Monthly Archives: January 2012

Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together

Poor old LEGO Universe has been dismantled, put back into its storage box, and stashed in the attic of ex-MMOGs. Its passing is generally unlamented; I only really knew of one person who played it, briefly; everyone else was in Minecraft. As catastrophic launch timings go, putting out a child-friendly game based on a building block IP at the height of the Minecraft craze was a bit like Karl Benz spending years designing and building the Motorwagon to include unparalleled safety features (crumple zones, rollbars, airbags etc.), but a month before official launch finding some dude called Notch knocking up jet bikes in his garden shed for a tenner powered by fusion reactors that never need refuelling. It also required a subscription just as almost everyone else (EverQuest II, Champions Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea etc.) moved to free-to-play models.

There’s a fascinating piece on PC Gamer containing some lovely concept art, and also tantalising glimpses of what might have been, such as PvP with construction:

“We always had capture the flag PvP in the internal build of the game, from some of the very earliest pre-beta versions. Besides the usual CTF run-and-gun, a lot of the strategy revolved around managing your minifigure’s Imagination supply—do you spend your points defensively to seal up breaches in your own wall, or tactically to construct bouncers and shortcuts that let you outmaneuver the enemy, or offensively on siege weapons to open new holes in his defenses? Do you sacrifice valuable time harvesting mobs for more Imagination, or do you rush straight into battle?”

(Which reminds me I must try Ace of Spades sometime)

It seems the LEGO IP was a double-edged sword (or double-sided brick), and the benefits of the global brand might have been outweighed by concerns for its image:

“LEGO is extremely sensitive about the safety of kids’ online interaction, to the point that implementing even the most basic social functions like in-game chat or friends lists became these kind of monumental tragic struggles that swallowed systems designers whole. A lot of our PvP games had to be backburnered while we were waiting for final word about how team functionality would work, or whether we’d be allowed to have it at all.

LEGO’s dedication to child safety superseded all concerns of production schedule or profitability, which was a principled move on LEGO’s part but it made some seemingly-straightforward parts of development really, really tricky.”

You have to wonder why they were so worried, really. I mean sure, Little Timmy might have stacked a few bricks on top of each other in the game and said to his friend “ha ha, it looks like a willy!!”, but it’s inconceivable that sensationalist press would make up insane, lurid accusations of online perversion based on the flimsiest of pretext, isn’t it? That would be like translating a glimpse of alien sideboob into “full digital nudity and sex”, and… oh. The Mass Effect nonsense probably didn’t do Bioware any long term harm with its Mature rated games (and may even have fallen into the “no publicity is bad publicity” category, apart from the people demanding refunds over the lack of hardcore digi-shagging), but it’s not hard to see LEGO’s quandary.

After reading that piece I’m regretting not giving LEGO Universe a try when I had the chance, but though there was a token nod towards free-to-play later on, by all accounts it was little more than a strictly limited trial. With news that the Wii-U controller will have near-field communication support you could envisage a future of different payment models, such as buying a physical box of LEGO bricks, popping them on the controller, and unlocking those same bricks for online use as well, but for now… well, at least there’s still Minecraft.

Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.

Aside from the story-drive class missions and general planetary exploration of Star Wars: The Old Republic I’ve been putting in a bit of time with some of the repeatable content, daily missions, mostly those for warzone PvP and space combat.

Space combat is… fine. A bit disappointing if compared to the space elements Star Wars: Galaxies introduced in Jump to Lightspeed, which were great; free-form PvE and PvP combat with whole fleets of iconic and not-so-iconic starships including multi-crew ships (Melmoth once manned the rear turret of my Y-Wing) (no, that’s not slang). Of the few trial weeks I had in SWG, they were mostly spent flying, but it wasn’t enough to persuade me to subscribe to the game. I hanker for the days of X-Wing as much as the next man (probably considerably more than the next man, unless the next man is someone who’s legally changed his name to ‘Hank Wing’, middle name ‘er After X-‘), but I think I’ve established it’s mostly nostalgia, even with Black Prophecy available and free to play I’ve not been back to it. I haven’t entirely abandoned hope that SWTOR might unveil an expansion, Something Very Similar To Jump To Lightspeed But With A Different Name To Avoid Trademark Issues, but commercially it probably wouldn’t make sense, rather like the beloved sandboxiness of the rest of SWG.

