Monthly Archives: March 2009

When MMO conversation is heard out of context, part 1.

Or: Another reason not to talk about MMOs at dinner parties.

“… yes, my wife is quite the convert and enjoys regular group sessions down in that dungeon.”

“… and my youngest son was playing with a priest the other day, he said that they just had great fun buffing each other over and over.”

“… dwarf was thrusting away with this enormous purple weapon, much to the squealing delight of my girlfriend. She said afterwards that she couldn’t believe the amount of penetration it had, although that did mean the whole thing was over rather quickly as nothing could take a beating like that for very long.”

Have I Got MMOnews For You.

Host: And the final round is “Continue the Headline”. This week, teams, it’s news that MMO developer MindArk has been granted preliminary approval for a real banking license: “MindArk is going to be just like a bank in the real world: it will be backed by Sweden’s $60,000 deposit insurance, offer interest-bearing accounts for its clients, feature direct deposit options, let players pay bills online, and apparently will offer loans to customers.”

Zoso: “… reports of a £600,000 per year pension scheme for top raiding guild leaders have yet to be confirmed.”

Melmoth: “… after years of playing with virtually real money in the real world, stockbrokers across the globe are now looking forward to being able to play with really virtually real virtual real money in real virtual worlds.”

Zoso: “… fears that MindArk could be susceptible to toxic mortgages were allayed when they revealed that they had Sonic Corruptors standing by ready to boost toxic resistance.”

Melmoth: “… In other news, a suspected category 6 earthquake in central Europe turned out to be a false alarm; investigations into the disturbance showed it to be the collective orgasm of EVE Online’s recent POS exploiters as they all simultaneously signed up for MindArk’s flagship title Entropia Universe.”

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Plus ça change.

You know, Mythic, having come back to WAR to give it a second chance after the tempting lure of being able to play a Slayer, it’s hard for someone like me to stick around when, after all this time, your game STILL doesn’t remember the position of my chat windows, such that I have to move them every time I log in.

Minor things like this make your game look disproportionately shoddy and unprofessional, because they’re in the user’s face, and they’re there every time that user logs in.

I should be playing your game and not sitting here contemplating writing an AddOn to fix such a stupid thing.

Thought for the day.

Like finding an unused character name, players in City of Heroes now have a new challenge in trying to be original, the recently released Issue 14 Architect system.

If it is indeed anything like the nigh-on impossible task of finding a half-decent name which isn’t already taken, then I predict that my idea for an invasion of Paragon City by hyper-intelligent space bagels whose sole purpose is to steal the entire world’s supply of cutlery, would not only have already been implemented, but would appear to have been the second mission arc ever implemented in Architect, and of which there are now four hundred and seventy six varying imitations.

The first mission ever created was, of course, to breakout the Bawdy Buxom Beauties of the planet Bustulon VI from the prison of the evil Doctor Whopper Chopper.

Analogies To Illustrate MMOG Concepts: Part 1

Massively Multiplayer Online Games can be strange and curious beasts, with concepts and jargon impenetrable to the outsider. Even those familiar with the genre can benefit from taking especially esoteric ideas and equating them with normal, everyday situations we can all recognise, so to kick off KiaSA’s “Analogies To Illustrate MMOG Concepts”, the MMOG itself:

A MMOG is like a book. Not a normal book, though, a book where you don’t have to read all the pages, and where you can read the chapters in a different order. And some chapters might take really, really long to read, and you need to read them loads of times until you understand them. And it’s not just a book, but a game as well. A game-like book. Like a Fighting Fantasy book. But with loads of other players, all reading the same book, only maybe different bits of the same book, or maybe the same bit as you, and some people read much quicker than others, and other people spend much longer reading. Imagine that, a Fighting Fantasy book with loads of people reading it, but on a computer, and instead of pages there are graphical representations of the players and the monsters. Can you imagine that at all? A MMOG is like if someone made a film of the game that was like a Fighting Fantasy book, only it’s a film you don’t have to watch in order, they put it out on DVD so you could go backwards and forwards and skip to different bits of it. If someone made a game where you could control a person who had the remote control of a DVD player with that film in it, that’s what a MMOG is like. If the person watching the film is a cowboy. And they own an otter.

