Monthly Archives: May 2011

Thought for the day.

I quite like MMOs of a more instanced design, such as Dungeons and Dragons Online, or Guild Wars; I like to be able to interact with other people in public areas, but when I’m off adventuring with a party I like the fact that I won’t have a bunch of loljumping twits training mobs onto our group as we try to fight a boss.

Taking the instanced design as read then, I thought it Quite Interesting to consider having two different game engines depending on the space the player was in. For the adventuring and dungeoneering side, a detailed graphics and game engine could be used that could only handle a party of six or so players due to technical limitations (something like Vindictus which uses the Source engine) allowing environment destruction and very detailed character models which would otherwise be challenging in a highly populated game space. On the public side, a different style of engine could be used, one able to handle hundreds of players in a communal area. Perhaps a different perspective could also be employed here – such as a JRPG/Diablo isometric-like third person – which would demarcate the two areas and avoid a continuity clash in the players’ perception of the world’s detail level. The isometric world would contain dynamic player housing, crafting games, player shops, and other such elements which are more easily employed in such an engine.

There would be plenty of hurdles, obviously: avoiding having to translate between the engines for items and gear would be one, but characters could have casual cosmetic outfits which they wear in public spaces that would differ from their adventuring outfits, for example.

With a strong demarcation it would then be possible to concentrate on the social side of MMOs in the populous isometric world, while allowing the more intense gamer side to be fully expressed in the traditional group-orientated third person instanced areas, but at the same time providing continuity between the two communities (crafters providing equipment for adventurers, for example) and thus hopefully encouraging interaction and migration between them.

It is only one’s thoughts that fill a room with something more than furniture.

Shortly before the supertanker SOE revealed that it had been torpedoed below the waterline and was leaking its lucrative cargo of detailed customer information into the Sea of Iniquity, I was enjoying a fresh start in EverQuest II Extended. The unfortunate but necessary blockade on all ships entering or leaving Sony waters meant that my journey was temporarily cut short, but this past weekend I, like many others, was once again able to sally forth into SOE’s various venues for those venatorious of virtual voxels.

Thus, Melboo the Shaman continued with her adventuring through Greater Faydark’s starter hub, the Nursery, and quickly moved on to the city of Kelethin and its surrounding area. One interesting thing that struck me so far is in the nature of quest rewards. As the owner of a free-to-play account with no credit to its name, initial bag space is at a premium, and so I’ve become a little bemused that every quest which rewards an item seems to come with an added bonus.

“Thank you sir, so much, for rescuing my girdle from that vicious planetarium.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome, I’ve got nothing better to do, really”.
“Here is the piece of armour that I promised you, and if sir would be so kind as to accept a further little token of my appreciation.”
“What’s that?”
“What does sir think it might be?”
“I know what it is. What I’m implying is, why are you giving it to me?”
“Sir does not like his reward? I can assure you it is of not inconsiderable value”
“But it’s a…”
“It’s a…”
“It’s a fucking bed!”
“It could be a sleeping bed, a book-reading bed, or a breakfast-on-a-tray bed. What sir chooses to do in sir’s own bed is entirely up to sir, and frankly no concern of mine”
“Well, what’s of concern to me, you great twit, is where in the Seven Hells of Luclin you think I’m going to put it? I’m an adventurer! Mad Ethel over there wants me to go and fight my way through an encampment of orcs and kill their leader because she’s convinced they stole her false teeth. How the hell am I going to do that with a four-poster strapped to my back? Even if I took the mattress off! And the… are those curtains?”
“Naturally sir, I don’t just hand out any old boudoir berth as a reward.”
“Even if I took all of that off, it’s a solid pine four-poster that I’d have to…”
“Sir! I am offended…”
“You may well be, but I’m the one who’s got to strap it…”
“It’s solid oak”
“It is not pine, sir. It is oak; sturdy, weighty, solid, back-crippling, oak. Not pine, sir. I would only offer a pine bed as a punishment, and I won’t have it said otherwise.”
“Look I… just… can… what?! FINE! I’ll take it.”
“Very good sir. And could I interest sir in the partaking of an additional errand for me? There is a very nice set of matching bedside cabinets as a reward…”

Honestly, it’s like adventuring, as sponsored by Ikea.

One chap gave me a rug in addition to a piece of armour. Wha… why? Is it a magical rug? Does it fly? Do nubile virgins fall by the orgy-load from its confines when I unroll it? No? THEN WHY THE BLAZES WOULD I WANT TO STRAP IT TO MY BACK IN THE MIDDLE OF A QUEST LINE?! I mean, admittedly, sitting around the campfire of an evening has never been so luxurious, and if you don’t want to sit on the rug by the fire, then there’s the gorram four-poster bed replete with bedside cabinets next to that tree over there. Knock yourself out; the bidet is just around the corner next to the SODDING HEATED TOWEL RAIL.

It’s like every resident in Norrath is on permanent house sale, desperately trying to flog old furnishings to any old wanderer fool enough to accept them. Roads are full of adventurers hunched over with a comical tower of furniture strapped on their backs, up-ended tables tied to chairs, with wardrobes and grandfather clocks teetering where they balance on top. When the poor weary adventurer pauses to sit by the side of the road to rest, an NPC dashes up and whips a futon down underneath them, and then scarpers before the adventurer can protest that they don’t need any more furniture.

I mean, thankfully I managed to find space on my character to carry all this stuff. Yes, it turns out that throwing away one orc ear made enough room to store an entire four-poster bed. So either it’s a tiny bed, which is unlikely seeing as it can be placed and used in your house of residence WHICH I DON’T HAVE AT LEVEL SIX, or those orcs have bloody big ears; and you’re going to want to whisper that rumour, because with ears that big, those fellows are going to be able to hear you from half a continent away. And eyes too! I can throw away one wolf eye and suddenly have enough room to store a large nineteenth century French oak armoire with eight small men still inside!

