A man’s character is his guardian divinity.

melmoth, mmo, wow 5 Comments »

If you haven’t already read Cynwise’s deeply splendid look at the Pandaren and the influences involved, I’d highly recommend you do so.

Stemming from that post is a link to Samwise‘s gallery which includes concept images of the Pandaren, and which upon closer inspection also gives hints –to those who may be interested– as to a couple of possible appearance options for the female of the species.

Specifically here, here and here.

I particularly like the Conan-ian appearance in the image above, possibly with a tagline of: “Don’t think of me as a clownish Po, think of me as Iorek Byrnison wearing a goddamn Batman mask.”

Posted by Melmoth at 5:23 pm

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.

melmoth, mmo, wow 14 Comments »

Now what would be really interesting is if, say around 20.12.2011, World of Warcraft announced that it was going free to play.

Lord of the Rings Online was still offering standard and lifetime subscriptions right up to the point that it announced it was going free-to-play; getting your most ardent fans to agree to sign-up for a year mightn’t be a bad plan if you were going to open the game up to all, for ‘restricted content’ free play at least.

In addition, a forthcoming expansion which, potentially, could be seen as specifically targeting a younger audience, might work better if the subset of younger players who couldn’t normally afford a regular subscription were able to play for free, and then pay smaller amounts for the combat pets, mounts, and other items they were interested in.

Now, if World of Warcraft were to add a cosmetic item system, something which has already proven incredibly lucrative in a game such as LotRO, then you might consider it as further evidence that an in-game WoW Store was a distinct possibility, and free-to-play often goes hand in hand with an RMT store.

Of course, realistically you’d expect Blizzard to test the RMT waters first, perhaps with a small vanity item that could be bought with real money and then traded on the game’s auction house to other players, as a finite controllable experiment.

Don’t take this as some sort of proclamation as to what I believe is going to happen, but it is an interesting thought experiment to consider whether –what with the recent decline in subscriptions of their aging game, along with a core audience which seems dissatisfied no matter what they do– Blizzard would entertain the idea of opening World of Warcraft up to the pocket money demographic.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:48 am

Thought for the day.

melmoth, mmo, tftd, wow 14 Comments »

Werewolves in top hats, gnomes performing the dance moves from Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch, steampunk motorcycles and planes, Murlocs, escorting orphaned children through the Dark Portal in Hellfire Peninsula, ridiculous sexual dimorphism in PC races, non-combat pets, Haris Pilton, giant cow-men riding on chocobos, polymorph, Quilboar, dressing up in an ogre suit, shoulder pads you could hide a small village under, remote-controlled fighting robots, Santa Claus and the Grinch, Big Love Rocket, blue space demons, wibbley-wobbly timey-wimey, mechanostriders, transforming into a furblog, parachutes, escorting mechanical chickens, ludicrous retcons, kobold candles, Forsaken Death Knights, teleporters, steam car vs rocket car racetrack, Thunderfury, jet packs, Tuskarr, dressing up in a murloc suit, orbital death satellites, pink elekks, Engineering, Gnomish Nutritional Effervescent Remarkably Delicious Sweets…

And you’re worried about pandas?

Posted by Melmoth at 1:38 pm

Putting a ding in the MMOverse.

eve, melmoth, mmo, ripsteve, wow 1 Comment »

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them [...] by the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” –Steve Jobs

Which certainly has a ring of truth with respect to World of Warcraft’s success, and is possibly why it is failing to delight its players now.

Like many high achievers, Burrell likes challenges so much that he actually seeks them out and consciously creates them

“Why intentionally ‘make a mess?’ So you can get really good at ‘cleaning up!’”– Burrell Smith, Andy Hertzfeld

Although EVE Online may be the one to have apologised to its user base for losing sight of what makes the game great, it’s still worth any MMO developer remembering why MMO players often become passionate about a game: the truly great moments in MMOs are often not about the challenges you create, but are instead about the challenges that you enable the players to create.

Let your players make a mess, then give them the tools to clean it up.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:47 am

Output of the overmind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Melmoth at 12:47 pm

Thought for the day.

melmoth, mmo, tftd, wow 7 Comments »

“Hindsight explains the injury that foresight would have prevented.”

Second and third hero classes, along with broader and more varied level eighty five end-game content, instead of Cataclysm?

Posted by Melmoth at 1:46 pm

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.

melmoth, mmo, wow 21 Comments »

Deeps: “Oi! Tankman! Have you finished my homework, Tankman?”

