior Priest and the Disciple of Khaine could probably be considered one class for all intents and purposes. Alright one and a third classes. Fine, one and half classes but that’s my final offer. You push a hard bargain. What I’m driving at, perhaps slightly too fast to avoid a nasty collision which will give us all hideous whiplash-related injuries, is that the philosophy behind the classes is essentially the same, albeit with slightly different spells and weapon styles. Consider these classes as conjoined twins, separated at birth through complicated and lengthy surgery, and split down the middle as best as possible. Of course, whichever twin you’re playing, the other twin will always seem to have gotten the better deal, and if you read some of the more ‘passionate’ forums it would seem that there are many class pairings where one twin was given the only available head and the other twin was given a second arse in compensation. Such is the nature of sibling MMO rivalry.

What triggered my desire to make a post, though, was on considering the nature of the classes as a whole; specifically I was pondering about the classes that I have at level seventy in World of Warcraft and whether they were represented in Warhammer. I don’t know why, my brain just went barrelling off along this lane of thought like an excited puppy chasing a cat, and I was forced to follow at a stumbling jog as I was hauled along by the tentative leash that I hold over my mind. Anyway, I have three classes that qualify, my paladin and shaman are both present and correct in Warhammer, taking them as the hybrid melee/healer/caster types that they are, but I drew up short when considering the druid. The druid is the first class that I played and reached the original level cap of sixty with in WoW. I played it back before it was really cool (read overpowered) to be a druid, before we were feralised and became little Tasmanian bundles of whirlwinding furry fury. I will always have a soft spot for my Alliance druid, despite the fact that the model they use for the dire bear form looks like it’s suffering a permanent stroke, all twisted lips and tongue lolling. It’s swings and roundabouts though, the Horde’s bear form looks much cooler, but then they have to suffer the fact that their cat form has the body of a lion but the face of Danny DeVito after having been hit with a spade one too many times.

I came to realise just how underrepresented shape-shifting classes are, not just in WAR, but in many of the MMOs that I’ve played. WAR has the Marauder of course, but they really only shape-shift their arm, so they’re really a shareware shape-shifter: the fundamentals are there but the feature set is severely reduced. Other than that, I can’t really recall any shape-shifting classes in other MMOs that I’ve played, DAoC (the early years, at least, not so sure about more recent expansions), EQII, AC2, LotRO and many others. Is WoW the only major mainstream MMO that has decent, honest to goodness shape-shifters, or have I simply got brain ague, and I’m forgetting all the thousands of shape-shifting MMO classes that actually exist?

If I’m correct and the shape-shifter is indeed a rare entity in the MMOsphere, I have to wonder why this is. Clearly the WoW druid is a fairly complex beastie to put together, what with them being about five classes in one. Yes, five: you’ve got the Bear form tank, you’ve got the Cat form rogue, the Moonkin form mage and the Tree of Life form healer. And then you’ve got the humanoid form, where admittedly you generally only get to poke critters with your wooden staff until they get so annoyed that they turn around and bite your hippy-haired head off, but it’s still a form. In druid circles we call it Worm Food form. So yes, there are a lot of mechanics to squeeze in to the class, although being a true hybrid, they are all mechanics that are lifted more or less wholesale from the traditional pure classes. Also there’s the question of balance, if a class can do all things, then why would people play any of the singularly skilled classes? Well, the trick is that the druid does most things well, but not quite as well as a pure class would, and when coupled with the fact that some people just don’t ever want to tank, say, then these people are much more likely to pick a more restrictive class that does what they like to do, and does it better than anyone else to the exclusion of flexibility or support skills. In MMOs we call these people DPS.

So it’s not as if shape-shifters have to be the only overpowered class anyone will ever play, and it’s not as though they require a disproportionate amount of time to develop, being that many of their forms and abilities should sensibly be based on those that already exist for other classes, so again I do wonder why they don’t seem to be an option in many MMOs.

