Monthly Archives: October 2009

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

One minute: Sixty seconds. The time it took to write this post.

One work minute: Sixty minutes. The time it takes the clock hand to tick that final division so that you can go home.

One MMO minute: Sixty milliseconds. The time it takes to do ‘one last thing, it’ll just take a minute’ that results in you waking your partner two hours later when you try to sneak sheepishly into bed.

Upgrade time

Just to prove I’m not falling under the sway of the oh-so-beguiling XBox 360, I’ve decided it’s about time to upgrade my PC. On the plus side the time between mandatory-if-you-want-to-play-the-latest-game upgrades is getting longer, it used to be pretty much every two years you’d need a complete new rig but I’ve had my current PC for a fair few years now, and with a processor upgrade and couple of graphics card changes (mostly prompted by previous components falling over) it’s still a reasonable system. On the downside, it’s getting ever more difficult to actually decide on what to upgrade to.

For our first PC in the late 80s there was basically one choice, the Amstrad PC1512, though there were two options: two 5.25″ disk drives and a mono display, or one disk drive and a colour display (it was another £100 or more for two disk drives *and* a colour display). I lobbied hard for the colour display (doubtless suggesting it would’ve been vital to some aspect of homework, though I can’t think what now; better for drawing graphs for maths, maybe), but thankfully was overruled. With the display being CGA capable of four colours it didn’t really matter so much whether, after black and white, the other two were cyan and magenta or light gray and dark gray. Curse of the Azure Bonds, on the other hand, came on four (or five?) 5.25″ disks, and every encounter required about three disk swaps; I dread to think how many it would’ve needed with just the one drive.

By the time of the first upgrade the PC boom had kicked in and there were plenty of options for vendors in the adverts in PC Plus, Computer Shopper and Micro Mart, but spec wasn’t too difficult. Intel processors were the only game in town, graphics were just “VGA”, and the price of memory and hard drives meant you usually didn’t have much choice with a limited budget. After that rivals to Intel had started arriving, my third PC had a Cyrix chip, and then the graphics card was something to pay more attention to as 3D accelerators came in. Though computer magazines kept expanding with more and more adverts, it was still nothing compared to the array of options brought by the internet, so these days it’s not just Intel or AMD, it’s i3, i5, i7, Opteron, Phenom and all points between available at a variety of speeds, sometimes with yet more options of cores and lord knows what, and every one has someone singing its praises and someone else panning it for some reason. Graphics cards, well, if you’re not bamboozled by the array of cards out there and their ever-shifting alpha-numeric appellations, you’re just not trying. For the first couple of PCs the case never even crossed my mind. Later it was “desktop” or “tower”, now there are choices out the proverbial wazoo, with their own merits in aesthetics, size, cost, airflow, cable management… For every vendor out there, somebody has had a terrible experience of faulty components and rude staff, and somebody else is full of praise for helpful people and an amazing product. Plumping for a Dell would be a simple option, and result in a perfectly satisfactory box I’m sure, but after a particularly noisy unit a few years back, and with the PC sitting in the lounge, I like to select quiet components where possible, so it’s time to draw up a list of bits then try and find them all in stock somewhere. Wish me luck!

One murder makes a villain, millions a hero.

Rethgood the Redolent blinked sweat and blood from his eyes as he tugged his sword from the limp form at his feet. He staggered as he looked about himself, a haze of nausea welled up inside him as his head hummed from the blows it had received – a swarm of wasps buzzing around inside his head and stinging at his mind. The corners of the world closed in on him, and seeing no more wolves he finally dropped to his knees, placed broken hands into the white carpet that lay upon the grass as he heaved clouds of breath out into the cold morning air.

“Hey maaaaaaaaaaaaan. Like, what’s with all the rage?”

Rethgood looked up and saw an orc approaching from the trees to his right, he scrambled to gain his feet, slipped on the frosty ground and fell prone. Clutching at the grass with hands that stained the pristine canvas with crimson, he pulled himself away from the orc, whimpering to himself all the while.

“Duuuude! Like, wow, you killed all these wolves? Awwwww heck, man, why’d you do that? What have you got against the wolves man, they’re God’s creatures maaaaan, just like you and me…”

“You’re… mot… cweadure ob God” panted Rethgood, the words formed through a swollen mouth full of blood sounded slow and stupid to his ears.

