Stone the crows.

inferno, melmoth 2 Comments »

The current character that I’m playing in City of Villains, as part of the Monday n00b Club‘s excursions into all things Strike Force, is a true favourite of mine even though the power-set combination that he utilises is deemed to not be amongst the more ‘uber’, ‘down with the kids’, ‘too hip to be cool’ combinations. Inspired somewhat by other’s detailing of their characters I thought I would ramble on a little about the character that makes me smile every time I come to play them of a Monday evening. A Stone/Dark Brute, he is an absolute joy to play, and despite having not yet gained some of the signature powers of either power-set, nevertheless each gaming session sees me with a face of childlike wonder and merriment, grinning through a bottom jaw set firmly away from the top one as if each had been magnetised as an opposing pole, watery eyes wide open trying not to blink and miss a moment of the utter carnage that is centralised around the ground zero, the focussed point of fury, that is my character.

Stone Melee and Dark Armour are interesting power-sets because they both give up a little of their primary function – that of damage for melee and resistance/defence for armour – in order to have a little more capacity for utility. For these two power-sets the utility provided is that of soft and hard control elements through which develops a very nice synergy, alas it is a synergy at a price, and that price is three pounds, fifty four pence.

Oh, sorry, that’s the price of my lunch. The price of synergy for these power-sets is in fact Endurance, great oceanic swathes of that beautiful bright blue bar which is the steam locomotion, the petroleum ignition, the controlled nuclear reaction, in essence the ‘power’ to any hero’s ‘super’. It’s a high price to pay, and it leaves the player running a tightrope between not taking mobs down quickly enough and not being able to take them down at all. There’s nothing worse than hearing that dreaded “BWOOOoooo” as all your toggle powers (generally these relate to armour and status protection) shut down and you’re left standing amidst a horde of angry hooligans slavering for blood, at which point your character’s limp and impotent body allows for nothing more than a meek smile and a gentle covering of the wibbly bits before taking a beating that would make the eggs in an omelette admit that life was really pretty good, all things considered.

Stone Melee

New Improved Inferno, now with headings! It’ll never catch on.

In short: stone melee rocks in all senses physical, metaphysical and metaphorical. It is for me the quintessential melee power in the City of Supers series of games, with its huge thundering attacks that encapsulate everything that the Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff preached unto us in their song about the joy of boom, right down to the shake-shake-shaking of the room; one feels an instant urge to let rip a wild eyed maniacal roar of laughter as foes walk headlong into fists of solid stone or are flung through the air on the end of a rock mallet, and the dangerous part of this adrenaline rush is the need to fuel it further, to continue smashing saints and pummelling the penitent for as long as your fingers will maintain a point with enough resistance to depress a key, until several hours later you are mashing chunks of keys at a time with the bruised and bloodied knuckles of what remains of your abused and ravaged hands. Now take into consideration the need, nay the very desire of a Brute archetype to keep fighting, for the more that the character fights the greater his rage builds, and as we all know, with great rage comes great responsibility.

I jest of course, because with great rage comes wild abandonment of reason and the reduction of intellect to that of a gibbering marmot that never bothered with school and instead spent all of its days down at the Nevada arcade playing Bubonic Fighter Alpha and Virtua Groundhog.

It is hard to describe to anyone who has not played a Brute just how completely the developers have managed to tap into the essence of our cave dwelling ancestors, to hit that primal nerve that triggers ancient genes long forgotten in the darkest depths of the brain, from a time when the RFC for flight as a method of survival had yet to be ratified, and fight was the protocol of the day. When you are beating upon enemies and they, in turn, are beating on you, then the rage bar builds, and with that comes a seemingly exponential increase in damage; when you stand still and are not in combat the rage bar will decrease until it is nothing and hence, therefore, are you. Given such a choice: between glorious, dry-mouthed, heart-pounding combat, raging amidst the waves of the enemy as they crash and break against your coastal form, immovable as the land itself, and like such, only to be gloriously defeated if the waves determine to rise up so high as to drown you beneath them in a tsunami-like torrent; or to stand limp and feeble, like some frail old man unable to summon even the strength to draw up his incontinence pants to maintain his dignity at the bus stop where he stands, and where moments ago the elastic on his underwear decided unkindly to fail him.

Then I say there is no choice at all.

Having said that, it is clear that allowing the combination of the stone melee power-set with the Brute archetype is in absolute contravention of several articles of the Geneva Conventions.

It is worth noting that I’m feeling this way without having taken a couple of the signature powers of the stone melee set yet. My character is currently level twenty five and has been developed more on the Tank side of the Tank/DPS hybrid scale that Brutes straddle, mainly due to the fact that as the rest of the formation of the Monday n00bs consists of a Stalker and a couple of Corruptors, it seemed like a good idea to have someone to absorb the bulk of the enemy’s ire. This meant getting Dark Armour’s shields and damage aura (which acts as a very nice field o’ taunt and beats having to shout “Yo Mamma!” all the time) set up early along with the requisite power pools of Fitness (for the lovely and ever-needed endurance booster that is Stamina) and Leaping (for not only the essential travel power but also Acrobatics, which prevents my character spending most of the game getting up from being knocked down); the tank-like setup left little room for actual attacks, and so he has the minimal number of attacks that I felt would put out a decent amount of damage once the rage bar got going but also wouldn’t suck down a lot of endurance before I had Stamina and various other powers slotted with Single Origin enhancements, which make all the world of difference to how a character plays. As such, he has Stone Fist, Stone Mallet and Heavy Mallet only, and is missing the lovely soft-control Fault power, and the insane damage with extra disorienting goodness that is Seismic Smash.

