Monthly Archives: September 2008

Send three and fourpence.

Just how big is the Warhamer Online Collector’s Edition box?

No seriously, that’s not rhetorical, how big is it? It’s just that it turned up this morning, I decided to circumnavigate around it and I’m still going; I think I’m somewhere in East Asia because there are orangutans hanging from the trees over there.

Just in case people think I’m exagerating that it’s big (ok, I am exagerating for effect; I’m allowed, it’s what I do) here’s a comparison with a Wii and a 47″ LCD TV:

Kick Out The Jams

Warhammer is all very well for violence, conflict, life-or-death struggle and light raffia work, but sometimes you just want to sit back, have a nice cup of tea and KICK OUT THE JAMS, PERSON WHO ENGAGES IN INAPPROPRIATE MATRIARCHAL RELATIONS!

[This post has been classified as ’12’ by the BBFC for mild satirical references to the edited versions of songs in Guitar Hero games]

Though some of you foreign types have been Rocking in a Band since somewhere around the early 14th century (using game-time, “last year” if you prefer conventional chronology), and are even now Rocking in a Band 2 if you’re of the XBoxier persuasion, the Wii version of the first Rock Band has only just come out here in the UK. Bollocks to that, if you’ll forgive my Sex Pistols, but salvation is to hand with Guitar Hero World Tour only a couple of months away, and they’ve just released the full song list. Plenty of lovely rock there, including a re-recording of the the titular MC5 classic, just leaving the ever so slightly Herculean task of persuading my wife that a plastic drum kit would be a lovely accessory in the living room…

Second draft of a best case scenario

A couple of weeks back I was bemoaning the problems of getting together with people in Massively Difficult To Group Up Multiplayer Games, a subject Van Hemlock and Jon covered in their most excellent podcast. The silver lining of that particular cloud was finding a great bunch of people to go Warhammer-ing with, and initial grouping experiences have gone rather well.

A problem with a quest-focused game is that once you get a group of people on the same server, playing the same faction, of vaguely comparable levels, in the same (in-game) location, you need to work out what to do. With a couple of people it’s not so bad, but when you’re up to five or six…
“Let’s do a quest!”
“OK… which one?”
“Have you got ‘Tweaking the Ogre’s Nose’?”
“Can you share it?”
“Sharing… you’re out of range, Geoff, come here… you’re not eligible, Steve… you’ve already done it, Kev”
“What was the pre-req?”
“I can’t remember, maybe ‘Stealing the Vampire’s Biscuits’?”
“No, I haven’t done that but I’ve got the first quest”
“Well let’s go and kill boars for ‘Yet Another Example Of Villagers Being Too Lazy To Go Hunting Themselves'”
“Done that, I need slightly angrier boars for ‘They’ve Got More Boar Meat Than They Can Ever Eat They’re Just Setting These Quests Out Of Porcinephobic Spite Now'”
“Well we’ll set off that way anyway and get onto your bit of the quest next”
“Hey, look over there, the body of a missing village, I need that for ‘It’s Either Going To Be A Corpse Somewhere Or An Escort Mission'”
“Me too!”
“And me!”
“Me as well!”
*Geoff clicks on the corpse, completes the mission, it despawns*

