Every time, just like the last

games, mmm Steam sale, zoso 5 Comments »

I suspect it won’t come as a massive shock to regular readers if I revealed that I too have succumbed to the recent Steam sale. Like Melmoth I bought the Complete THQ Pack, and in the competitive bargain-off stakes I lose out from already having more of the games (Company of Heroes and its first expansion, the platinum edition of Dawn of War that… oh yeah, I got from a previous Steam sale), but possibly edge ahead on the number of games I actually would like to play (as well as Red Faction: Guerilla and Dawn of War II, I quite fancy Saints Row II and the second Company of Heroes expansion, and never got around to Titan Quest before either).

Buying that full pack at least seemed to inoculate me against bargain fever for the rest of the weekend. I was sore tempted by other offers, notably Batman: Arkham Asylum and Borderlands, but apart from anything else on a 2Mb broadband connection it’s going to take about three weeks (and incur the wrath of ISP “fair use” limits) to download all the THQ games without adding another couple of multi-gigabyte behemoths to the list. Anyway, even before buying the THQ pack I had too many games. Charlie Brooker wrote about living in a stuff-a-lanche: “I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain.” I think I’ve got a similar thing with games, let alone books, DVDs, radio series, blogs, forums, podcasts… I’ve managed about three levels of Freedom Force since getting that six months ago, and fired up Civilisation III precisely once to verify that, yes, it does exist. I’ve hardly gone back to any of the indie games pack from the summer, nor got any further than the tutorial mission of Men of War. My attempted justification of “well, there’ll probably be a quiet time without many game releases, and I’ll be able to get around to things then” becomes increasingly like stockpiling canned food for the Christmas holidays because the shops might be shut when it would take a nuclear explosion to close a big supermarket for more than 20 minutes, and that would just be to restock the shelves with hazmat suits and really high factor suncream. That’s before even contemplating MMOGs, which in most cases can expand to fill any available free time like cavity insulation foam with levels and classes.

Still, never mind. It shouldn’t take too much to bludgeon the last remnant of the rational mind into submission. Another good Steam sale should do it: “if I already have more games than I could possibly play, adding another 15 to the pile results in ‘more games than I could possibly play’, which is exactly the same situation, so there’s no reason not to get them! Pass the credit card…”

Posted by Zoso at 2:35 pm

It’s just as unpleasant to get more than you bargain for as to get less.

games, melmoth, mmm Steam sale 2 Comments »

Another Steam sale arrived this weekend and I once again found myself buying a huge number of games all because they were reduced in price and thus a ‘bargain’. Games are to me as shoes are to Mrs Melmoth: I see her come home with five armfuls of shoe boxes and she then spends the next half an hour telling me how much of a bargain they were. She tells me how cheap this pair was or how expensive that pair was but how much it was reduced by. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a shrewd purchaser of shoes and she gets some real bargains by carefully scouring the shop sales: for the price that some people pay for a single pair of shoes she’ll manage to come home with five or six pairs of equivalent quality. Then, as we all do, she gathers up her mighty pile of trophies, tiny consumerist victories every one, and with great pride she marches up the stairs, opens the door to the bedroom cupboard and shoves them all at the bottom, never to be seen again.

I do the same with games. Steam is my bedroom cupboard floor.

I bought the THQ pack at the weekend. It contains, as far as I can tell, every game THQ ever made and possibly a few games that they didn’t actually make but wished that they had. Why did I buy it? Because it was twenty six pounds and Steam told me it was worth five hundred and seventy two thousand pounds, or something. How could I not buy it? “I mean” – I begin to justify to myself, in that way that I do that means I know that I’m doing something stupid but if I just keep talking to myself for long enough then whatever it is that is stupid suddenly becomes perfectly sensible – “it does have a huge number of games in it that I haven’t played yet”. And at the time I thought myself right, and told myself that I was clearly not mad but in fact a very shrewd purchaser of electronic entertainment products, and that I absolutely should purchase this monumental bargain right now in case THQ/Valve suddenly realised what fools they’d been, oh and here are some endorphins to make you feel good. Mmmm, endorphins.

Of course the actual obvious retort was that I hadn’t played any of these games because, on the whole, I didn’t like any of these games, otherwise I probably would have bought them sooner. As I looked down the list of games that were now cluttering up my Steam interface I realised that Dawn of War II and Red Faction:Guerrilla were probably the only games from the selection that I was realistically likely to play, and then only if I happened to be in some sort of horrendous velcro accident that resulted in me not being able to leave my computer chair for a decade. It was a bargain though, so the endorphins told me that I was vindicated and that I’d ‘won’ over ‘the man’. And of course I totally hadn’t, because ‘the man’ is actually ‘a cliff’ and I am merely one of a large number of lemmings, sore beset by the pressure of temptation, willing to throw myself off the top; and thus I plummeted down and dashed myself against the rocks of reason hiding just beneath the surface of the sea of bargains.

