Monthly Archives: November 2010

Thought for the day.

I wonder how many times an MMO adventurer has walked out of an inn, looked wildly up and down the street and cried out ‘Oh great. That’s just great. Some bugger has stolen my horse!’ before remembering the animal is tucked away in their back pocket as usual.

In several MMOs mounts disappear the moment they hit water. Where do they go? Are they water soluble? Do they disappear to the same place as odd socks in a wash? Yet, when you leave the water, there the mount is in your back pocket again, ready to pop out as soon as you call it. But that doesn’t work for socks. Or does it? Next time you find you’re missing a sock, give a little whistle or pretend you’re calling to it, for about five seconds, and then have a look in your back pocket. As if by magic, you may just find your missing sock there! Or a warhorse. Best be prepared for either.

KiaSAcast Episode 9

For those of you who are not monitoring our podcast RSS feed or stalking us on the Twitterverse, brace your main hats and hang on to your sails, because we’re pleased to announce that it’s time for KiaSAcast episode nine.

In this episode we talk about what we’re back to playing.

This episode of the podcast includes:

– Introduction

– What we’re back to playing, including::

     – Lord of the Rings Online

     – World of Warcraft

Download KiaSAcast Episode Nine

Have I Got MMOnews For You

An article on headlined “UK to develop offensive cyber capability” suggests that “Britain’s military will develop offensive cyber capabilities”.

An opposition spokesman attacked this as a waste of money, with YouTube comments, the “Have Your Say” section of the BBC and General Chat in any MMO clearly demonstrating an existing widespread and highly offensive cyber presence.

MMO Evening News.

“… multi-vehicle accident on the M69 this morning killed seventeen people for at least four minutes before emergency services were able to arrive on the scene and have their priest resurrect all involved.”
“… was cleared of all charges when it turned out the sheep was in fact his consenting wife under the effect of polymorph. The minister went on to say…”
“… RSPCA spokesperson called the project a spectacular success, the once-endangered Grey Wolf population now back to a healthy level…”
“… shocked. Doctors say the young man, who fell four hundred and eighty six feet down the sheer cliff face, suffered a horrendously sprained ankle and would likely have a severe limp for at least the next sixteen to twenty seven seconds…”
“… stripped of his one hundred metres title after failing a buffs test. The use of Minstrels was banned by the International Commi…”
“… markets remained stationary again with retail prices maintaining a fixed level for the seven hundredth month in a row, the governor of the Bank of England said. Black market prices continue to soar howev…”
“… attacks on livestock have increased substantially, with farmers now offering a bounty of ten silver pieces and a particularly nice pie recipe for every ten wolf paws handed in…”
“… union leaders were outraged by the suggestion that their members should learn to specialise in a secondary skill set, claiming that it was just another money grabbing scheme by the government’s Department for Talents and Training…”
“… the fight outside the club in central London started when the man in full plate armour tried to gain entry, drawing the ire of the bouncers, the people in the queue, and everyone within a several hundred yard radius including half of those already inside the club…”
“… at the school said they’d had to expel one student after failure to enforce a strict No Walking policy had resulted in several reckless students causing injury to themselves and others by walking at a slow sensible pace. A spokesman for the sch…”
“And finally this evening the heart-warming story of little Terry the lamb who despite horrific attacks on his family earlier in his life has struggled and survived his way through it all to become a healthy and hearty adult sheep, his friends today were gathere… … … breaking news just in: Terry the sheep has been killed by an unknown assailant. Police are looking for a man in leather armour and a hood and mask. The suspect is said to have stabbed Terry repeatedly before skinning him in front of horrified onlookers and then sewing the skin into a cape, which he then sold to Terry’s owner, who was unable to refuse the sale under the Must Buy Any Old Crap Offered To Me Act of 1974. A sad end to a life full of hope and promise, police are asking anyo…”

Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Wolfshead’s post on personal spaces in games draws inspiration from Frontierville, but while cross-pollination of ideas between genres often has interesting and productive results, implementation of housing in existing MMOGs is perhaps slightly more directly relevant, and certainly warrants more than a single line of consideration.

The granddaddy of MMOG housing is surely Ultima Online, and though I don’t have first-hand experience the summary in Wikipedia sounds like a series of salutary lessons of the possibilities and dangers of player housing. Where there is ownership, so there are land-grabs, theft, exploits, the expansion of cities into surrounding green-belt areas… and in the game, ah!

