Monthly Archives: January 2011

Thought for the day.

Two-handed swords, axes and polearms nearly always look cool in MMOs, which is great for warriors and the like, but I play clerics who are very often restricted to wielding a two-handed mace or hammer; no idea why, I can’t really picture a bishop explaining it either:

“Ah, my son, we don’t cut and hack our fellow man, for that is a cruel and hateful thing. However, blunt force trauma to the head, well that’s a little bit like Jesus, isn’t it?”

This arbitrary restriction would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that every two-handed hammer I’ve encountered in an MMO looks like a small paperweight taped to an umbrella, and every mace like a baby porcupine with a curtain rod shoved up its bum.

A bargain is something you can’t use at a price you can’t resist.

The general unwritten rule of polite society in Lord of the Rings Online has been that if you are a high level character killing mobs in a low level zone in order to complete a deed, you should give way to characters who are at the correct level for the content if they happen upon the group of mobs you are grinding. It’s basic courtesy of course, although the more green-skinned among us might question the nature and personal gain of being polite or generous to another person, but the community in LotRO is one of the few places where I’ve often found the rule to be adhered to in the main, without even the need for peer enforcement.

Until the game went free to play.

In part I think this is because there are a great many more low level characters running around in this new freemium era. In addition, however, there now exists an item in the LotRO store that accelerates deeds, making each valid kill count twice and thus halving the number of kills required; when the item is activated it creates a temporary buff on the character that has a relatively short duration of around fifteen minutes and which, as far as I can tell, cannot be paused in any way once it has been started.

MMO players have a hard enough time being good to one another as it is, and now there is the potential for them to have an item – for which they paid – ticking down its relatively (in MMO terms) short duration and doing them no good if they happen to stand aside and let someone else go first. It’s a bit like those game-shows where a contestant has a set amount of time to run around a supermarket and fill their trolley with as many items as they can, and if they make it back before the clock runs down then they get to keep whatever is in their basket.

“Right, Lego Lass, you’ve made it to the final. How are you feeling? Excited? No need to be nervous, you know what you’ve got to do: you’ve got fifteen minutes to kill as many wolves as you can. Okay my dear, take yourself to the starting line. Can I have fifteen minutes on the Kill Deed Buff Timer please? Thank you. Ready? Then let’s play Shopping for Slaughter! Three! Two! One!”

[A claxon sounds and the audience begins to bellow encouragement]

[Lego Lass runs around one-shotting wolves and shoving them into a shopping trolley, occasionally shoulder-charging a low level player character into a stack of baked bean cans and grabbing the wolf they were about to kill]

To my mind Turbine have created an item that actively encourages the sort of selfish behaviour that a large part of the community had been resisting. Perhaps it’s more an indication that this is an item that one should steer clear of purchasing? Deeds are tiresome tasks, however, and although that shouldn’t really be an issue to any dedicated member of the MMO Player Party (motto: ‘Entertainment through repetition! Repetition through repetition!’), they do become an excessive drain for each successive alt you create, and as an avid altoholic I can certainly testify to the temptation that such an item presents.

I believe this is another one of those areas where a company engaging in cash shop dynamics needs to tread with care and consideration, because as with any change to the dynamics of a game’s fundamental design in a certain area (no matter how small and insignificant that change may seem), the chaos effect of such a change can have a much wider ranging impact on the game as a whole, with ramifications that are often surprising in their nature, but predictably deleterious in their effect. The difference is that the subscription of a standard MMO is constant: players know that no matter what they do, the cost per unit (in this case one month of play time) remains the same; in addition, the duration of one unit runs in the order of a month or months. Cash shop items, however, tend to have units of duration that run for at most days, more often hours, and possibly even in minutes, and yet everything in an MMO such as LotRO, which has converted to F2P, is generally set up to require activities based around the original subscription unit of months. The final issue is that having to make a purchase for an item from the store impresses on the player that they have spent their money on this item, and thus if that item is wasted because, say, the mobs they intended to grind away at have suddenly become inundated with other players doing the same, and the next nearest spawn is five minutes away, the player has a far more immediate perception of loss than if they had had to waste five minutes of their £15-a-month subscription travelling to another spawn.