“Oh hey maaaaan, don’t be like that. Don’t be all, like, Mr Angry. Relax, dude.”

“WELAX? I’b dyig here you gween fweak…” Rethgood choked on his anger and vomited blood down his front.

“Oh wow. Well man, maybe you shouldn’t have hurt those wolves man.”

“Wh… harghk… whad?”

“They weren’t doing no wrong. Just livin’ their lives here, like, in peace. With the nature an’ all, man, you know? We’re all happy here man, why’d you have to come along and bring your bad vibes? You’re, like, totally bringing the place down.”

“Thad wab the idea you gobbam monsder”

“Monster? Hey man, I’m not, like, the one who came charging in here killing all Big Mother N’s children. You’re like, totally bad karma man, you know? Like, bad mojo. You need to mellow man. Me-llowww.”

“Yo…. gaghk… you’re mad.”

“Mad? I suppose so man, we’re all a little mad you know? But you crazy folks keep coming in here and killing the innocent children of Gaia, man. We’ve all got a right to live. You people just need to chill, try to understand it from our point of view.”

Rethgood sobbed as the orc bent over him, he could feel the creature’s breath on the back of his neck. He tried to turn himself over, fend the creature off in some way, but his limbs had long stopped obeying his commands. He squeezed his eyes closed and waited for the inevitable.

The orc’s lips rolled back in a grin, huge tusks and pointed teeth framed in red velvet, drew its arm from behind its back and slowly, gently, placed a crown of daisies on Rethgood’s head.

“Peace, man.” it said.

Rethgood watched from one half-opened eye as the orc walked away, a wolf padded along beside it now and a hawk sat on its shoulder; the forest seemed to wrap its long branched arms tenderly about the orc as it melted away into the shadows.

Ever noticed how all the animals that attack you on sight never seem to have any problem with the humanoid NPCs in the area? I picture them all living in perfect hippy harmony, at one with nature and creation. Their lives are happy until adventurers come along and slaughter them wholesale because some stranger told them to.

Think of all the wildlife that we PCs kill during our adventuring lives because someone with a pocketful of gold compelled us. No wonder so many of the wild animals in MMOs attack us but leave everyone else alone.

Sometimes you have to wonder whether we’re not the heroes but the villains after all.

Previewlet: Torchlight.

Torchlight is to Diablo what Champions Online should have been to City of Heroes.

Where Champions Online inherited many ideas, themes, sound effects and such from City of Heroes, but changed some of the core game-play that made CoH so well loved and tried something new and brave, but which ultimately didn’t really work as well, Torchlight has taken everything that made Diablo great and built upon that with new features that just make the player smile at the simplicity and brilliance of the implementation.

Have no doubt, if you buy Torchlight you are buying Diablo 2.5; there’s the brooding, almost melancholy ambient music that drifts in and out of the periphery of your consciousness as you play through a level, and which is so close a tribute to the Diablo score that if you closed your eyes you might be hard pressed to tell which game was actually running on your PC; the piñata mobs that burst open and erupt loot all over the screen whenever you so much as look at them; scrolls of Town Portal and Identify; the disembodied voice of a strange old man that – slightly creepily – follows you around and provides narrative relief while you take a break from your excessive loot-candy highs. I haven’t found a Horadric Cube yet, but I’ve only played an hour or so. It’s there somewhere, I’m sure.

Games like Titan Quest tried to clone Diablo and tap into that rich vein of Blizzard devotees by presenting something that was familiar to them, whereas Torchlight unashamedly is Diablo, but with an up-to-date graphics engine and additional features that are different and unusual enough to tempt even those virtuous souls who are chastely saving their gaming cherry for Diablo 3. One simple and obvious example of a new and excellent feature is the pet companion that accompanies you everywhere you go, it is far more than a token addition to differentiate the game from others of the same ilk because there is an entire sub-game involved with making the best use of the functions that your pet provides. Suffice it to say that any player familiar with Diablo will feel immediately at home but still have plenty to learn and adapt to.

I haven’t played enough of Torchlight to go into an in-depth reviewlet yet, but the game has certainly impressed upon me enough to warrant mentioning it now, because if there are any of you who are wed to the Diablo series but are perhaps feeling that seven year itch, then Torchlight is quite possibly The Girl to spark your imagination.

Dare I say: it’s quite possibly more Diablo than Diablo 3 will be.

