Player of a murdered game, owner of a murdered characer, I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next

coh, games, waffle, zoso 2 Comments »

Van Hemlock tweets: “Good grief. “#AvengeCoH” hashtags… seriously? What is wrong with you people?” And of course it is a touch on the histrionic side, but then this is a comic book universe, so arch-enemies and pledges of vengeance aren’t entirely out of character. According to narrative imperative, a group of orphan players should now travel the world, ceaselessly training in MMOG-programming techniques in mountain-top monasteries (that nevertheless have excellent broadband internet infrastructure) before returning to civilisation in the guise of The Group Of People Seeking To Exact Satisfation For A Previous Event (note to editor: there must be a catchier name), unleashing a new superhero MMOG of hitherto unimagined quality, and attracting all existing NCSoft subscribers away from their previous games. There’ll be a climactic confrontation with the board of NCSoft, probably on the window ledge of a skyscraper in the middle of a thunderstorm (it’ll need to be quite a bg window ledge, perhaps with a conference table and lots of chairs), who will ultimately be vanquished, and good will have triumphed.

Until one of The Group Of People Seeking To Exact Satisfaction For A Previous Event turns out to be a robot from the future, and they all meet evil clones of themselves from a parallel universe, and their powers are drained and absorbed by an entity of pure energy from Dimension Z, and they get framed for crimes they didn’t commit and the public turn on them, and then they’re all killed, for a couple of weeks, until the deaths are retconned and then they get cancelled. Or something.

Posted by Zoso at 11:42 am

In Memoriam City of Heroes

coh, games, zoso 8 Comments »

So. Farewell then
City of Heroes
You were My First
Like the Barry White
Song
(But not my Last or Everything.
Still. One out
Of three
Isn’t bad.)

E. J. Zoso, age 17½

Terribly sad news that Paragon Studios are to close down, bringing an end to City of Heroes. As my first ever MMOG, City of Heroes will always have a place in my heart, somewhere between the pulmonary artery and left ventricle. It got me into this whole business and set a bar that even now some games limbo under rather than superjumping over, with features like flexible group sizes, sidekicking to play with friends, character customisation.

“In times of trouble, go with what you know”, as they say, and we know nothing here if not A Bit of Fry & Laurie. This genuinely heart-wrenching sketch from Series 2 seems rather apt.

“How do I like my MMOs? I like them the way Paragon Studios used to make them.”

Posted by Zoso at 1:10 pm

Adventure is hardship aesthetically considered.

coh, melmoth, mmo 2 Comments »

Meanwhile, in Paragon City…

[Spinning KiaSA logo] Bannalananala Bannalananala naaaaaaaaa

City of Heroes continues to SOCK! and KAPOW! the pleasure centres of my mind with the improvements that have been made to it over the years, the foremost of which being the sheer unadulterated joy that comes from being able to hop into a group with friends, then straight away proceed to engage in activities both enjoyable and productive. City of Heroes delivers the fist of freedom to the jaw of arbitrary restrictions, and a further flurry of blows breaks down those traditional MMO barriers to grouping, such that when the dust cloud settles the players find themselves blinking into sunlight beneath a clear open sky, the last broken remnants of constraint’s walls crumbling to the floor beside them.

City of Heroes has always been a champion of freedom when it comes to group composition, but I find it admirable that over the years the game has evolved its powers further, enabling even great levels of liberty to the player population. This is a game which has found its Fortress of Solitude, listened to the advice it found there, and used the knowledge to become that much the better. It’s a shame that other MMOs persist in Batman brute-forcing their way through alone, ignoring this shining beacon of Ease, Happiness and the Multiplayer Way that has existed for many years within the same universe as they.

The changes to the Positron task force, however, present an interesting area for debate. On the surface it seems like a change for the better: the gruelling four hour chain of missions, which prevented players from undertaking any other missions until they had either completed or quit the task force (which could not then be rejoined once it was in progress), has been split into a pair of one and a half hour sessions, with far less travel and far more villain pummelling. The new task force is certainly enjoyable, and our group of players came away from it satisfied. But nobody will remember it. I imagine it’s a similar sort of situation to that which we find when considering games such as Dark Souls, where the experience is gruelling, but the memories quickly become rose-tinted and stick with one for far longer than, say, those of a game like Dragon Age 2 ever would.

