Monthly Archives: October 2008

Happy Halloween.

The witching hour has begun and already I’ve been told off and threatened by several parents for scaring their kids too much.

The kids ran up to the door and yelled “Trick or Treat!”, and I jumped out from behind a bush and told them that Brad McQuaid was making a new MMO.

Tasks, reviews and updates, oh my.

A variety of witterings for your delectation and cogitation today, so let’s begin with a little DIY activity. For today’s activity you will need: one PC; one DVI to HDMI cable with bandwidth enough for 1080p signal transfers; one Xbox; one HDMI to HDMI cable; one ‘modest’ of size TV capable of true 1920×1080 1080p resolution with one to one pixel scanning, I can recommend the one that I have recently purchased, the Toshiba Regza 32XV555DB; and a nice cup of tea.

Connect the PC to one of the TV’s HDMI inputs using the DVI to HDMI cable. Select said HDMI input on the TV and, if your TV is like the one I have, pick the mode which gives a one-to-one pixel scan, thus bypassing overscan and all those other funky post-processing features that TVs tend to apply to video signals to make them look delicious and lustrous, but which make a PC signal look like an 8-bit render of Picasso’s Three Musicians. For me this was enabled by selecting either of the Game or PC modes of operation on the appropriate input. Next, ensure that the sharpness level is suitably low, this option may make the lines of Bruce Campbell’s chin look as though it could cut through sheet steel when you’re viewing him in Army of Darkness, but when you are trying to read a PC display all it will do is make any text look blurred and ugly. I have set my sharpness level to zero (in fact the PC mode automagically sets this for you, I discovered the problem because I was originally using the Game mode which is meant for consoles and thus keeps the sharpness level set high), but it may be worth playing with the level to see if you can improve text rendering with modest levels of sharpness set; however, it’s not worth worrying too much as the output is quite splendid regardless. Bear in mind that the idea of this is mainly with respect to the PC being used as a gaming machine, it’s not an ideal solution for hours of lengthy text processing, say, because a TV is never going to be as good as an equivalent sized monitor. Essentially though, I wanted a general purpose screen that I could play PC games and console games on and which was suitably large in size. Getting a similar size of screen as a monitor, such as the 30″ Apple Cinema Display, would have meant a lot more cost, more faff with trying to get both the console and the PC easily connected, and when using the PC, running the screen at a native resolution that is insanely high such that my lowly gaming rig would struggle to run many of today’s games at any decent sort of frame rate. So far my idea has worked wonderfully for what I wanted: the PC output looks great, it’s not perfect, but understand when I say this that I’m trying to address those hardcore PC aficionados who would scoff at running a 1920×1080 resolution on a display of 32″. In actuality, and practically speaking, it looks marvellous, with the couple of games that I’ve played so far, World of Goo and World of Warcraft (still waiting for the crossover World of Goocraft), looking fantastic. One further word of advice: in games such as World of Warcraft you should make use of the UI scaling to increase the size of the overall UI display first before trying to tweak individual fonts to be of a size that is more legible. I spent an age tweaking the fonts on all my various UI elements before realising that the stats on my character pane were still quite small and hard to make out and that there was no option to increase those fonts. Inspiration struck shortly thereafter, like a Verigan’s Fist to the back of the head, and I adjusted the UI scale. And then spent ages reducing all the fonts back to how they were originally. The result: splendid World of Warcraft views in 32-inch-o-vision which, when you’re sitting at the screen as though it were a PC monitor, is really quite impressive.

You may drink your cup of tea now, or save it for later. I shall drink mine now.

Ahhhh, lovely.

Finally, connect the Xbox up to the PC; I think this is fairly straightforward and needs no further elucidation. Select the one-to-one mapping mode; the 32XV555DB, for example, has a Game mode which does this and also selects various preset picture levels determined to give a shiny default gaming experience. The Xbox is also a new addition to my hardware stable, and for the few moments that I’ve managed to play Fable 2 – after faffing around trying to set up an Xbox live account, and then purchasing some Microsoft points, and then trying not to spend all those points on a hundred thousand various icon packs for my gamer tag – I’ve been mightily impressed with this high definition console gaming that all the cool kids have been raving about for years.

