Tag Archives: waffle

Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.

It was a bit of a mixed weekend of gaming for me. I didn’t have much to do with the PC because it was mini-Melmoth’s birthday, and thus I spent most of my time building Lego models with her, and –along with Mrs Melmoth– playing various board and card games with her. I can heartily recommend Labyrinth as rather good fun, but would advise against Top Trumps if you too have a four year old who can evidently read minds or has x-ray vision; I lost more games of Top Trumps over the past weekend than my gamer fortitude can rightfully endure, and so I fully empathise with others when they express their torment in dealing with gaming losses.

Along with the birthday of the Infernal Queen of Top Trumps there was a double bonus super surprise fun holiday weekend here in the UK, so I had very little time to switch on the PC what with one family event or another to attend. I did get a spare moment or two on Sunday, and flipped into Tera to find that my box-included subscription time had expired, and I have to confess I was torn as to whether I should continue my subscription. I’ve flicked over to a couple of MMOs while I’ve been playing Tera, including the regular Friday night session of DDO, and none of them compare to the freedom I get from the combat in Tera. That’s not to say Tera’s combat is a revolution, there are still the same hotbar buttons to press, but the freedom of movement, nay the necessity of movement in order to stay alive, is something which I sorely miss when I return to the more traditional Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots style found in the MMO WoWpack. Tera also tweaks the traditional hotbar button mashing sequence with the addition of chained combo. attacks, which allows for a much more natural flow of attacks to be chained in quick succession; being knocked down and hitting the spacebar to trigger a leaping counter-strike, followed by another correctly timed spacebar press to immediately follow-up with an overhead slam, may sound simplistic, but it is the sort of addictive action-orientated style with which fans of beat ’em up games would easily empathise.

While pondering a further subscription to Tera, I patched Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift, and did my customary login check to see if either was available to me, via a free weekend or such. To my surprise Rift did indeed allow me access, and a quick bit of investigation showed that I still had a week or so of my previous three-month subscription running. Maybe it was Tera’s action combat, or perhaps a general ennui with the genre as a whole, but I couldn’t find any spark of enthusiasm for Rift whatsoever. The wait-on-global-cool-down combat seemed ponderous, almost ridiculously so. The game was still as pretty as ever, but again, the incredible fidelity of a game such as Tera, whether you can stomach its design decisions or not, leaves other MMOs looking like so much aged tarnished brass. Rift’s soul system is, perhaps, the most frustrating part, a design which promises so much freedom, and yet delivers the same constrained-by-PvP ‘pick the useful abilities from the trash’ limited build potential that World of Warcraft’s talent trees always did. From the great potential that such a system promised, what was delivered was essentially a way to easily respec between traditional trinity roles, a step change over WoW’s dual spec. system to be sure, but still disappointingly bland – a soul system with no soul.

It’s so utterly frustrating because I really want to like Rift, I like the concepts which they have chosen to implement, but everything seems so formulaic and constrained. There’s no wild frontier, no trailblazing – they’ve followed the traditional paths through the design wilds, simply trimming back the undergrowth a little more, paving the way with stone blocks and posting road signs. It’s the same reason I probably won’t find myself subscribing to Tera or Star Wars: The Old Republic, for although there is trailblazing to be had, it is still just a few minor detours off into the wilds, before quickly re-joining the perfectly straight, perfectly smooth, perfectly monotonous routes which have been trodden for years, to the point that they are more Roman road than primitive path. I have no doubt that it is as much to do with my tiring of the tropes of the genre as anything, but it’s also born of the frustration that games such as EVE clearly demonstrate that this genre does indeed have the potential to encompass wildly different forms beneath the canopy of MMO, yet it’s still one of the few MMOs which forged a way into the wilds and never concerned itself with returning to the common path.

Of course deliberating over subscriptions is all moot at the moment, as my PC decided to trip the fuse fantastic last night and now refuses to even spin a fan. I’m hoping it’s just a power supply problem (and that it didn’t go Spartan and take the rest of the components with it), but for the time being I’m on an enforced MMO abstinence, and as such I’ll be catching up on my reading; as well as losing a ludicrous number of games of Top Trumps, I imagine.

We even picked up a preacher for some reason, and a bona fide companion.

Have you noticed a change in the people who you play MMOs with? It could be the close friends who you play with on a regular basis, or the random people with whom you group to complete that rare quest; rare in an MMO these days at least, because it isn’t soloable whilst your character is naked with one arm tied behind their back. And blindfolded. And unconscious.

It’s perhaps a subtle change at first, that one person of the group who is always late, you know the one, they always keep you waiting around outside an instance, and when they finally get there and are invited into the group they have to go and have their dinner and will ‘be back in 5 mins’. Which is actually code for ‘be back in about half an hour, or when at least two other members of the group have quit out of boredom and frustration, whichever comes first’. That person suddenly starts showing up on time, as soon as you form your party, bam, there they are, geared-up and ready to go. Next to change is the whiner, the person in the group who finds fault in every little thing, from the way the game plays to the way party members play the game. They don’t so much grind XP as grind down the good intentions and will to live of every other member of their party. All of a sudden though you’re noticing that they’re not whining much – at all, in fact – instead, they offer a chipper little greeting and then start merrily crawling their way through the dungeon with nary a grumble. You start to get a funny feeling that something is not quite right when the whiner starts making light banter with you, offering witty one-liners and quipping ‘take that’s and ‘have at you’s and generally seeming to enjoy the whole experience as much as anyone else. Enjoying it perhaps a little too much.

