Monthly Archives: September 2009

Assemble, Police of Britannia!

APB has been on my radar since footage of the oh-so-lovely character creator emerged over a year ago. Since then Realtime Worlds have been keeping things fairly subtle, mostly focussing on the character creator at various industry shows and in their official podcasts. With the prospect of an early 2010 release and imminent beta, though, more gameplay details are starting to emerge (from unwize’s previous comment, Massively and Rock, Paper, Shotgun amongst others), advancing the interest-o-meter from “hmm?” to “oh!” and prompting that most important of debates six months before game release: what sort of guild to form.

The seeds were sown on Van Hemlock’s podcast, when he suggested a guild based around 1950s and 60s British bobbies, a la Dixon of Dock Green or Z Cars. Under discussion at the International Symposium Of Advanced Gaming Thought (or “the pub”), one potential issue was whether a small truncheon would be sufficient weaponry to take on criminals armed with large quantities of automatic weaponry, the scene at the beginning of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film cited as a case study, where Victorian Peelers unsuccessfully attempt to beat a tank into submission. Bevis proposed this could be solved with “truncheon-fu”, a martial art allowing police officers to wield a truncheon in a similar fashion to a Jedi wielding a lightsaber (yet subtly different enough to avoid legal action). Batting incoming bullets from the very air, hurling the truncheon with uncanny accuracy to provide a ranged attack, the truncheon-fu-ist would be a deadly opponent indeed.

Of the array of weaponry depicted in APB promotional footage so far, though, machine pistols, assault carbines and squad automatic weapons are much in evidence, wooden batons less so. Doesn’t look hopeful for a squad of truncheon-fu-ists, so we thought Dixon could call in a bit of backup from the 1970s; the Sweeney and the Professionals might be just the sort of tough, no-nonsense coppers to bring justice to the streets of APB, and they’ve got shooters. They’ve also got some distinctive vocabulary, so if you want to join in here’s some handy phrases to start practising:
“The blaggers are on the move!”
“You slaaaaag!”
“Shut it!”
“Put yer knickers on and get me a cup of tea”
“We’re the Sweeney, son, and we haven’t had our dinner!”

Thought for the day.

If my friends are a much higher level than I am then, barring the few exceptions that prove the rule, I must rush through content to catch up with them.

When you rush through content in an MMO, all the little annoyances caused by those gates and obstacles that are designed to slow you down, keep you playing and corral your adventuring, are magnified a hundred fold.

Four Go to Goldshire.

Tiger Ears has been documenting our recent foray back into the world of Warcraft, where we have decided to take one last look at the lands of Azeroth from the perspective of a character at the correct level for the content, before Blizzard performs its latest party trick of whipping away the table cloth of original content, leaving the cutlery of players untouched but now standing on the shiny and polished table surface of new content.

Our initial expedition went well enough, I was determined to get a Hunter to the level cap having tried several times and failed for some seemingly unknowable reason that to this day still eludes me. The Hunter is a class that should be effortless and joyful to play, with a pet that can tank and which you can heal, combined with the not inconsiderable damage you both can put out, it’s a class that is definitely overpowered for solo play. As such I actually found it a little dull. It’s my own fault to some extent, I quickly wrote a macro that performed the major cycle of commands that are undertaken every fight – Hunter’s Mark, Pet Attack, Sting, Arcane Shot, Arcane Shot, Sting, and bake in an oven at 180 degrees Celcius for twenty five minutes or until the target is a nice golden colour – and bound it to one key. So thereafter my every fight went R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R (I use the ESDF keys to move, so R is my default attack key). The problem for your average player of the class comes from going from that mode of play into the style of play required for a group, which transforms from pressing R a lot into the more freeform style of Hunter’s Mark. Pet Attack. Patrol! Freezing Trap! Wrong target! Pet Change Targets! Noooo not that other group of mobs! Come Back Pet! Argh, Get It Off Me! Disengage! Into Another Patrol! Crap! Heal Pet! Too late! Run away! Run away! Run away!

I really did have the ‘running away’ down to a fine art.