Considering how much fun it is to play with just three powers, I can’t wait to see how things go when the entire arsenal of smash is fully assembled and he realises his full potential. I foresee much tongue-lolling, dribbling and drying-out of the eyeballs.

Dark Armour

Dark armour has toggles, and plenty of them. A toggle power is one that is turned on and left on until you decided to turn it off or it is forcibly turned off by the enemy. In return for whatever ability this toggle bestows upon your character you pay a small debt of endurance that constantly ticks away at a set amount over time; inherent endurance regeneration and the extra boost to this provided by powers such as Stamina mean that you can invariably run one or two toggles with little effect on the overall, um… endurance of your character in a fight. However, the more toggles that you run the more likely you are to chew through your endurance once a fight begins in earnest since you will eventually overcome your natural regeneration from simply running the toggles alone, and the larger amounts of endurance required to power your attacks, especially with an endurance hungry power-set such as stone, becomes very noticeable indeed, until the point that you hear the dreaded “BWOOOoooo” and big bald men in leather jackets come around and repossess all of your toggle powers due to your lack of payment to the endurance lenders. So a few toggles are manageable, more toggles become a problem, and dark armour has a lot of toggles; there are toggles for basic resistances and obscure forms of damage such as fire; toggles to counter status effects such as sleep and hold; there are toggles for damaging your opponents and for fearing and disorientating them, and there are toggles for repelling small Yorkshire Terriers in smoking jackets, for defrosting your car in the morning and for washing wool at sixty degrees without shrinking it.

In return for this drain of endurance the dark armour wearer is blessed with respectable protection from nearly every type of damage that the enemy can throw at them, and on top of all that they get some lovely soft-control powers to prevent the enemy from even having the chance of attacking them in the first place. Alas, the control power of the dark armour set doesn’t come until the later levels and as such my Brute will have to wait some time for this pièce de résistance of the set, irony intended, since all the powers I have taken up until now are actually to do with the resistance of damage, whereas the pièce de résistance is not.

So far the tactics for dark armour – as much as I have developed any tactic other than a Leeroy Jenkins-like charge into the midst of huge crowds of angry protagonists accompanied by a vague hope that the rest of the team noticed my disappearance beneath the angry writhing mob, and more importantly can be bothered to help dig me out again – is the common sense option of only turning those toggles on that are required at the time: if the enemy is mainly firing guns and punching my character, then I only need the most basic armour, if they shoot flames or energy beams then I use the specialised ‘Other stuff that isn’t punching or shooting’ shield for dealing with that while turning off the basic armour, and when a boss or arch-villain comes along, well, it’s a case of turn everything on and hope that he runs out of health before I run out of endurance.

And so far, fighting alongside an awesome team of fellow villains, the tide has always turned once it hit the rocky coast. Or, at least, when the rocky coast hit it back.

Posted by Melmoth at 3:21 pm

It is safest to take the unpopular side in the first instance.

inferno, melmoth 2 Comments »

From the Cryptic Blog:

“Traditionally, there have been two dominant design motivations for instancing:
[...] Secondly, in the early days of MMORPGs one of the ongoing problems was
players camping valuable spawns or drops, effectively locking other
players out of content.”

And the devs of the various MMOs weren’t having players doing that!

Not when they could create raid instances and lock the majority of players out of the content themselves. Why should the gankers and campers have all the fun?

Posted by Melmoth at 2:51 pm

MMOon on a stick.

inferno, melmoth 3 Comments »

Welcome to my new feature, MMOon on a Stick. Here I’ll just dump out random ideas that, riding on the back of cosmic rays, have struck my head and burrowed their way into my brain. They’ll be fanciful, bizarre, incomprehensible, impossible, and all other sorts of ibles. It’s just a quick dump of the contents of my brain when I think “Hey, what if?”

The first cranium crusader, and inspiration for this post, is as follows:

I was thinking about the hunter class in WoW, having been playing one for the first time recently. I’ve been enjoying the dynamic that exists between the hunter and their pet, with the pet as tank and moderate DPS and the hunter as DPS and moderate healer. It became clear that this worked well as a duo, but that once a hunter joins a group of adventurers their pet is often a mediocre tank compared to a warrior, and the hunter is not often the highest DPS compared to Rogues or Mages or Warlocks; I daren’t suggest that hunters are mediocre DPS lest I call down the firey brimstoning wrath of a hundred thousand million hunters. Hoo boy, there are a lot of hunters, don’t ever annoy them, they’ll rise up and devour the world.

Anyway! What I thought was this: once the hunter joined a team, what if they could turn off their pet and in exchange get a boost to their DPS or crowd control abilities, such that they could contribute that much better to a defined role in the group. Extrapolating this a little further, it seemed like a fun idea to have any class have abilities that helped them to solo, but which they could turn off when joining a group in exchange for becoming a more pure class of tank, DPS, crowd control, healer, burger vendor, accountant or what have you.

Taking the superimposed reduction of this extrapolation into its primary quanta and then running it backwards through an inverted induction field (what?), I landed at the following: have players with skills that are unlocked based on the composition of the party. For example: with no healer in the party all DPS/Tank characters would have their innate healing abilities unlocked, but at considerably reduced DPS due to certain combat powers becoming locked and unavailable to them; they will be able to achieve the same content as they would with a healer, but it will be more difficult for them as they will have to concentrate on healing themselves at the same time, and it will be a slower, tougher fight due to their reduction in DPS. If a healer were to join the party the self-healing skills of the DPS players would be locked, but their greater DPS skills would become available, meanwhile the healer class’s DPS skills would become locked but their more powerful healing skills would become available.