So taking the space combat in SWTOR for what it is, it’s a decent enough rail shooter evoking the 1983 Star Wars arcade game, though shinier graphics and the odd ship upgrade aren’t massive steps forward in 30-odd years. There are daily space ‘operations’ available from your ship-board computer which, combined with the rewards from the individual missions themselves, give a decent return in XP, credits and space commendations. The missions are fun enough the first couple of times but with no random elements (that I could discern, at least) they pale fairly quickly. Still, it serves a purpose as quick-hit self-contained blast as a break, or while waiting for friends, or during crafting.

In terms of random elements PvP warzones are right at the other of the spectrum from space missions, somewhere betweeen “long term weather forecasts” and “things The Daily Mail say cause cancer”. For 30-odd levels I’d been hopping in to warzones now and again for a bit of a break from PvE and generally rather enjoying them (and wasting commendations, as it turned out you’re limited to 1000, and I’d been saving them up for level 50), it was only recently that I noticed there’s also a daily mission to win a warzone battle, available near the class trainers in the Imperial Fleet. As with the daily space operations it gives a nice chunk of XP and credits on top of those gained in the warzone, plus a box that contains a couple of stacks of warzone-only consumables and a random green item, so it’s worth grabbing, though it’s a bit of a pain to have to schlep up to the Fleet to pick it up when you can join a warzone from anywhere; I’ve taken to using the emergency fleet pass to wrap up a session at the end of an evening, then starting the next session with a bit of a bag clear-out at the market and a crack at a warzone or two.

There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about SWTOR warzones, but where the unchanging nature of space combat meant my interest has dropped away over time, the endless variety of human interaction of PvP means warzones have generally supplanted World of Tanks for my daily drop in dose of screaming frustration (and/or triumphant victory).

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

1:28 And yay did God visit the forums to see if his creation was good. But lo did the forums say ‘No, God’ and ‘God no!’, and they did explain unto God why only a newb would create man in a such a way. And the forums did then show God how to create a man who would have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

1:29 Then God became confused. For though one post on the forums did say ‘Create unto ye a man in this fashion, and your man shall be the greatest upon the earth’ verily did another spring forth which declaimed the first and spoke unto God ‘nay, create man in this way or let him forever crawl upon his belly and suck dust for all the days of his life’.

1:30 And God did consider bringing floodwaters on the forums to destroy all life under the various topics and every creature that has the breath of life in it. But quickly did God realise that there were no living creatures on the forums, only phosphorous manifestations of vitriol and invective.

1:31 So God destroyed man and made him again. And again. And again. Until eventually God thought ‘sod it’ and hit the random button and hoped for the best.

1:32 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, he wasn’t sure about it any of it any more.

2:1 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he went and twiddled with Jupiter for a bit, because it was without form, and void, and he could play around with it without suffering the truculent criticism and dissent of alternating prepossessions.

And so, some six or seven thousand years hence, man is still a complete and utter shambles today, even after the great re-roll around Genesis 6:9.

In other news, I spent a few hours on the DDO forums last night trying to determine a sensible build for a new character, because stat choice can have a large impact on the viability of a character and is largely set in stone once the character is created. After searching around for absolutely ages, I concluded that there definitely wasn’t a Flood Forum button anywhere to be found. So I picked a path which looked about right (and which the forums will tell you is tantamount to deciding to eat the serviettes at a Michelin-starred restaurant rather than anything from the menu), and got on with trying to play the game under the pressure of several fathoms of guilt and inadequacy which had built up over the course of my browsing.

After such an evening of reading the forums, I can’t help but expect that I’ll login with a new character one day only to be confronted by a huge ‘NO! WRONG!’ sign, whereupon I find myself summarily ejected from the game, my account deleted, and the game in the process of uninstalling itself from my hard disk drive.

