Monthly Archives: May 2011

World of Wifecraft blamed for war.

The Daily Mail reports:

“A growing number of marriages are being wrecked by video game addiction.

More women filing for divorce are complaining that their husbands spend too long playing video games, according to research.

Of those wives who cite unreasonable behaviour for ending their marriage, 15 per cent believe their partners put gaming before them.

This has soared from five per cent a year ago, the study by Divorce Online found. In particular, disgruntled wives blamed World of Warcraft […] The study looked at 200 unreasonable behaviour petitions filed by women.”

The study further reported that an organised group of forty men had claimed they were all set to take on the challenges presented by Divorce Online, before realising that it wasn’t a new Asian MMO, at which point they disbanded and went back to World of Warcraft.

Reporting live for Oh MMO Emo News, I’m Melmoth Melmothson.

I turn my head and go away. I took my share in this fight for the impossible.

I’ve stuck a rich vein of completionism on my main character in Lord of the Rings Online recently, and this past weekend I decided to finish strip mining the Volume 2 epic book content and then consider the prospect of Volume 3. Really it’s all about my deep-seated unreserved love for the Warden class however, because it’s the sheer joy I get from the concept of the lightly armoured, self healing, valkyrie shieldmaiden, coupled with the wonderful gambit combat mechanic, that keeps me returning to the game outside of the once-per-week static group in which I play my Captain; although perhaps a better name would be Capacitor there, since my character is essentially a store of Power and Morale, where most fights consist of dispensing these out to other players in the fellowship while making sure all relevant buffs have been applied. The support role of the Captain is certainly what I prefer to perform in a group, but the execution of the class is just a little larghissimo when compared to the frantic fret fingering required to strike the Warden’s classic power chords. The Warden is the Kinks’ feisty You Really Got Me to the Captain’s more sedate Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and when you’re going solo it’s best to play the angry fast-switching power chords, as my mother would have said had she ever been Jimmy Page.

The Volume 2 content was ultimately frustrating, as I’ve found much of Turbine’s alternative story-within-a-story attempts to be. There may be spoilers ahead. I’ll try to avoid them, but while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance: let’s face it, there’s a spoilery chance.

Once again it came down to the feeling of being a pageboy at royal court, running errands between important people, aristocracy so lazy that they can’t be bothered to walk the ten paces required to speak to the person in question. The person standing right there! You don’t even have to walk over there, just raise your voice ever so slightly, you lazy feckless… If you’ve ever watched Pixar’s Wall•E then you’ll know exactly the feeling that these epic quests give you as a player, you are essentially the eponymous Wall•E in a world full of comically overweight humans who can’t even look beyond the end of their computer screen to talk to the person next to them. Except they haven’t invented the computer screen in Middle Earth yet, so really, what’s their excuse? One character gave me a long and powerful speech regarding their concern for the local guards. So terribly concerned. It really weighed heavily on their mind, they really were awfully frantically worried. Such desperate anxiousness they hadn’t felt in a hundred ye… ALRIGHT. FINE. I’ll go and check up on them for you, shall I? Seeing as you’re so blastedly worried that you can’t be bothered to go and check for yourself when the guards are only just outside the front door of the inn; presumably it’s because you’re… you’re too busy waxing your ears, or whatever in flaming homo-erotica it is that you noble elves do all day long.

And then, every now and again, the tedium of playing messenger would be punctuated with a terrifying mission against nigh-on impossible odds in the heart of hostile territory, like being a paper boy in a quiet remote Welsh village where every now and again the newsagents gives you a route which takes you through Mogadishu. These encounters were plenty of fun, capturing and escorting the orc lord Mazog to Dul Goldur, and then assaulting the fortress to rescue the dwarf Bori, or that idiot twit lovechild of Dr McMadpants and Contessa Gormless von Doolally, as I lovingly refer to him. He’s essentially the cause of all the problems that you spend your time trying to set right, and when I finally came to rescue him he performed one of the most masterfully arse-witted NPC escort manoeuvres I’ve seen, including several near-perfect executions of the Corridor Pause with Incoming Elite Trolls, with only the Russian judge giving him below 10.0 (a still respectable 9.75), feeling that he didn’t get in the full two and a half tucks while blithering about hoping to draw aggro.