Crafting accelerators, for example, seem like a good use of this mechanic: halving the materials and time required to grind out the various tiers of crafting professions, and which can only be spoilt if you have failed to gather the correct amount of raw materials beforehand; crafting accelerators will not bring you into direct competition with other players in an area where the game has not been designed for such competition, which stands in contrast to the kill deed accelerators.

In conclusion, with the urgency demanded by these short-term purchased buffs, I predict a rise in the number of shopping trolley related accidents in Lord of the Rings Online in the near future.

Long distance information

Melmoth’s quest-ly pondering set me thinking about related subjects, like the supporting tracking and logging mechanism for quests.

Back in the Proper Good Old Days, the quest log was a piece of paper. You ran up to an NPC and asked if there was anything you could do for them (none of this glowing punctuation nonsense), and if you were very lucky they might drop some hint about something that might be relevant. Nothing so vulgar as “go kill Bandit Leader Geoff in the bandit camp on the outskirts of Swindon, two miles north east of here, I need his sword.” No, more “I hear there are some bandits in the area. Yes, they might well have a leader, people say his name is Geoff. Apparently Bandit Leader Geoff has a lovely sword. Yes, I would really like a sword very much like that. It would be terrible if something happened to Geoff, though, WINK WINK. No, I don’t know exactly where he is. Maybe over there somewhere *waves vaguely to the west*.” The game wouldn’t insult your intelligence by recording this or anything, you’d jot it down on a post-it note, and get confused when going around a supermarket later “bread, yup, milk, yup, Bandit Leader Geoff’s sword… huh, probably down the kitchenware aisle with the cutlery…”

I think it might have been plausible deniability, in case the NPC was investigated for Incitement To Murder or something, though it could go a bit wrong if you misinterpreted the hints, came back with Geoff’s sword (with Geoff’s bloody hand still clamped around the hilt) and the NPC shrieked “I just wanted you to go to a blacksmith and have him make something similar, you maniac!” Still, at least it was better than the proposed Mime Artist faction in an early alpha of EverQuest who would’ve given all their quests through the medium of charades:

“It’s a… quest! Three words. Right. First word… sounds like… eat? Swallow? Oh, what you’re eating… tablet? Pill? Pill, yes! Sounds like pill… bill, fill, kill… Kill! First word, kill. Second word… tenth word. Wait, I thought it was three words? Second word… oh, that is the second word, ten. Kill ten…”

Anyway, over the course of time the quest mechanisms evolved, quest givers became more obvious, add-ons or in-game features recorded objectives and your progress towards them and things generally improved (or “were dumbed down to the point of infantilisation, here I am, brain the size of a planet and you’re patronising me by recording all this information that I’m perfectly capable of writing a large spreadsheet to support, cross-referencing three years of accumulated research, oh all right I’ll go and kill those ten boars but I won’t enjoy it you know”, depending on your point of view). When Warhammer Online launched, its vaunted Tome of Knowledge was a splendid thing, recording where you’d been, who you’d spoken to, how many of them you’d killed, and what weird random things you’d clicked on in case they were an unlock. Warhammer’s quest log is also part of the Tome of Knowledge, where the splendidness is slightly tempered by being coupled to a straightforward “go to camp, talk to the punctuation, do quests, return to the punctuation” PvE quest-hub structure, and further shackled by a limited number of quests it could track, as m’colleague and I posted about at the time. I suspect “so near and yet so far” features like the Kill Collectors were great ideas that proved tricky to implement really well, and with RvR being the main post-launch focus it just hasn’t been worthwhile to go back and seriously revamp them.