Every day is a fresh beginning, Every morn is the world made new.

Dateline Internet, October 2009. A Brigham Young University professor heads a recent study which reports that moral behaviour may be encouraged with nothing more than clean smells.

Elsewhere across the globe: the MMO blogosphere was turned into a barren wasteland earlier today when a new law came into effect mandating that all basements be equipped with air freshening equipment. The resultant ninety percent reduction in ninja looting and generally ‘being a smacktard’ in the World of Warcraft community meant that erstwhile bloggers had nothing to talk about other than the weather and which type of emote would be most correct when used to formally greet a new group member.

More details on the MMO Blogging Drought as we get them.

Reporting live for Oh MMO Emo News, I’m Melmoth Melmothson.

A yawn may not be polite, but at least it is an honest opinion.

Our regular Monday night group in Lord of the Rings Online, spearheaded by Messrs Van Hemlock and Shute, tackled the tenth book from volume one of the game’s epic storyline content. It was, as usual, an enjoyable evening, but this was due exclusively to the company of the fellows present, and certainly couldn’t be attributed to the game content that we were playing through.

Book Ten suffers from Yet Another Wandering Narrative Safari – a condition not uncommon in MMO design and certainly not exclusive to LotRO – it is categorised by large amounts of exposition with little-to-no action or adventure until the very end, and possibly occurs because the content designer spent the night before overdosing on re-runs of the X-Files. YAWNS is easily identified, but for those who may yet be unsure, I will outline a typical example for you now.

For an entirely accurate representation, the following should be played at twice normal speed to the tune of Yackety Sax, preferably with the PCs running line astern while flailing their arms in the air above their heads, although freedom is given to allow the PCs to be on separate parts of the quest at any one time and therefore have them running in opposite directions and occasionally bumping in to one another and falling on their bottoms, before getting up and continuing on their way.

  • You are presented with a wall of text from Colin your current quest NPC that essentially translates to “Go and speak to Bob”.
  • Bob is either standing next to Colin, within the same building or possibly in the general area.
  • When you speak to Bob he gives you a two line answer and sends you back to Colin.
  • Returning to Colin he then asks you to go and speak to Neville, who is half a continent away in a location with no convenient travel routes and which requires a fellowship of players to negotiate.
  • Upon finally reaching Neville you are asked to perform a mundane chore including, but not limited to, collecting local flora, killing local fauna, examining inanimate objects in hard to reach heavily guarded places, or grovelling on the floor at his feet until he sickens of your pathetic spineless nature. Bitch.
  • Neville sends you back to Bob, who tells you that he doesn’t give a toss, go and speak to Colin.
  • Colin tells you to tell Harold (who is standing next to Neville) to tell Bob to get over himself.
  • Upon finally reaching Harold he tells you to tell Neville that Colin is bossing him around.
  • Neville waits for you to grovel on the floor a bit before telling you to tell Colin that if he wants to tell Bob something, then he should jolly well get off his lazy arse and get a bunch of pathetic loser PCs to do it for him.
  • Neville swings a kick at your rear as you leave.
  • Colin concedes that he probably should have got you to tell Bob in the first place. He asks you to tell Bob to get over himself, to tell Harold that he’s sorry and to tell Neville that he loves him.
  • Bob cries at the harsh reprimand and can only be consoled by you killing fifty boars.
  • Harold is delighted by Colin’s apology and rewards you with one piece of tattered goblin wang, a barter item that can be traded for amazing gear. Unfortunately you are required to trade fifty pieces of tattered goblin wang to get one solid goblin wang, and you need ten solid goblin wangs to get the “I ran repeatable daily quests for three months and all I got was this lousy goblin wang t-shirt” t-shirt.
  • Neville looks with deep concern at the message Colin asked you to bring, then spits on it and slowly wipes it over your face before giving you a wedgie and sending you back to Colin.
  • Returning to Colin he is excited to inform you that your quest is nearly at an end, all you need to do now is go and speak to Geoff who needs to go the Castle of Death and Blood and be protected while he wanders around aimlessly for a bit.
  • Geoff doesn’t know who the hell you people are, and isn’t going to trust a bunch of strangers to escort him around the Castle of Death and Blood until they prove themselves to him.
  • After killing fifty boars you return to Geoff who grudgingly agrees to go, but first he needs his sword and shield and he can’t remember where he left them, you are to ask his wife where she put them as she’s always moving his stuff around.
  • When you get to the location where Geoff’s wife is supposed to be there’s a note pinned to the door which reads “Geoff, have eloped with Neville to Far Far Away Land, am not coming back. Your dinner is on the fire.”
  • You return to Geoff who is, understandably, inconsolable. You tell him that you really need his help, and he sobs that actually there is something you can do to make him feel better.
  • After killing fifty boars you return to Geoff who snuffles that he is feeling a bit better and that – good news! – he has remembered where he left his sword and shield!
  • You speak to Colin and ask him for the key to the room that has the chest that contains the key to Geoff’s room that has a chest containing a key to the vault in the crypt that has his sword and shield in.
  • Colin says that he did have the key but he can’t find it, but he’s fairly sure that Neville will know where it is…

