Monthly Archives: April 2011

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Dungeons & Dragons Online has a reincarnation system whereby once your character has reached maximum level you can start them again, carrying over some of the power that the character previously attained.

While reading Rohan’s post regarding public quests the following statement rang true with me:

I know that in RIFT, I’d close a rift, then ride by 10 minutes later and see a new rift in the same spot. Rather than wanting to participate again, my thoughts would be more along the lines of, “I’ve already done this, no need to do it again.”

What I wondered at that moment was how the game would play-out if that rift had stayed closed, if all the rifts remained closed once they had been sealed by the players. Essentially, the rifts would eventually be beaten back (or the world is overwhelmed) and then a server reset event takes place.

It would be along the lines of A Tale in the Desert’s tellings I expect, but mixed with DDO’s reincarnation, such that players didn’t lose everything upon a reset. The obvious way that this could have been tied-in with the current RIFT game would have been by using the soul system; perhaps instead of the immortal souls of almighty heroes having been handed out like candy based on a simple two minute quest, they could have been gathered as part of the reincarnation process. Thus players would feel even more inclined to hunt down rifts, because they would know that once the rift was closed it would remain so until the next reset event, thus making the land safer to adventure in (I would expect rifts in this version of the game to have a far greater impact than they currently do). At the same time players would be working as a whole towards the server reset in order to gain their next soul and any other benefits.

Understand, however, that I’m not suggesting that RIFT as it currently stands should change, I’m merely using it as an example of how such a system might work, and how it might change the dynamic of such a game. DDO and A Tale in the Desert both have end-level resets built into them, I wonder if a combination of the two could work. It should benefit public quests, since experienced players would be looping back through the content again rather than stagnating at the level cap, with all the dynamic content going to waste at the lower levels due to the inevitable player population tail-off that most MMOs suffer. Mixing it with DDO’s reincarnation would give players reward and reason for playing through the world again. A game like RIFT seems ripe for such a system, with souls tying in nicely with the theme of reincarnation, and the dynamic zone events allowing the developers to make each retelling a different experience for players outside of the basic rifts. Instead of adding content at the end game, it would then behove the developer to add new content throughout the game’s original levels, which benefits reincarnated players and new players alike.

MMO design seems very firmly set in its ways with regards to levelling to a limit and then adding new content on top of that. It’s the spawning salmon method, where the salmon swim upstream in a mass frenzied struggle, only to reach the spawning grounds where they then wither and die in stagnation; fresh water is added every now and again, but it’s not enough to support such a massed population. I think MMOs are missing an opportunity, it’s not for every game, but I think there’s a way for some of them to complete the cycle and have the salmon produce offspring, who then swim out to sea and begin the journey anew.

Whether you whine or grind

Lord of the Rings Online has reached its fourth anniversary; o frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! To the radiostereogramme! There must and shall be music! Sure enough, wheeling out the stepladder and donning a pair of fancy white gloves to rummage through the KiaSA archives from 2007 turns up Melmoth’s original ponderings on character selection. How time flies (unlike Alan the Chaffinch after an unsuccessful tanking attempt).

LotRO tends to do celebrations quite well, no doubt helped by the source material. The Fellowship of the Ring starts with a big old knees-up for Bilbo and Frodo so Middle Earth parties are well established for anyone who’s started reading the book, even (picking an entirely hypothetical example completely at random) an 11 year old who loved The Hobbit and enthusiastically picked up its weighty sequel but barely made it through Book I before chucking it in favour of Doctor Who novelisations where something actually happened without interminable singing and Tom bloody Bombadil. The seasonal festivals of LotRO offer all manner of fun for players like horse races, eating contests, shrew-stomping (sounds a bit deviant to me, but that’s Elves for you) and a maze; the recent Yule festival introduced Winter-home, an entire festival town zone. Completing events gets you tokens, and what do tokens make? Prizes, that’s right, including cosmetic clothing, special mounts, emotes and house decorations.