Moving down the MMO timeline for a few years, housing isn’t an integral element of many, if any, of the major launches. EverQuest is the stand-out title, synonymous with the genre for a while, and its more rigid class and level system and lack of player-owned spaces in contrast with Ultima Online caused some of the earlier instances of the ever-popular “game vs world” or “theme park vs sandbox” debates. Expansions added housing to games like Asheron’s Call and Dark Age of Camelot after launch, even EverQuest itself got player housing in its most recent expansion (after a mere 11 years!), though again I’ve got no first-hand experience of any of those implementations. I can’t recall any blog posts or articles particularly celebrating or criticising them, if they had (or have) any noteworthy features I’d be interested in any follow-up comments or posts.

After several years without much in the way of player-owned spaces within games, 2003 brought many developments. There were Second Life and A Tale In The Desert, both strong examples of crafting and user generated content, the latter also having interesting community and political aspects, the former notable for real monetary transactions for virtual property. And flying penises. Project Entropia (now Entropia Universe) also launched, another game notable for headline-hitting real money transactions, but hearing that sweat gathering is a primary source of income for new players never really sold it for me. EVE Online doesn’t exactly have houses as such, but Player Owned Stations (POSs) are an important element. Horizons (now Istaria) sounded like an ambitious but ultimately flawed attempt at a dynamic world, I recall some WoW guildmates reminiscing fondly about guild building projects there, but it’s not something I ever tried.

The second key game for MMOG housing, though, must surely be Star Wars Galaxies. SWG, before the much-lamented Combat Upgrade and New Game Enhancements, was very much in the mould of Ultima Online, at the “world” end of the “world <-> game” spectrum, very player-centric. Due to the difficulties in having player built/owned structures within the “main” world, not least the amount of space required, many games after UO took an instanced approach, having some sort of portal or gateway taking players to regions dedicated to player or guild housing. With entire planets to roam SWG never really had space issues, players really could carve out their own homesteads, and groups of players could co-operate on shared buildings like cantinas. There are many options for building and decoration, and not long after launch the player city system became more formalised, with mayors and elections.

I’ve only played SWG for a few weeks of trials, years after its peak of popularity, and visiting a few player cities (mostly for shopping) was a lonely experience; I don’t think I ever saw another character in any of them. Some of the houses were excellent, packed with interesting curios, but the cities never felt like a vibrant, living part of the game, more like the opening scenes of 28 Days Later, or a caravan park in a coastal resort in mid-winter, outdated slot machines blinking forlornly through drizzle… Technically, though, the implementation is impressive.

Moving on again, City of Heroes was notable for its unprecedented array of options when designing your character’s appearance, another important aspect of personalisation and a sense of ownership, and with the release of the City of Villains expansion the designers put a great deal of effort into supergroup bases, shared spaces for the CoH equivalent of a guild to build and decorate. They turned out to be “the most underused facet of the game”; I wrote about them a while back, they’re quite fun to play with, but in terms of return of investment for the developers they didn’t seem to come out too well.

Then there was the big showdown: EverQuest II and World of Warcraft. I understand EQ2’s housing system is pretty extensive and well received, with a Carpenter crafting profession whose principal output is furniture; WoW has no housing, and Blizzard don’t seem to be in a hurry to implement it. If anything gives lie to the triumph of personal virtual space, it’s surely the success of the house-less EverQuest and then World of Warcraft; player owned spaces can certainly be an asset to a game, quite literally in the case of something like Entropia Universe, but for the majority of players a lack of housing clearly isn’t a deal breaker.

Zapping forward through the timeline again, Guild Wars offers Guild Halls for guilds to hang around, chat, swap recipes and engage in vicious fights to the death; Dungeons and Dragons Online recently introduced guild housing in the form of airships, though our little Friday night group drifted apart before earning enough points to qualify for one; Vanguard has housing, though I don’t know anyone who plays it, and I’m hoping to see more of the Lord of the Rings Online system now it’s gone free-to-play in Europe.

