Author Archives: Melmoth

About Melmoth

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.

Oh death, where is thy sting?

I had been having some trouble, I can admit that much; I wouldn’t say that my dungeon run in Dungeons & Dragons Online was a nightmare, but I had been struggling through somewhat, with each fight having to be a careful pull and kite in order to maximise my time spent actually playing the game, rather than sitting around licking my wounds.

It’s all part of my holding pattern while I wait for Guild Wars 2 to arrive: I dabble solo in this game and that, not really finding the enthusiasm to play any single game with the traditional idolatrous fervour of the MMO addict. We’re on the taxiway with Air ArenaNet now, and the air of anticipation means that I can’t concentrate on anything – sometimes snapping alert as though from a daze, whereupon I find myself staring blankly at a half-finished inflight magazine which I don’t remember opening, let alone reading. Soon the engines of anticipation will build to full power, the excitement and tension palpable, the thrumming power of that passion, held in check, causing the cabin of the community to vibrate. The allotted take-off window arrives, and with the flip of a switch… release. A roar of exultation follows, our craft swiftly gathering momentum in its eager urgency, then with a swell and a sigh we launch, soaring onward to the peregrine climes of Tyria.

In the meantime, I really am an irascible git with respect to my gaming patience, to the point that I’m actually spending most of my time reading.

Nevertheless, I did, at some point, find myself struggling through a dungeon in DDO. It so happened that I reached a point where I could no longer progress without aid: a lever needed to be operated while another person would run through a series of gates. Having come quite far, I decided to purchase a hireling and complete my otherwise solo sortie with a little help. Being a melee sort, I decided to grab a cleric hireling, and that’s when I was reminded by just how much healing changes the game.

Just like that, my character became an irrepressible and immortal being. Where before I was tentative and circumspect, I was now transformed into a hooligan – there are those who would think themselves hooligans, but they would be compelled to stare agape at my antics and call out ‘Steady on there old chap, have a care!’. I was suddenly pulling whole groups of skeletons, pulling additional groups of skeletons, pulling the sisters of those groups of skeletons. It was carnage, at the end of which I would stand panting in the midst of a bone pile that would make Razorfen Downs blush, and my health bar would still be reading ‘Don’t know what all the fuss is about’. That was just for starters, then… then I got blasé. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I do know that by the end of it I was running back and forth naked through a series of traps, dragging a train of skeletons behind me, while I sang U Can’t Touch This. I do remember riding a clay golem. And trying to goose a fire elemental with a stick of dynamite. If we stopped to rest but briefly, I would imagine I was calmly sitting in the camp fire, stirring the embers with my feet and watching my health bar drop and rise, drop and rise.

I’m curious to see how Guild Wars 2’s healing works — whether support classes and group healing will become the essential crutch that they are in other MMOs, or if ArenaNet will find a way to balance encounters such that they are required only in the direst of situations. That’s what I hope for, not for a removal of healing altogether, but a return to it being a tactical decision, an occasional counter to an enemy’s pressed attack, rather than a vital constant where defeat is ensured if it ever goes away. GW2 certainly seems to have less emphasis on healing, and the downed mechanic makes death less of a certainty once that health bar has dropped to zero.

It’s somewhat sad that abundant healing enables our characters to achieve so much, yet restricts them so much the more if it is then ever absent. With GW2 I’m hoping to find a freer form of gameplay, although never so free as yee-hawing naked on a bucking golem through the impotent defensive lines of the minions of darkness, I grant you.

Take Courage! Whatever you decide to do, it will probably be the wrong thing.

              

I like the original on the left because I based her on Isabela from Dragon Age 2.

I like the one on the right because I think she looks more like a classic Norn, such as Jora[1]

But which one should I play as my Chesney Hawkes? My ‘not going to re-roll, sticking to my guns, this is it, final answer, no alts until I hit the level cap’?

There’s only one way to find out!

FIGHT![2]

[1] I still need to tweak the mouth somewhat, so it doesn’t look as though her greatest enemy was not Jormag but an industrial class collagen injection machine.

[2] Or have a vote. Or roll a dice. Or see which one turns up first in my dreams wearing a wetsuit full of jelly—I’ve said too much.