For the fourth anniversary, monsters around the world have a chance of dropping tokens that can be exchanged for surprise gift boxes, something I gather happened in previous years. New for this year are a special mount, some cosmetic outfits, and a number of house decorations that can only be obtained for new anniversary tokens, earned through contests. There are only three contests, though; the two traditional horse races that can be run once a day for a single anniversary or mount token, and the Battle for Glorious Beer. That sounds quite fun, and indeed it can be; everyone is handed a Dwarf Club of Unimaginable Power and stuck in an arena in a tavern where they have to smack other players around with said club (knocking them high into the air) and collect a glowing beer mug (not so easy with all the aforementioned smacking) in exchange for one token. With the mount costing three mount tokens plus 30 anniversary tokens, and the outfits and decorations costing 20 anniversary tokens each, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to work out that to get anywhere you need to repeat the Beer Fight. A lot. The gloss wears off pretty quickly, especially as you fail the quest if you’re completely knocked out of the arena before you can pick the beer up; the only saving grace is that the glowing beer mugs respawn so all participants get a chance, rather than the previous version of the event that only had a single winner. The fight runs every ten minutes or so, if you’re determinedly grinding it you have to wait for the announcement, speak to the questgiver, wait for the fight to start, bat people around, try and grab the beer, speak to the questgiver again if you succeed, then wait for the next round. The time between rounds is an irritating few minutes, not enough to go and do anything useful (you could probably just about reach the vault to do some sorting out, then have to turn around and head back) but more than sufficient to contemplate the futility of existence, if you’re that way inclined. Perhaps the intent is to encourage socialising, getting people together and forcing downtime, but if so it’s not really working. Apart from a few occasions of idiots taking the opportunity to constantly spam emotes, and one discussion of whether knocking people from the arena was griefing or the intent of the contest, all I’ve encountered is the grim silence of determined grinders racking up the tokens (me included), probably alt-tabbed off to a browser between rounds trying to find something just interesting enough to kill a couple of minutes without being so fascinating as to make you forget to alt-tab back for the start of the next round. Maybe I’m missing a prime roleplaying opportunity…

“Why, good fellows, are you all here to enjoy the famed Battle for Glorious Beer? I have travelled many leagues from Bree, eager to try my hand at this noble contest!”
*thunk* *thunk* *thunk* *glug*
“I say, what a stimulating tournament! Did you see the way yon Dwarf smote me so hard as to knock me clean across the room? Well played, sir, but next time I fancy I’ll catch you a blow first!”
*thunk* *thunk* *thunk* *glug*
“Ha, I evaded those boisterous roustabouts long enough to grasp the fabled beer, Master Gisli, I claim my prize of one Anniversary Token! Soon I shall bedeck myself in a fine new robe!”
*thunk* *thunk* *thunk* *glug*
“Another fine contest, my fellows, what larks, I greatly look forward to doing this eighteen more times…”
*thunk* *thunk* *thunk* *glug*
“Yeah, this is a bit repetitive isn’t it…”
*thunk* *thunk* *thunk* *glug*
“I’ll just alt-tab off and hit Random Article on Wikipedia then. Did you know the Raskamboni movement is a Somali paramilitary group?”

It’s churlish to complain about completely optional new content, especially as the developers are doubtless terribly busy on Update 3 at the moment, but the anniversary “event” feels half-arsed; where Winter-home posed some interesting situations that were ultimately slightly undone by the fundamental nature of MMOGs, a single repeatable event for tokens is pretty unvarnished grind, especially for an anniversary “celebration” where many other games award titles, badges or items merely for logging in. Goldenstar summarises things well at A Casual Stroll to Mordor, with a follow-up after Turbine confirmed the event is working as designed. It’s a bit of a shame, but a mere couple more hours of beer fighting should be enough to earn a robe, and I’m learning all sorts between rounds…

*thunk* *thunk* *thunk* *glug*
There have been three ships named USS Mistletoe, an 1861 tug boat, an 1872 wooden tender and a 1939 buoy tender…

Sometimes the grass really is greener.

“So yeah, here’s how it works. We burglars have this skill, right? The skill is on a reasonably long cool-down but it has a good chance to hit the enemy. Now *if* it hits the enemy it will stun them for six seconds, but there’s also a base twenty percent chance that it will trigger a damage over time debuff on that enemy. Now *if* my skill has hit and *if* the damage over time debuff has been triggered then I roll 1D6 and the value on the dice indicates the power of the debuff, with 1 being fairly pointless and 6 being powerful on any basic or signature level mob, but fairly unimpressive on elite level mobs and above. So as you can see, it makes for a really exciting ability, because essentially nothing happens most of the time, and then all of a sudden – BAM! – a moderate DoT debuff that wouldn’t worry an asthmatic vole! Neat huh? What about you, Runekeeper, what sort of abilities do you get?”

