Monthly Archives: July 2011

Beast, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Beast, said he.

The Beastlord class has been announced for EverQuestII. I’ve been hooked by LotRO recently, and have decided to focus on that one game rather than flit from MMO to MMO as I have done in the past. Both forms of play have suited me, the flitting helps to avoid burnout on any one game, which itself often leads to a malaise with the genre as a whole; concentrating on one game allows me to gain a greater sense of achievement by exploring all there is to do in that one world and fleshing out a character to the best of my ability.

The description of the Beastlord has me intrigued, however. A melee DPS class of the Scout archetype, it is a Monk-like brawler which is also a pet class. As I never played EQ back in the day I haven’t experienced the class before, but as a concept I can only declare that SOE, your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to make a microtransaction payment in order to receive each Beastlord issue of your newsletter.

Decree for the day

In light of the general shift in MMOG payment models, the elders of the internet have decreed that the popular meme based on a Simpsons quote, “Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter”, shall heretoforth be updated to “Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to make a microtransaction payment in order to receive each issue of your newsletter”.

The mind wears the colours of the soul, as a valet those of his master

While adventuring in Lord of the Rings Online I’ve occasionally found some loot that will be useful in a couple of levels time and popped it in the bank until I can actually equip it. Typically I’ll then forgot about it entirely, only finding it again when my bags, vault and shared storage are all stuffed full of the general detritus of questing and I’m destroying or selling all the stuff I’d been hanging on to “just in case” (low-level crafting materials, piles of potions, shoelaces, several keys that don’t seem to fit any locks but you never know, back issues of Middle Earth Monthly magazine, that sort of thing). If I’m lucky it’s still useful, if not it’s just another bit of junk to take to the Thorin’s Hall Oxfam shop.

What I really need is some sort of reminder system. There is a precedent in other fantasy literature, but I’m not sure that would fit so well in the setting of LotRO; what I’d really like to do is trade in my skirmish soldier, who’s excellent at taking a beating from waves of attackers but rubbish at reminders, in exchange for a valet.

“I see sir has reached level 36, and would offer my most sincere contrafibularities on such an achievement. I’ve laid out out the Reinforced Elven Gloves of Fleetness that I believe sir to now be capable of donning, previously stored in the second bag of the inventory, and the next time we reach a town with a suitable banking facility I should recommend withdrawing the Shining Steel Sword stored therein, in the third chest of your main vault. Might I also suggest procuring a quantity of Pristine Leather in order to utilise your somewhat incongruous needlework skills to embroider a set of shoulderguards with superior statistical benefits to your current garments? I’ve also taken the liberty of dropping a note in the post to your colleague Melmoth, a jeweller of some note, to accept his most generous offer of letting him know if there might be some trinket that he might produce for you, with a request for a nice new bracelet, enclosing a number of uncut gemstones you liberated from a variety of goblinoids on your journey as a token of thanks.

Now I believe a Mr Fink-Nottle of the Evendim Fink-Nottles has a number of tasks that you now qualify to assist with; with your permission I shall secure the hire of equine transportation in order to convey us there promptly.”

Mind you, it wouldn’t take long to become a bit too dependant on such an assistant

Don’t worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.

I’ve slowly grown weary of ‘Falcon Hyperdrive’ abilities on my various MMO characters, to the point where I often can’t be bothered to use them at all. You know the sort of ability to which I refer, characterised by excessively long cooldowns and a power that has both the potential to change the course of a battle, as well as a chance to miss.

Healer: “The enrage timer is getting closer!”

Rogue: [with a gleam in his eye] “Oh yeah? Watch this.”

[Expectantly, they look towards the boss as Rogue runs up and flails around ineffectually in front of him. Rogue and Tank look at each other and are thrown into an acute state of concern.]

Tank: “Rwwwarrrggghhh!”

Healer: “Watch what?”

[Rogue tries another ability. Still nothing.]

Rogue: “I think we’re in trouble.”

Paladin: “Sir, the possibility of successfully triggering a long cooldown ability with a To Hit component when you need it most, is approximately 3720 to 1!”

Rogue: “Never tell me the odds!”

[The boss hits his enrage timer.]

Rogue: “We’re in trouble.”


Rogue: “Okay, let’s finish this fight. Ready for Blimey Charlie![TM] ability? One…two…three! Punch it!”

[Rogue fires-off his ability and… nothing happens. The boss punches Tank two inches into the ground.]

Rogue: [frantic] “It’s not fair!”

[Tank is very angry and starts to growl and bark at his companion. Again, Rogue desperately fires-off an ability.]