Changing the makeup of a character in this way seemed like not only an interesting additional dynamic to the game-play, but could also go somewhat towards alleviating the problems of solo play as a non-DPS class and group play when no healer is available. I use the healer example here, but it could work equally well for tanks and crowd control classes too.

So there you go, the self-induced public craniotomy that is Moon on a Stick.

Posted by Melmoth at 11:54 am

Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one.

inferno, melmoth 5 Comments »

I was reading an interesting discussion on Zen of Design about how to address the public’s innate desire to play as Batman or Wolverine in the forthcoming Marvel and DC MMOs; I haven’t any contribution to make to that discussion other than the fact that if you think having some “Kekeke LOLZ” person playing as one of your nearest and dearest intellectual character properties is a good idea, you must have been snorting the Joker’s dandruff. I mean, just go on to an MMO server, any server, any game, and turn on general chat and listen for five minutes. Ok, that, that right there is going to be what it would sound like in Professor Xavier’s school for the ‘gifted’:

Cyclops: “Wolverine is FAG!”

Wolverine: “I am not! I kik ur ars in PvP. QQ more Siklops you == teh lose”

Cyclops: “Ur just got overpowered regen FoM character.”

Rogue: “Hey guys, can’t we all just get along.”

Wolverine: “Show us ur boobs Rouge!”

Cyclops: “LOLZ!”

Beast: “LOL!”

Rogue: “Oh please.”

Cyclops: “Jean Grey has the better boobs.”

Wolverine: “NO WAI!”

Beast: “Yuh uh!”

Jubilee: “Reported.”

Cyclops: “What who?”

Cyclops: “Who u reporting I not done anything.”

Jubilee: “I’m reporting you and Wolverine.”

Cyclops: “We didn’t do nothing.”

Wolverine: “Jubilee got no boobs.”

Cyclops: “LOLZ!”

Beast: “Ha ha”

Iceman: “ROFL!”

Storm: “Hey what about my boobs?”

Letting players loose on your carefully crafted IP is just going to end in tears and far too many screenshots of Wolverine and Cyclops trying to gangbang Rogue or Magneto or each other. So what to do? I’d like to see the game building a story of your character as a hero in their own right. Starting off the game as a civilian could be an interesting ploy, it allows you to build the story right from scratch and work your way through one of the most interesting parts of any hero’s story, the act of transformation. Bruce Wayne’s struggle and eventual coming to terms with the bats in the cave beneath Wayne Manor for example, which represented more than a phobia of flying rodents, but a struggle with helplessness and fear. Peter Parker’s horror and confusion at his newfound power, followed by jubilation and freedom and then regret and the oppression of responsibility. It could be argued that these moments, above all things, make these characters what they are, to themselves and to their audience. The act of discovery is beautiful in its own right, so why deny your players the chance to experience this with their own characters, and perhaps provide a unique bond between that player and their virtual alter ego.

It would beat starting the game as a low powered hero.

Officer: “Help! Infernus! There are people stuck in the bank’s vault; they’re running low on air and it’s been frozen shut by the icy Dr. Blain!”

Infernus: “Sorry officer, I’m only a low powered hero. My powers are quite limited. I can reheat that cup of coffee for you though, if you’d like.”

Officer: “I, uh… sure.”

Infernus: “Ok! It’ll take me about twenty minutes or so, but then it should be nice and steaming again. Stand back now. Infernus calls forth the inferno of Hades to do his bidding!”

<A little puff of smoke and a tiny match-like flame spring forth from the palm of his hand>

<Infernus grins sheepishly at the unimpressed policemen>

Have your players start out as civilians and have them pick the route they want to go through to become the hero of their choosing. A player could run missions at the local military facility if they wanted their hero to be the result of scientific military experiments, or perhaps they will find a military battle-suit that they steal and use for the good of mankind. Once the basic concept of the hero has been decided through pre-hero quest choices the transformation mission would be undertaken. Lord of the Rings Online has shown that the instanced, scripted mini quest is very viable as a method of storytelling, and I imagine it could work well in the super hero genre as well.

But it shouldn’t stop with the drama of the transformation, the life of a super hero is defined not just by the villains that they fight and the wrongs that they right, it’s also about the struggle with anonymity and with being misunderstood, it’s about having to leave loved ones behind or neglected, and it’s about the crushing responsibility of power over the lives of others.

It’s about human nature when faced with the unnatural.

And this is the problem that Marvel and DC have with their games; in my view their heroes are compelling because of the story surrounding them, it’s not about the flashy powers (if you think about it, most of them have a very limited range of powers), it’s about the way that they use them and the stories that result from the use and misuse of these gifts, as a normal human being comes to terms with the extraordinary and the resulting moral decisions. The problem is that the MMOs of the past have never been the greatest medium for the telling of tales where the character is concerned, oh yes there are stories, stories abound, but they are not about the character, they are about the world the character lives in, or they are about the lives of the NPCs with which the character interacts. What I’d dearly love to see in these future super hero games is a new take on MMOs, where storytelling becomes an integral part of the player’s game, such that a player becomes so involved in the story of their character, where to live the decisions, victories and failures of the character becomes so integral to their idea of a super hero that they do not care to play as that meat-headed Wolverine, because their character’s story is more compelling to them.

