Monthly Archives: August 2010

Does my belt look big in this?

I’ve been adventuring in Age of Conan again recently. Instead of picking up my high level Bear Shaman I decided to re-roll: it meant I could switch to an RP server for the generally more pleasant community atmosphere; make my way through Tortage to see what, if anything has changed; get to grips with the combat system again; and pop out of Tortage ready to run through the lands of Khitai, newly released with the Rise of the Godslayer expansion.

So far so good. I’m out of Tortage, with nothing of note to report: the experience is still smooth and enjoyable, although it didn’t wow me as much as the first time I played through, but that’s perhaps because I knew what to expect, and games have moved on a little in ambition since the time that the voiced MMO content and personal storyline ‘tutorial’ of Tortage was a Big Thing. Khitai is pleasant, with much better quest organisation and zone progression than the other areas I remember from my previous time in the game; quests are still the standard MMO fare, and the zone is still pebble-dashed with mobstacles, which is a particular shame in this instance because the lands of AoC, and Khitai in particular, are breathtaking and must surely call to the explorer in everyone.

However, it’s hard to explore in a game when it’s abundantly clear that every inch of land has aggressive enemies placed in just such a way that you can’t go anywhere significant without drawing the ire of a great many of them. I know combat is the be all and end all of MMOs, and I certainly shouldn’t complain about that in a game based on the world of Conan, but it does ruin a lot of the sense of adventure when you can see you’ll have to fight your way through wild cats, say, that just happen to be spaced in regimented fashion all the way up the side of the mountain you were thinking of climbing; it’s like posting a big sign at the bottom of any interesting geographical feature that says ‘You must grind this hard to explore here’. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me: is it the case that you’re trying to slow players down and make them play longer by making them grind to explore? If so, do you think that works? Do the majority of players look at the mountain and think “Well there’s probably nothing up there anyway, so I’ll definitely want to grind through a horde of crap animals to get there” or do they wander off, do only the quests that they need, and blast through your content and out into the next zone. Now if the way up that mountain was clear, and the player takes the time to explore, they’ve actually played for longer in the zone than they would have with the mobstacles in the way. Not only that, if they then find something of interest at the top of the mountain, part of a collectible set of items with a reward on completion, say, then they’ll be more inclined to explore other mountains. Not every mountain has to have a reward at the top, but a clever developer might put one at the top of the nearest and most obvious mountain at the start of the zone. And a clever developer certainly wouldn’t need any explanation of the nature of many MMO players when it comes to the OCDness of collecting things and getting a shiny reward at the end of it.

Age of Conan has interesting, some might say frantic, combat and I’m enjoying the Bear Shaman class again, and will probably expound on my likes and dislikes in a future post, hopefully in comparison to the other melee healers that I’m playing in my other two MMOs of the moment – the Warden and Captain in Lord of the Rings Online and the Warrior Priest in Warhammer Online. There’s plenty more to talk about in Age of Conan, including some of the amusing bugs and quirks that I’ve come across in my short travels so far in the lands of Hyboria. I thought I’d share this one here for now, a belt reward I got from one of the first quests I did in Khitai. As well being a stunning interpretation of Hyboria’s China, Khitai also has a very Asian feel to the culture, and as such the light and medium armour is all bulky padded layers compared to the more skin hugging leather of the other races. Once you have a full set of armour it looks quite imposing, but of course to get everything situated correctly the belt has to be rather large to compensate for all the bulky armour: fine if you’ve got a full set, but if you get just a belt… well, at least you’ll never hear anyone ask “does my bum looks big in this?”

Thought for the day.

Can I play my original Guild Wars character in Guild Wars 2?

Guild Wars 2 is a whole new game with different professions and races, new technology, and expanded gameplay. It is not possible to directly use an original Guild Wars character.

However, your original Guild Wars character names will be reserved for your use in Guild Wars 2

Interested in Guild Wars 2? Got a copy of Guild Wars lying around and a favourite character name, perhaps something that nicely fits one of the new races you’re thinking of playing? Might be worth quickly poking your nose in to reserve a name, it’s not as if you have to pay a subscription fee to do so.