Here endeth today’s activity.

In other news I’m on to chapter four of World of Goo. It really is a most delightful game, well worth your investment if you enjoy puzzle games of any sort. It’s beautifully presented, funny, charming, clever and unassuming. Don’t be fooled by the modest exterior, underneath the surface lies a very thoughtful game in both story and structure. There’s a demo to be found on the 2D Boy website, and a brilliant review, as always, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It’s available from 2D Boy themselves, on Steam and also on Penny Arcade’s Greenhouse. Support your indie game developers!

Speaking of indie games, I witnessed another fantastic one whilst bumbling around with various other gaming ne’er-do-wells at the Limited Van EuroHemlock Expo-dition event earlier in the week. It is called Plain Sight and is an excellent little multiplayer combat game where players control Lode-Runner-like characters around a 3D Super-Mario-Galaxy-like world and attempt to ‘boost’ into one another to kill the opposing player and gain themselves a point. Self-destructing your own character at any point claims any points you have accumulated, and if you manage to take out other players in the resulting explosion you earn yourself a multiplier to those points for each person so killed; however, if you are killed before you claim your points then those points are lost to you. Thus the game has a clever risk-vs-reward sub-element of play alongside the more overarching frantic but generic deathmatch game. It’s well worth checking out, and despite what blathering reporting you might hear from me on a certain podcast about War Twat being the game of the show for its curious naming convention, I was actually in agreement with Elf that Plain Sight was easily the game that we got the most visceral pleasure from out of all the games at the show. For me the Farcry 2 tournament had nothing on the comparatively tiny Plain Sight frag-fest that was going on right next door. Be sure to keep an eye on the game, it should be coming out sometime in February according to one of the developers whom, in a comedy moment of confused conversation, we initially mistook for someone asking us how to play the game, when in actuality he was trying to tell us how it worked, because unsurprisingly we hadn’t gleaned the whole story from randomly flailing about for a few minutes. Sorry sir! Anyhoo, I give this game the Melmoth Seal of Magnificence, which despite having just made up, you should take as the highest order of gaming recommendation known to man.

In World of Warcraft the eximious Elf is hopefully going to join me for some Old World dungeon duoing; we’re planning on taking a look into Blackrock Spire, and then perhaps trying out some of the early Outlands dungeons to see how far we can push ourselves now that we have our new and improved, pimped out and pumped up, Wrath of the Lich King characters. We’re still trying to get m’colleague to join us, but he is valiantly resisting the temptation of the Dark Side of the MMO force at the moment, instead sticking it out with Warhammer Online despite another wave of bloggers leaving, or considering leaving if things don’t improve soon.

And at some point I should probably try to find time to play a little bit more of Fable 2, apparently it’s Quite Good.

Samhain I am.

I was all set to write a post today updating you with the fascinating details that are my gaming life as it stands, to regale you with tales of new hardware, new games and more.

Instead I carved a pumpkin for tomorrow.


Still, you’ve got that fascinating post to look forward to now, haven’t you?

And before anyone asks, the bits hanging down in his mouth are indeed meant to be there; I’m going to pool the scooped-out innards in front of him and out of the side of his mouth there, so it looks like he’s being violently ill.

If you’re looking for the part where this is game related in any way, just imagine that he’s been trying to play Dead Space on the PC.

Limited Van Eurohemlock Expo-dition 2008

Just a quickie before I head off for a few days from tomorrow; popped up to London today for the Eurogamer Expo and to meet up with assorted members of the Virgin Worlds collective and others. A splendidly game-tastic Expo which I’d suggest you head along to if you like that sort of thing, only the tickets are all sold out, so don’t. Inevitable heavy interest around the Big Games made them a bit difficult to play, but they generally look most impressive. There was even an MMO there! And one I’m rather interested in, Jumpgate: Evolution. Unfortunately, taking over a spaceship randomly flying around in space wasn’t the best way of being introduced to things, and I never found something to shoot. Looks pretty, though. For all the fun of the games, though, better still was heading off to the pub en masse and pontificating on Life, The Universe and Everything Connected With Games. Look out for the end results on a podcast near you, if the Recording Wizard can extract any usable audio, at which point we’ll find out that what seemed like an erudite deconstruction of the gaming industry as a whole was really just a load of people going “y’know wassh realllly good… that game with the… y’know… the thingsh, thash brilliant that”.