Age of Conan is probably worth a mention for its ambitious plans for player cities that would be attacked by NPCs; I was in a guild around launch, and we ground out substantial quantities of resources and had a couple of guild expeditions to start building a keep; I don’t seem to have written anything about it, which is most remiss of me, I must have a dig around to find the screenshot folder of us all cheering as the gates went up. I drifted away from the game before anything particularly exciting happened there, though, so I’m not sure if NPC attacks were ever implemented.

There’s far too much war in Warhammer Online to be able to take time off to go house hunting with an estate agent; guilds can claim in-game keeps after they’re captured, but with the speed of the battlefront such claims tend to be pretty transient. I gather Darkfall deliberately restricts available land for building to make it a desirable resource and the focus for major battles. Lego Universe isn’t quite so focused on life-or-death PvP struggle, and would seem to be a natural fit for building, but with a quiet launch I haven’t seen what sort of options you actually have.

So there are MMOGs with houses for individuals, shared buildings for guilds, entire player-built cities; in some the houses are purely decorative, others offer storage, trading services and other benefits; the houses may be in peaceful villages or instances, or key defensive structures in ongoing wars. I’m sure I missed plenty in that whistle-stop tour as well. Has any game really nailed housing yet, or is there still something lacking? Is it something you really value, useful only for the benefits it might give, or of no great concern?

Warriors of Rock Band 3

I haven’t posted about music games since the E3 Guitar Hero/Rock Band coverage as there are many better sources of news (Plastic Axe, for instance), and tales of Guitar Heroism don’t make for fascinating reading (“… so I pushed the red button, then the green button, then the red button again, then the red *and* yellow buttons, and then I was supposed to press the orange button but I missed and pressed the yellow button…”) The triple whammy 12 months ago of Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles: Rock Band and Rock Band 2 within a short space of time was really the saturation point for me, combined with a smidge of DLC and imports from previous games they gave me more than 300 songs to be working through on guitar, bass, drums or vocals, which is Quite A Lot. I’ve been dabbling on and off, especially when a particularly nifty bit of DLC comes along (like Flight of the Conchords, woo!), getting a few more dollars or trying for a few more stars in the various tour modes and challenges, but the white light and white heat of hot-rocking excitement has cooled to a comfortable numbness. Can the big guns rekindle the flame with Guitar Hero 6 (aka Warriors of Rock) and Rock Band 3 now out in the UK (yes, even the Wii version, simultaneous with the 360 and PS3 releases and the same week as the US instead of 14 months later)?

“Not really” seems to be the answer, both personally and nationally. The impact of the biggest new feature of Rock Band 3, “Pro Mode” featuring (more or less) real keyboards, drums and guitars, has been somewhat lessened by delays, lack of availability and price (£70 for a keyboard, £110 for the button-based Pro guitar that’s in short supply if available at all); the peripheral I’m really interested in, the Squier stringed guitar, has only just got a release date (March 2011) and price ($280, plus it needs a $40 MIDI controller) for America, no word for the UK (I’m hoping they don’t just switch the $ for £, if they release it at all). Without Pro Mode Rock Band 3 is pretty similar to Warriors of Rock, Yet Another Guitar(/Drum/Vocal) Game, slightly spruced up from the previous instalment, a bunch of new songs but not necessarily a vital “must buy” unless there’s anything on the setlist you’re really desperate for.

I decided to hold off on Warriors of Rock and let it drop in price a bit, and with sales turning out to be somewhat disappointing it’s already getting cheaper. Without the Squier I was in two minds about picking up Rock Band 3 straight away as well, but a free Doors 3-pack of songs available for the first week of release clinched my order, putting me in pretty select company with 294(!) other Wii players (I’m not sure if the figures are bricks and mortar shops alone, but any way you slice it those aren’t brilliant release weekend sales).

Rock Band 3 is… like Rock Band 2, but a bit better. Particularly welcome on the Wii is SDHC support and the ability to export tracks from previous games, only Rock Band 2 and Green Day Rock Band at the moment but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they might manage to license Rock Band 1 and Lego Rock Band as well. An extensive series of achievements (or goals, as they are in RB3) offers plenty of incentives for those into that sort of thing (I need to lure three others along for “Bohemian As Intended” for playing Bohemian Rhapsody with a band of at least four). Graphically the note tracks and lyrics are all perfectly clear; the band members seem to have taken a slight backward step since Rock Band 2, especially when you’re trying to design a female character. I’m not sure if they’re bungeeing into the Uncanny Valley, but I had to drop the female bass player I’d whipped up as her strange zombie features freaked me out; it’s hardly an issue during songs as you’re fixated on the note track anyway, but the between-song tour vignettes were a bit peculiar.

