Tag Archives: ddo

An interface is worth a thousand pictures.

The major observable difference between Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online is with the pace and flow of combat. That and the largely instanced world of Eberron versus the more traditional open world of Middle Earth. And, of course, one is free to play with a Store of Pixelated Delights (Will save DC 30 to resist), where the other is subscription based.

I’ll start again.

The major observable similarity between Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online is that they both have dwarves. And rubbish beard options.

I play a Monk in DDO, and the primary mechanic of the class is a combo system that is very similar to that of the Warden in LotRO, where the player has a number of abilities to choose from that will perform combat manoeuvres, and at the same time the order in which these abilities are performed will also activate a more powerful ‘finishing’ manoeuvre. The Monk has a limited set of finishing manoeuvres compared to the Warden, and where the Warden has numerous effects both personal and group wide, the majority of the Monk’s finishers consist of one minute duration group buffs or targeted debuffs. The interesting difference, however, is the pace at which combat takes place in each game, and I think that it’s because of this that the Warden works as a class where the Monk feels a lot more awkward and, to some extent, frustrating to play.

I use pace to describe the difference in the combat between the two games, but it’s not really the whole story, although DDO definitely feels faster, with mobs dropping quickly – sometimes going down in one almighty burst of a critical attack roll – the flow of the game is also more dynamic, with caster mobs dropping back out of melee range to cast, melee mobs running past the melee front line to get to the PC casters, the combat feels more… fluid.

I was stunned and somewhat frustrated in LotRO the first time I entered the Barrow Downs in a group, coming fresh faced and level capped from World of Warcraft I was used to the power of predictable and consistent aggro generation that the tanks in that MMO provided; compared to WoW, LotRO at that time was a different world entirely. WoW’s tanks were giant electromagnets, so powerful that they could draw mobs to them from half way across the dungeon and hold them there indefinitely, and as long as an enemy caster had a few buttons on their robe that were made out of metal, they too would be drawn inexorably in. So a WoW instance run generally consisted of a giant ball bristling with angry and somewhat compacted mobs, around which several melee PCs would stab periodically while the ranged types stood back and lobbed spells at it. After a minute or so of this regimented attack formation a tank would appear from out of the resultant debris, brush off a few extraneous bits of metal that were still stuck to their armour, then trundle their way into the next pack of mobs until they looked like a hamster in a rollerball made from orcs, before rolling back and bumping to a halt on the skirting board of melee DPS. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that tanking was easy in WoW but, given an accomplished player, the level of control afforded tanks in WoW was an order of magnitude greater than that of LotRO, where every care had to be taken by the DPS not to over-nuke and for the healer to carefully balance their healing output in order not to draw aggro. Even so, mobs in LotRO would run around a fair bit compared to WoW, and most fights were hectic; picture the resultant chaos from releasing a couple of agitated bats into your average teenage girls’ midnight slumber party and sealing the doors, and you have an idea of the high-pitched screaming flailing combat that occurred.

Now take that same scenario and replace the bats with a pack of terminally-rabid Fox Terriers, and you have combat in DDO.

As such you can’t rely on standing still for a moment in DDO and just punching the abilities on your hotbar, you need to be on the go all the time. There is also no auto-attack, you either have to constantly mash, or simply hold down, the left mouse button to attack, and this ‘basic’ attack in DDO constitutes the majority of damage for most classes. For those of us with only two hands, this makes hotbar activation a little trickier. Even with my key-binds set up to place the abilities I need within easy reach of my ESDF-movement hand, it’s somewhat tricky to be on the move almost non-stop and at the same time activate other abilities. I may have to look into making more use of my extra mouse buttons perhaps, but even so there’s also another limiting factor which causes a clash in combat, an area where I feel a lot of MMO developers fail to innovate when they have evolved some core part of the MMO design – the UI.

DDO sticks to the traditional ‘hotbars with cool downs’ UI design, where ability icons are greyed-out if they can’t be used, be it because they are on cool-down, the target is out of range for the ability, the PC doesn’t have enough spellpower/endurance/ki to activate the ability, or any number of other reasons. The problem I find is that, given that the combat in DDO has been changed from the traditional electromagnetic-hamster-rollerball of WoW to a more rabid-Fox-Terrier-in-a-room-full-of-hysterical-teenagers design, it seems that the traditional UI design of WoW, with its hotbars and party frames and various elements that require your concentration to be away from your character for split seconds at a time, should have been eschewed for a more Head-Up Display sort of design.