“Well… I have this one skill, on a three second cool-down, which calls forth a fiery apocalypse and delivers death and ruin to everything between the heavens and the land in a radius of fifty yards from the point of casting.”

“Oh. Oh nice. But what else does it do? I mean, is there a random chance that it will rain badgers? Some sort of unpredictable chance of it causing anything it hits to sing Barbra Streisand’s Woman In Love? Will it cause your nipples to spontaneously shrivel and turn green if you roll an even number on a 1D10?”

“No, no. Just the universal destruction of all living matter. It’s quite basic really, when you put it like that.”

“Sounds a little bit dull. I mean where’s the excitement? Where’s the gamble? Where’s the spark of surprise and the element of joy when something unexpected happens?!”

“Well, I suppose there’s the part where if it crits then it wipes out all life in a three hundred mile radius and I automatically win whatever dungeon I happen to be running at the time. I guess that’s kind of neat in a random sort of way.”

“Ye… bu… tha…ah Ah! But! What else do you bring to a group other than breathtaking, almost god-like, levels of damage?”

“Well not a great deal.”

“Ah then. Ah -dear sir- ha!”

“I mean, I suppose I have healing powers that would make Jesus rage-quit a group. I can’t do the fish and loaves thing though; I did try once, but I just ended up incinerating the waiting crowd when I crit my basic fire attack while trying to cook the loaves.”

“Yeah? Well I can turn invisible! Hah, there! Where am I now? Poof! Where did I go? Eh? I mean, okay, it’s utterly an pointless ability other than for skipping the odd roadblock of crap mobstacles, and it’s all but entirely useless in a group setting, but it does mean that I can flick V signs at overpowered classes without them knowing!”

“I can hear you, you know. And I, uh… I can still see you. Is that a V sign?”

“Oh, hah, right. I forgot that it only works on enemies. If they’re four levels below me. And looking the wrong way. And blind. Even then they still have a chance of spotting me, and usually do. But that’s the fun of the gamble though, right?!”

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be

For almost a year the Hipster Battalion rampaged around Warhammer Online bringing chaos and destruction, in a well behaved and organised sort of way:
“Look, a shrine to Sigmar, let’s smash it up!”
“RAWR! SMASH! Oooh, tome unlock!”
“Oh, I didn’t get it. Must be an individual thing… I’ll wait for the shrine to mysteriously regenerate then smash is up again.”
“Right-o. Hey everyone, tome unlock over here! Line up now, form a queue, that’s right, no pushing in now…”
“RAWR, SM… oh, hang on, was it your turn to smash?”
“No, no, you go ahead”
“No, really, after you, please”
“No, no, I insist, remember I disembowelled that Elf first over in Caledor”
“Oh, so you did! Ah, the larks we had… But I corrupted that forest over in Cinderfall before you had the chance, so really, you smash that shrine”
“All right, tell you what, I’ll smash it now, and you can have the first go at setting fire to the village over there”
“Only if you’re first in the line to chase the farmers off and poison their crops”
“Deal. RAWR! SMASH!”

After a lengthy campaign of public quests, dungeons, keep sieges and occasional scenarios the battle-weary Hipsters finally staggered into sight of the level cap, Rank 40, a few weeks back; I made it with my Chosen, I believe a couple of the others actually hit 40, Hipster Lieutenant Colonel Van Hemlock came up just short, though he had made up much extra ground re-rolling as a healer halfway through when the much missed Shamanic Goblin Laser Squad hung up their healing staves. It was a good old run, and as the Battalion cancelled subscriptions and headed off to enjoy retirement in various liberated cafés I had a couple of weeks of game time left to run, and even managed to get up to Renown Rank 40; the open RvR seemed to bog down a bit in Tier 4 as the increase in player numbers made stalemates more likely, but scenarios were popping far more regularly and generally rather fun.