Synapse, Manticore… I struggle to remember the names of the other task forces, but Positron… Positron has been etched with an optic blast into my MMO soul, such that I still draw in a sharp breath at the mere thought of it in its original format. Perhaps it’s also something about that first dungeon in a game: ask me to think of instances in World of Warcraft, for example, and images of the Deadmines spring to mind quickly, shortly followed by Gnomeregan; I struggle to remember even the names of the dungeons that came with the Burning Crusade expansion. Certainly the Positron task force is now a more pleasant and manageable affair, but I do wonder if we lose too much in our games by removing all the Punishers and replacing them with Jubilees.

Posted by Melmoth at 1:11 pm

Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.

coh, melmoth, mmo 2 Comments »

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded as to just how confusing and daunting MMOs can appear to a person who has never played one before. City of Heroes is good at doing this because even though I’ve played the game before, and even though I’m fairly familiar with many of the tropes and systems with which we associate MMOs, CoH has added many new systems since I last played regularly, and it often does things a little bit different to the MMO norm anyway.

City of Heroes now has Trials, a sort of dungeon run restricted to one location, rather than the multi-mission, multi-location story arcs of the Task Force group content. I guess you could see the Trials as Not-so-Public Quests, in the fact that you go to an instance with a fixed group, but the challenges of the event dynamically update as your group completes each stage. At the lower levels the main trial is Death From Below, or ‘sewer trial’ as it is often referred to among the CoX cognoscenti. You can queue for the trials through a LFD-like interface, but the CoH crowd, being the more sociable and old-school lot that they are, generally seem to prefer organising a group through global chat channels such as Global and Help, and then queuing the whole group up at once, whereupon it is instantly ported into the instance.

I say instantly, but of course it takes differing amounts of time for people’s computers to load the map, and this is where my problems began. Having been the first into the map, I decided to have a quick look around the start, where I quickly found a helpful Longbow NPC who offered to train-up my character if they required it, as well as offering a number of other services. No, not *those* kind of services, longbow is not a euphemism. Since the XP gain is so mind-bogglingly delicious in these trials, or certainly this specific trial at these low levels, the developers have helpfully added NPCs at various stages through the run who will train-up your character, so that you can gain levels and get your new skills without even having to wait to the end of the current instance run. Nifty!, as I believe the loquacious kids say.

One of the other services offered, however, was to switch to a different character build. This was new to the game since I’d last been there, and looking around and not seeing the rest of the group yet, I decided to have a quick play with swapping my build.

I’ve had better ideas.

Having switched builds, I found myself with no powers whatsoever on my hotbar. Not to panic, a quick word with the NPC about training and I could see that I was essentially a level one character, with seven-or-so levels worth of powers and slots to pick, exactly as if I’d just initiated a character respec. It makes sense: when you want to change character builds, you’re generally going to want to use a different build. Okay, admittedly in a game like CoH I can sort of picture those builds being categorised as ‘AoE Damage’, ‘More AoE Damage’, ‘The Same AoE Damage But With Different Colours’ and ‘Defensive Build With Contingency for… Nah, Just Kidding, This One Does Urethra-Loosening AoE Damage Too’, but in reality there genuinely are different ways to build most powerset combinations, mostly for damage, but control/defensive builds are a valid consideration; not to mention the fact that you use an entirely different set of enhancements (the game’s item/e-peen/advancement equivalent) for each build, which with the game’s crafting system giving a wide variety of enhancement ‘sets’ (each of those sets giving interesting bonuses and procs based on the number of enhancements of that set slotted in your character’s powers), means you can add quite a variety of customisation to a character. But if we’re honest, it’s mainly about the AoE.

It was, of course, while staring at a blank character build that the rest of the team turned up. Fair enough, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with this secondary build anyway, so I just swapped back to my origina… ‘You Must Wait Fourteen Minutes Before You Can Change Builds Again’.

Oh dear.

What followed can only be described as a frantic grab for powers as the rest of the team opened up the sewer doors and began dispensing AoE justice – the best kind of justice. It was like being late for work, where you dash around the house grabbing whatever you think may be necessary, nay, whatever immediately comes to hand, such that you turn up to work with your trousers on back-to-front, and a briefcase which contains a pair of socks, your wife’s epilator (buzzing), one slipper, a packet of sultanas (mostly emptied out into your bag), three dishwasher tablets, half of yesterday’s broadsheet, and your cat, who looks at you with the hate-filled eyes of one who has been unceremoniously dumped in a dark bag and forced to fight for its life with an aggressive epilator.