Lord knows you only have to look at Second Life to see the sheer volume of slightly odd types who like to turn themselves into animals and ‘do it like they do on the Discovery Channel’ with one another, if you know what I mean. Based on that evidence, you’d think a shape-shifting class would be compulsory in any MMO that took its subscription numbers seriously.

So in conclusion: World of Warcraft, 10 million subscribers because it offers druids and thus a chance at simulated furry sex in an environment far more appealing than Second Life; Age of Conan, failed to do well because their Bear Shaman couldn’t actually shape-shift into a bear, they went with boobs over bears, and they paid the price. On the Internet every third thing is a boob, if you want to titillate people online these days, go with bears.

I have to confess that I’m not sure that’s the conclusion I was really aiming for when I started this post.

Oh well, tune in tomorrow for my next post: “Gnomes in MMOs” and why I’ve concluded that they’re the reason for the current increase in benign prostatic hyperplasia in young male gamers.

I thought we were an autonomous collective

The most recent Van Hemlock podcast is most interesting, with Van Hemlock and Jon talking about the guilds (or anarcho-syndicalist commune and constitutional monarchy respectively) they lead, as well as guilds in more general terms. It’s something I’ve been thinking about myself, with the approach of Warhammer: Age of Reckoning.

A while back on the old Musings, I wrote:
“MMOGs don’t half make it difficult to team up with people sometimes. You get chatting to someone and find out hey, you both play Battlefield 2142. Pick the same server, log on, and you can be throwing yourselves into combat against the hated enemy (or, indeed, each other) in minutes. Find out you both play World of Warcraft, and wouldn’t it be crazy fun to adventure together? Great! Except they’re probably on a US server while you’re on an EU server. And if you happen to be on the same continent, you’re probably on a different server within that continent. And if you happen to be on the same server, you’re probably different factions. And if you happen to be on the same server and the same faction, you’re probably different levels. And if you happen to be on the same server and the same faction and you’re the same level they’re probably only interested in Heroic dungeon runs in places you can’t get to. Or they’re the same class as you so you fight over all the loot drops. Or they turn out to be an insane stalker you really wish you’d never teamed with in the first place, though I don’t think we can blame that one on game design.”

Perhaps tellingly, or perhaps entirely coincidentally, both EVE (home of Jon’s [redacted] Corp, part of the [redacted] Alliance) and Guild Wars (where Van Hemlock’s Tuesday N00b Club can be found) are, unless I’m more vastly mistaken than a man who thinks Hillaire Belloc is still alive, shard-less. They’re faction-less, at least in the sense of Order/Destruction or Horde/Alliance “n’er the twain shall team up or even talk to each other”. Levels aren’t particularly important, with even new players being able to contribute in some role in EVE, and the levelling aspect of Guild Wars going very quickly. If you play the game and want to hook up with a particular guild/corp, you can (subject to extensive security vetting, background checks, three written references etc. And that’s just the N00b Club, ah (I confounded your expectations, and from thence the humour arose!))

WAR, though, looks rather more like WoW (wait for it, don’t start on the hate mail yet) in its server set-up. Separate European and North American servers, so if history is any guide it will be a bit of a faff to play on one continent from the other and not possible to easily flip between them, otherwise I’d look more seriously at joining the Casualties of WAR blog-o-guild. Distinct servers, and different factions on those servers. Barring rolling a new character or server transfer, if such a facility exists, your choice of guilds will be limited to those that happen to be on the server that you looked at in the list and thought “huh, that’s a pretty cool name[1]

Another way of doing it is to try and find a guild before launch, which at least takes care of the server selection. A multi-game guild, as touched on in the podcast, is a great way of hitting the ground running, but not something I’ve got into myself yet; I’ve seen a couple of instances of members of a successful guild from one game striking out somewhere else but neither particularly worked out, I think you need a really strong team to keep things going in more than one game. Failing that, it’s off to recruitment adverts in the forums, and hoping the guild you pick with the active forums and eloquent posters haven’t managed to burn themselves out in the beta.