(The Incredible) Hulk Song

My iPod just shuffled around to a track I thought a few comic fans might enjoy: When Bears Attack – (The Incredible) Hulk Song. When Bears Attack were recommended by an old colleague who had a sibling in the band (or a sibling who knew someone in the band, or a sibling who knew someone who liked the band, or a sibling who knew someone who liked someone who’d once seen one of the band’s CDs and thought the artwork quite interesting but not actually got around to buying it, I forget the precise details). I’ve had one of their EPs kicking around my MP3 collection for a while featuring The Hulk Song and the very-prescient-in-the-current-financial-climate TSB (The Mark of the Beast), but prompted by the terrifying screams of the Hulk I wandered off to Google where, in a bad news/good news scenario, their website revealed that they’ve called it a day, but there are lots of songs available, so I’m off to check out the rest of their stuff.

Kiasa Top Tips.

Involve your non-gaming friends and family in the MMO Experience by randomly calling them on their mobile phones at the most inconvenient time and offering to sell them something they already have plenty of for a low low price.

Enhance the experience further by phrasing your sentences like Yoda and pronouncing every other word incorrectly!

Yours farmingly,

Goldie Sellars.

Reviewlet: Burnout Paradise, Castle Crashers and Braid.

It would appear that the graphics card in my gaming PC has decided that it is bored with the day to day drudgery of producing modest DirectX 9 compatible graphics, and has left to go and live in a commune in the forest with my old printer and that really stupid Linksys router I had that would always drop the Internet connection whenever a download reached ninety eight percent complete. Indeed, my graphics cards has decided to stick it to The Man, has abandoned the rat race life of 3D graphics, and now spends its days printing small tie-dyed Space Invader icons all across my screen. “No maaaan, Direct X is, like, bad juju. OpenGL is baaaad karma. Here, check out these totally rad icons I made in all the colours of the rainbow. They came to me in a dream, man! You wanna toke on this? All right, man, but I’m telling you, it’s good shit.”

So while I wait for a replacement to arrive I thought I’d take stock of what I’ve been playing recently that is not PC related. In this first instalment: Burnout Paradise, Castle Crashers and Braid.

Burnout Paradise: If you don’t know about Burnout Paradise, then you haven’t been a regular listener to the Van Hemlock and Jon podcast. Shame on you! I’d played an earlier incarnation of Burnout on the GameCube and had enjoyed it enough that, combined with the constant media praise for the ‘Next Gen’ edition of the driving series, and perhaps slightly more to do with the fact that I found a copy for sale at a disgustingly cheap price in a local electrical store, I decided to grab the Xbox 360 version and give it a try. So what is Burnout Paradise? One could say that it is a driving game, but that would be a lie. It would be more accurate to say that the primary single player experience is actually a very detailed, very gruelling, hardcore orienteering simulator. Orienteering at one hundred and seventy five miles per hour in super-charged V8s. The subtitle for the game should be Vin Diesel’s Extreme Orienteering Simulator. There are various events within Burnout Paradise, but I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of them are a point-to-point race of some sort; some of these events are straight races, where others require you to avoid being taken down (run off the road so that you crash) too many times by a set of pursuers who are wolf-like in their relentless harrying. The problem is that unless you know the roads off by heart you have to rely on your map and compass to get you from start to destination; I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble reading a map when I’m stationary at the side of the road and not in a hurry, let alone trying to decide whether I need to exit at the next turnpike whilst driving twice the posted speed limit, on the wrong side of the road, airborne halfway through an advertising hoarding, and trying to land such that I avoid the other racers who are determined to run me into the oncoming traffic. Essentially then, you’re expected to learn the layout of the city, to find the shortcuts and the crazy ways to literally cut corners, and commit them all to memory so that you need never experience that sinking feeling in your gut when you suddenly realise that you haven’t looked at the road for a good five to ten seconds, and you peer out from behind your map only to see nothing but sky. And then ground. Sky. Ground. Sky, ground, sky, ground… ‘the captain has illuminated the safety belt sign, please place your seat backs in the upright position and stow your tray in the seat in front of you in preparation for landing. Thank you.’.