I’ve been hitting quest log limits in Lord of the Rings Online as well; where back at launch it seemed there was a bit of a barren patch in the 20s were you had to do every single quest you could get your hands on to eke out enough XP to level up without too much grinding, there are now a plethora of options; from assorted skirmishing, festivals, questing and crafting I’ve pretty much out-levelled the Barrow Downs without setting a foot in the place so I just cleared out a bunch of quests around there to make room for new ones in the Lone Lands. It’s not really a problem, the old quests were all obsolete so I wasn’t missing out on much (apart from scratching the nagging completionist itch), though a bit of an expansion in the quest log as a whole could be nice (for a mere 1,995 Turbine Points, perhaps). What’s slightly more irritating than the overall limit is the active tracker, that can only monitor five quests at a time. I frequently have to fire it up, deactivate all the quests it’s tracking, find the (possibly) relevant quests in the log and activate tracking for them, and then repeat the process whenever you go somewhere else.

Here’s hoping The Old Republic and other forthcoming games might solve some of these minor annoyances. If nothing else, the Star Wars universe surely allows for remote communication such that you don’t have to physically return to a questgiver every single time, something a little more difficult to plausibly work into fantasy settings without resorting to good old “magic”. Though maybe…

“Right, Mayor, here’s a tin can with some string through it. I’ll take this tin can on the other end of the string, and when I’ve killed ten thugs I’ll shout into it, and then you can shout back to tell me to kill the ten ever so slightly different thugs who stand really close to the first lot who’d completely slipped your mind when you originally handed out the quest.”

The Lord of the Rings Online Drinking Game: Free-to-Play Edition.


Two (2) Large Buckets
One (1) Mr Tiddles, your favourite teddy bear
Four (4) or more (>) Comfy Cushions
One (1) Pint of Bitter
One (1) Hundred (Ten (10) times Ten (10)) shots of spirit


Place the buckets within easy reach of your computer, scatter the cushions around the base of your chair such that they will soften the landing should you fall from it, and place Mr Tiddles within arm’s reach.

The Rules

Every time you see a Hunter, take a sip of your pint.

Every time you see more than three Hunters in an area together, drink a shot.

Every time a Hunter pulls a mob that you were blatantly about to engage in melee, take a sip of your pint.

Every time a Hunter pulls a mob that you were blatantly about to engage in melee when there were at least twenty seven other mobs of the same type within their range that they could have picked from instead, drink a shot.

Every time a Hunter runs past you, stops, turns around, and then starts following you everywhere you go, possibly in the hope that they can pull a mob you’re about to engage in melee, or perhaps nip in and steal a quest objective while you’re fighting the boss guarding it, or maybe they’re just lonely and want I DON’T BLOODY KNOW WHAT, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE WON’T YOU, drink two shots and wipe away your tears on the back of Mr Tiddles’ head while you rock back and forth cuddling him.

WARNING: It is a legal requirement that if you intend to spend more than five minutes in any zone in the level 1-30 range while playing KiaSA’s LotRO F2P Drinking Game you must phone advance notification through to your local Accident and Emergency department. Registering with the local organ donation centre is optional but advisable, and if you register now you can get a 7% discount on select organs by using this code: KIASAKILLEDMYLIVER.

Stepping off the conveyor belt.

Next time you’re reading quest text, try to do so in the voice of a terminally bored actor or tour guide delivering the lines in a rote fashion. I find that this helps to highlight the superficial nature of any dramatic event when an NPC is standing motionless in front of you and (in my mind) droning on in a monotone voice

“Oh no. Please help. The <Token Enemy> are invading. We must mobilise our forces. You must go and defeat <Arbitrary Number> of <Token Enemy Minion>. Saves us, [looks at script and rolls eyes] for we cannot save ourselves.”

Now picture all the NPCs standing around having a cigarette break after you leave, before quickly throwing their filters to the floor and putting them out with a twist of a foot, then resuming their usual positions, absent-mindedly flattening down their outfit, and delivering the exact same lines through a face flat of expression and dead of eyes, to the next hero who ventures along.

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of MMO players skip quest text. World of Warcraft is trying to enhance its storytelling instead through the use of phasing and cut-scenes, a design which gets in the way of the natural flow of game-play and seemingly restricts the player from doing what MMO players most want to be able to do, namely: group with friends, kill monsters, and gain loot and XP.