WAR was the only active MMOG subscription I had running, worth it (though slightly pricey) for one night a week plus a little extra-curricular RvR, but not really for anything much less than that. Course it’s all relative, a monthly WAR sub seems pretty good value compared to one visit to the cinema (for an off-peak non-3D film with no drink or popcorn) or a venti-soy-whipped-frappa-lardy-lattechino, but gaming is a tough market. MMOG-wise of course there’s a plethora of free-to-play options, I’ve been playing a fair bit of World of Tanks since it properly launched and Lord of the Rings Online and Pirates of the Burning Sea are both ticking over. In the latter two I’ve reached something of a mid-level hump that might push me to cancel a subscription, but being able to have a bit of a rest, pop back in from time to time for a couple of quests or a bit of crafting keeps the interest there, and there’s no psychological barrier to entry of having to type in a credit card number if I ever fancy picking them up more seriously again. Outside of MMOGs, I’d been resisting Steam sales for a while, but when Melmoth nudged me towards half-price Magicka, and for less than the cost of a couple of months of WAR I somehow ended up with that, the Claptrap DLC for Borderlands, 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby) and Just Cause 2. It’s a good job there are a bunch of bank holidays coming up in the UK, I might even manage to play some of them for more than half an hour…

Thought for the day.

We wondered if part of the issue with Dragon Age 2’s mixed review success was down to the unfulfilled expectations that the game’s title invoked. Reviews might have been more favourable and the Internet outrage less if, instead of Dragon Age 2, Bioware had instead named it ‘Dragon Age: Don’t take it personally, Hawke, it just ain’t your story’

Quote MarkAnd although the combat is fairly frequent and repetitive, it is thankfully quickly dispensed with, and therefore never really gets in the way of this most excellent dating simulator.


Evolution or Intelligent Design?

Your character’s equipment has durability; it will lose durability when you use it. You can repair it through the appropriate crafting profession, but it will never be returned to the level of durability it had when it was new. When your equipment loses all durability it is destroyed.
Down Arrow
Your character’s equipment has durability; it will lose durability when you use it. You can repair it at a vendor, but the cost to do so is prohibitive. When your equipment loses all durability it is destroyed.
Down Arrow
Your character’s equipment has durability; it will lose durability when you use it. You can repair it at a vendor, but the cost to do so is prohibitive. When your equipment loses all durability it cannot be used until repaired.
Down Arrow
Your character’s equipment has durability; it will lose durability when you use it. You can repair it for a modest fee at a vendor. When your equipment loses all durability it cannot be used until repaired.
Down Arrow
Your character’s equipment has durability. Nobody really knows why. Any meaningful effect on the game has been designed out; it is now, essentially, an inconvenience, a DOH! check at the start of each dungeon run.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.

I really like adventuring through Moria, but as I make progress through the zone on my most recent alt in Lord of the Rings Online I find myself experiencing the usual frustrations. The place is claustrophobic, as it should be, but for the wrong reason.

A large part of Moria is comprised of tightly packed corridors which are littered through their entire length with conveniently spaced mobstacles. Moria’s feeling of claustrophobia comes from the fact that, unlike the overland zones, there’s nowhere to run to in order to avoid the aggro of these mobstacles. Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide. I wonder if this is the reason why I’ve read several blogs recently which have talked about trying to avoid Moria altogether, instead levelling via regions such as Eregion and Angmar, the epic book content, and skirmishes, until they are high enough level to move straight to Lothlórien. Do not pass through Moria. Do not collect 200 rusted dwarf tools.

I think it’s a shame that people don’t enjoy Moria because I feel it is a stunning and ambitious zone: entirely underground, with imposing dwarven architecture towering over bridges that span chasms of unfathomable depth, it is a three-dimensional realm which has a level of internal consistency and integrity not often seen in MMO zone design. It is oppressive; the weight of the rock hanging above the player character’s head as they travel the hewn paths of stone is tangible. The relief that one feels when finally being released from the dark depths into the sunlight of Lórien is palpable, and it’s hard to resist the urge to squint your eyes into that bright daylight, even though in reality it is no more than a very minor ambient change in foot-lamberts emitted from one’s LCD window into that world.

Although the lack of sunlight and seasons makes Moria oppressive, the use of darkness is purely relative to the outside world. There are no dank unlit corridors where the player swings their torch about in an Indiana Jones fashion, using it with urgency to highlight features of their surroundings from moment to moment in order to relieve their claustrophobia one cobwebbed corner at a time. As I mentioned earlier, the claustrophobia in Moria comes from knowing that accidentally aggroing too many mobs will likely mean death because there are no safe spots to return to once you’re any distance away from the sparsely separated quest hubs. It is a form of danger, granted, but when it is the only one used it quickly devolves from terrorization to tedium.