Rogue: “The ability triggered, it just didn’t hit. It’s not my fault!”

[Tanks puts his head in his hands, and lets out a whining growl. Healer looks derisively at Rogue.]

Rogue: “It’s not my fault!”

It’s gotten to the point now that I imagine the Whee Whee Bwoo Bwoo Bwooooooo sound of the Millennium Falcon failing to enter hyperspace every time one of my battle-winning abilities fails to make contact, and thus fails to have any effect whatsoever.

I can understand abilities that can only be used once per fight, even if they do present the player with that awkward dilemma of trying to balance whether the situation is dire enough that use of the ability is mandatory for the group’s survival, against the fact that an even more dire situation may occur at some point in the near future. It’s like a sort of game show –How Dire Is This?– where the contestants have to gamble and guess whether their current situation is the most dire it’s likely to get, or if they want to risk struggling through because they reckon an even more dire situation is just around the corner.

“Well it seems that our contestant has just about made it through the pit of flame-thrower-wielding scorpions. And with all three lifelines intact, no less!”

“That’s right Frank, the situation certainly looked pretty dire, but Geoff kept his nerve and now he faces the next challenge. A little scorched maybe, but with a full suite of special abilities. So let’s see how dire the next challenge is…”

“Well Alan, looks like the next challenge is located in Dire Maul.”

“That’s pretty dire right there, Frank.”

“Which has been populated entirely with dire rats.”


“Who are riding on dire bears”


“Who are piloting Dire Wolf mechs.”

“Well it doesn’t get much more dire than that!”

“While playing the Very Best of Dire Straits.”

“Well that’s not so bad…”

“On bagpipes.”

“Hoo boy! Well I don’t know about our contestant, but I’ve blown a few cooldowns myself, Frank.”

“I thought I could smell something.”

Perhaps it would help to alleviate the stress of the situation if these emergency ‘Blimey Charlie!’ abilities let off comedy sound effects when they were activated: lengthy high-pitched flatulence being a prime candidate.

So you’ve decided that the situation is pretty dire –those Dire Wolf mechs are firing dire boars from their cannons– and you wind-up your special ability. Like any good MMO player you announce your plan of action to the rest of the group, in part so that they can respond to the situation, and in part because you want them to know that you are saving their arses again. Or, if you’re like me, you sort of just half-gurgle into the microphone while you frantically try to find the ability’s icon, an icon which suddenly (and, I suspect, with deliberate malice) has decided to look like every other icon on your hotbar. Of course you use it so rarely that when you do come to need it you have to try to find it, buried as it is between the numerous pointless other abilities that you never use, like the one that drops your trousers in a comedy emote, or the one that summons an ice cream van, or the one that transforms you into Abe Vigoda.

There’s quite the fan faire by this point, people are lined up along the red carpet to watch your special ability arrive. You’ve deliberated over when to use it, you’ve spent time building up its arrival, and you’ve spent time actually finding it once you’ve decided to use it. Now the magic moment has arrived! The limousine pulls up to the kerb, the door opens, the flash and sparkle of cameras lights up the night like a swarm of fireflies going into meltdown, and your special ability springs forth from the dark confines of the smoked security glass cabin… and promptly trips over the carpet and falls flat on its face.

Yes, it seems especially cruel to have a To Hit check on an ability which is used so very rarely but is generally vital to the survival of your group when it’s eventually called upon. Not to forget that when it misses (and it’s amazing how often a 2% miss chance occurs, you’d have to guess that it happens at least 90% of the time) it’s the sort of deflatory flaccidity you would image a young man to suffer upon getting home and realising that, when asking for a DVD of *ahem* mature content, the comedian behind the counter has given him a documentary on the life and times of care homes for the elderly since 1946; you can almost hear the Whee Whee Bwoo Bwoo Bwooooooo of the Falcon’s failing hyperdrives as he looks down and observes his rapidly dwindling chance of reaching escape velocity, before pulling up his underpants, making a cup of tea, and settling down to an informative yet dreary program on the history of geriatric healthcare in post-war Britain.

The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year

Arkenor made some interesting and rather damning posts about World of Lordcraft, a browser game that bore uncanny similarity to a certain MMOG (yes, Dungeons and Dragons Online) (wait, not that one, another one…) Blizzard seems to have sorted that out, leaving the team who our lawyers would like to emphasise may or may not allegedly have possibly been behind World of Lordcraft and maybe also but by no means certainly Evony as well, or not, at something of a loose end.

Well there’s going to be a bit of a gap in the market in the UK after today which would seem to offer a golden opportunity to combine two groups of similar ethical standards to produce World of the Newscraft. Hack their whispers, my lord!

