Friday 27 February 2009

Hey, I’m in the band

OK, I couldn’t resist, that’s a copper bottomed golden meme (with zinc plating and strontium edging) that Melmoth turned up, so I give you:

It's true, they are

I’d rename my Guitar Hero band right now, if only the new one fitted into the character limit…

Thursday 26 February 2009

The musical growth of this band cannot even be charted.

I’m in a bit of a memey mood at the moment – that’s a mood for memes, not a mood for “Me! Me!”, which is a given – and I saw this fun one over on Greenspeak which I couldn’t resist trying.

So here is my randomly generated band’s randomly generated album cover:

Rock on!

Head on over to Greenspeak to find out how, and leave a link in the comments here if you decide to give it a go yourself, I’m excited to see other efforts.

Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Let’s go to Darkfall

There’s a short story that sticks in my mind, Google suggests it was “Let’s go to Golgotha” by Garry Kilworth (danger, spoilers coming up!). In it, time travel is possible and tourists can book holidays including a “Crucifixion Tour”. They’re togged up appropriately and sternly warned that they mustn’t change the course of history, so when the crowd are asked whether Jesus or Barrabas should be spared they have to shout in favour of Barrabas. The twist at the end comes when a tourist realises the bulk of the crowd are time travellers, all shouting for Barrabas, drowning out the few locals.

So, I gather Darkfall is released today (possibly, the website doesn’t say much and the forums appear to have melted as everyone looks for news). I wasn’t planning on playing it; it’s nice to see alternatives to the Diku-esque model of most recent major MMOGs, but I don’t think Darkfall is for me. Apart from anything else, the community have something of a reputation for being eager to engage in a full and frank exchange of views over the game. Seeing a quote from Ten Ton Hammer: “… what I experienced in the world is still the worst example of an online community I’ve ever encountered, without question.”, though… I’m a bit morbidly tempted to go in and see what it’s actually like. With the forewarning of the article, and the expectation that everybody would be out to get me, I imagine I’d adopt the persona of a paranoid sociopath, doing unto others before they got a chance to do anything unto me and generally being a bit of a git.

At this point you might realise that first paragraph is actually vaguely relevant rather than being a random copy/paste mishap. Perhaps the true Darkfall community is a model of politeness, courtesy and restraint but somehow it’s attracted a ferocious reputation, so the tourists come in and snarl and gank and teabag, believing it’s the done thing, while the locals roll their eyes and get on with a spot of topiary, or an honourable duel to the cries of “well played sirrah!” from an appreciative crowd. Perhaps…

Rivalry is the life of trade, and the death of the trader.

Looking at release schedules you’d think that World of Warcraft was the younger sibling to Warhammer Online and not the other way around, as soon as WAR got a chance to be front and centre with their initial game release, WoW came bursting in to the room and shoved WAR aside with its Wrath of the Lich King “Look at me, look at me, I’m the special one! Look at me!” routine.

So WAR patiently takes a back seat as bemused parents watch WoW perform its new expansion routine, in that sickeningly over-cutesy way that only younger siblings can. Once WoW has burned itself out on being the entertaining centre of attention and crawled off to the corner for a nap, WAR steps forward again to gentle smiles from the adoring parental audience and announces that it will now perform patch 1.2 for them. But just as WAR opens its mouth to begin a delightful recital of new classes and dungeons and such, WoW wakes from its slumber, realises that someone else might be getting some attention and charges back in front of everyone, shoving WAR out of the way yet again and announces with puffed-out chest that it is now going to perform patch 3.1 for all and sundry.

Once or twice is a coincidence, but Blizzard’s uncanny ability to release next to no content until one of its competitors does is coming across as quite childish to my mind. Not only that but it shows their lack of respect for their customer base, because we all know that one uses ‘competition’ with respect to World of Warcraft in the very loosest sense of the word because nothing can really compete at this stage of the game, so while their player base clamours for more content for their subscription fee, Blizzard seem to be holding it back until such a time as it is useful to stamp on the release schedules of other companies.