Ok, so admittedly I had tried to jump my skill level from ‘Press R’ up to ‘Tank multiple mobs, CC others, Heal pet, Do some damage, Compose poetry, Solve world hunger’ and that’s probably stretching my skill level a bit, doable no doubt (although I’m not entirely confident about the poetry), but expertise was required in multiple areas, most of which I hadn’t practised at because I was too busy out there in there world, running around and ‘R’ing entire zones to death whilst reading a good book. One can certainly see how the Hunter class quickly gained a poor reputation in the early days of WoW based on this experience. That and the obvious fact that they won G*ld Farmer Monthly’s Editor’s Choice Award for five years running. The fact of the matter is that, when in a group or undertaking quest tasks that would make other grown classes weep, the Hunter is actually a class that requires a high level of skill and understanding to play well.

Having suffered a bit at the hands of the endlessly refilling population of the Stormwind Stockades (I like to imagine it’s where they put all the chat spammers), we decided that a more traditional Tank/Healer combination would work better for the pair of us, enabling us to visit the various dungeons of Azeroth with far less trauma, each of us filling in our more familiar group roles, he of tank and me of healer. It turned out to be a fortuitous time to re-roll because around the same time a couple of Tiger Ears’ readers had ventured forth and asked whether we had room in our little nostalgia troop for a few more. The more the merrier, I say, and so on Wednesday night we had our first weekly static group run.
Four Go to Goldshire
We all got our new characters to level six such that we were out of the very initial starter areas, our characters had just started to lose that new character smell and were run-in enough that we could rev them all the way up to 60 XP per second without the XP bar exploding and leaving us with an expensive repair bill from the local service centre. We met in Stormwind, made the customary introductions, ‘how do you dos’ and ‘wtf do we do nows’, before our glorious leader made a positive decision and we set off to Goldshire to grab some quests on route to giving Hogger a damn good thrashing. This is where the point of our sojourn started to stab at us a little more soundly: almost everyone who has played Alliance, and many who are Horde for Life, will know of Hogger because he’s one of the earliest points in the game where you get to meet an elite mob. He’s a notorious gnoll who lives in the same area as a pack of lesser gnolls and is only really distinguishable by the fact that his character model is slightly larger than the others. All sorts of DANGER! and BEWARE OF THE GNOLL! signs pop up in your tooltip when you hold your mouse cursor over him, however. Many an unwary adventurer has fallen to him, and his reputation is such that new characters will test their mettle against him, and in fact whole forty man raids formed entirely of level one characters have gone up against him. He’s one of those infamous icons of WoW, they’re not the ones you’ll see on box art and in glossy magazine articles, but everyone who has ever played the game with any conviction will know about them. I have one Horde character at level sixty, but at heart I am a player of Alliance characters, and yet I still know all about Mankrik’s wife. If you have invested any time in WoW at all, how can you not?

And here’s the thing: these icons may soon no longer be. In the forthcoming cataclysmed world of Azeroth, Hogger might no longer exist. I may have bested him for the last time – and best him our little group did, multiple times, and once more around the block for another besting – and you know what, it felt great. It felt like it did the first time we organised a group to go and tackle him back on launch day. Curiously though, I was suddenly made aware of the actual Hogger again. I realised that he had become this dull and lifeless entity, so many times beaten and then forgotten that his memory had become more fearsome than he ever was. I could have drawn a fair approximation of what he looked like, drawn a map for you as to his rough patrol area, described his ability to stun and his uncanny knack of sneaking up on you while you were fighting a pack of normal gnolls, but all this was substituted for the real experience. Even if Hogger exists in the next expansion for World of Warcraft he won’t be the same. If the character model and abilities remain unchanged, he won’t be the same. He is part of the world, and changing the world that he exists in changes him. It’s the same for Mankrik’s wife. I imagine that the WoW developers, having their finger on the pulse of pop culture and never ones to shy away from self-reference, will now hide Mankrik somewhere. There will be a whole new generation of “Where’s Mankrik?” and for a while it will be genuine and funny, because nobody will no where he is. Where is Mankrik’s wife, though? In your mind, if you’ve ever quested for her, you know she’s in a camp with a couple of tents. What do those tents look like, what pattern do they have on their exterior? The camp is near a bridge, what is that bridge made from? If you stand in the camp and look south, what do you see? How about to the east? If you can’t remember, or the memory is vague, and you are a fan of World of Warcraft, go and have a look. Remind yourself, because soon it will be gone.