NFL International Series: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs New England Patriots

This year’s NFL game at Wembley was slightly disappointing after last year. Josh Johnson threw an interception early in Tampa’s first drive that was run back for a touchdown, and just as they were putting together a decent second drive and looking like they might make a game of it a second interception took the wind out of their sails, and New England had control for the rest of the game. The Buccs ground game never got going, and Johnson didn’t get too much help from his receivers as they dropped a few pretty straightforward catches. “Efficient” summed up the Patriots offence, not too much on the ground either, but there didn’t need to be with Brady passing for 300+ yards and three touchdowns, Tampa Bay failing to capitalise on a couple of interceptions of their own. A nice Antonio Bryant touchdown near the end of the first half gave a faint glimmer of hope for the Buccs, but that was the extent of their scoring.

With the result never being in doubt, the atmosphere was pretty flat; nominally Tampa Bay’s home game, there was a bit of noise for their defence, but surprisingly little for New England despite the prevalence of Brady jerseys. Our seats weren’t so great either, low down, without the best perspective on the game. A good evening out again, but I think I’ll wait and see who the 2010 teams are before deciding whether to head back again.

The Factory Run: Part 1.

It was an eventful weekend. At least, as close to eventful as one such as me ever gets; it started with me mooching around my favourite haunt with no real plan as to what to do, and ended with a successful raid on The Factory, an achievement that most of us have only ever dreamed of.

It was Rex who first suggested it to me and Tom late on Saturday evening. Tom seemed keen right from the off, but he’s always spoiling for a fight, which is why he defaulted to being the group’s main tank I suppose. There’s something reckless in the way that Tom’ll throw himself into the middle of a brawl, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of his fighting style — at some point in time a sumo wrestler and a Viking fell very much in love, and Tom was the offspring of their affections. I was very much on the fence at the time, I’m often accused of spending too much time there, but I find that by setting myself apart from the emotions and persuasions of the rest of the group I can see further afield and often warn of dangers that the others may not have seen. Plus I find it really comfy there. Still, there wasn’t anything better to do other than perhaps engage in a bit of casual world PvP with any wandering packs from the other faction, and that’s only ever idle sport because they’re just so stupid and disorganised. Every time we fight it’s the same: each of them hurtling around solo with their own goal in mind, never thinking about the battle as a whole. I pity them really, they near as never win, and I’m amazed that they continue to turn up night after night chasing their tails around as we pick them off one at a time.

Rex and Tom looked at me imploringly though, and even though I knew I was being manipulated I conceded that it was a fine plan and that we should start looking for group members. I put the call out on LFG, Rex and Tom helping out now and again, but it’s generally accepted that I’m the best at getting a group together. Tom only seems to attract flaky female fire mages who are all angry heat and no concentration, and usually cause as much damage to the group as they do to other mobs. Plus they distract Tom from his tanking duties with their flashy displays. Rex, on the other hand, has an uncanny knack of attracting the attentions of any nearby raid bosses. Thankfully most of them can only attack from range, locked up in their concrete towers as they are. The battle shouts are of no concern to us, but sometimes they launch a projectile that, though rarely doing much damage, can cause a bit of a shock to one’s system, especially if one is in the middle of talking on LFG at the time.