I wonder if the public quests in Warhammer Online and Rift have not been taken far enough as a concept; perhaps we should move on from the industry standard NPC who hangs around street corners in a town with a big neon sign hanging above their head declaring them open for business like some sort of prostitute; not a sex worker, a quest worker perhaps? The technology is there: public quests in WAR and Rift, as I mentioned; Lord of the Rings Online has quests that are automatically added to your journal upon entering a dungeon; WAR has its open RvR areas, and WoW has PvP zones such as Wintergrasp; DDO has its exploration zones. Instead of a quest hub that a player runs into, grabs all the quests from (without reading any of the text), and then immediately opens their map to see which areas are marked with quest objectives, why not instead have the quests activated when the player enters the right area in the world, much like public quests.

Your character walks into a forest and a message pops up saying that you’ve noticed a sign pinned to a tree with a reward for killing wolves. A quest is added to your quest log to kill X wolves, and when you complete the requirement your character is rewarded with XP. Coin and loot comes from the mobs that you kill, and perhaps chests guarded by boss mobs. Better items can be bought in towns by trading what you have found in the wild; crafted items are valuable instead of being merely redundant due to better quest and dungeon rewards, either at the time or through mudflation.

But players would have to go out and wander the land looking for quests! They… they’d have to explore! It might take…t-t-time! I know, wonderful, isn’t it? A structured MMO, but one where you also have to explore and discover and adventure. An MMO where your group of friends can find an area with a quest and you all have it in your log instantly at the same stage, and you can work through it together. An MMO where the economy of the world is not built on the foundation of NPC characters with an infinite number of Unique Swords of Legendary Power to give out to any passing PC who is willing to kill ten rats for them.

I wonder if the quest hub isn’t a large part of the problem with MMOs, and whether the nature of having to speak to an NPC to get a quest, and then subsequently return to that NPC for a reward, is an outdated mode of a time before we had the technology for public quests, open instancing and phasing. I think there may be a better way to allow for quest-based structured MMOs to exist, without them being the drab uniform conveyor belt that drags players slowly and inexorably towards raid content, which most players have discovered can be quickly skipped if they decide to run along its length.

No treaty is ever an impediment to a cheat

Towards the End of Days in APB, cheating was rife. Or possibly not. It can be hard to tell the difference between a freakishly good opponent and someone using third-party cheating software, especially in a game like APB with significant differences in character capability due to upgrades and a lack of location-based damage (if every shot hits you precisely two inches below the left nipple, that’s probably a reasonable indicator of someone cheating. Either that or they’re a dead-shot nipple fetishist who needs to slightly adjust their rifle sights.)

With most players being suspicious at the best of times (irregular shooter terminology: I possess great skill; you got a lucky shot; he/she/it is obviously cheating), it doesn’t take much to cause widespread paranoia. In the appropriately-named Operation Greif, German soldiers in American uniforms were sent behind enemy lines; the combat units themselves had limited success but the psychological effect was great, rumours and suspicion spreading throughout Allied troops. Many posters on the APB forums were adamant that everybody (except them) was cheating, posting links to sites proudly offering “undetectable” cheat software, and RealTime Worlds weren’t saying very much. The latest APB Reloaded blog sheds some light on why…

I imagine it’s a familiar enough story to anyone who’s been involved in large software projects; the PunkBuster anti-cheat software was integrated then turned off, deemed as non-essential, until near the end of the closed beta. When turned on it caused major problems, so faced with a choice of launching with major lag issues and players getting randomly kicked, or launching without PunkBuster, they went with the lesser of two evils. Obviously that’s not something you’re going to officially broadcast, but when the people using cheat software don’t get caught word spreads around the murky corners of the ‘net. You have to feel especially sorry for the author of the blog, Aphadon, who did get PunkBuster working with acceptable performance after launch, only for RealTime Worlds well-documented financial issues to mean they couldn’t get afford to get the details of the cheaters it detected. As circles go, it was pretty vicious.