Tankman: “Ow, ow! Leggo my ear!”

Deeps: “Well? Have you done it.”

Tankman: “Y–ow! Yes! Deeps, ow, here. It was fairly easy, you just need to sap the caster, then take the centurion down first because he can…”

Deeps: “Whatever, Tankman. If I wanted to know how to do this stuff I wouldn’t be asking you, would I? Here…”

Tankman: “What’s this?”

Deeps: “What does is look like, dork? It’s the homework for Mr Deepholm’s class. I want it done for tomorrow, and you’d better not make any mistakes or you’ll get a right good vote-kicking.”

Tankman: “Oh come on! I’ve got to do my own work you know. And I’ve got two other groups who want me to do their dungeon work for them. And I’ve got to mark a bunch of other stuff for Roflson…”

Deeps: “Just do the work, Tankman. Or else.”

Tankman: [sigh]

Phacerol: “Hey, Tankman!”

Tankman: “Oh crud.”

Deeps: “Eh, heh, heh. Popular boy, eh?”

Phacerol: “Hey! C’mere, you. I got a B- on my Uldum coursework. So now that I have to stay behind and redo that lesson, I’m going to teach you a lesson.”

Tankman: “Ow! Look! It’s not my fault that Mr Halls sprung a surprise test on us, is it? I can’t be expected to do everythi… owwww!”

Phacerol: “The only time I want your opinion is when you’re doing my homework for me. Otherwise, Tankman, I expect you to stay quiet and do my homework. Understood?”

Tankman: “That… that doesn’t even make any sens… ow! Alright. Alright. [sigh]”

Yes, second only to announcing that Sylvanas Windrunner is a hermaphrodite and thus ruining the adolescent fantasies of half the world’s male population, Blizzard recently announced the Call to Arms feature of the 4.1 patch, their best attempt yet at causing their forums to implode from outrage.

For less frothing vitriol and more reasonable debate I would recommend visiting all the many and varied sources of excellence and elucidation to find out more about why bribery will or won’t work.

But why the lack of tanks in the first place? Speaking from a personal point of view, it’s because the tank has to know not only how to play their class well, but are also expected to have intimate knowledge of the dungeon too. It’s this primal need in the player base to know the encounters beforehand that has broken the theoretically even trinity of tank, healer and damage dealer, into a far more unbalanced affair, where the tank is both aggro-magnet and dungeon guide, and the healer is personally accountable for all deaths within the group.

I think the fundamental dungeon design philosophy in World of Warcraft is what causes a lack of tanks. Dungeons are fixed problems with known solutions, and players being the gear-chasing optimisation monkeys that they are, want to know how to perform a fight before entering into that fight. Raiding is just the grown-up version of this, where I’ve equated it in the past to Internet line dancing. There are videos demonstrating every move, when to make it, who needs to be where and when. The whole theory behind WoW’s dungeons is precision of execution, what it lacks (as a norm) is any use of adaptation, innovation, or response to unexpected events.

That’s not strictly true of course, because healers spend their entire time responding to unexpected events: damage dealers standing in the fire being the customary example. Combine this with the fact that healers are generally considered accountable for all deaths within the average pick-up group, and we can begin to see why healing is almost as unpopular a vocation as tanking.

As such, the dungeon philosophy seems to be that a clean run is one where classes don’t have to react to unexpected situations. The tank takes damage and keeps all enemies focussed on themselves, the healer heals the tank and any incidental damage the damage dealers pick up, and the damage dealers focus-fire specific targets in the precise order that makes things easiest while avoiding Token Possibility of a Wipe Mechanic X. Anything outside of this is often a wipe, or involves blowing cool-downs which won’t be available for when it occurs again in the very next fight. In other words, dungeons demand the perfect execution of a routine, and not the player’s ability to react to a situation.

It’s less of a game, more of an exercise. It’s the difference between rote learning for an exam, and actually understanding how the theories you’re studying work.