Warhammer has no shortage of the usual go there, take a message to her, find him, kill ten of them quests, more than enough to fill up a quest log, but crucially, in a group, there are two much easier alternatives. Firstly public quests, covered in bags of detail elsewhere, essentially allow anyone in the vague vicinity to pile in and contribute towards something, and don’t require much co-ordination past “everyone to the burning windmill!” Better still, though, are scenarios. Lower levels get a boost, so pretty much anyone of any level can join up. You can join a queue for a scenario from anywhere in a zone, and when the scenario is finished, you end up back where you started. Anybody can sign their entire party up for a scenario, regardless of where everybody else is, so you can give a shout on guild chat to see if anybody fancies a few scenarios, invite pretty much anyone that replies, and click the “join scenario” button. The awesome burden of party leadership is lifted from your shoulders:
“What level do I need to be?”
“Doesn’t matter!”
“Where do I need to go?”
“Anywhere you like, just click ‘Ready’ when the scenario box pops up!”
While queueing, everyone can carry on doing regular quests, training, shopping, anything else they fancy, then hop in for a fearsome Order versus Destruction clash when you get to the front of the queue, then back to whatever else you were up to. Last night we had a party covering all the races, so after a couple of rounds of Nordenwatch, for a bit of a change an Elf signed us up for their scenario, and it was off to the Altar of Khaine, without even needing to fly to another zone. The one area of leadership I might need to slightly work on is tactics within the scenarios, I’m not sure “Err, just run around and kill stuff!” features prominently in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Still, everyone was laid back enough that I don’t think they minded not being a highly drilled platoon of fearsome death, and even without totally crushing the forces of Destruction under our heels a fun time was had by all.

Thought for the day.

With the complaints about server queue times building-up around the blogosphere, I’m left wondering what the problem is when every server that I can see has a low to medium Order population. Ah yes, that’s right, it’s because the majority of people are playing Destruction. Now considering the numerous petty and snide remarks that I’ve read about all the lesser MMO players rolling ‘pretty’ characters on the side of Order and it therefore being analogous to World of Warcraft’s Alliance, I think it time that those people take a look at the server populations again and perhaps readjust the saddle on those awfully high horses they ride, lest they fall off and are then lost in amongst the veritable ocean of Destruction players.

Destruction is the new Alliance.

The Chosen is the new Paladin.

Declaration of WAR

Yesterday morning the KIASA Ambassador in Dublin handed GOA and Mythic a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 3 o’clock that the servers would not be available, a state of WAR would exist. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this blog is at WAR.

Melmoth’s post more or less covers everything I was going to say about the launch of Warhammer, but apparently quoting an entire post verbatim and adding “this” at the end is frowned on by the International Blog Standards Agency. The only difference in opinion is from when GOA initially instituted the asynchronous method of validating open beta keys; I was convinced this was being done by punching the user input onto cards and feeding everything into a Hollerith tabulating machine, though I now can’t get the Lovecraftian image of the multi-limbed corpse of Rude Goldberg out of my mind, and believe me I’ve tried. Everything went very smoothly, no server problems, no serious bugs, just an awful lot of WAR (at this point I am contractually obliged to exclaim “huh!”, and inquire what it might be good for). No queues as Order on the main server, where it was great to meet up and rampage around with a bunch of guild people, though I briefly popped over to create a Destruction character on the server Rock, Paper, Shotgun have gone for, and wound up in a fairly long queue so gave up on that. All in all, a rating of 9.2 on the splendid-o-meter, which ranks as slightly less splendid than hanging out with splendid people at Games Day, but considerably more splendid than being pursued through tunnels under the Seine (or possibly Liffey) by a multi-limbed Goldbergzombie.

How to get ahead in reckoning.

I reported my initial joyful experiences with Warhammer Online, specifically the giant arse-mongering debacle that was open beta, and so it was with some trepidation that I wandered back to WAR dash Europe dot com and prepared myself to do battle once more against the forces of foobarness, as I have come to lovingly refer to the GOA technical team. Once again they were waiting until the day of launch to allow registration of head-start codes, and once again they were using their Rube Goldberg powered website. Yes you read that correctly, it isn’t powered by some Rube Goldberg device, but by the re-animated corpse of the man himself; chained to a web server in a basement near Paris and fed on the brains of water voles that inhabit the Seine, he pecks away at a keyboard with his grey-green fingers until they fall off, at which point the site is taken down for maintenance as a crew of elite seamstresses sew his decayed digits back on.

Or so it seemed, the first time I visited the site.