This is the reason for our return to the lands of Azeroth: to cement people and places in our mind’s eye, to remember the great feats and greater falls, and to pay our last respects to this land as we know it, a land that has given millions of players many years of entertainment.

Mor’Ladim you’re next.

What really happened to Radagast the Brown.

“I will go to Saruman,” I said.

“Then you must go _now_,” said Radagast; “for I have wasted time in looking for you, and the days are running short. I was told to find you before Midsummer, and that is now here. Even if you set out from this spot, you will hardly reach him before the Nine discover the land that they seek. I myself shall turn back at once.” And with that he mounted and would have ridden straight off.

“Stay a moment! ” I said. “We shall need your help, and the help of all things that will give it. Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf. Let messages be sent to Orthanc.”

“I will do that,” he said, and rode off as if the Nine were after him.

— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Alas, he had travelled no more than a few yards from Gandalf before a wandering wolf took a fancy to his steed and began to pursue Radagast. Despite his best efforts, his skill with the steed was no match for the wolf’s almost unnatural speed, and soon Radagast’s mount was brought tumbling down by a cunning bite from the pursuer’s jaws. Radagast regained his feet and using the ways of the Wise he brought the wolf to heel and slew it.

“Any trouble there?” asked Gandalf.

“No, no. I’m fine. I shall away to Isengard at once!” and with that, Radagast mounted his faithful steed and rode off as though he raced to catch up with the setting of the sun.

Unfortunately a short distance further on there was a large bear blocking his path. He swerved to avoid its attentions, leaping his snorting mount over a hedge and into the forest, but was dismayed to find that he had leapt into the midst of a sounder of boars. The boars gave chase and, through some unknown cunning, managed to unseat him from his horse. Tumbling to a halt he jumped to his feet and, calling upon the power of the ancient words that he knew, slew the troublesome beasts.

“Need any help?” Gandalf asked, popping his head through the hedge.

“NO! Fine! … Thank you”. And with that, Radagast flung himself up onto his horse and galloped away as though the world behind him were aflame.

He passed no more than a couple of trees before the bear that he had tried to avoid earlier wandered into view, lazily swatted at him – knocking him flying through the air and into a nearby tree – before wandering off into the forest. Shaking sense back into his stunned head Radagast grabbed for the reins of his horse and with one swift movement propelled himself into the saddle. No sooner had he sat himself upright than a rather crotchety badger poked its head out a hole at the base of the tree and looked at him slightly funny, instantly dismounting him again. As he picked himself up and brushed himself down he glared back at where Gandalf was just now walking around from behind the trees. Gandalf stopped suddenly in his tracks as though struck bodily by the stare, took pause for thought and said nothing. Radagast called his horse to return, wearily climbed up on to its back and trotted off.

He made it fifty yards further down the road before a moth flapped its wings in Mordor and caused him to be thrown forcefully to the ground, at which point he was set upon by all manner of crap angry animals and was never seen again.


Not enjoying the mount mechanics in Lord of the Rings Online terribly.

Two things you always wanted to know about DDO Unlimited but were afraid to ask

With Dungeons and Dragons Online now free-to-play in its Unlimited guise there’s no reason not to take a look (unless the 3Gb+ client download is a problem), and Massively have a splendid post with some common questions for new DDO Unlimited players that’s well worth a browse. Your intrepid KiaSA team have also been investigating, and discovered a couple of things.

Firstly, free players only start with two character slots, fine for having a poke around in the game but maybe slightly restrictive for alt-o-holics. You can buy more in the store, but when Melmoth bought some points to unlock the Monk class he found he had two extra character slots; it turns out that purchasing points upgrades you from “free player” to “premium player” with a few extra perks (though obviously not as many as a “VIP” subscriber), including the extra character slots, which is nice.