Thus (beyond the basic level of new players and the incompetent) it’s not that players don’t know how to play their class, but that they don’t know how to react to situations outside of what they’ve been trained to do, and by the time they react they’re dead. That ‘interrupt’ button sits unused on the DPS player’s hotbar for ninety five percent of their gaming life, so it’s hardly a wonder that they don’t know where to find it when a situation occurs that requires them to interrupt; and so, in response to this, players learn the encounters off by heart, so that they will know – before the fight even begins – whether they will need to interrupt or not. In addition, there’s no need to learn by mistakes because most of the time those situations don’t occur (tank controls aggro, people correctly jump through the right hoops, and nobody dies), so on the occasions where players are suddenly forced to react to something unexpected (because the routine has broken down) and promptly fail, the result is often recrimination and blame, rather than analysis and understanding. And unfortunately, in the average pick-up group found in the LFD tool, the person responsible for making sure that everyone knows how the exercise works is the tank. Why it has fallen to the tanks to be relied upon for the ‘a posteriori’ knowledge of a dungeon, I’m not sure; perhaps it is the fact that they are traditionally the class that stands at the front, and as such are expected to lead from the front; perhaps tanks have shot themselves in the foot somewhat by encouraging the belief in some sections of MMO society that they are Tiny Tanking Gods who use mythical powers to defeat dungeons on behalf of the mortals who follow in their wake; or perhaps the tank generally has to know an encounter to be able to do their job properly, and therefore everyone assumes they know it and are thus best placed to relay that information to the rest of the group. Perhaps it’s a little of all of these.

The problem isn’t even necessarily with the dungeon design in WoW encouraging learning encounters beforehand, thus reducing the game to a simple Simon game of memory and repetition; the problem with the lack of tanks is that the game provides no way for tanks to learn and practise outside of the dungeons themselves. Reading a guide and watching a video is all well and good, but to be able to perform the role and at the same time instruct others on their roles, takes some level of hands-on experience. Also, because a tank generally controls the size and nature of the pull, and thus controls the speed of a dungeon run, any tank who is learning the dungeon is necessarily slower than one who has learned it by rote; and if there’s one thing LFD pick-up groups are renowned for throughout the world it’s their high levels of patience and understanding. The fact that tanks have to perform this learning exercise as part of a group which, if not filled with understanding friends, will result in them suffering a virtual stoning that would make the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian look like a documentary, means that many tanks are driven away from the role after their first experience at the hands of the Deeps and Phacerolers of the great Blizzard school of dungeoneering.

Therefore I don’t think Blizzard can easily fix the lack of tanks in the pick-up group game because it warrants a complete change to the theory and design of how dungeons should work. Until then, until we have dungeons with randomised encounters which require players to adapt and learn and, dare I say it, play the game, tanks will need to know both their class and the dungeon, and thus take responsibility for teaching others while expecting to take an equal share with the healer of the recriminations that follow a group wipe, regardless of whether it is blamed on poor instruction or poor execution. Is it any wonder that most tanks, new or experienced, quickly tire of the desire to put themselves on the front line for others?

This is the social order that Blizzard has cultivated with its dungeon design; pouring fertilizer on the part which is being starved and strangled by the demands of the more rampant sections, won’t solve a single thing.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:13 am

‘Tis the little rift within the lute.

melmoth, mmo, rift, wow 8 Comments »

One of the general themes buzzing around the topic of Rift at the moment is a general consensus that the game is well produced, but offers little over World of Warcraft. But familiarity isn’t necessarily bad in all contexts, and I think this is a mistake many MMO developers have made in the recent past. There hasn’t been a car manufacturer in recent years who has decided to mount the steering wheel on the roof of the car, or moved the steering column controls to the seat, to be operated by the driver’s buttocks. Maybe someone will come up with a revolutionary new way to control a car – most likely coinciding with some leap in technological capability – but in the meantime, incremental adjustments to the familiar is the way that industry moves forward, while style, design and build quality are what attracts customers. As far as I can see, Rift incrementally improves on the familiar, has an attractive style and design, and reports are that the general build quality is of a high standard.

Yes, intuitions, new principles, new ways of seeing this gaming genre are important. But they are not essential to creating an enjoyable new game. For me, Rift offers a new world in which to adventure, explore and exist; if I’m honest with myself, that’s why I got into MMOs in the first place.

I think, as Tipa, that there are two sides to this: there are those people like Tobold who are happiest with the familiar world of Azeroth, and there are people like myself who have tired of that world. For the second sort of person, a new world to explore might be just the ticket.

And although things may feel a little strange and uncomfortable to begin with, the expected structure and function is still satisfied, and the clinging cloying feeling from previous experiences will hopefully begin to subside, while at the same time a newfound enthusiasm and a feeling of fresh, airy, comfortable freedom takes hold. Much like changing the style of your underpants.