I think, for me, the story failed because I spent most of my time standing around having to listen to the un-reason of these halfwit NPCs, while it slowly and gradually dawned on me that I could just stab them all and nothing in Middle Earth would change other than the fact that I would be free. It’s something which is rubbed-in by the ending, which essentially sets everything back to how it was, except a few people have died unnecessarily and wouldn’t have done if I’d just been allowed to cut Bori’s tendons and go hunting for Mazog by myself. Once again Turbine employ the Magic As Plot Protection device, where your band of plucky heroes is rendered utterly helpless by Random Villain B so that he can monologue without the vexing interruptions of you trying to stab him in the face, an occurrence so common now that one wonders just what sort of mismanagement must be going on at Sauron & Sons Ltd. for them not to have cakewalked their way to victory already, given that they can render whole groups of heroes utterly helpless seemingly at will, or at least when it’s most terribly convenient. Perhaps they’re all too busy monologuing to actually get on with finishing the job.

Mixing in skirmishes as part of the book content was a cunning plan, allowing the more memorable infiltration and assault on Dol Guldur to be replayed by players after they’d finished Volume 2, while at the same time allowing Turbine to reuse content which would otherwise be played through only once per character. I’m quite favourable towards the skirmish system as a complement to other forms of play, and since there are nice rewards both practical and cosmetic, I was quite pleased to see my progress through Volume 2 being rewarded with some new skirmish zones to enjoy, especially as one of the pitfalls of the skirmish system is that it can get a little stale playing the same zones over and over. Of course, I took all my hard earned skirmish marks and Cannuilan campaign marks (the latter of which can only be earned through these later Volume 2 skirmishes), and bought my Warden the Winged Circlet I’d been wanting for her since I first saw a preview of the skirmish cosmetic rewards many moons ago.

So Volume 2 for my Warden is now complete, or at least the book content is; there’s an epilogue which I have begun, but there are several quests listed as requiring a fellowship and I’m under the assumption that these haven’t been tweaked to be soloable yet, but I’ll certainly have a look before moving on to Volume 3. I’ve completed the one part of the epilogue which was soloable, however, a final chapter in the story of the Moria dwarves, where they bury that which they claim caused all the troubles in the first place, and so I was surprised to see Bori standing outside the cave as they collapsed it. Personally I would have been delighted to push the whole troublesome group in and seal the cave behind them, but apparently that was a task too trying and terrible for a hero of Middle Earth, and so I was sent on my way to the start of Volume 3, where presumably some bloke needs me, with utmost urgency, to ask the bloke standing next to him whether he wants a chocolate bourbon to go with his cup of tea.

Publicity can be terrible, but only if you don’t have any

Stropp picks up some interesting points on the “Unrated” aspect of yesterday’s Age of Conan announcement, particularly around how the team plan to use “… even more of the barbaric, brutal and sexy setting that is Howard’s Hyboria”. Recent TV series like Game of Thrones and Spartacus: Blood and Sand feature liberal sex and violence as a fundamental part of well-told stories, rather than as a sensationalist smokescreen to try and camoflague other shortcomings, perhaps Age of Conan: Unrated could herald a similar advance and be a mature MMOG, as well as “mature” (nudge nudge, wink wink)?

Or maybe it’s just a cheap bid for publicity, and “Unrated” was felt to be a slightly more subtle tagline than Age of Conan: Blood and Norks

I find that we all get more legendary as time goes by.

The Captain’s ‘buff sticks’ in Lord of the Rings Online are, for me, a perfect example of that general requirement to ‘be optimal’ in an MMO conflicting with the coherence of the game’s world, and thus creating inauthentic cultural norms. The Captain class has a range of buffs, many of which can be significantly improved by one of the limited number of ‘legacies’ available to their legendary weapon. These legacies were originally entirely random, and therefore what you’d expect to happen would be for a Captain to find a weapon with as many of these legacies that improved their all-important group buffs as possible, and for them to then cherish that item as though it were one of their own children. What actually happened, of course, was an approach which maximised the boost to the Captain’s buffs without sacrificing their combat capability. Therefore, most Captains would store a number of ‘legendary’ weapons in their backpack –three or four would not be unheard of– each of which having a number of the correct legacies to improve their various buffs, while the Captain reserved their primary legendary weapon (the most legendariest, if you will) to have those legacies which would improve their in-combat abilities. This heavily reflects the strange general juxtaposition within the game between legendary items as common-or-garden objects, and ordinary quest reward weapons as quite rare finds in the later levels.