I’m not really sure about keyboards; I suspect they could be fun on some songs, but maybe not £70 of fun, I’ll try and have a go on someone else’s to get a better idea. Maybe if the peripheral comes well down in price it would more of a possibility for an impulse buy. It’s the Squier guitar that, for me, has the potential to really elevate Rock Band 3, so I’ll be looking out for some more reviews and concrete information next March to see how well it works.

Looks like Bill Harris was right with his obituary for music games, despite Activision’s pledge the the Hero franchise will return. I think they might be heading the way of the flight sim: once ubiquitous, now sometimes dragged out for some casual multiplayer fun but mostly limited to a handful of enthusiasts with piles of expensive specialist hardware.

I do not seek. I find.

Why do I play MMOs? Because despite years of play, despite having multiple level-capped characters, and despite thinking I’ve done it all, I can still discover an unfamiliar door in a low level town and enter to find this:
But where's the crazy lady?But where's the crazy lady?

LotRO’s own Cataclysm?

And while we’re talking about my not knowing/remembering obvious stuff in Lord of the Rings Online, it was only upon reading Syp’s article at Massively that I found out my Warden can’t kill critter mobs in the game because she’s a tree-hugging hippy elf; I’d never found this out because I’m the sort of tree-hugging hippy who doesn’t go around trying to one-shot critter mobs as I run along, which is perhaps also why I gravitated to playing an elf.

It’s curious though, and I can only imagine that these critters are able to claim diplomatic immunity, because my elf Warden has killed all manner of animals on her travels and not all of them could have been evil. No, there’s been a definite lack of pointy moustaches on many of the boars she’s killed, with nary a sign of high-collared capes or top hats on the bears. Yet those animals were apparently fine to kill because some random stranger demanded it; some spoilt NPC rolling on their back, kicking their legs in the air, pounding their fists on the ground and screaming until my character, sighing and eyes rolling to the heavens, went off and killed a number of innocent pigs. So why have qualms over stabbing a squirrel? (note: not a euphemism). I won’t have it that she’s one of the more hypocritical breed of animal rights sorts, where killing anything cute and that is easily anthropomorphised is a hideous crime, and which they’ll yell angrily about around a mouthful of hamburger to anyone who’ll listen. Thus, assuming she is fair and indiscriminate in her wholesale slaughter of wildlife throughout the lands of Middle Earth, there must be some other reason why she can’t kill critters; diplomatic immunity is my best answer. It seems obvious now that every time she goes to violate a vole (note: not a euphemism), the critter whips out documents outlining its protection under several binding conventions of Middle Earthian law. Where does it find the space to keep such documents? I couldn’t explain it to you, but then I couldn’t explain how a wolf manages to hide a long sword or a boar manages to secrete plate armour on its person either. Squirrels, well okay, I could understand how a squirrel would manage it, because after all squirreling things away is what they do, but when you’re trying to filet a fox (note: not a euphemism) and it suddenly and from nowhere pulls out a large diplomatic wallet it must be both surprising and frustrating.

And after such a long hard day, where her adventuring has lead to nothing but pent up aggression and frustration, I can only imagine that my elf has a routine need to find a secluded spot, settle comfortably down and quietly shank a shrew.

Wot I’m Playing: Silent Storm

While contemplating stompy robots and silly names, Pardoz mentioned Silent Storm in the comments which rang a vague bell, possibly from a previous wave of UFO: Enemy Unknown nostalgia when the XCom games came out on Steam, so I thought I’d try and track it down.

It proved a bit tricky; Silent Storm doesn’t seem to be available from Good Old Games, Steam or other download services, and the best Amazon & co. could offer were pricey used copies (the expansion, Sentinels, seems more readily available, but I’m guessing it’s not much use without the original game). Fortunately a friend had it kicking around in his collection, so I nabbed it from him and it’s proved to be quite a gem.

