Monthly Archives: February 2009

Open Kiasa University.

Welcome to the Open Kiasa University. For today’s lesson you will need:

1 x Soapbox car
1 x Seventy year old pensioner
1 x Teenager of the same size and weight as the pensioner
1 x Adjustable slope of considerable length

Step 1. Place the teenager in the soapbox car and allow multiple runs down the slope, adjusting the slope each time until you have compensated for friction and the soapbox car runs at very close to a constant speed.

Step 2. Replace the teenager in the soapbox car with the pensioner of equal size and weight.

Step 3. Conduct multiple run down the slope, and observe as the soapbox car begins to slow down on the slope with each run.

Indeed, given a slope of sufficient length, it has been shown that not only does the soapbox car slow down on the frictionless slope, but that it will eventually come to a complete standstill. Further experimentation is required to prove the corollary to this rule that the soapbox car will in fact begin to rise back up the slope.

I don’t know how pensioners do it, I really don’t, and believe me I’ve tried to figure it out. I’m following one in my car and each slope we go down I end up catching them up and having to break. They’re not touching their breaks, unless every pensioner in England happens to have broken tail lights; I’m assuming through sheer good will that they’re not pulling with both hands on the hand brake, and anyway one would expect more tire squeal and smoke to be evident; and having tried heavy engine breaking myself, I can only assume that if they are indeed engine breaking that they’ve somehow managed to get their 1.1 litre hatchback into first gear while doing forty miles an hour, and the poor car is redlining it’s way down the hill, with various bearings disintegrating and the drivetrain threatening to launch itself out through the boot in protest.

Kiasa Top Tips.

Don’t throw away those old boxes that your PC came in! Simply fill them with snakes and owls and they become an instant MMO dungeon instance for a group of hamsters. Literally minutes of entertainment for the whole family! To make things more enjoyable still, why not take bets from your children as to which of their hamsters will die first and cause the rest of the group to wipe!

Yours venomously,

Ms A Tawodent

Society is no comfort to one not sociable.

It was while stalking the vast echoing corridors of my work place looking for a vending machine that was stocked with anything other than peanut M&Ms, like a T-Rex of confectionery, that I witnessed the common place routine that people who know one another but don’t actually work together go through when they meet in the corridor:

“Oh, hello Karen.”

“Hi Bob!”

“How are you?”

“Good. You?”

“Yes, fine thanks.”

All of which is, of course, said at pace as the two people desperately try to maintain that level of acknowledged politeness which unwritten etiquette dictates, whilst simultaneously not shedding any momentum; thus at least one person ends up walking backwards, the other twisted half around with one arm out in their general direction of motion in order to feel for the door that they’re approaching at full walking speed without being able to see it. Today the one walking backwards was also heading towards the concrete stairwell, but he managed to cram in the last required line of the Rite of the Polite and then turned in time to make a stumbling grab for the bannister and correct his course before he fell to his untimely, yet incredibly polite, demise.

The T-Rex, who had paused on the stairs to watch the scene unfold, snorts derisively, and stomps off to the north in search of a herd of Mars bars.

It was while quietly boggling to myself about the curious nature of this, perhaps very British, way of maintaining social contact with people who we’re just too busy to know about right now, and kicking the vending machine that had eaten my pound coin and now abjectly refused to divest itself of any chocolate and caramel snacks in return, that I realised that this social weirdness was something I had experienced often in MMOs that I had played. Then I was struck by the fact that MMOs might actually be the perfect breeding ground for such behaviour, like a microbial culture for transitory social interactions. Outside of your close-knit group of friends that you play with, and perhaps some of your closer guild mates, do you often stop to chat with people you know in-game if you bump into them in a capital city, or a popular questing hub? Obviously some of you will answer in the affirmative, but I haven’t witnessed many players who start their Bartle categorisation with an ‘s’. From what I’ve witnessed, many people would emote a friendly wave and carry on their way to wherever they had to be; we often make ourselves busy in MMOs, make work for ourselves, if you will, things that we need to be getting on with right now. So we’re too busy to talk. Sorry! Emote wave. Move on. It’s a curious situation when you consider that in an MMO, should we wish to, we can carry on the conversation without actually having to stop to pass the time of day, but we often don’t. I’m as guilty of it as the next person, and I’ve exchanged many a wave with someone I recognise while doing the half-turn arm-out-in-front run for the nearest door, and yet I’d also be quite happy to chat if the other person were to whisper to me. But I don’t whisper to them, they don’t whisper to me, and we both carry on with our daily MMO grind, and in all possibility we’re spiritually a little worse off for not having shared time with one another.