I take it back, Burnout Paradise is an orienteering simulator only so long as it takes you to memorise the layout of the not inconsiderably sized city. For example, the stunt events require you to know where all the decent ramps and drifting places are with respect to your starting spot, so again it’s all about learning the area and knowing the optimal routes to take. Perhaps a better subtitle for the game would be Vin Diesel’s Extreme London Taxi Driver Knowledge Simulator, or Vin Diesel’s Bastard Hard Brain Training.

The game looks gorgeous and the physics simulation is excellent such that there is genuinely great pleasure to be had in just ‘free burning’ around the city, trying to learn the roads and find all the hidden jumps and shortcuts; it’s like a giant adventure playground for the Mad Max generation, and never does this become more clear than in the multiplayer achievement mode. Having tagged along with Jon’s Tuesday Console Club for a session of multiplayer achievement mayhem, where the game mode is a cooperative effort to try to complete various tasks set by the game – drift for a cumulative distance contributed to by all players, all players must achieve a barrel roll in a specific zone of the city, any one player must achieve a set amount of airtime from a jump, to name but a few – I have seen the level of effort that has gone into creating something that is more than just a simple arcade driving game. With Burnout Paradise, Criterion have created a driving sandbox game, it’s Elder Scrolls in American Muscle cars, and as such would have been worth its full retail price for the amount of time I will undoubtedly invest in it before I get bored. At the current clearance price it’s ridiculous value for money.

Castle Crashers: Ren & Stimpy meets Golden Axe. Need I say anything more? Expect lots of subtle yet childish humour and old-school arcade game-play with the respective rapid ramp-up of difficulty that coin-op machines would employ to keep you feeding them regular snacks of cupro-nickel. There’s a hat-tip RPG element in the form of points gained per level that you can invest in various stats in order to customise your character towards your preferred style of fighting. There are upgradable weapons; spells; potions and there are enemies. Lots and lots of enemies. There is one excellent tactic granted to you in order to deal with the vast relentless tide of foes that you face, and that is the fact that you can bring three of your friends along for the fight. The graphics are crisp, the animations traditional but fun, and the audio is that perfect blend of catchy tunes that bleed into the game without taking over from the arcade-homage sound effects. A very enjoyable, easily accessible, side scrolling hack’n’slash arcade game of the old school. It’s available on the XBox Arcade, and for me the only thing it lacks is a backing ambience of Penny-Go-Round coin pushers, an oppressively dark and smoky atmosphere, and a strange emo kid called Danny who stands slightly too close while looking over your shoulder as you try to play.

Braid: You remember that girl you knew at school? You do. The stunningly pretty one who all the boys fancied and half the girls did too, and they all waxed lyrical about how fantastic she was. Remember your disappointment when it turned out that no matter how much you or anyone else loved her, they would never be able to love her more than she already loved herself? Braid is what would happen if that girl was sucked into the Tron machine and transferred into the digital realm.

Braid is pretty. Braid is clever. Braid loves itself utterly, and no clearer is this in evidence than in its supposedly deep and meaningful story. Braid wants to be seen as high art, and Braid thinks it is too good for the likes of you.

What Braid actually appears to be is a delightful little Marioesque platformer combined with puzzle elements generated using the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time time mechanic. The puzzles are devious and clever in their implementation, and this is the one thing that I think Braid brings to the table that makes it special and perhaps more than just another amalgamation of game-play elements slapped together from existing games. Braid is an accomplished game, it presents a coherent, attractive, and innately comprehensible game world. It’s just such a shame that it clearly thinks that it is far more of a revelation than it actually is.