I think I have a decent Charr name worked out. Now I just need that tall considerable shadow on the far left of the professions page to be a shaman, and I imagine I’ll be all set.

Luck is believing you’re lucky.

I had always pictured Lady Luck as a noble elfin soul, draped in layers of white lace, blindfold across her eyes, skin of silken touch and marble pure. Her face forever formed a smile, and be it a sympathetic compression of commiseration or a joyous beam of bounty, it was always kind. Then, a few weeks ago, I decided to go back and get the last pages to drop for the last of my Warden’s legendary book traits in Lord of the Rings Online, at which point I realised that the story of Lady Luck is more akin to the loathly lady.

Some of your character’s legendary traits, which are more powerful versions of the standard traits and oftentimes class defining, are obtained by collecting a number of book pages that drop randomly from certain groups of mobs in certain zones. The long and the short of it being that I had far out-levelled those specific zones and was still missing three pages, two for one book and one for the other. Being that this was the third character I was running through this particular gauntlet, I knew where I could find the various pages, and happily it turned out that all three pages were to be found in the same zone. So I headed off to Forochel where all the mobs were twenty or so levels below my character, and I began to slaughter them wholesale. Within a few minutes I had the two pages from one book, and so knowing that I must be in a good place I continued to grind away.

And grind away. And grind away. After an hour I decided that Lady Luck might have taken her leave and was perhaps soaking her delicate frame in a steamy scented bath while the melancholic cantata of O Fortuna piped through her headphones. Regardless, she was not hearing my calling, so I logged-off for the night.

I logged-on the next day and after half an hour of grinding I began to plead with the Lady of the Luck, hoping that she might rise up out of her bath and present to me the item I desired. After ten minutes of unsuccessful wheedling to an imaginary being, I did what any sane rational person would do – I squeezed my eyes tight every time I went to loot a corpse, tried to picture the message popping up saying I’d found my magical missing page, then popped my eyes open and looted at the same time.

And do you know what?! It didn’t work, obviously.

I then resorted to the best and most infallible method: I struck up a conversation with my wife and, whilst in the midst of a fascinating debate on the merits of various fitness plans, I ‘accidentally’ looted a pre-slaughtered corpse that I just happened to have my mouse cursor poised over. Having concluded our merry discourse on Yoga vs. Pilates, I turned back to my screen and feigned shock that I had somehow looted a body in the meantime – “I wonder what loot dropped, which I happened not to see” I said loud enough to cause my wife to wonder if we were still talking about Pilates, and whether I was being quite rude.

And do you know what dropped?! Nothing, obviously.

I’d tried the three most sensible, normal options that any MMO player would consider when confronted with such a dilemma, so now it was time to get shamanistic on the situation, I had to bite the bullet, do something daft, something crazy: I went and checked the Wiki entry. Sure enough I was in the right zone for the page I required, and I was in one of the best known spots for grinding. I was buoyed by this, but not entirely convinced either, I mean, squinting my eyes closed and hoping really hard hadn’t worked after all, and ‘accidental looting’ almost always worked; unlike those trusted MMO techniques, the Wiki entry was fallible and could be wrong. I spent another half an hour grinding. And then I went mad.

The problem with randomness such as this is that you’re waiting on just one item that drops after an undetermined interval, and as evidenced by my grind thus far, sometimes that random interval is really bloody unreasonably long, all things considered. The other problem is – and this is the kicker that drives one mad – MMOs have bugs. I know, shocking revelation, but sometimes items that seem to be taking a really very long time to drop are actually bugged and are not going to drop at all. Ever. The problem is this: how does one know? HOW DOES ONE KNOW? At which point the mind goes snap ping tinkle.