Being that my primary area of work is the software for Head-Up Displays of various types, I can quite happily relate to the need for information to be available at all times in an unobtrusive manner, so that split-second decisions can be made without having to rely on the human body’s ponderously slow response to changing focus between various display items. I’m not saying the timing requirements in DDO are nearly so stringent or critical as those we have to deal with in aviation, but at the same time it seems obvious that in a game where a mob can have moved out of attack range in the time it takes you to check to see if an ability is off of cool-down, the need for a change in the fundamental philosophy behind the UI and why it exists is evident. This problem is exacerbated when playing the Monk because they have numerous moves, all with independent cool-downs, the order of activation for which is important to get a valid combination to trigger a finishing move, and on top of which they have to have generated enough Ki to power each of these moves. That’s a lot of looking at hotbars and not looking at your character.

An instant solution to the problem would be to drag the hotbars up towards my character on the screen so that they are always within my field of view, but who wants to play a game through a viewport of hotbars and party frames? Well, some people it seems: just look at the many raid UIs in evidence on various WoW AddOn websites, where the actual game world is hidden beneath what essentially amounts to a dynamically updating Excel spreadsheet with heavy Visual Basic graph scripting. Yet on the same sites we can also find some of the neatest innovations in MMO UI design; indeed, there are even popular Head-Up Display-a-likes, with health bars, mana bars and other information presented around the character in a way that is designed to interfere as little as possible with the player’s view of the game world, after all, what’s the point in having these three dimensional DirectX 11 marvels of graphical splendour if all we’re going to do is cover them up with bar graphs and slide rules?

I think Heavy Rain has recently shown the way that UI design can be taken. It’s a splendid example of thought and attention to the user interface experience because it does the basic thing right and doesn’t get in the way, and it may be that many players will hardly even notice the clever nuanced feedback that it provides to them as they play, which is as it should be. The very best user interfaces are like the steady and dependable butler from Jeeves and Wooster: never fully appreciated by the user, they’re the ones that don’t frustrate or confuse or obstruct, while at the same time providing more information than the user might have otherwise expected to receive. They’re also the ones most likely to slip under the radar of others, because nobody notices the silent stalwart butler subtly guiding his master to victory from out of the shadows of servitude.

Despite the frustration, however, I’m not going to stop playing DDO any time soon, there’s something compelling about running around a room, leaping on to furniture and heaving ineffectually at locked windows along with a bunch of other screaming teenagers in their pyjamas, while small frothing yappy-type dogs with blood-shot eyes try to bite your ankles off.

It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online had a bonus XP event this weekend past in celebration of the fact that Turbine failed to close the game down after less than stellar subscription numbers, and where NCSoft would have flipped the kill switch on the servers a few days after release, Turbine decided to experiment with the solid game and intellectual property which they had in their possession, and now DDO is marching steadily ever forward on the MMO battlefield under the banner of the Earl of Free To Play.

See that NCSoft? That there is what you do with a solid game that hasn’t quite had the fortune to capture the hearts and minds of gamers yet. Let’s all take a small moment to mourn the fact that we don’t have a free-to-play Tabula Rasa, shall we?

So yes, it’s DDO’s birthday, and the weekends of the 26th – 28th of February and 5th – 7th of March have been dubbed an MMORPGasmic XPalooza by… um, me, and as such it was a prime time to roll a new character and get a few levels under their +2 Belt of Grinding.

And of course no such adventure would be complete if I didn’t spend money in the DDO Store. Happy Birthday DDO! Here, I bought you an adventure pack! Well ok, technically I bought me an adventure pack, but it’s the thought that counts. You got some money, I got hours of entertainment, which is very much like the time that I gave my brother some money for his birthday and then I got hours of entertainment watching him get yelled at by our parents when he blew the cat’s litter tray to smithereens with the bangers that he’d bought with said money. Thankfully the cat wasn’t in (on?) the litter tray at the time, but only because my brother got the fuse length wrong; still, if ever there is a right place for a cat to be when it is surprised by a modest incendiary device being detonated from underneath it, the litter tray is probably that place.

I happened to have Veteran Status on my account, which I purchased a while ago (Happy pre-Birthday DDO!), and so I was able to create a level four character and skip a chunk of content that I had already run several times on other alts, thus allowing me to play through some new content straight away, with the secondary aim of getting as close to level seven as possible with a mind to joining m’colleague, Van Hemlock and the Tuesday Noob Club That Now Also Gathers On A Friday Club for further hot lathered DDO action.