“My, Mr Wolf, what big eyes you have!”
“All the better to fill up an amount of inventory space equivalent to a large antique wardrobe with!”
“Hang on, isn’t this supposed to be an allegory of lost innocence, cannibalism and the more primal side of human-animal relations?”
“Oh was it? Was it? It was! You’re right, terribly sorry, I thought it was the one that warned about the dangers of messing with dimensional homogeneity.”
“Uh no. Duh.”
“Oh very well. So, where were we? Oh yes, ‘eyes’. Right, now, be a dear and take your clothes off, throw them in the fire, and then climb into bed with me would you?”
“Now you’re talking!”

Good grief, where was I? You see what happens when you mess with dimensional homogeneity, developers? Chaos!

So I’ve deleted most of the housing items I’ve been reward with thus far and, not having a house, it hasn’t really affected me greatly, except for the fact that I can pack in a few more orc ears and wolf eyes before I have to return to one of those poor gullible NPCs who likes to buy all this crap “Arleene! Come lookee ‘ere, I bin dun gone bought me some o’ them new-fangled orkee earholes!” I’m sure I’ll eventually get around to purchasing a property, at which point I’ll rue the fact that I no longer have that adorable antique regency flamed mahogany writing desk which would go perfectly underneath the window, but for the time being, with the limited bag space of a free-to-play account, I think I’m probably best not having my backpack resemble an outlet of Furniture Village.

The Infiltration of the Podcasts

Through a series of hilarious misunderstandings, I somehow ended up as a guest on this week’s Van Hemlock News Podcast (while a renowned games journalist found himself leading a group of mercenaries staging a coup d’état in a Central African state, but that’s another story). There’s gripping live Sony reportage, analysis of the massive drop in World of Warcraft subscribers and a third section that I won’t spoil by revealing the content. There is definitely no suggestion that Blizzard may have been responsible for any attack on Sony that might have affected SOE games as a desperate response to a fall in WoW subscribers, certainly not, there’s no evidence whatsoever for any such allegation.

If you don’t subscribe to the Van Hemlock podcast you really ought to, it’s quite splendid.

Let us not go hurrying about and collecting honey, bee-like buzzing here and there for a knowledge of what is not to be arrived at.

I was reading a post by Jeff Green on his blog, and the first few lines gave me cause to ponder:

Like many nerds, I have a bit of a collecting problem. As in: I like to collect things. (Game Freak gets a Genius of the Millennium award for recognizing this problem in us and creating Pokemon, by the way.)

Is this what we do in MMOs? Is ‘collecting’ the theme that developers should be focussing on if they want to get players invested and hooked on their game?

I’m certainly a collector, my book shelves packed with pen and paper RPGs, some of which I’ve played and some which I’ve picked up simply because I liked the publisher. Others books on those shelves I bought simply because they had curious mechanics or design elements and – like some sort of gaming horologist hunched over a desk and peering through a loupe – I wanted to carefully pick them apart and lay each piece out on a velvet cloth; observe how one part integrated with another, how all the parts made the whole; then I’d experiment to see whether I could replace certain parts and make the whole more efficient.

Somehow I avoided becoming hooked on Pokémon; perhaps I have a super powered resistance to it: faster than a speeding two year old child, can leap tall coffee mugs in a single bound, impervious to Pokémon addiction, yes it’s Supernerd! If so, then Magic: The Gathering was my kryptonite. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my loft is an old wooden chest, covered in cobwebs, bound in chains and padlocks, with ominous warnings scrawled across its surface in the spidery handwriting of one on the verge of insanity. Sometimes, at night, you can hear the chest thumping around up there, the devilishness contained therein trying to break its bondage and wreak havoc on some meagre mortal soul. I’m cured of my madness now having gone cold turkey, locked in a room by myself for a week I rolled feverishly around on sweat soaked sheets while hallucinations tormented me, the room spinning nauseatingly around the bed as my wardrobes tapped themselves onto their sides. The walls parted and I became lost in a forest, suffocated in a swamp, deserted on an island; I walked across barren plains as towering pyramids of cards arose to terrifying heights from the sand around me. The top of each pyramid was capped by a pair of cards that I didn’t yet possess, and I would scramble, slip and scuttle my way up the side, desperately clawing with outstretched arm, trying to reach those rare cards at the pyramid’s peak, but always sliding back down as the tower collapsed and buried me under the weight of common cards that formed its base. Even when the delirium had passed and I was able to return to society, for some time afterwards a business colleague could not offer their card without my sudden evacuation of the meeting room with screams of “DO NOT TEMPT ME, FIEND!”.

I look at MMOs and wonder how deeply the nerdly pursuit of collection is rooted there, even if not by design. It’s easy for certain elements of MMO society to single out and mock those who collect mini pets, cosmetic outfits, or indeed entire stables of alternative characters, but I wonder if the collective merely rails against its distorted reflection, like a cat hissing and threatening the larger strangely warped cat reflected in the surface of a body of water, which it does not recognise as being itself.

Some collect purple pixels, and others collect boss kills as trophies; some collect achievements, others collect gold; some collect multiple characters, others collect everything they can but on a single character only; and yes, some collect pets, and others outfits. It seems as though, at a primal level, we’re all collecting. Games such as Pokémon and Magic have managed to drill deep and tap directly into that well of fossilised gatherer instinct which is genetically ingrained in all of us, and MMOs are clearly starting to understand how rich that frothing geyser of addictive power can be.

I have another chest waiting in the loft, lid open and chains hanging loosely around its base, and when the first MMO arrives that targets collecting as a part of its central game mechanic, I will slam my PC into that wooden coffer, seal it with links of iron, and never venture into the digital domain again, lest I find myself forever lost to the depths of maddening soul-rending addiction that such a game would elicit.

Where do consequences lead? Depends on the escort.

