Let’s have one of those awkward moments. You know the ones: a group of you are at Tom’s house for the evening, you’ve all had a little bit to drink and people are in various states of repose. Colin is passed out with his head under the sofa and Samantha, in her inebriated state, is flirting outrageously with Hector, who, being the only sober one amongst you, lies patiently by the fire with a furrowed brow and a sad look in his eye, twitching his tail nervously every now and again. Then out of nowhere, you don’t know why but it might have something to do with the alcohol, you decide to admit “I just can’t eat mushrooms y’know, because I’ve always got this feeling, deep down, that they really are the homes of the Little Folk”. At which point Tom chokes on his wine and manages to get half a glass full up his nose. A thunk and muffled cry comes from the corner of the room as Colin’s corpse reanimates and his head rebounds with pace off the bottom of the sofa and back on to the floor, and Samantha stares at you unblinkingly with her mouth agape, which Hector takes as his cue to make a dash for it and slinks on his belly, tail wrapped underneath him, out of the door before anyone notices, which you take to be the posture of one who is deeply ashamed to have ever been associated with a person who thinks that mushrooms might house tiny people. “It’s just that you’re all such good friends,” you explain, “and we’re all so comfortable here. I feel that I can tell you these things without fear of mockery or rebuke.” Tom, Samantha and Colin (who is now sitting up with ruffled hair and red face, and glaring with malice at the sofa that assaulted him) turn and give you that pitying, understanding look that friends give to friends when they’re all drunk and one of you has said something that normal society would probably recommend a good psychiatrist for, a look that says “I understand that the bond of our friendship transcends such judgemental acts as having you sectioned under the Mental Health Act, we will just forget that you ever said such a thing, and let’s never talk of this again, except when we’re gossiping with others when you’re not around.” And you feel that these friends of yours are good people, that they understand you and forgive you, and that you could tell these people anything, even your deepest darkest quirks, without fear of reproach. So you do. And they all try to get out of the living room door at the same time, and hurt themselves.

I imagine that we all have our quirks and superstitions when playing games, and MMOs perhaps open themselves up to such imaginings more than other games because we play them for such a long time that the opportunity for nervous irrational beliefs is greatly increased, and because so much of the game’s content is based on the luck of a dice roll, it’s hard not to invoke The Fates when events take an unexpected turn. I was reminded of one of my own quirks last night when running through the Waterworks zone in Lord of the Rings Online, but the zone, or indeed MMO, does not matter, I have done the same thing in all of them at one time or another.

I believe mobs are out to get me.

Not much of a revelation at first glance I grant you, mobs in MMOs are undoubtedly out to get us as adventurers, otherwise combat would be quite dull, akin to hunters who might have travelled to Mauritius and employed all of their art to capture the Dodos that were found there, an art which generally would have involved opening a large hessian sack and waiting for the Dodos to run into it, head first, without complaint. Possibly basting themselves on the way through. No, mobs are out to get *me*, and I’ll be damned if I can avoid these confrontations. I’ll be running towards a destination – in as straight a line as possible whilst trying to avoid the mobstacles placed in the way – and I’ll see an aggressive goblin up ahead. So I veer off to the left such that I’ll pass behind him, outside of his radius of attention. At which point he turns around and starts to wander off to the left on a perfect intercept course with me. I’ll curse my luck under my breath and change course so that I head off to the right, again passing behind him and out of his sight, but because I had veered left previously, and because I want to stay at least partially on course for my intended destination, I don’t move as far to the right as I had done to the left. At which point I imagine the goblin thinks “Tsk, I’ve only gone and left my pipe back where I was, I’ll head back and get it now while there’s no excitement going on” and he turns around and heads back to where he was originally. I’m getting rather close now, and so a wild swerve to the left is required to get past him unnoticed, but I haven’t got much room to work with because I’ve been narrowing the degree to which I can move left and right each time; oh sure, I could stop running, turn a full ninety degrees with ease, and make my way in a wide loop around this mobstacle, but I’m a busy adventurer! I don’t have time for stopping, I must keep running at full pace at all times, forward progress must be made, otherwise I’m wasting valuable time! So I change direction to the left and I judge that if he keeps moving to the right as he is, and I keep moving to the left as I am, then we’ll just miss each other, like a mid-air collision avoided by the narrowest of margins. Of course it’s easier for aircraft, because it’s rare for one aircraft to come to a sudden and complete stop while the other one is trying avoid it. “Oh, you! Here’s the pipe right there in your pocket all the time you numpty” the goblin says, as he comes to a complete standstill in the middle of his return walk, shortly followed by “Oooof…” as an adventurer clatters into him at full tilt, knocking him onto his back before tripping over him themselves and landing with a crash in a heap beside him. “My best pipe! Broken!” he exclaims, and then the adventurer and the goblin have a heated sword-based debate with regards to pipe insurance and compensation claims.

Honestly, I swear they do it on purpose. I would be utterly unsurprised if there wasn’t a code library shared around by MMO companies which was full of tried and tested algorithms that made sure that mobstacles would conveniently patrol into the path of PCs, no matter how hard they tried to avoid it. I’ve even tried to psych them out before now (mad crash as half our readership tries to leave the blog at the same time, and hurt themselves) – I’ve seen the mob make their first move to intercept and I’ve made a motion to swerve wildly in the opposite direction only to cancel it after a few paces, and I swear that it works! They change direction again as I make to swerve and then they get confused because I didn’t go through with it, and their little library of algorithms doesn’t have the fLooksLikeAPsychOutToMe(return Boolean) function implemented, so they just keep going and I carry on my merry way, looking over my shoulder at them and mocking their ineffective ability to intercept me, at which point I run headlong into another mob who I hadn’t seen approaching me head on. So I do the mobstacle marathon, where I run around in a huge string of curving loops, doubling back on myself and such, trying to shake off my attacker without grabbing the attention of any other mobs in the area, and after twenty seconds or so I finally tire my pursuer out and they go back to whatever it was they were doing, and I congratulate myself on a job well done as I run pell-mell into the mob I was trying to avoid in the first place.

So there we have it, one of my little MMO quirks. Anyone else care to share? No? Well then, in that case let me tell you about how I think badgers got their stripes…

Posted by Melmoth at 9:17 am