It wasn’t long before I got the first reply, Tabitha made it known that she was available, and we all relaxed markedly when we knew that she was in for the run. Tabitha is our regular healer, a real motherly type who keeps us all in check and keeps such a close watch on our health that she usually has any wounds licked before we’re even aware that we’ve got them. I probably looked pained when I got the next reply though, and when Rex and Tom pushed me as to why, I told them that we’d got an offer from The Twins. The looks that they returned told me all that I needed to know as to how they felt about the situation — pretty much the same as me. The Twins are notorious DPSers who always go on runs together. Don’t get me wrong, they are top shelf DPS, possibly the best in our neighbourhood, but they are… eccentric isn’t really the right word. Rex is eccentric: he won’t go near running water, but loves being out in the rain; he can sleep next to open fire but is afraid of the magical light that the raid bosses use to light their dungeons, even though it has been proven harmless – it’s not even hot. Well, mostly harmless, there was that one time when old Cobby poked a broken one with his weapon and got quite the shock. That was a repair bill that wasn’t easily paid off, I’m sure. No, The Twins are just mad, that’s the easiest way to put it. Personally I put it down to their abundance of energy, which is a boon when put to use against the other faction and raid bosses, but when there’s no point of focus for it then it just seeps out of them and usually results in the pain and suffering of innocent bystanders. I mean, for starters they bounce. Now I know that a lot of DPS types seem to bounce for no apparent reason, but The Twins, they bounce a lot. If you’ve seen one of those strange balls that raid bosses sometimes throw out for no discernable reason, that ping around off of walls and ceiling and seem to cause more consternation to the raid boss than to us, you’re still not even close to how much The Twins bounce around. And if they are not bouncing off of the surroundings and each other, then they are duelling. They duel each other; they duel random other team members; they duel inanimate objects. They even duel their own reflection, not that we haven’t all been guilty of that one at one point or another. It wouldn’t be so bad, but they’re such scrawny looking characters that it’s hard to understand where they get such bravado. That is until you watch them at work. I’ve seen them take down a raid boss in seconds; their weapons seem to ignore all armour class, and all of their abilities seem to proc Deep Wounds. Not only that, but they seem to have memorised the strategy for every raid boss out there and know exactly where the weak spots are, and what form the boss’s retaliatory attacks will take. They’re the only DPS to ever make it through an entire encounter with The Baker and not take any AoE damage from his sweep attack.

After some debate and no small amount of caterwauling by Rex who, as our crowd control, finds The Twins style of indiscriminate whirling dervish DPS to be particularly tiresome, we had a vote and decided to take them. After all, The Factory was the hardest raid dungeon that we knew of, and we were going to need help from the best if we were going to defeat the dungeon and reap its rich rewards.

An Appeal

There’s a plague, an evil, pernicious virus spreading through the blag-u-spore, and one by one people are succumbing, with another victim claimed this month. All these people have contracted… an XBox 360. There is hope, but we need your help. Please, please, send whatever you can spare to help these poor unfortunates return to the promised land of PC gaming; £2000 will buy a reasonably specced PC that has a fighting chance of getting over 20fps in Grand Theft Auto IV. £300 buys a graphics card that can play the latest games for at least a month or two before it’s out of date. Just £100 would get a 5600DPI 1000Hz ultrapolling hyperresponse mouse. Even a mere £5 would buy some shark repellant to help out when the simple matter of installing the latest video drivers because some game demanded it results in a corrupted Windows installation, loss of six months of data, and aquatic peril.

Really, though I’ve no plans to succumb to the 360 pandemic myself just yet, it’s not too hard to see the appeal of console gaming, which results in a bit of a problem.  Just as Champions Online looked like it might be striking another blow against the annoyance of finding yourself on a different continent or server to your friends in an MMO, there’s now a platform schism for games like Left 4 Dead or Borderlands where I can’t play with my comrades if they’re on their 360s, all the more irritating when a couple of games have shown cross-platform play is possible.  Shadowrun, for example; I’m not sure whether Microsoft are trying to use that as proof that there isn’t demand for cross-platform play, as the Vista-only PC version of Shadowrun was saddled with trying to push not just Vista but also Games For Windows Live (back in the day when it was not only entirely awful, you had to pay for it), possibly the greatest handicap any product has faced since Conquistador Coffee was packaged with cholera and a free dead dog with every jar.  I believe total sales were three, although two were later returned as the purchaser thought, through a drunken haze, it was “shadow rum”.

It’ll be interesting to see, once MMOs start appearing on consoles (if any ever do), if there’ll be continued segregation, or one, happy, cross-platform family.  Fingers crossed for the latter!