Category Archives: rant

Look closely at those who patronize you. Half are unfeeling, half untaught.

Play the game, not the UI

Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, game designer! That’s about the stupidest thing ever typed.” And it kind of is. How else are you going to play the game? The way we mean it is: Since we are creating a living online world in which you heroically spend your time, we want you to viscerally experience that world.
                  Ben Miller, Game Designer, ArenaNet.

I know a certain set of MMO developers think that all players are dribbling innocents whose pretty little minds are preoccupied throughout the day by nothing but kittens and lollipops, but players have been talking about this for some time. No, really.

Respect the player

We respect you—as a player, as a human being.

“We think you’re clueless. But we respect you for it.”

It’s wonderful that you’re making a game for players, ArenaNet, truly. But could you stop making out that you’re single-handedly re-inventing the genre? When what you’re actually doing is implementing various features that players have been requesting (and subsequently been ignored over) for years.


What we have are these ‘buttons’, and you can ‘press’ them to activate ‘abilities’. We want you to be able to intuitively control your character’s actions using the input device of your PC.

Okay, okay, I made that last one up.

Melmoth—resignedly awaiting the invention of the device which allows ArenaNet to patronisingly ruffle one’s hair over the Internet.

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.

The revelry for the Queen’s diamond jubilee is due to get under way here in the (not so) United Kingdom and elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations (formally The Empire – cue The Imperial March) this coming weekend. I find myself unable to get excited about the event and, but for mini-Melmoth, would probably have hidden myself away until the whole sorry celebration had passed. I look back at previous jubilees and see people in carefree celebration of their love for Queen and Country, but now there seems to be the acrid fug of corporate sponsorship hanging over the whole affair, and in my darker moments I imagine later in my life watching films of the event, where children sit at long tables, wearing their Lloyds TSB t-shirts, eating little cakes with Hasbro logos on the top, and waving their Mastercard flags at the camera. More though, it seems to me as if a large section of society is keen to participate not with a mind to enjoying the rare pomp and circumstance that comes with a monarch’s long reign, but being able to brag at a later date of ‘having been there’ to those who weren’t. For me, it’s another small sample from the petri dish which cultures the sickness of modern society.

As m’colleague astutely pointed out: ‘Bit like MMO betas…’

Someone pulling the “Well, I was there in beta” seniority gambit is always a reliable indicator that the conversation is on a fast track to nowhere good. It’s been amusing to watch, with the openness of MMO betas in recent times, how this has now been amended to ‘closed beta’. Even better if you can lay claim to ‘in from alpha’ supremacy.

In alpha, am Alpha.

It seems to me that there will be difficulty in escalating this war of ultimate authority much further, without having to resort to claims of being a member of staff. Nevertheless, I’ll still not be surprised when I see someone yelling on a forum that they’re friends with someone who walks the dog of the partner of the hairdresser who once cut the hair of the community manager when they were in town for a convention.

And I frankly can’t wait for


which wins by a nose over

“I’m in a secret beta” (which I can’t tell you anything about. But I can tell you that I’m *in* the secret beta. And I must. Because then you’ll be fully aware that I am somewhat better than you.)

as the sort of strange statement which will make me Spock an eyebrow.

I think it’s a little sad that, for a large section of the community, these events have become nothing more than achievements themselves, titles perhaps, to be collected and displayed as little indicators of how they’re superior to all the other collectors of virtual tchotchke. And once the lording-it-over-others is complete, it’s swiftly on to the bitching-at-the-developers; primarily, it seems, because the beta wasn’t the immaculate gaming experience that the player had been fantasising over, as a substitute for that ruined copy of Penthouse under the bed.

So if you are in a beta for an MMO in the coming weeks because, oh I don’t know, you were lucky enough to be able to afford a ‘pre-purchase’, or lucky enough to win a competition for access, try to remember that it’s your chance to make the game a better place for others. By all means take the time to experiment with the game as you will, to blast through content and burn yourself out before the thing has even launched, if that’s your wont. But when you encounter a problem or frustration, as is the way of a beta, take a moment to report it in a calm, considered and constructive fashion. MMOs are big and complex beasts, and it is possible – however unlikely – that you may find a weakness which has not been found before.