So over the period of a few days of one hour sessions I went and tried a different area in the same zone. I tried different types of mobs in that zone. I went to the other major zone where the other pages usually drop – which was a bloody long trip – and spent time grinding there, just in case. Question: how long do you give yourself in these new areas though, before you give up and try somewhere else? That’s when you really go mad. I’d go to leave an area and my mind would say “Don’t stop now. What if it’s going to be the next mob here? What if?” and I’d turn around and kill the nearest mob and not get the drop. My mind would say “Perhaps that wasn’t the right mob. Perhaps you have to kill the ones that are walking around” and I’d go and kill a walking one and wouldn’t get my drop, and then I’d kill a couple more before my mind could say anything, just to shut it the hell up. So I’d finally manage to leave, and I’d go and find another place that I thought might qualify and my mind would be sulking in the background saying “That last place was better, bet you don’t get the drop this time. There, see.” and it would carry on like that until I tried to leave again, and then it’d whisper to me that maybe I should kill just one more…

Eventually I ended-up back where I started originally, having seemingly killed my way through half the forces of evil in Middle Earth, and still I didn’t have my page. My mind, obviously having an absolute blast, decided to play a new game now: “The mobs that dropped those other pages… maybe you killed those mobs at night? Wasn’t your character wearing a yellow hat when you got those other pages to drop? And a blue cloak? At the time you got those other pages the number of stacks of trash loot in your character’s bags added to the number of remaining health potions was a member of the Fibonacci sequence, that can’t be a coincidence, surely?!

And that’s when it happens in an MMO, that’s the point where your conscious mind looks across at your subconscious mind and says “Even I hate you now. Sod this, I’m going out“, and you become a grind zombie – you give up trying to second guess Lady Luck, give up trying to plead with her, give up all hope and expectation. You just resign yourself to sitting there and killing mobs until they have to peel your desiccated corpse out of the chair, your hands still involuntarily twitching out the four or so keystrokes required to rapidly kill low level mobs over and over again.

I turned to Lady Luck and handed unconditional control over to her, I was broken; I was subservient to Lady Luck – beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love her and despair! She is the one rand() to rule them all. I relaxed, I vowed to let her decide, when she was ready, when I would get my reward. A peace settled over me.

Two kills later, my page dropped.

MMO Curio.

Redundant Boots of RedundancyToday’s objet de curiosité was sent in by fellow virtual-world veteran and erstwhile Lord of the Rings Online adventurer Van Hemlock, a gentleman not entirely unfamiliar with the peculiar and puzzling nature of MMOs. This piece of curious clothing comes from Dungeons and Dragons Online, an MMO famous for its many and varied items with Adjective Noun of Verb/Adjective titles that leave little to the imagination as to what the item in question can do; should one stumble upon Invisible Pantaloons of Greater Immodesty, for example, it is immediately obvious to all but the bravest or most foolhardy of adventurers that this is not an item of apparel fit for wearing to the royal masquerade.

And so we come to the Feather Falling Boots of Feather Fall, dubbed by Mr Hemlock as the Redundant Boots of Redundancy. This footwear comes with a permanent Feather Fall enchantment, immensely useful in the world of Eberron where jumping off high places to your otherwise inevitable demise seems to be a regular occurrence, almost as if some greater force were contriving to place adventurers in situations where they would need to Feather Fall or die. But what else can these magnificent boots do? What other mystical powers do they hold over and above their ability to grant the Feather Fall effect at all times, permanently, with no chance of it ever being the case that the wearer of these boots cannot Feather Fall. Would you believe that the clue was in the name?! And would you believe me if I told you that these boots could, in addition to allowing the owner to Feather Fall at will, allow them to expend up to three charges per rest in order to cast the Feather Fall spell on themselves as well!

What crazy old mage decided to create a pair of magical boots that would permanently grant an ability and then give those same boots three charges per rest of the same ability?! I mean, I can imagine it comes as quite a relief to the adventurer who owns said boots as he flings himself off a mountaintop only to find that he doesn’t have any charges of Feather Fall left on them; imagine the panic running through his mind as he realises his mistake too late, and how his life flashes before his eyes, and then it flashes again, and again, and several more times as he very slowly and gently wafts his way down to ground level. It’s not as though Feather Fall is a multiplicative ability, you can imagine Armoured Armour of More Armour working out quite well for a fighter type, but Feather Fall is a binary ability, you are either falling like the proverbial feather or the proverbial stone, you can’t fall more feathery. But what if you could? Say you could cast those charges and slow yourself even more, by how much would you slow down? Feather Fall is a pretty dramatic slowing effect as it is, another dose of Feather Fall on top of that might stop you entirely, but then surely that would make them Not Falling At All Boots of Hovering? And you’ve got three charges, so what happens if you use another charge straight away? Then they become Flying Boots of Vertical Ascent Only. But those charges will eventually wear off, and then you’ll hover/fall depending on how many charges are active at any one moment. Of course with permanent Feather Fall you won’t fall to your death, so essentially you’ve got a set of boots that will let you travel up and down the side of a mountain and hover at various levels – thus Elevator Boots of Multi-story Manoeuvring. Pop a rest shrine at the base of the mountain to allow for convenient recharging of the boots, strap a pair of them onto a bellboy, hop on his back and state your desired floor “Mount Doom, third floor: haberdashery, carpets & rugs, ladies wear, and the forges within the Cracks of Doom”.