So levelling was my aim, possibly extreme levelling, the sort of levelling that has a capital ‘X’ in the middle of the word extreme, and has its own station on satellite TV where the men are all bronzed beefcakes who say things like ‘dude’ and ‘whoa’ through a fringe of hair so long that it’s sometimes hard to tell whether you’re looking at them from the front or the rear, made all the more difficult because they seem to wear half of their baggy shapeless clothing backwards. If you want to learn to be extreme, you have to be willing to brave the dangers of the field in which you’re trying to do so: surfers eventually have to face that bloody big breaker, snowboarders have to make that off-piste jump into nothingness, BASE jumpers have to throw themselves off of that building, and MMO players have to visit the game’s forums. I wasn’t ready to be quite that eXtreme, though, so I made good use of the Google safety wheels and just searched around until I found a link to a thread on the DDO forums where someone posted a brief unapologetic list of the adventures that they found to be best for XP; having run the first few adventures in the list already, and having known them to be good sources of XP, I found the next item on the list was Tangleroot Gorge, an adventure area that I hadn’t played before. Good XP and new content? Sign me up!

Right after I pay you some money. Happy Birthday DDO!

So yes, I had to buy Tangleroot Gorge, which is probably why I hadn’t played it before, but I was deep into the spirit of celebration. And I’d just been paid for the month; my credit card was once again a shiny golden passport to possibility, rather than a singularity of infinite financial density within my wallet that threatens to suck me and my whole life into its black oblivion. A matter not helped by the fact that I keep spending indiscriminate amounts of money on impulse purchases, I might add.

So with my impulse purchase adventure pack unwrapped and installed into the game, I was ready to begin my levelling run. Right after I purchased a potion that I noticed in the store which gave an additional hefty boost to XP gain and which, a brief search revealed, stacked with the existing XP boost that Turbine were giving players over the weekend.

Oh dear.

My credit card started to pulse and thrum a little at that point, and it was fairly easy to see that time and space were beginning to be warped by the debt horizon that was building, so I popped it into my wallet, encased the wallet in lead and concrete, threw it into the nearby river, and got on with actually playing the game. My twice XP boosted game. I could feel my fringe growing rapidly, but there was going to be much work needed on the beefcake look; so, while I waited for the game to load, I put my trousers on backwards and pulled a beanie hat on to my head instead.

Next time: Tangleroot Gorge, and the joys of motile armoured organisms that can heal.

When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.

“Well you could do that, but nobody will want to group with you.” A phrase wrapped in wilful condescension so thick that if you spread some patronization between a couple of slices of it you’d have the world’s most bitter doorstop sandwich. Welcome to DDO’s General chat channel, a land where the nose evolved only as an extension of the face to be looked down, and the horses are so very high. I try to picture meeting some of the more vocal personages who frequent this place and I can only really come up with a sort of hybrid creature formed from the unnatural union of Medusa and Charybdis – giant mouths that spit a whirling torrent of venomous snakes.

Let’s face it, DDO is hardly unique in having chat channels filled with bilious supremacist outpourings; whether it concerns how to spec. a character, how to make gold, or any other number of arbitrary numeral demarcations, where the supremacist can put data into a spreadsheet and show categorically that they are better than those who don’t do it their way, that they do 0.1% more DPS, that they make 5% more gold per hour, every MMO has their class of players who think that they are above and beyond the plebeians who don’t play the game the way that they do.

It’s just that DDO has had thirty five or so years and four editions of the pen and paper game to really hone their hive of supercilious bees, who swarm out and attack with stinging words anything that doesn’t belong to their colony. People who commit the heinous cardinal sin of attempting to multiclass a healer, for example.

Turbine have created templates for classes in DDO, initially I viewed these as a sensible aid to new players unfamiliar with the game’s D20 hybrid rule set, to prevent them creating a properly broken character while they get to grips with the game. What I then suspected was that these templates were actually an attempt to give new players at least a modicum of a sane character build in order to prevent DDO’s most special community members from driving away these potential customers, such that the new players would merely be looked down upon as pitiable peasants by the DDO Maxminati. My current theory, however, is that the templates actually act as a warning, they say “Look, even these templates, created by the developers of the game, are open to scorn and derision by our community. And don’t even bother to see what the forum dwellers think of them, lest you have to poke out your own eyes to stop the searing spite of their words from branding itself on your mind.” and so new players realise in short order that the prejudice, dullness, and spite is not directed solely at them, but at all beings who don’t fit with the supremacist’s ideals.