The lack of true darkness in Moria caused me to think further on the use of claustrophobic elements in MMOs. For example, MMOs pride themselves on their weather effects, and yet I don’t remember experiencing fog to any great extent with respect to claustrophobic game-play. I’m talking a proper pea souper, rather than the sort that just gives your graphics card a breather by turning down the draw distance a bit. In external MMO zones fog could be an easy way to introduce claustrophobic fear as a player travels. Instead of slowing players down by placing a line of blatant mobstacles all along their path from here to the horizon, it wouldn’t hurt to be creative and try to introduce some atmosphere. Have a fog descend on the player as they travel, with the shadows of various creatures looming in and out of view (was that an ogre flanking around us, or were we simply passing a tree?) and the sounds of animals and monsters floating around the player, sometimes close, sometimes far away, with a random chance within the game engine of them turning into an actual encounter. I feel that this is an example of a claustrophobic mechanic which would be entertaining: it would be short lived, atmospheric, and hopefully get the heart pumping a little bit faster. Compare this to the pursed-mouth resignation one feels when looking at a long Moria corridor or a path through a forest in any MMO, each lined with a conveniently spaced row of Pacman pellet mobstacles, more akin to the challenge of a slalom course on a ski slope than high adventure through dangerous territory.

Tanks, but no World of Tanks

I’ve been away for a bit, so missed the first few days of the official launch of World of Tanks. I’d been dithering over whether to go for one of the pre-order tank/gold packages, didn’t get around to it, and I’m slightly regretting it now as it was a pretty good deal. I’ll probably try playing for a while without buying any gold, see how it goes, though I fear it’ll be something of a grind; still, it’ll be fun to go back to the low tiers again.

While away, I wandered past a rather magnificent shop and was deeply tempted by one of the items they had in the window. Apparently, though, a stick of rock is a suitable souvenir to bring back from the seaside, an 88mm Tiger tank shell from this place isn’t…

Magicka? I ‘ardly know ‘er!

I’m late to the Magicka party, turning up in apologetic rain-soaked dishevelment as the final course of the meal is being cleared away and most of the enthusiastic discourse has already taken place, the room now peaceful as people move on to smoking cigars and sipping their port in comfortably quiet contemplation.

I popped on to Steam last night in order to check out the price of Bioshock 2 in the latest sale; is it just me or is Steam becoming like furniture stores here in the UK by existing in an almost permanent state of sale? Where ‘Sale must end Sunday!’ is translated through the cynical cortex of one’s mind and comes out as ‘Sale must end Sunday! Because the new sale starts Monday!’ Anyway, I managed to resist the sale price of Bioshock 2, with the Peer Pressure versus Price ratio still not quite tipping the balance onto the ‘Ah, go on then’ side of the scale. Unfortunately, instead of just running quickly out of the store with my hands blinkering my eyes, I made the mistake of taking a quick glance around to see what else was in store and on sale, and of course quite quickly found something that satisfied the ‘Ah, go on then’ criteria, and thus managed to spend my money anyway. The transaction-based endorphin high was short lived, and I was left with a copy of Magicka, the first DLC pack, a tiny vanity item expansion pack, and a post-purchase hope that the game was actually any good. One element the vanity pack grants you is the option of equipping your mage with a face-obscuring floppy hat, a tip of the hat (ahhhh!) to the iconic Black Mage from the early Final Fantasy series of games, and is thus possibly prime material for a Hat News Now Today: I Put On My Wizard Robe And Hat edition. Therefore the game justified its price before I even began to play.

I haven’t played much of the game as of yet, but so far it is very much a love and hate affair: I love the mechanics of the game, and I hate the fact that I’m not very good at it. Hopefully I will improve with practise. Mainly my poor performance stems from the fact that I have this preternatural ability which, when presented with the choice of two buttons, always picks the wrong button for what I intended to do. I say ‘preternatural’ however, and that’s because if I go into the ‘controls’ menu and rebind the buttons so that they are the opposite way around I will continue to press them incorrectly, consistently pressing the button which would have been correct originally but which I’ve rebound and is now therefore the wrong one. This issue is quite the problem in Magicka because you have one button to cast spells on an enemy and one button to cast spells on yourself, and it doesn’t matter whether that spell is Heal or Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire, you can still cast it on yourself and, in the case of the latter, barbeque yourself back to the beginning of the level faster than you can say ‘what the hell is wrong with my brain wiring?!’

