Saturday 31 January 2009

Boum, le graphics card fait boum

So I posted about how I was thinking of upgrading my graphics card for Grand Theft Auto IV, but decided against it as everything else was running fine. Well it’s funny how things never turn out quite the way you had them planned… Turned on the PC the other day to be greeted by strange graphical corruption, as it seems my 8800GTS has given up the ghost. Maybe it was the strain of running two screens; my old monitor had started blinking intermittently, not quite enough to warrant immediate replacement, but deeply annoying in the middle of games, and I finally got round to picking up a shiny new one in the January sales. I was wondering what to do with the old one when, plugging the new one in, I noticed the second DVI output on the card… so I was running a 3360 x 1050 desktop for a while, with Twitter, chat windows n’ stuff on the second monitor. Either way up, as I’d been looking at graphics cards anyway, seemed like A Sign to me, so I will be picking up a new card after all. I’ve gone for a Radeon 4850, not much of an upgrade, but it should tide me over, and it’ll be interesting to see if GTAIV runs any better…

Friday 30 January 2009

Kiasa Top Tips.

MMO developers, remove all gold farmers from your game in an instant by changing the name of your game’s currency from the Gold to the Butt.

Yours pantingly,

Mr F Offendie

Thursday 29 January 2009

Mythic News.

Dun dun dun dah dah, dun dun dah dah dah!

THIS is Mythic News. With your host… Melmoth Melmothson.




Well, the news is out, and opinions are swarming their way across the MMO blaguspore like a zerg in an RvR Objective factory. The announcement outlines some very interesting new features coming soon to a Warhammer Online near you. There are some major disappointments though, and I’m sure many of our readers will have been deeply shocked by one in particular.

Indeed it is my sad duty to inform you all that horse trousers have been cut from Mythic’s current patch plan for Warhammer Online for the foreseeable future.

Zoso is understandably inconsolable, and believe me we’ve tried to get him to play on his Wii. As I write this now, he’s sitting in the corner of the room cuddling his My Little Horse Trousers doll and weeping tears of pure vanilla extract. Or at least I imagine him to be, because we live seventy five miles away from one another, so I have no idea really.

So here’s a little song to cheer everyone up in this sad time. Enjoy!







Kiasacast Episode 2

For those of you who are not monitoring our podcast RSS feed or stalking us on the Twitterverse, brace your main hats and hang on to your sails, because we’re pleased to announce that it’s time for Kiasacast episode 2: The revenge of Kiasacast!

This episode of the podcast includes:

Listener’s mail

This Month In KiaSA, including:

   – Melmoth going back to Lord of the Rings Online and tempting Zoso with cosmetic armour (and hats)

   – World of Goo on WiiWare

   – Doing the Raidwarp Again

   – Mysterious publicity for Warhammer Online

   – The compression of end-game into a gear grind

   – Grand Theft Auto IV on the XBox360 and PC

Search term of the month, which we’re not daft enough to repeat here on the blog.

Book Corner, including:

    – Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale

    – The Steel Remains

    – Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?


    – Can you identify the music from this episode’s show? Answers on a postcard, and then email that postcard to us.

   – Last episodes’s tune: Galaforce for the BBC B. Remix by Heartcore

Download Kiasacast Episode Two

Wednesday 28 January 2009

There’s Bruce loose aboot this hoose

It’s a good time for plastic instrument aficionados. Firstly for anyone with Guitar Hero: World Tour, there are two free Bruce Springsteen songs up for grabs, the classic Born to Run and My Lucky Day from his new album. They’re only free until February 4th, though, so download ’em while they’re hot.

If Bruce isn’t your bag, baby, Metallica have announced the track list for the forthcoming Guitar Hero: Metallica, and it’s a cracker, as Oscar Wilde once said (or Frank Carson, one of the two). Really looking forward to Sanitarium, Master of Puppets, Creeping Death and the rest, I even have a soft spot for Frantic from the not-entirely-universally-loved St. Anger. Nice selection of other artists too, let there be mosh!

Over in the Rock Band world, still no sign of Rock Band 2 for the Wii or PS3 here in the UK. Well, I say “no sign”, have it up for pre-order with an expected release data of January 30th; I’ve popped an order in on the off chance it might be correct, but it seems somewhat unlikely as no other retailers are even acknowledging its existence. I mean, Amazon don’t seem to have it for pre-order, and they’re listing Duke Nukem For-bleedin’-ever! Still, if it turns up Friday I’ll be most chuffed, and if not I’ve still got plenty of World Touring to do; Love Spreads on bass is amazing!

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Kiasa Top Tips.

MMO players, don’t waste money on monthly subscriptions to your favourite game, simply simulate the experience for free in your own home by pretending that your partner has an exclamation mark over their head and asking them if there’s anything you can do for them. Once you have been given a chore, work at it non stop for hours until complete, and then pretend that you have gained a tiny increase in reputation with your partner’s faction. If you don’t have a partner, find an MMO playing friend who does and then form an adventuring party with them!

Yours paisley,

Mrs M Emmowidow, Somerset.

Monday 26 January 2009

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.

Friday 23 January 2009

Port to starboard, and a medium-dry sherry to port!

