Daily Archives: September 9, 2009

Never was anything great achieved without danger.

“Melmoth throws himself fully in to the method of a newbie, going so far as to pretend for half the instance that he doesn’t realise hunters get a frost trap. Even when he finally ‘remembers’, getting a polymorph penguin frozen in the trap is clearly not a mistake, we are just taking a ‘belt and braces’ approach to crowd control. All we need now is a rogue to sap the frozen polymorphed mob to make really sure he’s not going to cause trouble.”

Tiger Ears provides a splendid and light-hearted possible explanation as to why I don’t often get invited to the cool kids’ parties. However, I would have it known that Zoso used to play a Rogue in World of Warcraft but is currently abstaining from the game; so you see it’s not that I’m a total noob, it is in fact all just part of Melmoth’s Master Machination.


The Goodly Guide to: A Life Well Wasted.

A Life Well Wasted is subtitled “An Internet radio show about videogames and the people who love them”. You might be fooled into thinking that ‘Internet radio show’ was just marketing speak for ‘podcast’, and that the show was merely another general hour or so of light harmless banter by one or more personages who are excited enough about the subject to be bothered to record themselves talking about it and then publish their output on the Web.

You would be quite, quite wrong. A Life Well Wasted is utterly deserving of its subtitle, in fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s rather modest, and ‘Internet videogame documentary’ would be closer to the mark.

It’s not just the professional audio quality of the show, where speech is always clear and unmolested by external sound sources, it’s that host and producer Robert Ashley has an impeccable sense of timing, a fine taste in musical breaks and backgrounds, and an ear for the perfect sound bite. The production quality is absolutely first rate, the interviews and main narrative are interspersed with the perfect level of background audio, be it atmospheric music or just the general ambience of wherever he happens to be recording from. The interviews are, frankly, captivating. Whether you are interested in the particular gaming sub-genre under discussion or not, you can’t help but be drawn in to the conversation as Ashley asks insightful and searching questions that, although appearing simple, actually drive right to the heart of the subject, which is clearly evidenced by how passionately his interviewees respond. The interviews are cut, faded in and out, the audio output generally played with, and then interspersed with asides and general narrative from the host, whose soothing ‘surfer dude’ accent and laconic style bring an ambience to the show that both relaxes the listener while at the same time captivating them. Not only that, but Ashley isn’t afraid to just let people talk in the classic documentary style, without the need for the rigid structure of a question/response interview at all times; this can be a dangerous thing to do – giving people freedom to run with a topic that they enjoy – but again his expert editing cuts away the chaff and leaves behind only the pure whole grain of the point at hand.

The only downside to the show is that episodes are few and far between, but given the amount of effort that must go into researching and recording interviews, let alone putting the show together and then polishing it until it glistens, it is a disappointment that is easily forgiven. Each time a new show arrives in the iTunes feed it’s like a an unexpected gift has been sent your way.

If you don’t have this on your podcast subscription list, and you are in any way interested in gaming, then go and do so now. You’re missing out on one of the best audio gaming shows on the Internet.

And we’ll fly and we’ll fall and we’ll burn

Clicking around the newly-imported archives I ran across an old post of mine from MMOG Musings about character builds and the straightforwardness of Lord of the Rings Online compared to City of Heroes, World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons Online. Coincidentally it’s something I’ve been contemplating again in light of the classless society that is Champions Online.

The initial options in Champions don’t seem too daunting. You’re offered fourteen Frameworks of powers (Fire, Ice, Single Blade, Power Armour, Supernatural, Darkness etc.), you pick the one that seems most appropriate to your character (or go crazy and pick a combination for a custom framework), and get two attacks. The first is an “energy builder”, a low damage auto attack that, as the name suggests, builds up your energy, and the second is a more damaging attack that requires a certain amount of energy. This avoids falling down into The Zero-Button Phase (the City of Heroes tutorial as a Controller was quite painful back in the old days, when you could end up with one Hold and one “Heal Other” power and spend half an hour slowly punching frozen thugs into submission), though The Two-Button Phase does last through the tutorial.