Gradually, slowly, inexorably, your fellow MMO players change, one by one. Generally for the better. They become less whiney, more helpful; less greedy, more cooperative; less emotional and more amenable. And then it hits you one day, as your party forms up on time, all geared-up and ready to go, with the correct skill sets for the dungeon you’re going to delve into, and all their equipment repaired and in tip-top condition; nobody needing anything from the bank: they’ve all got the key to the dungeon door; everyone has the same set of quests, all at the same point, all requiring the same dungeon that you are all now formed-up in front of, after having been online and in-game for all of forty five seconds or so. It’s perfect. The perfect MMO group experience. Too perfect, it feels… wrong somehow. Where are the laggards who always make the efficient people wait around outside the entrance to the dungeon for half an hour? The sort of delay that leads the waiting players to have some light banter while they wait, where they get to know each other a bit better; discuss how their days went outside of the game; maybe discuss the news for a bit; discover that sexy Selina the elf is really Alan the construction worker in real life. Where is the conflict resolution? The fights over loot where we discover that the Warrior likes to roll on every sword, even the ones clearly meant for a Rogue; the fights over strategy where we find that the Mage clearly thinks that they’re a better tank than the Warrior since they seem to constantly be buried under a pile of angry enemies. These are the real fights in an MMO, the ones that develop not the player character but the character of the player.

And that’s when the realisation comes crashing down on top of you. These aren’t other people that you’re playing with. Like some nerdy virtual online recreation of the Stepford Wives you find that all of your friends and fellows are gone, replaced with artificial constructs designed to mimic them in every way except one: these new companions are perfect. No flaws. No tardiness, no complaints, no huge hairy fifty year olds pretending to be jailbait prostitutes with pointy ears. No arguments, no ninja looting, no drama. But also, ironically, these companions also can’t offer the one thing that comes from dealing with real people, and the problems that come with real people: companionship.

Guild Wars has offered companions for some time. You can play the game – outside of its PvP element (and possibly you can even play PvP with companions if the match is set to allow it) – entirely without dealing with another player. However, there is no pretence that this is anything but a mechanic to let you play the game when you can’t find enough people to form a full party. These aren’t simulacrums of real players, they are artificial constructs attempting to fill a defined and well recognised role in your party: tank, healer, dps, cc, etc. These aren’t companions so much as mindless slaves, drafted in to your party where they perform their role unquestioningly and, AI weirdness excepted, unerringly. Lord of the Rings Online has hinted that it will be adding a similar feature to its comprehensive list of ‘everything every other MMO can do, we can do too’ features, and these soldiers will be trainable and customisable, such that you could almost begin to treat them like slightly more than pixelated slaves, perhaps considering them more like a loyal guard dog or other faithful pet. It’s still far from the idea that these characters are companions and not just party fillers, much like those flying saucer sweets that parents used to pack by the fistful into the little plastic bags that kids take home from a birthday party, mainly because they were cheap and took up a lot of space while constituting ninety percent air.

Star Trek Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic claim to offer a new take on companions, the next generation of companions if you will. TOR in particular, with their claims of compelling player character story and development, leads us to believe that companions in that game will offer us story hooks with chances to help companions or alienate them. To discuss your story with them and find out their background story. Fight alongside them. Fight with them. Love them?

Hey, it would be a fine way to make an alt, it being the offspring of your main character and some fox/hunk (delete as applicable, no foxy hunks allowed unless they’re Nathan Fillion). Although perhaps we’re veering slightly too much towards the Firefly definition of companion here.

The danger that I see here is that in trying to fulfil that oft lauded idea of character story in an MMO, of feeling a part of a world and of having an effect upon it, developers are potentially sacrificing the one thing that should always be the fundamental part of any MMO and which should never be sacrificed: other people. If TOR is playable without the intervention of other players, if the story of the game is interwoven tightly around companion characters that you meet on your adventures, and if you need not require anyone but these companions in order to make your way through the game, then what are you playing other than a single player game with a monthly subscription fee? I’m sure that there are people out there who don’t think that this would be a bad idea, who think that a version of Knights of the Old Republic where you can meet and chat with friends in the cantina on Bespin’s Cloud City before going on adventures with your perfectly formed group of perfectly formed companions, all perfectly on time, perfectly polite and perfectly functional, would be heaven compared to the hideous pain that is involved in actually playing alongside real people who are, by Nature’s design, flawed and imperfect. So with all your companions performing their roles correctly and without question – no Wookies chasing after enemy droids in order to pull their arms off, or Jedi trying to tank everything using only a blaster – the game is really all about you: failure or success is down to you. The twists and turns that the story takes are down to you. You are the hero of the game. Story and ‘being the hero’ then, if true, means they’ve got the two biggest desires for MMO players sorted out right there. Haven’t they? Not really, it is smoke and mirrors, they’re trying to convince you that what you’re playing is an MMO, when in actual fact you’re playing a single player RPG with some online connectivity. Sure you’ll be able to go off and team-up with your friends and run an instanced dungeon, but the bulk of the game will be about you and your companions, rather than you and your friends.

Developers need to be careful with where they take the MMO genre next. Enforced grouping as found in EQ and elsewhere is just as bad as the increasingly prevalent solo MMO as exemplified by World of Warcraft, where the levelling content is now nothing more than a quick solo slog in order to get to the group content. Yet the group content in WoW is just a perversion of the solo arcade games of yore, playing the same content over and over in order to progress slightly further and post your highest score. Gear upgrades from raid dungeons are the equivalent to level codes in arcade games, allowing you to skip the early content that you have comprehensively beaten and move on to the harder levels. The difference being that WoW raids require you to a) rely on other people – a Good Thing in my opinion, it’s part of the MMO experience, drama and all – and b) dedicate at least a couple of hours solidly in one sitting to make any progress. This is where it falls down: if I play an arcade game I can drop it at any moment, move off and do something else and come back to it, most of the time I can hit pause, come back to the game later and continue. I may have lost my ‘gaming groove’ by that point, but it’s very easy to do and there is no pressure, self inflicted or from peers, to carry on.