I believe I have proved conclusively that we’re going to be seeing trousers for horses in the very near future in WAR, but let’s be honest, that alone wouldn’t be a very impressive patch would it? Warhammer, Age of Clothed Mounts. What else might be coming in this big announcement from January 29th? Well Snafzg has also received a mysterious package: a Predator DVD, and a direction to “go to 1:16:06”. At this point of the film, The Governator makes the suggestion “get to the chopper!”; using some extremely abstract reasoning, you could somehow connect this to the missing Greenskin melee class of WAR, the Choppa, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. No, we have to take these clues much more literally. “Get to the chopper” obviously means, as in the film, go to a helicopter. But why? Well, the note says “go to 1:16:06”. Minutes and seconds may be used in some esoteric areas like “time”, but more naturally they’re a measurement of latitude and longitude. With only a single reference, this has to be both the lat. and long., and plugging those values into our favourite online mapping application reveals… it’s a point in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Ghana. I think we can see why the helicopter is needed now.

What might you find in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ghana? Well that’s an easy one, the wreck of HMS Majestic (official records won’t show this, there was a cover-up to hide the fact that she got lost on the way back from the Battle of the Nile), a 74-gun ship of the line. Another term for ship of the line is “man of war”, and I hardly need remind anyone of Games Workshop’s naval war game in the Warhammer world, Man O’ War. So there we have it. The January 29th announcement is going to be massive naval battles in Warhammer Online (after all, there are plenty of ships already dotted around the various coasts of the game, and we all know how easy it is to take a static model of a ship and produce an entire massively complex element of gameplay around it). And horse trousers.

Thursday 22 January 2009

You’re the Slayer, and we’re, like, the Slayerettes!

Arbitrary’s post on the need for more ‘hat quests’ in WAR for the Knight of the Blazing Sun triggered a comment from myself on the prospect of a Slayer mohawk ‘hair quest’. As ludicrous as it sounds, it did make me ponder on the nature of gear and customisation for the Slayer class. Slayers are traditionally not very well endowed in the clothing department, eschewing most armour for a more effective fighting style, a more honourable death and possibly to give a chance to the poor blighters that are facing them in combat. So how will gear work for Slayers in WAR?

Let’s take as read that Slayers will at least be allowed trousers, which although perhaps not flush with armour points, will give suitable bonuses to stats, and avoid the need for players to stare at dwarven buttock-beards for considerable lengths of time; my guess would be that Slayers will rely heavily on avoidance stats, such that they avoid or parry many blows but will take a bit of a pummeling when they do get hit. Let’s also allow Slayers to wear a chest piece, be it no more than a leather vest or a light chainmail shirt. This still leaves us with, at a minimum, feet, shoulders, head and hand slots that are free of armour and ideally need to be filled in some way.

My thought for this: tattoos.

There would be a special ‘armour’ item in the game based on tattoos. The tattoos would be for specific slots, just as their armour counterparts are, and could have stats attached to them much as gear does. Being that my idea of a Slayer is based on avoidance stats, you could have token amounts of armour attached to the tattoo without it totally breaking immersion: it would be slightly harder to accept that by forcing a pint of ink under one’s skin one would gain plate armour levels of damage resistance. However, the higher level tattoos could be magical in nature, Runic Tattoos say, and therefore justify higher levels of armour and other non-Slayer-like stats. I think this fits in quite nicely with the Slayer theme: if you see a heavily tattooed dwarf running at you, you know that he’s going to give you a good kicking; if, on the other hand he only has a heart with the word ‘Mother’ tattooed on one arm, you can probably take it as read that he’s fairly new to the school of slaying.

Thinking on customisation itself, there are lots of nice touches that can be added to the trophy slots on a Slayer: eye patches, nose-to-ear rings, even scars! Fighting a battle with a tough boss that rewards a trophy will award the Slayer a lovely-looking deep crusty scar to have run down one arm, or across your character’s back. Due to the fact that Mythic’s game is already a dark and dangerous place, they have the potential to make veteran Slayers look a real mess, but in the best possible way. Slayers, although stylised and eulogised among Warhammer fans, are generally nothing more than wandering wrecks, they’re the sentient living equivalent of ghost ships: terrifying to look upon, falling apart, haunted and dead to the world, while still refusing to actually die.

As for actual game-play, I’ll be interested to see what mechanic Mythic devises. The easy route would be to go with something like the standard rage mechanic as seen on WoW Warriors or City of Villain Brutes, where the longer the Slayer fights for, and the more enemies they defeat, the greater the damage they deal out as the blood lust takes a hold of them. It’s not a particularly exciting mechanic, but it is effective and proven to work. The interesting part will be how Mythic devise and structure the various Mastery paths (talent trees, to those WoW players out there) for the Slayer. At the moment I’m stuck on a Melee DPS Damage Path, a Melee DPS Damage Path, and… uh, a Melee DPS Damage path. Slayers are “dwarfs what kill stuff”, to use the Barnett parlance, and so it seems hard to see a Mastery path for a Slayer that doesn’t involve “killing stuff betterer”. Mastery paths could, for example, be based on weapon types, with axes doing pure burst damage, hammers having less damage but crowd control effects such as stuns, and daggers doing more damage than axes but through DoT bleed effects and the like, such that the damage is spread out over time. My other thought is that the Mastery paths could be based around weapon styles, so Two Handed, Dual Wield and… uh, hmmm a one handed weapon and shield is just not very Slayerish, and a one handed weapon on its own would be a bit pointless. I would, therefore, offer up a new item: the Battle Horn. The Battle Horn is something that the Slayer can blow in combat to strike fear into their foes and raise the morale of their fellows. This would allow the Slayer to be more than just a melee DPS class, to bring a little utility to the field of battle by providing some de/buffs. The standard Slayer would be able to use the Battle Horn and provide these de/buffs, but the Slayer who specialises in the Battle Horn Mastery path has additional benefits added to the standard versions of these abilities, as well as the core de/buffs being improved by putting points in to Battle Horn Mastery, as it is with the Masteries of other classes already.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts from someone who is desperately trying not to get too excited about the chance to play one of their favourite RPG classes – trying not to be a total Slayerette – they aren’t meant as predictions for what we will actually see from Mythic, they’re just ideas that I needed to write down because they were flailing around in my head like a Slayer in an encampment of chaos henchmen.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Fallout from Grand Theft Auto