I would recommend reading the Wikipedia article for a detailed explanation of how the mechanics work, but essentially it is similar in a fashion to Lord of the Rings Online’s Gambit mechanic as used by the Warden class. The very basic mechanic is thus: you have eight basic elements which you can ‘load’ in any order into five spell slots, the combination of which will create a spell which can then be cast either on yourself or on an enemy. It’s far more complex than that, however; there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of spell combinations to discover; certain opposite elements will cancel each other out, where others will combine into a new element (load Fire and Water into two consecutive slots and they’ll combine down into the single slot Steam element); you can combine the Shield element with the Earth element and when cast a huge rock formation will burst from the ground to form a protective wall, where Shield and Fire will create a wall of fire that will damage anything that walks through it; specific spells can be learnt which, when activated with the spacebar rather than the mouse buttons, will have an entirely different effect than the elements might suggest Lightning->Arcane->Fire will cast Haste when the spacebar is pressed, which gives the player a temporary buff to running speed; and there are many other intricacies.

There’s far more depth to the game than I’m presenting here, but the basic idea of the game is one that I wanted to expand on slightly with respect to MMOs. Magicka has a four player co-op mode, and what struck me about this when playing yesterday is that it has all the class structure of an MMO built into one character. Essentially all four mages in co-op will be identical, and yet each one can be played in an entirely different role depending on the spell combinations the player chooses. For example, one mage could choose to focus on healing and personal shielding spells, while another mage focuses on crowd control by setting up defensive walls (be they the blocking Earth walls or the damaging Fire walls mentioned earlier) around the mages’ position and using the Ice element to slow enemies, while another mage could be focussing on damage, and yet another mage could set themselves up as a sort of tank, using shield buffs and PBAoE spells while putting their secondary weapon (each mage carries a staff as a primary weapon and a secondary weapon such as a sword) to good use. The greatness comes from that fact that the group can change their dynamic in any way they choose in reaction to their situation, all it requires is quick thinking and tactical play on the part of the players. The healer can switch to a damage dealing role simply by switching to casting damage spells instead of healing spells, or the damage dealer could stop attacking and cast a few defensive walls if it looked as though their position was about to be overrun. It’s as simple as that, like changing tack in a boat race: a quick judgement call, an adjustment, and suddenly everything is heading in a different and, hopefully, more positive direction.

Trion have taken a brave step with their Soul system; by allowing a single class to perform multiple roles at the flick of a switch, they’ve removed a large part of the need for players to roll alt characters, something which I’m sure some MMOs have relied upon as a way to retain a portion of their player base. Turbine also took a brave step in creating the Warden class and its Gambit mechanic, and although I’m not sure whether it has been a success in terms of the number of players actively playing the class, I still find it to be the best MMO class mechanic I’ve yet encountered. Having played Magicka a little I feel that there is an exciting step yet to take, a combination of Trion’s Soul system and Turbine’s Gambit mechanic where players are free to switch roles on the fly, removing the need to form a group from a perfect balance of the right roles before a fight, and being able to switch those roles within a fight in reaction to the situation as it unfolds. It would perhaps be a positive step in the direction of Blizzard’s ideal of ‘bring the player, not the class’.

In the meantime, for anyone interested in exciting and engaging game mechanics who hasn’t tried Magicka yet: it’s very reasonably priced even outside of a Steam sale, has an excellent sense of humour, is easy to pick-up but has great depth, and is altogether to be thoroughly recommended. So, despite only having played it briefly so far, on the KiaSA Second Wilson Cabinet Rating Mechanism, I think Magicka already scores a well deserved Baroness Williams of Crosby.

Like Assyrian emperors, sending parcels of human ears, noses, or neatly detached nostrils through the mail.