The super hero genre unlike any other has the ability to break the boundaries of MMO convention just as their characters break the boundaries of human endeavour, but it may well take a super human effort on the part of the developers to make it a virtual reality.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:18 am

In the news.

inferno, melmoth 2 Comments »

NCSoft and Mythic decided to go their separate ways after attempts to merge their franchises City of Heroes and Dark Age of Camelot resulted in the disappointing and poorly received game of lycra-wearing female protagonists in a medieval setting: Dark City of Cameltoes.

Posted by Melmoth at 9:51 am

Ward robe.

inferno, melmoth 3 Comments »

I got up this morning, washed and then hopped into my outfit for work:

I first put on my lycra cycling shorts since these provide the most comfort and flexibility while seated in a chair all day; the knee-length thermal socks were next, because it’s getting a bit chilly and they provide excellent frost resistance. I choose a pair of Birkenstocks for my feet as, although they only have moderate armour, they give a generous bonus to my comfort rating and provide sweat reduction. I wear a bra these days because, although it’s not really designed for my class, it gives huge bonuses to my support stats, so I popped one of those on. Next I shrugged myself into my fireman’s vest: great elemental protection and it also provides a small bonus to seduction checks! I decided to go for a bowler hat today instead of the deer stalker on my head slot; I prefer the deer stalker for general use, but today I was going to be grinding my London commuter rep, and you have to wear the bowler to be able to interact with them. London is a noisy place though, so I put on my ear defenders first, these provide a massive resistance to all forms of aural attack, although you do get a bit of a negative modifier to detect speeding taxis when you’re crossing the road. Luckily the bowler hat reminded me that I had a nice silk tie that also temporarily boosted my company rep, so I popped that on my neck slot. I wasn’t sure what to go for in the eye slot, so in the end I stuck with my stalwart ski goggles; you just can’t beat anti-glare and immunity to grit in the eye! A pair of shiny rubber marigold gloves next, pretty much standard fair for anyone having to touch the doors on public transport, plus their superb water resistance would stand me in good stead if I had to deal with any impromptu plumbing quests: the sink at work has been leaking for a while now. I strapped on my workman’s utility belt, which is excellent for providing extra slots to carry food and stationary and any other loot I pick up during the day. The cricketer’s box went on next – it’s so nice to be able to stack armour over your basic clothing – and these make one’s privates uncrushable against fellow commuters swinging their briefcases wildly around during the frantic morning rush hour. Finally I checked outside and it looked as though it was going to be a pretty cold zone that I was heading out in to, so I decided to grab my wife’s pink dressing gown and put that on my back slot, it has just about the best cold resistance that I know of and it boosts snuggle and cosiness stats as well.

And there you have it, probably the best London commuter outfit that you can get outside of the major raid instances such as Savile Row!

Posted by Melmoth at 8:00 am

Memelmoth.

inferno, melmoth 4 Comments »

The bushido bladed Stormgaard did tag me earlier in the week with a self-wrought meme about five lessons that one has learned from playing MMOs. My post is somewhat delayed and I should apologise, but alas it is not really entirely my fault for I am somewhat cursed with a rather fickle muse. When my muse is around I can write for hours, draw moderately splendid pictures (if I do say so myself) and undertake other such creative outlets without batting an eyelid. However, they’re very rarely available and more often than not when I call on them for aid I get a rather abrupt and abusive answer-phone message which tells me in no uncertain terms where I can stuff my desire for creative stimulus. When they do finally show up they have a stinking hangover, the whiff of alcohol and cigarettes is about them and they sport a rather brutish six o’clock shadow of stubble, which is all the more frightening a proposition when you consider that my muse is female. For those of you who are aware of the more UK centric comedians, my muse could be likened to Jo Brand if she’d gone on a six day drinking binge with Mick and Ronnie of Rolling Stones fame. It’s not so much a gentle seductive inspiration in the creative arts than a big lady with a fag hanging from the corner of her mouth shouting “Get on and write something you lazy oik! I’m going for a cooked breakfast; there’d better be something on that paper when I get back or I’ll give you a thick ear”. Charming. I should probably delete the above before she gets back, otherwise I’ll be for it. I’ll do that in a bit, but first I will attend to the meme at hand, so without further ado here are five lessons that I’ve learned whilst playing MMOs:

1) In any MMORPG the NPCs are the heroes.

It took a while for me to learn this one, and with each new game came the watery wide eyed, hand clasped, bottom lip biting look of hope that accompanies the prayer that this time I would be able to adventure with my character through strange and wonderous lands, and that with these exploits would come fame, fortune and perhaps a little bit of what I believe the hip young crowd call ‘looking like a bad-ass’. What actually transpired each time was that I would adventure through oddly familiar and generic lands, and with those adventures would come the realisation that I was a mouse on a treadmill of ever increasing RPM that I would eventually no longer be able to keep up with, at which point I would be flung off and into the cage bars of reality, and as my blurred vision from the impact began to clear the reality that slowly came into focus showed me that I really was quite inconsequential in this world, that I was a mere pawn in the affairs of NPCs. Those damnable NPCs, with their matching sets of clothes and armour who, whether going shopping or standing in a field in the middle of nowhere, look ten times more awesome than I ever will. NPCs who have an arm missing but still fight better than I can with two, who wear blindfolds and yet have powers so awesome that they can lay waste to an army of opponents when I have barely etched a noughts and crosses board on the armour of one of them. NPCs, and mobs too, have incredible powers that players are just begging their trainers to instruct them in; huge damaging spells for next to no mana, heals that could top-up the health of entire continents of players in one go, debilitating powers that could lay waste to those same continents. It wouldn’t be so bad, but here is my character, with many years of time spent adventuring the lands, and all he has to show for it is a slightly limp mace and a shield which I found out the other day is really just a large chocolate Christmas tree decoration in disguise; really, the shield does look like one of those chocolate Christmas tree decorations, I imagine my dwarf hiding behind it as the enemy swings some magnificent, deadly and glorious battle axe which strikes through the tin foil wrapping and gets stuck in the 20% cocoa base, at which point my dwarf peers out over the top of the shield with a huge cheesy grin and perhaps takes a little bucktoothed nibble of chocolate as the orc desperately tries to pull his gummed-up weapon away.