A month ago I said “Installing [GTAIV] was pointlessly tedious, there’s time to make a cup of tea as it starts up, performance hovers just the right side of “acceptable”, but, and it’s a great big rocket-propelled strontium-edged “but” on skis, damn, it’s a good game.” Since then I’ve continued to enjoy it, but, and it’s a medium sized pulse-jet powered tin-plated “but”, the performance issues have rather spoiled it for me, enough to make me start looking at upgrades. I’m terrible on upgrades, I have something of a propensity for overanalysis, which obviously the internet really helps with; I started out looking at some GTA forums, in case there were any helpful hints about tweaking performance (not really; for every possibly helpful post, there were at least five telling anybody with less than seven top-end graphics cards working in parallel to “upgraed FFS yuor system su>< LOL"). Then I started looking at a new graphics card, and had almost decided to pick up a Radeon 4850, but couldn't quite find that perfect combination of card manufacturer, cooling system, price, vendor (with stock) and phase of the moon. Anyway, even if I upgraded the graphics card, the processor would probably be a bottleneck, it's been a few years, probably time for a whole system upgrade, right? So I spent a while touring around PC vendors, weighing up the pros and cons of an extra 4Gb of memory vs a slightly faster processor vs a slightly better graphics card (then deciding to go for all of them, seeing the total system price and deciding against it after all), and doing a quick Google search for customer opinions on likely looking companies only to find that every single PC vendor takes forever to build PCs, puts the wrong components in that don't work when they arrive, and need a court judgement to get a refund

It’s only GTAIV that my system really struggles with so far, though, and good as it may be, is it worth shelling out a grand or so on a new system just to be able to play properly? I finally took the shrinkwrap off Fallout 3 and installed it to see how my poor aged system coped with the post-apocalyptic wasteland; automatically configuring the graphics options, it suggested high detail at 1680×1050. “That sounds splendid” I said, and chucked GTAIV back on the shelf. I can only presume there are good technical reasons for it being so resource hungry compared to other cross-platform games like Mass Effect, Far Cry 2 and the perfectly-happy-at-1680×1050 Fallout 3, or maybe Rockstar are actually alien developers from the future and mis-calibrated their time machine when sending back the PC version of GTAIV, using the “2014” setting when the 64Gb nVidATI GTXL4850000XLGT Turbo Ninja Pirate Robot is the standard PC graphics card. Either way, I’ll come back to Theft some Grand Autos once I do upgrade my PC, maybe in six months to a year. In the meantime, Fallout 3!

I’ve only just started Fallout (then re-started it to tweak my characters appearance, got out of the vault, then re-started one more time to get a different haircut and try a different way of getting out of the vault) and it’s looking most promising, more adventures in the wasteland to follow soon I’m sure!

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Reviewlet: Doctor Who, The Writer’s Tale

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale starts with journalist Benjamin Cook e-mailing Russell T. Davies, head writer and honcho of Doctor Who, suggesting an article looking at the process of writing one of the forthcoming episodes of Series 4. Davies thinks it’s a good idea and replies, starting a year long correspondence during a tumultuous time for the programme.

The book consists of these e-mails, lightly sanitised for language and spoilers (past series 4), and illustrated with copious photographs and Davies’ rather nifty drawings. This can make for a slightly uneven flow sometimes, but if you’re used to internet forums and message boards it shouldn’t be too jarring.

Obviously the main interest will be for Doctor Who fans. You get to see the Christmas special, The Voyage of the Damned and the rest of Series 4 take shape, including the evolving draft scripts of Davies’ episodes (some don’t make it into the book to keep it possible to physically lift, but they’re available on the aforelinked website), and over the course of the book Stephen Moffet is confirmed as taking over from Davies for Series 5. As The Writer’s Tale, it’s also got plenty of interesting stuff for writers, some practical, on dialogue, writing action etc., but mostly on the state of mind of someone trying to juggle the enormous workload involved in producing Doctor Who, writing six episodes, re-writing others, working on The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood together with some shreds of a personal life. Davies manages to simultaneously display seemingly crippling self-doubt about the value of what he’s doing together with the unshakable self-confidence required to write anything like Doctor Who, the early chapter on the effect internet criticism can have on writers being particularly illuminating.

Slipping into the role of emotionally stunted stereotypical Doctor Who obsessive, there may have been moments when I might’ve muttered something like “yeah, yeah, you’re depressed, get over it and write more about the plans for showing Davros in his younger days”, but generally if you’re at all interested in writing and Doctor Who, you probably guessed from the title you might like this book. And bought it a while ago.

Monday 19 January 2009

A man in armour is his armour’s slave.