News that the relaunched APB Reloaded will have PunkBuster, and a few other surprises, fully enabled is most welcome, even if my Super Cynical Powers instil a nagging doubt that it’s precisely the message you’d want to loudly broadcast if you didn’t have anti-cheat measures at all (“we’re so secure you shouldn’t even bother trying!”) That said, I think the APB folk would think that the cheat software authors would think they’d think that, and so wouldn’t say it unless it was true. Unless they think I’d think they’d think that…

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

The trouble with heroism is that it’s such a terribly fine scale on which to balance one’s character. In addition, heroic deeds are often weighed against the deeds of everyday life: if everyone in your neighbourhood charges into battle against overwhelming odds and wins through on a daily basis, what do you have to do to stand out as a hero? At the Battle of Thermopylae where the Spartans stood against the might of the Persian empire, we know of a few names of the mighty – Leonidas, Dilios, Artemis and Astinos – but there were three hundred men in all, surely each one a hero by some measure, and yet few are named. I imagine nobody has even heard of such characters as Geofficles, Normancrates and Colinstopholes, but they were there fighting to the bitter end too. Well okay, Colinstopholes wasn’t, but he had a note from his mum saying that he needed to be back home at the end of the second day for a dentist appointment.

Take my level sixty five Warden in Lord of the Rings Online, for example. If she travels to Mirkwood or Enedwaith she will find wildlife which, although no mortal threat, can keep her entertained in combat for far longer than you would think reasonable for a demihero (one assumes that the main cast are the true heroes) of Middle Earth. Take her back to Ered Luin where she first began her journey, however, and she can hit a wolf so hard that there’s a very good chance a Higgs boson particle would be detected in the subsequent imploding bloody-mist of lupine limbs. The problem as I see it is that MMOs suffer from a sort of relativity of simultaneity, and the issue stems from the fact that the player’s frame of reference for observation into the world differs from that of the player’s character. The illusion of progression from the player’s point of view is that their character gains in power through stat increases and levels. The frame of reference for the player’s character, however, is travelling with the content, and much like a person standing on a train, the player’s character is moving through one world (the overall progression of levels in the game) while their surroundings move with them (level-appropriate content appears no different to the level-appropriate content of ten levels ago).

Therefore, it’s terribly difficult to give characters a truly heroic feel in a world where the player character’s frame of reference moves with them at all times during the normal levelling progression, especially when this frame of reference is different to that of the player who observes it. It’s not that a player can’t feel heroic, but to do so they must step out of the natural flow of the game, and perform quests for NPCs in low-level zones for little to no gain on their own part. Van Hemlock reported on a recent podcast of returning to Forochel with his level sixty five Guardian and doing just that, and there was a feeling of heroism to it – single-handedly saving NPCs from invaders with little effort – but there is no recognition of it in the context of the world as a whole. One can’t help but feel, as with the wolf in Ered Luin, that it’s a bit like the thirty four year old me of today travelling back in time to punch-in the teeth of the ten year old school bullies who made so much of my life hell during those formative years: easy and deeply satisfying, yes, but it would hardly build me as a character, or give me a heroic reputation.

There are other examples in LotRO where your character is elevated to the level of so great a hero that you actually start to realise that, perhaps, being a hero of the sort sung about in the Old Songs is not really what you want either. I took my Warden through the whole of Book One of the epic storyline over the Christmas period. I hadn’t managed this on any character to date, so I gritted my teeth and prepared myself for a lot of staring at horses’ arses. The way in which Turbine allows players to solo through what was otherwise intended as group content is to provide an inspiration buff to a solo player who enters a dungeon instance, essentially it is Turbine’s ‘iddqd’. The thing is that this buff is designed to boost to heroic status those player characters who are at the correct level for the content, such that when you take a character who is twenty or thirty levels above the content already, you get something almost… monstrous. My Warden is reasonably well geared for a level capped character that has not stepped foot inside a raid instance, and as such she has six thousand five hundred hit points. A top-geared raid tank character would probably be reasonably expected to have somewhere in the region of eight thousand five hundred, perhaps higher. When I entered Helegrod, the final instance of Book Five aimed at characters of around level forty, the inspiration buff transformed my Warden into an entity with somewhere over thirty thousand hit points; I couldn’t tell you precisely, I lost count somewhere near what seemed like infinity.