I accepted the powers that I’d frantically grabbed, and jumped into the action. We completed the instance without any trouble, probably because with eight players all blasting away, there’s not an awfully great challenge to the whole affair, even if one of those players is standing at the back and using the mutated macramé power they mistakenly picked – knotting particularly vicious looking cushions to throw at the enemy, while hoping that nobody else on the team notices.

It’s interesting how such a simple thing can cause trouble. I can’t honestly say whether it was my ‘yeah, yeah’ MMO attitude to clicking on buttons, or whether there indeed wasn’t a prominent warning to let the player know that they wouldn’t be able to change builds again for fifteen minutes, BEFORE they committed. Regardless, for anyone who doesn’t really understand ‘alternative builds’ in the context of MMOs, it might well cause a lot of confusion and frustration for the new player to find themselves locked out of their main build for fifteen minutes. Either way, it reminded me of how much I take for granted in MMOs these days with respect to my inherent knowledge, and how hard it must be for developers to truly place themselves in the shoes of the new player, to weight their tutorials, instructions and warnings so as to give those who are inexperienced the best possible chance, while at the same time not hindering the ‘yeah, yeah’ crowd of MMO regulars.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a staff meeting and I need to quickly pop a tie on Mr Tiddles and brief him on how to act like another software engineer. Mainly it involves instructing him to only purr when a particularly interesting algorithm is displayed on the projector screen, and to not lick his bum at the conference table (etiquette dictates that such activity is generally to be confined to one’s cubicle). Having his hair attacked savagely and randomly by an epilator was a good first step to a disguise, however; he will do well here.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:35 am

That’s no moon.

coh, melmoth, mmo 2 Comments »

Tamel Coe

It’s amazing the number of Easter eggs you can find in MMOs, as well as the variety. Such variety.

Take this statue of a Grace Jones look-alike in City of Heroes’ Atlas Park district, for example. Now, I’m not normally one for looking out for such details, especially considering the fact that most female character anatomy is already flaunted and displayed in games with the alarming casual detachment of an inveterate horse trader showing off his prize mare, but it’s hard to miss such a swell example when you fly right into a six foot high rendition while your attention is otherwise occupied in talking to a friend.

And so I draw your attention to the statue’s seemingly rather well defined lower lady parts being thrust in the viewer’s general direction.

You may allow your monocle to fall from your eye… now.

I hope you had it on a chain, those things are expensive!

City of Heroes has badges for every achievement under the sun, so when said friend asked if I’d got a badge for discovering this hidden pearl, I was somewhat disappointed to find that I hadn’t. I suggested to them that it might be called the Vadge Badge, but the conversation quickly clammed up after that.

Posted by Melmoth at 4:53 pm

Output of the overmind.

coh, lotro, melmoth, mmo, wow 4 Comments »

Bit of a case of the lurgy at the moment, so the usual verbose verbiage is in short supply. Instead here’s a quick dump from my brain sphincter, until more solid content is forthcoming:

If you consider free-to-play MMOs to be a bit of a purchasing minefield, try navigating through the world of mobile phone tarrifs, which isn’t so much a minefield as a field full of weasels with mines strapped to their backs, so that they can chase after you if you try to escape.

If real life imitated MMOs, we’d only spend a few years in a town before moving to the next one over because we’d done everything there was to do in our previous town. By your mid thirties you’d be living in a town at least two countries distant, never having revisited your home town, and scared to go on holiday anywhere else because you’d have to single-handedly kill all the indigenous wildlife around a hotel before they’d deign to let you in.

The first super villain who works out how to switch on collateral damage will win City of Heroes approximately three and a half seconds later.

If you think about it, for saving all of Middle Earth, Frodo obtained a short sword, a cloak, one piece of epic armour, chronic depression and a debilitating mental weariness which forced him to leave the land forever. Perhaps Tolkien was ahead of his time and was foreshadowing Lord of the Rings Online all along.

Final Fantasy XIV was the first game in the series to almost live up to its name.