From reading beta impressions so far, it sounds like open grouping and Public Quests make ad-hoc teams fairly common, so if a better alternative doesn’t present itself then I’ll make an attempt to be a bit sociable, and see if I can bump into some groovy people in the world at large. Hopefully on our side, otherwise I’ll have to set fire to them.

[1] Course you didn’t *just* think “that’s a pretty cool name” did you? No, you thought “that’s a *really* cool name, but that means everyone else is going to think that and they’ll pick that server and it’ll be overcrowded with queues just to log on; but that other one has a rubbish name, nobody will pick that at all, it’ll be impossible to get a team; that one, that’s a bit of a Destruct-y name, that’ll have really heavy imbalanced population in favour of Destruction”, and picked the second-coolest-sounding-least-Destruct-y named server.


I can’t believe the sheer audacity of this post. If any class in any game was ever in need of nerfing, it’s whichever one Zubon decides to play in WAR. Zubon’s class is a slap in the face to anyone who might be playing a class that has to oppose it in RvR. It’s an overpowered outrage I tell you. However, the class I choose to play in WAR, now that’s underpowered and in need of some serious buffing.

My class is so underpowered that I weaken other classes when in the same group as them.

My class is so underpowered that when I hit a mob I increase its hit points.

My class is so underpowered that it is always crtically hit by damaging spells cast nearby, even if it’s from someone on my own side.

My class is so underpowered that it takes damage whenever it tries to open the Tome of Knowledge.

My class is so underpowered that it gets one-shot all the time. By small children. With one arm. In pyjamas. Who are dead.

My class is so underpowered that in the time other classes have gained five levels, my class has gone down one level.

My class is so underpowered that whenever I enter a Realm vs Realm battle the other side is instantly declared the winner.

My class is so underpowered that my Renown Rank armour and weapon upgrades were a coffin and a shovel.

My class is so underpowered that NPC farmers kick me as I run past.

My class is so underpowered that killing ten rats requires a war group of twenty of us to achieve.

Though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have.

Oh dear lord here comes an analogy, and I of all people should know that it will only end in tears. Although sometimes I’ve been known to write half decent analogies, so I’m going to do it anyway.

So MMOs are theme parks, you pay your entrance fee (read subscription) and you get to go on the rides. Now, many people in Blogland have been focusing on the rides that Warhammer Online has and have rightly stated that, underneath the themes and imagineering they are in the main quite similar to World of Warcraft’s rides and thus perhaps a bit long in the tooth.

However, in World of Warcraft’s theme park, in addition to your entrance fee, many of the rides have queues. They have queues that stretch all the way around the park. Five times. Many of the areas of World of Warcraft’s game-play require huge investments of time in order for a person to be able to make it anywhere. There are many obstacles thrown in the way to perpetuate these ‘queues’, reputation grinds, keying, gear disparity, even just organising raid group composition in order to have the perfect balance in order to beat an encounter.

What Warhammer does differently, and which people touch upon but perhaps have not tied-up into a rather crufty metaphor, is that it is a theme park without queues. Everything about the game is about people being able to get onto the rides as quickly as possible, to be able to decide they want to hit the PvP ride and be strapped in and away enjoying the mad roller coaster of getting ganked and ganking in kind, before they can say “OMGWTF Bright Wizards are so overpowered!!!1” . They’re able to jump straight back on to the PvP ride if they want, but if they fancy trying the micro-raid ride, then all they have to do is go find the nearest public quest and they’re off, no queue, not even a barrier saying “you must be this high” (a level) to ride.

And that, I think, is what sets Warhammer apart from the older generation of MMOs, and what I think has a large section of the MMO community slowly burbling away with an undercurrent of barely restrained child-like delight.

Anyway, that’s my analogy. Probably needs more otters and carpets.

Life is either a great adventure or a tiny one.