Secondly, the European DDO site seems to be a bit quiet about this whole “free to play” business (though I confess I haven’t looked too deeply), but not to worry, the sign-up with Turbine seems to work absolutely fine from here as does buying points with a UK credit card. Turbine have even been kind enough to set up an unofficial UK server. See, if you’re a keen student of Eberron lore, you may think of Khyber as the Dragon Below. If you’re a Brit (or at least a Brit of a certain age, I dunno about the kids and their newfangled wheely trainers and hippity-hoppity music), Khyber can only mean one thing, so when there’s a server called “Khyber” in the list I’d be most surprised if the majority of British players didn’t pitch up there. To make us feel more at home, Khyber even has specific NPC voicing; on the other servers when you first meet an NPC rogue on the beach he has some generic accent. On Khyber, he’s voiced by Dick Van Dyke: “Gor bloimey luv a duck do what gert yerself up the apples and pears me ol’ china” he says, “stone the crows it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong we’re in right Barney and you’re borassic, but I’m a diamond so I’ll let you ‘ave a Mick[1], Council[2], House of[3], John[4], Aardman[5] or bus[6] for nuffink, knees up Mother Brown doin’ the Lambeth Walk oi!”

[1] Mick Jagger – dagger
[2] Council Tax – great axe
[3] House of Lords – longsword
[4] John Napier (inventor of logarithms) – rapier
[5] Aardman Animation – falchion
[6] bus nun weave-weave-cheese arm-rave of glider mane – plus one guive-guive-guisarme-glaive of spider bane

OK, that’s a lie, he’s the same on all servers and just has a slightly dodgy Lahndahn accent, but the tutorial does offer ample “lovely pair of melons, miss” opportunities.


Is this the great battle of the plastic-instrument-game end times? In the red corner, Guitar Hero 5. In the blue corner, The Beatles: Rock Band. Released within two days of each other (in the UK, a couple of weeks in the US), which is the best? There’s only one way to find out… FIGHT!

(There’s an idea… Note to EA and Activision: why let hip hop artists have all the fun? With all that effort spent creating a digitised Fab Four, plus Metallica, Aerosmith and assorted other Guitar Heroes, relive the glory years of Marvel vs Capcom with a Rock Band vs Guitar Hero beat ’em up! RINGO FLYING DRAGON PUNCH! SPINNING LARS JUMP KICK!)

Actually, other than the release dates, the two games aren’t really going head-to-head, there are two battles going on here: Guitar Hero 5 vs Rock Band 2, and The Beatles vs The Awesome Power of Hyperbole. Like the opening paragraph.

Starting with the more straightforward, Guitar Hero 5 is the second full-band Guitar Hero game after World Tour (counting Metallica and Greatest Hits as “expansions” rather than main releases), and with Rock Band eschewing full sequels in favour of downloadable content it goes up against last year’s Rock Band 2 (or, for European Wii owners, next year’s Rock Band 2, not that I’m going to keep harping on about that or anything). Guitar Hero 5 doesn’t do anything too radical, but generally spruces things up from World Tour: there’s a single loading screen to skip rather than having to furiously mash the green button 27 times to actually get to the game, the gig venue lists are clearer, the old favourite characters are back with unlockable outfits (despite “create a rocker” being almost as fully featured as the Champions Online character creator, the console interface is pretty clunky when working through hundreds of possible outfit options). The whole song list is open for quick play from the start, and it’s much easier to jump straight into playing, swap players and difficulties without having to backtrack through assorted menus, and, if you have the peripherals, you can have any combination of four instruments allowing for that four-drummer version of Ring of Fire you’ve always wanted to try.

As well as making things much more accessible, Guitar Hero 5 throws in something for the more achiever-centric in the form of Challenges. While playing in career mode each song has an additional challenge for either one of the instruments or the whole band, such as the guitarist whammying notes for a certain duration, the bassist up-strumming a certain number of notes, or the band maintaining a score multiplier. Challenges have Gold, Platinum and Diamond levels of success, offering a potential extra three stars over the main song performance, and they unlock extras as you go.