“Buff sticks! Buff sticks for sale! Get yer buuuuuuuuff sticks! Don’t be a drain and a raiding bane! It’s never enough to bestow a basic buff! Get a buff stick, and they won’t think you’re a pri–Yes madam? Two buff sticks? Here you go. Thank you kindly madam and enjoy! Buff sticks! Get yer buuuuuuuuff sticks!”

If ever there were an unheroic, unlegendary, unwieldy image, it’s that of a Captain rummaging through their bags before a fight, rapidly switching weapons so that they have the correct legacy equipped to boost the appropriate buff before they cast it.

“Now hold on for a second because I know I’ve got the one-handed hammer that boosts my critical attack buff around here somewhere. And you, you need power, I think that’s on a sword… no, noooo, it’s the halberd that has the boost for regen buffs. Now we all need the morale buff, so that’s this giant pink 12″ vib… oh gosh, how did *that* get in there. Ha ha ha. Hum. Uh, no, it was the axe that buffed morale; although I suppose the vibrator could work…”

I mean, bless Turbine, but they took a fabulous idea in trying to give players a unique weapon which levelled and grew in power as they did –a real, honest-to-goodness, corker of an idea– and then created a character class which highlighted in bright white searing bolts of Istarian flame all the problems with the system.

“Legendary weapon? Why yes, I have six! But only one of them is really any use, the rest I just keep in my bags because they have a minor applicability once every five to fifteen minutes.” I mean, I have trouble with weapons providing improvements to buffs anyway. I can understand a buff that improves a player’s critical rating; I can imagine it as my Captain explaining the weakness of this particular enemy, giving tactical advice on how best to strike their weakest spot, but how does holding a mace in my hand improve this advice? The best I came up with was my Captain saying

“Now listen here Flannelian, striking at an orc’s weak point is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. Imagine my mace is a beautiful woman for a moment. Stay with me now. Okay, now take hold of it as though it were a beautiful woman. Go on, don’t be shy, take it in your arms. No, not like THAT! You FILTHY… grabbing the handle in that way! That’s the sort of person you are is it? A lust-filled deviant of the most deranged kind! Now apologise to my mace. Apologise to it at once! Apologiiiiiiiiiiise!”

Of course by this point the whole fellowship is slightly unnerved and explains that they’d really rather just get on with killing the two non-elite orcs who shouldn’t pose much of a problem to our party of six, and no really, buffs probably aren’t even necessary right now.

I sometimes wonder whether a badly designed system is simply one which can be abused, or is it the nature of all such systems that, as long as there is any level of flexibility inherent to it, there will also be a way to exploit it? I don’t think there’d be any major dissent if I said that LotRO’s legendary item system is one which is ripe for the abuse through optimisation of itemisation, moreover it positively encourages it. Whether one sees this as a good or bad thing is probably down to the needs of one’s inner being with respect to the MMO genre, needs which are as subjective, eclectic and cultural as any existential abstraction.

At the same time I imagine there is firm agreement that it’s a terribly appealing sentiment to own a named legendary weapon, one that has grown and battled along with its owner, and which, when coupled with the romantic samurai-like imagery of becoming one with a weapon and treating it as though it were family, is something that thrums deep hard blacksmith’s strokes on the blade of imagination within the forges of the soul.

Elrond: “Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I have thought for many long nights on that which you asked of me, and I have made my decision.”

Aragorn: “You mean?!”

Elrond: “Yes, Elessar.

We will strike fear into the heart of The Enemy.

We will once again forge a great bond between the houses of elves and men.

We will return to you that treasure of the ages thought lost.

We will take the shards of Narsil and craft the blade anew!

Henceforth you shall be known throughout the lands of this Middle Earth as Elendil’s heir.

And you will also provide a minor competency bonus to your fellowship’s parry rating.”

The past is a foreign country, they drive on the other side of the road and have funny food

A while back Melmoth rather splendidly captured the feeling you get when you pick up a high level character you haven’t played for a long time, something I’ve been experiencing in Age of Conan after Funcom sent out a nice mail saying that old accounts have been reactivated for the rest of May to celebrate the 3rd anniversary.