There was I in LotRO, hero of the North Downs, Orc Hewer, Known to the Men (and women; thanks Stan) of Bree, Hunter of Dark Beasts, Protector of the Free People, Foe of Night, Ally of Rivendell, Troll Slayer, and all manner of other titles. So many titles. They’re a bit like war medals I suppose, you point to one and proudly state ‘I got this for defeating undead in Haudh Iarchith, you know’ and the random stranger at which you’ve shouted, nods with a strained smile and slowly backs away. They’re generally congratulatory badges for being on the winning side of one particular genocide or another.

“Mr Warden, you have killed one MILLION orcs. Well done you. We hereby bestow on you a new title! You may now be known as Mr Warden, He Really Doesn’t Like Them Orcs Much Does He?”
“Uh, thanks.”
“Well, it’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it? Couldn’t I be called Orcslayer? Or Greenbane, or something?”
“You don’t like your new title?”
“Well, it’s just that…”
“No, no. That’s fine.”
“I mean, I…
“No, really. It’s fine. We’ll come up with a different title for you, seeing as this one clearly isn’t good enough for someone as special as you.”
“Oh really, I was just trying to…”
“Never mind, I can see you have your arms crossed now.”

[Later, back at an orc camp]

“Mother, when is father coming home?”
“I’m sorry Anthony, father won’t be coming back.”
“You mean…?!”
“Yes dearest, I’m afraid he was killed recently by that greatest foe of our people, slaughterer of a million orcs, the one the humans call ‘Whinypants’.”
“I will avenge my father!”
“Of course you will dear.”
“You really think so? I thought you’d be all ‘Oh no, don’t leave me, Anthony! I can’t bear to lose you too!”
“Well, you’re a young only child whose father has been killed be a notorious genocidal maniac. Clearly you’re a hero in the making. Just bring me back something nice when you’ve finished laying waste to your foes, okay dear?”

[Later, at the home of a strange wizened old orc]

“Very well young one, I will train you.”
[Fist-pumps the air] “Yesss!”
“Let us begin. First, I need you to paint this fence.”
“What?! Paint a fence? What sort of… ohhh! Ah. Ah ha ha, wait, I see! This is like some sort of mysterious training ritual right? Where I paint a fence and do a bunch of other menial chores and I’m all like ‘WTF gramps?’ but it turns out to have been secretly teaching me the ancient fighting art all along, which I then use to destroy my sworn enemies! Right?’
“Don’t be daft, I’m just an old orc and I want you to paint my fence.”
“And when you’re done there, wax my horse will you?”
“Well what do I get out of it?!”
“A thick ear if you don’t get on with it. Oh very well, I’ll give you a gold piece. IF you do a good job; that means I want to be able to see my face in the horse’s arse.”
“If you want to see into a horse’s arse just look in the mirror.”
“What was that?!”

Actually, that’s probably more of an accurate analogy for titles isn’t it? It’s a bit like bob-a-job week for Scouts, where you do a bunch of random menial tasks for complete strangers for money. In the rest of the world it’s called slavery, but in the UK Scout Association it was called Character Building[TM]. Of course the reality of it was that once a year you’d have a bunch of kids knocking on doors, risking abduction, only to be a) Told to bugger off, b) Given a pound coin in order to get them to bugger off, or c) Worked harder than a lone prostitute on a prison ship, given a pound coin, and then told to bugger off. Which is why you always find those grizzled eight year olds sitting around camp fires at jamborees, pointing to badges on their jumpers and saying ‘Got this one back in ’97 after washing the corns of a hundred and fifty old ladies at the local nursing home’ while wide-eyed newcomers stare with awe and admiration, and other veterans whistle through their teeth, or sit quietly hugging themselves with tears gently welling along the bottoms of their eyes.

So, being the Bob-a-job King of Middle Earth, it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise that when I rolled-up to the dwarf encampment in Moria the first job I was given was to escort an old lady across a road. Or an old dwarf through a treacherous mine full of danger and death, same difference. Oh how I’ve loved escort quests in MMOs in the past (and I use ‘love’ in its sarcastic pejorative participle), and escort quests in LotRO are no exception. We all know how escort quests work: you speak to an NPC and then they run off and try their damnedest to get themselves killed while you try to keep them alive, with the judges awarding bonus points if the NPC manages to take you down with them. The dwarves of Moria seem particularly keen on this sport, and despite being doughty warriors and fearless explorers, they always seem to be getting themselves into situations that require you to escort them to safety. Personally I think they’re faking it; I think it’s a game they play amongst themselves because they’re bored, and if you check closely you’ll see they have Scout badges displaying columns of crossed-through lines for the number of heroes they’ve killed this way.

“Oooo. Ooooooooo. Help me Adventurer! I’ve… uh… I’ve sprained my beard and can’t get away from this…. [looks around] large… [looks around some more] small… mushroom, here. Ooooo, I think you’ll have to escort me out of here [sneaks a glance sideways at the adventurer]. I’m sure there will be a reward for safely returning me to my kin.”
“Can’t you just make your way past the… uh…”
“… past the mushroom yourself?”
“I’m afraid I’ve sprained my beard quite badly, I really can’t move without aid. I can barely muster the energy to speak [fake cough] I’m so… w-weak. [sobs unconvincingly]”
“[mumbles] Fine.”
“Okay! Okay. I’ll do it, alright? I’ll escort yo…”
“HUZZAH! I’M GONNA KILL ME SOME HERO… UH GOBLINS. CHARGE! I’M AN UNSTOPPABLE AGGRO MACHIIIIIiiiinnnnnneee [runs off into the distance at breakneck speed] COME ON WHINYPANTS!”
“[sigh] I’d better get a new title for this.”