The Tuesday Console Club plays Gears of War 2’s Horde Mode on occasion. We’ve started off on the lowest difficulty and have to fend off wave after wave of enemies represented by fifty levels of content. When we’ve finished it on easy mode, we will up the difficulty by one notch. Why is this so much better than raiding in an MMO? For a start it takes all of thirty seconds from when everyone is online until we’re in and playing the game. We can select which level to play from, so we can carry on from where we left off. The characters do not develop, do not improve with gear or experience, only the players do. Anyone joining us in the middle of a game will be a bit out of their depth for a while, but they will be able to play a part from the very beginning: their character will be just as powerful as any other character in the game, the only difference in the effectiveness of that power will be how the player behind the character utilises it. So what makes this repeated content fun? The unpredictability of other players. I could play the game with bots, but it is a stale and mundane affair, like a drizzly overcast autumn morning, everything looks the same, no variety. When you play with other people there is a random element added to the game that no developer could encapsulate in code, there is no set of algorithms which can capture the camaraderie, that can encode the variation of experience. Never in a game would you share with a bot the exhilarated laughter from the launch a mortar down a street which wipes out an entire wave of oncoming enemies with a well placed yet knowingly fluky shot, and in the next instant share an embarrassed laugh as that same bot launches the next mortar accidentally from within the confines of a building, blowing themselves and all their teammates to kingdom come. And you can laugh, because restarting a level is as near to instantaneous as a game can get. A quick score table appears and then you are off again. Playing the game, having fun. Is repairing gear, recasting buffs, eating more food for buffs, running back into an instance, fun? Is it because it’s an MMO that grindy tedious monotony like that is expected and tolerated? It’s certainly what makes causing a raid to wipe a painful experience, something to be ashamed of for not performing well, for not being dedicated enough, for not executing your job perfectly. Because it is a job, it’s not game-play, not at that level. Not by any stretch of the imagination. If you cause a wipe in Gears of War 2, it’s a matter of hilarity, of light-hearted ribbing and joviality, and then you reset within seconds and are playing again. Mistakes forgotten, only camaraderie remains.

The balance in MMOs, therefore, comes from allowing structure and story in the game whilst at the same time maintaining that element of randomness which no computer generated content can provide. No mean feat. It takes a special kind of companion to enable that element of game-play, and it has taken nature millions of years to perfect it. To think that we can substitute for it with a few years worth of simplistic AI and procedurally generated content is a mistake. The focus needs to be not in replacing other players with unnatural copies that perform perfectly and to script, but to remove those elements of game-play which punish people for being… people. I look at raids in popular MMOs and see something strange, I see people reduced to robots, they have a defined role, a defined pattern of action, a defined place they need to stand. Then move over there. Then run over there. You know, I had a toy when I was a child called a Big Trak with which you could do essentially the same thing: program it to turn on the spot, shoot its laser cannon, run fowards a bit, turn, shoot, run backwards, dodge an obstacle. The curious thing now is that MMO developers do in fact seem to be trying to compensate for this trend, creating more compelling story and game-play by not reducing players to robots, but at the expense of replacing all their fellow players with robots instead.

I wonder if a balance can be struck between compelling story-based game-play and the fundamental basis of an MMO: that being massively multiplayer content. Developers perhaps need to concentrate less to start off with on how the game plays, and instead build the foundation of their game on how they will enable players to come together, play together and have fun together. Not only that but they need to take randomness and imperfection and make it a part of the enjoyment of the game. Developers of MMOs spend man-months trying to encapsulate and encode randomness into their games, and yet they neglectfully ignore, nay more often than not punish the greatest source of randomness the world has ever known: human nature.

Nostalgia is better than I remembered it to be.

I’m wondering what Bartle type I fall under when I enjoy myself the most these days when I’m running low level quests in old world Azeroth.

I’m finding myself poking at a few daily quests in Northrend in order to try to get Reins of the White Polar Bear and Reins of the Ice Mammoth, because mounts are the only rewards that interest me at the end game: they’re one of the few things that you take with you into the next +10 level expansion and actually remain useful. Other than that, I’m generally wandering through the starter area quests for all of the home factions that I haven’t visited, my aim being the Ambassador of the Alliance achievement, with a vague thought to try for the Loremaster and Seeker achievements.

As I run around all these areas, gleefully one-shotting any enemy that finds itself in the unfortunate position of being part of a quest goal, I find myself genuinely smiling at the fun of it all; I also find myself becoming quite nostalgic when visiting old areas again and discovering, through the joy of the recent Low Level Quest tracking ability, all of those quests that I left behind when I originally levelled my character, either because they were too hard, too out of the way, or even bugged. Yes, Blizzard had bugged quests back when the game was first released, I know this is tantamount to blasphemy to the Fans of Warcraft, but it did happen.

The character that I’m playing was one of the first characters I ever created, and although he was abandoned in the mid-forties when I had switched to my faithful anti-altaholic druid, I did eventually pick him back up and get him to level sixty well before the Burning Crusade expansion was released. So the nostalgia is strong with this one. I’m vanquishing old foes, still finding new places and quests, and generally just enjoying adventuring again.