This time around it was apparent that they had upgraded their back-end server by grafting extra limbs onto the Goldberg corpse, and in a somewhat ironic state of affairs, had created a Rube Goldberg device that pushed and pulled, yanked and cranked and generally cajoled the various appendages into being a lean mean application processing machine. They Rube Goldberged Rube Goldberg, and in doing so managed what can only be described as a startlingly unexpected successful head-start.

Which leaves very little to rant or froth about, and as the old saying goes: all joy and no rant makes Jack a plain blogger. Or is it ‘sane blogger’? I always get that one confused.

Well, what is there to say? I entered my head-start codes early on Sunday morning and I got an email back within five minutes saying that they had been accepted. So I twiddled my thumbs for a bit, looked at the now redundant pile of emergency head-start registration rations, which included several bottles of one hundred-degree proof spirits; a five kilogram bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk; a catheter and associated bag; a top hat; a bottle of paracetamol; a pair of sunglasses; a bottle of antacid; a copy of the infamous Foranomicon containing all the dark arts on how to summon the most vitriolic forum flames from the very depths of Hell; and my teddy bear, Professor Snookums. Really though, it was quite the anti-climax, but luckily for me the emergency head-start registration rations also conveniently double as the emergency ‘everything went well and I’m now bored and have nothing to do’ rations.

So with registration completed successfully and without trauma, other than a mild reflux which was probably something to do with five kilograms of chocolate and a bottle of Jim Beam, I then awaited the inevitable disappointment that would be the head-start proper, when the servers opened for play and were quickly closed again when they immediately imploded under the tidal pressure of a WAR fanatic tsunami.

The grand time of opening arrived and I hopped online to witness the carnage first-hand, only to find that the only carnage was in the starter RvR areas because everyone was already logged-in and playing, the servers having opened slightly before schedule and still running fine. Really, how is a blogger supposed to rant against such competence? I mean, I don’t doubt that there were still players out there who suffered issues, and the launch wasn’t flawless, but from my own personal experience it was about as flawless as one could possibly expect in a fundamentally flawed universe. Well done to GOA for turning things around and making amends for their previous gaffe.

In the end I spent a joyous afternoon playing my Warrior Priest, meeting various members of the guild and generally having a jolly good time, with excellent server stability and a surprising lack of lag or slowdown in any but the most insanely overpopulated areas.

Which all makes for a somewhat dull report. I did, however, experience the joys of PvPing with a melee character in an area with a serious lack of support characters, and have thus been seriously tempted to roll a Rune Priest and switch to that as my main, which is the topic for another slightly more spirited post perhaps.

Suffice it to say that playing as Empire is a little rough in the early RvR scenarios because Chaos has tanks, dedicated healers in the Zealot class, and several DPS classes, whereas Empire has no tank and no dedicated healer. I didn’t sign-up with the Warrior Priesthood to stand at the back and heal, which is what I’ve felt compelled to do so far through my own need to keep people around me alive, I wanted to experience the joy of melee healing, something which works very well in my limited PvE experience, but is so far underwhelming and in fact nigh-on impossible in these early RvR levels. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind standing at the back and healing if it’s useful to our side and I feel that I am contributing my weight to the war effort, I’m definitely a supporting character sort of fellow, but if I’m going to do that I should really be playing a class that was designed with that in mind. And yes, I could just move my Warrior Priest to one of the areas that has an abundance of healers and tanks, such as the dwarf zone, but that somehow feels as though I’m abandoning my duties as a member of the grand ‘We Don’t Tank or Heal’ Empire.

Perhaps given a few more levels, and as the guild starts to focus on one area or another for RvR and thus brings the whole shebang of Order classes to focus on the enemy, I may find my place in RvR with the Warrior Priest, but right at this moment in time the little Jedi dwarf with the runic power is calling out my name.