I did pick up a couple of other games though, and although they were reduced in price and thus technically bargains, the fact that I’m playing them both means that they aren’t ‘bargains’ in the traditional sense. Firstly I grabbed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the princely sum of some two whole pounds, for no other reason than, frankly, it would be rude not to. The other game that I bought was the digital deluxe (is it just me or is this the sort of name you give to a vibrator, and not a computer game?) version of Dragon Age: Origins because it was reduced in price; everyone has played it and generally raved about it; and I’ve never, for my sins, completed a Bioware fantasy RPG. I know, I know: gasps of shock, cries of horror, prayers to various gods, a lady in the first aisle faints and has to be carried away, people start to sob and moan and beat themselves about the head in disbelief. I completed Mass Effect, if that helps? Okay, maybe not. I’m rectifying the situation now, though, so you’ll have to be satisfied with that. I’ve played a little way through the game so far and have a few comments already but I’ll save those for another post.

So I bought a few ‘bargains’ at the weekend as well as a few cheap games; I rest content in the knowledge, however, that I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my house to pick up my bargains, that they take up a lot less space, and that piles of them don’t tumble out of a cupboard and try to kill me when I open the door in order to grab a coat.

Posted by Melmoth at 8:00 am

I fought the International Humanitarian Law (and the International Human Rights Law won)

games, zoso 11 Comments »

You may have seen the news this week that Games ‘permit’ virtual war crimes. It’s terribly easy to be sarcastic about a headline like that. Terribly, terribly easy. Astoundingly easy. Not chewing a fruit pastille is simplicity itself in comparison.

It’s always important to dig a bit deeper than a headline, though, otherwise you end up with somebody being asked to take their shoes off, if they wouldn’t mind too much, as a new carpet’s just been put in, it’s quite pale you see, and before you know it the Daily Mail’s leading with “GOVERNMENT BAN SHOES, death penalty for non-compliance” and 400 people in the comment section are making the startling observation that it’s political correctness gone mad. The full report is available online, and I urge you to go and read it. Well, most of it, there are more footnotes than in the Wikipedia article on footnotes (not difficult, actually, the Wikipedia article only has six. At the time of writing, that is, I might go off and edit it into a hilarious piece of meta irony, where the body of the article is just: Footnote[1].) Have a quick scan through, at least. It generally seems pretty reasonable; at least they’ve played the games in question rather than just looking at the boxes, or, say, picking an example entirely at random, going on Fox News and denouncing a game on the basis of the vaguest of hearsay. The report is not saying “games are evil” or “ban this sick filth!”, on the first page it states “The goal is not to prohibit the games, to make them less violent or to turn them into IHL or IHRL training tools.” There’s often a knee-jerk reaction from the gaming community to a perceived attack, not entirely unjustified in the wake of Jack Thompson, Fox News on Mass Effect etc., that goes “Yeah? Well your mum ‘permits’ virtual war crimes.” Such immaturity is beneath us. Plus, they smell of wee.

The problem with the report isn’t the difficulty it has in contextualising the nature of conflicts portrayed in Army of Two and the resulting implications for the unclear legal frameworks governing private security companies, or even that any attempt at applying any sort of real-world logic to “Metal Gear Soldier[sic] 4″ surely flounders the moment it hits the sentence “The player is “Snake” and is fighting against “Liquid Ocelot””. The problem is back in the Aim of the Study:

We have chosen video and computer games as the object of our analysis because, unlike
literature, films and television, where the viewer has a passive role, in shooter games, the
player has an active role in performing the actions. Thus, the line between the virtual and real
experience becomes blurred and the game becomes a simulation of real life situations on the
battlefield.

Problematic opener, that, the old blurring the lines between reality and simulation. It goes on to try and provide justification:

The link with reality is in fact so direct that nowadays several armies rely on video games
both as a recruiting and as a training tool. Military from some states put video games on their
websites to give the viewers a virtual experience of what being a soldier is like. Such games
allow them to virtually participate in trainings, be deployed on missions, fire weapons, take
decisions in unexpected battlefield situations, etc. Military also use video games, or
“simulations” more and more often as a training tool in addition to “on the field” training.
This demonstrates the impact of video games on the players and their behaviour in reality.