Could instanced worlds help alleviate this annoyance and give players a greater standing in these virtual lands in which they spend so much time inhabiting? I envisage a lobby for players to login to and tweak around with their characters, trade items and meet people but then they enter an instanced world limited to a very small number of people, perhaps a guild per instanced realm; recruitment would also take place in the lobby and there would be a default realm for the unguilded. In this way the uniqueness and involvement of a player would by multiplied by a huge factor, and the players could perhaps be more powerful in this world compared to NPCs because they come from a limited band of heroes rather than a horde of maniacal adventurers that would challenge the crowds at the January sales for sheer loot grabbing ferocity. There’s often a fairly high registration on the outrage-o-meter when ‘instanced’ anything is suggested to players, but Guild Wars has shown that this can work successfully on an instance per group ideology, what I’m suggesting is that the actual realm would remain intact between sessions, such that when you return to the realm, rather than having a fresh world where everything has reset, you would be known in the land, if you’d helped the village of Gankton from being set upon by all the other local villages (serves them right for moving into a place called Gankton, to be honest) then the villagers there would remember your deeds, and perhaps the other villages would also remember…

Anyway, that was an ever so slightly tangential ramble, and suffice it to say that I don’t believe that it would be entirely viable to create such a thing in the near future, so until then I will just have to remember the lesson that my shields will always be made of chocolate, my character will always look like a patchwork lunatic and NPCs will always be the coolest kids on the block.

2) MMOs are really social simulators for the government.

You’ve been fed a lie all of your MMO life, you’re not playing games, you are in fact playing thinly disguised advanced social simulators run by government funded agencies. Never before have governments had the opportunity to study such social behaviours as mob mentality, crime, love, betrayal, cliques, in fact the whole Lord of the Flies shebang, without having to be accountable for the resulting harm that comes to their electorate. Reward vs Punishment, how group learning works vs singular attempts. How do the ‘top’ guilds form? Why do they form? What factors cause them to splinter and fracture, and what is the effect of the resulting fallout. There is so much information that can be gathered, and probably is, as to how social networks perform under various situations, it’s a gold mine of data to anyone who wants to know how to make friends, influence people and take over the world.

A tad extreme, but you never know! Which is why you should always do things to confuse their data collection. I suggest acts of sabotage such as randomly stopping in populated server areas and spinning on the spot for two minutes, buying all the cheese in a shop and giving it to passing PCs, running backwards into all dungeons that start with the letter ‘d’, forming huge groups of fellow players and then travelling across the land while other players pretend to be herding you like cattle, and standing naked on a mailbox while dancing for the general population. Wait, scrub that last one.

3) It’s just a game.

So simple to state; so difficult to master.

4) Give a chance to all things.

Games, guilds, players, they all deserve a chance before they are dismissed to the pits of mediocrity, melodrama and moronisity. Case in point: I probably wouldn’t have played CoH at all if it wasn’t for the enthusiasm of others, I had already written it off as being from a developer that I’d heard little about, and a game of which there had been little buzz within the pages of those gaming journals that I read at the time. Another example: I left my WoW guild prematurely, it turns out, because it looked to me as though a clique was forming and that the guild was going to consist of a few people running instances and using the rest of us to fill the holes in their dungeon running schedule when they were missing a member of the cool kids; shortly after I left the guild a huge wave of new people joined and it looks as though the guild was probably pretty good for all involved in the end. Lesson learned.

It’s worth trying games whenever you can; betas are useful in this fashion, it’s nice to be able to determine that a game is not for you, and not having to buy the box to find this out is a boon, but it’s worth remembering that it’s also a good way to find those pieces of gold that are hidden in amongst the silt that is the general gaming market.

Give players a chance. Some people are truly wonderful but have the unfortunate knack of coming across as being obnoxious when their speech is distorted in the refractive index of a textual medium. Before taking offence to something someone has said in game, try to take a look at it from another perspective, see if there’s any way to interpret it in a more favourable light. Sometimes this will work, and you might realise that the other player wasn’t insulting the honour of your pet hamster, but was merely trying to convey a joke that doesn’t work without the complexities of vocal inflection and facial expressiveness. Sometimes the element of confusion has been introduced by your own prejudices, and is not in fact the fault of the other player in the slightest. Sometimes a simple typo can change the entire meaning of sentence.

And sometimes people are just arsing cockbags.

Just as a quick aside: out of curiosity I checked what my spellchecker thought cockbags should really be, it suggested cockboats which is apparently the unfortunate name for a small ferry boat and not, as I surmised, a supplementary vessel for astonishingly well endowed men who couldn’t fit it onto a yacht for fear of getting it caught in the rigging.

5) I am uniquely not suited to MMOs.

