Tuesday 21 August 2007

Just the dust of a plague

There's nothing like hearing John Humpreys talking about Warlocks on the alarm clock radio for waking up in the morning. Unfortunately I had to haul myself off to work before the actual article in question, but it seems someone's picked up the Corrupted Blood plague from a couple of years ago, and decided it could offer an insight into real world epidemics (or, as Melmoth put it, "Hey, we can use a simulated world to simulate stuff. Who knew?!")

I dunno exactly how close the parallels are with a "real" plague, and thus exactly how useful it would be, but I'd hazard a guess that in 1666 London General Chat didn't look too much like...
"GET REAL PIECES OF EIGHT NOW AT www.buy-in-game-silver-now.europa"
"Anyone know where I can find Samual Pepys' wife?"

Saturday 18 August 2007

Everything is broken

OK, not quite everything. It was the CPU after all, which decided to stop working for no apparent reason. Oh well. Replacement should be sorted in the next couple of days, just in time for me to go back on holiday for another week. Three weeks of MMO withdrawal...

Wednesday 8 August 2007


Damn it! Damn it! Damn it four times round the car park and back in for another dammit!

PC's decided to stop working. No output from the graphics card at all, swapping back to the other one does nothing, possibly the CPU. Gragh. Just in time for going on holiday this weekend, which'll make sorting it out a pain.


One for All or Alts for One?

The news about the Death Knight hero class coming in the next WoW expansion has resulted in a couple of interesting articles. In the red corner, Brandon Reinhart with "Figuring out the Death Knight Part 1: Horizon", predicated on "I believe that systems that drive players to create alts are generally inferior to systems that enable players to constantly progress an identity". In the blue corner, Scott Jennings, with "My New Levelling Technique Is Unstoppable", from the perspective of an altaholic.

It's interesting, as it echoes me and Melmoth; I tend to stick with a single character in games, he's firmly in the altaholic camp, so we thought we'd have a bash at exploring the different motivations. *Reclines on the psychologists couch* I suppose it all started as a child, when my mother fed me a single flavour of baby food instead of a variety of flavours...

One problem I have with alts is a psychological inertia that I have to overcome to repeat content, as I posted about previously. MMOG alts almost always involve repeating content to a greater or lesser extent; the different starter areas for the races in WoW and LotRO, for example, cushion the blow for a while, but everyone, Horde or Alliance, winds up in Stranglethorn after a while.

Another problem with alts is that I tend to be something of a completist in games. Not quite a "must do everything it's theoretically possible to do" completist, the wonders of the internet allow you to realise that even where you thought you were really into something you're but a neophyte next to a small contingent of obsessives who've spent every waking moment of their existence utterly devoted to it, but I think I'm a little more dedicated than an average player, something of a Pareto completist; games often follow the 80-20 rule, very broadly. MMOG levelling slows down as you move through the levels such that it might take 20% of your time to get to 80% of the level cap. Guitar Hero, I managed to get through 27/30 songs of the "hard" career, 23/30 songs of the "expert" career, about 80% of the way through (or 83.333%, if you want to get particularly technical, and obviously ignoring the easy and medium careers just to prove the old truism of lies and damn lies), and I could easily see it taking four times as long to master those last few songs. The Grand Theft Auto III series make it nice and easy by actually having a screen showing everything you've done in the game, not just the main story missions but all the little side missions/challenges throughout the game, with a completion percentage, and I'd tend to be somewhere around 80% on those too; I'd do the main story (though saying that, I'm not sure I ever quite got around to the very last mission of San Andreas), find the hidden packages/horseshoes/whatever (getting some by myself, but resorting to a walkthrough for the full collection), do a fair number of side missions, but I couldn't be bothered with totally completing everything.