I guess this sort of play falls somewhere between Achiever and Explorer, I hadn’t thought to revisit many of these places until there was an achievement for it. My sense of joy comes from neither though, it’s very much the nostalgia and the sense of satisfaction that comes from finally putting to rest old demons – places and monsters that have haunted and mocked my character for all these years.

I can’t really see myself getting the Loremaster or Seeker achievements though, the problem being that they tend to turn the happy, light-hearted, simple joy of low level questing into a mundane and tedious grindy job of the sort that is often used to occupy those many players who are at the level cap, because they got there two days after the expansion was released and they’ve completed all the dungeon content.

For now I’m going to keep visiting the Old Places all the while that the happy content feelings remain; I think I’ll classify my Bartle type as Comfortable Pootling Nostalgic.

Society is no comfort to one not sociable.

It was while stalking the vast echoing corridors of my work place looking for a vending machine that was stocked with anything other than peanut M&Ms, like a T-Rex of confectionery, that I witnessed the common place routine that people who know one another but don’t actually work together go through when they meet in the corridor:

“Oh, hello Karen.”

“Hi Bob!”

“How are you?”

“Good. You?”

“Yes, fine thanks.”

All of which is, of course, said at pace as the two people desperately try to maintain that level of acknowledged politeness which unwritten etiquette dictates, whilst simultaneously not shedding any momentum; thus at least one person ends up walking backwards, the other twisted half around with one arm out in their general direction of motion in order to feel for the door that they’re approaching at full walking speed without being able to see it. Today the one walking backwards was also heading towards the concrete stairwell, but he managed to cram in the last required line of the Rite of the Polite and then turned in time to make a stumbling grab for the bannister and correct his course before he fell to his untimely, yet incredibly polite, demise.

The T-Rex, who had paused on the stairs to watch the scene unfold, snorts derisively, and stomps off to the north in search of a herd of Mars bars.

It was while quietly boggling to myself about the curious nature of this, perhaps very British, way of maintaining social contact with people who we’re just too busy to know about right now, and kicking the vending machine that had eaten my pound coin and now abjectly refused to divest itself of any chocolate and caramel snacks in return, that I realised that this social weirdness was something I had experienced often in MMOs that I had played. Then I was struck by the fact that MMOs might actually be the perfect breeding ground for such behaviour, like a microbial culture for transitory social interactions. Outside of your close-knit group of friends that you play with, and perhaps some of your closer guild mates, do you often stop to chat with people you know in-game if you bump into them in a capital city, or a popular questing hub? Obviously some of you will answer in the affirmative, but I haven’t witnessed many players who start their Bartle categorisation with an ‘s’. From what I’ve witnessed, many people would emote a friendly wave and carry on their way to wherever they had to be; we often make ourselves busy in MMOs, make work for ourselves, if you will, things that we need to be getting on with right now. So we’re too busy to talk. Sorry! Emote wave. Move on. It’s a curious situation when you consider that in an MMO, should we wish to, we can carry on the conversation without actually having to stop to pass the time of day, but we often don’t. I’m as guilty of it as the next person, and I’ve exchanged many a wave with someone I recognise while doing the half-turn arm-out-in-front run for the nearest door, and yet I’d also be quite happy to chat if the other person were to whisper to me. But I don’t whisper to them, they don’t whisper to me, and we both carry on with our daily MMO grind, and in all possibility we’re spiritually a little worse off for not having shared time with one another.

Not everyone is this way, of course, there are those socialites among us who can while away hours in an MMO without actually touching the ESDF (pfff WASD indeed) keys. There are also people like Bob, whom we are acquainted with but don’t actually want to stop in the corridor to talk to, because he has BO, or talks incessantly about the extraordinary mating habits of dung beetles, or has an unnerving way of adjusting his testicles when he’s talking to you, as though he’s trying to work out a poi routine with them.

The anonymity of MMOs means that we don’t have to feel any real pressure about socialising, and the fact that we can socialise at any time, should we so desire, means that the need to maintain a face-to-face connection is felt even less. My character isn’t me, and if you want to speak to me I am an entity outside of any chance meeting of avatars in a virtual world, and yet I can’t help but feel that this is a sad thing in a game where I’m still very much aware of the RPG heritage that these massively online games share. One would think that MMOs might be the environment where social etiquette and interaction would evolve above beyond those staid and stilted conventions that have formed in the real world due to its various constraints on our lives. Yet it seems that the real world conditioning is quite strong, and is perhaps a reason why many guild channels that I’ve witnessed have long since devolved into a silent gathering of people, whose only passing acknowledgement is the ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’ that their curious social etiquette commands, an etiquette mimicking those real world transient interactions, but for the txt spking, online generation. Perhaps I’m just unlucky in the social circles that I’ve fallen into in many MMOs, perhaps it’s my somewhat errant social compass that guides me consistently to such places, I’d certainly be interested to know of any examples where socialising in MMOs has evolved different rules and interactions due to the nature of the medium.

The T-Rex tears the helpless Mars bar from its protective shell and with a massive vicious chomp bites it in twain. Mouth still full, he lets out a mighty roar of victory, which is only cut short when he sees the cute girl from the third floor standing behind him waiting to use the vending machine. He makes his way quickly past her, not evening making the socially expected fleeting eye contact of acknowledgement, before returning to his desk and brooding over the consequences of being a T-Rex at work, while finishing off his confectionery kill.

Thought for the day.

Cyberpunk 2020. A marvelous pen and paper role-playing game that I spent far too many of my cyberpunk fanboy years playing with friends.

Elevenish years from now is 2020.

