Monthly Archives: August 2011

Thought for the day.

With the ostensible beginnings of a long resisted but inevitable decline, it’s interesting to see World of Warcraft finally forced to passe arrière. What’s more interesting is their counter-riposte: a patent feint hinting at an expansion involving one of their most beloved and untapped races, then a change of engagement with respect to the balance of responsibility within the Holy Trinity, and now a redoublement of emphasis on appealing to the casual/RP masses.

What next, I wonder. Mentoring? Housing?


However, what will be most fascinating to observe –with Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic just around the corner– is whether this is too little too late, is this the Hero of Haarlem trying to plug the Möhne dam with his finger?

Concepts, like individuals, have their histories.

It’s been four years since the last review, so let’s have a look at a couple more MMO concepts that never made it into production:

Item Store Online – A curious conundrum of a game, clearly influenced by games such as Recettear, ISO was an MMO where players took on the role of an item store owner and attempted to make money by selling items in their store to NPCs and other PCs. The game itself had an item store, however, where players could purchase item store items to improve their item store in order to make more money, which could then be spent in the game’s item store or other player item stores. The first expansion was rumoured to allow players to sell the game’s item store items directly through their item store, but only if they bought a special item store item first. Once a player had bought the item store item that let them sell item store items in their item store, they could also sell the item that let players sell item store items in their item store in their item store.

Angle Grinder Online – Placing you in the role of an angle grinder, your job was to grind inanimate objects. Quests would require you to grind six objectives, with each objective requiring you to grind twenty objects. You’d grind reputation through grinding these grinding quests, which would eventually allow you to grind to the next level of grinding. Beta testers complained that, even though they were all hardened MMO veterans, the game simply contained far too much sex.

Porn World Online – Beta testers complained that there was far too much grinding.

Splungthrust: Tales of Flimbonia – Perhaps the greatest MMO of all time, it had everything that MMO players wanted. Huge sandbox elements seamlessly merged with theme park areas for the perfect questing experience. A genre-busting world design, which incorporated fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance, and the wild west. An incredibly expansive player housing system. Intricate crafting that produced powerful customisable items. Twenty races. Fifty classes. Perfectly balanced meaningful PvP. Complex NPC AI that created exciting and challenging escort quests. Over seven years of unique content through three hundred character levels, with zero grind. A world which would permanently change based on the players’ actions. An active combat system that allowed for tactical or twitch game-play based on player preference. A detailed character customisation model allowing for intricate body specifications, such as left toe tendon length and eyebrow hair population density. In short, it was a utopia of MMO design. Unfortunately during beta testing the players complained that mailboxes were painted blue when clearly they should be red; the developers didn’t listen, and so nobody played the game upon its release.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Online – A game where players started out at level eighty and slowly worked their way down to level one. Players would work hard to worsen their characters, slowly trading out their starter epics for blues or, if they were lucky, greens. Once they reached level one, players would spend their time raiding training dummies until they’d earnt the right to wear nothing but their grey-con undergarments and wield a small twig with negative DPS, whereupon they would attempt to show-off their superiority by dancing on top of a mailbox in a major city, and promptly fall to their single optimised hit point deaths.

Crit Hit Online – In order to maximise the thrill of combat, every successful attack in CHO was a critical.

OCDOCDOCDO… – An MMO where each player took on the role of a counsellor helping NPCs with acute cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Players accomplished this by repeatedly checking on their NPC patients in order to be able to help them as soon as required. Daily quests that gained the player vital reputation with the medical board were also essential. Success was much more likely for those who hoarded various medicines and treatments in their inventory and vault space on the remote chance that one of them might be useful for curing an NPC of their OCD one day. Every five levels the players would face a medical board evaluation if they hadn’t managed to complete every daily quest since their last examination; five was also the number of times that players were required to run in and out of an instance swirly before being allowed into the instance. Most important of all was the bonus experience buff that was granted to players if they always left their character at a specific spot before logging out each night; if they checked their mailbox more than ten times a day; if their inventory items were sorted into rows by type or alphabetically; if they finished a session with an even amount of experience or reputation; if they spent more time aligning their UI than playing the game that session; if they had spent more time running in a circle than standing still; or if they crafted an equal number of trousers as they did shirts, despite the skill gains being the same and the items being sold to a vendor, simply because they didn’t want the trouser recipe to feel left out. Notably, at the last count before the game was cancelled, there were over fifteen million achievements to be earned.

Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.