I mean, these dwarves attack everything, including the stuff that’s just standing around minding its own business. Poor innocent gredbyg, eating rock, oblivious and uncaring about the world around it, and suddenly BA-CRUNCH! and there’s this crazy dwarf taking a few wild swings at it with his axe before running off to do the same to its mates. For the player it’s like being the designated driver on a pub crawl which includes amongst its members ‘permanently embittered Frank’, who always manages to get his pint spilt and then demands righteous vindication because fifteen pence worth of beer has slopped from his glass onto the floor. So you’re dragging Frank from the bar shouting “Leave ‘im Frank, ‘e’s not wurf it!” while Frank flails about trying to break your grip, and subsequently manages to spill the pints of several other ‘permanently embittered Franks’ from different pub crawl groups, who all start lashing out at random as well. It’s like popping a balloon next to a box full of nervous feral cats.

What’s worse is that, as a Warden, I’d easily grab aggro from the crazy dwarf and keep myself self-healed, so he’d get bored at this and bugger off up the road to see if he could find a troll and spill its pint. And as we carried on in this fashion, I began to worry that he was going to chain-aggro his way right back to Thorin’s Hall, only stopping when he mistakenly thocked Dwalin on the nose. It got to the point where he was attacking stuff that didn’t even have a pulse, as long as it represented some way of getting me killed he was determined to fight it, or die trying, hopefully taking me with him. “An unstable rock fall?! Attaaaack!”, which was when I ended up trying to force him not to attack “No, you don’t need to attack the cave lichen. Jus… just… no… just… look… stop it… stop… it… STOP!”, and that was when I slipped and accidentally stabbed him through the neck.

Thankfully there were no witnesses because we’d killed everything in a seven hundred mile radius, so I gradually back-heeled his corpse under a nearby outcrop of rock while whistling innocently, tip-toeing and craning my neck to look up and down the path every now and again to make sure no one was coming.

I slowly made my way back to the dwarf camp, having to take a few detours to avoid several desperate dwarves who pleaded to be taken to safety after becoming stranded with devastating fractured toenails, crippling severed eyebrow tendons, or catastrophic girdle failures. When I arrived I put on my best ‘I’m so sorry, he didn’t make it’ face, but imagine my surprise when I entered the office to find myself staring at none other than the King of the Aggronauts himself, with a bandage around his neck and a look that could fry bacon at fifty paces. I exclaimed how glad I was to see that he had made it back safely, and asked whether I could have my reward now. However, I got the distinct impression that the mood had turned sour, so decided to quickly vacate the room full of angry dwarves that like nothing better than to incessantly pick fights with anything that can be vaguely considered to be a carbon-based life form.

I never did get paid, but I did get a new title. You can call me Mr Warden, Hated By Escort NPCs. Best title ever.

Starting out in World of Tanks, Part III

If you’ve followed Part I and Part II, you should by now have a couple of heavily customised tanks with improved suspension, better engine, bigger gun, alloy wheels, under-tank LED lighting and massive woofers to pump out phat bass from banging choons rewind boom innit. I’ve no idea what half of those words mean, but our marketing department have demanded we increase our appeal to the urban demographic so I’ve been listening to Tim Westwood a lot.

Are you experienced?

As you’ve probably noticed, the experience you earn goes into two buckets: most of it is specific to the tank in which you earned the XP, but 5% goes into a “Free Experience” pot you can spend on any tank. It’s worth saving up the free experience for later tiers, when it can take a lot of XP to make early upgrades that can really help a tank’s performance. When you’ve researched all the possible upgrades of a tank it achieves “Elite Status”. This gives you two possibilities for the experience you earn in future battles: either it stays in the XP bucket for the specific tank, which can later be converted into free experience by spending gold, or if you tick the “Accelerate crew training” box you don’t earn tank experience but the crew train faster (the training figure is the percentage next to each crew member; training improves performance so a highly trained loader loads the gun faster etc.) If you’re definitely not going to spend any cash on in-game gold, or you’re planning on sticking with a tank for a while, you might as well train the crew.

Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold

Talking of gold, World of Tanks has a dual currency system: gold that you buy with real cash, and credits that you earn in game. The good news, if you don’t want to spend any real money, is that there isn’t much that can only be purchased with gold. There are some premium gold-only tanks (the Germans get captured French tanks, the Russians have British lend-lease vehicles), but they’re not uber-tanks that destroy everything in their tier, they range from “not too bad, I guess” to “pretty decent”. There is also premium ammunition, generally slightly more exotic variants that do the same damage as regular armour-piercing but with greater armour penetration. Unless you’re fabulously wealthy I wouldn’t worry too much about these as (personally, at least) I find it hard to get past the idea that you’re firing actual money. “Enemy tank in view, line up for a shot, and… hang on, this shell cost 3p, what if I miss? That would be money down the drain… And it’s only a light tank, I don’t really need the additional penetration of this premium ammo, I’ll just load a normal shell… oh, I got shot.” There are also some premium consumables that improve your performance for a single battle, but again it’s going to get pretty expensive if you’re playing a lot and using them all the time. If someone desperately wants an edge in a fight then yes, they can chuck money at the game, but it’s not an overwhelming advantage; teamwork and player skill more than trump premium ammunition and consumables.

On the subject of teamwork, if you want to group up with friends in game at least one of you will need to upgrade to a Premium Account to create a platoon (a World of Tanks team). You can buy a Premium Account for gold for 1, 3, 7 or 30 days at a time; as well as the ability to form teams you get a 50% bonus to both experience and credits after each match, so it’s quite worthwhile if you’re playing a lot.

Other than that, gold is mostly a trade-off of money for time. Crews can instantly be trained up to 100% with gold (or to 75% with credits), or gold can be converted directly into credits as a quicker way of earning enough to purchase upgrades, equipment or tanks.