Those are the achievements I’d like to see rewarded, and perhaps MMO developers should consider taking a more active part in this: handing out in-game perks and rewards for players having discovered bugs which were confirmed and fixed in beta. It could be a splendid way to get more players trading their glory for passion. Then again, maybe I’m wrong entirely, and MMO developers see beta as simply another source of fuel for the hype machine. But rare is the MMO beta which sees an overwhelmingly positive response from the online community, and indeed, it seems to me that it more often establishes a core community which is privileged and needy in spirit.

I believe a game’s community is grown, as though from seed. Thus, it would behove developers to consider well the current nature of beta tests, for this is the critical stage of sapling growth, where community can be both encouraged and guided, and then cultivated to a mature crop. Or it can be left to wither and sprawl, where it will eventually choke upon the suffocating rancour of its own thorny creepers. For, as much as I despair at the communities which tend to form around these MMO betas, you do, after all, reap what you sow.

It is better to listen in order to understand than to listen in order to reply.

APB is going through some changes:

“Vehicle Handling: We’re already underway on a major overhaul to vehicle handling to make cars more responsive and less slippy overall. You’ll still be able to power slide around corners in stylish fashion, but steering is more responsive overall and easier to get the hang of early on.

Combat: We’re looking at almost every aspect of combat – how it looks, feels and sounds, as well as weapon characteristics and tactics. Weapon changes will be put up on the Public Test World to get some feedback in due course.”

All of this but a few weeks after launch.

An all but too familiar story in the MMO industry.

I wonder if many MMO developers wilfully ignore the feedback they get during the testing phase in the hope that a large percentage of their player base is wrong, or whether they’re simply interested in bug reports and don’t even hear the more wide-ranging complaints with respect to the design of major sections of the game. Look at the vast number of tiny angry claws that it took to nip Activision Blizzard on the toe before the corporate behemoth withdrew the giant foot that it had decided to plunge into the Sea of Selfhood, with respect to RealID.

The lesson I think some MMO developers really need to learn is that, whether they like it or not, when players complain en masse about a design decision, the developer generally should take some note of it there and then, thus saving themselves a lot of time and effort when they have to make the change post-release anyway. These developers may roll their eyes when a large proportion of players complain about one aspect or another, but like it or not, these are the people you need to please with your game, because they are not going to complain vehemently about fundamental aspects of the system and then simply say “Oh well, I’ll just subscribe for a year or so anyway”. They’ll pay the box price, and when the included time comes to an end, they’ll just up and leave.

It’s not tourism, it’s consumerism.

Saying “We’re listening to our players and making sweeping changes” after you have already launched your game is extremely disingenuous: these issues are no different to the ones that were mentioned in beta, it’s just that now the players are able to reinforce their complaints by voting with their wallets, which seems to be the only way to get a developer’s attention, to state categorically “no, really, your game is broken in ways X, Y and Z, whether it hurts you to hear it or not”, and then leave. When enough players do this the forum suddenly lights-up with developer posts with words such as ‘overhaul’, ‘restructuring’ and ‘redesign’, and phrases such as ‘fundamental changes’, ‘a new focus’, ‘looking at all aspects’ and ‘listening to players’ feedback’. Unfortunately by that point the only people reading those posts are the dedicated few who were already committed to playing the game anyway, so the next set of developer posts generally contain ‘server merges’ and ‘free to play’, sometimes followed shortly after by ‘closing’ and ‘goodbye’.

The lesson that still has not been learnt is this: after beta is too late.

MMO developers need to break this cycle of beta testing being the glorified equivalent of demo disks on PC Magazines; they need to drop the NDA secrecy; they need to remove the pedestals from the holier-than-thou would-be-rockstar types in the company who are more interested in bathing in the frothing adulation of the game’s ‘number one fans’ than listening to what impartial observers are telling them; they need to stop pandering to the websites that just want to release exclusive details of the game first in order to generate advertising revenue, and instead perhaps start to foster relationships with the MMO community in general; they need to employ celebrity-blind community representatives: people who can touch and feel their way around what a community is saying and thus filter out the distractions provided by fanboys and trolls which often appeal to the ‘celebrity’ that a community management position can foster, so that the community representative can instead present the precise shape and substance of issues and concerns to the development team – but importantly the developers need to listen to that feedback and, where remotely possible, act upon it.