Not everyone is this way, of course, there are those socialites among us who can while away hours in an MMO without actually touching the ESDF (pfff WASD indeed) keys. There are also people like Bob, whom we are acquainted with but don’t actually want to stop in the corridor to talk to, because he has BO, or talks incessantly about the extraordinary mating habits of dung beetles, or has an unnerving way of adjusting his testicles when he’s talking to you, as though he’s trying to work out a poi routine with them.

The anonymity of MMOs means that we don’t have to feel any real pressure about socialising, and the fact that we can socialise at any time, should we so desire, means that the need to maintain a face-to-face connection is felt even less. My character isn’t me, and if you want to speak to me I am an entity outside of any chance meeting of avatars in a virtual world, and yet I can’t help but feel that this is a sad thing in a game where I’m still very much aware of the RPG heritage that these massively online games share. One would think that MMOs might be the environment where social etiquette and interaction would evolve above beyond those staid and stilted conventions that have formed in the real world due to its various constraints on our lives. Yet it seems that the real world conditioning is quite strong, and is perhaps a reason why many guild channels that I’ve witnessed have long since devolved into a silent gathering of people, whose only passing acknowledgement is the ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’ that their curious social etiquette commands, an etiquette mimicking those real world transient interactions, but for the txt spking, online generation. Perhaps I’m just unlucky in the social circles that I’ve fallen into in many MMOs, perhaps it’s my somewhat errant social compass that guides me consistently to such places, I’d certainly be interested to know of any examples where socialising in MMOs has evolved different rules and interactions due to the nature of the medium.

The T-Rex tears the helpless Mars bar from its protective shell and with a massive vicious chomp bites it in twain. Mouth still full, he lets out a mighty roar of victory, which is only cut short when he sees the cute girl from the third floor standing behind him waiting to use the vending machine. He makes his way quickly past her, not evening making the socially expected fleeting eye contact of acknowledgement, before returning to his desk and brooding over the consequences of being a T-Rex at work, while finishing off his confectionery kill.

Reviewlet: The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan’s first novel, Altered Carbon, was a rather splendid hardboiled cyberpunk detective story, followed by four other sci-fi (or sci-fi-ish, I haven’t picked up the near-future Market Forces yet) books. Now he’s turned to fantasy; New Odd High Weird Old Noir Low Epic Fantasy, to be specific, in The Steel Remains.

The easiest comparison that springs to mind is Joe Abercrombie, not least ‘cos there’s a quote of his on the back, and Joe’s review (plus excellent unexpurgated version of the cover quote) is well worth a read. Like Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, The Steel Remains is a gritty, down and dirty (in many senses) book with lashings of sex n’ drugs n’ rock n’ roll (only with the rock n’ roll replaced with bone-crunchingly visceral violence). Following three main protagonists, heroes of a previous war, getting to grips with a new world through three viewpoints took a bit of getting used to, then I got really caught up in their separate stories. As the three are pulled together at the end, though, it feels a little hasty; as the first book of a trilogy it strikes a balance, there’s enough of an ending that it could stand alone, it doesn’t just stop in the middle of a larger story, but there are plenty of loose ends to be picked up in future books that make it ultimately slightly unsatisfying on its own. Good introduction to the world and characters, though, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Twit ‘er? Damn near killed ‘um!

Twittermania seems to be sweeping the nation, both real and virtual; it’s in newspapers, on television and radio, even this “internet” thing, though I reckon that last one’s a passing fad. Of course there’s a backlash against anything receiving such attention (though with the speed of reaction these days, a phenomenon gaining mass notice and its accompanying backlash tend to arrive simultaneously, making it more of a sidelash I suppose), giving curmudgeons an excellent opportunity to rant about not caring what people had for breakfast. If you’re sick of the whole business already you might want to skip this post, but if you want to know what I had for breakfast then on with the Hegelian bermuda shorts and let’s surf the wave of Zeitgeist…

Actually I tend to skip breakfast, though I know I shouldn’t, and then have to spend most mornings fighting the temptation of a bacon roll. Anyway! Twitter. I first bumped into it a while back, with a couple of blogs having sidebars that contained the author’s Twitter feed, so I’d head off to their Twitter page and read some updates, then notice some messages (generally known as “tweets”, I believe, but I prefer “twits”) seemed to link to other people so I’d open that Twitter page, and it was all very confusing. Though Twitter itself asks “what are you doing?”, if all you do is respond appropriately a few times a day it actually would be the oft-mocked “what I had for breakfast” beast it can seem from the outside. No, the beauty of Twitter, as so much of this web-two-point-oh world, is in the interaction, so if you adopt my initial approach and just go and visit someone’s Twitter page, chances are a good chunk of it will appear to be utter gibberish, half a conversation at best. The syntax is fairly obvious, “@(username) Yes, but it’s better with jam!” is a reply to @(username), and depending on the precise clients of all involved you can then go to @(username)’s exact twit (if you’re lucky) or main Twitter page (if not so lucky, which you then have to scan to try and figure out what might go better with jam), but trying to follow conversations that way is like untangling a slinky.