As I remembered it Age of Conan looked very pretty, had some interesting features like dynamic weapon-swishing, combo abilities and an involving single player story at the beginning, then petered out slightly into Generic MMOsity (from reading Richard Bartle’s blog it sounds like Rift completely avoids this trap by having some machine-things to activate now and again). Worth another look, especially with three years of additional content.

Wary of leaping straight into the 747 cockpit I started up a new character, and was slightly surprised by how quickly it all came flooding back; chained up woman, defeat mob, get key, free woman, defeat more mobs, get another key, open gate, check. Walled town, talk to guard, directed to blacksmith, get rocks, kill demon-thing, shackles removed, check. (Sorry, I forgot the spoiler warning, I may have just ruined the first seven minutes of Age of Conan for you there.) Emboldened by my triumph and indeed huge success in the tutorial, I dug out the Conqueror I’d played during my first stint to see how things looked around level 50. My first quest was to think of a new name, as there’d been a few server consolidations in my absence resulting in him being shifted to a new server as Zoso45234727; it felt a bit like hiring a car in a strange foreign airport…

“OK, just a leetle paperwork first, Monsieur; what registration would you like ze car to ‘ave?”
“Oh, I hadn’t really thought about that… erm, DF344RT?”
“Sorry Monsieur, zat one is taken”
“Ah… JW879BT?”
“Let me see… non, also taken”
“Oh, well… LL119WD?”
“OK, great. ‘Ere are ze keys, enjoy!”

And off we go in the unfamiliar car. The basic controls are in the same place so you can just about get going, albeit with a bit of grinding and you’re not sure where anything past second gear is, and the windscreen wipers come on when you try and indicate and the air conditioning is blasting cold air at your feet and hot air at your left shoulder and you can’t get anything on the radio except Plastic Bertrand, but y’know, you’re moving, albeit not quite optimally.

So on the Conqueror I could run forwards, run backwards, swing a sword, activate a couple of combo attacks I’d left on hotbars, enough to get going; not exactly optimal, with a bunch of refunded talent points sloshing about, and frequently trying to open Bags instead of the Inventory or the quest Log rather than the quest Journal, but enough to run around and hack up the occasional mob.

Back in the hire car, the unfamiliarity is exacerbated by the fact that you’re in the middle of a foreign country, unable to speak the language, with no maps and only a vague idea where you need to go. Locals whizz by complaining bitterly about tourists (or complimenting you on your taste in Belgian pop-punk, it’s hard to tell), you try and decipher the road signs and eventually give it all up as a bad job and decide to stop at a nice little cafe that turns out to actually be the local cement works.

If I was familiar with the rest of the game and it was just the character I hadn’t played in a while that would be one thing, but though I remembered the basics of the first 20-odd levels none of the finer points came back to me at all; I was standing in one of the zones where guilds could build their own cities and remembered a guild get-together with extensive use of /emote hugefish_m to express great joy as the first walls of The City of The Guild Whose Name I Can’t Remember were built, but the guild was left behind a server merge or two ago, its city with it, and I was standing outside somebody else’s walls. I think I’d been in the middle of some crafting, as the quest tracker was suggesting I should make several bits of armour and take them to the smith, but I had no idea how the crafting system worked. I ran around, found some stone and successfully hit it with a pickaxe (eventually, once I’d found how to toggle out of the combat stance), but that was as far as I got with the art of armoursmithing (“Have hit stone with axe! Got smaller bit of stone! Put stone on head! Strong helmet!”) Setting off towards what looked like a zone exit I pitched up at a village with a bunch of crafting trainers and had a brief conversation with an armoursmith who was most uncooperative and refused to accept a piece of stone in lieu of a full set of intricately crafted armour as proof that I was ready for the next level of training. Chucking the rock at him in disgust, I set off looking for a way out of the zone, and found a wagoneer offering transport. Just the thing! Except after handing over seven silver he presented a list of destinations, and I had no idea where any of them were, so picked one at random and found myself dumped somewhere in the far south of the zone next to some dungeon entrance. Not very useful.

I think I’ll go back to the new character in the introduction; there might be a few hours of rehashing familiar content, but at least I won’t be stuck listening to Plastic Bertand… ca plane pour moi moi moi moi moi, ca plane pour moi…

Decorate your home. It gives the illusion that your life is more interesting than it really is.