There are variations between the Frameworks: some attacks are melee, some ranged, some have additional status effects such as a chance to root or fear the target, so it’s not like the choices are utterly irrelevant. By the traditional taxonomy, though, whatever you choose you end up as “DPS”, whether blade-wielding assassin dealing death by micro cuts or mystic from the city of delusion firing mental blasts; it’s not the game-defining choice you usually have to make in character creation in a class-based game, where your selection generally maps to your role(s) for the rest of the game.

Having chosen your powers you get onto the properly difficult bit of character creation, the costume editor, and spend a good couple of hours tinkering with the sliders so your new born character doesn’t look like some exhibit from a muscle museum with sunburn, then another couple of hours weighing up the eye accessory options (are sunglasses a bit too showbiz for a member of the resistance trying to stage an uprising? Maybe a blast visor is more practical…) Then it’s off through the tutorial, and before long you’re feeling good at level five or six, and levelling up properly for the first time.

This is where things open out more. You need to pick stats to focus on (there’s a useful link in Syp’s handy tips on stat selection). You pick a travel power, and another of those starter tips is entirely correct: swinging *is* awesome. And in the game, ah. You also pick your next “proper” power; a couple of wiki pages go into the full technicalities but broadly, depending on pre-requisites, you could choose another attack (ranged or melee, single target or cone or AoE), or self-buff (active or passive, for boosting energy or damage), or a crowd control power (various roots and holds), or a healing power, or defensive power (passive, or active working in conjunction with the block system), or a pet summoning power (though they might be later on)… It must be a bit of a nightmare to balance, with so many combinations potentially leading to unintended results; I don’t imagine the early tweak to passive defences will be the last change to cause forum hysteria and mass wailing that characters fell less “super”, but being invincible isn’t a very practical base starting point for challenging gameplay.

The classless system is a real fillip for both roleplayers, who can escape the traditional class constraints and select the powers they believe most appropriate for their character, and powergamers, who can really go crazy with the min-maxing after checking out all the small print of every power. If you’re a roleplaying powergamer you can have some fun if an “uber” power seems like an unnatural selection for your character: perhaps the beams you’re shooting out of your hand aren’t flames but lasers from a glove-cannon, or starlight, or strawberry jam heated to unbearable temperatures (take a bow Cream Tea Man, a baker who, when not entirely sober, suffered a blackout and fell into his scone mixer which was then struck with cosmic rays…)

Actually, talking of roleplaying, another general problem with the superhero RPG genre like the “everyone’s a hero” issue is the whole business of gaining levels, and thus powers. It can make sense for some origins (perhaps you retreat to your hero-Cave between levels and come up with a new gadget or two), but if your story is that you gained your powers after being catapulted through a supermassive black hole it’s a bit harder to explain why new abilities keep manifesting themselves (maybe its space dementia and you just forgot the rest to start with…)

Anyway, the upshot of this all is a massive choice of powers for your hero, offering unparalleled freedom, and no “tank” or “healer” pigeonhole to get stuck in (I’ve seen comments that, in the later game, a team benefits from having a more conventional “holy trinity”-type setup, but I don’t have first hand experience of anything like that yet.) Bliss, right? Even if you’re a perfectionist and realise you made a mistake somewhere along the line the tailor and the respec (or “retcon”) system allow you to change everything about your character apart from the name, so long as you have enough in-game money (it seems pretty expensive, so not really practical to be endlessly changing your powers or appearance unless bankrolled by an extremely lucky auction house sale).

Oddly, then, I’m having a problem settling on a character. Deciding between so many powers is difficult, I’m not even trying to work out optimal builds or come up with a map of the problematique, but it’s not a great issue as I’m sure I could scrape up enough cash for a retcon if needed. It’s more that where in another game I’d try a few classes, and one of them would generally click in the way it played so become numero uno, in Champions I can build any character however I like to to suit my style. Characters are therefore more about concept than role or play style, and I’m coming up with a bunch of them, and having trouble choosing. I’ve never suffered altoholism like it before, perhaps it’s long overdue! This wouldn’t be a problem, but the tutorial is getting a little over-familiar (especially after a couple of re-rolls to either fix power selections without paying for a retcon or change names), so I’m going to have to make a decision before too long or go mad at the prospect of re-running the same content…

(Special bonus contest: see if you can guess which band I saw last week and the 30 song titles of theirs embedded in this post…  at least a couple stick out like sore thumbs)