Moving with superior velocity, achieving a more elevated altitude, raising an item of greater mass

mmo, zoso 1 Comment »

“Hello sports fans! Welcome to this live coverage of the results of the bidding process for the inugral MMOlympics. I’m Clifford Prodger”

“And I’m Barry Bumgardener”

“Frequently. Now, as Olympic fever sweeps much of the world, it’s surprising that, until now, no MMOGs have been getting in on the act, perhaps with some sort of in-game tie-in event”

“Perhaps not *that* surprising, Clifford, as those Olympic types are really rather keen on their brand protection, backed up by the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 (OSPA) to prevent unauthorised association with the games.”

“That’s true. Still, we…”

“In fact after consulting the Brand Protection document, I’m shocked by the flagrant manner in which many existing online entertainments are flouting the guidelines.”

“Yes, anyway, it…”

“The Olympic rings, for example, are quite clearly a protected symbol, and yet how many MMOGs unashamedly include rings as items of jewellery, hmmm?”

“That’s not really…”

“MORE DAMNING STILL! Listed expressions are: any two of the words in list A below OR any word in list A with one or more of the words in list B below:”

“I think we’re straying slightly from the…”

“LIST A: Games, Two Thousand and Twelve, 2012, Twenty-Twelve. LIST B: London, medals, sponsors, summer, gold, silver, bronze. How many so-called massively multiplayer online GAMES (list A) feature items made of GOLD, SILVER or indeed BRONZE (list B), hmmm? Hmmm? ANSWER ME!”

“Why don’t you have a little sit down and a couple of dried frog pills, Barry, you’re frothing slightly there.”

“Sorry”

“Partially. Now, in no way cashing in on any other event taking place, the International MMOlympic Committee…”

“International MMO-generic sporting event Committee, you mean?”

“Yes, yes, we’ll do a find-and-replace on the tape before its broadcast”

“We’re live, Clifford”

“All right, we’ll do find-and-replace on the brains of everyone watching. The International MMOlympic Committee have asked for bids to hold the inaugural MMOlympics, but as it’s such a massive undertaking, too much for any single game, the process is broken down on an event-by-event basis.”

“C’est vrai. That’s right.”

“Why the French, Barry?”

“Je ne sais pas, je viens juste à l’envie de tout dire en français d’abord, puis de le répéter en anglais. I don’t know, I just got the urge to say everything in French first, and then repeat it in English.”

“Probably the dried frog pills. Anyway, first up: the opening ceremony. What the Committee are really looking for here is spectacle, something with a real sense of scale, something that looks, as Oscar Wilde would say, batshit insane.”

“And the winner is… a troop of werewolves wearing top hats riding rockets accompanied by flying carpets, mammoths, trikes and Lady Gaga’s Poker Face dance. Yes, the opening ceremony will be held in Stormwind City, World of Warcraft.”

“On to the actual sporting events now. First up: Archery. Now the bidding was particularly fierce for this one, wasn’t it Barry?”

“It certainly was, Clifford, and it looks like the committee have hedged their bets slightly by awarding Archery to: All Of Them! Or, to be technically accurate, Almost All Of Them, Apart From A Few Of The Modern-Day Or Sci-Fi Ones, Though Even City Of Heroes Has Archery Powersets”

“And speaking of City of Heroes, there’s celebration from Paragon Studios as their superhero MMOG is awarded the Athletics”

“In keeping with the brand-protection-compliant non-infringing motto of the MMOlympics, ‘Moving with superior velocity, achieving a more elevated altitude, raising an item of greater mass’, it was the travel powers of City of Heroes that clinched it, particularly Super Speed and Super Jump. There’s some controversy over use of the Flight power, though, and whether it would result in a long jump distance of ‘infinity’ or ‘until the map runs out’”

“More good news for hero games now, as Gymnastics goes to: Champions Online. DC Universe Online pushed them hard, both games featuring Acrobatics as a travel power, but the versatility of Champions clinched it with Swinging, Jet Boots and Ice Sliding offering a variety of performance options.”