I decided to give the housing system in EverQuest II a bit of a test drive this past weekend, having related my bemusement at the game’s apparent determination to increase the levelling time of my character by burying them beneath a pile of furniture from which they then have to hack their way free, like an American GI fighting their way through the undergrowth of a Vietnamese jungle; the military imagery constantly reinforced by the fact that I keep wanting to say NORAD when I mean to say Norrath. Unfortunately I was quickly pulled over by a surly mounted guard who told me that driving a house around was irresponsible and quite frankly ludicrous, and that I should take it back to where I found it post haste; not entirely a problem since I’d been threatening the kids for the past hour to stop fighting in the back or ‘so help me I’ll turn this home around and take us all back to where our home would be if we weren’t currently driving it around the countryside’.

Thus I rented myself a room in an inn and went off adventuring, this time with a mind to hanging on to the various furnishings I was offered, and so each small hub of quest-givers suddenly looked less like an expeditionary force of stalwart adventures in need of assistance, and more like a car boot sale with rows of tables of old household objects for sale at bargain prices.

“How much for the lamp?”
“Oooo, um, fifteen orc ears?”
“Hhhffffff. Will you take ten?”
“I really can’t go lower than fifteen…”
“How about ten orc ears, and I’ll collect five random glowing objects from the landscape near them?”
“Oh go on then, but I want Crushbone orc ears, none of your foreign grobin rubbish, I can’t do anything with that.”

After a few hours of Boot Fair Adventuring – as opposed to Boot Foul Adventuring, where someone just kicks you in the pants if you don’t do what they say – I found myself with an inventory packed with old bric-à-brac: rugs, tables, stools, book cases, lamps, mirrors, pictures, various heraldic banners (George R.R. Martin would be pleased), beds and fireplaces, although no hat stands yet, much to m’colleague’s disappointment I imagine. No urinal yet either, although my character did sit down and mistakenly try to use what turned out to be an alchemical workbench, such that she now has fluorescent pubic hair the colour of aching despair, which bursts into a rousing rendition of O Fortuna when exposed to moonlight.

Back in my acorn-shaped room in the inn at Kelethin I dumped my boot fair bargains in a heap in the middle of the floor, then stood back to marvel with hands on hips at the amassed pile of junk which looked not entirely unlike the resultant mess left by the stink spirit in Spirited Away. After a short session of sifting and sorting, I began to experiment with setting up the house.

I have to confess, EQII’s housing is fabulous. A sort of limp wristed, ruffle collared, pink trousered, mane haired, interior-design-lovey fabulous, where a game such as LotRO is of a more subdued and sombre instructional DIY bent. Double-clicking a housing item in your inventory allows you to place the item anywhere within the house in the X and Y dimensions of three-dimensional Cartesian coordinate space. A roll of the mouse wheel lets you rotate the item about the Z axis centred on the object, such that a table can be spun so as to align it to any wall surface, for example; holding the ALT key down while using the mouse wheel gives a finer granularity to the movement, to really allow for precise orientation of objects. Holding the CTRL key down, on the other hand (On my other hand? There’s no CTRL on my other hand, sir!), allows the mouse wheel to move the item up and down the Z axis, thus allowing tables and chairs to be floated somewhat surreally in mid air, but also allowing items to be placed ‘on top’ of other items where they otherwise wouldn’t naturally be assumed to fit. Finally, using the SHIFT key performs the operation which surprised me most, in that it allows you to scale objects to be bigger or smaller than their default size, which really allows for a level of customisation and flexibility that should keep most avid virtual homemakers happy. I haven’t explored the system in-depth, merely flung a few items at random around my otherwise barren room while experimenting with the basic placement mechanics, such that the interior of my house currently looks like an antiques shop lost a fight with a centrifuge, but I have read of the various failings of the system for those who want to arrange and place items ‘just so’; books seem to be a particular sticking point here, although I was mightily impressed with the way the system understood my wanting to place a book on a table or bookshelf, without the need for me to manually change its vertical orientation.

LotRO’s interior housing design suddenly seems admirable yet painfully restrictive by comparison; a theme which is recurring with regularity as I continue my adventures in both games, having also recently discovered the joy of EQII’s cosmetic weapon slots, where LotRO still stubbornly forces you to use the irritatingly glowy and otherwise blandly designed legendary item skin, all for a weapon which you’re only using because it randomly happened to have the right set of stats to make your character competent at end-game content.