True, there’s military use of computer games; Marine Doom, America’s Army, etc etc., but you’d have to be Sir Bors to get from “the military use video games as a recruiting and training tool” to “all video games involving the military are recruiting or training tools”. There are military training manuals; these manuals are books; ergo all books are military training manuals.

Even considering that most of the game players will never become soldiers in reality, such
games clearly influence their view of what combat situations are like and what the role of the
military and of individual soldiers or law enforcement officials in such situations, is.

Here’s the nub of it; firstly, coming back to the starting paragraph, I’m not convinced games would influence someone’s view of combat situations any more than literature, films or television. Secondly, it very much depends on the game, lumping everything together as “such games” isn’t very useful. If a game makes a virtue of its realism, takes care to model things as accurately as possible, markets itself as a simulation, then yes, I believe it could influence somebody’s view of what it portrays (dependant on how well the game was implemented), in the same way that a documentary or non-fiction book could influence somebody’s view. The games they selected, though, are generally unabashed entertainment that gamers don’t see as realistic portrayals of warfare any more than the average viewer considers Bonekickers an accurate portrayal of archaeology. That’s where the whole exercise looks like a case of double standards, and a bit of a waste of time. You might as well sit a conscientious police officer down in front of Point Break and ask them what they made of it:

I won’t argue that it was a no-holds-barred adrenaline fuelled thrill-ride, but there’s no way that you could perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork.

(Thank you, Hot Fuzz. Except that’s a comedy film talking about an action film, and thus entirely irrelevant because the viewer only has a passive role. Twice.)

One encouraging thing about the whole business is that in the BBC piece they turn to gamers for a response, and not just some drooling loon in the midnight release day queue for Modern Duty 17 who mumbles “Uh, I, uh, like shooting, and, uh, stuff”. John Walker and Jim Rossignol of the inestimably splendid Rock, Paper, Shotgun chip in, and I could’ve really not bothered with most of this and just quoted:

Mr Rossignol said there was plenty of evidence that gaming violence is “fully processed” as fantasy by gamers. Studies of soldiers on the front line in Iraq showed that being a gamer did not desensitise them to what they witnessed.

He added: “Perhaps what this research demonstrates is that the researchers misunderstand what games are, and how they are treated, intellectually, by the people who play them.”

Posted by Zoso at 7:51 am

Notes from the boardroom.

lotro, melmoth, mmo 7 Comments »

Part the second.
(Part 1)

Colin: “Norman, my dearest of colleagues, why so glum?”

Norman: “Oh, you know, Colin. It’s these ‘player’ specimens that keep running around our game, killing our wildlife repeatedly for no apparent reason, honestly I think they’re a bit mad.”

Colin: “Ah yes, still here after all this time and all of our best efforts aren’t they?”

Norman: “Quite frankly Colin they irritate me.”

Colin “Well they are somewhat annoying, but they do bring in quite a lot of money, and you know that money is the only thing that these Earth creatures will accept in exchange for their delicious shoe polish.”

Norman: “No, no, they quite literally irritate me, they bring out the eczema on my nipples.”

Colin: “That’s… that’s too much information, really. Even from someone like you, who I love like my very own laundry basket.”

Norman: “Sorry Colin, I’m just tired because I haven’t found a way to slow them down at all. They scurry around all over the game like little crabs; little crabs that look like scurrying mice! And I can’t think of any way to slow them down.”

Colin: “Slugs!”

Norman: “Slugs?”

Colin: “And wargs!”

Norman: “Slugs and wargs? I’m not following you.”

Colin: “What I’m saying is ‘slugs’. And ‘wargs’.”

Norman: “Yeeees, and what I’m saying is ‘I don’t follow you’.”

Colin: “Ah, I see, sorry. Well, what if we had some creatures…”

Norman: “Like slugs?”

Colin: “Or wargs. And said creatures cast a debuff on these ‘player’ organisms that slowed down their movement speed.”

Norman: “It’s an interesting idea, Colin, but I think you’ll find that most of our combat involves the ‘player’ entities standing utterly stationary whilst slugging it out toe-to-toe with the mobs, so I’m not sure how that debuff would cause them any grief at all.”

Colin: “Ah, but the mobs will cast it right at the end of the combat.”

Norman: “At the end of the combat?”

Colin: “Yes, you know, the event that is far away from the start of the combat.”

Norman: “Oh! The end of combat!”

Colin: “Indeed.”

Norman: “Well why didn’t you just say so? It’s brilliant, Colin! We could have the slugs cast an AoE slime thing at the end of combat, and that will snare the ‘player’ for absolutely no good reason until they slowly crawl their way out of it. They’ll be utterly baffled as to the point of it! But what about the wargs?”