Rumour has it that the reason Blizzard’s next MMO is taking so long to come to fruition is due to legal wrangling with the Pratchett estate over Blizzard’s world design. Titan is a flat world balanced on the backs of four e-peens which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant shoulder pad which flies through space. The Pratchett estate claims that simply taking the ‘s’ out of the name of their famous series –on which Blizzard’s world is based– doesn’t really differentiate it enough from their trademark.

If you took all the people who have spent more money on MMOs than they have on other forms of entertainment, and got them to form a line from New York towards London, you’d find that most of them had drowned.

Sources close to KiaSA suggest that TERA Online is having difficulty in beta testing with regards to balance. Engineers are still adamant that they’re not going to reduce the boob size of female characters to correct this, however, and have suggested the lore be updated to reflect the fact that the females of the Exiled Realm of Arborea naturally develop a second set of ‘ballast breasts’ on their backs instead.

Apparently, according to at least one website, Melmoth is a bit more snarky when he has the lurgy.

Posted by Melmoth at 12:47 pm

My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.

coh, melmoth, mmo 9 Comments »

“It’s just the beginning, it’s not the end. Things will never be the same again.” so sayeth the Melanie C, and so sayeth we all; starting afresh in City of Heroes has been a strange experience.

City of Heroes holds a special place in the hareem of my mind: a voluminous plump cushion where it rests with all the grapes that it can love and eunuchs it can eat. Although CoH wasn’t my first, it was the one which showed me exciting new ways of thinking about MMOing. It looked upon the standard MMO missionary position which I’d performed with Dark Age of Camleot for some time, and laughed, then MMOed me in ways which blew my mind. At the time, CoH was the Kama Sutra of MMO, providing such flexibility and originality that you’d watch someone else MMOing in CoH and have to turn your head on its side, one way then the other, and repeat this several times before you managed to work out which bit of the player was going where, and what that extra thing was, and… can one of those do that? There? I mean, doesn’t that hurt? At the time, it didn’t hurt; it was the most free MMO love I have ever experienced, and although other games have since come along and offered reflections of this pleasure, it was never quite as pure, as though you’d filmed yourself MMOing with CoH and were watching it back while MMOing with that other game.

The problem with returning to CoH and starting a new character is that the game insists in instructing you about MMOing all over again. And I know quite a lot about MMOing now. In fact I think I could teach CoH a thing or two, but of course it won’t let me. So where before, when I first played the game, a level one superhero seemed a force to be reckoned with, because they could leap over high walls and thock ne’er-do-wells into submission in less time than it took for one power to activate in DAoC, I now feel frustrated by the fact that I’m forced to play a ‘low power’ superhero and have to wait for almost forty levels before my character blossoms into awesomeness (blawesomes?). It’s the eternal bane of the Levelling Game: a low level character only seems great and powerful that first time. Every alt and re-roll is diminished for the player who has a character which has reached the level cap, and these sapling characters forever sit in the shade of the tremendous canopy of power that full grown characters enjoy. Levels, like tree rings, reflect age, strength and success, and those without them will always be comparatively delicate; yet those young trees which haven’t had to sit within the giant shadow of their peers must surely seem as gods to the flowers and shrubs upon which they gaze down.

It’s not really any wonder that World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm revamp didn’t tempt the majority of players into re-rolling.

A low power hero seems strange as soon as the comparison is made with an end-game hero, rather than the equal level NPCs that currently surround the low level character. And what is a low power hero anyway? Or an end-game hero? Surely an end-game hero is really a superhero proper, in which case how do we define the low power hero? Perhaps there exists a scale of heroism:

NoobHero -> Middlinghero -> Finehero -> Splendidhero -> Goshhero -> Superhero

And if not… well, it exists now. A noobhero starts with a couple of powers, both of which miss with alarming frequency, and thus there are many occasions where I find my character standing around waiting for his powers to recharge while a group of thugs beat him with baseball bats, and I imagine him whimpering “not the face!” as they pummel him. It’s a curious situation, like reading a comic where Dr David Banner is exposed to a massive overdose of gamma radiation whereupon he develops the ability to grow abnormally huge, but only develops super strength much later. Thus his entire first year of fighting crime involves explosively growing in size in the hope that, as his trousers disintegrate, a stray fly button might ping off and hit a criminal in the eye.