Grats is short for ‘gratuitous thanks’.

I mean honestly, I’m not sure if this is just a World of Warcraft phenomenon, or whether it applies to other MMOs too, but what is it with people announcing in guild chat the slightest achievement they make and others feeling compelled to says “grats” or “congratulations” or “well done” or “Oh shut the hell up, it’s hardly a bloody impressive feat now is it?!”.

One of those answers only happens in my mind.

World of Warcraft has taken this to the next level by announcing achievements that guild members make to everyone else in the guild who happens to be online. And so now, if you miss the announcement because, say, you have it turned off, or have placed it in another window which you have made the size of a postage stamp, and hidden off the edge of the display, and then set on fire, and then stabbed repeatedly with a spoon, and then stamped up and down on… where was I? So if you miss the announcement for Some Reason all you get is a guild window filled with gratses. Which at the moment is Every. Five. Seconds.

I caught the announcement once, and you can click on it to see what the person achieved, in this case a level seventy hunter had managed to explore Bloodmyst Isle. I know! One of the first zones that brand new Draenei characters can get to when they start the game. However did he manage it? But the stream of congratulations and adulation that this chap got, well it would have made Winston Churchill blush.

From now on I’m going to start saying “Grats!” every time guild members manage to log in.

State of play.

I’m sure it is a reflection on my personality and its numerous disorders, but I have had more fun in the past couple of days by running around Azeroth picking flowers than I did trying to level my Warrior Priest in Warhammer Online (named Didymus incidentally, replete with white whiskers and an eye patch. It was such a lovely concept to me, I had the RP all worked out, but it just wasn’t to be). Azeroth is revitalised and rejuvenated, populations are again soaring, bands of adventurers heading into the depths of the deepest dungeons once more in order to earn as many Old World achievements as possible before the Lich King arrives and demands a damned good six of the best, stiff upper lip, “No, sir, please sir, I’m sorry!”, wooshing of the cane, large school exercise book down your underpants in order to cushion the blow. Isn’t it? Wasn’t it? Marvellous.

I’ve gone back to one of my numerous level seventy characters, it is no minor coincidence that I picked the one with epic flying mount, and have decided to investigate the revamped world of the war and of the craft. The war is the standard Blizzard fare, with large events occurring around the world to mark the next incoming raid boss of doom! You’ll never defeat this one! Until we nerf them all to buggery-and-back when the next expansion arrives. Poor old Illidan Stormrage, forever bragging at the release of the Burning Crusade that we “are not prepared”, to which the players simply responded “That may be so, but if it’s alright with you we’ll just wait out here until they nerf you. Shouldn’t be too long, and what are you going to do in the meantime? You can’t leave your bastion, and your minions seem to be making surprisingly little impact on the Outlands. It’s almost as if they’re pinned to the areas where they stand, and can’t advance at all”. So apart from avoiding being transformed into a zombie at every turn – guy can’t even go to the toilet without a zombie popping out of the cistern and getting all plague carrier on your arse. Not a pleasant experience, I can tell you – most people are just generally running around like loons and revelling in the new achievements, which you can get for just about everything. There’s definitely one for being molested in the bottom by a zombie popping out of the toilet. Couple all of this with the Halloween event that is currently under way, and WoW is right now the dictionary definition of magic and mayhem.

Always two there are: the war and the craft. I’ve decided to pick the new Inscription trade skill on my character, he’d never really got into a crafting profession and so I thought it would be good to try out this neat profession which, seeing as I decided to level-up the complimentary herbalism skill rather than spending the equivalent to the national debt of the United States buying herbs on the auction house, has the nice bonus of requiring me to run around low level areas again; by combining this herb gathering activity with trying to unlock all the exploration achievements that I missed whilst levelling the character originally, I have hit that sweet spot, that MMO erogenous zone, which pleasures both the explorer and the achiever in me; by which I mean the part of me that is an explorer and a achiever, I don’t literally have an explorer and an achiever ‘in me’. I’m not that sort of person. Well ok, maybe I am, but not in this instance.