Posted by Melmoth at 7:43 am

Stormwind shell shock.

lotro, melmoth, mmo, wow 18 Comments »

I think it was probably the point where a werewolf wearing a top hat and plate armour, and riding a ‘hilarious’ two-seat rickety rocket, had pulled up and hovered alongside my character on the entranceway to Stormwind that I realised that Azeroth was no longer for me. I had been standing there marvelling at the giant Christmas wreaths on the walls of Stormwind, which it has to be said, stood in stark contrast to the fractured ramparts which still glowed from the recent molten assault of the great dragon; the wreaths were so impossibly large that I wondered whether they were a by-product of the giant dragon itself, that perhaps it had simultaneously destroyed half of the human capital while decking other parts of it in festive decorations, as though I were witnessing the aftermath of some sort of screwed-up Azrothian edition of Pimp My Capital City. I pictured the dragon with fluttering eyelashes, hands clasped together and held against one cheek, as it admired its handiwork – elemental destruction set off beautifully against red bows and be-baubled Christmas trees.

New Wave Cataclysm, dharlink, ver’ popular in New York zis season.

Later, I stood in the midst of the fractured city – it having only recently avoided total annihilation by the narrowest of margins – and I watched the NPC winter revellers standing around in their hot pants and boob tubes; saw the line of gargantuan drake and dragon mounts blocking the doorway to the bank; observed the attempts at serious role-play by people who were constantly being blocked from one another’s sight as flying carpets, mammoths and naff-punk trikes were parked inconsiderately on top of them; gawked as characters with weapons large enough to cleave a moon in twain ran around in their underpants as they barked borderline racist /yells; and witnessed a female werewolf in a festive bikini performing the dance moves to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face on top of a nearby mailbox.

At which point my mind snapped. Okay, snapped more. Than usual.

It’s understandable, I suppose: the past year or more of my MMO time has been spent predominantly in Lord of the Rings Online, a quiet and considerate game with, on the whole, a quiet considerate community that stays respectful to the setting of Tolkien’s world, and where the most outlandish thing to happen is if someone in the Prancing Pony breaks out their lute and plays a particularly daring version of Muse’s Exogenesis Part Three. Some particularly salacious sort might even tap their foot to the rhythm. Heaven forefend if one of the female elven characters should flash an ankle at a passing dwarf, the whole server would be a-whisper with the scandal of it for weeks after. Of course it’s not that prudish in reality, but when you visit somewhere such as Azeroth, where the average armour outfit of a female character would be enough to make a veteran porn star blush and consider retiring from modern life to a convent, LotRO seems so terribly reserved. I suppose it’s the contrast that is so dramatic, like a lifelong member of the Amish being bundled into the back of a van and dumped in the middle of a Las Vegas casino (KiaSA lawyers are ready to speak to any TV executives interested in the rights to this new reality TV show, working title: Amishion Impossible); I’m sure spending any length of time in Azeroth would once again slowly desensitise me to the sheer ludicrous mania going on around every corner, but having unceremoniously dumped myself out the back of a van into the middle of Las Azeroth, I found myself forcibly repelled from the game.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with Azeroth, you understand, just like there’s nothing ostensibly wrong with Club 18-30 holidays, or college frat parties, it’s just that once you’ve lived a quieter more reserved life of gentle evenings with a nice glass of red and a good book in front of an open fireplace, it’s hard to go back to whipped cream and beer bongs and some strange man’s penis being repeatedly beaten against your forehead while someone screams in your ear to eat the green jelly out of the lady’s underpants faster. World of Warcraft seems to me to be the College Humour of the MMO world; whether it has always been this way, whether it has slowly developed into this parody of its former self, or whether my world view has changed over the years of playing MMOs and writing about them here, I’m not entirely sure. Did World of Warcraft create its community, or did the community twist World of Warcraft into the bizarre carnival of lunacy that it seems to have become? Perhaps one feeds upon the other, a curious Ouroboros of culture, unable to break away from the self-feeding spiral of one-upmanship in outrageousness.

All I know is that it seems that I have tired of eating green jelly with curly hairs in it, and these days much prefer my MMOs akin to quiet evenings spent with a good book.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:19 am

Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings.

everquest 2, melmoth, mmo, wow 4 Comments »

Much like most things at this time of year, my gaming is coming in fits and starts of gluttonous excess followed by periods of pale-faced abstention where the slightest mention of the thing is at best likely to cause me to curl up into a ball, suck my thumb and whimper, and where running up the street screaming while wearing nothing but underpants and a wild-eyed unshaven expression of hair-tearing horror is a distinct possibility. I imagine it’s as much to do with the weird cocktail of choices, much like my festive eating habits where breakfast can consist of Christmas pudding and cold turkey one morning with a nice glass of port to wash things down, and then be followed the next day by the far more sensible choice of porridge and ice cream, my gaming has been, shall we say, eclectic.