Disguise Tips

As a kid, I had the usual career plans: astronaut, superhero, pirate, certified accountant specialising in management accounting, you know how it goes. Perhaps the main option, though, was Master Spy, mostly due to my bible on the subject, The KnowHow Book of Spycraft. This seems a slightly incongruous book in a series otherwise featuring KnowHow Books of Paper Fun, Puppets, Print and Paint and similar subjects, but it was perfectly natural at the time. I mastered a variety of ciphers and codes, had secret signals, a series of dead letter drops, everything a spy ring would need. Granted, they were all in the back garden, and possibly therefore of limited use for international operations, but still.

I just found the KnowHow Book of Spycraft while rummaging through some old stuff, and one section stood out even at the time: “Change Your Looks: If your enemy knows you and is watching for you, try these tricks.” Now I was all of seven or eight when I had this book, so see if you can spot some possible flaws with their suggested disguise methods:
“Put talcum powder on your hair and eyebrows to whiten them”
“From a distance, a blacked out tooth looks like a gap. First wipe the tooth dry. Then rub black crayon over it.”
“Draw wrinkle lines with a soft pencil, like a pencil marked 3B or 4B. Smile very hard, then wrinkle your forehead to see where the lines should go.”
And my favourite of all…
“Mix daubs of blue and black paint with some face cream, like Pond’s Cold Cream. Rub a little on your face like this, to look as though you need a shave.”

“Have you seen a master spy at all?”
“No, just a small child with white hair, wrinkles and a missing tooth who really needs a shave…”

First draft of a worst case scenario

As the European WAR beta finally sputters into life, belching smoke, making slightly alarming clanking noises and leaving a light sheen of oil behind it, but moving nonetheless, I’ve finally managed to play a bit. Not very much, I haven’t even managed a public quest yet, but I’ve tinkered with character creation and a bit of the very early content. Some games break you in gently; City of Heroes has a separate tutorial zone taking you through the various controls and interface elements, Age of Conan wouldn’t even let you see another player until you’d had a bit of a single player run-around, but Warhammer either figures everyone’s pretty much familiar with these MMOG things or wants to get you straight into the action, and pitches you right into the thick of things. You do get the old pop-up question marks explaining some stuff as it happens, the basics are nice and familiar (run around with WASD, press numbers to activate abilities on hotbar), a bit of random key pressing found most things (‘I’nventory or ‘B’ag? ‘P’layer or ‘C’haracter?), so in fairly short order I was off around the zone, killing ten of anything with a red name and getting to grips with the Tome of Knowledge. A couple of clicks signed up for the Nordenwatch Scenario, instantly familiar for anyone who’s played Arathi Basin. With the first match (a hotly contested battle that Order just won) I remembered how much I enjoyed battlegrounds, and then a second was a timely reminder of their frustrations (we got caned, immediate death upon respawn).

Having decided (maybe) to definitely (probably) play a Bright Wizard at launch, after a brief run around the Empire zone I thought I’d head somewhere else to keep things fresh. I figured a Dark Elf Sorcerer would be handy for getting used to the style of play while meeting and setting fire to new and interesting people, so wandered off to the Blighted Isle, and queued up for a scenario there. The first Elf scenario is slightly different to anything from WoW, being similar to the “Double Domination” game type of Unreal Tournament: there are two control points, and a team has to capture both and hold them for ten seconds to score. The terrifying forces of Destruction sprinted forth from their starting point, and had soon captured the closest control point. Then the terrifying forces of Destruction with incredibly short attention spans were unable to stand still for more than a couple of seconds, and everybody ran off towards the other control point (including me, I wasn’t going to hang around as a solitary level one defender). The valiant forces of Order were clearly just as deficit in the attention department, and as we triumphantly seized the undefended second control point, so they took the point we’d vacated, and it was back to square one. Quite literally, as the Destructive horde barely paused once the point was under control before heading back towards the other side of the map. Add the Benny Hill music and play everything in fast forward as the process was repeated a couple of times before finally a few of us actually stuck around a point long enough to catch a glimpse of the enemy. Either wary of a trap, or just confused by people actually standing by a control point, the Order players hung back favouring ranged attacks and sacrificial lions, giving enough of a delay for Destruction to capture the second point. Triumph! Victory! Or 100 points, with one side needing 500 to win (not sure what else scored points; kills, possibly, or just holding a point). Things settled down into a stalemate after that, with a general brawl around one of the points and neither side managing another capture, the clock slowly ticking down to finally bring a blessed halt to things. It’ll be interesting to see how the scenario pans out once people are more familiar with it, but I’m not sure it’ll be my first choice.