Next week we bring you the Water Breathing Ring of Water Breathing, also known in adventuring circles as the underwater oxygen bar.

It came from the spam bucket.

“Some time before, I really needed to buy a car for my firm but I did not have enough cash and couldn’t buy something. Thank goodness my sister proposed to get the home loans from banks. Thus, I acted so and was happy with my auto loan.”

The End. Always finish a great story with ‘The End’. Tolkien would have been proud though, well done.

“I bet you wish george bush was still president now”

Not… really, no.

Oh wait, is this flamebait? Sorry, we’re English, you probably should have questioned the utility of our corduroy elbow patches, that really gets on our nerves, we may even sigh really quite loudly if you’re rude enough.

“Wash knowledge of language foreign it is very good not to eat, help with transfer.”

I’m not going to pass Roy Hattersley an eiderdown. Back to Babelfish with you, sirrah!

“The economy is so bad, Hot Wheels and Matchbox stocks are trading higher than Chrysler and GM..!!”

I’m sure that’s worth more than two exclamation marks. That’s, like, a five exclamation marker at the very least.
I mean really, holding Hot Wheels up on the same level as Matchbox is utter sacrilege. Next you’ll be insulting our elbow patches.


How now, hype?

Good hype is announcing player classes and races, world details, lore and specific game mechanics as they are actually implemented in the game.

Bad hype is making claims and then having to qualify your rhetoric and reel in player’s reasonable expectations based on what you specifically told them.

I’m just using Guild Wars 2 as an example because it’s of the moment. I’m genuinely excited about the game for other reasons, and for me Guild Wars 2 will always have a get-out clause in the fact that they aren’t intending to charge a subscription in the traditional sense, which lends a certain weight to their argument that they’re going about things differently.

Personally I have to balance that excitement against the Mythic example though, where a company with a previously excellent game with a healthy fan-base made big claims about taking MMOs to the next level, about creating a game for the players, with videos and blog posts – from developers and designers understandably passionate about the field of MMOs and their game – that talked about game mechanics and design revolutions that just never saw the light of day or, when they were actually implemented, were illuminated under a very different light to that which the hype had painted them.

It sounds like a familiar story now, and although I think Guild Wars 2 is going to be a good game, I do wonder whether it can live up to the expectations that are being set within the gaming community by ArenaNet’s manifesto. If they can live up to everything they have claimed, Guild Wars 2 will be a great game, but if they don’t, and it turns out merely to be a good game, I worry that the damage done by the negative backlash will be worse for them than if they had simply promoted the game through good hype. Good hype is the less dramatic, less flashy way to promote a game, for certain, but it develops no less a loyalty in the fan-base and general community, and most importantly, is more likely to develop sympathy and support for your game when it runs into the inevitable MMO launch issues, instead of the implosion of vitriol that is often reserved for games that claim greatness and fail to even approach the simple standard of competence that was set so many years ago by World of Warcraft. WoW isn’t greatness, it is simply the standard, the benchmark of entry, if you claim greatness for yourself.

Why do I rail against the bad hype? Because it destroys games and companies. It is bad for me as a player and fan of the genre, it is bad for the genre itself, it is bad for these companies and the people who have poured their heart and soul into their game. I hate it because it is marketing-driven rhetoric of the worst kind, it is the essence of the developer/designer passion filtered through the disingenuous half-truths of advertising, by committees in boardrooms who wouldn’t know an MMO if it was force-fed to them one experience point at a time. Bad hype is trying to generate current World of Warcraft levels of subscriptions at the launch of the game. Not even World of Warcraft did that.