The acquisition of skills is changing. […] A weapon’s skills are now learned by fighting with that weapon. Because weapon skills are tied to weapon use, there is no reason to visit a trainer and make choices about which ones to unlock. Instead, it makes more sense to learn how to use the weapon by, you know, actually using it.”

It will be interesting to learn more about this system, because if there was one thing that stood out as being excellent entertainment in World of Warcraft, it was getting a new shiny weapon of a sort that you hadn’t used in some time, and then having to wander off and beat endlessly on green-con mobs until your weapon skill levelled-up enough that you could actually hit normal-con mobs with it. Unlike the issues highlighted in Tiger’s posts of yore, there does at least seem to be a reason for ‘weapon skill’ levelling in Guild Wars 2.

It’s a tricky one to balance. Having a player’s character improve their skill with a weapon through the explicit use of that weapon is a romantic notion: you pick your favoured weapon and master it, becoming a Nameless, Broken Sword, Flying Snow or Sky. On the other hand we are talking about MMOs, and therefore if essential groups of skills are tied only to specific weapons, then this starts to sound like the typical MMO optimisation nightmare of needing to carry a weapon of every type, and then having to switch between them constantly in order to keep all your skills levelled up.

Here’s hoping that ArenaNet, with their alternative view of what an MMO should be, have some ideas on the subject outside of that usual mantra of the subscription-based MMOs: Grind More, Bitches! Then again, some say that current evidence may point to ArenaNet being wed to the grind.

But a crop is a crop, and who’s to say where the harvest shall stop?

The wait continues. Like wheat anticipating the harvest beneath a rich blue sky, as the sun makes its repeated arcing passes overhead, the field of MMO adherents stands still, in quiet anticipation of the next major releases the genre has to offer. Occasionally a gentle breeze of hype brushes the ears, making itself known through the ripples and swirls it leaves in the bending swaying stems of opinion. In the meantime, opportunistic smaller games –field mice and yellow wags– make comfortable nests within the vast golden sea of consumers, content to do so in the knowledge that when the harvest comes the verdured crop belongs to the Colossi of MMOdom, who will come with giant metal fingers and reap the reward of their careful cultivations. Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic between them will thresh the wallets of the multitude, where a bumper crop of revenue is all but guaranteed.

I’m almost to the point of anticipation with respect to the release of these two games, not through any great desire to play them but because I want to know the extent of their impact. Will they strike with a force that sends shockwaves across the landscape of MMOs, or will they fizzle and burn in the atmosphere and provide little more than brief brush strokes of brilliant light across the canvas of the sky? In this melancholic MMO climate, even a good game is not guaranteed to launch with a mass and velocity great enough to set the world on fire when it lands. I leave my excitement for the games themselves until I’ve had a chance to play them, whereupon I’ll see whether they have that ineffable spark that keeps me hooked beyond the initial marital bliss of the first twenty levels. For me, World of Warcraft had accessibility and scope, Lord of the Rings Online its source material and graphical splendour; I’ll have no idea if either GW2 or SW:TOR has a compelling hook until I play them, so for the time being I remain objectively pleased with the facts that have been presented so far (races and classes, for example) but I’ll leave any judgements until after the honeymoon is over.

Other games still ping softly at the edges of my radar, the blips for Funcom’s The Secret World and CCP’s World of Darkness still hover around at the periphery of the genre no matter what turns it takes. They remain small signatures for now but probably shouldn’t be ignored, lest they creep clandestinely into range before slowly surfacing and revealing the previously hidden extent of their behemoth nature. It might be considered that these games are destined for a niche status, but it’s always worth remembering in such analysis that upon taking World of Warcraft out of the MMO pool, the delineation of nicheness assumes a vastly different size and shape; World of Warcraft is a slow aging whale, and it will only take one lean efficient shark to take a successful bite before a feeding frenzy ensues.

Back in 2007 I wrote:

“So here we are in the tree of MMO life, where Everquest saw the graphical MMO genre explode out from its roots, and World of Warcraft brought it into the branches of mainstream popular culture as perhaps Half-Life did for FPS games. And now we begin to see the influx of MMOs released in the wake of this success, and the weight of all this extra growth that isn’t needed begins to damage the tree, it weighs it down and forces it to spend resources in keeping these branches alive which would be better spent in growing a few stronger and healthier branches. And if nobody comes along to prune it, eventually it will wither and fail, until it is a gnarled trunk unrecognisable from its former glory.”