“It’s the Swimming next, and the committee have opted for Lord of the Rings Online, thanks to fond memories of time spent swimming around Lake Evendim with a strange sort of butterfly-esque porpoising movement for maximum speed. LotRO also secures Equestrianism; though plenty of games allow players to ride horses, it already has (sort of) show jumping in its festival races, so only needs the addition of a mounted /dance emote for the horse to stage the dressage as well.”

“On to Cycling; a bit trickier, bicycles being rather less common than horses in MMOGs, but the hi-tech approach of the British team that’s aroused some suspicion must surely lead eventually to hover-speeder-bikes, so step forward Star Wars: The Old Republic, helped by the fact that the cycling helmets are already suitable for Sith Lords.”

“Guns might not be quite as prevalent in the genre as bows, but there were still a lot of options for the Shooting. The committee felt that tab-targeting and AoE fire was a bit like cheating, though, ruling out bids from The Secret World and the superhero MMOs, amongst others. World of Tanks was a strong contender, but the vehicles had an unfortunate habit of demolishing the rifle range, so in the end they’ve opted for another game where you actually need to aim your weapon: Fallen Earth. There could be a shift in the future, though, as the possibility of laser guns being used in competition means that phaser shooting from Star Trek Online will also be in as a demonstration event.”

“Now Barry, one of the more popular events is the Beach Volleyball”

“You’re certainly a big fan, aren’t you Clifford?”

“Who isn’t, Barry? It needs great strength and endurance to run and jump on energy-sapping sand, so the competitors are supremely fit. Really fit. Supremely fit and toned. Lithe, toned, fit bodies, glistening with a supremely sheen of toned sweat, lithe…”

“Here, I think you might need these dried frog pills. Anyway, get your mind out of the gutter Clifford, there’s far more to the sport than the stereotypical ogling of scantily clad ladies.”

“They let *ladies* play now? Whatever next. Of course you’re right, though, Barry, which is why the MMOlympic Beach Volleyball will be held in TERA, although there was a strong showing from the spellcasting classes of Guild Wars 2

“‘Showing’ being the operative word, eh? Eh?”

“I rather think you’ll find ‘plinth’ is the operative word, actually. A slight pause now, as we wait for the committee to announce the venue for Sailing”

“Now, Clifford, I’ve got a theory for this one. I reckon they’ll opt for The Secret World

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Barry, but… there’s no sailing in The Secret World, is there? I mean Kingsmouth is a fishing port, but you don’t actually go out sailing at all.”

“Aaaah! You’re thinking too literally, Clifford. Watching a sailing race, you see, is very confusing; there are boats everywhere, heading in different directions as they try and make best use of the wind, to the untrained eye it looks like complete chaos, but to an insider, one with secret knowledge, the scene resolves itself, as in television coverage when they project arcane lines and geometries to show who is actually leading, and that’s a lot like the Dragon society in The Secret World, seeing order in chaos, aaaaaaahhhhh! Aaaahhhh!”

“No, not ‘aaaahhh’, Barry, the committee have opted for Pirates of the Burning Sea. Because you sail in it. With wind direction and everything.”

“How unimaginative. Mind you, note for the actual Olympics: a couple of 12 pound bow chasers per yacht would definitely make things more exciting.”

Pirates of the Burning Sea also put a bid in for Fencing, pointing out that one of the fighting styles in the game actually is ‘fencing’, but the committee took a dim view of the additional use of flintlock pistols. From a packed field of All Of Them, Even The Modern Day And Sci-Fi Ones, they’ve opted for Age of Conan, as it at least tried to be a bit different with its directions of attack and blocking.”

“On to the Diving. Several candidates here, but the committee felt that the title of “AHHHHHHH” in Warhammer: Age of Reckoning was a nice touch, and a bit of a consolation prize for unsuccessful competitors.”