Necessity is the mother of futile dodges.

Calcaneus. The heel. That terminating projection of bone behind the articulation of the lower leg. A major structure of the foot; a critical design flaw, and cause for recall, of the Achilles model of Greek hero; and the primary reason why action combat doesn’t work in MMOs.

The KiaSA Guide to MMOs has this to say on the subject of action combat: It’s an awful lot of jumping around, without really taking into consideration the power of the heel.

The KiaSA Guide to MMOs has this to say on the subject of the heel: Provides a simple yet highly effective method of being able to pivot on the spot, thus ruining most forms of action combat found in MMOs today. Also: combined with a baby parsnip and a doll’s wig, can present a passing fair representation of Prime Minister David Cameron.

‘Dodge! Dodge!’ cry the developers; thus I fling my character around the screen like a freshly landed sea bass flopping its way across the deck of a boat, trying—in utmost futility—to escape its tormentors. In the meantime, my enemy stands on the spot and spins around slowly, punching me all the while.

“Can’t you see I’m dodging here?”

“Yes, yes [smack] you’re doing a tremendous job. [thwack] Stirling effort and all that [thock]. I really am quite in awe [spang] of your mobility and [biff] energy, leaping all over the place [poon] as you are [bosh]. I mean, you’re really making my job [funt] modestly more difficult [dorf] than it need be, maybe more [bum].”

“‘Bum’?”

“Sorry, I was aiming higher, but you, well—moved.”

“I’m not going to be able to sit down for weeks, you know.”

“Look I’m sorry, it would have happened if you’d just stand still, instead of all this…”

“This?”

“This flopping around.”

“I am NOT flopping.”

“Here we go…”

“This is active dodging!”

“Uh huh.”

“I was trained by a Grand Master, I’ll have you know!”

“Mmm.”

“Spent punishing years in Tibet.”

“Right.”

“Forged my mind and body into the singular living embodiment of the art of ‘getting the frack out of the way’.”

“But aren’t you just, uh, running around in a circle and jumping a bit?”

“Oh, that is IT. The minute I’m able to stop dodging I’m going to fwap you *so* hard. Are you… are you tiring at all yet?”

“Not really.”

“Ah.”

“I could probably go on like this for hours. I mean, it’s not like I’m having to break a sweat or anything; I just keep spinning on my heel and carry on punching. How about you?”

“I’m getting quite tired actually.”

“Perhaps you should have a little lie down.”

“I couldn’t possibl—”

“Here, let me help: [FUNCH]”

Oh sure, I can dodge the preposterously telegraphed attacks, where the enemy spends more time winding-up their strike than I used to spend trying to eke out an extra bit of speed from the Evel Knievel Deluxe Dare Devil Stunt bike. That damnable bike, where I’d quickly wind the handle to close to the theoretical maximum speed, then spend the next half an hour oscillating between fractionally faster and fractionally slower speeds as my body alternately lost and regained its coordination, before ultimately tiring to the point where I slipped, mistimed the release, the bike flopping pathetically over onto its side two centimetres away from the ramp, and I knocked myself unconscious on the launch ramp as I fell. Good times.

That form of one-button active dodge is just a quick time event in disguise. Certainly the ‘dodge event’ serves to break up the monotony of traditional rock ’em, sock ’em MMO combat, but it’s not really a step-change in the evolution of combat, more a small step in the right direction.

Tera solves the ‘heel pivot’ issue by having the mobs be continuously dumbfounded when your character dodges. Whenever you leap behind a mob, they will stand there in a comic ‘Durrr, where’d she go?’ sort of way, before slowly turning around and—after a merry ‘Boh! There she is!’—continue on with the fight, allowing you to get a few free hits in without retaliation in the interim. Still, Tera was one of the few MMOs where I actively sought combat, rather than trying to avoid it all costs unless directed to do so by a quest.

DDO solved the problem by making casters ludicrously more powerful than melee, and seemingly giving every boss a massive unavoidable AoE knockdown in order to punish anyone daring to get into melee range. The fact that casters need to chain-chug mana pots purchased from the Turbine store in order to maintain their level of power? Coincidence. But that’s the danger of having the power-gaming community rule a game: it’s terribly easy in such a case for the developer to exploit the need for maximum optimisation, primarily through in-store incentives.