Scratch ‘n’ sniff.

Over on Waaagh!, Syp asks us to fill in the blanks on the phrase “Warhammer is to Warcraft as <blank> is to <blank>” and gives us a few examples to get us started, like “as Zeplin is to the Beatles”.

I thought:

Warhammer is to Warcraft as an itchy scrotum is to a large male silverback gorilla.

But with all the fanatics around, maybe that’s just a little too ballsy.

Beta blocker.

Now, this is a story all about how,
My life got flipped, turned upside down.
And I’d like to take a minute,
Just sit right there,
I’ll tell you how the WAR beta made me lose all my hair.

Our story begins, as these stories often do, with an old and cynical MMO player.

I’m not sure that I can be bothered with the traditional wall-of-text rant here[1] and, ironically, I’m also having trouble expressing this farcical comedy of errors in any sort of comedic way.

So here’s an outline, please feel free to add your own canned laughter track.

I woke up on Sunday morning and found an email from Zoso waiting for me, informing me that the registration for the Warhammer Online Open Beta was to start at 8:30am. It being just after nine, I hopped on to the WAR website and tried to log in. It failed. At this point I was entirely unsurprised, because despite GOA’s assurances to the contrary, everyone and his pet mushroom knew that the registration process would fail initially, this is The Way when it comes to MMO registration. Especially those registrations that don’t open until the day the servers are supposed to come online.

I seem to recall that I went and made some breakfast, read through my RSS feeds and pondered the meaning of life, the standard Sunday morning fare, and at some point I found out that the registration required a new website account and could not be applied to an existing account; as such, there was a shortcut to the registration page provided, and of course the registration process was totally bogged down, such that you could get most of the way through registering, and then it would fail to provide the captcha image that was required to validate one’s state of human beingness and you could proceed no further.

After a few attempts at this I resigned myself to the fact that this was not going to work any time soon and so I went and did something less boring instead. In this case, housework. After a few hours of chores, I popped my head back in to the website, saw that it was still not working, and then had a quick look at the Warhammer Alliance forums and quickly left when I saw that they were all glowing green and causing Geiger counters to explode due to high readings. After a brief decontamination session, I took the family off to see relatives and came back late that evening. A quick check again confirmed that still nothing was working, and the forum status had been upgraded from Nuclear Bikini Alpha to White Dwarf Super Nova.

I played City of Villains for a bit and then went to bed.

Monday was much the same as Sunday, really. I had the day off of work because Mrs Melmoth was otherwise engaged, and I was to look after mini-Melmoth, so the odd check of the Warhammer website and forums was possible every now and again, but after the first few tries I realised that we were in for the long haul of Open Beta cock-ups. The various ‘official’ unofficial forums had generally been locked at this point, mainly due to load issues I imagine, but also because it appeared that new forms of life had bred in the nuclear wasteland of the previous day, and the rage and bile spewing forth from these entities was actually starting to melt the LCDs of innocent forum posters as they stumbled into the midst of the chaos whilst looking for help on the situation.

Whether the rumours are true that the White House had to be evacuated and the president moved to Air Force One after a presidential aide accidentally browsed to the EU Warhammer forums rather than the US ones, I can’t tell you.