Anyway, back to the tank upgrades. Looking back to the Russian MS-1 tree, having researched various track, engine, turret and gun upgrades you have three potential avenues for advancement into Tier 2: artillery (the SU-18 self-propelled gun), tank destroyers (the AT-1) and light tanks (the BT-2 and T-26), which in later tiers lead to medium or heavy tanks. To see longer-term upgrade paths click the “Tech Tree” button. If you follow the BT-2 line down it unlocks the BT-7, then A-20, then the T-34 medium tank; the T-26 unlocks the T-46, T-28 then the KV heavy tank. Which to try first?

To thine own self-propelled gun be true

Artillery is one of the biggest differences between Tier 1 and the higher tiers. A self-propelled gun (SPG) has a large calibre long range gun (or howitzer, or gun-howitzer, depending on your preferred terminology) that can fire indirectly, and not very much armour. Think of it as the proverbial “glass cannon”, only made out of steel instead of glass, and a gun-howitzer rather than a cannon. The range, damage and indirect fire of artillery can come as a very nasty shock when you move from Tier 1 to Tier 2; you can be sitting in your nice little ambush spot, confident you’re safe, when there’s a whistling sound and a shell arcs its way over a nearby hill to destroy your tank with one shot. Clearly a ludicrously overpowered unit that can one-hit you when you can’t even see it, right? Well, sometimes…

As artillery, you can have a different view of the map; press shift and you move out of third-person to an overhead view, able to range over the entire battlefield. You can also ctrl-right click on the map to instantly switch your view. A green line extends from your tank to this point if you can shoot there, the line turns red if it hits an obstacle you can’t fire over. As with other tanks you get the green circle representing the possible area your shot will fall that gradually, slowly, shrinks as you hold your target steady, and rapidly expands as you move it.

When facing artillery, just to prove the old proverb wrong you have two choices: you can run, or you *can* hide. Running is pretty straightforward, it’s very difficult to hit a moving target with artillery, so keep on the move and you’re usually safe (until someone knocks your track off). Hiding is just a case of finding a tall enough obstacle (generally a house, large wall or mountain) to block the arc of an incoming shell, though always bear in mind (both as artillery and when trying to hide from it) that some scenery can be destroyed.

I can’t comment authoritatively on artillery as I haven’t played SPGs very much. They’re a very team-dependant unit; if you’re protected and have some decent scouting, you can be devastating. If the enemy don’t stay still long enough to conveniently be shot, and the rest of your team sod off while you’re busy looking on the map for targets, you’re vulnerable to just about anything else especially fast light tanks that can literally drive circles around you as you try and get a shot at them. It’s certainly worth trying out as it’s quite a different playing style to other tanks, but I’d get a bit more experience with other vehicles before giving it a go.

[A couple more splendid SPG tips from Papa Smurf in the comments:
– When using artillery/SPGs in the overhead view, where the targeting line turns from green to grey is the limit of your range
– When any tank fires it shows a tracer shot briefly, so after playing with arty for a while you’ll get an idea of the best places for arty to hide on a given map, if you watch those areas you can (if lucky) see the tracer from a specific bush (for example) revealing where the enemy arty is, simply target the bush and BOOM! blind kill ]

George Thorogood and the Tank Destroyers

Tank destroyers (at least the German and Russian models in the game at the moment) sacrifice the flexibility of a turret in order to mount a larger gun, fixed to fire forwards. Protection varies, early TDs are painfully vulnerable but later models get better armour, especially on the front.

“He waits, that’s what he does” could be the motto of the tank destroyer, if Guinness hadn’t used it for surfers; you want to get in a good position with a TD (helped by the fact that their low profile makes them especially difficult to spot in cover, so stay behind bushes) and wait for the enemy to come to you if at all possible. If there’s artillery on the map remember to “shoot and scoot”, take a shot (or two, if you have a fairly quick reload), then move off to another firing position before the artillery can zero in on you. Try and be aware of where friendly artillery is as well, it’s often a prime target for opposition raids, potentially giving you a good ambush opportunity.

Tank destroyers are a good choice if you’re calculating and patient. If you can’t last a minute in a MMOG without jumping a lot and shouting “GOGOGOGOGO”, you should probably look at something else…

The unbearable light tankness of being

For your very first vehicle upgrade I’d suggest buying one of the Tier 2 light tanks. One of their biggest advantages is that you’ve got a good chance of being placed into a battle with only Tier 1 and Tier 2 light tanks; over on Overlord’s blog there’s a match-making chart if you’re interested in the technicalities, essentially as a Tier 2 light tank you’ll be up against Tier 3 tanks at worst, whereas tank destroyers and SPGs get chucked into a wider variety of matches with higher tiers always involved.

If you end up in a Tier 1/2 fight everything’s peachy. Just do the same stuff you did in your Tier 1 tank, but with the advantage of at least one of a bigger gun, better armour or superior performance (or all three, after sufficient upgrades). Once you get into battles with different types of opponent (you can tell from the team list at the beginning of the round even if you haven’t memorised every armoured fighting vehicle from 1932-1945; tank destroyers have a darker gray icon, self-propelled guns have a red icon) you need to be a bit more careful, especially of artillery – don’t stick around for too long if you get spotted or you might get nuked from orbit. Or shelled by artillery, at least, they haven’t implemented tactical nuclear weapons in World of Tanks. Yet. I reckon that’d have to be premium ammunition.

Light tanks can have a tough time in later tiers as medium and heavy opposition start appearing; there’s no point taking on much tougher opponents head-to-head, but you can still play a vital role by scouting. Depending on the map, your tank, and personal preference, there are two main avenues: stealth and speed. Stealth is a case of getting into a decent hiding place in advance of your lines, and waiting for the enemy to come into your field of view. If you have a spare 100,000 credits you can improve your survival chances by buying a camouflage net, but it’s pretty unlikely you’ll have that sort of spare cash unless you buy some gold and convert it (in which case: equipment is the three slots between the tank components and ammunition in the garage). Don’t worry about shooting, unless you’re pretty confident of actually doing some damage, as you’ll give your position away; your main role is to let your teams big guns hit ’em from the other side of the map. If you do get spotted you can try and get out of range then work into another spotting position, though the main giveaway that you have been spotted tends to be when your tank is obliterated, which makes repositioning a bit tricky.