The other bonus to all of this is the complete lack of pressure, it’s that easy going feeling that you have when you set yourself a goal and are not instead trying to satisfy the inhuman intent of some designer’s sadistic skinner box fetish. It means I can hop into the game for twenty minutes and actually accomplish something tangible and meaningful to me because I, and I alone, set the goal.

It hasn’t all been ‘work work work’ as the orc peons would say, I’ve also tried my hand at a few other games. Dead Space was high on my list of games that will potentially make my underpants expand, so I grabbed that one to play over the weekend. Alas, on the PC version at least, it gives me chronic motion sickness. The camera is hideous, and for a game that is about survival horror – where scripted events and sounds are designed to make you look all around you to find out if that multi-jawed, slathering alien really is breathing on the hairs on the back of your neck – I find it boggling that they would make the camera so bloody restrictive. I can’t believe it was intentionally to help with the atmosphere, and I know the third person perspective camera can be done in a way so as not to cause this because I played all the way through Resident Evil 4 (at least twice) without it ever triggering my motion sickness. Most frustrating! Perhaps it works better on the consoles, but I also found the movement of the character to be really awkward as well, so in the end I had to give up on the game, which is a real shame because the small amount of the game that I managed to play seemed really quite excellent. It appeared to be an intriguing cross between System Shock and Resident Evil, and I would have liked to have played further, but one finds it ever so tricky to play any game with a keyboard full of vomit.

In other gaming news: I’ve been playing World of Goo, a game which thankfully does not induce vomit, unless it is possible to vomit with joy and wonder, in which case I imagine I’m due a veritable deluge of diced-carrot-fortified avgolemono. I’m only part of the way through chapter two at the moment, so hopefully once I’ve experienced the game a little more I’ll be able to write a reviewlet. I’m also hearing many good things about Fable 2, to the point that I’m seriously considering investing in an Xbox 360; then again I’d also like to play Little Big Planet when it is eventually released, but that would involve the purchase of a Playstation 3, and I’m not sure I can justify the purchase of both consoles on the basis of wanting to play a game on each. Decisions decisions.

In the meantime I’ve ordered Left 4 Dead via Steam, there’s Farcry 2 which m’colleague has been tweeting good things about so far, and GTA IV has its PC release sometime in the near future. If it isn’t out already, to be quite honest I’m having trouble keeping track of the myriad packages of gaming joy that are available at the moment. I think there’s at least one plastic-instrument band-a-like game coming out soon too, Guitar Hero World Tour maybe? Such that, once again, I shall unleash my fearsome rhythm skills on an unsuspecting world. My playing style has been compared to a drunk octopus and a spider on amphetamines trying to make love on the frets of the guitar. I think it’s an insult, although one can never be sure.

All things considered, it’s almost enough to make one chunder from the overwhelming choice. I think I’d better go and have a lie down with a bucket. In a non-matrimonial sense, for all you bucket fetishists out there.

NFL International Series: New Orleans Saints vs San Diego Chargers

After missing out on last year’s game (probably quite fortunately, as it turned into a pretty dismal low scoring rain-soaked affair), we picked up tickets for the Saints vs Chargers and headed in to Wembley. Great stadium, first time I’ve been there, and watching an NFL game live is fantastic. The games can go pretty slowly on television with all the ad breaks, the stoppages seem to go a bit quicker live. As predicted, the game was a shoot-out, both quarterbacks passing for over 300 yards, neither defence getting much of a pass rush going, so pretty spectacular to watch and plenty of touchdowns. San Diego didn’t do themselves any favours, being heavily penalised, but came back strongly at the end of the game before Rivers was intercepted to effectively finish things off. Great day out, and looking forward to seeing which two teams come over in 2009.

Post Bag, issue 1.

Melmoth:   Hello.

Zoso:   Certainly. Welcome to our new feature, ‘Post Bag’, where we share some of the letters that have been sent in by our beloved readers.

Melmoth:   Beloved.

Zoso:   You know, we’ve had the most marvellous response to our first reader topic, namely (meh!) Name Quest.

Melmoth:   Perspicuous persiflage.

Zoso:   Bless you.