Dear Blizzard,

I am writing to inform you that you can delete my character; I don’t need it any more. I haven’t needed my character for some time now, and certainly since I started playing Wrath of the Lich King my character has been nothing but a dead weight that I’ve had to drag along behind me. You see, my character does nothing any more, I have gained all of two new spells in the ten levels I have achieved, and a couple more from talents that I was basically able to get at level seventy anyway by not delving too deeply into any other talent tree. To be honest, other than an incremented level number my character has hardly changed at all throughout this entire expansion and much of the last one, it’s just a mobile mannequin for my armour and weapons. Sure, my armour and weapons have changed as I’ve leveled, my armour and weapons changed almost daily until the end game! And of course then there is the end game itself, which is all about yet further incremental changes to my armour and weapons.

So you can delete my character, for it plays no role in this game; just animate my armour and weapons so that I can move them around from place to place, and give them my class abilities, and I’ll be good to go for the next five or so expansions.

Love and kisses,


P.S. If you’ve ever wondered why many people stop playing the end game or incessantly whine about the end game, and either roll alts or leave for other games, I’ve left a clue as subtle as Mythic’s marketing department in the above text.

Jumping to conclusions is the only exercise I get

M’colleague, liking Slayers as he does, is excited by the prospect of their arrival in WAR. I must urge caution, though; what information do we have to go on? Orange hair dye, and hair clippers. The conclusion a Warhammer aficionado must draw? The iconic orange mohawk of the Slayer. Paul Barnett is English, though, and I’ll wager that means he watched 3-2-1, particularly the objects and clues that represented prizes. These clues were a little obscure, so I think we need to ponder these items rather more deeply.

If you dye your hair, you change the colour, but you can also change your clothes. The dye is orange – famously, nothing rhymes with orange, and many people believe the same applies to “purple”. However, the word “curple” does rhyme, and means “the hind-quarters or rump of a horse”. Now, the hair clippers are used to shave the head; “A Close Shave” was the third Wallace And Gromit, following “The Wrong Trousers”, thus, trousers. Changing clothes, trousers, the hind-quarters of a horse? I think we can all now see what’s going to be included in Warhammer’s January 29th announcement, and not before time. Clothing for mounts, starting with horse trousers!

Sunday 18 January 2009

Thought for the day.

I read a lot of debates concerning solo vs group play in MMOs, but for me the optimal way to play the game seems to be in a duo. In actual fact I also read a surprising number of blogs where the author plays in a duo, often with a partner or sibling. However, this combination seems to be often overlooked in the debate on how people play in an MMO.

Is it fair or right to class a duo as a separate entity from a group? I think it is, the dynamic is vastly different: although you have a great deal more flexibility than a solo player when playing as a duo, you often still can’t take on challenges designed specifically for a full group. You can, however, complete more of those group challenges as a duo when you have moderately outleveled them than you could if you were solo, and obviously sometimes you can indeed complete challenges at the correct level that were aimed at groups because what the developers really meant was “we don’t want you to do this solo, go and play with other people for crying out loud”; it very much depends on the classes with which you have chosen to form your duo, of course.

With mechanics such as City of Heroes’ leveling pact being slowly drip-fed into the current crop of MMOs, are we seeing the increase in popularity and mind share of the MMO duo? I certainly hope so, it’s always been my preferred way to play because it provides something close to the flexibility and immediacy of solo play whilst also allowing (in most cases) all but the most difficult of group challenges to be completed without cause to resort to the unreliability and logistical headaches of a full group.

Of course now someone will make a post on why the MMO leveling triumvirate is the best way to play…

A goal is a dream with a deadline.

If the rumours are true, then I have my work cut out for me. Within months there could finally be a melee DPS dwarf in Warhammer Online. Not just any dwarven melee DPS, but the hint from Mythic’s marketing hype machine suggests that it’s going to be the legendary Slayer or a close derivative thereof.

I’ve mentioned recently in passing that I would quite like to play a Slayer in Warhammer Online. ‘Would quite like to’ as your average cat ‘would quite like to’ lounge around all day snorting lines of catnip from off of the claw-shredded remains of your favourite curtains.

So I have to get as far as I can in LotRO with my current melee DPS dwarf in order to determine whether I want to stick with lording it up online, or to move across and get my mohawk on. Admittedly even if I do switch back to WAR and give the old girl one more whirl, I’ll probably keep my LotRO subscription running because even though I generally can’t play more than one MMO at a time in earnest, I do think that LotRO has enough to offer even the most casual of drop-in players.

All of which reminds me that I must have another crack at leveling my melee DPS dwarf in World of Warcraft. To have a melee DPS dwarf at the level cap in three MMOs is a fine goal, don’t you think?

Well, an altoholic dwarf fancier can dream. Oh how I dream.

Only great minds can afford a simple style.

I realised that I did a most unusual thing for a player in an MMO today; whilst pootling around in Lord of the Rings Online I went to an NPC armour vendor and bought some items for my character to use. It’s a strange feeling. As a player you will often wander your character into a village somewhere among the Mountains of Many Malign Mobs, a village you haven’t visited before and, due to its remote location, very few other players have ever visited. Yet here there are NPC vendors, placed strategically around the village in such a way as to indicate that there was a thought process behind their arrangement, they were not generated by some automatic script reading CSV entries from a spreadsheet, no, some developer lovingly hand placed them, and arranged them just so. So why then, when you excitedly run up to the first vendor, like a hyperactive puppy let loose on a garden full of cats for the first time, does the vendor present you with a vast selection of items all of which were useless to your character the moment they left the character creation screen?

No wonder nobody visits the village. Perhaps, though, these NPC vendors aren’t meant for adventurers such as ourselves, perhaps they’re there for all those NPCs we see running around in the wilds desperately trying to kill a boar for its meat, or skin a bear to make warm winter clothing, before the mass wave of PCs washes through the area like a sweaty screaming tsunami and clears the land of everything that isn’t nailed down, leaving only destruction and empty ration wrappers in their wake.