Godgifu of the grind.

But this time I was ready for the grind. I headed over to pick up Mr Flapnoodle, this time leaving my clothes with the confused but otherwise relieved dwarf, and then headed into northern Angmar to hunt the hundreds upon hundreds of Angmarim I’d need to complete my reputation grind, nobly riding naked to battle but for my cape flapping restlessly in the wind behind me.”

You may have noticed the rather exceptional Victorian undergarments apparent on my character; yes, even when your character isn’t wearing any armour in Lord of the Rings Online they’re still more modestly covered than the heaviest-armour-wearing female warriors of other MMOs.

Alas there’s no evidence of Mr Flapnoodle in the screenshot, but I think he was busy steering the horse at the time.

Always remember, though, the best way to grind in an MMO is naked but for a cape and a small sock puppet.

Now to go and have a word with the elves of Mirkwood, I think there are some orcs there that I could go and eat food loudly while smacking my lips near, Mr Flapnoodle says they hate that.

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition.

I recently undertook a reputation grind with my Warden in Lord of the Rings Online, another of those grouting duties that I usually avoid on my various characters, only ever achieving maximum status with the various factions in MMOs through the incidental advancement that occurs during the course of levelling a character. Being at the level cap and not being of a raiderly mindset, however, I find myself wanting to overpaint the canvas of my character in other ways. Of the three ‘c’s that advance a character in an MMO –Completion, Customisation and Cultivation– only Cultivation is restricted at the level cap to just two areas of advancement, funnelled as it is into the primary palettes of raiding and PvP. Of course, Completion and Customisation can both be advanced through raiding and PvP, but there are also other shades of game-play in which the two can be mixed.

In terms of LotRO then, Cultivation is advancing the power level of your character through the usual MMO channel of ever-increasing item levels; Completion is all about fully fleshing out the character, achieving all that there is to achieve in the game: collecting all the deeds, reaching maximum reputation rank with all the various factions, exploring all the nooks and crannies the game has to offer; and Customisation is all about making the character you want, be it through cosmetic items, mounts, titles, housing, or character builds. Many areas of Cultivation will also offer ways to advance Completion or Customisation, but it’s very rare that, say, Completion will offer a way to advance Cultivation once you reach the end game. For example, completing the not insignificant achievement of ‘What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been’ in World of Warcraft grants the player a mount, something which may be cosmetically appealing (Customisation), a form of status recognition for your hard work (Completion), but which offers nothing in the way of advancing your character’s innate power level (Cultivation).

It’s fairly apparent as to why this situation exists in these MMOs: the fact that character power level is based primarily on item improvement, items which are made redundant with each expansion of the end-game, means that rewarding a chest piece for ‘What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been’ would be pointless as soon as the next expansion is released. Or would it? Blizzard have already introduced the concept of heirloom items, items which increase in power as your character does, could significant achievements such as ‘What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been’ reward items that increase in power with the character and maintain a power level equivalent to end-game raiding rewards?

Back to the reputation grind, though. The chain of events which led me to grind away for reputation was itself interesting. I’d decided to complete the Virtue traits on my character, getting them all to the current maximum of level ten. To do this I had to perform various deeds, which for the melee-based traits generally involves using sharp pointy bits of metal to convince mobs to shuffle off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. The trait I was working on at the time required me to kill three hundred orcs in Angmar, something which was time consuming but not a challenge since I had long out-levelled the area, so it was a suitable time to listen to a podcast or two while roaming around a camp of orcs and slaughtering them with wild unhindered abandon, the sort of one-sided fight equivalent to dropping a great white shark into a heavily populated hospital swimming therapy pool. Grinding a deed in this way is a bit like weight training for will power: you have a little counter in the top corner of your screen which counts up as you start to kill orcs, but three hundred seems like an impossible task, especially after you spend what seems like an eternity slaughtering away like the Tazmanian Devil in a bathtub of bunnies, only to look up and find that you’ve killed just ten orcs. So you start trying to trick your mind, ‘Right, we only have to do that twenty nine more times and we’re done. Twenty nine isn’t a very big number is it now? So, let’s do another ten. Can you give me another ten reps? Okay, here we go then: one, two, three… feel the burn… four, five, six… keep that sword arm nice and straight… seven, eight, nine annnnnnnd ten. Good! And relax. Shake it out, have a breather, and then we’ll do another ten’.