I think we’re looking at that gnarled trunk. The question is: do Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic represent the last vestiges of new growth on that aged foundation, or do they represent saplings formed from that original tree’s seed, from which a whole new generation of flourishing growth will bloom?

I stand in the field beneath the rich blue sky, awaiting the harvest.

Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic?

With all the shenannigans going on here in England, I’ve been glad for the opportunity to take respite from all the violence, destruction, and thick-skulled orcish types, and ensconce myself somewhere comparatively pleasant, such as the Valley of Death, Doom and Darkness deep within the fiery trenches of inner Mordor. There I sat down with Gandalf and discussed the situation over in Actual Earth as compared to that in the Middle one. Gandalf listened patiently, nodded sagely, and then asked whether we had a Rohirrim that might be used to charge the ne’er-do-wells, proffering his own successes with such a tactic as evidence for its merit. It certainly warranted further consideration. Then, conversation over, he asked me if I’d clear out an infestation of orcs in the basement of Moria.

That’s often the lot of adventurers in Lord of the Rings Online: generally considered by most NPCs to be executors of extreme pest control. You can imagine NPCs putting their feet up at night in front of the television

This week on Extreme Pest Control…

Geoff the Lore-master clears a termite infestation from this front porch using the flame of Anor [Cut to bloke in a dress running away from a house and diving over a hedgerow as the entire front of the house explodes outwards in a fireball]

Frank demonstrates his technique for clearing moles [Cut to mole. Cut to mole’s point of view which sees a maniacially grinning dwarf swinging a huge two-handed hammer overhand towards the camera. Cut to horrified old lady standing next to a cratered lawn]

And Colin the Runekeeper shows us how to remove a wasp infestation from your loft [An elf fires lightning from his hands up into the loft. There’s a short pause, whereupon thousands of wasps tumble out of the loft hatch, along with several bats, a large charred bird and a singed and smoking cat. A child cries ‘Mr Tiddles!’ at which point the elf makes a run for it]

Middle Earth gets all the best television shows.

Sometimes though I do have to wonder whether this isn’t all some sort of Walter Mitty fantasy on the part of my character, and they are in fact an everyday pest controller who likes to pass the time by imagining they’re an adventuring hero.

[A lady in modern attire stands at the door to a basement in a city apartment. Suddenly a fully armoured knight pops his head up from the basement with a look of sympathy on his face]

It’s orcs I’m afraid. Big ol’ nest down there; I’ll need to gather a band of stalwart adventurers, then spend a year and a day slaughtering the invading forces using weapons forged in the Heart of Fire.

I… see. And when you say ‘orcs’ you mean…


Rats. Good. And when you say ‘I’ll need to gather a band of stalwart adventurers’…

I’ll need to go and grab Kev from the van.

Hmmm. And ‘spend a year and a day slaughtering the invading forces using weapons forged in the Heart of Fire’..?

Put some traps down with a bit of cheese, and come back in a week.

Okay then.

I will need to collect their entrails, eyes and the like, and store them in my bank vault in case a random stranger wants them in exchange for gold.

And by that you mean?

That I will need to collect their entrails, eyes and the like, and store them in my bank vault in case a random stranger wants them in exchange for gold.

Get out of my house.

There’s no doubt that the pests of Middle Earth are relentless, and this is no more blatant to a player than when running around grinding deeds in low level areas, where no sooner have you cleared out an infestation than you turn around and find they’re back again, scratching at the walls and chewing on the mithril power lines. Perhaps Middle Earth just needs better sanitation, a theory which is only strengthened by the fact that so many of these pests transmit disease on contact with claw or fang.

And why can’t we have an infestation of koalas or sloths for once?

It all seems a bit Ghostbusters in MMOs these days, with your merry band of heroes trying to hide –behind flashy gear and winning smiles– the fact that it’s not much more than a supernatural-pest control unit. Only with less of the ‘girlfriends turning into dogs’ thing.