It’s hard not to laugh when one of these NPC vendors offers you a set of equipment for your character’s current level, items that have no stats and only modest armour value, when for half the price you can buy a set of items on the auction house that have twice the armour value; enough stat boosts to turn your character into a fighting monstrosity, a transformation rivaled only by Drs Banner and Jekyll; and has varying other minor secondary effects, such as granting the power of flight, the ability to charge through the side of mountains, or the ability to shoot fire from beneath your eyelids. The NPC tentatively shows your their wares, consisting of a small used leather jockstrap with one strap missing and a skull cap that had seen better days before its last owner had their skull cleft in twain, all the while having to shield their eyes from the sun-like radiance that is cast forth by your armour as their ears are assaulted by the cries of a thousand vanquished enemies whose souls are trapped within the ancient runes and used to nourish the armour’s hunger for eternal power.

This is how it has been for me in MMOs to date. I’d visit a new vendor with hope in my heart that they might have some unique and undiscovered item whose name has been scribed in the texts of legend, only to have a bit of a giggle at their selection of crusty and moldy wares and then moving quickly on before my armour sucked the poor vendor’s soul from their body out of sheer indignation.

Not so today, because as we all know LotRO has cosmetic outfit slots which allow one to customise the look of their character into a less… how shall we say? Colourful aspect. Or, in another way, it allows you to stop your character looking like they have just come from setting off a paint bomb in a charity clothes shop. Arlecchino is relegated to the role of sullen spectator when cast against the kaleidoscopic acid trip that is your standard MMO character’s adventuring attire. And so the NPC vendor has the last laugh, because although their items may well be worthless for use in combat, or in fact any activity more strenuous than spring cleaning, they are worth ten, nay a hundred times their weight in gold for the fact that they provide a complete outfit: a matching, coherent, subtly coloured, and attractive suit of armour.

Just don’t tell the NPC vendors, because at the moment they’re still willing to sell such incredibly valuable items for nothing but a few silver coins; their armour may not be able to suck the living souls out of my enemies, but at least it isn’t sodding-well pink with tartan highlights.

Friday 16 January 2009

Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level.

I was listening to Limited Edition Issue 10, and there’s a rather funny moment towards the end on a levelling pact in City of Heroes breaking up. Obviously one of the problems with the system is that it doesn’t work so well if one member doesn’t play their character so much. If, say, they’re something of an alt-oholic. Entirely hypothetically, perhaps you’d roll up a Corruptor, and join into a levelling pact with their Brute. Only next time you’re online they’re playing a Dominator, then later a Corruptor, then a Brute again (but a different one, the first was Stone/Dark, this one’s Dark/Stone), then another Brute (back to Stone/Dark, but with a different costume and power selection to the first one).

Then I thought… what about if you could get into a levelling pact with yourself? Sign up a few alts, and any XP you earn on one is distributed between all of them. During the earlier levels of most MMOs, the natural habitat of the alt, experience tends to rack up so quickly that spreading it out over a few characters couldn’t hurt. Possibly flawed later on, as many games seem to have a bit of a “doldrums” range where the levels slow down, and you wouldn’t want to multiply that by 2 (3, 4…), still, worth exploring maybe.

Thursday 15 January 2009

How bugs get in to code.

Zoso and I chat at work, because it’s one of the very few things our work lets people do on our “state of the art” Intratubes. Here’s a snippet from today (straight from the messenger program albeit slightly cleaned-up) to give you a fascinating insight into how software is developed in our industry:

Oh and arb wrote on Twitter “aiee, now I’ll be singing that ALL day!” when I mentioned Jamie and the Magic Torch with respect to our 80s Kid’s TV Theme band game. So yeah, I guess people do know that one.

I couldn’t give you a line past JAMIE! JAMIE! JAMIE AND THE MAAAAGIC TORCH!

But I could give you that one line for a good three or four hours straight…

Eh heh heh! Ditto.

“Jamie! Jamie! Jamie and the Magic Torch! mumble mumble mumble somethingthatrhymeswithtorch. ‘cos he’s Jamie, Jamie and the maaaaagic torch! Jamie! Jamie!…”

Eh heh heh! Forsooth.

amie! Jamie!
Jamie and the Magic Torch.
Down the helter skelter, faster and faster
towards Cuckoo Land.

Wordsworth! Wordsworth!
Following hard behind.
Ready for adventure, always there to lend a paw or hand!

Mr Boo and all the others too,
the strangest people you’ve ever seen.
And the torch with it’s magical beam –
If I hadn’t really been there
I’d think that I was dreaming!

Jamie! Jamie!
No two nights are the same.
And life is one long glorious game
with Jamie.
Jamie and the Magic Torch!

Oh that’s right, I just remembered it!


That’s startling! Though your memory appeared to trim a character at the beginning, your brain must’ve not quite highlighted the whole thing…

I don’t know what you mean!

And I’ve just pasted the Jamie and the Magic Torch lyrics into my code…

I actually laughed out loud then…

“Compiler sez no”

Still, I think the user would see the funny side when, instead of this high priority warning symbol, they got the first few verses of a 1980s kid’s TV program on their display.

Thought for the day.

MMO achievement systems are basically just there to allow us to relive our childhoods in the Cub Scouts, or as in my case, the Girl Guides.


Oh look I tried the Cubs, but their faction rewards sucked, and they had a horrible tabard.