It seems to me that the real world won’t look anything like the one portrayed in the RPG, Gibson’s Neuromancer or Stephenson’s Snow Crash in the archetypal year of all things cyber and punk.

Will our MMOs look vastly different from what they do today? Will they play differently? Will MMOs even exist in eleven years time?

We’ve had five years since World of Warcraft was released, think about what has changed in that time, how things have developed, adapted, evolved.

Anything significant?


Eleven years is not that far away. I have a feeling that the Metaverse won’t be waiting for us when we get there.

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.

So what with hitting the level cap in World of Warcraft with my shaman and not feeling the Love of the Lich King enough to want to do the whole thing over again with my level seventy druid or paladin, I was left somewhat hanging by my fingertips from a small shrub atop the cliff of MMO ambivalence, a glance down past my dangling feet showed the jagged rocks of end-level reputation grind, around which was wrapped the angry endless repetitive wash of the Sea of Raids.

Luckily for me there were many hands on, uh, hand, to reach down to my precarious position and lift me up and back onto the enduring yet precarious path of MMO enthusiasm that we brave adventurers wend our way carefully along as we negotiate said cliff of MMO ambivalence; sometimes we step from the path and the sharp drop into ennui awaits, but there are always stalwart folk who can be relied upon to reach out to us and pull us free from our gloom, to once more tread the endless enjoyable path of MMO experience.

Such a time was this, and this time to mbp and Khan who encouraged me some time ago before I even realised I was veering from the path, and more recently to blog commenter unwise, I offer thanks for the encouragement to try Lord of the Rings Online again, because I’ve been following the path for a week or so now, and I’m very much enjoying its winding and meandering ups and downs.

Also thanks to Van Hemlock, Jon, Shuttler, Teppo and the others of that collective whose constant tweets, blog posts and podcast musings were as a siren song guiding me away from treacherous MMO time-sinks and towards safer terrain.

And also thanks to anyone whom I may have forgotten. And sorry. And hello, how have you been?

So that was, in my usual rambling way, an introduction to the fact that I have returned to Turbine’s take on Tolkien’s lands of legend, and that I have been enjoying it a great deal. Having a level twenty six dwarf Guardian and a level twenty four dwarf Minstrel I did, naturally, roll an entirely new character for my return to the middle of the earth! Wait, wrong adventure; a new character for my return to Middle Earth! Having rolled a couple of support classes previously, and having nobody to support in my surreptitious return to Lord of the Rings Online, I decided to roll a DPS class, specifically one that could a) do a little bit of many things, and b) shock horror, be a dwarf. The obvious choice, and what I plumped for fairly quickly, was the Champion, a class which can dual wield; use a bow, albeit for nothing more than pulling duty, or perhaps finishing off a running, low health straggler; wield two-handed weapons; wear heavy armour and use heavy shields and thus, at a push, off-tank in groups. In short, they can do a little bit of everything, but one thing they do very well is damage. Lots and lots of damage.

Attentive readers of the blog will know from previous posts that I’m a healer at heart, I love undertaking that role of doing the job that many others don’t like, combined with the fact that I’m keeping people going, being a team player, and a shoulder for others to stand upon to attain greater heights. Listeners of the podcast will know that I sang a great deal when playing Guitar Hero World Tour with Zoso, Elf and our other mutual friend, not because I like singing particularly, and certainly not because I’m good at it, but because it’s something I can do well enough to allow others to take on the front line roles. It’s possibly altruism, a learned perversity as opposed to genuine generosity of character, but it makes me happy and allows others to be happy, and so I don’t fret over the fact too much.

However, when going solo, do as the soloers do. Roll a DPS machine.

My Champion is level seventeen at the moment; I’ve covered old ground, but it was fresh enough that although I knew where to go and what to do it was anything but dull. The class is new, and that keeps things interesting, and I’ve taken a more active interest in crafting, although it’s still not really my thing. Last but by no means least, I’m soaking up the formidable atmosphere whilst enjoying the many tweaks and titbits that Turbine have added since I was last here.

I’ll be sure to report on the ups and downs as I go, hopefully with some comparison to my recent levelling experience in Blizzard’s latest offering. As to what I’m doing in World of Warcraft – and to be sure I’m still poking and picking at the scab that has formed over the wound that is WoW’s idea of end-game content – I’ll save that for another time, and perhaps another format…

Year in review: Part the second.

Onwards then with our little sojourn on memory lane. The second (and final, I promise) look at the various search terms that we’ve found amusing over the vast rolling plain of time that is the ten months that this blog has been running. So pull-up a fire, throw another log on the comfy chair and snuggle down in your favourite cake as you nibble on a festive jumper, and we will continue our reminiscences:

“how many times can you shapeshift into a cat (if your into those types of things)?”

Zoso: Seven. If you’re not into those types of things, eight hundred and six.

Melmoth: I can only assume that ‘shapeshift’ is someone’s very strange attempt at a euphemism. In which case, generally the cat will shred your testicles when it’s had enough.

“phoenix gate what do you do with the flag”

Melmoth: Run with it! You run, and you run, and run and run and run and run, and you keeping running and running until you get to Mourkain Temple. Then you drop the flag and get on with playing a decent scenario.

“warhammer online magus floating disc removal”

Melmoth: Sorry, you can’t remove it, you’re stuck with it. Negotiating latrines is left as an exercise for the reader.

Zoso: So, Mr Magus, you’d removed all your clothes in order to secure these “achievements”, and then you just happened to “slip” and “fall” on your disc? No, no, we’re not here to judge, the doctor will be down shortly.

“are we individuals?”

Melmoth: Yes! We are all individuals! I’m an individual and so is my wife.