Speed is my preferred scouting technique, especially as a quick tank like the BT-7 with a fully upgraded engine. Heading straight down the middle of the map is one option, and you’ll probably discover the enemy team before very long, but your life expectancy will be somewhat shorter than that of a spoonful of custard in a cage of rabid hamsters. Who really like custard. Better choices are usually the extreme left or right flanks of the map, though of course sometimes the other team think the same way and half their team goes each way, in which case a sprint down the middle can catch them by surprise. Either way, with a combination of judgement, skill and a dollop of luck you might make it to the far side of the map, at which point you can curve around and start hunting for tucked away artillery or tank destroyers. If you find one and can get behind them you should be able to get a few shots in as they frantically try and turn around, though if there are several units and some of them are pointing guns your way keep moving as fast as possible with a bit of zig-zagging to try and throw their aim off and fire off a few random shots off as you go. If fate is smiling, you might even make it past everyone into some cover while their turrets are still traversing, although I wouldn’t bank on it.

Stuck in the middle with an M2

The name “Medium Tank” was ingeniously adopted after the original designation, “Lighter Than A Heavy Tank But Heavier Than A Light Tank Tank”, proved slightly unwieldy. In earlier tiers, medium tanks tend to be stepping-stones on the way to heavy tanks; in the latter tiers they replace light tanks, retaining reasonable mobility but with a gun that can actually damage targets. With their flexibility their role generally depends on team composition, a lower tier medium tank on a team packed with heavies and artillery would be most useful as a scout, a higher tier medium with more light tanks on the team can spearhead an attack.

He ain’t heavy, he’s a KV-1

Heavy tanks are tanks that are heavy. Heavy armour, heavy guns, heavy metal, they’re, like, a heavy scene, man. They’re big buggers, and unless you’re in a heavier tank you really don’t want to get in a one-on-one scrap with them. Thanks to the vagaries of the matchmaking system you can be up against Tier 5 heavy tanks when you’re in a Tier 3 light tank with its starter gun, which is about as effective as a water pistol. Actually probably slightly less so, with a water pistol you might cause some nasty rusting after long enough… Heavy tanks are fearsome foes as you scrap through the tiers until you finally earn one yourself, at which point you cackle maniacally at the thought of crushing lesser tanks under your mighty tracks, and the first battle you get stuck in is against even heavier Tier 7 opponents who can still one-shot you from across the map. Eventually, though, you find yourself in a fight against opponents of your tier and lower, mostly light and medium tanks, so you dust off the maniacal cackle again, set off to capture the enemy base single-handed, and find it takes you a week to make it halfway across the map and you’re not so invulnerable after all when three or four tanks are all shooting you, knocking out bits of equipment, then breaking a track leaving you a sitting duck for artillery. Heavy tanks can be great, but they’re not the solo battle winners they can seem when you’re on the wrong end of them.

The weakness of heavies tends to be their speed, which with the starter engine is often “arthritic snail”, but can be increased to the heady levels of “sloth (with a limp)” after upgrading a couple of times, you might want to concentrate on light and medium tanks if whizzing across the map is important to you.

So that’s a whistle-stop run through World of Tanks, for the first few tiers at least. Give it a shot! Try not to get too hung up about moving through the tiers, though; as an MMO player it’s easy to focus on “levelling up” but really, World of Tanks is the battles. It can be frustrating being thrown in to fights against considerably tougher opposition (especially when the match-making seems to to have a personal vendetta against you and does it several times in a row), but getting a better tank yourself makes you eligible for battles with even stronger opponents, so if you find a vehicle you really like it can be better to focus on fully upgrading it, training the crew and adding equipment.

Anyway, it’s free, and the SOE games still aren’t available…

(Observation correct at the time of writing; the status of SOE servers can be up as well as down)

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Host: This week, news that the United States Navy needs YOU (yes, YOU, reading this now, with the… no, not you, the other one… yes, YOU!) to help develop anti-piracy strategy, tactics and contrived acronyms through their Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI)

Zoso: The Navy are having some trouble adapting the most effective tactics used by players due to difficulty in creating real-life aimbots and wall hacks

Melmoth: After extensive crowd-sourcing feedback, the US government officially announced today that it wasn’t going to bother fighting Somali pirates at all as it was a bit too much like hard work, and instead the navy would focus on performing daily tasks for fisherman along the US coastline

Zoso: Unfortunately soon after going live, players realised that the optimal way to win was to play as the pirates and within three months actual attacks on shipping off the Somali coast had increased by 167%

Melmoth: US Navy personnel were reported to be disappointed that in reality they weren’t required to fight wave after wave of small weak Somali pirates before facing off against Umzongro, King of Pirates.

Zoso: Suspicions that MMOWGLI was hastily adapted from Pirates of the Caribbean Online were aroused when pirate forces in the game turned out not to be former fishermen with assorted small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, but invulnerable rum-swilling Keith Richards impersonators.

Melmoth: Navy personnel trained using MMOWGLI were surprised to find that Somali pirates didn’t really just float around statically at random locations on the ocean, and military operations were repeatedly frustrated when they were unable to pull one pirate ship at a time from a fleet by using carefully hurled insults from range.

Zoso: Existing MMO players took some time to adapt to the new environment, with 67 characters lost in the first run of the simulation when they tried to mine for crafting minerals in the hold of their ship

Melmoth: The first alpha of MMOWGLI based on the EVE engine was quickly abandoned after an enterprising Ensign snuck into the main naval operating base in Bahrain and disbanded the entire United States Fifth Fleet.

Zoso: Theorycrafters soon determined the optimal group composition and refused to sail with anything less, but were disappointed when the Navy rejected their insistence that the only possible viable anti-pirate unit was three Nimitz-class carriers strapped together as a trimaran with the steam catapults adapted to fire frigates and destroyers at enemy vessels.