Back in the land of MMOs:

“Oooo, I got the ‘Killed 100 Beastmen’ badge, I’ll sew that one on to my armour tonight!”

“Well I’ve got an epic woggle!”

“Oh, I thought you were just walking funny.”

Wednesday 14 January 2009

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.

The last thing on WoW raiding for now, because otherwise I’m going to have to start a wowraidhate blog category.

It’s astounding, time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely, not for very much longer
I’ve got to win that roll

I remember doing the WoW raid
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me and the void would be calling
Let’s do the WoW Raid again…
Let’s do the WoW Raid again!

It’s just a jump to the left
And then a step to the right
With your tanks on the boss
You begin the same old fight
But it’s the aggro wipe that really drives you insane,
Let’s do the WoW Raid again!

It’s not dreamy, oh expansion pack free me
So you can’t see me, not in the lava wall
In another dungeon, with epic geared intention
Dead once again, I see all
With a bit of a brain clot
You’re there in a raid slot
And nothing can ever be the same
You’re spaced out on derivation, like you’re under sedation
Let’s do the WoW Raid again!

Well I was walking down the street just a-having a think
When a snake of a guy gave me an evil wink
He shook me up, he took me by surprise
He had a pickup group and the devil’s eyes.
He stared at me and I felt a change
Time meant nothing, never would again
Let’s do the WoW Raid again!

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Palm lives… again!

From buying a Handspring Visor almost ten years ago until recently replacing a Tapwave Zodiac with a Nokia N810, I’d been a devotee of Palm OS-powered handheld devices. Unfortunately Palm seemed to go a bit bonkers in 2002, dividing up into software (PalmSource) and hardware (palmOne) companies; shades of Psion, though, unlike Symbian, PalmSource developed a new operating system that nobody (including palmOne) ended up using. palmOne eventually realised that, as stupid company names go, “palmOne” was rivalled only by whatever drivel contestants on The Apprentice come up with after several bottles of gin and half an hour’s shouting, and re-de-branded back to Palm, Inc. after a couple of years, but had lost momentum by then and seemed destined to fade away as Just Another Smartphone Company with their Treo line running either the increasingly dated Palm OS or *gasp* Windows Mobile. A Palm device running Microsoft software, was the blood we shed in the Palm OS vs PocketPC wars for nothing? (I say “wars”, it was more inter-newsgroup flamewars than actual military action, so the amount of blood spilled was pretty limited. Maybe the odd blister after some especially furious typing, and that’s serum rather than proper blood anyway, but I digress.) In hindsight the Palm Foleo could’ve been a herald of the netbook revolution, but whether it was the wrong product, the wrong time, the wrong company, the wrong price or the wrong trousers (Grommet, and they’ve gone wrong!) it never made it to launch, and just looked like another nail in the coffin.

Turns out Palm isn’t dead, though, they were just resting. You turn your back for five minutes, it nuzzles up to the bars, bends them apart, and VOOM! The Palm Pre (proving the Stupid Name Department haven’t all left), running Palm webOS.

The hardware of the Pre looks fairly nice if unspectacular, 480×320 screen, sliding keyboard, camera, the usual gubbins, it’s the webOS that catches the eye. It uses a “card” metaphor that sounds really rather interesting, an example from the ars technica piece being: “Instead of having multiple communications apps on the phone, any of which you can use to carry on a conversation via multiple services, you just open up a single chat card with that user. That chat card hosts a continuous stream of conversation that combines SMS messages and IM in a single, seamless interface and chat experience.” No sense in getting too excited just yet, though, the initial release will be a US EVDO model, fingers crossed it makes it to the UK before too long.

With the Pre (and maybe more webOS devices), the promise of more Android devices to join the G1 and of course the iPhone, I’m really hoping mobile providers in the UK might start to acknowledge that handheld-‘net-connected-computer-things aren’t (just) bloody phones and start offering plans where data isn’t an afterthought. O2’s “Web & Wi-Fi Bolt On” on Pay & Go, f’rexample, more options like that would be most appreciated.

Monday 12 January 2009

And I will stand the hazard of the die.

I am the Lord of the Ring said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all to your DOOM, said he.

As Sydney Carter might have composed had he been ruminating on the ominous calling of the Dark Lord of Mordor rather than The One Lord™. Still, I have indeed been ruminating on rings, and the lords of them, mainly impelled by my continued enjoyment of adventuring in the lands of Middle Earth, having returned recently for another look at Lord of the Rings Online, on the recommendation of many people.

I’ll avoid any verbal Karate Kid impersonations by not waxing lyrical on the joys of goblin hewing (wax on), or the simple pleasure there is to be found in hats when there is an outfit option in the character pane which is designed purely for the joy of creating one’s own outfit out of assorted parts, with no need to take heed of item stats (wax off); for certain, LotRO’s customisation is the poor distant cousin twice removed of the City of Heroes character creator, but compared to World of Warcraft its standing on the character customisation social ladder can be considered as that of the Earl of Wessex compared to a small snail on social benefits.

What I’d like to talk about today, and what I am in fact going to talk about today, is my horse. More specifically my lack thereof. Traveling around Middle Earth when one is a fresh eared, wet behind the face adventurer taking their first steps into a wide and wonderfully deadly world is, to be blunt, expensive. And to be not so blunt, it’s hideously expensive, not so much injurious to one’s wallet as a ganking, corpse run, corpse-camped-reganking and tea bagging of it. Painful in ways that is hard to describe or imagine, like being blindfolded and having a loaded mousetrap pressed to a bare nipple, only the mouse trap is switched for a bear trap when you aren’t looking.