Zoso: A: We are Devo!

“male female warhammer bug”

Melmoth: Mythic have confirmed that there will be male and female sexes when they release the new insect race, but nobody will be able to tell which is which, not even the bugs themselves.

“smiling how long can we do it.”

Melmoth: Four hundred years! Or two days. Or ten weeks! Or an hour. The Guinness World record for continuous smiling is seventeen days, eleven hours and twenty three minutes, and was only halted when the challenger’s face fell off.

“updated wii from dvd on accident”

Melmoth: I probably couldn’t help you even if I knew what the hell you’d managed to do.

“you must be this high “world of warcraft””

Melmoth: There are no known height restrictions for playing World of Warcraft. However, there is as yet no conclusive study as to how much crack cocaine needs to be consumed before a person can stomach the incessant end-game grind.

“asses are made to bear and so are you (what does it mean?)”

Melmoth: It means that I like pretentious post titles.

“disguise tips”

Melmoth: I always veer towards a Brian Blessed beard, glasses, deerstalker and an over-sized trench coat with a pillow stuffed down the front.

Zoso: I shapeshift into a cat (if I’m into that type of thing).

“i break things by accident”

Melmoth: Congratulations, you are clumsy! Had you instead told us that you break things on purpose, you would be a vandal. Thank you for taking the ‘Am I A Vandal Or Simply Clumsy?’ online personality test.

“i love her”

Melmoth: That’s… that’s not so much a search term, but a statement of fact. If you’re hoping Google will confirm that for you, well, maybe you need to search for “I need expert medical help” next.

Zoso: Google understands. Google says “there, there”, and would put a comforting arm around your shoulder, only Google is afraid it has no arms.

Melmoth: Also, Google knows that you don’t like friends to touch you.

“wii fit waste of money”

Melmoth: Again, are you asking or telling? Because Google really doesn’t give a flying frogspawn what you think. You do know this, yes?

Zoso: Google disagrees, Google rather enjoyed it. Google reduced its BMI by 2.47 through rigorous yoga.

“guild banks are rubbish in world of warcraft”

Zoso: Google thanks you for the information. Google will avoid using them, then.

“im stuck on act 1 at 27% in far cry 2”

Zoso: Google is sorry to hear that. Google suggests you Google for a walkthrough.

“great adventures i’ve had”

Melmoth: I certainly wish you good luck in finding the website that tells you all the great adventures that you had, I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

Zoso: Previous searches possibly included “who am I?”, “where am I?” and “have you seen my trousers?”

“grats thanks”

Melmoth: You’re welcome.

“i love to accept my reward”

Melmoth: As the winner of Best Kiasa Search Term 2008, I award you the prestigious Frightened Rabid Skunk with Diarrhoea.

Zoso: “Learn”, I think you’ll find. Unless it isn’t a mondegreen, in which case Google agrees, Google loves to accept its reward too.

“killed over guitar hero”

Melmoth: I’m pretty sure we didn’t make a post about our last Guitar Hero get together, did we? That Google search engine is really very clever.

“who leaves strictly come dancing 29th november 2008”

Melmoth: My money is on Clement Attlee.

“to make a flaming torch”

Melmoth: Take one torch; here’s one I made earlier. Now – and this is the tricky part – set fire to it.

“survivors bonekickers”

Melmoth: Are both utterly rubbish and an embarrassment to the nation. I suggest trying Dead Set or IT Crowd to correct the balance.

Zoso: Survivors isn’t that bad. Apart from the writers inexplicable failure to kill Abby Grant despite so many opportunities.

“space chimps review kermode”

Zoso: They said “he gives all bitter, middle-aged film critics a bad name”. But they quite liked his stuff with The Dodge Brothers.

Melmoth: Space chimps would make the best reviewers, not least because anything they didn’t like could be vaporised by their orbital review station.

“low level bright wizard cape”

Melmoth: The year’s must have fashion item for the discerning Black Orc was indeed a noob Bright Wizard dangling down their back.


Melmoth: Wait! This is the Best Kiasa Search Term 2008, give me back that Frightened Rabid Skunk with Diarrhoea, you.

Year in review: Part the first.

December; Christmas fast approaches, and a young man’s mind turns to stockings, roasting nuts and steaming slabs of meat being shoved into eager waiting mouths.

It may well be a time to feast and make merry but it is, unfortunately, not traditionally a time to sit quietly in peace, and blog about games that you haven’t been playing because you’ve been out shopping for the hundredth time trying to find the right colour socks for old uncle Bodger.

So apologies for the lack of updates this month, normal service will hopefully resume in the new year.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to do what every entertainment medium does around Christmas: harp on about the past year, and run repeats.

So without further ado, we’ve been through the logs for kiasa.org for the past (most of a) year and picked out our favourite search terms that have led to the site, the first batch of which follow for your reading delectation:

“all the thing druids can turn into”

Melmoth: So many druids in so many games, but the druid I know – the World of Warcraft one – can turn into a bear, a cat, a different cat, a freaky looking seal, a bird, and potentially an owlkin or a tree. Despite popular belief, they do not, however, turn in to articulated lorries, ambulances or Volkswagen Beetles, and hence telling a druid to “transform and roll out” will normally earn you a sharp claw to the gluteus maximus.

Zoso: When is a Druid not a Druid? When it turns into a side street! Wait, I think I told it wrong…

“discovery channel shapeshifters”

Melmoth: To the best of my knowledge there are no creatures who can transform themselves into the discovery channel.

“far cry 2 can you get killed by hippos”

Melmoth: Definitely. Watch out for their snipers, hippos are notorious fat lazy campers.