“Oh, you don’t *need* to buy this from the store. Not at all. The content can be done just fine without Store Consumable X. I mean, gosh, of course you’ll probably run it about thirty seven seconds slower than if yo—”

[Store Consumable X has sold out]

MMOs, for now, are combat. Even in TSW, which at least tries to mix things up a little, I’m beginning to tire of the number of problems in the world that can only be solved by going out and slaughtering a *precise* number of tightly clustered creatures. Yet for all their insistence on combat being the Ultimate Solution to all problems…

“MMO Mother, I can’t do up my shoes!”

“Kill five pairs of them!”

“MMO Mother, I’m having trouble with my homework.”

“Kill your homework!”

“MMO Mother, I can’t open this packet of crisps.”

“Kill the packet and all the crisps inside. And then kill nine more packets to teach them a lesson!”

“MMO Mother, there’s a wasp!”

“Right, what you need to do is travel halfway across the world and ask Uncle Geoff whether we can borrow his wasp catcher. You’ll probably find that he’s happy for you to do that, but that his wasp catcher is broken, as it often is. Thus, you’ll need to travel to seven locations across the globe, collecting the rare parts which can only be found in these out of the way places, and bring them back to Uncle Geoff. He’ll then repair the wasp catcher for you, but only if you can perform the Ritual of the Wasp. To learn the Ritual of the Wasp, you’ll need to speak to the Fifteen Sages of Waspdom, who are spread out—far, far, far, far out—across the world. They’re slightly eccentric folk, though, so I expect each of them will require you to quest for an insignificant item of no consequence before they divulge their secrets. Good luck!”

“Can’t I just kill it?”

“What sort of crazy talk is that?! Kill it… I never heard such— aye, what sort of child says such things? I blame your father.”

…it seems strange that when seasoning their combat, the MMO chefs decided to leave variety in the spice rack. The current format of standing still and playing a game of Farmville on fast-forward (press buttons, in order, based on time-limited resources, eventually win) clearly doesn’t lend itself terribly well to a more dynamic form. It’s almost as though MMO combat is stuck somewhere between the more cerebral experience found in tactical RPGs, and the more dynamic action found in beat ’em ups and FPS games, and can’t really decide to which audience it ought to cater. That’s not to say that MMO combat doesn’t have its own style, its own niche differentiation, it’s just that the fundamental design is nowhere near compelling enough to be used so persistently, without it quickly becoming impossibly dull.

All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last.

There are no respecs in The Secret World. If you place your Action Points (APs) and Skill Points (SPs) into an ability tree which you then find you don’t really like, no problem, just start spending points in a different tree. You can go back and repeat quests to earn plenty of AP and SP, and a quick dash through the PvP gauntlet in Fusang Project when you know the correct tactics will also grant you swift gains. So, no respec necessary, say the developers, just change course and carry on!

Which just goes to show how little they understand.

Those misspent points haunt me, taunt me—flaunt their redundancy. In my dreams a constellation of orange AP icons swim around my head before diving, in regimented fashion, into a black hole. A long twisting line of blue SP icons waddle along on their lower edges like parallelogram penguins, before hopping one after the other into a furnace. All this to the tune of Disney’s Pink Elephants on Parade

Look out! Look out!
Poor decisions have been made!
Here they come!
Hippety hoppety.
They’re here and there,
Poor decisions everywhere!

Waking up in a sweat in the night, screaming “I SHOULD HAVE PUT IT ALL INTO MAKING FISTING BETTER” is at best going to elicit a grumbled rolling-over from Mrs Melmoth, and more likely a sharp clout to a sensitive part of my body, followed by an interrogation the next day as to the precise meaning of such an outburst.

It must break a Hague Convention in some perverse way: to breed and cultivate a group of OCD, statistic-snorting, optimisation addicts, and then to start making games which give them the freedom to make mistakes, then correct for those mistakes, while leaving the initial errors in place. It’s like telling Monk that he can leave the tumbled pile of bricks over there, and just start building a new tower over here. Uh, not willingly, no.