But I play them anyway. I forever seem to be out of a guild and I am often playing solo more than I’m playing in groups. This is the fault of nobody else, it is purely a failing of my own through my uncanny ability to project my real world social ineptness even unto virtual worlds where nobody knows my name and where nobody can readily determine my painful shyness and incompetence in casual conversation. Still I let it affect me, and thus it often spoils what could otherwise be a great experience.

In MMOs nobody can hear you scream in anguish at your inability to socialise. Unless you miss the mute button on the microphone, I suppose, and even then it’s just a strange gurgling sound as you try to string vowels and consonants together.

Sometimes though, just very occasionally, you get a group where things go fantastically well, where the conversation flows like honey on hot toast, where the adventures are epic and where time’s very flow is halted, you feel as if you’re momentarily caught by Matrix bullet time as the camera pans around your frozen form and then everything accelerates again, so quickly in fact that before you know it you find the dawn is stretching its luminous fingers underneath your door and around the edges of your curtains.

In the end it is those moments that keep me playing, because the sheer unadulterated joy of bonding with others and creating mutual enjoyment through the medium of gaming is worth all the solo pain and social aggravation that shrouds it for the rest of the time.

And there you have it, five things that I’ve learned, and now I shall have to depart with haste, dear reader, because my muse is back and she seems to be carrying a really rather shockingly big stick which I fully believe she intends to swing with some venom towards my cockboat.

Posted by Melmoth at 1:19 pm

The gospel according to St. Dev.

inferno, melmoth 3 Comments »

1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the forums were awash with complaints that the darkness was too dark, and that this was an outrage.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And the forums were split into the people who would play light and the people who would continue to play dark anyway, and the players of light complained that the players of dark were going to be miserable PKers, and the players of dark complained that the players of light were going to be too powerful and should be nerfed.
5: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the forums filled with criticism about the names, and that they sucked and nobody would play a game with ‘day’ and ‘night’ in it. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7: And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8: And God called the firmament Heaven. And the forums overflowed with speculation on what heaven was and how it would affect those game mechanics of day and night. And the players of light claimed it as their home zone, which the players of dark objected to vehemently, and proposed their own zone which they didn’t know what the hell to call. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9: And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10: And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. But the forums erupted in complaints that the travel times would be too long, and nobody could get from one dry land to the other because there was no way to cross the sea, and the complaints were so great that God had to lock several threads.
11: And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12: And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13: And the forums said that the design was flawed based upon their speculation that seeds must be some kind of impossibly difficult boss mob and that having them all across the land would make their lives a nightmare and that it was clearly an outrage. And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14: And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18: And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19: And the forums for the players of the dark exploded in outrage, that this was clearly favouring the light and could not be tolerated. Many threats to leave and never even play in the beta were levelled. And the players of light lold at the players of dark and proffered that they should QQ more. And God had to go back and redesign huge parts of the system to try and balance the dark by adding special matter to the universe. And the evening and the morning were the many, many, many sodding days of wasted effort.
20: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22: And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23: And the forums complained that the spawn times were too restrictive and that they would consume all the resources too quickly. And there were many complaints about the name ‘whales’, and also as to why this was the only creature name to have been revealed so far. And wild speculations abounded as to what whales were. And the names of other creatures were made-up. And God had to release information about haddock and jellyfish and krill and dolphins and seals. And then he had to spend days explaining and mollifying forum posters who couldn’t understand why whales and dolphins and seals would breath air when they live in the sea. And the evening and the morning were several days spent heavily drinking and smoking.
24: And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. But the forums were filled with complaints that lions were too overpowered and should be balanced, and crocodiles shouldn’t be allowed to travel so fast on land and in the water. And many, many complaints were levelled at the point of wasps, because they were rubbish and caused the players great pain for no reason. And God spent several weeks redesigning and reworking beasts, and created bees to replace wasps, but then forgot to take wasps out anyway because he was tired after pulling one too many all-nighters.
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. And the forums went super-nova over this new epic class and how overpowered it was going to be, with it’s dominion over everything. And the forums speculated that man must be able to run faster than a cheetah, swim faster than a shark, fly higher than an eagle and be stronger than a bear. And the forums whined and whinged and complained that God should nerf this class otherwise they would never buy the game ever! And God decided to delay the open beta and said that he would rework the player classes to cope with these problems.
27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And now the forums complained that the two epic classes weren’t similar enough, and the female players complained that the male players were overpowered and the male players complained that the females had better character creation options.
28: Nevertheless God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and 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. And still the forums were filled with whines and complaints and bitter unreasoning anguish.
29: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat, what more do you want you ungrateful gits. And the forums filled with moans that this made the game easy mode, and that there would be no challenge now, and they would never play such a game.
30: And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31: And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very, very late. And the evening and the morning were the six hundredth day.
32: Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And forums were filled with community managers to stem the tide of outraged and unconstructive whinges from beta players and God worked on bug fixes and other things that he hadn’t had time to finish, but he still never got around to fixing the duck-billed platypus.
33: And on the seven hundredth day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seven hundredth day from all his work which he had made.
34: And God blessed the seven hundredth day, and sanctified it: because he could finally get some rest and would not have to listen to all those pathetic whiners again until he made the first expansion.

Posted by Melmoth at 12:32 pm

Some people say that cats are sneaky, evil, and cruel.