Colin: “Ah, now they will cause a wound at the end of combat which slows down run speed by a large amount.”

Norman: “Excellent! That’ll slow the ‘player’ varmints’ progress, make them more susceptible to being attacked by other mobs in the area, and is generally pointless beyond being an obvious mechanic to spoil their fun. I like it! I feel that it needs a little something extra though, a little something to really push them over the edge…”

Colin: “It’ll last for two minutes.”

Norman: “Two minutes?! But Colin, my dear congealed kibitzer, that would seem like an eternity to a player trying to make their way anywhere in the game, even if it were just twenty yards further to the next mob!”

Norman and Colin laugh nervously at the silliness of it. Then they stop and look at each other.

Norman: “It wouldn’t work, would it?”

Colin: “It’s genius, Norman, and you know it. Get the programmers on it right away.”

Norman: “I love you, Colin.”

Colin: “I know. Let’s go and get a nice steamy bowl of shoe polish to celebrate.”

I really would love to gain some actual insight and understanding into the design decisions behind some of the debuffs these mobs give to players in Lord of the Rings Online.

Posted by Melmoth at 7:40 am

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me.

melmoth, mmo, swtor 10 Comments »

After the announcement of the final two classes to be included with Star Wars: The Old Republic, it has become clear that there will be an abundance of force sensitive characters in the game. As such Bioware have had the foresight to come forth early with a list of juicy looking items that these overly popular classes can look forward to looting from the game’s raid instances; a good idea considering that most raids will consist of 99% force sensitive characters and one scout class who is only there because he can pick electro-magnetic locks and thus open loot canisters and dungeon doors.

Bearing in mind that you have four force sensitive classes, two Sith and two Jedi, Bioware have their work cut out for them creating the sort of end-game rewards that MMO players have come to expect from games such as World of Warcraft, but I think they’ve stepped up to the plate and really delivered.

Tier 1

Brown Robe
Black Robe

Tier 2

Brown Robe +1
Black Robe +1

Tier 3

Brown Robe +2
Black Robe +2

Tier 4

Brown and Cream Robe
Black and Red Robe

Tier 5

Brown and Cream Robe +1
Black and Red Robe +1

Tier 6

Brownest Brown Robe of Brown
Dark-Black Black Robe of Black Darkness

Tier 7

Velour Brown Robe with Corduroy Elbow Patches
Satin Black Robe with Tiger Fur Lined Inner

I love the idea behind the black robe, but I have to say that the surprise design of the brown robe has really captured my imagination. I can’t wait!

Posted by Melmoth at 1:19 pm

Have I Got MMOnews For You

higmfy, melmoth, zoso 2 Comments »

Host:This week, teams, it seems that a music executive was arrested in Canada for failing to Tweet. In a crowd-control disaster second only to that time you got a really good Mass Sleep off to recover from a terribly over-pull and some bozo woke everything up with a Rain of Fire, vice president of Def Jam records James Roppo was arrested after police alleged he hadn’t been co-operative enough in helping to disperse a horde of teen pop fans.

Zoso:Fearing imprisonment, several companies have pledged to massively increase the amount of in-game Twittering from their products. A spokesperson for ActEA Mythzzard said “With our new auto-tweet system, every mob and NPC is on Twitter, and a pithy 140 character summary of every interaction is instantly broadcast to the world.”

@wolf947 bites @GeoffTheSlayer for 3 points of damage
@GeoffTheSlayer hits @wolf947 for 7 points of damage
@wolf947 i haz died, OH NOES :(
@GeoffTheSlayer loots a two-handed sword from @wolf947
@GeoffTheSlayer isn’t sure where the wolf was keeping it
@KevTheMighty has skinned the wolf and gains 1 wolf pelt
@wolf947 Oh, sure, rub it in why don’t you
@GeoffTheSlayer Oi, @KevTheMighty, that was my kill!
@KevTheMighty Bite me @GeoffTheSlayer LOL
@GeoffTheSlayer is petitioning @KevTheMighty
@StephenFry What a 170 checkout!! #grandslamdarts

Melmoth: In response to the precedent set by this arrest, Twitter reports that all of its users have started to spew endless amounts of random garbled text to the service to avoid being arrested themselves.

So, nothing has changed there.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Posted by Zoso at 8:29 am

Folly is the cloak of knavery.

melmoth, mmo, wow 8 Comments »

The healer of our static group in World of Warcraft was otherwise detained last week and so I took up the healing mantle for the evening, a garment that I am very comfortable wearing, although I was given again to muse upon its curious properties.