Perhaps I should have re-rolled my character, back when there was still a chance I wouldn’t horribly burn-out trying to catch-up with my friends in the game again; by now it’s too late because I’ve progressed too far. However, I suppose it’s a tribute to such a system that I still have just the one character (possibly a first for me in an MMO), and having changed tack with regard to that character’s development on several occasions, I’m still playing the game without issue. I’ve been enjoying myself, even. Admittedly, there was that one time where I raged for hours about the cruelty and madness of not making a respec token available on the in-game store, but I don’t think the Post Office clerk was all that interested—their only contribution was to ask if it was a book of first or second class stamps that I wanted. And the night terrors continue, of course, but perhaps it’s all part of my rehabilitation from altitus.

Actually, I’m finding playing just the one character quite liberating, and the novelty seems to be taking hold, because I’m approaching the forthcoming release of Guild Wars 2 with a rugged determination that I’ll be playing just the one character, at least until such a time as I feel that I can do no more with them.

Of course there’s still the danger that I’ll wake up yelling about how I should have picked a Mesmer, but a decisive swat from Mrs Melmoth is sure to be a quick antidote to such concerns. Is it true that TSW has cured me of my altitus? I suppose we’ll find out a month or so after GW2’s release, but for anyone playing at home, I suspect that m’colleague is making a book on how long it will be before I re-roll, and that the longest duration he’s given odds against is in the order of microseconds.

Holiday quest complete.

Achievement unlocked! 10 – Summer holiday!

Achievement unlocked! 50 – Negotiated the British public transport system!

Achievement unlocked! 75 – Survived fresh air, sunshine and exercise!

You have gained an interesting amount of experience.

You are exhausted and must rest before undertaking another holiday quest.

You have been granted the Sore Feet feat.

You have been awarded the title The Trampled.

You have been awarded the title Lord of Shoulder Rides.

You are now hunchbacked.

Unlocked the Slightly Less Ghostly White skin colour in the character creator.

Your reputation with the Wife faction has increased by 50 points. You are now Friendly with the Wife faction.

Your reputation with the Daughter faction has increased by 100 points. You are now Popular with the Daughter faction.

Your proficiency in dual-wielding backpacks has increased.

You have been granted the Proffer Tickets Using Only Your Teeth feat.

Your resistance to overcrowded tourist traps has improved.

Your resistance to overeating junk food has weakened.

You have seven bizarre souvenirs to place in your player house.

Your bank account contains twelve copper pieces.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.

There’s always talk about MMOs having a perfect launch, but it’s surprising how much goodwill players will show if the game offers a compelling enough experience. The Secret World is definitely not a disaster when it comes to bugs, but I can think of a few MMOs which were more finely honed by the time of their release and yet failed to garner the positive post-launch attention that TSW is receiving. In terms of coding snafus TSW is a squatter’s lice-infested pallet compared to the Queen’s immaculate mattress of Tera, and yet I think it’s fair to say that TSW is by far the more popular and favourably reported upon game. So all this talk of polish and perfection upon release seems to me to be so much bunkum. What players are really looking for is a game world and game experience which offers hooks which are sufficiently compelling – do this, and players will forgive you an awful lot. World of Warcraft was horrendous at launch, I mean truly unplayable twenty-second-wait-to-loot-a-corpse awful, but it was forgiven that and more, because it offered an accessible and compelling gaming experience like no other before.

I’m not saying that MMOs shouldn’t aim to be bug-free at launch (or as close as one can reasonably expect within the realm of complicated software systems), but it seems to me that TSW provides positive evidence for the case that players are more forgiving than is often portrayed, *if* they are given a reason to believe in a game. Refine the detail and the design, and players will forgive an awful of inconvenience in the implementation – at least until you’ve had a chance to fix it.

The two big issues in TSW for me at the moment are the broken chat system and a not insignificant number of bugged quests.

Chat is just broken, full stop. Period. End of. It’s over. Finished. Done with. Over with and done. Finished over and done with. Full period, end stop. From my experience, TSW’s chat system is currently the most mind-warpingly malign monster in the game.