I have strong Achiever tendencies in MMOs, as per Bartle, which I think derives from being a completist (although it also bleeds into the Explorer area, both in terms of "map" exploring, finding items in out-of-the-way places and secret rooms, and "mechanism" exploring, though those in turn are largely driven by the achievement or reward that can result). I link to think I have a pretty broad definition of "achievement", though; in World of Warcraft, there's gaining XP and levelling up obviously, up to the level cap. There's the acquisition of "phat lewt", there are crafting skills, there's PvP reputation/honour points, faction reputation. There's also helping friends and guildmates out with any of the above, though altruism has its limits... So, I'll more than happily help a non-skinner out doing any of the Nagrand wildlife culls, it's repeating content, but I'll end up with a fair bit of leather from it so it's achieved something. On a guild run through UBRS, getting someone attuned was one achievement, and Finkle's Skinner and a bit of enchanting material were a bonus. At level 60, running a friend's low-level alt through Gnomeregan was great for his quests and netted some decent loot, I got to see the whole place, interesting to my Explorer side ("proper" attempts had got a fair way through, but fatigue tended to set in after the 17th hour...), and I even got a whole lot of exercise on my dagger/mace/fist skills (as I wield swords the rest of the time). I'll even count it as an achievement if I pick up some nifty-looking, if totally useless, bit of armour while out and about.

So it's that achievement aspect that can give me a shove to overcome the issues of otherwise repeating content, some shiny thing dangled to make me feel like I'm getting something out of it, slowly nudging towards that notion of "completion", although as the nature of MMOs is that there's no such thing as "complete", it's a bit of a Sisyphean challenge.

Probably the best incentive system for my Achiever side, is in City of Heroes. CoH has badges (the concept isn't unique to CoH, LotRO deeds are very similar, but that's where I know it best). Badges do almost nothing; a very small subset are Accolades, which actually give your character some tangible (though not earth-shattering) benefit, but the vast majority have no direct in-game benefit. Badges are awarded for... well, everything really. Almost anything you do in the game can get you badges; stand on a certain bit of the map, Exploration Badge. Kill 100 of a certain enemy, there's a badge for that. Do a certain amount of damage, take a certain amount of damage, craft items, sell things on the auction house, sidekick another player, spend time in a PvP zone, balance three fish on your head while tapdancing and going "flaaaaarrrrrrr", there's badges for all that. The net result is, it's incredibly hard to do something in CoH that isn't, in some way, progressing you towards an achievement. It might be some insanely stupid achievement, like taking 500 points of damage on your way to the "Take Ten Ffrooglepoopillion Points of Damage" badge, but it's enough that even in City of Heroes, the alt-iest game ever in the history of time (I think), I have one hero and one villain at the level cap (there is someone in the Supergroup who's filled *all* *twelve* character slots with level 50s) that I'll dust off each issue to go badge hunting with. Though I do have a few alts there, too...

Monday 6 August 2007

Full of emptiness and wrath

World of Warcraft: The Next Ten Levels (or Wrath of the Lich King if you prefer) was announced on Friday, and burst over the blag-u-spore with a crashing wave of... meh. Or perhaps bleh, and a bit of blah, and a touch of hrrrm, a dash of hrng and 3/16 fl. oz. (that's 0.2 teaspoons, or one microbucket) of other onomatopoeic expressions of not being particularly impressed.

It's not hard to understand the level of apathy, it doesn't look like there's anything particularly earth-shatteringly original in there yet. Then again, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and nine million subscribers can't be totally broken. The Death Knight could be interesting, the sketchy outline in the current wiki article sounds like runes might offer quite a flexible hybrid. Quite how they'll crowbar an Alliance Death Knight into the lore I don't know, but it's already such a sprawl that a third undead faction who hate The Scourge and The Forsaken (but quite like the Alliance) wouldn't be totally out of place. Inscriptions sound very much like Enhancements from City of Heroes, a bit of a tweak without changing anything too radically, not so different to slotting gems. An entire PvP zone, presumably including the siege weapons and destructible buildings mentioned, is the World PvP of TBC taken a bit further, and could suffer as badly as that does with faction imbalance. Customisable hair styles, though, woo!