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I was enjoying a nice cup of tea and a good book the other day when I was assaulted by my cat – jumping from out of that ethereal plane which only cats can inhabit, allowing them to sneak upstairs without you seeing or, as in this case, leap seemingly out of nowhere from just behind your head, legs gathered together as if performing a tuck dive but which, in fact, form a perfectly focussed point that when aimed directly at one’s groin causes pain on levels that can approach registration on the Richter Scale. As if the sheer shock of such an unexpected assault followed by the continent-shattering levels of crushing pain weren’t enough, the planning behind such an attack becomes clear mere moments later, and I can only imagine that amongst the vast arrays of apparatus that cats have at their command in their umbral realm, wedged between huge banks of humming monitor stations and clicker-clacking ticker tape reports, there is the lit fuse for the cat’s explosive assault: a large red lightbulb that sometimes illuminates brightly, underneath which is the faded, peeling label that reads “Owner drinking hot beverage”.

Mopping scalding tea from an already bruised block and tackle, if the dear reader catches my drift, I took the time to curse the rogueish nature of my cat who had now somehow managed to shadow step through the aforementioned magical cat realm out into the garden and was staring smugly in at me, safe from verbal or physical retaliation beyond the kitchen window. I had at that moment pause to think about my statement, even as I eyed the miscreant moggy: rogue was indeed the class that fit the feline’s infuriating fetish for furtive forays, but was that the only nature of this particular puss?

In short, what MMO class is my cat?

Rogue is the obvious starting point. For sheer backstabbing subtlety and raw damage per second, my cat had only moments ago clearly demonstrated with devastating effect her prowess in these areas. It takes little imagination to envisage a lonely trek to a long forgotten temple in a far away land, where under the tuition of a harsh but fair master she learnt these ancient techniques, honing her martial arts against wooden practise dummies, then other feline students until finally facing off against multiple masters of the art at the same time, all to a rising and rousing musical score. Training complete, my cat was sent from the temple by her now dying master to hunt down and rid the world of small angry dogs that had gotten too big for their own boots. It sort of breaks down around here (if it ever got started for any of you), because my cat seems to have been waylaid in her quest to fight the good fight against canine kind, and instead put her years of martial training into use predominantly by curling up in a ball and sleeping on my lap. She twitches when she dreams, so I can only imagine she’s having suitably epic flashbacks to the monastery, and churning over in her subconscious as to why she didn’t choose to abandon her training and leave with Wei Lin to search for the ancient treasure of the seven mystic dragons.

Admittedly my cat has more adventures in my mind than she does her own.

The whole ‘purring, sleeping, cute bundle of adorable fur’ thing breaks any idea of my cat being a Rogue, clearly when she’s in this state she radiates a feeling of wellbeing and quiet contentedness that is infectious to such a degree that it should probably be classified as a disease. It is my resolute belief that any conflict or diplomatic situation could be resolved amicably if all parties were made to sit down and discuss the problem in front of an open fireplace with a snuggle of recently fed and incredibly cosy cats on their laps. Yes, a snuggle of content cats, you define a better collective noun.

No question, the holy grail of peace for all mankind lies with the satiety of cats.

In this respect the cat can be thought of as a healer, not all cats are this way, some are definitely and defiantly bundles of pain, pointy at five out of their six ends, and would quite happily fall feet first into the more combat orientated classes. My cat is a healer though, so this narrows the field somewhat, and for the ever so slightly whimsical nature of this rambling we’ll say that the field is defined by those classes available in World of Warcraft, partly because the majority of people will know of those classes but mainly because it allows me to crowbar this post into the MMO theme of the blog.

The Paladin class could be a cat class, for certain cats at least: the pious old warrior who would like to think that he can do DPS but in the end finds that he is far better suited to simply receiving assault after assault before strolling off and finding a human lap in which to curl up and begin his healing phase, while simultaneously and inadvertently crushing his owner under his sheer weight. I imagine the big old tom cats – you know the ones, they seem to have been in the neighbourhood since it was first built in 1764 and show no sign of leaving this mortal coil any time soon – who plod around their territory with all the swagger and self assurance of a silverback gorilla, with the same content belief that nothing and nobody can harm them, and with which comes the lethargy and ponderous prowling of one who has never known what it is like to be bested in mortal combat. Other cats, dogs, trees, small children on bikes and even moving cars have been faced down by this veteran of the concrete jungle, he’s taken his share of beatings and yet walked away seemingly unscathed. When finally he is outnumbered, when the hordes of neighbourhood cats have temporarily put aside their inter-faction bickering to take down this old world colossus, he simply looks at his watch whilst twiddling his whiskers, excuses himself with a mention that it is time for his tea, and then he is gone. Ever had that moment when you looked out of your kitchen window and saw your old tom cat out in the road with an oncoming car charging at him, driver and cat both oblivious to the impending collision? You close your eyes and wait for the inevitable, sickening crunch; only you hear nothing and upon opening your eyes there is no traumatic scene of carnage and your old templar of the tarmac is intertwining himself between your legs and calling for his tea. Bubble and hearthstone isn’t just for getting out of dire combat situations with the cat mafiosi, you know.

It quickly became clear to me that my cat was not a paladin; it also became somewhat clearer that I was suffering some mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder from the blow to my boll… um, ego, and that this had made my mind wander in such a weird way. Well, weirder than usual, at least. It quickly became clear that my cat was also not a priest: healers extraordinaire and not inconsiderable DPS, they shun melee and do their most potent damage when in the form of a shadow. I imagine priest class cats to be those alley cats who skulk around at night, their wailing and caterwauling enough to wake the dead, a form of psychic scream if you will, putting all kinds of fear into the minds of small children and grown adults alike, who lay in bed, heart pounding and pulling the bed sheets up higher around their head to shield themselves from the banshee that is surely clawing its way up the very side of the house. During the day these hell sirens transform into the mild mannered cats of little old ladies, and spend their time healing the souls of those who offer them the Samaritan sanctity of a comfy lap. Again, not my cat, who does not so much let out haunting banshee wails, but instead emits a sort of pathetic croaking that sounds like someone is throttling a lamb that has been a heavy smoker all of its short life.