In recognition of this, I thought I’d jot down some quick-fire thoughts over the next few days on various games that have been bumping around inside my head (the thoughts that is, not the games) and threatening to form an impromptu raid group and kill important memories such as my PIN, or whether zebras are white with black stripes or black with white stripes.

World of Warcraft has been fun enough, but I can’t see myself getting back into it in a major way. The world has changed, there are new things to see and do, but all of it so much like that which has gone before; for me WoW is becoming too much of a parody of WoW, the in-jokes have gone so far that WoW is now creating self-referential in-jokes about other in-jokes, and it feels as though that is what the whole world of Azeroth has become. It’s all a bit South Park or Simpsons, which is fine, but only if you weren’t hoping for something a little more serious. The curious thing is that the use of phasing and cut-scenes seems to imply that Blizzard are also trying to do the ‘adult storytelling’ thing at the same time, and for me it seems to run counter to the more general cartoon-like comedic nature of the rest of the game. What I would hope for is something akin to an interactive fable, with far-fetched magical events being balanced against a sagacious moral lesson, but what we get is something more like a Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown trying to explain War and Peace using suggestive sock puppets and one too many poo jokes.

There are also the standard MMO restrictions that make a mockery of Blizzard’s attempts at serious storytelling, and so the game leaves you confused and unsure whether you’re supposed to laugh or cry, like a clown delivering a eulogy at the state funeral of a king. Towards the end of the Worgen starter area there is a moment where your character and the leader of the Worgen confront the opposing faction – the last remnants of uninfected humans. On seeing your inevitable victory, their leader (and your main detractor/antagonist throughout the starter area) vows never to follow a Worgen leader, and runs off and throws himself from a nearby cliff. Poignant. I must admit I was caught in the seriousness of the moment, I looked to my Worgen leader and to the remaining human leaders, wondering what they would say. Nothing was forthcoming in the end, so I decided it was probably time to think about moving on.

At which point the chap who had just thrown himself from the cliff respawned in his original position in the midst of everyone.

Me: “D… didn’t you just throw yourself from that cliff yonder? D.. didn’t he just throw himself from that cliff? How have you returned, what sorcery is this?”

Human Leader: “What? Oh, that. No, it’s a water flume. We’ve built a giant water slide down the side there. Lord Godfrey likes to go for a quick slide when he gets bad news. Here, Godfrey, these poor Worgen thought you’d jumped to your death!”

Lord Vincent Godfrey: “Jump to my death? Oh good grief, no! Just a quick go on the water slide to calm my nerves. You don’t remember the water slides? Hmmm. You see, men? Their transformation has robbed them of their memories of Gilneas yet! They forget the ancient and noble history of water flume creation that our society was founded upon!”

Human Leader: “Oh the humanity!”

Lord Vincent Godfrey: “Come, let us leave them to the horror of their existence. I’m having another go on that most excellent water slide, and then I might go and relax in the jacuzzi for a while. Who’s with me?!”

Human Leaders: “Aye!”

[They all throw themselves off the nearby cliff in unison]

Meanwhile, EverQuest II released the most pointless playable race for an MMO yet: Vampires.

“What are you supposed to be then?”

“I am a Vampire! I am one of the undead! The ever-living! You cannot kill me!”

“Have you played an MMO before?”

“I… ah…”

“Have you ever known anyone to actually die, like, permanently?”

“Well, no but…”

“So you cannot die in a world where nobody dies? Is that, like, double death immunity? Y’know, just in case one of your ‘impossibilities of death’ doesn’t work? Genius.”

“I am still undead! That’s got to mean something, though, right?”

“Well, it means our cleric can turn you, or make you spontaneously combust, at will.”

What is ‘turning’ anyway? “I am a cleric, I can turn undead! Yes, left, right; name your direction, and I can make an undead go that way!” So undead are essentially the radio controlled cars of the Cleric world? Do Clerics set-up tracks and race undead around and around? Perhaps that’s why you get different speed zombies! Some have been upgraded with better motors to run on the A-spec undead race tracks, while the slower ones are more B-spec types.

Hmm, I think I’m on to something; a little more Christmas cake with Stilton should help me to maintain this train of thought into the next post.

Posted by Melmoth at 11:09 am
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