Quite frankly Blizzard you won this generation of gaming a long, long time ago, and one would expect a more mature and perhaps even benevolent attitude from such an unsurpassable behemoth as yourselves.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Fallout: Total Empire of War II

I’m really hooked on Fallout 3 at the moment, exploring away, roaming the wasteland, meeting interesting new people, shooting them with interesting new weapons and nicking their stuff. Like many CRPGs it follows the familiar Main Quest / Side Quests model, and as per usual I’m doing as many side quests I can find and generally exploring the world. Fallout 3 manages a nice balancing act in this respect; some games, Mass Effect and Oblivion being a couple of examples that spring to mind, make the main quest a Big Deal. The world/galaxy/universe is under MORTAL THREAT! You must ACT NOW, with ALL SPEED to SAVE HUMANITY! And you say “sure!”, and you have a little potter around the local town/starbase, browse the shops for souvenirs, postcards and weaponry, then talk to someone in the pub/space pub who’s a bit miffed because they lost their favourite teaspoon. “No worries!” you say, recognising a side quest when you see it, “I’ll spend a couple of hours searching for it, it’s bound to be a teaspoon of insane death which you’ll offer me as a reward at the end of it.” Now really the moment you start to do a bit of shopping, the village elder/starbase commander should be running after you shouting “What the fuck? Weren’t you listening just then? MORTAL THREAT? GET OUT THERE AND KILL THE DEMONS/ALIENS!”, and the bloke down the pub should say “yes, I’ve lost my favourite teaspoon, NOT THAT IT MATTERS BECAUSE OF ALL THAT MORTAL PERIL AND EVERYTHING”, to which of course you reply “yo, chill dude/space dude, nothing’s going to happen on the main quest until I go to The Dungeon/Planet of Zarg, then a cut scene kicks in and we’re on to Chapter 2”, which doesn’t really help with immersion.

Fallout 3, at least so far, has a nicely structured main quest that’s clearly important, but not so GALAXY THREATENINGLY VITAL that you feel guilty when poking around some interesting ruins instead of saving the universe. It’s got that “tight but loose” vibe, enough structure that it never feels aimless, but bags of freedom as well.

One thing that’s managed to drag me away from Fallout is a good bit of War. Not Warhammer Online so much (jumping in now and again, especially if there’s some big RvR going on, but otherwise waiting for 1.2 there really), or indeed slightly different Warhammer, though I’m mightily tempted by all the good things people are saying about Dawn of War II. War of the Month is the demo for Empire: Total War, containing a land battle and naval battle to show off the new game. I loved all the previous Total War games, and the land battle is that familiar Totally War-ish goodness, with lashings of extra gunpowder. Naval battles are new in Empire, and the first thing I was staggered by is the detail of the ships, zooming right in you can marvel at the officers strutting around in their finery, ordering sweating sailors to load cannon and adjust the sails. I’ve only played the naval battle once so haven’t entirely got the hang of it yet, but it promises to be a fine addition to the game. I think I’m going to have to buy the full thing, which means I might be a bit busy for a little while what with the grand campaigns in Total War usually lasting as long as an actual war (and not The Six Day War; if you don’t resort to auto-resolving some battles, we’re talking The Thirty Years War).

Sunday 22 February 2009

Our memories are the only paradise from which we can never be expelled.

How do I explain it? Well, I’ve tried to put it into words before, and here we have a perfect example. Zoso takes the meme tag and follows through with a 10.0, perfect score, meme response. It’s all there: the image, the explanation and the follow on links. Whereas I can’t possibly pick just one picture from a folder, I’m all over the place, drowning under a stream of images that would make Flikr baulk. So what with Zoso responding to the meme in the correct manner that blogiquette necessitates, I’ve decided to do a slightly different take and have selected six of my sixth images from various MMO screenshot folders.


1: Hellgate London. A rare shot of this mob before he was renamed Big Boned Illegitimate Son. Hellgate wasn’t a bad game at all, it just suffered from a similar problem to City of Heroes in that its attempts to randomly generate missions made for bland and repetitive game play, because there’s obviously a limit to how unique you can make a mission when you’re trying to generate it from a limited set of external parameters. A shame, because the combat was quite fun. Well, the guns were fun, the magic was rubbish.

2: World of Warcraft. Another day, another orgy in the Stormwind Cathedral, an ordinary occurrence in the lives of almighty heroes. This is screenshot six of about seven hundred documenting the end of beta event. There were monsters in the streets, parties on every corner, and naked people dancing and posing in compromising positions. Lots and lots of naked people. I’m the dwarf in the centre of the shot, with the naked lady dancing on top of me, and what seems to be some chap grabbing my nose while I look up at said lady’s naughty bits. Oh yes, I can teach the fetish clubs of Brighton a thing or two yet. Zoso and Elf are both in this orgy somewhere, but I couldn’t tell you where, they may be off screen or they may be hidden under a pile of naked bodies, it’s a bit like playing an adult edition of where’s Waldo. Where’s Waldo’s Waldo? There it is, folded between the cleavage of that… ok, what was I talking about again?