What you really need to do is sign up to Twitter. I know, this may seem something of an obvious step, but I’m sure plenty of people are like me and just too apathetic to go to all the trouble of signing up to something (or manage an initial sign-up in a flurry of enthusiasm and profile updating, then never return and forget the password you used. And the username, after somebody had taken your first choice. And the e-mail address you gave to recover them. And indeed the URL of the whole site so you can’t go back there anyway.) Really, though, presuming you’ve been driven to Twitter because there’s someone there of interest to you, sign up and Follow them and anyone they’re talking to who seems interesting. Now you’ve got a Twitter feed that you can see on your own homepage, or via one of the plethora of specific clients available (I rather like TweetDeck, but there are at least six billion others, on every platform imaginable). This does a strange and magical thing: you’ll now only see twits you care about on this feed. Well, it would be strange and magical if Twitter somehow detected what you cared about, what actually happens is that you see messages from everybody you follow, but if somebody you *are* following sends a reply to somebody you *aren’t* following, you don’t see that. Instantly the half-conversations vanish!

It’s still worth browsing other people’s individual Twitter pages every now and then, as you might be missing out on fascinating (or indeed scandalous) conversations between people you’re following and people you aren’t, but chances are you’re not, and as you build up interesting Twitterers to follow you’ll probably make the odd update yourself (bowl of Shreddies this morning), or reply to their twits, and away you go.

I started out mostly following other game bloggers, and from them to others in the games industry, but with the recent wave of popularity more and more celebrities are beginning to Twit, leading to further curmudgeonliness on the cult of celebrity (“I don’t care what Jonathan Ross had for breakfast either!”) plus the suggestion that it’s just PR anyway. And for some it might be, but just as with all other Twitteristas if their twits don’t seem, or stop being, interesting, just don’t follow them. Call me a slavish follower of celebrity gossip, but I think it’s rather fun (in a borderline stalkerish way) to read Stephen Fry’s account of being stuck in a lift, followed by Graham Linehan parodying the event in almost-real time, then worrying he might have caused offence but Richard Herring telling him not to worry. Or Phil Jupitus causing Neil Innes to miss a train by misspelling “frittata”.

This is all totally personal, of course, your mileage may vary, you may approach Twitter in an entirely different way (I’m rambling quite enough without getting into re-tweets and direct messages and hashtags and twitter spam), the value of twits can go up as well as down, your followers are at risk if you do not keep up twittering etc. I imagine most people reading this will already have been Twitting away for months if not years anyway, but if you haven’t yet dipped a toe in the Twit-o-pool, why not give it a shot? If you’re desperately keen to follow me some other bugger got to “zoso” first so I’m zosoz, but I’d start with someone far more interesting if I were you.

PS: Fancied kedgeree but would take too long plus had no kippers. Went with toast instead (no jam).

Murd ‘er? I hardly know ‘er!

Warhammer Online events seem to be following something of a sine wave of grind. The first, Witching Night, was towards the grind-y peak, needing a fair bit of farming to fill the influence bar up. The second, Heavy Metal, involved minimal grind, a few rounds of the Reikland Factory scenario being sufficient for most of its tasks, then we ramped back up to max-o-grind for Keg End, which involved some fun /boast-ing and /toast-ing, but also vast swathes of event-mob-slaughtering if you wanted to fill the bar right up. The current event, Night of Murder, plunges back towards the “yes, we have no grind” end of the scale; within the space of a couple of scenarios and some light open-RvR I’d filled two-thirds of the influence bar. A couple of the tasks are going to be slightly problematic, though, primarily killing ten Keep Lords. Ten? I like a keep siege now and again, but either it’s a bloody war of attrition in the face of enemy heavy weapons and tank walls, in which case it’s really quite time consuming and there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, or a pretty tedious affair if the enemy aren’t defending (attack door, attack door, attack door, run through door, attack door, attack door, attack door, run through door, attack keep lord, ???, profit!) Either way, it’s not really something I’m desperate to do several times a night. Still, another round or two of the “kill five marked players” quest should be enough to round out the influence bar for the jewellery reward, so I’ll only need to finish off the keep lords for the “Master Assassin” title.