So, another MMO, another General channel quickly partitioned off into its own tab titled “Wrath”, along with the Trade channel under “Greed” and the LFG channel under “Sloth”. And yet people still ponder on the ‘mystery’ of the prevalence of the soloer in MMOs.

I do wonder if the community of Darkfall is any better; my natural instinct tells me that it would be at least as bad – it seems that only rarely can you have an MMO and not have a general community full of hate and spite, for they are formed of humans, and this is what humans do better than any other creature on Earth – yet there is the glimmer of hope in me that some level of formal politeness exists in a game where anyone you offend can join with his friends to hunt you down and put an axe through your skull.

It goes without saying that I’ve now created my experimental Cleric in DDO: with maxed Intellect and using Wisdom as the dump stat, they are armed with a crossbow and have the very best in the Search, Pick Lock and Disarm Trap cross-class skills. The experiment is not as to whether the character will work, but whether it is repellent enough to DDO’s master race to act much as a holy symbol acts upon a vampire; my theory is that I will hold up this symbol of singular silliness before them and they will shrink away at the horror that it represents and, if they fail their Will save, burst into flames and be purged.

Thought for the day.

Unlike the humorous-then-tedious accidental sword swishes that are regularly heard in DDO as people forget that left-mouse defaults to attack and not camera movement, the advantage to Lord of the Rings Online is that nobody will realise how many times you have tried to tumble your character away from an enemy when you get the two games confused for the umpteenth time.

Long live the New Old Flesh.

I blame the me of yesterday completely. He who, in that wanton curiosity for experimentation justly ascribed to the youths of the day before today, decided to download and install the Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited client on a whim. Not to play now of course, but to tuck away ready for when time and circumstances allowed. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t at this moment be faced with a glistening red icon on my desktop that pulses and throbs and moans at me, the desktop equivalent of the hallucinatory writhing TV from the film Videodrome.

Thus I sat on Friday evening, my own Max Renn under the control of the MMOdrome virus with no Bianca O’Blivion to reprogram my malignant massively multiplayer madness, staring at the icon on the desktop which had now manifested itself into my reality as some moist and fleshy thing. I look down in astonishment – through one of those slow motion camera pans – to my hand which is no longer human but an electro-organic amalgam of PC mouse, flesh, tubes and wire. The veins in my arm bulge unnaturally, pumping blood into this gruesome handmouse and down into the thrumming heart of the PC. I move the handmouse in horror, and as I do so I notice the cursor on the screen, now rendered in three disturbingly phallic dimensions, move in accordance with my gesture. The icon flexes and ripples as it senses the proximity of the phallicursor, and somewhere behind me: the muffled wails of a hundred thousand souls in tormented ecstasy. I move the cursor inexorably towards the icon, and the pulsing of each quickens. They pull towards one another as though magnetised, an attraction that was spawned in the darkness and warmth at the birth of all things, and as the cursor penetrates the gaping space of the icon, the fingerbutton of my handmouse spasms and electrical impulses light up the pleasure centres of my soul as the instructions for creation are injected into the womb of the PC and, nine seconds later, a game is born to my eyes. Then, darkness…

I woke up the next morning with a level 2 dwarf monk called Mun Ki, and a serious hangover.

I’m safe in assuming that it happens like this for everyone though, right?

You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.

After the long and drawn-out interactive electronic entertainment drought of the summer, where the bounteous river Gaming is deprived of content and dwindles to a mere trickle maintained only by the delta of hype tributaries that continue to feed it, we now begin to see the autumnal deluge of new releases, which rained down on the Beta mountain ranges not so long ago, slowly gather speed as they wend their way down the steep slopes and out onto the flood plain of launch titles. And as the river Gaming begins to regain its strength, returning life to the dishevelled and starved media that line its banks and drink deeply of its waters, the native inhabitants of the river begin to return; here and there gamers frolic once more in the seemingly illimitable expanse of the rejuvenated river, their joyous cries to one another filling the Autumn air with the sound of rapture.

PC and TV screens flow again with the neon light of the river as it streams out and lights-up the faces of gratified gamers across the wide expanse of the world.

Or in short: new games, woo yeah!

Champions Online has now set ‘engines to power, turbines to speed’ and is battling with the evil forces of General Release, where it seems to be winning on the whole. Certainly it’s been a smooth launch for a vast majority of players as far as I can tell, and my experiences with the game so far have been almost entirely positive, with Lord of the Rings Online being the only other MMO springing to mind that has done so well on its opening few days. Still, the game is not without its issues – as is the remit of any true MMO at launch – and Syp reports on at least one rather game-stopping issue for some people, this one regarding frame rate frinkiness.