Or not. You know, it’s your game after all. You’re the big development studio. You know best. Just don’t be surprised when nobody plays it and you’re merging servers after three months, however. And don’t blame it on World of Warcraft, lordy don’t do that, when the game is there for all to see, all the things that work and don’t work, in a game that is fast approaching its sixth year of solid subscriptions; I’m afraid you’ve had more than enough time to get walking on your own again, that old crutch simply can’t be used in any valid way anymore if the genre wants to progress.

APB isn’t failing because they tried something new, it’s because in trying something new they started anew, and thus made all the same mistakes that had already been made in games like Tabula Rasa and WAR. They’re not alone of course, Global Agenda being another recent example. There’s a wealth of information out there, written by people who do so for fun and enjoyment and because they are passionate about these things, and not for a salary or other such remuneration. They write with a wealth of experience in what works and doesn’t work for them as a player, and seemingly too many game studio types ignore such feedback as being the ravings of the clueless, to be ignored by the all-knowing Industry clique.

Yet these people do know something, they know where they’re going to spend their money next.

Instead of trying to convince them to spend their money with you through flashy E3 stands and rhetorically-gifted front men, instead of employing bloggers who are clearly chasing the goal of ‘being in The Industry and lording it over others’ rather than ‘making great MMOs’, instead of talking at players and pumping hype at everyone through a fire hose, instead of trying to tell players why they’re categorically wrong about the things they don’t like, and instead of believing in the illusion of your own superior celebrity, take a step back, stop, and listen. Actually listen, take the Feedback Radio and adjust the frequency regularly, stop listening to the Yes Men show on 104.5 Fanboy FM for a while, maybe try Constructive Criticism hour on 98.4 Radio Impartiality instead. Granted there’s a lot of white noise out there, but the strong signals are there too and easy enough to find, if you would only choose to listen once in a while.

Entertainment is Ennui.

Spinks wrote a piece lamenting the gradual erosion of the stealth role in MMOs. My comment arrived late and somewhat out of sorts, like a drunk arguing a point with a stranger – the original duellist in the debate having long since left the scene. And as my comment staggered its way drunkenly towards a point it bumped into a different topic entirely, spilling that topic’s pint, and thus the two of them ended-up rolling ineffectually on the floor of the bar struggling to hump a submission out of one another over a subject the substance of which had long been forgotten, while the stranger, in all probability, looked on in quiet befuddlement.

My comment was thus:

Wardens get to stealth a little bit too, but shhh, otherwise the You Know Who will come and get us.

I think I’ve used that stealth ability once or twice so far in my levelling career, and primarily it’s been to avoid fights that I’m really not in the mood for, for example when I’m needing to find a safe spot and log off quickly.

I think the Resolve All Problems Through Combat nature of MMOs definitely is one reason why stealth has been deprecated over the years.

I think the primary reason, however, is simply impatience on the part of the modern player. There are plenty of opportunities in DDO, for example, where a stealthed character could sneak ahead, scout the area, take out a few enemies and disarm any traps before returning to the group, but you’ll find that most groups outside of the role-playing crowd will just barrel through regardless and simply tank the traps and extra mobs and heal through it. Nobody wants to stop playing while one person carries on playing ‘solo in a group’.

It’ll be interesting to see how SW:TOR manages to deal with this, not just in combat, but also in the quest conversation system, because making players wait for other players has generally devolved into being a no-no among MMO developers.

Personally I think it’s a sad thing, because it’s another pillar of play that has been removed to streamline the experience, but at the expense of weakening the foundation of The Group as an entity in MMOs, reducing it yet further towards the rudimentary collection of players trying to get through unsoloable content as quickly as possible for the greater loot rewards.