Melmoth:   That’s right. We know that a lot of you out there have witnessed players on MMO role-playing servers who have ridiculous non-canon names, and yet nobody seems to discuss this vital issue on any of the MMO forums that we’ve visited.

Zoso:   How ever-so-slightly beige. So we asked you to write in and tell us about them.

Melmoth:   And what crackers you’ve told us about!

Zoso:   “There is a character on our server whose name is Milton Sloluck. It is an abomination of a name and I’ve petitioned it on several occasions to no avail!” That was sent in from a Gerald Suckmaster Burstingfoam of the Karag-Foon server.

Melmoth:   I’m rather fond of this one: “Dear Killed in a Smiling Accident, I was recently in a group with a Paladin called Polydore Smith and our guild master is named Munwele. I really think some people should not join an RP server if they aren’t going to take it seriously, Yours etc. Jamrammer Felchfreely.”

Zoso:   Five pounds on its way to you for that one Mr Felchfreely. Or how about this one “Dear Killed in a Smiling Accident, My first MMO cybersex partner was called Geoff Hart. I still split my sides whenever I hear that name, but it wasn’t terribly appropriate in a dedicated role-playing community such as ours. Yours faithfully Pippinhole Spakfarter-Knobwrench.”

Melmoth:   Could it get any more outrageous than ‘Geoff Hart’? “Can you please warn your readers about the fool on the Funtweedle server who goes by the distressing name of Marley Wottel. It destroys my immersion every time I see this person run past, and I am forced to log out and listen to my Evanescence records for several hours to regain my composure. Yours gropingly, Flangibald von Smegsock.” Scandalous!

Zoso:   Creamery. Here’s another one. “I really hate it when people use real-world references in their character names. Just the other day I saw a Barrak Orbaum, which sounds very much like Barack Obama. Yours insincerely, OptimusPrimeSkywalkerRedsox249.”

Melmoth:   Tremendous response all around. Many thanks to all of you who wrote in.

Zoso:   We’ll be sure to delve into the post bag again soon!

Melmoth:   Delve.

This post is brought to you by the letters F & L.

Thought for the day.

If Companions in The Old Republic MMO may possibly be love interests, will Bioware need to update their traditional storylines a bit to account for massively multiplayer-ness?

“Over the course of our adventures, with all we have been through, I find I have grown much closer to you… and your friend… and your other friend… and that pick-up tank we found on the LFG channel…”

Sometimes you’re the windshield

Tier 3 scenarios have been rather a mixed bag. For a while, when queuing for everything it seemed Tor Anroc popped 9 times out of 10, a Destruction Dude would always pick up The Thing, and you’d have to slog it all the way over to their base and fight your way up the hill under a withering barrage of fire in an oft-doomed bid to Kill The Dude With The Thing. Then different scenarios starting coming up more frequently, and Order were winning Tor Anroc more often than not, but losing most others. This was from a fair mix of the Temple of Isha, Doomfist Crater and High Pass Cemetery, an occasional Talabec Damn, and almost no Black Fire Basins. Conclusion: the best scenarios are those that involve Killing Dudes With Things, or Killing Dudes Standing Next To Things. Picking Up The Thing And Running To Another Place Without Being Killed, not so hot.

Last night, after a few days of general exploring, questing, dungeons and the like, I thought I’d go scenario crazy again, queued up five or six times in a row, and Order won everything, convincingly in most cases. It might’ve just been the luck of the queue, but glancing at the summaries at the end, Destruction’s levels seemed a bit lower on average than they had been. There are a couple of pretty dedicated Order guilds on our server, with several players who’ve been level 40 for a while now, probably more than Destruction (from anecdotal evidence), so I have a suspicion that Order players have tended to start on Tier 4 scenarios as soon as they can, whereas Destruction had been staying with Tier 3 as long as possible; I’d often see four or five level 30/31 Destruction players in a scenario, and very rarely see an Order player over level 28. Now it looks like a wave of Destruction players who were on that cusp have either outlevelled Tier 3 entirely or chosen to head for Tier 4, and coming up in their place are some lower level players, tilting the Tier 3 level advantage in Orders favour. Or I could be reading way too much into random scenario queue matches. Either way, it made for a nice haul of XP and renown, huzzah!