Meanwhile I’m back to work on the Captain; having got the Warden as far as I felt necessary, I suddenly found myself with the completionist urge on my original level sixty five. Seeing as the Captain is the character I’ve played in the Monday night static group for the past two or more years, you’d think she’d be pretty complete already, but alas the Warden has always had my favour outside of our once-per-week group gatherings. So there’s much to do, but most of it is a grind, and this reminded me why I usually end up creating a new character rather than slogging away at incremental upgrades at the level cap. Still, because there’s so much to do, I can at least work on different things each night and keep it slightly fresher than it might otherwise be. Setting small goals rather than focussing on the large final achievement gives the equivalent of that trickled sense of progress that so appeals to me when levelling a character. Primarily though, much to my shame, the main reason I found new enjoyment in playing my Captain was that I created a new outfit for her. Having seen someone wearing the Robe of Leisure I was reminded of my beloved Warrior Priest in Warhammer Online. The Captain is analogous to the Warrior Priest, both being melee-based hybrid healer sorts, and so I switched to my Jasper Conran spec. and created an ensemble that tips the hat of fashion towards my old Warhammer Online character. The first stage involved purchasing a Robe of Leisure and having my Warden craft a splendid Second Age two-handed hammer. Everything after that was simply detailing. It’s nice to have goals again, and with Isengard around the corner, LotRO looks set to remain the game I turn to when all else quiet for some time to come.

Our humanity rests upon a series of learned behaviors, woven together into patterns that are infinitely fragile

Spinks was pondering NPCs in a rather fine post, and I’ve been quite firmly hooked by Fallout: New Vegas, a game with an awful lot of NPCs by necessity, being single player. I think it uses a combination of approaches that Spinks outlines; for the most part, for computational sanity, NPCs only exist when you’re around, a slightly solipsistic approach, though not quite as extreme as something like Saints Row 2 where things can stop existing if you stop looking at them. Some NPCs do persist, though, such as trading caravans that you’ll sometimes find at a particular outpost, or sometimes you bump into in the wilderness as they’re on the move.

The life of most Fallout NPCs isn’t wildly exciting, they generally wake up at a certain time, make their way to their shop/office/patrol area, sit at a desk or wander in circles for a bit, then go back to bed at the end of the shift. Fallout can get away with this as a single player game for a couple of reasons: you always have an option to wait for up to 24 hours, if you need to rapidly skip to a particular time of day, and NPCs are incredibly tolerant. Stroll up to a sleeping questgiver or shopkeeper, vigorously poke them until they wake up and you’d expect them to blearily peer at a clock and scream “What the hell are you doing in my house at three in the morning?”, or at least mumble “blargle glargle NO, ROY HATTERSLEY, GET AWAY FROM ME WITH THAT TIN OF KUMQUATS”, but they just stand up, nice and calm, and present exactly the same dialogue options as if you’d walked into their shop, a game/world compromise I can more than live with.

Even a few straightforward rules make the game world seem more like something that exists in itself rather than being an amusement laid on entirely for your benefit; a caravan of a trader with a couple of mercenary bodyguards follows a preset path, some bandits wander around a certain area, if the two bump into each other they fight. If you’re close enough you hear the gunshots, and you can either steer clear or go and investigate, help one side or the other, and most importantly sprint over to any corpse before it’s cold and strip it of weapons and armour. As the number of elements and interactions increase so you start to get hints of emergence; this can be a positive and interesting thing, like the Dwarf-eating carp of Dwarf Fortress, but when the game isn’t entirely glitch-free to start with it can exacerbate problems.

Near the start of the game I got on the wrong side of one of the big factions, and not long after I was wandering through the wilderness when four friendly (or at least neutral) markers appeared on the HUD compass heading right for me. It turned out to be a group of assassins, but terribly sporting assassins. I guess “being mown down in a hail of high-velocity rifle bullets fired by assassins half a mile away you had no chance of detecting” scored badly in focus group questionnaires, so instead the group approach and have a little chat; “Good morning sir, my name’s Geoff Assassin; assassin by name, assassin by nature as I always like to say, don’t I lads, ha ha ha. Now, our leader is a little bit miffed, so I’m afraid we’re going to have to assassinate you. Sorry about that. En garde!” I wouldn’t be surprised if I found a card when I returned to my rented room: “Sorry we missed you! A representative called around to assassinate you, but you weren’t in. We’ll try again tomorrow, or if you’d like to be assassinated earlier please call in to our depot between 9am and 5pm.” After the initial pleasantries they’re annoyingly hard to kill, but a couple of frag grenades proved most helpful and I resumed my wandering. They’re persistent blighters, though, and every few (in-game) days another group appear making a beeline for your character. I say “making a beeline”; they can interact with (i.e. shoot) things like hostile wildlife, traders or patrols from other factions if they encounter them on the way, and they’re a lot easier to deal with if you can shoot them in the back of the head while they’re distracted by something else. Sometimes, though, the rules go a little wrong; I’m not sure if they get stuck in a combat state with something else, or have pathing issues, or just forget exactly what they were supposed to be doing, but occasionally I’ll find a group of confused assassins milling around a small rock formation, completely ignoring me as I wander past.