Wardens are also a power hungry class, being that they need to build their gambit abilities quickly, they eschew the somewhat sluggish standard swing timer that frustrates me on so many other characters in LotRO, and are able to fire off their abilities as fast as the global cooldown will allow – which is very fast indeed. So the Warden can suck down power faster than Linda Lovelace on a nuclear fuel rod, and yet I couldn’t make a discernable dent in my blue bar for the entire time I was in the instance. It changed the experience from heroic epic to tragic comedy, where I just waltzed around looking for my quest objectives while half the instance followed me around, ineffectively shouting and shoving at me, as if I had just recently dropped my gourd. The absolute moment of realisation came when I was confronted by yet another nightmare of the undead world, which my character promptly one-shot in the nether regions sending it screaming back to the netherworld (so shouldn’t the netherworld be the place where genitals go to die?), and I noticed that it was called a Terrible Fell-spirit. “Nothing terribly terrible about that” I thought to myself, unless of course they didn’t mean in the sense of ‘exciting extreme alarm or intense fear’ and actually meant it in the sense of ‘extremely bad: as of very poor quality’. I can picture the spirit returning to the land of the dead, a spectre with a clipboard greeting its return:

Spectre: “Welcome back! How many heroes did you kill this time?”

Spirit: “Uh… none”

Spectre: “But you fought at least one hero, correct?”

Spirit: “Uhm, yes.”

Spectre: “And?”

Spirit: “She kicked me in the genitals so hard that I became destabilised from the plane of mortal existence.”

Spectre: “Ooof! Hang on… you’re a spirit, you don’t even have genitals!”

Spirit: “Yeah?! Try telling that to my poor aching genitals! If you can find them.”

Spectre: “You really are a terrible spirit, you realise that?”

Spirit: “Well duh, it even says so on my name tag.”

It didn’t make me feel heroic, however, it just made me feel sorry for them. The spirits of the instance weren’t to be feared, but pitied. I imagined a force of woolly-hatted protestors from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Apparitions) bumbling their way into the dungeon and trying to prevent me from killing more undead – the irony of which being totally lost on them – by linking arms in a circle around the poor cowering defenceless minions of the Dark Lord, and attacking my character with a particularly scathing leaflet campaign. I didn’t feel like a hero, I felt like a cheat, and as I absentmindedly punched a Nazgûl into unconsciousness while trying to avoid the more dangerous and threatening PETA protestors, I realised that being an epic hero isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

I drink therefore I am

So we had health and mana potions; now comes an announcement of WoW-inspired health and mana bars. Presumably Lembas do bread, so that’s Lord of the Rings Online taken care of, and Warhammer Online could put out a range of ales to go with its steins, but there are still a couple of gaps in the market. I think I might pitch Pirates of the Burning Sea branded Hard Tack (with Extra Weevil!) to Flying Labs, and surely the Super Deluxe Extra Limited Edition of Star Wars: The Old Republic would be improved by the inclusion of a bottle of Midichlorian Packed Membrosia…

A hero is someone who rebels or seems to rebel against the facts of existence.

Being a hero is difficult enough. Being a hero in an MMO isn’t even well defined. It’s a testament to the ingrained Skinner box training imprinted on the player population of today that few people seem to take a step back from their desperate desire to improve their character’s power level to heroic proportions, be it through gear or levels, to consider the fact that no matter how powerful the character becomes, no matter how heroic their deeds, there will always exist a sounder of boars whose members can parry -PARRY- that character’s sword attack and return a significant amount of damage in kind, penetrating through plate armour and shields no less. I sometimes wonder if the increasingly ludicrous armour in World of Warcraft isn’t a response to this, a sort of escalating proliferation of armaments, an MMO-based ersatz for the Cold War. As the Red’s boars grow in strength, so the armour of World of Warcraft’s military grows in size; they create bigger and better boars, we create yet bigger and better shoulderpads.

It still baffles me when wildlife repeatedly parries my attacks in an MMO, to my mind it reinforces the image that this isn’t a virtual world to be inhabited and explored, it’s simply an intransigent arcade game with delusions of persistence. It’s the Matrix reveal, stripping away the last vestiges of reality presented by the virtual construct:

“Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?

Do you think that’s a boar you’re fighting now?”