It is big business come to the small rural town, paving over the fields, driving out all the shop owners and pasting up twenty foot tall billboards telling you that your boobs aren’t big enough, your car isn’t fast enough and that your sofa could be doing so much for you than being a comfortable place to sit, and that big business has a solution to all these problems you never knew you had until they arrived.

I’ll tell you why, however, that despite the ghosts in their hype machine I still have hope that Guild Wars 2 will be the great game that the designers and developers are telling us about. Ignore all the marketing pizazz and watch the part where Ree Soesbee delivers the following line

“The most important thing in any game should be the player. We have built a game for them.”

and watch her face. Either she deserves an Oscar for her acting performance, or that is the face of a game designer who believes passionately in what she says as she is saying it, no rhetoric, no grand analogies or sophisms, just a plain statement delivered in a manner that, to me, says “and I vow we will prove this to you”.

I hope so, because the good hype – races, classes, world design – that they’ve delivered so far has me fantastically excited about their game. The bad hype makes me equally as nervous and cynical, however.

It’s not a trap! (Is it?)

Perhaps you remember from the start of the year my industry-shaking boycott of games including Ubisoft’s “Online Services Platform”? It’s been hard work I can tell you, getting up early each morning to man the barricades, exercising massive willpower to not be tempted into buying any oh-so-lovely looking games… All right, that might be a very slight exaggeration, there are only a few games that include it: The Settlers 7 (I loved the first Settlers game, way back whenever it was, but haven’t really got the time to sink into building a Kingdom), Silent Hunter V (I dabbled a bit with submarine simulators like 688 Attack Sub and Silent Service, but never really had the patience for all that creeping around and carefully deriving firing solutions as opposed to grabbing a plane in a flight sim and shouting “DAKKADAKKADAKKA!” a lot) and Assassin’s Creed II (currently filed under “maybe pick up if it’s in a Steam sale in a year or so for a fiver”).

The one Ubisoft game I’ve really been interested in is RUSE, a WWII RTS which has been delayed a couple of times, postponing the reckoning when my brave moral stand might actually be tested, and this morning news filtered through from Rock, Paper, Shotgun that it won’t be an issue after all. Apparently:

When R.U.S.E. is released in September, it will benefit from Valve’s Steamworks API to offer the best community experience to players. Consequently, a Steam account and Internet connection will be required to activate the game, as per Steam policy. For this reason, R.U.S.E. will not use the Ubisoft protection. Single player can be played offline.

Well huzzah! (So long as this isn’t just a cunning ruse.) Clearly this was entirely down to my threatened boycott; I’d better turn my powers to good, so listen up, like, banks and governments and stuff: I’m totally boycotting you until world poverty is ended, yeah! Back in the real world, though…

Some people [citation needed] might suggest that Steam is another form of DRM and not so different to Ubisoft’s Online Services Platform, and back in 2004 when I first encountered it as a mandatory component for authenticating Half Life 2 I was sceptical, but it’s turned into a really great platform. It keeps everything up to date by toddling off and grabbing patches in the background, the Steam store offers some fantastic deals during sales, and the community features tie in beautifully allowing you to see if friends are online and what they’re playing, invite them to games or jump in and join them (where the game supports it) and chat via text or voice. I haven’t had any problems with connectivity either, my ADSL line dropped out for an evening the other day, but switching Steam into Offline mode it was perfectly happy to fire up Borderlands. It’s not perfect, you still need to connect for initial authentication, there’s the possibility of problems with Steam affecting your games, if you get locked out of your account you’re pretty much screwed, but there’s clear added value; by using Steam RUSE avoids the hassle of having to create yet another account for some service and dig through it to try and find your friends there. Services like Good Old Games may be superior in offering DRM-free titles, but I can live with Steam’s compromise between restrictions and features. Especially when compared with Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live.