If you have, like myself, been dragged kicking and screaming by relatives and friends into the hellish nightmare reputation grind that is online social networking, you may be able to take some solace from the fact that there is a refuge for nerds even in these deep dark depths of despair. If you subscribe to the behemoth of online friend networks, Facebook, it will be well worth checking out the charming Dungeons and Dragons Tiny Adventures.

A nice in-depth review can be found here on the ever impressive

For such a simple interface, in such an unlikely gaming environment, it provides one of the more compelling fantasy RPG adventures that I’ve had in a while. The little adventure stages, with their descriptive and evocative text, rather than the simple “WINNAR!” or “EPIC FAIL!” that would have been so much simpler for the developers to employ, take the game a level above what one would expect from a miniature application tucked into a social networking site. I find myself excited to log in and find out what adventure my character undertook and whether they were successful, it’s like reading a mini adventure story with your character at the center of it all, just as RPGs are supposed to be; the text is short but descriptive, and your imagination, assuming it is above the level of a lobotomised newt, can fill in the blanks and produce the visuals, as one does with any compelling storytelling.

I’ve yet to try adventuring with friends, but seeing as I have at least TWO WHOLE friends on Facebook who might be interested in trying it out, I expect I’ll have a go sooner or later.

A word of warning though, the game has been suffering with the usual launch problems, in particular I think their network/database back-end is having trouble coping with the number of players, and I assume that this may well only get worse as word gets around about this nifty! little application, that a lot of grown-up MMOs could learn a thing or two about usability and pure essence of fun from.

To that end my dwarf warlord is off adventuring through the Stronghold of the Drow again, starting from level one due to a rollback that had to be performed which reverted to a date before I had started playing, and even now I frequently experience the frustrating +1 Message of “Too many connections”.

However, should you wish to undertake this adventure, and should you make it past the demon-headed database dog of doom, you will find a tiny experience of what online RPG games should be about.

Comic Catch-up

Since my previous comic post, I’d let my re-acquired habit lapse somewhat other than picking up the final trade paperback of Y: The Last Man, a great conclusion to the superlative series. A third volume of The Ultimates started, but with a new writer and artist, and flipping through it I really couldn’t get along with the new style so I don’t think I’ll be grabbing the TPB of that. I hadn’t really read many comics at all, until chatting to a friend last week he raved about The Walking Dead and lent me the first few volumes. It’s a fairly familiar initial scenario (at least for anyone who’s watched a bunch of zombie films, particularly 28 Days Later), and starts off… not exactly sedately, but following fairly standard lines, massive head trauma for plenty of zombies, a few bites for the humans here and there. The black and white artwork slightly takes the edge off things, so while still visceral (very literally, in many cases), it’s not too grisly. Things develop, though, and while the zombies are an ever-present threat, it’s the interactions of the survivors at the fore, and things get *really* brutal, I was rather glad it was black and white in several places. Recommended, if you have a strong stomach.

Also on the comic front a new podcast (and blog) has started up, Limited Edition, a rather splendid look at everything comic-book related. In the first episode they talk about Secret Invasion, this summer’s Marvel “event”. I had a bit of a go at the last one, Civil War, but didn’t really get on with it. One problem was, caught up in comic-y excitement, I was picking it up an issue at a time; reading an issue per month, it takes me a while to remember exactly who everyone is and what’s going on, and by the time I’ve straightened that all out it’s the cliffhanger and another month (or more) to the next issue, so I’ve since stuck to waiting for at least one, preferably a couple of, trade paperbacks before starting on series. Apart from that, the series as a whole didn’t really grab me, I think I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to superhero comics and prefer the heroes fighting villains, rather than each other. Secret Invasion sounds rather more fun, though, so I might well give that a go. While reading up on it, I noticed part of the event is a new series of Captain Britain and MI-13 written by Paul Cornell, who also wrote the brilliant Doctor Who two-parter Human Nature and The Family of Blood (and the novel it was based on). I’d vaguely seen mention of it while scanning the blogroll, and prior to that his Wisdom mini-series, which after reading a couple of reviews sounds decidedly interesting, so I’m going to grab that while waiting for some of the Secret Invasion stuff to be collected.