Suddenly it’s not a boar, it’s LootObject1074. And as the walls of the Matrix fall down around me, I see LootObject1074’s stats as glowing green MMOglyphs tumbling across the outline of its polygonal mesh, and note with frustration that the architects of the world couldn’t even be bothered to set its parry chance to zero. What does the boar parry with? Its head? A foreleg? Because I hate to break it to people, but the fundamental idea behind a sword or axe is to go through unprotected legs and heads like a hot knife through a leg or head. It’s a pretty basic tenet of the design, Sword Design 101 if you will.

“So class, who can tell me the basic theory of sword design? Yes, Béchamel.”

“Ah, as an object to wave about as a substitute penis in front of strangers in order to prove what a Big One you have, sir?”

“No, that’s important, but a secondary consideration at best. Hollandaise?”

“Sir, primarily they’re designed to act as a portable cantilever on which one can balance hors d’oeuvre should an unlawful butlers’ strike be declared during a royal masquerade.”

“See me after class, Hollandaise. Anyone? No?”

Or maybe boars do have some special evolutionary design that allows their limbs to defend against powerfully swung cutting implements. It would make the butcher profession a bit of a dangerous daredevil affair though, would it?

“In local news: butcher injuries remain high with a further fifteen butchers suffering varying levels of cuts and abrasions today as their cleavers were deflected by boar carcasses as they attempted to carve them up. Three butchers were taken to hospital with serious wounds, but were reported by their doctors to be in a stable condition.”

Let’s face it, based upon the number of boars that are killed each day by adventurers in your average MMO, you would expect the species to be extinct roughly minus seventeen seconds after the servers were opened; the sheer tooth-snarled expectation of the players waiting for the MMO to release would be enough to wipe out most of the wildlife in the game, an intangible wave of power, like an electromagnetic pulse in an AIBO factory. The fact that boars continue to exist would seem to indicate that they have followed a path of extreme accelerated evolution to counter that porcine extinction event known as Player Characters. The ability to block and parry sword blows was the first stage, but the real breakthrough was when a seventeenth century boar philosopher released his meditations on the existence of the self, resulting in the famous paraphrased realisation “I oink, therefore I ham” and the invention of a form of reincarnation called Spontaneous Awareness of Why Not. The argument for SPAWN goes something like this:

A boar is killed by an adventurer.
“Oh bum” says the boar, “that really is rather inconvenient”.
“But hang on” it continues, “if I’m dead, then who is thinking these thoughts?”
After giving it some serious consideration the boar decides that it must be itself who is doing the thinking.
“But if I’m thinking these thoughts then I must exist,” the boar continues to muse, “and since I have always existed as a boar, then I should really be a boar. I mean, why not?”
At which point the fully formed boar promptly pops back into the world from out of thin air.

This rapid evolution of boars would normally be cause for concern among adventurers in MMOs. Being that boars have already developed martial prowess beyond what would be considered reasonable, or even probable, and that the boars have also evolved the ability to spontaneously reincarnate at will, and are thus immortal beings akin to demigods, one would assume that they are destined to rule all the lands upon which they roam. Thankfully boars are also blessed with a very short memory, leaving them unable to do anything much other than defend themselves against assailants and form short philosophical theories. This is why you always see groups of boars standing around in the middle of fields, apparently deep in thought and not doing an awful lot; it is also why, when chased by an angry boar, a player merely has to keep running in a straight line and wait for the boar to realise that it has forgotten whether it left the iron on before it left home, whereupon it turns around and dashes back to make sure its house isn’t on fire, only to reach where it was and realise that it had forgotten that it didn’t own an iron, or a house. It is generally aware that it has now forgotten something else that it was doing prior to looking for a non-existent iron, but it quickly forgets this too, at which point it is usually distracted by thoughts on phenomenological ontology.

Thought for the day.

“Hmm, I’ve heard of Quick Love, Rough Love, Hand Love, and Lip Love. But what is MMO Love?”

“£15.99 a month darling; for that you can grind away as much as you like, but just as you think you’re as purple as you can get and about to reach a climax, I shift position and offer up a whole new area to explore, and you have to start all over again.”