I really wouldn’t mind an MMO where I could customise a character’s abilities based upon the alien concept of them sounding fun, while still being able to fulfil a role within the game. Or, if ‘learning to play (in a very specific way determined outside of the game by spreadsheets and data mining)’ is still to be a requirement, then perhaps it would be sensible to postpone those decisions which require learning until after I’ve had a chance to play.

Riders of the Republic.

“We’ll also introduce the option to bring Skirmish Soldier along to aid you on your adventures throughout Middle-earth.”
       — Nereid, Executive Producer for Lord of the Rings Online

Rumours that LotRO’s mounted combat will be a very pretty but slightly tedious on-rails shooter, in outer space, are as yet unfounded.

Turbine have confirmed, however, that they’ve employed a huge number of voice actors for their Riders of Rohan expansion, although they are using them primarily to type text into the quest dialogues.

Despite the general hoo ha surrounding Turbine’s decision to start selling non-cosmetic armour in the LotRO Store, they’re determined to press ahead with moving more core components of the game into the micropayment system; to that end they’re implementing a conversation dialogue wheel system in the new expansion, where responses to NPC’s dialogue can be purchased for between 50 and 250 Turbine Points depending on the type of answer given – monosyllabic grunts being cheapest, while loquacious flirtations and incensed f-bombs are priced towards the more exclusive end of the scale. So now when playing through group content, all your fellow players can see how much of a stingy git you are based upon how your character responds to the shared group conversation system!

When the silence between two people is comfortable.

Just a quick post here to say thank you to MMO Melting Pot for the Piggie, Syp for KiaSA’s Flushie, Syl for an honorable blog mention, and BBB for the kind compliment. And apologies if I’ve missed anyone, but frankly that is already far more than I feel is personally deserved.

I’d also just like to say that the voice of KiaSA is a blend of prose, and it works as a choir in a cavern: individual sounds made the greater through harmony, as that sonorous symmetry ripples, rebounds and resonates into something pure and clear. Something stronger. Which is to say, in a roundabout way, that as much as any individual praise is deeply appreciated, I will always always consider it shared, for without a Zoso there would, without a shadow of a doubt, not be a Melmoth.

Comments off, because this post is genuinely meant only as an offer of thanks for kindnesses, and not a solicitation for further praise, congratulations or otherwise.

Thought for the day.

In the land of the grind, the one-trick pony is king.

Applying the generic MMO philosophy to real life would mean that my boss asking me to write some code would inevitably result in me having to kill at least fifteen people or animals before the task was done.

Thankfully there is a distinct lack of wolves and boars hanging aimlessly around the office, but that pair of third floor accountants by the printer look as though they might aggro if I try to collect my hard copy.

I still find it interesting to consider ‘Why primarily combat?’ for a large number of MMOs. You may view that question in different ways depending on your prejudices, but it needn’t automatically be considered a failing of developers; indeed, many MMOs have tried other approaches without staggering success, so perhaps players have been seen to reject these alternatives. Again, though: why primarily combat?

Because combat provides an easy win condition? To satiate a fantasy which we cannot experience in real life? Because it is an easier system to encapsulate in lines of code than the alternatives? Because it’s a system which easily satisfies the input–>reward philosophy of gaming? Because we have yet to be offered alternatives which provide the exhilaration of the fight?

I’m not sure of the answer –or whether there even is an answer– otherwise this would have been the Revelation of the Day.

A long time ago, in a milliners far, far away…

Badadadadada dum dum dum dadada daa daaa dum dum daaaaaaaaa! There’ve been literally some messages to the KiaSA team and not a single one of them demanded the return of Hat News Now Today, so we packed our correspondent off to some backwater of the galaxy and ignored him. Nevertheless he kept sending back holocrons for publication that were transported across the galaxy in the blink of an eye before sitting in a depot near Weston-super-Mare for a couple of weeks and finally turning up, squashed through the letterbox at the office with a ripped corner, so we thought we might as well run them.