Such tricks only last so long however, and then you start to go mad: you start to move around as you fight such that the dead orcs make pretty patterns on the ground with their corpses, or spell out rude words that can be seen from the air by low-flying Nazgûl; you try to find interesting weapons in your inventory to kill the orcs with, bludgeoning a captain to death with a haddock, and then stabbing his second in command with a hat pin; then you progress to trying to find various unique ways to initiate combat: standing near the orc camp and talking loudly on a mobile phone, for example, or running around and altering all the heights of their office chairs, or standing uncomfortably close behind on orc and reading its copy of the Nazgûl News over its shoulder. By the end of the session you’re running around naked save for your cape, half an orc skull balanced on your head, and orc eyes pushed on to the end of your toes. Your right hand still holds your sword, but your left hand is now Mr Flapnoodle –formed from a pouch made of a warg ear with orc nipples for eyes– who tells you what to kill next by whispering in your ear; the orcs have learnt to fear the judgement of Mr Flapnoodle, and you obey because he’s hidden your teeth somewhere inside your face and you need them to become Queen of the Monkey Bees.

I don’t normally do reputation grinds, and now you know why.

Having finished killing the three hundred orcs, who weren’t nearly as big a challenge as the three hundred Spartans I’d killed the day before, I sold all the junk I’d collected and found myself with a bag still half full with reputation items. Seeing as they were effectively free from my earlier exertions while attempting to complete the Orc Genocide deed, it seemed silly to thrown them away, so I put my clothes back on, left Mr Flapnoodle in the care of a confused looking dwarf who seemed to be trying not to throw up, and made my way over to Esteldín to hand in the reputation items with the rangers there. The Rangers of Esteldín, an elite band of warriors who remain hidden from the enemy by carefully guarding the location of their secret base, never telling a soul, never letting on, never revealing in any way where they come from. Not even a hint. ‘Hello, we’re the Rangers of Esteldín! Where are we from? We can’t tell you that. Are we from Esteldín? Who told you that?! Gentleman, we have a spy in our midst! We, the Rangers of Esteldín, will not stop until… hang on…’ Anyway, having handed in all the reputation items I’d gathered to the newly named Rangers of SHHHHH IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE A SECRET DAMMIT I found that I had reached the maximum level of reputation with them, and as such I had a look at the rewards on offer. Of course there was nothing in the way of Cultivation, but they did offer a new mount, which obviously appealed to the Customiser in me. It was going to cost me five gold, an amount which my character can comfortably afford but which is nevertheless not an insignificant expense, so I did a little research in order to make sure it didn’t suffer from the Horse Eye of DOOM or any other such mind twisting deformity. Alas, although the horse is without strange features it is also a little plain, and I couldn’t bring myself to justify the expense for another mount that I would probably never use because I already had several handsome specimens. I did, however, notice the Prized Angmar’s Free People’s Steed while I did my research, which is possibly the best looking mount I’ve seen in the game. And that was it, my flame of desire was suddenly fully fanned, I had a goal, covetousness was upon me, game-play had emerged from a chain of unrelated events, and all that was required of me was to grind out Kindred reputation with the Council of the North.

But this time I was ready for the grind. I headed over to pick up Mr Flapnoodle, this time leaving my clothes with the confused but otherwise relieved dwarf, and then headed into northern Angmar to hunt the hundreds upon hundreds of Angmarim I’d need to complete my reputation grind, nobly riding naked to battle but for my cape flapping restlessly in the wind behind me.

Running out of Steam

Steam’s Summer Camp event has been going for almost a week, and despite being a sucker for a bargain (or possibly just a sucker), especially when it comes to Steam, I haven’t bought anything yet. Being fully hooked on LotRO and World of Tanks at the moment I don’t have the vulnerability to a shiny new game that MMOG burnout often causes, which could well be a major factor in that, but nothing has really jumped out as being an exceptional bargain so far.

Course previous Steam sales have slightly recalibrated what an “exceptional bargain” is to the point that I barely look at anything over £10 unless it’s the entire back catalogue of a publisher, and even a fiver seems a bit steep for a single game. The Witcher 2 sounds a fine game, but even with 33% off was a bit much; I’m interested in Fable 3, but lukewarm reviews made me think twice about it, even at £15. I’m really keen to pick up Total War: Shogun 2 at some point, but the Total War series need a decent amount of time to play, and I still haven’t finished my Peninsular campaign in Napoleon: Total War. Previous Steam sales have also packed my library with games I might’ve been tempted by like Tropico 3 and Just Cause 2, which reminds me I must get back to them at some point as well…