So yes, I’m slowly converting to the interior decoration method of questing: ignoring all armour and weapon rewards and focussing on whether the quest giver can offer me that perfect something for the wall above my cast iron antique fireplace with art deco tile surround. My greatest adventure for an evening will sometimes consist of resolving the bitter internecine struggle between the clashing furniture in my kitchen-diner. Soon it will be ‘Sorry chaps, I can’t make tonight’s dungeon run because I need to grout the tiles around my newly installed matching Kor-sha bathroom suite’, at which point I hope I’ll have the strength of will to pack the whole lot into boxes and drop them into the Shard of Fear, where such mind-bending character-warping horrors belong.

KiaSAcast Episode 12

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 twelve.

This episode of the podcast includes:

– Introduction

– Further coverage of the Division Two MMO Soloing playoffs

– Games which we’re currently playing, including::

     – City of Heroes

     – Lord of the Rings Online

     – Dungeons and Dragons Online

Download KiaSAcast Episode Twelve

To the last, I grapple with thee

Just Cause 2 features a grappling hook. This doesn’t sound terribly exciting, more something that would be tucked away in a lengthy check list in a press release between “Incorporates the latest version of the e-Foliate engine for improved serration in sweet chestnut leaf rendering” and “Includes BISCUIT-O-TRON(tm) technology (patent pending) to dynamically alter the lead character’s favourite biscuit based on crumb analysis from a BISCUIT-O-TRON(tm) compatible keyboard!”. It’s one of the defining feature of the game, though, that elevates it from being a pretty good island-hopping sandbox into a pretty good island-hopping sandbox with a brilliant grappling hook.

The obvious use for the grappling hook is climbing, where it offers a hint of its deeper magic with the ability to unfailingly stick to any surface and rapidly haul the protagonist up. It’s also handy for snagging a passing vehicle for a bit of car-surfing (or helicopter-dangling, depending on the vehicle in question). If confronted by a sniper or sentry in a guard tower then the climbing capability allows you to quickly get up there for a full and frank exchange of views at close quarters, but instead of grappling the tower and climbing up it’s far more fun to grapple the sniper and yank him off (matron) to his certain doom.

The piece de resistance, though, is the fact that after grappling something you can tether it to just about anything else. Nasty soldier chasing you on a motorbike? Attach his bike to a car going the other way and hilarity ensues! Want to destroy a statue of an evil dictator but don’t have spare explosives? Tether the head to a helicopter, take off, and wrench it away from the base! As an added bonus, a heavy stone statue head suspended beneath a helicopter makes an excellent improvised demolition ball for wreaking further havoc.

After playing Just Cause 2 for a while you can really miss the grappling hook in other games, especially MMOGs…

Climbing: has your Mighty Warrior, Fearsome Conqueror of Dungeons, Slayer of Ogres, Nemesis of the Undead (unless they’re undead themselves, in which case Nemesis of the Living (And Probably Some Undead Too)) ever been defeated by a slightly inclined plane? A grappling hook to help with a bit of climbing would be terribly handy in some games. Chief offender here are those like Guild Wars where you can’t jump at all, and are thus stymied by not only mighty fortifications and rugged mountains but also shin-high walls, ornamental shrubberies and scatter cushions that have been placed on the floor as a makeshift hamster corral. Champions Online gets a special mention for having the travel power of The One We Did For Spiderman When The Game Was Based On The Marvel License And Then Changed A Bit To Not Be Quite So Webby, or “Swinging” for short, which uses a grappling hook-esque action to shoot a line of tensile material (that definitely isn’t a web) towards the closest stabilising object for rapid movement; granted it’s a little odd that it still works effectively in a wide open expanse like the desert zone, but nothing that can’t be explained by a convenient pair of invisible helicopters with highly skilled pilots positioning them exactly where they’re needed.