Suffice it to say that it’s quite expensive, though I may have exaggerated somewhat.

Where was I? Nipples! No, wait! Horses! Basically LotRO implements your standard ‘jump on to the back of an improbably well-trained animal’, which will then without question and not so much as a ‘giddyup’ carry you along a predefined route that it somehow has been programmed with as though it were a car navigation unit. Thankfully it isn’t actually like a car navigation unit, otherwise far too many adventurers would end up being dropped off at the Black Gate of Mordor when they actually wanted the Prancing Pony in Bree (use the postcode, you fools!). We take these sentient taxi cabs for granted in our fantasy travels, but they really are probably the most marvelous and inexplicable magic there is to be found in any kingdom. Just pray that they never decide to go on strike, or worse work for some malignant power intent on taking over the world

“You know, I don’t remember the trip to Celondim ever running quite so close to the edge of this clif…”

Considering these marvels of the magical age, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise or an issue that it would cost a lot to make use of the service, but it is. LotRO implements a dual travel system, where you can ‘fast travel’ to certain locations for very little money (say one silver) but you are stuck going to that location only, or you can travel in real time for vast amounts more (about fifteen silver) but are able to dismount at any point between where you start and your destination. Essentially you pay through the nipple for the option of being able to get to a destination somewhere along the route post haste. The problem comes from the fact that one rarely wants to jump off mid journey, they actually want to get to the destination itself and would be very happy with the inflexible swift travel option if it meant that they only had to pay one silver to get there.

In the dwarf starting zone (after the tutorial zone) there is a quest that makes my head hurt from the sheer mind-numbing stupidity of the traveling required and which unless your character has won the Gondor Lottery, or has a very rich albeit slightly creepy uncle, who likes to spend too much time brushing your hair but nevertheless gives you lots of pocket money at the weekend, you won’t be able to afford to pay the extortionate travel costs even if you wanted to. Trying to avoid describing the entire ordeal in detail, the quest starts with Bavor in Thorin’s Hall, who needs you to find a number of gears for a mechanism he’s discovered and is trying to repair. The first gear is a short trot away, and little problem to recover. The second gear is a fair old distance away, but there are no towns between Thorin’s Hall and the location that the gear resides, so there’s nothing for it but to stretch the ol’ legs again. There and back again, indeed. The third gear is miles away, and although the town of Gondamon is fairly close, the price to ride from Thorin’s Hall is five silver. If you have five silver to fritter away on travel at the point you’re asked to do this quest, then you’re doing rather well for yourself. Or your hair is really, really well brushed. The fourth gear is further on from Gondamon still. So again you run yourself ragged on your ‘quest’ for it, and then you have to run all the way back (assuming your map of recall is on cooldown) to hand it to Bavor. Bavor then asks you to get the fifth and final gear which, oh yes he just remembered this, is in a small ruins RIGHT NEXT TO WHERE THE FOURTH GEAR WAS.

I never bothered getting the fifth gear because I wasn’t going to be able to recover the first to fourth gears again from where they resided in Bavor’s backside.

It’s difficult to judge where to draw the line with travel in the virtual worlds we wander. In World of Warcraft flight routes are prevalent and although not instantaneous like LotRO’s swift travel, still require no input from the player, and therefore are a perfect opportunity to go and make a nice cup of tea, or play an exciting game of something or other. This means that although travel still takes time in WoW, it’s time that needn’t be endured, and therefore Azeroth quickly becomes a series of compartmentalised theme park zones that one hacks and slashes their way through before jumping on to a trained taxi and moving on to the next zone. LotRO feels more like a coherent concurrent world, but this is at the expensive of having to trudge your way across landscapes that, once you’ve seen them a few times, becomes like driving to work day after day along the same route, and it quickly saps the sense of awe and wonder, instead clobbering you with the branch of antipathy.

As you can imagine, I’m quite keen to get my mount in LotRO, but a mount is still many levels away, and besides, mounts are most certainly the topic for another post.

So for now, I’ll forgo the rather expensive chauffeur service and instead stick to running from place to place. I just wish my dwarf legs weren’t so short; I’m wasted on all this cross country travel, we dwarves are natural sprinters! Very dangerous over short distances.

Admittedly that’s because that’s usually the distance from the bar to the toilet.

Thought for the day.

The more I read about raid encounters in World of Warcraft, with phases, and places to stand or run to, and giant walls of fire with holes through which one has to dodge, the more it seems that raiding these days is like trying to play Super Mario Brothers with twenty four other characters on the screen at the same time. All yelling at each other.

Friday 9 January 2009

Where we WiiWare

Back when I first got the Wii I bought the browser for 500 Wii points (having annoyingly missed out on it being given away free) to tinker about with various streaming media options, and because you never know when you might need another web browser (what would I do if my internet tablet was stolen, the PC exploded and the laptop battery was flat and couldn’t be charged for some improbable reason I can’t be bothered to make up?) As Wii points are sold in multiples of 1000 I’ve had 500 points kicking around for a while, with nothing on the Virtual Console or, more recently, WiiWare really demanding to be bought.