Song-wise it’s the most mixed bag yet, there should be something for almost everyone, but by the same token it’d be pretty unusual to find someone who loves everything. I’m finding it good so far, and enjoying being introduced to some interesting new stuff (the strength of a disc full of songs over DLC) as well as playing along to classics. There has been one sour note, though: “Bring the Noise 20XX” isn’t a patch on Public Enemy’s original or the version with Anthrax; Zakk Wylde’s riffing is fine in itself but doesn’t fit around the lyrics at all, most disappointing and puts a right crimp on my Chuck D impressions, but still. GH5 also emulates a welcome feature from Rock Band, the ability to import songs from previous games and DLC compatibility, albeit with a lower percentage of songs being transferable (only 35 songs from World Tour and 21 from Greatest Hits so far, possibly with more to come later). I haven’t been able to test this yet, though, as the European Wii music store hasn’t been available over the launch weekend. Annoyingly the only six songs of World Tour DLC that you can’t use are the Hendrix songs, the biggest chunk of my DLC library, but the Hendrix estate has always been strict on licensing conditions with those songs, and those songs only, always using the Hendrix avatar in World Tour (not present in GH5). Speaking of avatars… I’m sure you’ve heard the fun and games over Kurt Cobain being a playable character, which I can’t say bothers me nearly as much as some other people; John Lydon’s advertising butter, Iggy Pop is flogging insurance after all.

Overall, then, a solid development of the series, well worth picking up for anybody with a set of World Tour instruments unless you really can’t stand the bulk of the song list.

The Beatles: Rock Band is a slightly different kettle of fish. Or the same kettle, but with different fish in it. From the purely pressing-coloured-buttons-in-time-to-music perspective it’s fine; technically I believe the only thing it really adds to the genre is three-part vocal harmonies, but that’s not really the point. The point is it’s The Beatles, in the Beatle-iest game ever made (admittedly there isn’t really much competition there). Where the Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Metallica games had songs from other artists and were generally structured as games, with a loose story following some of the band’s major gigs but the songs themselves arranged by difficulty, The Beatles: Rock Band includes only Beatles songs, 45 of them (with more coming as DLC), arranged chronologically. I previously linked to a New York Times article that goes into the care taken over the production of the game, with clinking-teacup ambience added to fragments of studio chat for the in-game Abbey Road sessions; glorious dreamscapes kick in when playing the later songs, transporting the band out of the studio. It’s all very lovely.

There are slight quibbles, from both a Beatles and Rock Band perspective. From the former, it’s undoubtedly a sanitised version of history with no acrimonious break-up, the band always playing together, Ringo on the drums (even if McCartney played them on the song in question). From the latter, the sanctity of the material means you play the songs as they were, no drum fills, no whammy, and no audible effect when you kick in overdrive/”Beatlemania”. Neither seems a particularly major loss to me, though.

The attention to detail is superb, but it’s generally just a slightly more specific evolution of band-centric games rather than a revolution (number nine) in the genre; for a die-hard Metallica fan the opportunity to play the motion-capped band at Tushino Airfield in Guitar Hero: Metallica is probably as appealing as a die-hard Beatles fan getting the opportunity to play Shea Stadium. A more significant difference is that from the very beginning guitar games have been pitched at hard rock/metal fans, but The Beatles: Rock Band has a different profile and target market, potentially spreading the joy of plastic instruments (Matron) further than ever before. In newspapers and the music press, TB:RB is sneaking out of the “Games” ghetto into the wider “Arts” sections, with predictable results; there’s the usual barrage, occasionally in the reviews themselves, always in online comment sections, of “learn a real instrument” from people labouring under the illusion that players labour under the illusion they’re really in The Beatles. Newsflash, folks: the (vast overwhelming majority) of plastic instrument players no more believe they’re actually playing music than somebody playing a racing game with a steering wheel and pedals believes they’re a Formula 1 driver moving around a track. Enough of that before I get cross.

Veering too far the other way and declaring the game of massive cultural importance also seems wide of the mark; it’s possible TB:RB will introduce new players to gaming who’d never thought about it before, but just as World of Warcraft’s massive subscriber numbers don’t seem to have translated into a a similar upsurge in interest in other MMOGs, and Wii Sports drove sales of the console itself but not so much interest in other Wii games, I’m not sure it’ll have a more lasting effect. Last week’s games charts saw Guitar Hero 5 at number one followed by Colin McRae: Dirt 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylym, with The Beatles: Rock Band in at number four; the hefty cost of a console plus instruments might well be putting a dampener on totally new gamers rushing to pick it up, or it may just be a slow burner.