Stealth no longer fits into MMOs because role-playing no longer fits in to MMOs; I think we’re also witnessing the gradual extinction of danger in MMOs, at which point there comes a time when you have to ask ‘what reason is there to hide from an enemy that I have no cause to fear?’

Back in the days of Everquest players would wait around for hours with other players, camping a mob in the hope that they could all work together to achieve a small but potentially significant goal. These days you’re lucky if you can get a group to wait while the healer drinks to regain their mana.

MMOs develop as a reflection of our modern society.

Bigger, Faster, Better.

Rude, Impersonal, Soulless.

We’re becoming spiritually poor in our MMOs as we are in real life. The rat race mentality is fully entrenched: you must be superior to the next person, richer, better equipped, more achievements, otherwise you are one of life’s losers. You must constantly be proving your worth in some way, chasing the carrot, running faster on the wheel that takes you nowhere, otherwise you are, by definition, worthless. It is a grating horrible attitude that pervades real life, but to translate that into entertainment? That’s just sad.

MMOs are quickly becoming un-games. They are already big business, not just for the developers, but for the gold farmers, the information database websites, the levelling guide sites, the merchandisers. They are less and less about having fun, and more and more about status, wealth and achievement. Players of PvP MMOs generally sneer down at the Carebear players of their PvE counterparts, and yet there’s easily as much competition in PvE MMOs as there is in PvP MMOs, but in PvE MMOs the rules are changeable and ambiguous, and the competition is bitter and more personal; in PvE it’s about destroying the person behind the screen, not the persona within it. PvP MMOs are harmless, generally giving the vindictively frustrated an outlet without their having to interact with the real world, a bit like the role blow-up sex dolls serve for the sexually frustrated. It is PvE MMOs which hide the truly psychotic and malicious.

I wonder if we need a cleansing of the MMO temple, but how would we set about doing this as a society when MMOs always reflect our world in their worlds, and thus we will always see our societies reflected in their society. Our society is geared for survival, for survival of the individual and survival of the human race, but if you’re one of life’s pessimists, as I am, you see very little chance in that society for the survival of the soul. The fact that even our community-based entertainment cannot exist without, as a general rule, devolving into competition, a survival of the ruthless and the fanatical, where he who runs the treadmill fastest wins, removes another layer of doubt for me about the future we face as a people.

“There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always–do not forget this, Winston–always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–for ever.”
            — George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Rocked Off

Dear Technology Sites (and the rest of the world),

“Rocking” is not a synonym of “featuring”, “running”, “including”, “wearing”, “demonstrating”, “eating” or whatever other sodbuggering verb, noun or adjective you’ve randomly decided to replace today.

“We’re totally rocking updates from the Mobile World Conference today where the latest Nokias are rocking a new operating system, HTC have unveiled a handset rocking a 3.7″ screen, I’m rocking a cool t-shirt and I’m going to rock a sandwich for lunch then rock a taxi to rock to the hotel to rhythmically move backwards and forwards myself to sleep.”

It’s spelt ‘Eon’, NCSoft.

I’m not terribly sure as to why you spelt it Aion.

You know, as in “It takes an eon for the game to load, longer than my computer takes to boot” and “It takes an eon to get into the game, if you’re lucky, otherwise it’s sometime around the heat death of the universe”.

Aion Queue 1Aion Queue 2Aion Queue 3Aion Queue 4Aion Queue 5

So that’s the status for each of the five available EU English servers. And yes one of them is “only” half an hour; shame it’s not the one where my character is.

And to all those who have said that this is the smoothest launch they’ve ever seen, of course it bloody well is, nobody can get onto the servers to stress them. I could solve all of the public transport problems in England if I only let ten people on to each bus and then thanked everyone else for their patience while they stand around for two hours to get on to the next one.

To think that NCSoft had the temerity to want to install nProtect GameGuard with their game, as if it’s the players who are the cheap cheating bastards. Talking of cheap bastards, what the hell gives you the right to open a browser up after I close the game down in order to pimp your products?

Cheap and utterly lacking in etiquette.

You know what, at least Aventurine had the decency to not let you buy Darkfall at all in order to keep their numbers down, rather than make you sit around adding up how much of your money you’re spending in order to watch a queue progress very slowly. I could do that at Disneyland, and at least then I’d get the opportunity to punch Donald Duck in the face.