Melmoth: Based on real-world feedback from Navy operations, the latest 2.31 patch notes for MMOWGLI indicate that Somali pirate ships will now drop more guns and modern electronics and fewer magical swords and wolf paws.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Notes from a small nigh land.

“Our lead story tonight: a serial killer remains at large in Stranglethorn Vale after evading capture by the authorities for a fourth night. Later in the show we speak to his victims, including one man who has been killed seventeen times by the person that people are starting to call the Booty Bay Botherer.”

“Daaaad, can we go and play outside?”
“Have you finished your chores?”
“I can only see seven rats here”
“Awwww, but Daaaaaaaad…”
“You know the rules; three more rats and then you can go out and play”

“And in the results for the 100m sprint… everyone came first! As usual.”

“I may be eighty six years old young man, but you boys wanted us all in chainmail bikinis, so here it is. How d’you like granny’s money makers now sonny, eh?”

“Well, with the downturn in the economy, Tony, expect to see commuters moving away from their big grass guzzling mounts towards more cost effective forms of transport.”

“Once ripe, the crop is gathered in the traditional fashion; seasonal workers are brought in to strip the Myne plant of its precious fruit. From the great silos the glittering harvest is refined and pasteurised before being formed into coins and sent to market to be sold. There’s no time to rest, however, and as soon as the produce has been shipped the farmer begins tilling the fields, making them ready for next season’s gold.”

“On tonight’s Ranopama: Does mortality exist? In this enlightening documentary, we speak to several leading Gods about the possibility that there is death after life.”

“Well of course nobody thinks I do anything with their used armour once they’ve sold it to me, but in fact I’ve got a vending machine around the back which is stocked with never-washed hero outfits; I’ve found it to be a very popular fetish with foreign businessmen.”

“Finished, mamma!”
“Eat up all your greens please, they’ll make you big and strong.”
“Awww, but I wanna be agile and lithe!”
“Oh, then you need to eat curried lamb kebabs.”

“And how did the trousers fit, sir?”
“They’re pretty good, but do you do them in epic?”

“As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, I am entirely naked save for this meagre loincloth. And now, before your very eyes, I shall magic objects out of thin air!”
“‘e’s just got ’em stored in ‘is inventory!”
“Yeah! Show us yer inventory is empty!”
“Anyways, why don’t ‘e just use real magic?”

“The end is nigh! The end is nigh!”
“Pffff, tourist.”

Humour brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.

“When I waste my time digging past the fresh coat of erudite language, much of the content is a regurgitation of the same tired discussion from ages past. […] Once you strip away the laborious language, you have yet another bit of fluffy gamer opinion written by a young student.”

I wanted to write a blunt critique of this post by a developer ‘regurgitating the same tired discussion from ages past’ about whether games criticism can be written in any meaningful way by non-developers, but my KiaSA patented irony-o-meter catastrophically overloaded from an infinite recursion loop in its circuits and instead I’ll have to spend my time scraping the remains of the cat from the ceiling.

Still, the author goes on to explain in the post’s comments:

“It was not my intent to say [because you’ve never made a game, shut your mouth] that seems to be a common interpretation.”

Now, a cynical person might suggest that people who aren’t professional writers shouldn’t produce written criticisms until they’ve spent some time understanding the intricacies of concisely expressin… oh great, there goes the back-up irony-o-meter.

Starting out in World of Tanks, Part II

Back in Part I, we covered the fundamentals of tank combat: colliding with people on your own team, pointing a gun vaguely in the direction of the enemy and exploding. This should get you through your first few matches, and if you’re really lucky you might even hit a couple of enemy tanks or survive a battle. This will earn the respect of your peers, and more importantly Experience and Credits.

The main source of Experience is causing damage to enemy tanks; there’s a bonus for actually getting the kill, but don’t worry if you do 99% of the damage to an opponent and someone else comes along and flicks them with a wet towel for the final 1%, you’ll still get most of the credit. You also get experience for spotting an enemy tank before anyone else to reward scouting, and for helping to capture the enemy base if your team win that way instead of total annihilation. And what does Experience make? Prizes! Or upgrades, at least.

To spend that hard-won Experience, click the “Research” button in the top right corner of the screen. Just researching something doesn’t automatically upgrade the tank, though; after you research a new upgrade you need to click the appropriate gun/turret/engine/track/radio icon underneath the tank in the garage, and purchase the new item for Credits (if you’ve earned enough). As an example of the sort of shiny things you can upgrade your tank with, lets have a look at upgrades for the the Russian Tier 1 tank, the MS-1:

Upgrade tree for the MS1

Tracks of my Tiers

Starting on the left, we have the T-18 tracks/suspension. Tracks are pretty boring. They might let you turn a bit quicker, but otherwise, y’know, they’re tracks. Unfortunately the tracks govern the load capacity of your tank; I can’t remember if it’s an issue in Tier 1, but in subsequent tiers you can slog away for battle after battle, finally earn enough experience for a massive cannon with which to pummel your foes (if you know what I mean), then you try and fit it to your tank and it tells you you don’t have sufficient load capacity and you have to grind away for better tracks. Very annoying, so tracks are often a good place to start with the upgrades.

Get Your Motor Running

Next, engines, the GAZ-M1 and AMO-3. Better engines have more horsepower, so if you feel the need, the need for speed, you should probably play Shift 2: Unleashed or something. Upgraded engines are always handy, though, if for nothing else than colliding with the rest of your team more quickly at the start of a round. If there are two upgrades for a component like this, if it doesn’t take too much Experience to research them both you might as well wait until the second is unlocked and purchase the better item for your tank, rather than spending Credits on the first upgrade then spending more on the second.