3: City of Heroes. There had to be a City of * screenshot in this selection, because it’s a game that has taken so much of my time and money. No matter what MMOs I go off to play, this and World of Warcraft are the two games that I always come crawling back to once I’ve been jilted by the sassy adventurous MMO in the tight leather trousers who only ever intended to toy with my attentions. As a complement to Zoso’s picture, here’s his Fire/Fire Blaster still going strong in the mid-thirties alongside my five hundredth alt, a Fire/Fire Tanker called War Stove. War Stove was the highest level hero I’ve ever had, I say ‘was’ because I re-rolled him in a fit of.. stupidity, quite frankly, and then never got him past level 10. Ask Zoso about it some time, he’ll tell you all about what he has to put up with from me and my altitus.

4: Age of Conan. Now here’s a game I really wanted to love. I liked the setting, the character design, the classes, and those first twenty levels in Tortage were so good I did them several times on different characters to get the various different stories that were available depending on your class. I also did them twice on the same character, because I had to re-roll him due to a poor beard and hair colour choice, but let’s not go there, eh? In the screenshot is the first version of the Bear Shaman I played, the class that still appeals to me on every level: melee combat, healing and buffing, along with bestial shamanistic tendencies. What’s not to like? The only disappointment was the fact that he couldn’t actually turn into a bear, but I can live without the simulated furry sex. I whacked the body size slider all the way to ‘fat’ because I felt that a follower of the Bear was not going to be a scrawny wiry little fellow, hence his slightly overhanging bare belly, or bear belly if you will. He’s still more ripped than Arnold Schwarzenegger though. Welcome to the world of Hyboria, where steroidal stereotypes rule.

5: Dark Age of Camelot. Another AoC, only this one is slightly darker. DAoC was the first MMO I ever played, so there’s some strong nostalgic mojo with this one. After many times seeing the Everquest boxes on the shelves in my local game store and almost purchasing a copy, I finally caved-in and bought DAoC when I saw the playable races available. This game still has the best selection of race design to my mind, and the hulking stone trolls will always be my favourite race in an MMO, at least until Blizzard finally relent and implement the Pandaren as a playable race. I wish I could tell you more about this character, but as well as being my first MMO, DAoC was also where I got my first taste of chronic altitus. I had a Troll Thane, which I think is what Hob is there in the screenshot, then a Troll Shaman, then a Thane again. Then I went and played just about every class on the Hibernian side. Came back to Midgard, played another Troll, and a Kobold. And on and on. The only race I couldn’t play in this game were the dwarves, they were just… creepy looking, as though they spent all their time hiding in your bathroom cabinet just so they could watch you pee.

6: Lord of the Rings Online. Last but by no means least, we have a game that I should still be playing today, but for some reason it just doesn’t press my MMO buttons despite several attempts to get into it. Here you can see my first character, a Dwarf Champion, who is smoking a pipe while Zoso’s character tries to look serene and resplendent in a rather fine hat while blinking smoke out of their eyes. I think I rolled a Minstrel about five minutes after this screenshot was taken. It went downhill from there.

If anyone wasn’t tagged in Zoso’s meme post and would rather like to have been, please feel free to tag yourself in the comments here and I’ll add a link to you just below in this post. It’s quite fun to look back and reminisce over old screenshots, and it makes me glad that I’m a habitual screenshot snapper.

The Screenshot of the Beast

And lo did the sixth screenshot meme sweep the blag-u-spore, like… a meme, sweeping… a lot of blogs. And verily were we tagged, and it’s been a while since the last meme-ing, so for your delectation…

Ah. This has uncovered something of a problem. Firstly, I’ve hardly taken any screenshots in recent games, something I really ought to do. Even if it’s just of hats. Secondly, I’m sure I had a bunch of older screenshots, but with most MMOG data being held on servers I don’t tend to think of saving install folders, so between various PC moves, upgrades etc., I fear I’ve lost a lot, which is slightly depressing. Oh well. Fortunately, in a corner of “My Pictures”, I found a folder labelled “CoH” of a few cleaned up screenshots I had saved, so while not quite an actual screenshot folder, I give you the sixth file therefrom…

Paper beats rock!

Paper beats rock!