Guitar Hero World Tour finally gave me the opportunity to spend some of those points, downloadable songs costing 200 points each, so I bought a couple last year. Then there was a free Reggae Rock Pack released over Christmas that I finally got around to downloading the other day, and while in the music store browsing around the wide selection of available songs I was tempted by a bit of Nirvana or maybe the Eagles, only having 100 points left meant I’d need to go and buy some more. Switching to the Wii Shop, it struck me that I had no idea what the £/Wii Point exchange rate actually was, I was assuming somewhere around 1p/point as anything more than a couple of quid for a song would be pushing it. Turns out 1000 points are £7, so a song for £1.40 isn’t too bad. Having to leave Guitar Hero to go to the Wii Shop and buy points was a bit of a faff, but then while I was there I remembered World of Goo! The original plan had been for World of Goo to be released as a retail box for the Wii in Europe instead of via WiiWare, so I was going to wait for that, then sometime during the Great Gaming Glut at the end of last year that changed; a quick poke around the WiiWare section of the shop revealed it was indeed there for 1500 Wii points, a swift point buying spree and a bit of a download and I was ready to get Goo-y (with the added bonus of enough spare points for a few more Guitar Hero tracks).

Not much I can add to the Eurogamer review of World of Goo, really, it’s a wonderful game. One of the main reasons I was waiting for the Wii release rather than getting the PC version was to play it with my wife, and initial skepticism (“Eh?”) rapidly turned into advice (“Put another one on the left! No, below that, you’ve overbalanced it now!”) and then involvement, as simply firing up a second Wiimote activates a second cursor for co-operative Goo-ing, with only minor side effects (“get off, that’s *my* goo!”). If you haven’t done so, BUY IT NOW! And then drink your weak lemon drink.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Time to move out of the city?

Windows popped up a little message the other day, as it’s wont to do, tutting at the state of my desktop: “how can you live like this, it’s such a mess, look at all these icons, what’s this? A demo of ‘Boarding Now’, when was the last time you played that, you can’t need all this stuff…” OK, so I dramatise for comic effect, it was just the usual clear off old icons thing that turns up now and again, and things were getting a bit cluttered. After deleting assorted demos and utilities that presumptuously put themselves on the desktop, I ran down the column of MMOs: Hellgate, don’t really need that now; Guild Wars, always an option; WoW, you never know, might resubscribe sometime; City of Heroes…

Oh, City of Heroes. My first MMOG, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned enough times before, that I’ve been subscribed to since 2004, a fantastic game. A costume creator still without peer (maybe Champions or APB this year could finally rival it?), some of the best grouping options around for easily getting together with friends and fighting appropriately scaled opponents, so much good stuff, and yet… I’ve barely logged in this year. OK, not surprising, that’s only about a week so far, but hardly last year either. I’d almost forgotten it until happening across the icon, at which point I had a sudden wave of happiness, and nostalgia, almost yearning, but… I didn’t fire it up and log in. I hovered the mouse over the icon, and thought… What would I do? Roll a new character, do the tutorial again, pick up an existing character and run some missions? Didn’t really appeal. There are a few of the newer zones I haven’t done to death, but by and large it’s pretty much the same content.

If I’m not playing, why subscribe? It’s not like it would take more than a couple of minutes to reactivate the account if I wanted to at some point in the future. Playing on the US servers, and paying in dollars, the price has effectively gone up too as the exchange rate has fallen, and I really thought about cancelling the subscription, more seriously than ever. It ought to be a no-brainer, but thinking about pressing that “cancel” button makes me come over all maudlin, like finally saying “goodbye” to an old friend you haven’t seen for a while.

One option would be to cancel the US subscription and take out an EU one instead; there’s a splendid bunch of people playing there, it would give much more of an incentive to log on and play with them, but after giving it a go a while back, something nagged at me. Mechanically it’s exactly the same game, but without my old characters and their accumulated levels and badges and associated gubbins, like veteran rewards (both useful, such as extra weapons that round out attack chains at lower levels before you pick up all your powers, and “fluff” like costume parts (I keep working bits on Samurai armour into costumes, even for cyborgs)), something just didn’t *quite* feel right. There’s somehow more to the game than mechanics, a weight of history if you will (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious, which it does, but never mind).

So there’s a suggestion for anyone looking to make a healthy profit from an MMO, simply target irrationally sentimental people who’ll keep giving you money without even logging in and consuming server resources. I dunno; maybe it’s because nothing’s *really* succeeded it in terms of superhero MMOGs, and when (if?) Champions or DCUO come along I’ll be able to make a clean break, but until then, seems like I’ll stay subscribed to CoH.

No, no I won’t, it’s crazy, I’m unsubscribing. Canc…

… nope, still can’t bring myself to do it.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

GT eh?

There’s an annoying… feature, shall we say, in GTA IV, which also happens in previous GTA games that I’ve played, if I recall correctly. You take your shiny sports car on a little cruise around the block, stopping off along the way at the local supermarket to slaughter some innocent geriatric trying to select a zucchini from the vegetable counter.

As you do.

Why your Russian crime lord boss, owner of half of downtown pseudo-New York, wants you to kill an incontinent old man with a penchant for squashes, I’ll never know, but we in the hired gun trade shoot first and ask questions later.

Questions like: “Can I get zucchini and blood stains out of my suit at 40 degrees?” and “Where the hell has my car gone?”

Because every time I take a shiny car to a mission in GTA IV it’s never there when I come out at the completion of said mission. Gone. Not a trace to be found. It’s as if someone stole it! There I am, standing in the middle of the street like a complete lemon, looking up and down and wondering how the hell I’m going to get home. Strips of zucchini dangling from my forehead. I’m gutted, I feel violated. Robbed.

It took me bloody ages to steal that car.

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…