Speaking of rewards, their usefulness is fortunately out of phase with the grind wave; final influence reward for Witching Night: a stat-less mask. Heavy Metal: a stat-ful cloak, that also looks pretty spiffy (plus Knight/Blackguard early unlock). Keg End: a tankard, with a limited number of uses to teleport to a pub in Altdorf (teleporting to a pub’s always good, but it’s a similar effect to a 30 copper guild recall scroll). Night of Murder: a stat-ful piece of jewellery in a choice of four flavours (though I’m slightly annoyed, as two of the pieces give a 5% gold bonus that isn’t much use, what with their being very little to actually spend gold on, and two give a 5% renown boost that would be quite nice; as a Bright Wizard I’m trying to stack +Int for extra damage, and the only gem with +Int is one of the gold-boosting ones. Hrm. Guess I’ll just pick one of the others, as plenty of other stuff boosts Int.)

I believe the next event is due to be “Bitter Rivals”, building up to the introduction of the Slayer and Choppa, and if my theory holds and the Wave of Grind maintains its shape we’re heading for Grindcon Alpha. Still, assuming one of the final rewards is the early unlock of the new classes, at least that might spread the forthcoming transformation of 74.96% of the population of WAR into melee DPS over a couple of weeks instead of it happening overnight…

Thought for the day.

Old Man Murray invented an excellent review system for FPS games that m’learned colleague pointed out to me many moons ago

I suggest MMO bloggers employ a similar system when reviewing fantasy MMOs. Instead of Start-to-Crate though, we will go with Start-to-Boar.

This is the point where the developers said

“Well, we’ve done wolves, bears and a generic humanoid creature of some sort. What other dangerous animals can we have the players fight?”


“Of course… because heroes fight boars in all the great fantasy stories.”

“Oh yeah, they’re practically dragons. Same phylum, for sure.”

“Fine. We’re out of ideas, so just shove a few boars in, ok?”

Be sure to send in any Start-to-Boar experiences you have, along with how long it took you to find your first boar after starting a new character.

I Am Legend (for this expansion only).

How can an axe provide extra stamina or hitpoints?

How does one craft a sword in such a way that it provides more hitpoints than another sword?

Do you think that’s air you’re breathing?

Eh, what? You do? Well… you’re right of course… uh, well done… I… Look, aren’t you supposed to be all “Woaaaah” and “Ohhhhhh”? You know, then I go all “Ahhhhhhh!” and “Hmmmmm”, perhaps with a bit of beard stroking. And then you get all enlightened and such, and go off and save the world?


Have there been any MMOs where your gear changes very little? You have your sword, say. It does some damage. Your character’s ability to use that sword is what makes you do yet more damage with it. Occasionally (read, uh, occasionally) you’ll find a better weapon; a masterwork sword, tempered and folded more than the norm, would have a keener blade, and this would allow you to do some more damage ‘for free’, more than with a standard sword, without having to improve your character. You would not, under any circumstances, have found a masterwork sword on a boar you killed five minutes ago, only to find a masterwork sword +2 on the slightly bigger boar you just this moment killed. And neither of these weapons would grant you additional hit-points. I’m pretty sure Conan was a tank no matter what weapon he had at hand, and he wore nothing but a loincloth most of the time, so that was either one hell of a loincloth, or his hit-points came from healthy eating and a regular work out regime. Look for Skullsplitting Your Way To A Healthy You on DVD in stores soon.

I’m guessing that perhaps Ultima Online follows along these lines. We’re probably talking skill based MMOs, and clearly that’s nothing new.

I don’t know, it’s just that I look at the Lord of the Rings story and find that I’m wanting something a bit more like that, something a little more legendary. Frodo finds a Barrow-blade on his adventures, which is destroyed in the fight against the Witch-king. Then, upon reaching Rivendell, he receives a nifty upgrade when he is gifted Sting by Bilbo, and he then takes Sting with him on his adventures in Moria. They soon part ways though, because Sting keeps giving away their position to the Orcs by breaking out into renditions of Roxanne and Fields of Gold.

Or is it all about the loot? Would players shy away from a game that focussed more on the character than their equipment? If a legendary weapon really, actually, meant that it was legendary. Something special, rather than just a package of stat. bonuses for your character.

World of Warcraft has legendary items. Take Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker, for example. Players, nay, whole guilds spent an inordinate amount of time and virtual money meeting the requirements for that blade, and it was special then. Now, though, there are green items in Wrath of the Lich King that are superior.

In Lord of the Rings, Sting wasn’t the greatest weapon in Middle Earth, but it was always a weapon of name and worth, to be valued and considered with awe, to be treasured and handed down with reverence from generation to generation.


I think I did it again.
I made it once more, to the leveling end.
Oh, baby!
It might seem like I rushed,
But it needn’t seem all that ludicrous.
‘Cause to feed my altitus,
That is just so typically me.
Oh, baby, baby!

Oops!… I did it again.
I played with an alt, got lost in the game.
Oh, baby, baby!
Oops!… You think that’s the last,
That my addiction has passed.
Well I’m not quite finished yet.

Remember kids, always sing a Britney song when you hit the level cap. It’s in the MMO Constitution.