My third or fourth City of Heroes character (right), a fire blaster, who I got to level 50 and still play, and one of Melmoth’s early characters (left), a scrapper of some kind.

Speaking of Melmoth, I believe he’ll be along in short order, the combination of the meme and his recent post on nostalgia may have sent him into something of a nostalgic screenshot frenzy. In the meantime, as a joint tagging of other blogs (six is quite enough, to tag six each would just be crazy insane, got no brain), lo do we say unto these people, “go forth and post the sixth screenshot from a folder, yo”: PJH, Welsh Troll, MBP, Aaron at Snark and Fury (opening up the floor to game screenshots, TV screencaps or comic screen… comics), and Van Hemlock and Jon (for textual descriptions of a screenshot each in the next Van Hemlock podcast, that should make pretty compelling listening).

Saturday 21 February 2009

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.

Friday 20 February 2009

KiaSA’s Guide to MMOG Etiquette and Online Manners - Chapter 1

After Melmoth’s post about socialising in MMOGs, we’ve had metaphorically hundreds of letters from users enquiring about correct etiquette in games. As Debrett’s have been most remiss in not making a suitable publication available, we at KiaSA have stepped in with the Killed in a Smiling Accident Guide to MMOG Etiquette and Online Manners.

Chapter 1: emote use around town and out questing

– Seeing a member of your guild, whom you haven’t specifically grouped with, around a city
/wave, with the other player specifically targeted. This should be returned where possible, but prior usage of other interfaces such as banks or auction houses may take precedence.

– Seeing a member of your guild, with whom you have grouped, around a city
/hello or /greet, with the other player specifically targeted, returned where possible.

– Seeing multiple members of your guild in one place
/wave or /hello, with no specific target. If you accidentally have a player target when emoting, quickly cycle through the other players applying the same emote. If you have yourself or an inanimate object targeted for the emote, deflect attention from the mistake with a pithy quip.

– Seeing a member of your guild, with whom you frequently group, around a city
/hello or /greet, with the other player specifically targeted, followed by a /tell of “How’s it going?” or “How’s things?” depending on stylistic preference. NOTE! This is a *rhetorical* question. Correct responses: “good, thanks”, “yeah OK” or “not bad, ta”. Incorrect responses: “yeah pretty good we took down that final boss but he mostly dropped trash there was this great ring but I lost the roll for it this other dude got it and I was all like ah come on I really need it and he was all but I can use it on my alt and I totally reported him”, “oh terrible work is really bad at the moment somebody keeps taking my sandwich from the fridge even though it’s clearly labelled and the radiator in the bedroom started leaking”.

– Seeing a companion from a previous drunken evening of nakedly dancing upon a mailbox
Both parties should studiously avoid eye contact and hasten to separate locations as rapidly as possible

– Seeing an attractive female guildmate
Depending on the emote system, /flirt, /kiss or /dance are appropriate so long as a chaperone is present, with /shy, /giggle and /blush being acceptable responses.

– Seeing an attractive female guildmate who turns out to be played by a Scandinavian wrestler called Sven the Terrible
Acceptable emotes include /firmhandshake, /politegreeting_whilemaintainingdistance and /goodheavensisthatthetimeireallymustgo

– Seeing a member of your guild (peerage qualifications)
Note that /wave and /hello should only be used for guild members of the rank of Baron and below. For a Viscount or Earl, substitute /bow, and for a Marquess or Duke use /grovel, and preface all /tells with “The Most Hon.”.

– Seeing a member of your guild while out questing
/wave or /hello, plus application of any buff as appropriate from your character. If they are in combat with a mob and at 50% health or lower, either healing of the player or engagement of the mob, depending on archetype, is considered polite, but under no circumstances attempt to loot the corpse before the original engagee. If you are engaging a mob and this happens, even if you were confident that you would have survived the encounter the correct response is “thank you”, not “wtf kill steeler”

– Seeing a stranger (in a PvE game, or own faction in a PvP game) while out questing
No direct acknowledgement is required, buffing and healing are considered polite, but mob engagement is not suggested unless the other player is at 10% health or lower.

– Seeing a stranger (enemy faction in a PvP game)
You may attack them, but you should wait for them to despatch any mob they are fighting first and indicate via suitable emote your aggresive intent (suggested: /challenge, /battlecry or /comeandhaveagoifyouthinkyourehardenough). If they are climbing a cliff, you should lower a rope, and offer them a chance to rest before engaging in combat, after checking whether they have six fingers on one hand. Stealth classes should observe all the previous, but may forego a formal challenge and open the engagement by stabbing the unprepared enemy player in the back.