Of course when you start to gather noobheroes into a group, which, let’s face it, is the Way It’s Meant To Be Played, the whole affair becomes a lot less jarring. At a basic level, while your abilities are on cooldown after having entirely missed every attack, someone else can at least be attacking in the meantime! It’s a bit Captain Planet at the lower levels, in that eight noobheroes, with their powers combined, can form the slightly out of the ordinary Moderately Threatening Man! Nevertheless there’s a chaotic freedom to the way CoH empowers group play, and I find myself being reminded that MMOing with a group of friends can be a lot less regimented, a lot more wild and free, and isn’t free MMOing what it’s all about, man?

City of Heroes has been free to play for many years. So very free with its play. And now that it no longer requires a subscription, there’s really no excuse not to play. To paraphrase Lazarus Long, however, do remember:

MMOing solo is cheap, clean, convenient, and free of any possibility of wrongdoing — and you don’t have to go home in the cold.

But it’s lonely.

City of Heroes has once again reminded me that MMOs are still at their very best when you bring friends.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:22 am

Before machines the only form of entertainment people really had was relationships

coh, games, zoso 2 Comments »

MMOG bloggers have a relationship with the games they play. Some are happily settled in a committed long-term marriage with a single game, others promiscuously flit from game to game, sometimes keeping several on the go at once. When a relationship ends it can be in a blazing row with suitcases of cosmetic items tearfully flung from upstairs windows and a lengthy series of mascara-smeared posts that reveal rather more about the psychological state of the player than the game; I like to think I’m a bit more considered. Hey, look, things aren’t really working out are they? It’s not you, though, it’s me. Well, maybe it’s you a bit. We had some good times, though, didn’t we? Let’s keep in touch, especially now you’re not demanding money off me regularly, maybe I’ll come back if it turns out that good looking new game doesn’t have much going on behind that attractive facade. Maybe if you added a few new tricks to your repetoire, that wouldn’t hurt. You know, like that thing that other game does that I really like? Or if you had a bit of work done, you’re looking a little tired around the edges…

OK, that’s getting slightly creepy, probably best back away slowly from that analogy now before otters get involved. Me and Lord of the Rings Online, though, we’ve been drifting apart for a little while. Nothing wrong on the part of LotRO, it’s still a top-notch MMOG with a lovely world, excellent variety of things to do and a good “freemium” price model, I was just hitting that point, as I’ve done a few times previously, where I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for killing ten things, or collecting five other things, or tromping through a dungeon to kill a boss who might drop a thing that two or three of the party need that if you win the roll for you can take back to an NPC to get a thing that was made obsolete by the legendary thing you got two levels ago… It’s perhaps slightly unfortunate timing, what with the Isengard expansion going live even as I type, but I get the impression that it’s mostly aimed at characters at the end-game, and I hadn’t even quite made it into Moria, the first of the three expansions.

Fortuitously City of Heroes is putting the FREEM! into “freemium” as it ditches mandatory subscriptions, and with a general sense of ennui in the Fellowship(s) it seems like a fine time to take some very sage advice and play Game Y instead of Game X for a bit. As City of Heroes was my first MMOG I always have something of a soft spot for it, and it was fantastic fun to get back into the mayhem of a team of eight flinging themselves into massive crowds of villainy, fireballs, radiation blasts and photocopiers being hurled with reckless abandon (and snooker tables) (and table lamps) (gravity control is a brilliant power). There’s a possibility that nostalgia is playing a big part and it won’t be a long term thing, like bumping into someone at a school reunion, having a fantastic time and arranging to meet up again, then slowly realising that you have nothing in common any more and there’s only so long you can reminisce about that time Cliffy Prodger drank seventeen cans of non-alcoholic shandy at the school disco, proclaimed himself “trollied” and ran around the hall wearing his trousers as a headband; why fret about the future, though, when there are photocopiers to fling?

Posted by Zoso at 1:05 pm

The want of logic annoys.

coh, lotro, melmoth, mmo 11 Comments »

In City of Heroes there are a number of annoying mobs; one of the more memorable for me was the Tsoo sorcerer, a lieutenant class caster mob who would heal his cohorts and teleport himself halfway across the map to avoid being attacked, popping in to heal before buggering off again, like Florence Nightingale on a bungee cord. Sometimes there’d be two in a group, which would lead to annoying WWE style tag team healing, for which there was never a conveniently located folding chair or table available to break them up. There were a number of ways of dealing with them, however. If you were a crowd control class then you could lock down the sorcerer until the end of the fight. If you were a damage class then you could focus-fire the sorcerer at the start of the fight. If you were a tank class then you could swear a lot and go and find a group. The Tsoo sorcerer was very annoying, but there were numerous ways to counter them if you were careful and clever.