I'm slightly surprised by the timing; it feels like The Burning Crusade is only just out. I'd expected, as the original end game was expanded with Zul'Gurub, Ahn'Qiraj and Naxxramas, that there might be some more raid content added to TBC before another expansion Then again, there's no release date (or even vague suggestion of a release date that I could find), so WotLK might not be out until 2013. Or maybe it'll be next week... It's a bit of a dangerous game; as with TBC, it sounds like most existing loot will be outclassed fairly quickly, which removes one of the main incentives to keep repeating content at level 70. If you really like the sound of the Death Knight class, it removes the incentive to invest a lot of time and effort in existing characters. You don't want to announce new versions too early, but then you also need to keep interest going, particularly with a number of new MMOGs coming soon. An early 2008 release is feasible, Wrath of the Lich King vs Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, anyone?

My initial reaction was, as per everyone else, "meh". Then again, I'm feeling a bit "meh" towards MMOGs in general at the moment, either from a summer slump, or some deeper ennui. Thinking about it a bit more... I've rather enjoyed levelling up to the cap and running a few instances twice before, why not again? Maybe I will dust the old rogue off once more, if there's nothing else grabbing my attention at the time.

Friday 3 August 2007

There's a marchin' band still playin'

Never mind Guitar Hero III, my Wii-purchase has been more than vindicated by the release of Sousaphone Hero!!1! Oh yeah! I can't wait to do me some marching. Totally gutted that it looks like Steam Calliope Hero won't get a release, though.

Thursday 2 August 2007

Revolution in the air

Until last weekend, I'd never owned a games console. My first computer was a ZX Spectrum, mumble-something years ago, after that it was a PC (8Mhz processor, CGA graphics, 5.25" discs, dot matrix printer and all), and it's been PCs ever since. Friends had Amstrad CPCs, BBC Micros or Spectrums in the 8-bit days, then PCs, Amigas or Atari STs when they came in. I think most of us played the classic trump card of computers being educational rather than merely game-playing devices ("it'll be really useful for school!"), then proceeded to spend the majority of time playing games on them anyway. Course, they turned out to be pretty educational anyway, even if only as a by-product of games. Learning BASIC to code games (or get a few lines into doing so before realising it was actually a bit tricky) and type in listings from magazines (lavishly illustrated with square-jawed heroes and lethal robots along with an amazing bomb-defusing back story that explained exactly why you were trying to guess a number between 1 and 10, with startling true-to-life graphics responding to your guess with "Higher!" or "Lower!"), making databases of D&D characters, fitting extra memory (when games got so advanced that 512k just didn't cut it any more and you needed that full 640k), getting to grips with networking (for multiplayer Doom). But I digress. By the mid-90s, when the PlayStation arrived to shift consoles from being more child-oriented to the "lifestyle" demographic, I was firmly ensconced in PC gaming and never really saw the need for a console over and above that, especially as the line between PC and console gaming became progressively more blurred with further generations of consoles, culminating in the XBox 360 and PS3 being (very broadly) comparable in both cost and capability to a PC.

Course, there's another current generation console, and the more astute reader may already have, through Holmes-ian powers of deduction, worked out what's coming based on the first sentence of this post, this post, some threads of hair on my jacket that could only have come from a certain breed of rabbit and my guilty start (that I thought I'd ingeniously concealed as a coughing fit) at the mention of the word "Zapata". Yes, I now have a Wii. After deciding I'd get one for Guitar Hero 3, it was a pretty short leap to figuring that prices are unlikely to drop much in the next three months or so until its release, so why not pick up the console itself now (after all, there may be a terribly shortage of Wiis then, caused by... I dunno, giant Wii-eating badgers maybe. You never know.) The Wii really is a revolution (Nintendo's original name for the console; when the new name was announced I, like an awful lot of other people, thought Revolution would've been a great name and "Wii" was the product of a deranged mind, but in hindsight, it works. Apart from anything else, it's much easier to Google for...) It's almost infectious in the way it spreads, everyone who plays on one seems to end up getting one, and it turns out I'm not immune either.