The healing mantle, for those who are unaware, is an impressive item of clothing which provides an aura of invisibility to the wearer rendering them utterly anonymous to everyone else in a pick-up group. It is well known that tanks are indestructible self-healing marvels, and that DPS can sustain continuous damage, be it from AoE or by standing in pools of molten rock, without so much as putting a hair of their perfectly sculpted bouffant out of place. Everyone in your average pick-up group is a marvel of robust and rugged constitution. All four of them.

Until one of them inevitably dies.

It is at this point that the healing mantle activates its primary systems and transforms. First it disables invisibility and instead turns itself a really offensive shade of fluorescent yellow. Secondly an underpowered motor jerkily raises an electric sign on a metal pole from just behind the healer’s shoulders; coming to rest several feet above the healer’s head, the sign consists of an arrow pointing down at said head and the words “THEIR FAULT” all in buzzing flickering neon. Finally a pair of integrated loudspeakers rotate from their resting place, lock into position on the healer’s shoulders, and repeatedly squawk a distortingly loud siren alerting all the other players to the healer’s presence. All attention is generally focussed on the healer at this point and bent on determining exactly what they were doing skulking away at the back of the dungeon while these other four were valiantly fighting the good fight with nothing to keep their health bars topped-up but the aura of sheer magnificence that they project; sadly they weren’t magnificent enough to facebutt their way through the two groups of extra adds that they pulled, but that’s not the point. Thank goodness, though, that the healing mantle was there to alert them all to the traitor in their midst!

Thankfully the healing mantle is deactivated when playing with friends or other competent people – these folk seem to project a damping field which prevents the mantle from obscuring the efforts of the designated healer – so I’m happy to report that my turn as healer the other night was a suitably happy and stress-free experience.

Being fifteen levels or so above the dungeon content probably didn’t hurt either.

Posted by Melmoth at 11:14 am

Thought for the day.

melmoth, mmo, tftd 10 Comments »

If there’s one thing I hope Blizzard’s Cataclysm expansion does for World of Warcraft it’s to leave the auction houses of Azeroth in smouldering ruins.

Posted by Melmoth at 9:16 am

Hat News Now Today: Dragon Age Edition

dragon age: origins, hat news now today, zoso 1 Comment »

Badadadadada dum dum dum dadada daa daaa dum dum daaaaaaaaa! Back, by popular demand, it’s Hat News Now Today, today’s premier column focused, now, on news about hats. Everybody’s been talking about Dragon Age: Origins, about the story, the world, the characters, but they’ve been strangely quiet about one thing: why was Kleist’s armour halted outside Dunkirk on May 24th? Nobody really knows, and frankly it’s slightly outside our hat-based remit, so lets get on with the headgear in the early stages Dragon Age.

Firstly, it’s good news if you’re a strapping great warrior type who likes to wander around in hunks of metal:

Alistair, looking fetching in his Templar helm

Alistair, looking fetching in his Templar helm

There’s some nice plate helms which go with some pretty stylish suits of armour that convey strength, menace and protection.

For those of you who prefer leather, key words this fall are “functional”, “drab”, “bowl” and “remember those really boring helmets from Age of Conan?”

Its not just a bowl, there are ear flaps too!

It's not just a bowl, there are ear flaps too!

You might have thought exotic Bards could get togged up in something suitable for entertaining, or lethal Assassins might have some ninja-esque gear for infiltration, but if you haven’t got the strength to carry off (in either sense) heavy armour it’s a world of leathery disappointment, summed up by helmets that are thankfully automatically hidden in cut scenes.

Still, you can always comfort yourself that you’re not a mage:

Its not a sock, its a sock with some snakes teeth sellotaped to it!

It's not a sock, it's a sock with some snake's teeth sellotaped to it!

On the plus side it’s going to keep your ears warm when stuck on a mountain side, though in Morrigan’s case the ears would be the last thing you’d think would feel the cold…

Posted by Zoso at 10:42 am

Hobbington Cresent: Unusual Tactics Division.

hc:utd, lotro, melmoth, mmo 1 Comment »

Battle formation number one: The ‘Song 2‘.

The 'Song 2'
As can be seen from the picture, in this UTD formation we have the glass cannon ranged DPS classes leading from the front in order to take the aggro alpha-strike, with the tank and melee DPS following behind in order to attack ineffectually from range by throwing muffins and lembas bread.

Somewhere, way out of shot, is the group’s healer who, if he hasn’t been trampled to death by our overenthusiastic mounted charge to get to the next battle, usually arrives just in time to save our sorry selves from the general chaos at hand.

Once again though, our unique brand of special tactics enabled us to win the day, and goodness me The Battle for Aughaire is a fun little instance.

Posted by Melmoth at 7:09 am
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