In Lord of the Rings Online there are numerous annoying mobs or, more accurately, numerous annoying abilities that several mobs share. The one that intensely annoys me is the stun, which lasts a variable number of seconds depending on the mob type and which, as far as I can tell, serves absolutely no purpose other than to annoy the pants off the player. The daily combat report, invariably presented by an attention-seeking bimbo in an outfit two sizes too small for her figure, would read:

Today will be mostly annoying, with a heavy outbreak of trolls and wargs coming in from the east. There will be a strong chance of pointless stuns and knock backs, leading to an area of low pleasure with gusty swearing and angrily scattered coffee cups later in the day.

In most cases there’s no way to prevent the stun, it doesn’t have an induction, and therefore at some point in the combat you simply stop what you’re doing for a number of seconds while the mob gnaws on you a bit.

The problem is that, unlike the Tsoo sorcerer, the stun in LotRO has no real bearing on the outcome of the combat; unless you’re very unlucky and very low on health when you’re stunned, the usual outcome is that you are forced to stop for a quick sip of coffee while you wait for the game to return control of your character to you, and then you carry on as normal. The Tsoo sorcerer is terribly annoying, but they’re also a menace, which thus requires players to think, plan, and often react on the spur of the moment to the ebb and flow of battle that the sorcerer effects.

The Tsoo sorcerer’s abilities require the player to concentrate harder on playing the game, thus drawing them further in to that world. The effect of the stun in LotRO is to throw the player forcefully out of the world, albeit momentarily, but it nevertheless gives them the ‘waking up from the Matrix’ moment where they are shown the reality of their situation, and are able to observe the machine that generates the world they were inhabiting moments ago. In addition it serves to remind them of the artificial nature of the system, and how easily it can be balanced in favour of the computer.

How did I beat you?
You… you’re too fast.
Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with fairness in this place? Do you think that’s fun you’re having now?

Mobs which are annoying are not intrinsically a Bad Thing, indeed, some of the mobs which are most engaging, and rewarding to defeat, are those mobs which cause the player to focus ever more intently on the game and its world. Loss of character control, however, is always a difficult mechanic to balance: to be successful a suitable level of peril should be employed such that the player is busy planning how they will survive when control returns to them, but not so much that the player feels the NPCs have an I WIN button which they can arbitrarily employ. If this is too difficult to balance in your game, then consider not having loss of character control at all, because having the game-play equivalent of ‘waiting for an elevator to arrive’ is never going to be compelling.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:19 am

We could be heroes.

coh, crowd control, lotro, melmoth, mmo, wow 10 Comments »

I’ve been reading the rather interesting developer blog of Orion for Lord of the Rings Online, where they are currently describing the process of revamping the Garth Agarwen instance and also answering questions with regards to Turbine’s decision to revamp a lot of the existing content in order to streamline it. It’s a fascinating insight into how things go on a day-to-day basis, and why and how decisions are made with regard to content updates.

One of the interesting decisions that’s been made is to reduce Garth Agarwen down to an instance balanced for three players, and as such part of the change is to reduce the number of mobs present. This prompted one of those daydream moments where the mind, as though reaching the plateaux of the rollercoaster of thought, is released with a hiss of opening brakes, pauses but momentarily on the cusp of a train of thought before plummeting down into the realms of flight and fancy. Looping the loop, it then twists and turns, throwing ideas violently from side to side until eventually it comes to an abrupt halt back where it started, and the rider sits there stunned as the realisation slowly creeps in that they cannot really be sure what just happened for the last minute and a half.

Still, as my mind staggered wobbly down the steps and away, vowing never to do that again, and wishing it hadn’t consumed that huge blog post just before taking the ride, it did manage to hold on to a small snippet of the short sadistic journey. Simply put, the thing that bothers me is that many MMOs rely not only on the Holy Trinity of classes to see them through combat, but also seem to prefer a design where players will only be expected to face one or two mobs at a time in a large number of cases, especially outside of instances. As such I think I was, in part, lamenting the reduced role of crowd control in many MMOs these days, where it is often eschewed for a more classical tank and spank routine and used only to deal with unexpected additional mobs, or in special cases where the encounter is designed specifically for its use.