Never mind, give it a year before NCSoft close it all down for no good reason whatsoever, eh?

I might just have reached the point where I’m allowed to log in by then.

I am not a geek.

Geeks now have a movement no less.

From Wikipedia:

The word geek is a slang term, noting individuals as “a peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc.”

But I’ve seen the Geek Advancement video now, so let’s update it:

From Melmothpedia:

The word ‘geek’ is now used by a huge proportion of the Internet population who own a Macbook or an iPhone, are pretentious, and like to pretend that they’re actually doing something incredibly rare, misunderstood or difficult.

They are likely to be mainstream actors; music stars with a penchant for ludicrously large trousers and dancing like a crab on a conveyor belt; or perhaps in some form of journalism. In a large number of cases they will be an attractive woman wearing a top cut so low that you can see her bikini line, but it’s cool because she’s a geek so she’s actually rebelling against the system and most certainly wasn’t ever a cheerleader, very often. Ok, so that was primarily because she was too busy sorting out being Queen of the Prom, but still. They are rarely socially inept or peculiar unless it is affected for promotional videos where they are being condescending to everyone they think isn’t part of their elite club.

Geek is essentially a term that has been appropriated by the high school cheerleaders, jocks and cool kids to represent the fact that they now have netbooks and smartphones and therefore mock other people through Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Blogger rather than by passing messages in class.

You can tell someone who isn’t a traditional geek through a simple test:

Does the person in question constantly jabber on about the fact that they’re “such a geek” in a way as to sound like they’re an outsider while at the same time knowingly acknowledging that they’re part of a club of several hundred million people all of whom profess to be geeks too, as if in some sort of masonic ritual of fellowship? Do they like broadcasting this fact in incredibly public ways? Do they think they’re better than you because of it?

Yes? Then what you have there my friend is a Geek2.0. An iGeek. Geek2020.

A member of the Chic Geek Clique.

Saying that you’re a geek these days doesn’t mean what you think it means. It lost its meaning when people started using it as a badge of social aloofness, when the term became cool with marketing people in expensive suits who write on large whiteboards diagrams that look like Mr Messy trying to copulate with a Lego set, and when films started to be made that showed geeks saving the world and getting the girl and being Jake Fucking Gyllenhaal.

I’m a software engineer in the aerospace industry. I’m a techno-freak. A gadgeteer.

Some people even say I’m weird and socially inept.

But I’m definitely not a geek. At least I hope not.

In the meantime…

Until I switch back to being an MMO-loving fuzzy bunny, I’ll continue with the somewhat Grinch-like observations.

Dear old Ragnar Tørnquist has another interview, this time on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. And bless me, there’s some Class A hype in there, hype so strong that there are special government task forces set up to deal with an outbreak. There really should be a Misuse of Hype Act declared in the UK.

Funcom’s contemporary dark fantasy, The Secret World, is an MMO with a cliffhanger ending. So says its creator, Ragnar Tørnquist. In fact, it’s claims like this that make this one of the most significant MMOs currently in development.

Yes, right. Well. Give me five minutes, and an interview with a hype waiter, and I’m sure I can tout a bunch of features and make some ‘claims’ for the MMO that I’m ‘working on’ which will make it the most significant MMO currently in development. IN MY MIND.

RPS: Can you just explain the classless progression idea?

Tørnquist: We wanted to make a game system that was at home in the modern world. This isn’t a medieval fantasy world in which you can be born a baker and die a baker – it’s based in the modern world around us. We wanted to give people freedom to be what they want to be, and play how they want to play. You can read into that the idea that we’re reaching for the moon, but it has some important basic ideas: players will have a sort of deck of cards which will say how their character is going to be. They will be able to shuffle that deck to change how they play as they go along, they’re going to open up more options for that deck as they go a long. It’s much more dynamic than other such games, you won’t get stuck as the tank or the healer, and you should be able to contribute to the process and to the party no matter who you are. Clothes aren’t going to have stats – you can choose whether you want to wear sneakers and a T-shirt, or if you want full goth outfit, or a dress and high heels. All those things are possible, and they’re not going to effect how your character plays.