“A bit of a grab-bag now, as the committee have decided to combine Boxing, Judo, Taekwondo and Wrestling into a sort of Mixed Martial Art free-for-all contested by Monks from Dungeons and Dragons Online, Martial Arts Scrappers from City of Heroes, and pretty much anyone else, so long as they don’t equip a weapon or cast a spell. Outside interference from party members or henchmen will be closely monitored.”

“And to round it all off, another grab-bag of ‘Sports ending in -ball’, to be represented by the Huttball warzone in Star Wars: The Old Republic

“It’s not a perfect match, of course, Barry, with all that aggression and violence”

“You’re quite right, Clifford, Handball had to be toned down rather for an online equivalent”

“That was a very humorous confounding of my expectations”

“Toned. Well that’s the end of the major sporting events, the committee are just going through a few of the unsuccessful bids. They were very impressed by the Mechwarrior Online proposal to stage every sport using precisely re-created digital versions of the current Olympic stadiums and venues, but with all the human competitors replaced by 20 metre tall 100 ton Atlas Battlemechs, but felt the logistics might be too much for a single game. If the Athletics had been split into sub-events then the multiple soul options in Rift would have stood it in good stead for the heptathlon and decathlon, and the committee did concede that jumping between systems in EVE Online was, indeed, quite a long jump. The original Guild Wars application had to be turned down, though, as it turned out they thought it said non-jump, not long jump. Final Fantasy XI were going to submit an application for the marathon, but didn’t get it in in time as they were stuck in a boss fight.”

“And in terms of infrastructure, the MMOlympic Village is to be provided by EverQuest 2 and Wildstar housing.”

“That just leaves the vital job of security, no less important for online games than real world sports.”

“You’re not wrong, Barry, and after studying the sterling work done by G4S for the London Olympics, only one company could offer similarly stringent online security: SOE.”

“Or, in breaking news, Blizzard”

“That’s strangely topical, didn’t news of the battle.net hack happen the day after this post?”

“It certainly did, Clifford, which is why this segment was edited in afterwards.”

“B-bye!”

“B-bye!”

Posted by Zoso at 3:02 pm

Oh death, where is thy sting?

ddo, guild wars 2, melmoth, mmo 4 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Melmoth at 11:29 am

Egotism, n: Doing the New York Times crossword puzzle with a pen

mmo, the secret world, zoso 6 Comments »

(BBBC Spoiler Warning: this post contains light spoilers for the Dead Air mission of The Secret World)

There’s an excellent example of an investigation mission early in The Secret World where you need to repair a radio mast. Examining a plate reveals the mast’s model number and website of the manufacturer (http://manticore.orochi-group.com). Looking up the model number on the site reveals “… provisional repairs can be carried out without recourse to specialized parts and labour. Primary components: brackets, anchors, antennas, lightning arrestors. Provisional repair materials: household adhesives, conductors and amplifiers.” It might as well say “Have you played an MMO before? Just go and click on anything that looks clickable”, but y’know, it’s a nice touch. Having taped a bunch of random bits of metal to the mast it starts working again, and strange beeps start emerging… Is it malfunctioning? Is it tuned to a radio station broadcasting the very cutting edge of monotonic electro jazz fusion funk? No, obviously it’s Morse code, I was just trying to build tension there.

At this point you have two options: you could jot down the dots and dashes, find the Morse alphabet and manually decode the message, or you could download an app, hold a smartphone up to the speakers and have it do that hard work. Or you could just Google the solution, of course, so three options. Or find a friend who knows Morse code, four options… OK, *amongst* your options are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and a smartphone app. I downloaded “Morse Code Reader”, cranked up the headphone volume, held the phone up, and as glowing green letters started appearing on the screen spelling out a message I thought “that’s rather nifty”.