The Inevitable City is something of a disappointment, as tourist destinations go. Proving myself as hopeless at punditry as usual, after last week’s alarm clock siege Order have popped in for tea, biscuits and mass pillaging twice more; Destruction don’t seem to be putting up so much resistance in fortresses, whether they’re not so interested with zone flips being more frequent, or whether it’s because there’s an awful lot of Choppas rampaging through tiers 1 and 2 I’m not sure. Their cause isn’t particularly helped by the Chaos fortress lord frequently mtaking it upon himself to go for a bit of a wander, rather than staying in his well defended room, which was how we found ourselves taking The Maw surprisingly easily at prime time on a Friday night, and carrying on to the Inevitable City courtesy of a previously locked Elf fortress.

Same drill as last time: several instances of the City, up to 48 players per side in each. A couple had heavy Destruction presence, a couple had almost none, and initially I ended up in one of the latter. Two stage public quest: firstly kill 150 defenders (NPCs, if no players around), hold two objectives, set fire to 50 things (mostly by clicking glowing crates and tables). Secondly, a Lord spawns accompanied by four Heroes, and you have eight minutes to kill them all.

With no player opposition the first stage of the PQ is trivially easy but tedious, it’s tempting to slack off and let everyone else do laps killing random mobs, but of course then it just takes longer. The second stage requires a touch of co-ordination. It’s imperative not to drag the Lord or any Hero too far, or they reset. A debuff from the Lord prevents healers resurrecting other players, so you need to respawn and make the fairly short run if you die, rather than spamming chat channels begging for a rez. Finally, everyone on our server is under strict instructions not to use taunt or detaunt powers, it’s suggested they cause the Lord to employ a particularly nasty AoE attack. I don’t know for sure if that’s the case or if it’s one of those MMOmyths that spring up, but still. With a co-ordinated warband it’s probably also fairly trivial, each mob is tanked, dps focus fire on a mob at a time, and Bob’s your chaotically mutated uncle. With a PUG, with members covering a range of levels and varying levels of gear, it’s a bit more challenging, especially when it takes a good few minutes of sustained DPS just to bring the Lord down, so almost any reset after the first couple of minutes won’t leave you enough time. Still, after two fairly close attempts, getting down to just the Lord on around 25% health as the final seconds agonisingly ticked away resetting everything back to the mob farming drudgery of stage one, everyone just about had the hang of not running away, and our instance took the Lord down, hurray! Our reward (after distributing the bags)? To do stage one all over again, hurray! Wait, no, not hurray…

Now bear in mind this is with almost no player opposition at all. If you happen to get an instance with heavy defence, stage one of the PQ is much more interesting as the two sides have the same objectives. Blood flows in the streets, objectives change hands in bitter assaults, it’s a little like a 48-a-side scenario on a grand scale. That’s good. Stage two of the PQ, though, is a bit tough. If two pick-up warbands were *just* able to defeat the final boss within the time limit at the third attempt, imagine how much harder that would have been with a balanced party of Destruction joining in the fun, let alone anything approaching parity in numbers.

If you can “lock” the first part of the Inevitable City, I believe you progress to another public quest, with even tougher mobs at the end. To lock the city, though, it seems you have to complete that first public quest again, and again, and again, and… well, you could also do the Inevitable City scenario. If it popped. Which it didn’t while I was there.

So in the excitement stakes, it’s somewhat lacking. Never mind, though, MMOG players will do any old crap for hours on end so long as you dangle something shiny in front of them, and that’s the point of pillaging isn’t it? Four successful fortress assaults and another four hours in the Inevitable City, I’d hired a wagons to haul all the lovely loot away, and cleared plenty of space in the bank vault to store it. Net loot result from all that?
– One level 36 green axe (dropped from a player, won via a Greed roll)
– One level 40 green cloak, from a green bag for completing the IC public quest

And… that’s it. Luckily the wagoneers took the axe in payment, or I would’ve been down on the whole deal.