At 15:00hrs on Monday evening an emergency asynchronous activation webpage (also known in the industry as the “it’s all gone to shit in a handbag” page) was provided such that players could submit their account details, whereupon a million small monkeys with hammers would hit Fisher Price keyboards until they either managed to validate some of the seventy thousand applications that flooded in or they managed to finish replicating the complete works of Chaucer. Either one was as likely as the other. This process was only available to people with registered accounts, because the account registration process was buggered and nobody was able to register. The GOA CMs pointed out that they were gob-smacked that anyone thought that they’d need a new account, because they hadn’t stated such a thing. The fact that they hadn’t posted anything at all until the entire cluster-fuck had become a steamy writhing mass of rabid forum-based rumour, speculation and misinformation may have contributed to this somewhat, however.

Anyway, at 16:00hrs on Monday I submitted my Open Beta key, and after a few failed attempts where the page just sat there looking gormlessly at me like a bucktoothed yokel who’s just peed himself and is hoping you haven’t noticed the puddle on the floor, I finally managed to submit some details. Current estimation of a reply email – which would either tell you that your key had been validated; perhaps tell you that you’d got your password wrong and that you’d therefore have to go through the whole process again; or possibly just say “Thise olde gentil Britouns in hir dayes. Ook Ook! Ook! Of diverse aventures maden layes Oook!” – was one to two hours. Now, this estimate was given by GOA CMs, so a slight amount of pessimism was probably in order based on their performance up to this point.

It was some twenty seven hours later, late Tuesday evening when I finally got an email from the registration system.

The forum speculation had continued apace, and after Zoso had had success Tuesday morning with the forum theory of the moment, that spamming the authentication system over and over with ten or twenty applications in quick succession was the way to go, I succumbed to the hysteria somewhat and had a minor spamming session myself when I got back from work, and indeed, a few hours after that an email arrived. Well, three arrived at the same time.

Each email said the same thing in the subject: “Registration issue”. Upon reading each one I was told that my beta key had not been validated and that I should click on the provided link to see why. Fuelled by nothing more than weary curiosity at this point, I clicked the link. The message was simple: “Your account has not been verified, please check your inbox”. So the account that I applied with, the account that I have had since July 5th, the account which I have used to access your site repeatedly since that time, this account, the one that has worked for two months, has, apparently, not been validated?

I’ve said that I’ve boggled at things before, but really it was just artistic license. This was the first time that I have truly boggled.

I sighed.

I checked the game patcher one more time, since now the latest and greatest forum theory was that even if you hadn’t received a confirmation email you could generally log in after a few hours of submitting your application. No dice. So I went and read a good book for the evening; Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge, incidentally, and it’s very enjoyable so far.

At about 9pm, just as I was going up to bed to finish my reading for the evening there, I decided on impulse, tugged by that somewhat pathetic hope that if you catch a beta unawares it might forget to not let you in, I checked my email of which there were no new messages, and attempted to log in and run the game patcher.

And it started patching.

After patching the game I managed to play for an hour, but generally just wobbled around like a drunken partygoer on a cocaine high, all Captain Jack Sparrow, staring at the pretty pictures in boss-eyed confusion and wonder, unable to fully appreciate that I was really there in the game. I logged on to the guild’s Teamspeak server, but was afraid to open my mouth lest all that came out of my microphone was “Heeaaaahhahaeeeeeerrrrrrruuggggghhhhhhaahhhh” followed by a minute or two of unrestrained sobbing. So I failed to introduce myself entirely.

Hopefully this evening I can take some time to actually appreciate the game, get to grips with it and give it a decent test drive; you know, clear that new game smell out and replace it with the stale musty smell of regular use, fill the glove box with tissues, scraps of paper with directions on and partially melted boiled sweets, and stick a humorous sticker in the back window that says “Gamer onboard”.

This morning my inbox was full with the replies to the other ten or so applications I made last night, each one saying that I had failed to register.

I still haven’t had an email telling me that I’m officially a part of the beta; the way things have gone, I’m not sure I ever want that association in writing.

[1] Having now finished the post, this was clearly a lie. Never underestimate the power of rant.