Consider the humble mailbox. A curious entity, ignored daily by most MMO players outside of bank alts and, of course, habitual mailers. You know the sort:

Dear Gren the Ungrenable,

Please find attached to this letter a complete set of plate armour too small for you; seventeen swords of various shapes and sizes, mostly broken; every random plant it was possible to pick on my way to the mailbox; a small critter of some kind (it’s either a badger or an angry halfling, hard to tell when it’s crammed into a single inventory slot); fourteen random unbindable pages from the Book of Where the Hell’s My Bagspace Gone; a raclette; a stack of offal (unwrapped); a zoomoozophone; five stacks of Potions Nobody Ever Uses But They Keep In The Bank Just In Case; twenty four cosmetic thongs of varying shades of brown; a quest item that nobody has ever found the quest for but can’t bring themselves to throw away; and three mounts: one sabretooth tiger, one partially digested goat with sabreteeth marks in it, and an angry Krogus, Giant Lord of Mammoths, who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome.

Your friend,

Geoff Awkshunhowser

P.S. Sorry about Krogus, he gets irritable when travelling by mail, is scared of zoomoozophones, and stacking him next to the sabretooth tiger probably didn’t help; I’m sure you can dig the rest of this mail out of the steaming contents of his… displeasure.

I can just picture them trying to staple Krogus, Giant Lord of Mammoths to the letter. “[plink] [clip] [clunk] There, that ought to be okay. Hrm, maybe I should use a paperclip too?”

But what of the mailbox itself? Humble. Elementary. Serviceable. Unobtrusive.

Defies all laws of time and space.

Has systematically spread to all known corners of the world.


They just need small plungers sticking out horizontally from their tops and to shout “YOU HAVE MAIL” in an angry electronic voice and they would probably pass for a Doctor Who villain.

“The mailboxes are coming!”

“No, they’re already here!”

“Damn it! Get me the President of this MMO!”

“But sir, to do that we’d need to use…”

“DAMN! Cle-verrrrr. Cle-ver mailboxes…”

They’re not just here, but also there… and everywhere. Each one believing that love never dies. Watching her eyes and hoping… sorry, it all went a bit Beatles there for a second.

Where were we? Right. MMO Mailboxes are evil! I fully expect to get to Mordor in Lord of the Rings Online and find a mailbox outside the Black Gate. “Oh thank goodness! Because I’ve really wanted to write home to mother [licks nib of pen and looks thoughtful]

Dear Mother,

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh [breath]
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh [breath]
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggg [breath]

Orcs, mum! ORCS! They’re everywhere! Oh god! Oh god! Oh god!

Love and kisses,


Then we’d fight our way through the orcs and uruk-hai and goblins and ogres and racially-slurred riders, and finally reach the throne room of the Dark Lord himself. In the gloom at the end of the cavernous chamber would be a black leather swivel chair lit by a shaft of light from a high-up window, and as we ran panting and clattering in to the hall the chair would spin round and a mailbox would be sat there looking smug, and after a pause for dramatic effect, would say “Well Mr Bond, this *is* an unexpected pleasure”.

Just consider the power that mailboxes have: you can post a mammoth into the tiny bowels of a diminutive mailbox, and have that same mammoth turn-up almost instantaneously on the other side of the world! A little irritated perhaps, I grant you, but otherwise unharmed.

And mailboxes are in the starter areas of all places! Who would possibly have mail when they’ve just spawned into the world out of thin air, fully grown, but with nothing to their name but a bunch of ragged clothes and a sharpened stick, and being hated for no apparent reason by every NPC group that exists?

“Welcome! You are a dark lord of the kindred, awoken from your centuries-long death by the power of the bloodline! You must avenge your fallen kin, fight until everything is dead or undead, destroy the world in fire and fear, and restore our clan to its rightful place on the throne of ULTIMATE POWER! Mu ha ha ha ha haaaaaaa!

Oh, and uh, check that mailbox over there, I think you have mail.”

I’m considering a system based upon Old Man Murray’s Time to Crate review system; mine will be a Time to Mailbox system, however, where the time it takes to find a mailbox from the starting point of a level one character will demonstrate how far the mailboxes have infiltrated the game, and thus determine how evil that MMO is (or has become, since the mailbox domination spreads over the life of the game, in case you hadn’t noticed).

Now people might suggest that mailboxes in the starter areas are just there to help people with alts who want to mail twink gear to their characters, but that’s just crazy talk! No, the truth of it is that mailboxes are evil sentient beings from another dimension sent to enslave us all. And anyway, as a habitual alt-roller myself, I can tell you that we altists need a more professional level of help than a mere starter area mailbox could provide.

And I present the contents of this post as evidence for that.