Games for Windows Live offers many of the same features as Steam such as digital distribution, patching and a community. In most cases, it does them very badly; patching is probably the best example. If you’re running Steam in the background and there’s no other internet activity, Steam slips off like a well trained valet, checks for updates to your games, downloads them, installs, and pops up a discrete notification: “*ahem* I took the liberty of updating Borderlands to Version 1.31, sir. I’ve also put the brown suit out for luncheon, I believe Lady Malvern is expecting you at half past.” I’m pretty sure it will quite happily load up a game that hasn’t been patched to the latest version as well, I can’t remember it ever being an issue. G4WL, on the other hand, is like a stroppy bouncer. “Oi, v1.2 only, sling yer ‘ook!” it’ll bellow if you fire up a game you haven’t played for a while; it’s sometimes possible to ignore it, log out of G4WL and play the game anyway, but some games then sulk and won’t let you access any of your saves, so it’s best to sigh and click the “update” button. At that point it just sits there, with an incomprehensible lack-of-progress bar that doesn’t really do anything; you can’t carry on and play, can’t go back to Windows and do anything else, you just have to leave it there and hope it actually is downloading a patch (if you’re very, very lucky), though more often than not it just gets confused by something and falls over in a heap after half an hour with an incomprehensible error message. Several times I’ve had to go off and track down patches for a game elsewhere, download them from a browser (during which time I can still use said browser to look at other sites) and manually install them; if that’s the update model I haven’t got a problem with it, but don’t include a “feature” in your distribution system that’s worse in almost every way! It’s all the more baffling as Microsoft could be in such a good position; the system ties in to the massively popular XBox Live (which, by all accounts, works very well on the console), but you can’t do much on the PC apart from send messages to XBox users as cross-platform play seemed to begin and end with the abortive Shadowrun. Steam had an advantage of being a component of massively popular games like Half Life 2 and Counterstrike, giving Valve wide initial distribution; with G4WL being mandatory for PC titles like Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV, Microsoft had a chance of starting to build up similar membership, but don’t seem to have done anything with it, leaving Games for Windows Live as a stunted half-arsed port of XBox Live that barely acknowledges the existence of arcane technology like a ‘mouse’. Which still makes it more useful than Ubisoft’s Online Services Platform.

Wot I’m Playing: Fluxx

In a mildly ironic turn of events I’m playing more games, especially MMOGs, than I have for a while, but finding less to write about. To steal the splendid imagery m’colleague uses, I’m sailing through the doldrums in a tarnished soup tureen (or perhaps on a raft consisting of several soup tureens lashed together, all that could be salvaged after the yacht Giddy Excitement foundered upon the rocks of Harsh Reality, though you have to wonder what all those tureens were doing on board in the first place; the crew must have really been into their soup, super tasty soup.) It’s not really with listlessness or a great sense of dissatisfaction, just a lack of the burning rage or excitement that usually fires the engines of bloggery. It’s also coming up to holiday season and the resultant drop-off in blogging, so to keep things ticking over I thought I’d borrow the idea of the Van Hemlock Podcast’s “What We’re Playing” segment, with an ingenious tweak of the title to cover the theft (though the criminal masterplan may have been slightly undermined by drawing attention to it just then).

To kick things off, a card game. I’ve generally missed out on the whole “German-style” board game movement, but we recently hit upon the cunning idea of relocating irregular pub gatherings to somebody’s house, allowing the hard drinking to be combined with game playing. Before delving right into Carcossonne or a 19-hour Talisman marathon, we beta-tested the concept with Rock Band and Zombie Fluxx, provided by Andy (purveyor of general splendidness including some rather excellent Warhammer miniature photos at Power Armoured Beard, where he’s also got a Fluxx reviewlet.) The basic rules are simple so a bunch of novices to be playing within minutes, but the point of Fluxx is that the basic rules don’t stay basic for very long as players put down cards that extend or replace previous rules and goals. A single game isn’t really enough to draw firm conclusions from, but the mutable rules are certainly interesting (something Tobold touches on from a MMOG perspective as he plays A Tale in the Desert). The changing goals make long-term strategy difficult, as cards that are essential to meet the conditions of one goal can become obstacles to meeting another, and even if the goal does stay the same for a while the action cards swiftly cause best laid schemes to gang aft agley. Playing with eight players as opposed to the suggested maximum of six probably ratcheted that chaos up a couple of notches too, even in the first turn we were drawing and playing various numbers of cards, Larry the zombie was shuffling around the table in different directions, everyone’s items got redistributed, and the goal had changed numerous times. It was rather chaotic, slightly confusing and heaps of fun, a great warm-up game. I’m rather tempted by Monty Python Fluxx now, especially as you can shuffle decks together to seek the Holy Grail during a Zombie Apocalypse.