This week we’re looking at the early-to-mid level headgear available to an Imperial Agent in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Our model, Agent Bowie-Numan, styled himself on early New Wave synth-rock, mid-period Ziggy Stardust, Ben Stiller in Zoolander, and finding a “complexion” option during character creation that looked like a touch of lip-gloss and some eye-liner. He apologises for some of the poor lighting conditions, as he was taking the pictures during a bit of downtime while infiltrating a rebel base and the flash would’ve been a bit of a giveaway.  On with the hats…

Check the bass out on these

Upon first glance the Chief Editor dismissed this initial submission out of hand, assuming Agent Bowie-Numan was simply flaunting the favoured accessory of sports stars and Cyberman impersonators, a set of Beats by Darth Dre headphones, and forwarded the shot to our sister team at Headphone and Earpiece Weekly. The Chief Sub-Editor vigorously disagreed, insisting that it was something worn on the head, and thus a hat. The Sub-Chief Editor angrily pointed out the lack of crown or brim, while the Sub-Chief Sub-Editor sided with the Chief Sub-Editor, plunging the office into the worst chaos and discord since The Great LotRO Tiara And Circlet Schism. A lengthy series of arbitration meetings concluded with the warring factions agreeing to rename “Hat News Now Today” to “Items Placed in a MMOG Head Slot News Now Today”, though nobody could find the Tipp-Ex to amend the headed stationery, and then it was lunchtime and everyone forgot about it due to a fierce debate over salted vs dry roast peanuts down the pub. As for the headgear itself, nobody was quite certain if the main purpose was to protect the jaw from quite specific attacks, to make talking more difficult, or to keep the ears warm.


I got a well nice hat down Camden, yeah?

Another piece vindicating the decision to move away from the strict “hat” focus. Not really an Agent item due to the stats, but appreciated by the panel for its pilot’s oxygen mask inspired styling, isn’t it? Isn’t it, though. Standard.


There'd better not be Ewoks

At last, an undisputed hat (or helmet) (some Venn diagramming may be needed.) Presumably an ancestor of the Scout trooper helmet, suitably Imperial, but could do with a bit of a face mask to be more ominous.


Maybe eye holes would've been a good idea

Agent Bowie-Numan spoke particularly highly of this piece, hoping it might lead to a guest spot playing a synthesiser with Orbital at Glastobury.


A touch of the Afrika Korps

Still with the jaw protection; could it be a design fault with the riding position on speeder bikes that caused a rash of troopers being hospitalised with badly bruised chins before new headgear was issued?


I sprint so fast I need a spoiler on my hat

Finally for this update, Imperial formal headwear, also known as “The original series Doctor Who Time Lord fancy dress hat”. Not strictly designed for combat, being a piece of social armour, but nonetheless tremendous fun to wear while adventuring just to see if NPCs can keep a straight face when giving you missions. So far the famed Imperial discipline is really holding up, as not a single person (or droid) has started a conversation with “What the hell have you got on your head?”

For the loot, honey, for the loot.

I mentioned in a previous post how pleased I was to see that I could instruct my companion in SWTOR to toddle off and sell all my junk loot in order to keep my limited inventory space clear for more important items, such as my fifteenth cosmetic neckerchief – this one will look simply darling in any medium-to-long range combat situation. Of course I imagine that Force users don’t instruct so much as persuade, in what is apparently the Jedi/Sith equivalent of sudo make me a sandwich. I mean, I’d make a rubbish Jedi, because the potential for Force abuse would be far too tempting to resist:

Companion: “But my favourite is green!”
Jedi [making a hand movement]: “Your favourite is yellow.”
Companion: “But my favourite is yellow!”
Jedi: “Well gosh, that *is* most conveniently handy, because that means you can have the yellow wine gums, and I’ll have all the green ones – which are my favourite.”
Companion: “Yay!”
Jedi [makes a subtle hand movement]
Companion: “Ow! Damnit!”
Jedi: “The phantom knicker-elastic snapper again?”
Companion: “It’s, like, every time we’re on the ship.”
Jedi: “It really is most perplexing.”
Companion: “And then there are all those draughts that keep lifting my dress. But we’re on a ship, Jedi! In the vacuum of space! IT’S A VACUUM!”
Jedi: “It is a *terrible* mystery. Truly it is. *monch* *monch* Mmmm, these green wine gums really are delicious.”