I like to have General, Looking For Group and Mission SpoilersHints turned off, as they are the usual pit of endless quest spoilers, inane self-idolatry, pedantry, passive-aggressive arguments, abuse and drivel. The TSW chat system insists on turning them on – when I log in; when I change zone; when I dare to glance at my chat window. Of course there is an option to turn off auto-subscribing to channels, which, when used, does indeed stop these channels from being added to my chat window – along with all the channels that I do wish to see. What’s more, if I manage to get them working at all, the channels that I do want to view are then unsubscribed by the chat system at every seeming opportunity. It’s like some sinister sentience is controlling my chat window: I’ll see the tab for a private chat channel update, whereupon I glance across to read the message, only to find that the private channel had been dropped a while back, and in its place the dastard of discourse had popped up a message from Sky TV’s The Spoiler Channel (Sky 666)

“Today on The Spoiler Channel, Harry ‘Smugpants’ McPhearson takes us through the entire solution to the quest The Black House, but first-up it’s time for Blurt the Keypad Code of the Day with the Reverend Joseph ‘Obdurate’ Johnson”

Reverend Johnson: “SEVEN FIVE TWO FOUR NINE! Ha ha he he haa!”

Funcom are aware of the issue but have yet to exorcise the demons from chat, so for the time being I’ve taken to hiding my chat window off the bottom of the screen, where it haunts the edge of my vision and calls to me with a siren song which promises sensible parlance. But I know the horror which lurks therein: the Necronomiconversation.

Intuition is the clear conception of the whole at once.

The Secret World is a deeply splendid game which brings with it some intriguing game-play elements, but it also remains a little bit buggy in places, as is the Funcom way. Certain quests are particularly susceptible to bugging-out, quite often when more than one player is trying to activate a step or solve a problem at the same time.

Investigation quests are one of the more interesting elements of the game, requiring players to use lateral thinking and powers of deduction to solve a chain of clues and riddles in order to resolve a mystery. Some of the answers to this particular type of quest are really quite obscure, and often require a significant leap of intuition on the part of the player.

But the really fun part comes when, after hours of increasingly more ludicrous attempts at solving the problem, with one’s character hanging upside down from a street lamp by one leg, with underpants on its head, candles in its ears, and its naked body covered in marmalade, one gives up in frustration and looks up the solution online, only to find that the quest is bugged and that the correct solution was, indeed, to simply put the key in the lock.

Sound trumpets! Let our bloody colours wave! And either victory, or else a grave.

There is a hard disk in my PC which is a graveyard for MMOs. An incredibly large and ponderous device, it is the ghostly oil tanker devoid of life, which drifts in an eternal bank of fog, whose hold is filled with an abandoned cargo of games past. The swift and nimble Zodiacs I use for the day-to-day traversing of the great gaming sea are both small and light, and thus carry only the bare MMO necessities—those few games which I currently play.

Upon entering the graveyard of MMOs, every folder is a beige pixel-hewn tombstone, every directory name prefaced in my mind by ‘Herein lies…’.

“Herein lies Lord of the Rings Online.
Long time friend.
Who got a bit boring and greedy
sometime near the end.”

I let my mouse cursor—virtual fingertip—wander across the surface of these hierarchical graves, tracing the memories captured in the names written there. Often I must resist exhuming a game, the swelling tide of happy remembrance threatening to breach the weakening resolve of my cynical defence against emotional floods. Usually I can content myself with browsing through old screenshots, as perfect as the day I took them – our picture albums no longer fade along with our memories.

Rarely do I attempt to resurrect a game from its magnetised mausoleum, but often I wish myself a Frankenstein of files, able to take a perfect piece from this crypt, some small segment from this other, and thence hammer and hew, stretch sinew and stitch, until my meisterwerk takes form. Would it be a monster? Would it be misunderstood? Could the best of what has come before be combined in a such a way that it still formed a whole, one which was greater even than the sum of these mighty parts? Perhaps Vanguard’s quiet lonely lumbering at the edge of MMO society has already answered this.

I dragged another vault to the graveyard of MMOs today: farewell Tera, I have fond memories of what you were, and sad thoughts of what you could have been. Now my Zodiac is loaded with The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, and as I push myself away from that leviathan of expired MMOs, before opening the outboard of my enthusiasm, I bask in the feeling that I won’t have need to return for quite some time.