– Seeing a stranger (any, where ruleset includes unrestricted PvP and corpse looting)
Train additional mobs upon the enemy player, attack at once while they are most vulnerable, kill them, perform as many rude emotes as are available within the system, steal all their belongings, then lie in wait for them to attempt to recover their belongings and kill them again.

– Seeing a group of strangers when questing in a party
While being initially wary, the two groups should take time to reflect that, at the end of the day, you are all people (or Orcs, or anthropomorphic cat-type-lizard beasts), and, as at Christmas in 1915, take the opportunity to put violence aside for a short time, and /joke, /laugh, /playfootball and /sharecigarettes together, experiencing the camaraderie of fellow soldiers no matter what absurd politics dragged you into this mess. Then your stealthed mate should be able to take out their healer in pretty short order, and the rest of ’em will go down like dominoes.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.

More people buy games when they’re cheaper.

Film at eleven.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Open Kiasa University.

Welcome to the Open Kiasa University. For today’s lesson you will need:

1 x Soapbox car
1 x Seventy year old pensioner
1 x Teenager of the same size and weight as the pensioner
1 x Adjustable slope of considerable length

Step 1. Place the teenager in the soapbox car and allow multiple runs down the slope, adjusting the slope each time until you have compensated for friction and the soapbox car runs at very close to a constant speed.

Step 2. Replace the teenager in the soapbox car with the pensioner of equal size and weight.

Step 3. Conduct multiple run down the slope, and observe as the soapbox car begins to slow down on the slope with each run.

Indeed, given a slope of sufficient length, it has been shown that not only does the soapbox car slow down on the frictionless slope, but that it will eventually come to a complete standstill. Further experimentation is required to prove the corollary to this rule that the soapbox car will in fact begin to rise back up the slope.

I don’t know how pensioners do it, I really don’t, and believe me I’ve tried to figure it out. I’m following one in my car and each slope we go down I end up catching them up and having to break. They’re not touching their breaks, unless every pensioner in England happens to have broken tail lights; I’m assuming through sheer good will that they’re not pulling with both hands on the hand brake, and anyway one would expect more tire squeal and smoke to be evident; and having tried heavy engine breaking myself, I can only assume that if they are indeed engine breaking that they’ve somehow managed to get their 1.1 litre hatchback into first gear while doing forty miles an hour, and the poor car is redlining it’s way down the hill, with various bearings disintegrating and the drivetrain threatening to launch itself out through the boot in protest.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Kiasa Top Tips.

Don’t throw away those old boxes that your PC came in! Simply fill them with snakes and owls and they become an instant MMO dungeon instance for a group of hamsters. Literally minutes of entertainment for the whole family! To make things more enjoyable still, why not take bets from your children as to which of their hamsters will die first and cause the rest of the group to wipe!

Yours venomously,

Ms A Tawodent

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.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Reviewlet: The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan’s first novel, Altered Carbon, was a rather splendid hardboiled cyberpunk detective story, followed by four other sci-fi (or sci-fi-ish, I haven’t picked up the near-future Market Forces yet) books. Now he’s turned to fantasy; New Odd High Weird Old Noir Low Epic Fantasy, to be specific, in The Steel Remains.

The easiest comparison that springs to mind is Joe Abercrombie, not least ‘cos there’s a quote of his on the back, and Joe’s review (plus excellent unexpurgated version of the cover quote) is well worth a read. Like Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, The Steel Remains is a gritty, down and dirty (in many senses) book with lashings of sex n’ drugs n’ rock n’ roll (only with the rock n’ roll replaced with bone-crunchingly visceral violence). Following three main protagonists, heroes of a previous war, getting to grips with a new world through three viewpoints took a bit of getting used to, then I got really caught up in their separate stories. As the three are pulled together at the end, though, it feels a little hasty; as the first book of a trilogy it strikes a balance, there’s enough of an ending that it could stand alone, it doesn’t just stop in the middle of a larger story, but there are plenty of loose ends to be picked up in future books that make it ultimately slightly unsatisfying on its own. Good introduction to the world and characters, though, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Friday 13 February 2009

Thought for the day.

Ever had that situation where you spend a considerable time completing a number of quests in a zone, hand them in, and you could swear your XP bar actually went down?

I really hate MMOs sometimes.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Twit ‘er? Damn near killed ‘um!