Thought for the day.

Considering all the posts we’re seeing in the MMO blogsphere about how Warhammer Online is just another MMO in the same vein as World of Warcraft, Everquest and co – that is it’s based upon DikuMUD design philosophies, which in turn were based on ye olde Dungeons & Dragons – I wondered what features that didn’t get ported from D&D would be excellent to have in this current generation of MMOs.

The Eraser of Infinite Gold Supply would be a fine start. Need to get that epic mount? Don’t have the means to afford that magic sword? Simply wait for an opportune moment when the GM isn’t looking (perhaps distract them by throwing a cheese ball at their head) and then quickly apply the Eraser of Infinite Gold Supply to your inventory; suddenly you’ll have more money than you could ever spend! And don’t worry about the suspicious looks that the GM throws your way, there’s no denying that you earned that gold, it’s etched right there on your character sheet in indelible pencil…

How about the Gatling Wand of Token Healing? Grab a wand, stick a hundred charges of healing on it, and watch even the most unlikely characters become healing gods. But where one wand is good, ten wands strapped together firing off of a chain driven rotating cylinder is just enough to make your GM cry. Suffice it to say that I found wands in 3.5ed DnD to be a bit daft.

There are plenty of excellent skills that could be ported as well, including but not limited to:

  • “I meant to position myself out of their line of sight, honest.”
  • “We never declared our marching order so the armoured dwarf was definitely at the front”. (Handy for ambushes)
  • “Switch to a flanking position when the GM is on a loo break.”
  • “We never declared our marching order so the trap-spotting elf was definitely at the front”. (Handy for trapped hallways)
  • “Re-roll for attack because the ‘dice was cocked’, until you get a 20.”
  • “We never declared our marching order so the cloth-wearing gnome was definitely at the front”. (Handy for when you hate gnomes, or people who play gnomes)
  • “Re-use a weapon I dropped earlier and hope the GM doesn’t notice.”
  • “Retroactively add item to inventory.” (Always handy when you forgot to bring rope. Again.)

Then there’s the Instant Re-roll of the Alt Addicted, where your character of twelve levels, who has adventured through hell and high water with the current band of merry adventurers, suddenly and unexpectedly develops a bad case of buttock warts which prevents them from adventuring further, but luckily there’s another level twelve character of another class (which is going to be much more fun to play, oh yes) to take their place almost instantly!

It is interesting to note, though, that many forms of metagaming have already been ported to MMOs. For example, when your character enters a room that is full to the rafters with furnishings, it’s uncanny how they know to make their way over to the mundane and modest looking book that’s second from the left on the third shelf up of the fourth bookcase. Heroes have the funniest skills.

Star Wars Mondegreen of the Day

Part One of a very occasional series, The Fratellis “Whistle for the Choir”:

Because I may be a beggar and you may be the queen
Or you’re Padme Amidala or somewhere in between

Actual lyrics:
Because I may be a beggar and you may be the queen
I know I may be on a downer, I’m still ready to dream

Purest green!

The occasional school trip to France many years ago may have expanded my vocabulary less than a single Eddie Izzard routine (est-ce que le singe voulez allez a la chambre?), but it did leave me with a taste for sirop menthe, a vivid green mint cordial made up into refreshing beverages with water, lemonade or (if you’re really strange) milk. I’d never seen it in the UK, so had to rely on friends and family bringing back the occasional bottle from holidays for my fix (never mind the cheap fags and booze, just some mint syrup for me), but wandering around the local supermarket yesterday there it was, a row of cans next to the bottles of weak lemon drink. Huzzah! I’m off to see if drinking a whole bottle over a weekend can turn you green…