For now I am in a holiday humour.

Hello! I’m not dead, last time I checked at least. Possibly verging on undead, but that’s what fresh air and exercise does to an avid MMO player don’t you know.

Yes I’m on holiday at the moment, and although I have plenty of spare time it’s being spent doing things other than playing MMOs, or thinking about writing about MMOs. Or thinking about writing about playing MMOs. Except for this post, which is currently in the midst of thinking about thinking about writing about thinking about playing MMOs.

Not to mention the fact that the MMO-verse at the moment is duller than a heavily tarnished soup tureen reading Pinter in the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android on the dark side of the moon.

But there’s the hype of course, which sparkles so bright and hard it makes a Twilight vampire look like damp clay mashed onto a rusting clothes dummy. As is generally the way in the MMO industry, only the hype is truly extraordinary, everything else is a paler shade of meh. Even better, the current massive wave of hype that is building is still out in the middle of the ocean – the coast isn’t even in site – so this wave isn’t set to break for months, or even years.

So what should we expect when this wave eventually reaches the beaches of release? We’ll see the developers hunched over their tiny sandcastles of software, then standing proud as they reach up to place the flag-like finishing touches to the topmost towers. We’ll see them look up from their work, hands-on-hips proud, see them turn, and we’ll watch their necks begin to arch impossibly backwards as they witness the tsunami of hope and expectation that has been built by the overeager publishers and marketeers in the meantime. We’ll watch their faces droop in cartoon horror as the surfeit of surf, deep leviathan of deeper lies, reaches its arching arm far over them in mock embrace, carrying, as it does, hordes of expectant players on its arched back. And when the hype wave finally extends too far, such that it shades the developer’s work in a portentous blanket of darkness, it will inevitably break, the sea-wall of hope shatters, and the whirling wash of trust, wish and desire will flip and somersault, twist and loop and spin in the riptide of reality. Churned into a singular murky mess the whole will be sucked out to sea by the powerful pull of vacuum born by the hype’s sudden death. Those few players who are left will huddle around the single comical clam shell of content that remains on the otherwise barren beach, and while they consider what they can do to make the most of this last remnant, relic of a breached covenant, the publisher will come along, snap the shell shut and throw it fitfully out to sea.

Oh what? Look, I’m on holiday and it’s currently raining outside, so I thought you should suffer water-based misery too.

See you anon.

Only your friends steal your books

Amazon have announced that they’re going to be selling Kindles properly in the UK (as opposed to the half-arsed “International” version), and at £109 for WiFi-only and £149 for a 3G version I’m quite tempted. My Android phone generally takes care of internet on the move, but for an extra £40 and no monthly fee a Kindle could be handy backup for very basic mail/blog checking on its stripped-down browser, the longer battery life being particularly useful as the phone really needs charging every day. (iPads are very shiny, but at least £400 more plus data charges…)

Course there’s reading books as well, that being the main purpose and all, and as I’m getting ready for a holiday and contemplating cutting down on spare pants to squeeze a few more books into a suitcase, the ability to have a library in a pocket is rather attractive (especially for everyone else I’m going on holiday with). One of the problems is starting a collection from scratch; there are clear parallels in books and music, with ebook readers for MP3 players, but where you could rip your existing CD collection to MP3s (not strictly legally, though most people do it anyway) there’s no equivalent for books that I’m aware of apart from chopping one into individual pages and shoving it through a scanner with a sheet feeder and oh-so-reliable OCR software (“It was the beset of Timmeys, it was the war St. of T1 mess, it was the age O twistom, it was the a Geoff goulash”). There’s always Project Gutenberg for stacks of free classics, and a few more recent works available under Creative Commons and similar licenses, but it would be nifty if dead tree editions of books contained a code that could be used to also get an electronic version.