I mean, is it really just me that reads these articles with “A sort of deck of cards“, “you should be able to contribute” and “You can read into that the idea that we’re reaching for the moon” and thinks, these are all just design goals and not actual features yet? Do alarm bells ring for anyone else? You don’t actually have this thing implemented, it’s what you want to implement, and if you have implemented it, you certainly haven’t tried it on a server with a hundred plus non-developers to see if it actually works, at which point it’s too late to do anything other than rip it out and shove-in a token class system to cover the MMO checklist.

Grind – Check
Token character customisation – Check
Compulsory segregation of player population by continent, server type or colour of the moon at the time of subscription – Check
Classes – Check

It’s an MMO all right!

It reminds me of the last mistake I made in believing a developer’s hype: Mr Barnett’s “Bears, bears, bears” video, where he told us all that ‘we wouldn’t have to wade through an area full of bears and then be asked to kill 10 bears, the ones we had killed would already count!’. And what was actually implemented in Warhammer Online? The Kill Collector, an NPC glued to each quest hub who gives you a bit of extra XP for having had to wade through a bunch of bears to do some other quests. And who is standing next to Mr Kill Collector? Why it’s Mr Go And Kill Me Ten Bears, who is totally oblivious to the fact that Mr Kill Collector is rewarding you for killing bears, because you hadn’t got the Let’s All Jolly Well Trot Off And Kill Some Fucking Bears quest yet.

Anyway, go read the interview. Zoso says it’s Quite Interesting, and I’m sure I agree that the game sounds interesting from a design perspective.

It’s the touting of features with absolutely no game evidence of them whatsoever that I object to. Anyone can say “well we want it to have this and that and the other”, why don’t you tell us what you’ve actually got? Better yet, tell us what you’ve tried that didn’t work and why. Teach us. Inform us. Respect us.

Feed us information, not fantasy so thick that even your game world couldn’t sustain it.

Plus ça change.

You know, Mythic, having come back to WAR to give it a second chance after the tempting lure of being able to play a Slayer, it’s hard for someone like me to stick around when, after all this time, your game STILL doesn’t remember the position of my chat windows, such that I have to move them every time I log in.

Minor things like this make your game look disproportionately shoddy and unprofessional, because they’re in the user’s face, and they’re there every time that user logs in.

I should be playing your game and not sitting here contemplating writing an AddOn to fix such a stupid thing.

Rivalry is the life of trade, and the death of the trader.

Looking at release schedules you’d think that World of Warcraft was the younger sibling to Warhammer Online and not the other way around, as soon as WAR got a chance to be front and centre with their initial game release, WoW came bursting in to the room and shoved WAR aside with its Wrath of the Lich King “Look at me, look at me, I’m the special one! Look at me!” routine.

So WAR patiently takes a back seat as bemused parents watch WoW perform its new expansion routine, in that sickeningly over-cutesy way that only younger siblings can. Once WoW has burned itself out on being the entertaining centre of attention and crawled off to the corner for a nap, WAR steps forward again to gentle smiles from the adoring parental audience and announces that it will now perform patch 1.2 for them. But just as WAR opens its mouth to begin a delightful recital of new classes and dungeons and such, WoW wakes from its slumber, realises that someone else might be getting some attention and charges back in front of everyone, shoving WAR out of the way yet again and announces with puffed-out chest that it is now going to perform patch 3.1 for all and sundry.

Once or twice is a coincidence, but Blizzard’s uncanny ability to release next to no content until one of its competitors does is coming across as quite childish to my mind. Not only that but it shows their lack of respect for their customer base, because we all know that one uses ‘competition’ with respect to World of Warcraft in the very loosest sense of the word because nothing can really compete at this stage of the game, so while their player base clamours for more content for their subscription fee, Blizzard seem to be holding it back until such a time as it is useful to stamp on the release schedules of other companies.

Quite frankly Blizzard you won this generation of gaming a long, long time ago, and one would expect a more mature and perhaps even benevolent attitude from such an unsurpassable behemoth as yourselves.