Twittermania seems to be sweeping the nation, both real and virtual; it’s in newspapers, on television and radio, even this “internet” thing, though I reckon that last one’s a passing fad. Of course there’s a backlash against anything receiving such attention (though with the speed of reaction these days, a phenomenon gaining mass notice and its accompanying backlash tend to arrive simultaneously, making it more of a sidelash I suppose), giving curmudgeons an excellent opportunity to rant about not caring what people had for breakfast. If you’re sick of the whole business already you might want to skip this post, but if you want to know what I had for breakfast then on with the Hegelian bermuda shorts and let’s surf the wave of Zeitgeist…

Actually I tend to skip breakfast, though I know I shouldn’t, and then have to spend most mornings fighting the temptation of a bacon roll. Anyway! Twitter. I first bumped into it a while back, with a couple of blogs having sidebars that contained the author’s Twitter feed, so I’d head off to their Twitter page and read some updates, then notice some messages (generally known as “tweets”, I believe, but I prefer “twits”) seemed to link to other people so I’d open that Twitter page, and it was all very confusing. Though Twitter itself asks “what are you doing?”, if all you do is respond appropriately a few times a day it actually would be the oft-mocked “what I had for breakfast” beast it can seem from the outside. No, the beauty of Twitter, as so much of this web-two-point-oh world, is in the interaction, so if you adopt my initial approach and just go and visit someone’s Twitter page, chances are a good chunk of it will appear to be utter gibberish, half a conversation at best. The syntax is fairly obvious, “@(username) Yes, but it’s better with jam!” is a reply to @(username), and depending on the precise clients of all involved you can then go to @(username)’s exact twit (if you’re lucky) or main Twitter page (if not so lucky, which you then have to scan to try and figure out what might go better with jam), but trying to follow conversations that way is like untangling a slinky.

What you really need to do is sign up to Twitter. I know, this may seem something of an obvious step, but I’m sure plenty of people are like me and just too apathetic to go to all the trouble of signing up to something (or manage an initial sign-up in a flurry of enthusiasm and profile updating, then never return and forget the password you used. And the username, after somebody had taken your first choice. And the e-mail address you gave to recover them. And indeed the URL of the whole site so you can’t go back there anyway.) Really, though, presuming you’ve been driven to Twitter because there’s someone there of interest to you, sign up and Follow them and anyone they’re talking to who seems interesting. Now you’ve got a Twitter feed that you can see on your own homepage, or via one of the plethora of specific clients available (I rather like TweetDeck, but there are at least six billion others, on every platform imaginable). This does a strange and magical thing: you’ll now only see twits you care about on this feed. Well, it would be strange and magical if Twitter somehow detected what you cared about, what actually happens is that you see messages from everybody you follow, but if somebody you *are* following sends a reply to somebody you *aren’t* following, you don’t see that. Instantly the half-conversations vanish!

It’s still worth browsing other people’s individual Twitter pages every now and then, as you might be missing out on fascinating (or indeed scandalous) conversations between people you’re following and people you aren’t, but chances are you’re not, and as you build up interesting Twitterers to follow you’ll probably make the odd update yourself (bowl of Shreddies this morning), or reply to their twits, and away you go.

I started out mostly following other game bloggers, and from them to others in the games industry, but with the recent wave of popularity more and more celebrities are beginning to Twit, leading to further curmudgeonliness on the cult of celebrity (“I don’t care what Jonathan Ross had for breakfast either!”) plus the suggestion that it’s just PR anyway. And for some it might be, but just as with all other Twitteristas if their twits don’t seem, or stop being, interesting, just don’t follow them. Call me a slavish follower of celebrity gossip, but I think it’s rather fun (in a borderline stalkerish way) to read Stephen Fry’s account of being stuck in a lift, followed by Graham Linehan parodying the event in almost-real time, then worrying he might have caused offence but Richard Herring telling him not to worry. Or Phil Jupitus causing Neil Innes to miss a train by misspelling “frittata”.

This is all totally personal, of course, your mileage may vary, you may approach Twitter in an entirely different way (I’m rambling quite enough without getting into re-tweets and direct messages and hashtags and twitter spam), the value of twits can go up as well as down, your followers are at risk if you do not keep up twittering etc. I imagine most people reading this will already have been Twitting away for months if not years anyway, but if you haven’t yet dipped a toe in the Twit-o-pool, why not give it a shot? If you’re desperately keen to follow me some other bugger got to “zoso” first so I’m zosoz, but I’d start with someone far more interesting if I were you.