An interesting facet of the event is the ability to win tickets through various achievements, the tickets then entering you into a prize draw for games from your wishlist, but also acting as a currency that you can exchange for a variety of DLC-type prizes (Edit: PC Gamer conveniently just posted a list). The majority of achievements are within specific games, none of which I’ve had so far, but one a day is usually something connected to Steam itself (joining a group, leaving a comment, uploading a screenshot etc.) which I’ve been ticking off, so I’m now trying to decide if I want to cash the tickets in for snorkels on the robots in Portal 2 or an entire Alien Breed game…

It may all be an insidious plot to infiltrate Steam into everything you do, collate massive amounts of customer data and/or maintain a stranglehold on PC gaming, but in general I like the platform and what they’re doing with it even if they’re not offering a super-pack of every game of the last 10 years for 76p. Microsoft, meanwhile, are shuffling Games for Windows Live to because… erm… they want to save the ten bucks on domain renewal?

UK Governement heads calls for Cthulhu-based games

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, gave a speech last week to the Royal Society emphasising importance of mathematics, and unusually for a politician mentioned games in a positive context:

“Computer games developed by Marcus Du Sautoy are enabling children to engage with complex mathematical problems that would hitherto have been thought too advanced. When children need to solve equations in order to get more ammo to shoot the aliens, it is amazing how quickly they can learn. I am sure that this field of educational games has huge potential for maths and science teaching and I know that Marcus himself has been thinking about how he might be able to create games to introduce advanced concepts, such as non-Euclidean geometry, to children at a much earlier stage than normal in schools.”

Marcus du Sautoy is really engaging and pops up quite frequently in the media (like whenever In Our Time covers a mathematical subject), and the project Gove was referring to is Manga High. Not too sure about the name, but the resource, maths games for schools, is quite impressive. Never mind the kids, I had a crack at the trial version of a few of the games and was most disappointed when the trial of BIDMAS Blaster expired just as I’d upgraded the rubbish starter pistol to a laser rifle and was really mowing down robot hordes. The full thing is free for schools and offers individual logins coupled with statistics, targets, medals, achievements etc., seems like a fairly positive use of “gamification”.

Of course looking at du Sautoy’s aspirations, if there’s one setting that screams “non-Euclidean geometry” (albeit not quite as loudly as it screams “Aieeeee, the horror, the horror”) it’s the Cthulhu Mythos, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that Mr Gove is calling for games of brain-bending horror to be made compulsory in schools. Hurray!

Mr Bigger, whatever are you doing down there?

I hopped in to Age of Conan: Unchained over the weekend, the now free-to-play version of Funcom’s fantasy frolic through Robert E. Howard’s world of brawn, beasts and breasts. With the release of this edition of their game, Funcom have decided to make it unrated, which thus allowed them to fully expand on the latter of that troika of fantasy staples. And when I say ‘fully expand’ I am being literal:

Apart from the fact that either some enterprising soul in Aquilonia has invented both silicon and a way to implant it into female breasts, or a Stygian teenager found an interesting new use for the Dark Arts while furiously practising with his magic wand in his bedroom, there’s also the splendidly ridiculous innuendo-laden increase to a male character’s ‘size’, where one assumes that it actually changes height, and not length or girth as the text might lead one to believe.

Age of Conan? Carry On Conan more like. Hopefully they’ll add a Kenneth Williams-esque ‘Ooooo, matron’ emote, which would, admittedly, be a strong contender to take the crown from our long term favourite.

Funcom are also taking the prestige cosmetic MMO mount to new levels:

Yes, yours for only 1100 Funcom points, or about $10, is a virtual prostitute! A cosmetic pet in every sense of the phrase. There’s also a priestess for 2100 points, but I’d watch out for those high class ones because they expect you to take them to the opera and buy them dinner in an expensive restaurant as a bare minimum before they give you their bear minimum, and where are you going to find a staging of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Age of Conan anyway?

Still, Sparkle Pony hasn’t got anything on Slapper Priestess.

Of course Anarchy Online has had a perfectly normal Funcom-Points-powered store for a good long while now, so Age of Conan’s slightly (im)mature cash shop is not necessarily a sign of things to come. Regardless though, I couldn’t help but wonder how they intend to monetize their forthcoming supernatural MMO The Secret World, and whether it too would offer options via an in-game store:

The Secret World. Let me tell you the great secret of the world, honey. The secret is… [waves you in closer] the secret is… in my underpants. I’ve got your secrets right here, baby. Yes, find out all the secrets of my underpants, unlock my deep dark treasure, for just 2500 Funcom Points!

Of course it would obviously help if that was delivered by a buxom young lady in tight leather, rather than the craggy bearded geriatric old man in a crusty pee-stained bathrobe that I was picturing.