In the same way that my cat does not frequent dark alleys, she is also not a nature lover like the druid. Druid cats are those that are always out in the wild, enduring the bracing elements to bring you back wondrous presents from the forest mother, like the unidentifiable entrails of small animals. They create masterful arts of nature in your home, specialising in the medium of mud and your freshly cleaned kitchen floor, perhaps with a little leaf litter thrown in for good measure. And maybe some more entrails. Druid cats are also the ones that get themselves stuck up trees, forgetting that they don’t in fact have a flight form. My cat is not a druid either: the only thing that she’s ever brought back from outside was a pair of Action Man trousers, which she dragged in backwards through the cat flap and then stood over proudly, croaking in that strangled-lamb-tracheotomy manner a message which I believe was requiring praise and acknowledgement. We never found who those trousers belonged to, but somewhere some kid has an Action Man figure who fights his battles ‘privates to the wind’. My cat has also never got stuck up a tree, in fact I’ve never seen my cat climb higher than the sofa, although I am adamant that some form of ladder and platform arrangement must be used to gain the trajectory and velocity of her more formidable ‘lap attacks’.

And so by deduction, mad reasoning and if nothing else default, my cat would appear to be a shaman. It seems to fit well enough, a little bit of healing intermingled with extremes of burst damage that leave her opponents wounded and gasping for breath; she can take on a ghostly form, at least I assume she has some manner of power aiding those stealthy and speedy excursions into cupboards and under beds where she knows she’s not allowed, and when she’s particularly threatened or stressed she has the ability to lay down water and earth totems which, alas, don’t disappear after a set period of time but can only be dispelled with a scrubbing brush and detergent, and even then the lingering oral debuff remains for many hours, even with the windows open; when she’s older I imagine that she could also develop a particularly devastating air totem.

So there you have it, my cat is not a rogue but a shaman. And now I plan to take revenge on her for the ‘burst of flame’ hot tea incident earlier in the week by catching her unawares and strapping an ice cube to her forehead.

Frost shock!

Cats as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by that fact that in Ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods.
— P.G. Wodehouse

Posted by Melmoth at 11:07 am

There’s no school like the old school!

inferno, melmoth 2 Comments »

In between defeating demons – I should point out that down here in the Inferno we don’t condone banishing our own, but, well… Bat’Zul was kind of an arse, always getting really drunk at the end of century parties and trying to shag the boss’s wife. So he had it coming. – and running amok with my druid in World of Warcraft, I’ve managed to sneak in a little time with the zestily named Orange Box.

There’s not a lot of point in reviewing said item when Zero Punctuation can do so with much greater finesse. And much faster too, as it appears that the man does not actually breath air as the rest of us do, but perhaps has a small gill or gland that absorbs air through a form of osmotic reaction and stores it in a small sack under his chin, thus feeding the life-giving gas to his body without him having to interrupt his verbal deluge. I imagine something akin to a bagpipe and it’s constituent apparatus, but in a form that only Terra Mater could devise in her eons long evolution of the shape of all things.

Having completed Portal in a couple of hours (and savoured every minute of it) I moved on to trying out Team Fortress 2. I played the original way back in the day and enjoyed it tremendously, and so it was with fevered anticipation that I awaited the new edition, especially as folk such as those at RPS had given it the two thumbs up, special edition, OMG! OMG! OMG! coverage. Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed the game, and if anyone out there ever wants to know what is meant when MMO bloggers talk about ‘polish’ in a game, if some outsider wants us to quantify and qualify exactly what is going through our heads when all the outsider can think of is a bunch of game developers whipping out the Mr Sheen and a duster and buffing the game CDs to a furious shine, then TF2 is pretty close to a perfect representation, in my mind. They have taken the concept of “The Incredibles meets Team Fortress Classic” put them in the blender of game implementation and created a perfectly smooth and deliciously fruity cocktail of team orientated game play.

Anyway, the reason for my posting – and believe it or not it wasn’t to waffle asininely for three paragraphs about random things – was that having played both TF2 and City of Heroes in recent days, and with the very obvious doffing of the proverbial hat to The Incredibles by the simply jaw-droppingly pretty graphics of TF2, I realised what needs to be done: while Sony Online Entertainment grafts away at a DC Universe, and Cryptic crafts a successor to City of Heroes in the Marvel Universe, some enterprising developer needs to create an Incredibles-a-like MMO. It’s already been demonstrated that the graphical look and feel of the Pixar film can be captured in a game in such a way as to make grown men weep with joy. Well ok, me, it makes me weep. And what could be more fantastic, incredible if you will, than being able to play comically over the top super hero characters in a setting like Metroville, where the whole thing lends itself to a light hearted and child friendly environment, but which can have the subtle and cleverly layered adult jokes and nods to ‘real’ comic super hero conventions that the film does.

The Incredibles MMO, it would be… would be…. hoom, hrum, I know there’s an appropriate adjective but incredibly it has escaped me for the moment.

Posted by Melmoth at 6:40 am
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