PS: Fancied kedgeree but would take too long plus had no kippers. Went with toast instead (no jam).

Murd ‘er? I hardly know ‘er!

Warhammer Online events seem to be following something of a sine wave of grind. The first, Witching Night, was towards the grind-y peak, needing a fair bit of farming to fill the influence bar up. The second, Heavy Metal, involved minimal grind, a few rounds of the Reikland Factory scenario being sufficient for most of its tasks, then we ramped back up to max-o-grind for Keg End, which involved some fun /boast-ing and /toast-ing, but also vast swathes of event-mob-slaughtering if you wanted to fill the bar right up. The current event, Night of Murder, plunges back towards the “yes, we have no grind” end of the scale; within the space of a couple of scenarios and some light open-RvR I’d filled two-thirds of the influence bar. A couple of the tasks are going to be slightly problematic, though, primarily killing ten Keep Lords. Ten? I like a keep siege now and again, but either it’s a bloody war of attrition in the face of enemy heavy weapons and tank walls, in which case it’s really quite time consuming and there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, or a pretty tedious affair if the enemy aren’t defending (attack door, attack door, attack door, run through door, attack door, attack door, attack door, run through door, attack keep lord, ???, profit!) Either way, it’s not really something I’m desperate to do several times a night. Still, another round or two of the “kill five marked players” quest should be enough to round out the influence bar for the jewellery reward, so I’ll only need to finish off the keep lords for the “Master Assassin” title.

Speaking of rewards, their usefulness is fortunately out of phase with the grind wave; final influence reward for Witching Night: a stat-less mask. Heavy Metal: a stat-ful cloak, that also looks pretty spiffy (plus Knight/Blackguard early unlock). Keg End: a tankard, with a limited number of uses to teleport to a pub in Altdorf (teleporting to a pub’s always good, but it’s a similar effect to a 30 copper guild recall scroll). Night of Murder: a stat-ful piece of jewellery in a choice of four flavours (though I’m slightly annoyed, as two of the pieces give a 5% gold bonus that isn’t much use, what with their being very little to actually spend gold on, and two give a 5% renown boost that would be quite nice; as a Bright Wizard I’m trying to stack +Int for extra damage, and the only gem with +Int is one of the gold-boosting ones. Hrm. Guess I’ll just pick one of the others, as plenty of other stuff boosts Int.)

I believe the next event is due to be “Bitter Rivals”, building up to the introduction of the Slayer and Choppa, and if my theory holds and the Wave of Grind maintains its shape we’re heading for Grindcon Alpha. Still, assuming one of the final rewards is the early unlock of the new classes, at least that might spread the forthcoming transformation of 74.96% of the population of WAR into melee DPS over a couple of weeks instead of it happening overnight…

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Thought for the day.

Old Man Murray invented an excellent review system for FPS games that m’learned colleague pointed out to me many moons ago

I suggest MMO bloggers employ a similar system when reviewing fantasy MMOs. Instead of Start-to-Crate though, we will go with Start-to-Boar.

This is the point where the developers said

“Well, we’ve done wolves, bears and a generic humanoid creature of some sort. What other dangerous animals can we have the players fight?”


“Of course… because heroes fight boars in all the great fantasy stories.”

“Oh yeah, they’re practically dragons. Same phylum, for sure.”

“Fine. We’re out of ideas, so just shove a few boars in, ok?”

Be sure to send in any Start-to-Boar experiences you have, along with how long it took you to find your first boar after starting a new character.

I Am Legend (for this expansion only).

How can an axe provide extra stamina or hitpoints?

How does one craft a sword in such a way that it provides more hitpoints than another sword?

Do you think that’s air you’re breathing?

Eh, what? You do? Well… you’re right of course… uh, well done… I… Look, aren’t you supposed to be all “Woaaaah” and “Ohhhhhh”? You know, then I go all “Ahhhhhhh!” and “Hmmmmm”, perhaps with a bit of beard stroking. And then you get all enlightened and such, and go off and save the world?