“friend not wanting me to touch them”

Melmoth: Are you hoping that we can perhaps give you advice on how to touch your friend without their knowing it? Or advice on how to persuade them to let you touch them, maybe? Have you tried washing your hands? Have you tried not touching yourself first?

“gaming peed himself”

Zoso: Surely lesson number one of end game raiding is the empty coke bottle, no?

Melmoth: I like the way they changed ‘myself’ to ‘himself’ to cover their tracks. “Yeah, it was my buddy. Really. I’m just searching on the Internet for anti-pee advice because I’m a concerned friend”. Uh huh.

“great adventure in getting killed”

Melmoth: Yes, that can certainly be the case. We all love great adventure, not so hot on the getting killed part, though.

“guitar hero aerosmith guitar limited edition bundle ps2”

Melmoth: But does it have a guitar?

“ironbreaker helmet and hair”

Melmoth: Helmet hair is a nightmare for Ironbreakers, I can only recommend a very good hair gel, or a short-crop hairstyle.

“scariest nutters in england”

Melmoth: Google’s search engine is really quite eerily accurate.

Zoso: I don’t know about “scariest”, though, I mean there’s Nutter “Scary” Bates, Scariest Nutter (East Sussex Regional Winner 1986 – 2004) for a start. And Geoffrey Howe.

“dwarf ironbreaker good levelers?”

Zoso: I’m afraid not, no, they really don’t have a strong position on suffrage or religious toleration.


Melmoth: A wimple is worn on the head at all times. It is only worn around the bottom at certain exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in London.

“world of warcraft accidents”

Melmoth: I think this is just ‘gaming peed himself’ trying a different tack.

“zoso wizard”

Melmoth: Yes he is. He’s also a member of a wandering troupe of chartered surveyors, a former Ravenmaster and the current Easter Bunny.

“catherine tate illuminati”

Melmoth: The Catherine Tate Illuminati are a highly overrated and publicly over exposed sub-branch of the Illuminati.

Zoso: I don’t believe they’re bovvered, though.

“dungeons and dragons item straight jacket”

Zoso: I think he means straitjacket. Unless 4e has really expanded item classifications to include sexuality.

Melmoth: Generally worn by any dungeon master who has tried to run a game with Zoso and myself as player characters.

“free online man and woman dating”

Zoso: You’ll be wanting the bi jacket.

I’m not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation.

Having just listened to the folks over at Channel Massive lamenting in their podcast #66 the fact that MMOs these days are being perverted and twisted away from their original concept of another world in which to adventure, socialise and immerse oneself, and have instead become all about gaming achievement, I am inclined to take a suppositionary meander down the quiet leafy byway that is MMO Evolution Lane.

You see, it was not too long ago that I foisted myself upon the innocent and upstanding folks of the Van Hemlock podcast in their episode recorded at the Eurogamer Expo, where, as well as repeating the phrase ‘War Twat’ far too often, I also posed the question (about 33:33 in, for the stalkers out there) as to whether MMOs will succeed on consoles.

The answer from the panellists was that MMOs would indeed succeed on the consoles, with a few tweaks to the games in order for them to translate well: “Get rid of the grind”, “Make it drop-in”, “Streamline the UI”, “Must be playing for fun”.

As such, and with the thought that MMOs are apparently being twisted by the player base into something different to what they were originally, my question changes to: will MMOs succeeding on the consoles destroy the MMO as we traditionally know it? Essentially, are MMOs coming to the consoles now purely because consoles have evolved enough to be able to handle an MMO, or are they coming to the consoles because they have (d)evolved to such an extent that they will now appeal to the drop-in, streamlined, Xbox Gamer Card achievement generation?

I have to wonder if we’re about to see the evolution of a genre, or the creation of a new genre at the expense of the old one.

I look at games like GTA IV, Saints Row 2 and Oblivion and I find a glimmer of hope in the future MMOs on the console. These are still sandbox games, adventurous in scope and nature, and they live equally well in the hearts of PC gamers and console gamers alike. The first two games do cater to the achievement crowd though; don’t get me wrong, however, achievements can be a good thing if done well, they can encourage players to attempt feats they may not normally have bothered with, to explore places they may not thought to have looked, but they can also be used to encourage behaviour which is the antithesis of what it means to devote oneself to an MMO.

Console MMOs will undoubtedly succeed, but I am a little concerned as to the nature of their success, and whether it will come at the cost of the genre that I have known and loved, that future MMOs will be little more than glorified clones of Pacman, with players gobbling down pellets of XP as fast as they can in order to achieve the high score.

Tasks, reviews and updates, oh my.

A variety of witterings for your delectation and cogitation today, so let’s begin with a little DIY activity. For today’s activity you will need: one PC; one DVI to HDMI cable with bandwidth enough for 1080p signal transfers; one Xbox; one HDMI to HDMI cable; one ‘modest’ of size TV capable of true 1920×1080 1080p resolution with one to one pixel scanning, I can recommend the one that I have recently purchased, the Toshiba Regza 32XV555DB; and a nice cup of tea.