OK, I exaggerate a touch. While running between walls during a fortress attack, a Conqueror Keysash happened to drop from some random mob and I won a Need roll for it, but still; nothing from the Inevitable City itself. It’s a subject considerably covered around the blag-u-spore (f’rexample at The Greenskin), but worth reiterating, in terms of loot the WAR endgame can be most frustrating. You’re either competing with anything from 20-100 people on the roll for a few decent bags, or going down the WoW route of running instances and hoping bosses drop something for your class. Tokens have been mentioned for loot in the upcoming Land of the Dead zone which sounds a bit more hopeful, as with the Inevitable City not offering much in the way of fun or loot I’m going to need a new holiday destination.

PC or NPC, that is the question.

The Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 edition book Savage Species was a blessing for me. It wasn’t so much the rules for creating monsters as player characters, those had been skulking around in the back of supplements, lurking in monster manuals and slithering between the pages of Dragon magazine since before man could roll a dice, and were now passed secretly between players, like forbidden knowledge or those cheese football snacks the DM had banned because he could never get their crushed remains out of his carpet. No, it was the book itself that was the blessing, gave its blessing even, it let players know that it was ok to want to play as a bugbear, a githyanki or a stone giant. The book was like Alcoholics Anonymous for players who have an addiction to playing aberrant races.

“Hi my name is Melmoth, and for a while now I’ve been secretly playing as a Thri-keen.”

<understanding nods and smiles>

I’ve always looked at many of the monsters that I’m fighting in my pen and paper games and thought of all the fantastic role playing opportunities they would present if you were playing one as a member of the party of PCs. I’m certain that I’m not alone in this thought. It’s the same with any MMO that I play, and this is compounded because the developers nearly always make NPCs that are just downright cool compared to the PCs. We’ll ignore for now the surface gloss of matching armour and astonishing weapons that look as though they were crafted by gods to cleave suns in half, which outstrip anything a player can get their hands on, and which are wielded by the bar staff at the local inn. I often find myself pining to play some of the magnificent races that I meet on my travels. Races that, precisely because they’re not playable characters, can be moulded and tweaked and made awesome in any way the developer chooses. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this frame of mind either, so I ask any of you who care to, point out a race that you’d like to play in an MMO of your choosing, maybe explain a bit as to why you like the race, what appeals to you and why you think it would be fun, if there is any reason other than “because it would just feel so cool”. Which is a perfectly fine reason. The Beholder is a beauty in the eye of somebody, as the saying goes when you’re drunk and rambling about monsters as PCs.

So here’s the race that I like in WoW. Giants in general are always fun, and I really like the styling on the Sons of Hodir, the detail is fabulous, and I love touches like the portcullis as leg armour with spears still sticking out of it. It wouldn’t have to maintain the frosty look because the overall proportions, with the slightly hunched shoulders and big meaty hands, are what really appeal to me; the whole character model just exudes “drop a mountain on me and watch me shrug it off”.

I also really admire the look of the Storm Giants that thump around Howling Fjord. I think playing a thirty foot tall character would certainly have limitations, there are plenty of people who complain at the moment because they can’t get their tauren or draenei through certain doorways whilst mounted, but it’s not so much about the size as the concept, the proportional size of the body, the look and feel, such that if it was reduced down to the size of a large PC, it would still illicit that ineffable wonder about it.

Let me know your favourite NPC that you’d like to have as a PC, doesn’t have to be in WoW and it doesn’t have to be a race, although individual major NPCs tend to be designed deliberately to be cool and admired, and are therefore perhaps somewhat obvious, but more obscure NPCs are certainly welcome. This is not in any way a “developers should make these NPC races playable” commentary – the logistical impossibility of appeasing every player in such a way starkly obvious and ludicrous – it’s more an airing of secret desires, a gathering of the Aberrants Anonymous.