Monthly Archives: July 2010

A distinguished diplomat could hold his tongue in ten languages.

The KiaSA Guide to the Star Wars Galaxy has this to say on the subject of Nar Shaddaa:

When introducing oneself to high ranking members of the Hutt Cartel stationed on the sprawling black market city-planet, it is strongly advised that one not break out into a song version of Nar Shaddaa Shaddaa to the tune of the Mah Nà Mah Nà song. This is considered bad form among all indigenous life forms of the planet, and is generally punishable by the unfortunate hitchhiker being thrown to a sarlaac.

Or worse still, being forced to sing the song again.

Thought for the day.

“Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a hero just like in your games!”

“What, you want to run around a forest with an aggressive moose ineffectually butting you in the back as you try to pick berries for a bone-idle elf who wants to host a dinner party?”

I think I’ll probably stick to reading The Hobbit as the foundation for mini-Melmoth’s fantasy aspirations, for now.

KiaSA Writing Style Analyser

The “I Write Like” analyser has been spreading like wildfire recently, a web page that takes a text sample and with uncanny machine precision determines that you write like one of 50 authors including James Joyce, H. P. Lovecraft, P. G. Wodehouse or, in particularly insulting cases, Dan Brown. Doubt has been raised over the pin-point accuracy of the Bayesian classifier behind it, though, so KiaSA Industries have devoted a vast amount of effort and resources to create a far more sophisticated algorithm, the most accurate writing style analysis service in the known universe:

Enter your name:

Sorry, there’s no code to paste into your blog if you want a badge. You can make your own, though, try the PrtScrn button and MS Paint.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

I’m currently sailing through the gaming Doldrums at the moment, where I use the term based upon its nautical meaning rather than the more common colloquial use that we are familiar with today. That is to say that I am making my way through a slow, calm period of gaming where no significant progress is being made and little adventure is to be had. Since I am in no rush to get to new gaming lands, however, and I have enough store of plain and simple content to keep me from gaming starvation for a while – gaming hardtack, if you will: sustenance enough without necessarily being a delight on the palette of play – I shalln’t be found wanting through the current becalming of my evenings’ electronic entertainment.

Lord of the Rings Online continues to be a sanctuary of solitude for me; it’s where I go when I want to escape all worlds and just exist outside of human space. My Warden is level sixty one and, having completed much that could be done for the dwarves of Moria, has breached the dark surface of that place to take in breath and flip joyous somersaults through the radiant bloom of the Lothlórien sky, before flopping back down with a tumultuous splash into the dark depths of Mirkwood once more. Lothlórien exists as one of those curious islands of MMO content, being both the concluding content of Moria and the prelude to Mirkwood, it is a forgotten place, off of the common trade routes, and as such many players will now sail by without thought to stop and explore; and indeed, as I float dream-like through the green seas of that forest, I rarely encounter other MMO mariners there. The stillness of Lothlórien is a perfect reflection of my current gaming state however, its surface reflects mirror-like the peace and tranquillity that I’m currently enjoying. Many quests in the great forest are simple tasks of exploration of both the place and the people, the culture and the customs, and they stand in stark contrast to the endless combative struggles left behind in Moria, and of those yet to come in Mirkwood.

I’m still playing APB on occasion; there is something in the nature of the game that keeps me coming back despite the many frustrations that it is struggling against. The game has run aground on the sandbank of redesign having fought unsuccessfully against the tidal wash of PvP balance, combat mechanics and driving physics, and the players wait in some sort of shipwrecked limbo while the developers frantically try to tar over the holes and re-launch the game. At the moment I’m primarily double sculling through the game with m’colleague, where the effort of trying to row upstream against the oft infuriating and insurmountable imbalances of the game is at least a struggle shared, where possible with light-hearted ridicule of the situation, and otherwise with a silent steely tooth-grinding mutual determination, punctuated with the occasional ESRB AO rated expletive outburst.

WAR has held my attention for a short while, but I’m not sure its the voyage for me. The mindless impersonal zerg as a winning tactic is indisputable, and the Viking war-band had pillaged its way through several tiers of content, but I’m not sure I get much enjoyment from being one of the many mentionless minions on the oars of the galley, as masters bellow orders from the deck above and the monotonous beat of the zerg drum drives a repetitive rhythm. DDO too is slowly coming into port for me, reaching a destination where I am happy to disembark. Having recently played my Bard for a while, who is level five compared to my Monk’s level thirteen, I was reminded of just how much simple fun was to be had in the early stages of the game, where one could adventure through a dungeon as you would in Dungeons and Dragons Not Online, exploring freely and without fear of murderous traps obliterating your character at every corner, and fighting without having cause to swap to a different weapon damage type every other fight or be effectively useless. As the levels of DDO progress the game seems to veer away from the shallow waters where anyone can paddle and enjoy the simple pleasures of role-playing and adventure, and into the deep waters of munchkin builds, heavy raiding and grinding out the experience.