Perhaps, though, that just makes the NPCs a little more human after all. I mean, were it an MMO, such actions wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for player characters; “The behaviour of the Legionary Assassin Squad in the field was erratic at best…

What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.

My first thought on seeing ArenaNet’s reveal of the Sylvari 2.0 – Now with 50% more foliage!, was that they certainly passed the international standard cosplay checklist:

  • Opportunity to paint skin weird colours? Check.
  • Liberal use of liquid latex a must? Check.
  • Option to expose varying levels of said latexed/painted flesh, up to and including ‘disturbing’? Check.
  • Costume design that has ‘we’re going to need a bigger sewing machine’ written all over it? Check.
  • Compulsory requirement to stick foam shapes and bits of Plasticine to one’s head? Check.
  • Is it a hat or is it hair? Check.
  • Tattoos? Check.
  • Crazy luminous tattoos that someone is going to use as an excuse to make their nipples glow in the dark? Check.
  • Contact lenses considered mandatory? Check.
  • Potential for hormone colliding crossplay? Check.
  • Eschews traditional human-style gender roles? Check.

So yes, it’s all looking good on the cosplay front. And back. But mainly the front. Must be those bioluminescent nipple tattoos.

Reading a bit of background to the Sylvari, it seems that ArenaNet are trying to present a race which is a little bit alien, a little bit fae, a foundation usually filled by elves in traditional fantasy RPGs. Sadly few designers have managed to portray elves as anything more than an aloof sect of infinitely skilled disdainful know-it-alls. An elf race should give the opportunity to really explore that gulf which experience provides, that juxtaposition of a human-like being with the alien nature of one who has witnessed countless centuries, but it rarely seems to be expressed in games other than through that cunning narrative device of an arched eyebrow and a slightly condescending tone of voice. ArenaNet have branched off from this approach, taking the alien nature and layering it on to a budding young race, one that is inexperienced, although not naive. The Sylvari connection to The Dream will surely resonate with anyone who has enjoyed White Wolf’s Changeling: The Dreaming, and the second Sylvari design keystone of ‘curiosity’ can only help play to this fae feeling. Again though, as with the comparison to elves, the Sylvari differ from the fae in that they are a young race, and therefore there isn’t the unwieldy baggage of a millennia of complex history to weigh the players down as they travel through the world. There’s certainly plenty to like about this race, and more than enough to differentiate it substantially from the other races the game provides; much as I felt about the Undead in World of Warcraft, there’s something about the Sylvari that seems to set them apart from the other warring races. Although the other races in World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 all have a look and feel that differentiates them from one another, they still feel as though they come from the same basic stock, whereas the Undead and Sylvari have that slightly unknowable quality to them.

As for the physical design of the race, well we’re on the second edition [probably should avoid book metaphors, tree people may find books slightly offensive – Ed.], and it’s always going to be a subjective issue. In my view I think they still haven’t gone far enough towards the alien end of the scale, but it’s always going to be difficult to tell from a select number of screenshots. Certainly our friend to the left with the tree branch hair is approaching that level, whereas the one below right is definitely ticking all the boxes on the Foxy Chick With Leaf Hair cosplay checklist. Again though, there may well be variety in the character creation so that both options are viable, and there will almost certainly be people who like the ideals of the Sylvari, but to whom a strange alien appearance doesn’t appeal. Not to mention it’s a tricky scale on which to balance: at one end you have the Poison Ivy look, which is essentially a Playboy model with green lipstick and body suit, and at the other end you have World of Warcraft’s druid Tree of Life form, certainly a far more alien sentient plant design, but perhaps far less appealing to the majority of players. So I imagine ArenaNet’s Kristen Perry slid up and down this scale (having seen pictures of the inside of ArenaNet’s studio, I wouldn’t put it past them to have created a giant fun-park scale which everyone could slide up and down on tea trays) trying to balance a requirement for alien humanoid flora against a desire to still present an attractive aesthetic design; it’s a design brief where I imagine H.R. Giger would have had a field day.

Certainly the current Sylvari incarnation is an improvement over the original design, and it manages to find a place on the design scale that avoids the horrors of both Tree of Life Form in a Bikini and Naked Human Wrapped in Stinging Nettles, something for which I’m sure cosplayers and cosplay admirers everywhere will be grateful.

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.