For me the various elements were pitched about spot-on, interesting and diverting without being frustrating. Another mission, The Kingsmouth Code, was a *smidge* on the esoteric side in a couple of places; never the full head-scratching madness of adventure game logic, but at a couple of points I’d deduced some elements of a clue and needed a little nudge to put everything together (hurrah for Dulfy and some great guides that give hints as well as spoiler-tagged solutions).

Last night I was investigating one of the new missions added in the latest patch with Kris, and after some fun collaborative puzzle solving on voice chat (“A series of letters and numbers, what could it be? Co-ordinates? A numeric substitution cipher of some sort? Let’s run around randomly and see if there’s something to click on!”) we found a van, and the headlights started blinking in (presumably) Morse code. Without an app to decode the message, though, the prospect of trying to manually decode the flashing didn’t appeal at all, so it was straight off to Google for the solution. Of course not every player owns a smartphone, or would necessarily want to bother to download a Morse code app, but for me the audio version was a nifty puzzle, the visual version was some tedium to be avoided. Some players doubtless solved The Kingsmouth Code in seconds, while simultaneously doing cryptic crosswords in both The Times and The Telegraph, others probably didn’t even pause to read the in-game text before hitting Google to find out where to go and what to click next, it must be difficult to pitch things for such a wide audience.

I got into codes and ciphers early with The KnowHow Book of Spycraft, simple things like pigpen, then later the work at Bletchley Park in World War II was the perfect combination of military and technological history to fire my interest. Simon Singh’s The Code Book contained a £10,000 Cipher Challenge, I had a crack at it, and was pretty chuffed to solve some of the early ciphers with a bit of coding, like a program to calculate letter frequencies for various possible keyword lengths of a Vigenère cipher, but gave up on the later, really rather tough stages. A bit of deciphering in The Secret World could be fun, but again very difficult to pitch; Fez included a particularly challenging puzzle that’s interesting to read about, but it sounded pretty frustrating to be involved with.

There is nothing new under the sun, though; Richard Bartle wrote an interesting post looking at some puzzles from MUD1, including a link to an article on the pros and cons from 1985. There’s even a few unsolved puzzles, or at least solved puzzles where the derivation has been lost; I presume the pronunciation question is based on the heteronyms of Polish (nationality) and polish (make something shiny), but as there are other five letter heteronyms it’s the sort of pub quiz question that causes fights in the car park, even if the “block capitals” part implies case is crucial…

Posted by Zoso at 1:26 pm

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

guild wars 2, melmoth, mmo 12 Comments »

              

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

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

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

There’s only one way to find out!

FIGHT![2]

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

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

Posted by Melmoth at 2:06 pm

Necessity is the mother of futile dodges.

melmoth, mmo 7 Comments »

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

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

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

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

“Can’t you see I’m dodging here?”

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

“‘Bum’?”

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

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

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

“This?”

“This flopping around.”

“I am NOT flopping.”

“Here we go…”

“This is active dodging!”

“Uh huh.”

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

“Mmm.”

“Spent punishing years in Tibet.”

“Right.”

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

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

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

“Not really.”

“Ah.”

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

“I’m getting quite tired actually.”

“Perhaps you should have a little lie down.”

“I couldn’t possibl—”

“Here, let me help: [FUNCH]“

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

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

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

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

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

[Store Consumable X has sold out]

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

“MMO Mother, I can’t do up my shoes!”

“Kill five pairs of them!”

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

“Kill your homework!”

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

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

“MMO Mother, there’s a wasp!”

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

“Can’t I just kill it?”

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

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

Posted by Melmoth at 10:21 am

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

melmoth, mmo, the secret world 8 Comments »

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

Which just goes to show how little they understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Melmoth at 11:28 am

Holiday quest complete.

melmoth, mmo 3 Comments »

Achievement unlocked! 10 – Summer holiday!

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

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

You have gained an interesting amount of experience.

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

You have been granted the Sore Feet feat.

You have been awarded the title The Trampled.

You have been awarded the title Lord of Shoulder Rides.