As such I might have a little time on my hands, and where I’ll probably continue my LotRO adventures of a Monday evening as I have done for the past year or more, I’ll look to dabble in a new game as well, and as fate would have it, just as I think to disembark one ship, another one is offering free passage to new lands, and I think I may very well board it and see where it takes me.

So the gaming Doldrums are where I am currently floating on the wide ocean of gaming releases, it’s a calm and peaceful place to be, but I look to the horizon and I see exciting clouds forming, bringing with them strong winds and tempestuous times. A tropical cyclone of gaming approaches. Hurricane TOR is at the centre, with the smaller but still powerful storm fronts of Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV following in its wake. There’s a Cataclysm on the horizon as well, and although I escaped the whirlpool grasp of World of Warcraft and vowed never to return, I find my ship once again being drawn inexorably towards it.

So peace at the moment, but exciting times ahead, soon it will be time to batten down the hatches and hoist the main sail and prepare to ride the storm, but whether it will take us out into the wide waters of greater adventure or shatter us against the reef of disappointment, only time will tell.

Hat News Now Today – Addendum

Zorgbok the Destroyer wasn't entirely convinced that the Helm of Latrinity was the right look for a berserker warrior of his stature

What with m’colleague lamenting the dearth of decent headwear in current MMOs, I thought I’d proffer a suggestion for future implementation. Exhibit A, over to the right there, is Madame A.T. Rowley’s Toilet Mask, a splendid example of a bonce bonnet I’m sure you’ll agree. Also known as the ‘face glove’ (look for ‘finger hats’ and ‘toe scarves’ in Madame Rowley’s Autumn collection), this article of crazy cranial apparel is sure to modify the stats of your character, although for the moment we’re not entirely sure how.

Does my bum look big in this?

And since we’re talking about the cutting edge in MMO outfits and tailoring, how about W.P. Stockbridge’s Ermyntrude over there to the left? Admittedly it is highly irregular to see a female character in an MMO with no body flesh on display whatsoever, but we think the advantages far outweigh the detrimental side-effect of not looking like a pre-pubescent walking advert for porn-inspired cosmetic surgery and body modification.

Not only does the wonderful dress add ten extra item slots to your character’s inventory what with all that additional storage space at the rear (enough to smuggle a Tauren past the Alliance-Horde border guard), but it also transforms your character into a 350% speed mount capable of carrying two additional riders!

Never underestimate the power of Victorian invention to transform the lives of MMO characters for the better. Have a look for yourselves, and see all the exciting new possibilities for livening up arsey armour and humdrum hats through the viewport of Victorian advertising!

Hat News Now Today

Hat News Now Today would like to apologise for the deeply lacking hat news coverage recently, but though some games have offered some moderately diverting millinery nothing has really captivated. Until this week’s session of Dungeons and Dragons Online, that is, when Melmoth spotted something in the DDO store. A cosmetic top hat, no less, that changes the appearance of your head gear.

The Top Hat

I say!

Be warned, though! Such dapper head adornments can lead to spontaneous terpsichorean outbreaks:

Dancing in hats

Check me out! I'm dancing, I'm dancing!

Of course the entire guild promptly donned toppers for perhaps the most stylish ever dungeon delve (our photographer apologises for not catching the entire guild in a shot, and for forgetting to turn the game interface off leading to the somewhat unfortunate beheading)

Guild in Hats

We're here to kick ass and look incredibly stylish, though we didn't bring enough healers to completely kick ass

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Host: This week, teams, news that videogames can make you more successful in your career. “‘We’re finding that the younger people coming into the teams who have had experience playing online games are the highest-level performers because they are constantly motivated to seek out the next challenge and grab on to performance metrics,’ says John Hagel III, co-chairman of a tech-oriented strategy center for Deloitte. Elliot Noss, chief executive of domain name provider Tucows, spends six to seven hours a week playing online games and believes World of Warcraft trains him to become a better leader.”