Pulling: Quite literally. I mean sure, shooting a monster with a projectile weapon is one way of getting its attention, but how much more fun would it be for a tank to physically grab a target mob from halfway across the map and catapult it into melee range? The answer is “quite a lot”, as the Grappler in Hellgate: London demonstrated, let’s hope it’s still in the reanimated version. Warhammer Online had something along the same lines if I recall correctly, late-game abilities for White Lions and Marauders that could single out a hapless squishy cloth-wearer and twang! them from the relative safety of the back line into the midst of a mosh pit of spiky melee death. More games could definitely benefit from crazy grappling action, though.

Escort Quests: Everyone loves an escort quest, don’t they? Poor lost children, injured soldiers, bizarre chicken-robots, little old ladies who just need a hand across the road (well, they say “road” when offering the quest, it usually turns out to be The Highway of Death and Blood, a three mile expanse of pits and mantraps infested with hordes of Twisted Lollipop Fiends who desire only to stop people crossing roads, and the little old lady doesn’t go “across” so much as aimlessly zig-zag, alternating between a zimmer-frame dragging hobble when you’re at full health and there’s no immediate danger and a turbo-boosted sprint (while shouting “hey, over here!” and flicking V signs at anything slightly hostile looking) as soon as you’re exhausted and really need to recover before another fight…)

Popping back into City of Heroes when they reactivated old accounts last week, Melmoth and I were tasked with rescuing some hostages and had dutifully despatched all the villainous kidnappers so just needed to escort the hostages back to the mission entrance (while bracing for an inevitable ambush that never turned up… guess it was evitable after all). Reaching the entrance, there was a distinct lack of triumphant fanfare to herald our successful rescue, and turning around there was no sign of the hostages… I’d forgotten that although Melmoth is faster than a speeding bullet and I can leap tall buildings in a single bound (and in the game, ah), the distinctly un-super hostages had trouble with anything more than a brisk walk, and once you get too far from them they get all sulky and just hang around complaining about the poor standard of rescue. Returning to the lower levels of the lair, we collected the hostages again, ran off, realised they’d stopped following us again, turned around, and slowly trudged back to the start of the level, all the while desperately wishing I could’ve just pointed a grappling hook at the laggards to twang! them along at considerably greater speed.

Explaining this theory to Tim and Jon they seemed quite keen; in fact Jon rather developed things, pointing out that with the ability to connect two items, in a game like LotRO you could tether the NPC to your mount and then ride off at high speed, giving them precious little opportunity to “accidentally” bump into every patrolling orc on the way to safety. Course dragging someone along isn’t terribly good for their health (attaching an enemy solider to a car in Just Cause 2 and driving off kills them in a pretty unpleasant fashion, though I had to do it five times for the achievement…), hence Jon’s suggestion of a second person on the horse facing backwards, a Minstrel or other healer, constantly spamming healing spells to keep the NPC alive. I’m pretty sure such a “rescue” would be a blatant violation of at least 317 articles of International Humanitarian Law, but it sounds good to me, might make the daft git think twice about wandering off to need rescuing again at least…

On apologies.

SOE has given players of Everquest II Extended a gift of Gold membership for a month as part of their apology for the fact that Van Hemlock, by taking out a Station Pass, cursed their MMO network into several weeks of hiatus. Don’t believe me? He checked out Champions Online for the first time recently too. I warned you all back in 2008, but did you listen?

Anyway, to an altoholic and hay fever sufferer such as myself, this is equivalent to someone coming round and apologising by injecting my tear ducts with pollen. What SOE actually did was open up all the classes I didn’t otherwise have access to, and thus hadn’t concerned myself with. Thanks to this, my altitus flared-up so much that it has swollen and bloated my character selection screen to the point that I can barely see the ‘play’ button any more, and I find my game time in danger of being suffocated by my chronically puffy indecision. More excellently, if I do find a class that I really like, it will be taken away in a month and I’ll have to decide whether I like it enough to actually purchase it, or stick with the original class that I was playing.

Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous amount of bag space to which I now have access. Vast savannahs of storage, where animals roam wild and free, and the remnants of lost civilisations, forgotten by time, wait in their vegetative tombs to be discovered again; bugger the dungeon running, I’ll just go for a wander through my inventory. I just need to be out by the end of the month before it disappears and I’m trapped in my own bag space like General Zod in the Phantom Zone portal.

Don’t get me wrong, none of this is a complaint or a rant but simply bemused observation, because I found the situation to be excellently strange, in a “I’m sorry I took your methadone away for a while, here’s some crack cocaine by way of apology” kind of way.