In my fresh play through of Skyrim as well, I quickly decided that I will skip the insane levels of inventory juggling and trips to the shops to sell my leftover loot, and instead I would only collect items which would really improve my character immediately, along with any gold coins I stumbled upon.

This is no revelation, just a simple hop skip and a jump along the natural progression of ‘loot leaving’ in an RPG. At first you leave no item unyoinked, twigs, bits of frayed string, fish bones, odd socks, cabbage leaves, cat hairballs, those waffle makers that everyone buys and only ever use once. Heck, it takes half an hour to progress a yard down the first path you encounter while you collect every piece of gravel along the way. After a while you make some money –because in EVERY RPG you start out with no money whatsoever– and you start to feel a little more flush, so that you only feel the need to, say, pick up every other Marmite jar. And you manage to pretty much leave the empty ones alone entirely! A little further in your progress down the Road of Single Player RPG, you find that the weapons and armour your opponents drop are hardly worth enough to warrant collecting, and you barely even look twice at old toenail clippings any more. Yet more time invested sees you leaving even some magical items, recoiling at the thought of having to break off from adventuring in order to traipse all the way back to town to sell them. And it’s not like you’re desperate for the gold now – a little more gold and you can probably buy that really nice castle down by the lake, with the hot tub and the billiard room. You know you’re over the hill of progression and coasting down the other side towards the retirement village of Dunitallnow upon Sea when you start to leave any item that isn’t a legendary artefact, and even then you have to think twice before popping the Holy Invincible Fist of the Almighty into you backpack in order to see if someone will give you some money for it; possibly enough to buy a new gold and diamond pull-chain for your en suite toilet back at the castle. In the end you reach the point where you’re so rich you just abandon cavernous rooms full of wondrous treasure, and when kings offer you dominion over entire regions of their kingdom, you sniff haughtily and give them such a look, as though they’d just rubbed themselves all over with dog poo and asked for a hug.

And yet, despite being so rich that I could buy the moon and still not have enough real estate to store all my worldly (and moonly) possessions, I *still* can’t walk past a blarmed wardrobe and dresser without having a peak inside, just in case. Just in case?! Just in case what? Just in case this mangled camphor box –inside a decrepit old woman’s rundown house– has, amongst the mouldy long knickers, scarves and the top half of a set of false teeth, the Inevitable Sword of Impossible Greatness? A weapon which could cleave the planet in twain and complete my dominion of time and space! Unlikely as that is, it might be hidden there, I’ll just have a peak… “ah no, it’s just some mouldy long knickers and a dusty long pink rubbery… is that a… ?! A…?! Aaaa…aaahhh! Oh, ugh, I think it is! Ewww! Ewww! I think I touched it!” And then I have to spend the next five minutes flapping around the place, holding my hands as far away from the rest of me as possible, while looking for some soap and running water. Such are the hazards of the ever-looting RPG adventurer.

But why this compulsion to look for that next improbably powerful item on the Fantasy Top 100 Items That Could Destroy A World? I mean, if it can cleave a world in twain, is that good? Can you cleave too much? Can you have too much cleavage? If it has a thirty six times direct damage modifier when cleaving, do I really need that? In RPG terms that would be 36DD Cleavage, and I’ve just no idea if I could even handle something of that magnitude.

In the end, I know who to blame: for, every time I get the urge to search for loot, the devil of temptation and the angel of abstinence are to be found, sat upon either shoulder, giving me advice. The devil whispers in my ear “Go on, loot it, looooot it; you know you want to”. A sweat breaks out on my brow, my hand hovers over the loot key, but with a wince I draw my hand sharply back as though the keys were brands which would burn ‘inveterate looter’ onto my finertips for all to see. I turn with great effort to the angel of abstinence who looks upon me with kind eyes full of understanding. Steepling her hands in front of her mouth, she looks thoughtful for a brief moment, and then shouts “For God’s sake man, what are you waiting for?! Loot the damn handbag, there could be some amazing treasure in there!”

Stupid angel of abstinence.