Radio GaGa

There’s a radio upgrade, the 71-TK-1, and as you can see from the starting equipment at the top of the screen this replaces “Signal Flags”. Yes, when radios were rare and exotic technology, flags were the only mechanism for communicating between vehicles. Unfortunately World of Tanks isn’t a finely detailed highly accurate simulation, so before you upgrade to a radio you still have instant communication with the rest of your team instead of having to wave your arms around in front of a webcam to pass messages. Radios are important for scouting, as you need to be within radio range of team-mates to see them on the mini-map, and more importantly to see the enemy tanks they spot (and relay the position of tanks you spot to them).

Guns & Ammo

Then there’s the good stuff, guns, and you’ve got two initial options: the 37mm B-3 or the 20mm TNSh. Bigger is normally better but size isn’t everything, a high rate of fire can have you banging away while the other guy is still struggling to get a shell in the breach, and muzzle velocity is absolutely vital for penetration.

(This completely serious discussion of tank armament is sponsored by Double Entendre Monthly – satisfaction guaranteed when it comes through your letterbox)

The 37mm gun does more damage and can penetrate more armour, but the 20mm has a very high rate of fire. The 20mm fires in bursts of three shots, something quite common in the small calibre guns in the early tiers but much more unusual after that; if you equip one of these the barrel climbs with each shot, so when you shoot you’ll ideally need to counteract that by moving the mouse down to compensate, or you’ll only ever hit with the first of the burst. Both types of gun can be very effective, when you’ve banked enough experience I’d suggest equipping your MS-1 with the 45mm gun and your Leichtraktor with the 2cm Breda, and see which suits your style more.

While on the subject of guns, there’s also ammunition to consider. You generally have three choices, Armour Piercing (AP), High Explosive (HE), and The One You Need To Pay Real Money For (TWYNTPRMF) that we’ll ignore for now. As you can probably tell from the names, AP punches through armour, HE explodes; HE can be useful when you’re facing giant behemoths and have no chance of penetrating the armour, as the explosion at least causes a bit more damage than bouncing an AP shot off them. The penetrating power of AP falls off with range as well, so HE can be preferable for long-range sniping. At Tier 1, though, I wouldn’t worry too much, especially as small calibre shells can’t pack in much explosives, just load up with AP; HE is more worthwhile for the bigger guns later, generally 75mm and up.

If you have different types of shell available, you can load them by pressing 1 (AP), 2 (TWYNTPRMF) and 3 (HE). A single press queues that type of shell to be loaded after you fire the current round, press the number again to unload the current round and immediately load the new ammunition. Once you start to get a bit of a feel for the different types of tank, you can make an assessment at the start of a battle based on the list of what you’re up against; mostly bigger stuff from higher tiers, probably load up HE to start; lots of tanks of your tier or lower, stick with AP. You can always switch on a per-target basis, if you remember while frantically manoeuvring and aiming; as an added clue the little chevron in the middle of your gunsight turns red, amber or green depending on your chance of penetrating the enemy armour.

Turret’s Syndrome

The final upgrade option is the MS-1 modernized turret, between the 37mm and 45mm gun upgrades. As is probably obvious from the position, turrets tend to be pre-requisites for fitting certain guns. They may also offer other benefits, such as thicker armour, and increased spotting range. Speaking of spotting range…

How Not to Be Seen

If you’ve played a few battles you’ve probably experienced being shot, and quite possibly killed, by an invisible enemy tank. This is not due to EVIL RUSSIAN HACKERS, regardless of what furious typing you may have seen on the chat channels, but patience, careful positioning and a shrubbery. Hopefully you’re familiar with this short informational film, and it transfers quite well to World of Tanks: hide in a bush, and don’t stand up if anyone asks. The full mechanics of scouting and spotting are fairly involved (and explained, along with other mechanics, over on the official wiki), basically moving and shooting make you more likely to get spotted, staying very still and hiding in foliage gives you a better chance of jumping out and shouting “boo!” to surprise an enemy tank. And then blowing them up.

The ideal situation is that you find yourself a nice position, behind some shrubs, overlooking a likely avenue of enemy advance, then stay completely still (including the turret; hold down the right mouse button to look around without moving the turret) until an unsuspecting opponent comes in to view. If the opposition are being equally circumspect, someone may have to go and find them; if nobody else goes and you feel brave try and keep moving, ideally not straight towards where the enemy probably are but zig-zagging a bit. This can expose your weaker side armour, but a moving target is much harder to hit, especially for a gunner suffering with a bit of lag. Once a scout spots a target, so long as his comrades are within radio range they can see it too. If you see a lone tank be a little careful, if you get too preoccupied focusing on it you could be a sitting duck for his four hidden friends (or artillery, but we’ll cover that more next time). If shells are whizzing past uncomfortably close and you can’t see who’s shooting, it’s usually best to reverse out of trouble; if you were spotted by a tank which is then blown up, you stay spotted for a few seconds but then fade off your opponent’s screen & mini-map. It’s not necessary to see an opponent to damage or kill them, though; if you had a target lined up spotted by a comrade who then explodes so your target vanishes, if they’re daft enough not to move you can keep pinging shells into the general area where they were and hope for the best. If you get to know maps really well, you might even send a few speculative shots into particularly good camping spots, even if you don’t hit someone you might scare them into moving and becoming visible; the flipside is that shooting draws attention to yourself as well, so you might just give away your own position.

I’ve Got a Brand New Panzerfeldhaubitze 18M auf Geschützwagen III/IV (Sf) Hummel, Sd.Kfz. 165 (And I’ll Give You The Key)

You’ve doubtless noticed that each upgrade path culminates in an exciting and exotic new Tier 2 vehicle: the SU-18 self-propelled gun, BT-2 light tank,T-26 light tank and AT-2 tank destroyer. After researching one of these, you can buy yourself a whole new tank. But which one? Find out in the final exciting instalment of “Getting Started in World of Tanks, coming soon to a blog near you!