Silent Storm is pretty much UFO: Enemy Unknown in World War II, the ten years of development between the two resulting in higher resolution graphics on a fully pan-and-tilt-and-zoom-able map, but the core gameplay will be instantly familiar to XCom veterans: send your little squad of 6 out on turn-based missions to shoot the bad guys, nick their cool guns, and back home for tea and crumpets (or kaffee und kuchen, as you can play either Allies or Axis). The strategic aspects are a bit more straightforward than UFO, eschewing the base building, recruitment, alien interception and research aspects for a pool of 20 soldiers from whom you can pick 6 for each mission, and a more structured story where clues found on missions lead to further tasks. It’s really most splendid, and once I’ve finished it I might well grab Jagged Alliance 2, another turn based game I missed out on at the time, and rather more easily available from GOG and the like.

[2012 update: it’s now available at GOG, huzzah!]


Thought for the day.

Worgen Druids: the snooty over-achievers of werewolf school.

“Simpkins! Pay attention at the back, you think you have time to sit around and daydream? You can’t even turn into half a wolf and Jennings here can already turn into a bear, a cat, a hawk, an owlbear, a cheetah, and some sort of hideous monstrosity with flippers that I never want to see again in my life ever… understood Jennings? Jennings!”


Regulation 571.111

As m’colleague put it:

Objects In The Starter Area May Appear More/Less Awesome Than They Actually Are.

I hopped in to World of Warcraft last night and rolled up a new character along with m’colleague and our power armour bearded friend, for a quick blast around to get ourselves back into the swing of things, tweak UIs, try to remember how half the functionality of the game worked, remind ourselves how frustrating it is to only have sixteen bag slots, that sort of thing.

Watching xBevisx run around on his Cataclysmified Warrior was a bit of a revelation for me; I’d pretty much decided to play a Warrior come the launch of Cataclysm, but seeing him run around at level six, firing off his Victory Rush ability and healing himself to full at the start of each fight, with said mobs generally exploding in a misty cloud of blood after one massive swipe of his two-handed weapon, completely sold me on the idea. His non-stop gleeful chortling as he slaughtered the starter area wholesale added a certain weight to the idea that the class was pretty fun to play.

It’s an issue though: Blizzard have clearly tweaked classes to make them more appealing earlier in their careers – we hadn’t even reached level ten and picked up our defining abilities from our chosen talent tree – and it seems that the classes have been adjusted to give players core abilities very early on. M’colleague also pulled out a fine example to backup his quote mentioned at the start of this post. In City of Heroes the Blaster and the Controller were two classes that couldn’t be more separated in the fun stakes. In the early days of CoH the Blaster, archetypal DPS, could one shot most mobs from range, with perhaps a couple of shots being required for tougher opponents. The Controller, on the other hand, having the ability to lock down opponents and stop them from operating, was balanced by having little in the way of damage output. Thus the majority of game-play for a Controller involved holding a mob and then punch-punch-punch-hold-punch-punching your way to victory. It was a long, dull, painful process and not a lot of fun outside of a group, and not an epic amount of fun in one either. Eventually, however, come level thirty two, Controllers got their ultimate ability: pets. Once they had their pets the Controller could hold huge groups of mobs, and then using their secondary powerset to enhance their pets, use the pets to slaughter these massive mobs wholesale with absolute impunity. The Blaster, on the other hand, could still dish out huge amounts of damage, but they were left incredibly vulnerable if they didn’t take everything out in one giant alpha strike, which was often not possible in the more difficult areas of the game, especially where Boss level NPCs lived. Controllers became the end-game Gods, Blasters were relegated to a lesser position.

I wonder how the class population of Warcraft will shift with these new changes in place, especially when the next influx of new characters arrives with the new races that are being released in Cataclysm. It’s fun to see how populations at level eighty change with the various patches, but I’d also be interested to know if there are ‘population clumps’ for characters that never reached the level cap. Are there certain level ranges where certain classes are regularly abandoned for one reason or another? Certainly the Warrior looks like a lot of fun in the early levels now, but will that continue, or will players become disheartened when they see Paladins being able to do equal DPS, but also being able to heal and buff and provide other utility skills? I wonder whether players these days even focus on what the character can do at the start of the game, or if they only focus on how the class is purported to play at the end-game.

I’m set to play my Warrior come Cataclysm, but I’m definitely more prepared, as long as I remember that Objects In The Starter Area May Appear More Awesome Than They Actually Are, my expectations should hopefully be set accordingly.