Connect the PC to one of the TV’s HDMI inputs using the DVI to HDMI cable. Select said HDMI input on the TV and, if your TV is like the one I have, pick the mode which gives a one-to-one pixel scan, thus bypassing overscan and all those other funky post-processing features that TVs tend to apply to video signals to make them look delicious and lustrous, but which make a PC signal look like an 8-bit render of Picasso’s Three Musicians. For me this was enabled by selecting either of the Game or PC modes of operation on the appropriate input. Next, ensure that the sharpness level is suitably low, this option may make the lines of Bruce Campbell’s chin look as though it could cut through sheet steel when you’re viewing him in Army of Darkness, but when you are trying to read a PC display all it will do is make any text look blurred and ugly. I have set my sharpness level to zero (in fact the PC mode automagically sets this for you, I discovered the problem because I was originally using the Game mode which is meant for consoles and thus keeps the sharpness level set high), but it may be worth playing with the level to see if you can improve text rendering with modest levels of sharpness set; however, it’s not worth worrying too much as the output is quite splendid regardless. Bear in mind that the idea of this is mainly with respect to the PC being used as a gaming machine, it’s not an ideal solution for hours of lengthy text processing, say, because a TV is never going to be as good as an equivalent sized monitor. Essentially though, I wanted a general purpose screen that I could play PC games and console games on and which was suitably large in size. Getting a similar size of screen as a monitor, such as the 30″ Apple Cinema Display, would have meant a lot more cost, more faff with trying to get both the console and the PC easily connected, and when using the PC, running the screen at a native resolution that is insanely high such that my lowly gaming rig would struggle to run many of today’s games at any decent sort of frame rate. So far my idea has worked wonderfully for what I wanted: the PC output looks great, it’s not perfect, but understand when I say this that I’m trying to address those hardcore PC aficionados who would scoff at running a 1920×1080 resolution on a display of 32″. In actuality, and practically speaking, it looks marvellous, with the couple of games that I’ve played so far, World of Goo and World of Warcraft (still waiting for the crossover World of Goocraft), looking fantastic. One further word of advice: in games such as World of Warcraft you should make use of the UI scaling to increase the size of the overall UI display first before trying to tweak individual fonts to be of a size that is more legible. I spent an age tweaking the fonts on all my various UI elements before realising that the stats on my character pane were still quite small and hard to make out and that there was no option to increase those fonts. Inspiration struck shortly thereafter, like a Verigan’s Fist to the back of the head, and I adjusted the UI scale. And then spent ages reducing all the fonts back to how they were originally. The result: splendid World of Warcraft views in 32-inch-o-vision which, when you’re sitting at the screen as though it were a PC monitor, is really quite impressive.

You may drink your cup of tea now, or save it for later. I shall drink mine now.

Ahhhh, lovely.

Finally, connect the Xbox up to the PC; I think this is fairly straightforward and needs no further elucidation. Select the one-to-one mapping mode; the 32XV555DB, for example, has a Game mode which does this and also selects various preset picture levels determined to give a shiny default gaming experience. The Xbox is also a new addition to my hardware stable, and for the few moments that I’ve managed to play Fable 2 – after faffing around trying to set up an Xbox live account, and then purchasing some Microsoft points, and then trying not to spend all those points on a hundred thousand various icon packs for my gamer tag – I’ve been mightily impressed with this high definition console gaming that all the cool kids have been raving about for years.

Here endeth today’s activity.

In other news I’m on to chapter four of World of Goo. It really is a most delightful game, well worth your investment if you enjoy puzzle games of any sort. It’s beautifully presented, funny, charming, clever and unassuming. Don’t be fooled by the modest exterior, underneath the surface lies a very thoughtful game in both story and structure. There’s a demo to be found on the 2D Boy website, and a brilliant review, as always, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It’s available from 2D Boy themselves, on Steam and also on Penny Arcade’s Greenhouse. Support your indie game developers!

Speaking of indie games, I witnessed another fantastic one whilst bumbling around with various other gaming ne’er-do-wells at the Limited Van EuroHemlock Expo-dition event earlier in the week. It is called Plain Sight and is an excellent little multiplayer combat game where players control Lode-Runner-like characters around a 3D Super-Mario-Galaxy-like world and attempt to ‘boost’ into one another to kill the opposing player and gain themselves a point. Self-destructing your own character at any point claims any points you have accumulated, and if you manage to take out other players in the resulting explosion you earn yourself a multiplier to those points for each person so killed; however, if you are killed before you claim your points then those points are lost to you. Thus the game has a clever risk-vs-reward sub-element of play alongside the more overarching frantic but generic deathmatch game. It’s well worth checking out, and despite what blathering reporting you might hear from me on a certain podcast about War Twat being the game of the show for its curious naming convention, I was actually in agreement with Elf that Plain Sight was easily the game that we got the most visceral pleasure from out of all the games at the show. For me the Farcry 2 tournament had nothing on the comparatively tiny Plain Sight frag-fest that was going on right next door. Be sure to keep an eye on the game, it should be coming out sometime in February according to one of the developers whom, in a comedy moment of confused conversation, we initially mistook for someone asking us how to play the game, when in actuality he was trying to tell us how it worked, because unsurprisingly we hadn’t gleaned the whole story from randomly flailing about for a few minutes. Sorry sir! Anyhoo, I give this game the Melmoth Seal of Magnificence, which despite having just made up, you should take as the highest order of gaming recommendation known to man.

In World of Warcraft the eximious Elf is hopefully going to join me for some Old World dungeon duoing; we’re planning on taking a look into Blackrock Spire, and then perhaps trying out some of the early Outlands dungeons to see how far we can push ourselves now that we have our new and improved, pimped out and pumped up, Wrath of the Lich King characters. We’re still trying to get m’colleague to join us, but he is valiantly resisting the temptation of the Dark Side of the MMO force at the moment, instead sticking it out with Warhammer Online despite another wave of bloggers leaving, or considering leaving if things don’t improve soon.

And at some point I should probably try to find time to play a little bit more of Fable 2, apparently it’s Quite Good.