For myself, at the risk of being branded a Partridge-esque Beatles phillistine (“I’d have to say my favourite Beatles album is… The Best of The Beatles”) my collection doesn’t stretch much past old taped copies of the Red and Blue compilations, which in a way is what the game represents too, so I’ve been really enjoying it. I’ll have to find some non-gaming Beatles fans to see their reaction to it sometime.

Thought for the day.

Unlike the humorous-then-tedious accidental sword swishes that are regularly heard in DDO as people forget that left-mouse defaults to attack and not camera movement, the advantage to Lord of the Rings Online is that nobody will realise how many times you have tried to tumble your character away from an enemy when you get the two games confused for the umpteenth time.

Long live the New Old Flesh.

I blame the me of yesterday completely. He who, in that wanton curiosity for experimentation justly ascribed to the youths of the day before today, decided to download and install the Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited client on a whim. Not to play now of course, but to tuck away ready for when time and circumstances allowed. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t at this moment be faced with a glistening red icon on my desktop that pulses and throbs and moans at me, the desktop equivalent of the hallucinatory writhing TV from the film Videodrome.

Thus I sat on Friday evening, my own Max Renn under the control of the MMOdrome virus with no Bianca O’Blivion to reprogram my malignant massively multiplayer madness, staring at the icon on the desktop which had now manifested itself into my reality as some moist and fleshy thing. I look down in astonishment – through one of those slow motion camera pans – to my hand which is no longer human but an electro-organic amalgam of PC mouse, flesh, tubes and wire. The veins in my arm bulge unnaturally, pumping blood into this gruesome handmouse and down into the thrumming heart of the PC. I move the handmouse in horror, and as I do so I notice the cursor on the screen, now rendered in three disturbingly phallic dimensions, move in accordance with my gesture. The icon flexes and ripples as it senses the proximity of the phallicursor, and somewhere behind me: the muffled wails of a hundred thousand souls in tormented ecstasy. I move the cursor inexorably towards the icon, and the pulsing of each quickens. They pull towards one another as though magnetised, an attraction that was spawned in the darkness and warmth at the birth of all things, and as the cursor penetrates the gaping space of the icon, the fingerbutton of my handmouse spasms and electrical impulses light up the pleasure centres of my soul as the instructions for creation are injected into the womb of the PC and, nine seconds later, a game is born to my eyes. Then, darkness…

I woke up the next morning with a level 2 dwarf monk called Mun Ki, and a serious hangover.

I’m safe in assuming that it happens like this for everyone though, right?

I’m going to tell you how it’s going to be

I have indeed got The Beatles: Rock Band (despite the lack of Wiimote waggling “bed-in” mini game), and been Fab-ing it right up; Guitar Hero 5 then turned up last night in what’s widely being referred to as “The Point That Even I’ve Hit Plastic Instrument Game Saturation” (“Though I’ll Still Get Rock Band 2 For The DLC” (“If They Ever Release It For The Wii In The UK” (“Which Is Looking Increasingly Unlikely”))).  I had a quick blast through the first venue, which includes the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil (mostly playing the piano part on guitar, quite tricky for a first tier song).

Somehow, overnight, my subconscious decided the two games would make the perfect mash-up when combined with an 80s video tape commercial, and this morning I woke up from an animated skeleton singing the Scotch advert song, itself of course based on the heavy Bo Diddley beat Stones version of Not Fade Away, to the tune of Taxman, with the Beatles doing harmonies:

I’m going to tell you how it will be
With Scotch’s lifetime guarantee
Tape want you want both night and day
And re-record not fade away, re-record not fade away, re-record not fade away…

I tried to work out what it might mean, but Freud’s Traumdeutung is strangely quiet on the subject…

Wii Can Work It Out.

So Zoso, being the fake plastic rock junky that he is, has recently purchased the Wii version of The Beatles: Rock Band. Actually, he has progressed a large part of the way through the game, and so in a KiaSA exclusive we can now confirm that you don’t, in fact, get to a point in the game where you break up with the rest of the band and then spend the rest of your days waggling your Wiimote in bed with Yoko Ono.

So I guess he won that bet.