You are now hunchbacked.

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

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

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

Your proficiency in dual-wielding backpacks has increased.

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

Your resistance to overcrowded tourist traps has improved.

Your resistance to overeating junk food has weakened.

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

Your bank account contains twelve copper pieces.

Posted by Melmoth at 9:38 am

I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times

games, mmo, the secret world, zoso 6 Comments »

Unlike many MMOGs that bestow an ever-expanding range of skills, spells and abilities upon players as they frolic and cavort o’er hill and dale The Secret World is more similar to Guild Wars, restricting the player to seven active abilities, chosen from a wider pool, and seven passive abilities. Eight abilities shalt thou not equip, neither equip thou six, lest ye not yet have gained sufficient AP in the Lord’s sight to purchase seven. Nine is right out.

This system works rather well, especially for players who like a bit of deck building. Some attacks are of a particular type such as “Frenzy” or “Chain”; other abilities are more effective when used on mobs in a certain state such as being “Afflicted”. Get yourself a couple of nice Frenzy attacks, find a passive ability with an effect like “All Frenzy attacks also Afflict the target with a DoT”, then slot in an attack that does bonus damage when the target is Afflicted, ate wallah (as they say in Swindon), a nice bit of synergy. If you just want to get on and poke stuff with swords (or hit things with a plank of wood) then each faction has a number of template decks you can work towards; if you want to get yet more complex you can delve into the crazy underworld of bridging passives and the like (full details available from guides such as Yokai’s). For the moment the game is young and thrusting and urgent, the coffee is free and the love is cheap, and as far as I’ve seen the nigh-infinite possibilities of power combinations have yet to congeal into a couple of Player Authorised builds, deviation from which shall be most sternly frowned upon. It might even stay that way; at the very least it’ll give us some more data points for the good old debate around classes/skills/roles/templates/tankmages/whether to put jam or clotted cream on a scone first.

At the risk of being something of an MMO Goldilocks, though, after complaining about having too many abilities over four crammed hotbars in SWTOR, I’m feeling that the seven active abilities of TSW aren’t *quite* enough. With two or three long (30-60 second) cooldown abilities you’ve got room for, say, a couple of attacks that build resources and a couple more attacks that consume those resources. Solo combat can then get into a bit of a rut of mashing long cooldown attack(s) when available interspersed with 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2 (or maybe 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4 for AoEing a group). On the plus side this does mean you can devote more attention to what’s happening in the game world rather than the interface, especially useful with so many mobs in TSW having telegraphed attacks that you really want to avoid, but perhaps just a couple more ability slots would make things a bit more interesting.

The option to switch weapons, abilities and gear at any point that you’re not actually in a fight makes for great flexibility. In an instance you can go from a resilient AoE-heavy build designed to pick up adds during one fight to all-out single target damage if the next boss is all alone (you know, that boss that none of the minions really like; “yeah, Norman, sure, we’ll turn up if you start getting attacked, soon as you get to 75% health we’ll all swarm out, attack the healers, don’t you worry about it… (aside: not really, we’re all going down the pub now)”.) In theory you could do the same thing for general solo gadding about, alleviating some of the problems of repetitive combat, but having put together a set of abilities that seem to be good enough for most encounters I’ve been pretty much sticking to those. One reason for not experimenting more has been the gear management system; in theory you should be able to put together a set of weapons, gear and abilities, and save it for instant recall later; in practise it’s been rather unintuitive and flaky. Apparently yesterday’s 1.02 patch has improved it, though, so I might give it another go.

Posted by Zoso at 2:07 pm

Is your pet really a druid?

ddo, melmoth, mmo 3 Comments »

KiaSA presents an easy step-by-step guide on how to check if your pet is really a druid in disguise.

Number One: The Shadow.

The Shadow.

Posted by Melmoth at 12:30 am

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.

melmoth, mmo, the secret world 5 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Melmoth at 9:52 am
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