Melmoth: “Some orientation is required when they transfer into corporate life, however” said Mr Hagel III, “before which we find it’s best to avoid telling them that five high level bosses reside on the top floor of the corporate tower. Forty young graduates throwing paper darts at the CEO while trying to steal the contents of his briefcase can cause unwanted flak for the HR department.”

Zoso: “Well, they’re motivated for the first couple of months, at least;” said John Hagel III, “after which they generally start complaining about the grind, then turn up in other departments claiming they’re alts, before heading back to WoW. We call them Job Tourists.”

Melmoth: “Elliot Noss, chief executive of domain name provider Tucows, spends six to seven hours a week playing online games and believes World of Warcraft trains him to become a better leader” he told our reporter, while simultaneously screaming “Minus Fifty Domain Name Points!” down the phone at one of his minions, followed by a stream of expletives, then throwing the phone across his office and rage-deleting several major DNS blocks.”

Zoso:“… and his salary scheme has drawn heavy criticism from 24 of his 25 employees; the other one, who won the ‘Need’ roll for that month’s payroll, believes it to be an excellent system.”

Melmoth:“Working for Noss is a strange experience” said a hypothetical Tucows employee, “frankly there’s a lot less server maintenance in my job than I imagined, and far more hunting boars for their spleens”.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional

APB has two main features. Firstly customisation; of your character, the way they look, they way they dress, the car they drive, their theme tune. Secondly fast-paced cops n’ robbers driving and shooting action in third-person, haring around after escaping criminals, shootouts over key objectives, a bit like a bunch of dynamic mini Counterstrike matches happening on the same map. Customisation was a big focus of pre-launch publicity like the 2008 E3 presentation, and has generally lived up to the hype; players have come up with some impressive efforts themselves including a Star Trek Squad and a Metropolitan Police clan. The action side of things wasn’t so well received, so it’s not a huge surprise that the developers have announced they’re looking at improving driving, combat and matchmaking.

One of APB’s problems is that the two halves don’t always complement each other. A good example of the inherent conflict is location-based damage; it’s pretty much taken for granted in modern shooters that a headshot will do more damage. Then again in most shooters the player models are the same size, but APB gives you sliders to adjust height and weight, so if the hit box was exactly mapped to your character there’d be a competitive advantage in making the character as small as possible and top clans would be exclusively populated by emaciated midgets. And in the game, ah! (No, not ‘ah’). Instead all APB characters have the same hit box, so a ‘head’ shot would be anywhere from the top of a chest to thin air, depending on the actual character size. There have been some interesting suggestions, such as having the hit box the same size as the character, but making shorter characters move more slowly so there would be drawbacks as well as advantages, but that would just give another avenue of min-maxing, and generally be opposed to the central idea of giving players maximum creative freedom in how they look.

If the customisation was lacklustre but the action gameplay worked really well APB might be able to find a more comfortable niche, though it would be in more direct competition with any number of online shooters without monthly or per-hour costs. As it is, after perfecting your hairstyle, outfit and car paint job, you’ve got one thing to do: go head-to-head against other players. On the Venn diagram of “people who like small group deathmatch shooters” and “people who like composing theme tunes and spending ages making sure their shirt looks right”, APB is great for those in the intersection between the sets, but my suspicion is that’s not a very large segment and many people attracted by the freedom in the character creation would prefer some slightly more relaxed gameplay options. There is the Social district, though that’s something of a misnomer as most people there are clustered around auction or design terminals using the full screen editing options, and apart from the terminals it’s a useful space if you want an in-game guild meeting or something, but there’s nothing to actually do there.

Out on patrol in the action district you hit the problems every PvP game has. Some players want a balanced fight, some just want to win; the latter try to skew things in their favour as much as they can, especially in a persistent game in which unlocks and upgrades provide an incentive to keep playing. With a large enough pool of players and a robust matchmaking system those looking for a balanced fight should be able to find one, but RTW have acknowledged that things aren’t really working out as they hoped in that area. I’m increasingly finding as I potter about the place that more and more opponents have triple character and weapon upgrades, and though an individual 5% boost here and there doesn’t make a vast amount of difference in the grand scheme of things compared to player skill, if they’re a much better player to start out with my chances are somewhere between slim and none, and the upgrades mean slim gets taken out by a rocket launcher before the mission starts. I’m not sure if it’s the cherry picking and other matchmaking problems described by the devs, a lot of really good players on the criminal side, or just my bad luck with district selection, but when you keep coming up against opponents with a 15% health boost who take less damage from each shot things shift from “generally putting up a decent fight and winning a few missions” to “standing less chance than the peace-loving pygmies of the Upper Volta charging machine guns at Mboto Gorge armed only with fruit”. Still, when the matchmaking system does produce fairer fights it’s still fun, so fingers crossed their overhaul does the trick.