From now on, before I start playing a new MMO, my character is going to write a linkedin system, using papyrus punched with their teeth if they have to, and hand it out to every NPC in the game.

Thus, when my character approaches a new faction, having adventured for years, with a hundred levels under their belt, the defeat of countless potentially world-ending villains, the rescue of multifarious powerless persons, the destruction of numerous evil relics of infinite power, the overthrowing of divers despotic regimes, the prevention of multitudinous cataclysmic events across both time and space, and a dedication to the slaughter of wildlife that would give a T-rex indigestion at the mere thought, they can point the snooty NPC –who wants my character to collect badger turds for faction reputation before they’ll speak to them properly– to their linkedin profile, which reports a network of over fifty thousand satisfied NPCs who were unable to save their own sorry arses, and a reputation of AAAA++ Would Definitely Have This Hero Save Our Town Again.

Then my character would take the bag of badger bum blops and empty it over the NPC’s head, telling them that it’s their own damn porridge so they can use their own damned spoon, before wandering off and finding a faction that willingly accepts an offer of aid.

We dance when e’er we’re able.

“Finally, no matter how fantastic a game’s music is, when you hear the same music for the thousandth time, you start wanting to change things up a bit. Many players will simply turn the game music off and play their own collections. The problem is that an external music player has no context as to what’s going on in-game. Guild Wars 2 will offer a solution for this as well. We’re giving players the option of choosing external music playlists that the game’s audio engine will use as a replacement for the default in-game music. Players can choose different playlists for background ambience and battle music, for instance. Additionally, when appropriate, such as during cinematics, the game can revert back to in-game music temporarily to give the best possible cinematic experience, then resume the custom playlist when it’s done.”

ArenaNet continue their series of audio design diaries with an interesting piece detailing some of the new features they’ll be adding to the audio system for Guild Wars 2.

As a player of MMOs who generally turns the sound off after a while, I have to say that I’m quite excited at the prospect of being able to tweak the music score when the mood takes me. Jeremy Soule’s soundtracks are always a delight, but still, there are nevertheless going to be days when you just feel the urge to listen to something a bit different.

It’s fun that (they claim) you can pick your own selection of ambient and battle music to be played at the appropriate time determined by the game system, and I’m already considering the excellent possibilities that such a system would allow: battle music set to Yakety Sax, the Ying Tong Song or the The Tra La La Song? How about a hook for when you inevitably run away from combat or attempt to avoid crap mobstacles, for which there can only be one song to bravely throw-in the sponge to. Then there’s the possibility to switch things up a bit, having songs such as Iron Maiden’s Run for the Hills as ambient music, while Eine kleine Nachtmusik tentatively tinkles into your ears whenever an epic battle breaks out.

Once again ArenaNet are making all the right noises, where the overarching impression I take away from their media presentations is one of ‘careful consideration of the issues facing players of MMOs’; it’s encouraging, yet my enthusiasm still can’t help but be tempered by the fact that we’ve heard asseverations like these in the MMO space before, where the resultant game did not seem to deliver anything like the promises of its promoters.

In war we’re tough and able,
Quite indefatigable.
Between our quests we sequin vests and impersonate Clark Gable.

Thought for the day

Sophisticated game engines that blur the lines between cutscenes, scripted sequences and regular gameplay can be a powerful tool for increased immersion. It can be irritating when control is taken away from you and you’re forced to observe something while frozen in fear, or through the unbreakable window of a locked room, but at least it’s preferable to the illusion of interaction when there’s only one possible outcome…

“Right young Geoffrey, let’s make up a story together! What would you like to hear a story about?”


“You’d like a story about chartered accountants? Excellent! Once there was a chartered accountant; what do you think his name should be?”


“No, Geoff, that’s wrong, he’s called Nigel. Once there was a chartered accountant called Nigel, who lived in…”

“Outer Space!”

“Don’t be silly, Geoff, Outer Space has no accredited institutions that can confer chartered status. No; once there was a chartered accountant called Nigel, who lived in a medium sized village in the Thames Valley area within convenient commuting distance of the headquarters of several multinationals. One day, Nigel learned that…”

“He had magical powers!”

“NO, GEOFFREY! WRONG! Now we’re going to have to back to the beginning of the story, and try again until you give the correct answer. You can look it up in the Wiki here if you like. Let’s try again; once there was a chartered accountant called Nigel, who lived in a medium sized village in the Thames Valley area within convenient commuting distance of the headquarters of several multinationals. One day, Nigel learned that…”