One exception to the general rule is City of Heroes, and I believe it does things exceptionally well (as all exceptions should), not only in terms of crowd control, but also in terms of the number of mobs that characters can face once they reach a modest level of power. If there’s one thing that City of Heroes did right, it was in making the players’ characters feel powerful. Heroic, if you will. That and the astonishing character creator.

Two! The two things it did well were making characters feel like heroes, and giving the players flexibility in character creation. And allowed players to effortlessly team across the broadest range of levels.

Three! Three things… I’ll come in again.

Traditionally in MMOs the intended style of play follows the pen and paper style: you enter the fortress or lair of an enemy force, move carefully from room to room (each essentially a micro-instance) and fight the small number of enemies present there. The only time that rule is broken is if a patrol arrives unexpectedly, a low-health runner manages to get to another room and fetch some friends, or Knifestabkilla accidentally pulls the next room in the middle of doing the “Jump around. Jump around. Jump up, jump up and get pwned” dance. Usually such things result in a wipe, unless the party is lucky, exceptionally well coordinated or hideously over-levelled/geared for the content.

In City of Heroes, if you can still see your character under the pile of mobs that you’re fighting ‘you’re undertaking the task in an incorrect fashion’, as I believe the cool kids say down on the MMO street. Not only that, City of Heroes also has an entire class dedicated to mass amounts of crowd control. Admittedly CoH isn’t alone in this regard, EQ2 has some fairly strong CC classes, and LotRO utilises them to a certain extent, WoW used to make good use of it but seems to have let that fall by the wayside recently, but I can’t recall it ever being on the grand scale that CoH allows for. Which is a shame, because I think crowd control in PvE is a viable and interesting game-play alternative to the soft “Yo mamma!” control that the average MMO tank possesses. The controller could be the enabler to huge battles in other MMOs, without having to unbalance the player characters such that they must always face an entire battalion of enemies at a time in order to feel any challenge, and where any lone mobs would therefore simply implode the moment a hero arrived in their zone. Controlling a battle can be tremendously rewarding as a player, watching the ebb and flow of the various enemy groups and locking down those that might otherwise overwhelm your party, judging when to use AoE powers that will inevitably draw massive amounts of ire from the mobs when they eventually break free, and when to simply neutralise the more potent individuals of a wave of mobs – the healers for example – and allow the rest through because they can be managed by the tank-n-spankers. It is a style of play that requires an overview of the field of battle like no other, and unlike healing it would be very hard to reduce it down to a bunch of bars that you simply play whack-a-mez on.

The benefit of the Controller is that, as I mentioned, it is an enabler for ‘crowd combat’, something that I think is sorely missing in many MMOs. That’s not to say that fights with a couple of powerful mobs should be abandoned, but crowd combat is enormous fun when the players are empowered to deal with it. The down sides to massive crowd control are enabling a class that wields it to solo without them being ridiculously overpowered, and that if there’s one thing that PvP players hate more than crowd control, it’s even more crowd control. Unless they’re the one in control, in which case it’s all a hilarious jape and everyone should stop complaining about it; which is about the time that they get stun-locked to death and go off and write a roaring inferno of a post to the forums about how crowd control is overpowered in all cases, except when they use it.

At the end of the day I just think it’s a shame that most WoW players looked at the Leeroy Jenkins video as a hilarious comedy of errors leading to drawing the aggro of a vast number of enemies that couldn’t possibly be survived; whereas City of Heroes players were probably wondering when they were going to pull the second and third rooms to make it more interesting. I think players are missing out on something special, and although there are games that allow you to explore this style of play, they are few and far between, and it is seemingly a style of play that is much out of fashion with developers these days. It’s funny how, in a genre of games where the players are supposed to play heroic characters, developers seem to shy away from many elements of play that would make the players feel exceptional.

Apologies for the somewhat waffling whimsical nature of the post, when one rides the rollercoaster of ideas after having only just dined heavily on the words of others, one tends towards vomiting verbiage thereafter.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:31 am
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