As for me, well I’ve made it out of the character creator for long enough to get my main character to level fifteen and have thus made my way through the first two introductory zones and into Millennium City and the game proper. I do intend to post a lengthier disquisition on the game, but for now the important thing to say is that this isn’t City of Heroes 2.0. No really, it isn’t. Yes, there are a lot of ideas that have been inherited from City of Heroes, clearly there are. In fact there are some audio assets that seem to be exact copies, for example the ‘vomit’ attack sound of the Qulaar aliens you meet at the very start of the tutorial area are, to my ear, identical to the Vahzilok vomit sound effect from CoH. The character creator is also evidently a spiritual successor to its CoH counterpart, but if saying that a few ideas taken from CoH and improved upon make Champions Online nothing more than CoH 2.0, then we must also say that WoW is nothing more than EQ 3.0. Champions is a very different game to CoH in many fundamental ways. Take combat for one: in CoH you press an attack, wait for that power to fire, then press another attack. If an attack is on cool-down you can queue it up and wait for the power to recharge, at which point it will fire and go back on cool-down. It’s a very traditional PC MMO system, whereas Champions is, as has been pointed out elsewhere already, a Console MMO system: it is fast, it is furious and it is a lot of fun, assuming you aren’t set in your PC MMO ways. As one example of the difference between the two, many attack powers don’t have a cool-down and therefore you can mash the attack as fast as your keyboard and latency will allow, which is, to Cryptic’s credit, really pretty fast and very responsive. In fact, people should really be quite impressed with just how responsive the attack system is in Champions. It’s one of the things that I secretly (not so secretly now, of course) think made WoW great: you press a button, you get a response to that button press. Straight away. Not when some special internal cool-down occurs. Not when the game feels like fitting you in to its diary. If the power is on cool-down, you can’t use it, if it isn’t on cool-down then you can use it Right Now. It’s probably my biggest issue with combat in LotRO at the moment – at least with my Champion, the Warden seems less effected – in that I can press an ability and then seemingly have to wait an age for it to activate. Maybe it’s based on the swing timer, maybe it’s an internal timer, I don’t know, but it makes having an interrupt ability that is used in response to an enemy’s attack nigh-on pointless. Champions also requires you to actively block enemy attacks, you can get away with not bothering to do so with their standard attacks, but if you see the enemy winding up a big power (as indicated by a comic-style BLAM icon above their head) then you’d better get those shields up, Captain. It makes the game more like an arcade beat’em-up, and as far as super heroism goes, it feels a lot more true to the genre than standing on the spot and pressing ‘1’ in CoH. And maybe a bit of ‘2’, just to spice things up. With the occasional excitement of pressing ‘6’,’7′,’8′,’ALT-1′,’ALT-2′,’ALT-3′ and ‘ALT-4’ if a mob knocks all of your toggle powers off. Of course CoH isn’t really as staid as all that, because they managed to make the fights hectic enough that it feels as though you’re doing a lot. As a final thought, another MMO which tried to mix the combat up a bit and went for a more frenetic option was Age of Conan, also slated to be a console MMO at one point, and again the combat in that game was a lot of fun if you were open and receptive to that sort of thing. More on Champions once I’ve had a chance to play my character to a higher level.

Other new games that are now causing a quite audible ping on my game radar are Aion, which I ordered some time ago on a whim and am not sure I will get a chance to play for a while; Batman: Arkham Asylum, about which I have heard what can only be described as the unrestrained screams of orgasmic release; Section 8, which has been pimped quite heavily by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and seems to be gaining momentum in the blogger hive mind; and last but not least Dungeons & Dragons Online: Unlimited, which I have yet to look into properly but would like to return to at some point, having played the original on release. I think it would need a decent static group to make the most of it though, so I’ll probably dabble in the free section of the game and then determine where to go from there.

The only problem is that until recently I’ve been happily subsisting in the isolated ponds of LotRO and WoW, those enduring habitats that remain a watering hole of gaming life when all other options have dried out. I’m not entirely sure I’m prepared for the rapid influx of fresh gaming waters, and I’m probably at risk of being swamped by the oncoming wave of new ideas and thoughts, sights and sounds. I need to anchor myself, and I shall do so with the next post, where I’ll talk about my ongoing adventures in LotRO, and my recent return with Tiger Ears to the lands of Azeroth, for one final fond tour of its lands before they are sundered by what one imagines is the wrath of a development team who, after being labelled the ‘Blizzard B Team’ for so long, have finally reached their enrage timer.