It might be that an improvement in the action side of the game is enough to keep APB compelling, but given more time or perhaps focus in development I wonder if it could have taken a different path. I blogged about Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 2 a while back, concluding that one of the main strengths of GTAIV is its atmosphere, setting and attention to detail, whereas SR2 offers comic-book excesses and a wide variety of non-stop action, and I think either could have translated to an MMO.

The Saints Row 2 option of crazy blockbuster action would be, conceptually, pretty straightforward: throw in everything and the kitchen sink. It wouldn’t be so worried about a meaningful game world as setting players loose in a metaphorical theme park; hell, let the players loose in an actual theme park, gunfights on a roller-coaster and candy floss everywhere… Take a leaf from some SR2 activities like races on flaming quad bikes causing explosions around the place, or making players temporarily invulnerable to be hit by as many cars as possible as an insurance scam (that would work particularly well if happening at the same time as other players chasing each other on assassination missions or just in races). Add hot dog costumes and gimp masks to the clothing options, ramp everything up to 11.

A more Grand Theft Auto IV path would be quite the opposite; try and give the world more coherence and reality. The cities of GTA aren’t exactly *the* real world (police generally don’t tend to forget you’re a wanted felon if you hide around a corner for 30 seconds), but they’re *a* real world with people going about their business, news and adverts on the radio, things happening in the city. It’s difficult to take that living city into an MMO; throw in 100 maniacs with assault weapons and it’s not really so coherent and believable, the more real people you add, the less real it is. APB has an interesting enough back story, but it reads like it was dashed off as a quick excuse for criminals to be fighting a bunch of mercenary-like cops, it’s hardly reflected in the game itself when you drop into a district of this supposedly crime-ravaged anarchic lawless city. Have the population barricaded themselves in their homes, or buggered off to the country where there’s significantly less chance of being mown down in a random firefight? No, everyone is wandering about doing a bit of shopping, casually strolling across the road demonstrating a lack of awareness of the Green Cross Code that would be dangerous in a normal city let alone one where high speed pursuit is the hobby of choice, and slowly driving expensive sports cars around that might as well have “STEAL (or commandeer) ME!” emblazoned on the roof. Oh, and there’s the social district, where criminals and enforcers “decided not to fight”. As criminals and enforcers so often do.

It might go slightly against the real-world cops n’ robbers grain, but I think the only way you could really pull off an immersive city setting would be to make it near-future, after some not-apocalyptic-but-quite-major event, something like a cross between Mad Max (the first one) and Brian Wood’s DMZ comic series. Same clothes, cars and guns, but a more dishevelled city; maybe even expand things in a slightly EVE-like way with high-security areas patrolled by powerful (but not omniscient) NPCs giving way to more anarchic zones.

MMORPG Name Generator

Got a brilliant idea for a new MMORPG, but just can’t come up with a catchy name? Simply follow these easy steps for a guaranteed smash hit:

  1. Stick a pin in the thesaurus entry for ‘realm’
  2. Add ‘of’
  3. Draw scrabble letters from a bag for a fantasy-sounding word
  4. Add punctuation of choice
  5. Append a portentous verb

KiaSA Studios are pleased to announce that Purview of Lsdqwny – Conflictening will be released in 2011 and feature exciting innovations including Levels, Statistics and Items, and Neck of the Woods of Gassdvhw{ Enthrustening has just started development, based around the novel idea of giving us lots of money in exchange for killing monsters or making swords or something.

RUSE preview weekend

After the public beta of WWII RTS RUSE, developers Eugen pushed back the release from June to give them time to work on feedback from the beta (Melmoth would approve). Steam popped up news of a free preview weekend, ending Sunday July 18th, so I got the client downloaded on Saturday evening, at which point there was apparently 35 minutes of the preview left. Something had got a bit confused somewhere between the developers and Steam, perhaps that’s a problem when your game involves the Art of Deception; the game had vanished from my Steam library on Sunday morning, but reappeared later on, claiming 3 days left on the preview.

I only managed one online game; things didn’t seem to have changed very much since beta, but there might be more going on under the surface, I’d need to find some patch notes to be sure. It was rather splendid fun unleashing artillery barrages once more, a timely reminder to put the game back on my radar again. Worth a quick look before Wednesday (unless the extension to the preview is another ruse…)