Have there been any MMOs where your gear changes very little? You have your sword, say. It does some damage. Your character’s ability to use that sword is what makes you do yet more damage with it. Occasionally (read, uh, occasionally) you’ll find a better weapon; a masterwork sword, tempered and folded more than the norm, would have a keener blade, and this would allow you to do some more damage ‘for free’, more than with a standard sword, without having to improve your character. You would not, under any circumstances, have found a masterwork sword on a boar you killed five minutes ago, only to find a masterwork sword +2 on the slightly bigger boar you just this moment killed. And neither of these weapons would grant you additional hit-points. I’m pretty sure Conan was a tank no matter what weapon he had at hand, and he wore nothing but a loincloth most of the time, so that was either one hell of a loincloth, or his hit-points came from healthy eating and a regular work out regime. Look for Skullsplitting Your Way To A Healthy You on DVD in stores soon.

I’m guessing that perhaps Ultima Online follows along these lines. We’re probably talking skill based MMOs, and clearly that’s nothing new.

I don’t know, it’s just that I look at the Lord of the Rings story and find that I’m wanting something a bit more like that, something a little more legendary. Frodo finds a Barrow-blade on his adventures, which is destroyed in the fight against the Witch-king. Then, upon reaching Rivendell, he receives a nifty upgrade when he is gifted Sting by Bilbo, and he then takes Sting with him on his adventures in Moria. They soon part ways though, because Sting keeps giving away their position to the Orcs by breaking out into renditions of Roxanne and Fields of Gold.

Or is it all about the loot? Would players shy away from a game that focussed more on the character than their equipment? If a legendary weapon really, actually, meant that it was legendary. Something special, rather than just a package of stat. bonuses for your character.

World of Warcraft has legendary items. Take Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker, for example. Players, nay, whole guilds spent an inordinate amount of time and virtual money meeting the requirements for that blade, and it was special then. Now, though, there are green items in Wrath of the Lich King that are superior.

In Lord of the Rings, Sting wasn’t the greatest weapon in Middle Earth, but it was always a weapon of name and worth, to be valued and considered with awe, to be treasured and handed down with reverence from generation to generation.

Tuesday 10 February 2009


I think I did it again.
I made it once more, to the leveling end.
Oh, baby!
It might seem like I rushed,
But it needn’t seem all that ludicrous.
‘Cause to feed my altitus,
That is just so typically me.
Oh, baby, baby!

Oops!… I did it again.
I played with an alt, got lost in the game.
Oh, baby, baby!
Oops!… You think that’s the last,
That my addiction has passed.
Well I’m not quite finished yet.

Remember kids, always sing a Britney song when you hit the level cap. It’s in the MMO Constitution.

Like to introduce ‘Legs’ Larry Smith, drums

When I first got Guitar Hero World Tour I mostly played the drums for their novelty, working through the career on Easy and Medium difficulty. After switching to guitar and bass for a while (and occasionally vocals, much to the consternation of any animals (and indeed humans) in the vicinity) I’ve gone back to the drums, stepping up to Hard difficulty. The biggest difference between Medium and Hard seems to be the amount of bass drum, or, in plastic instrument terms, pressing of a pedal that broadly equates to what might be a bass drum in a proper drum set. On Medium there’s not too much of it, and for the most part bass hits coincide with notes (beats? hits?) where you also hit one of the pad-things with a stick-thing in your hand-thing (you might, if paying very close attention, have noticed I’m a bit hazy on the correct terminology). I can cope with that. As the difficulty increases so does the number of bass hits, which leads to my first problem of my foot cramping up in protest. This might have something to do with my seating arrangements; I can’t recall going to see a band where the drummer is reclining on a sofa to play, it’s possibly not an optimal pedal-pressing position. Or maybe my foot-tapping muscles are just hopelessly out of shape, perhaps I should bring the pedal along to work for a rigorous work-out each day. The other problem I have is devious music-making swine who start putting bass hits on their own in between other hit-pad-thing-with-stick-thing hits, causing my brain to go “yellow, yellow and purple, yellow and red, yellow, AOOOGAH! AOOOOGAH! JUST PURPLE! You’re supposed to do something with a foot but I’m not sure exactly what HIT ALL THE DRUMS, HIT ALL THE DRUMS, GET THE CYMBALS AS WELL, NOOOOOOO!” Somehow this isn’t terribly effective, but depending on the beat I can usually either just about get to grips with it, or take the slightly more cunning approach of ignoring awkward bass hits entirely. Not great for streak scores, but it gets through the song.

So I’m just about coping with the bass pedal in the early-to-middle parts of the Hard drum career and feeling moderately pleased with myself when I noticed someone had posted a video from the forthcoming Guitar Hero: Metallica. The game that will let you use a second bass pedal in a new “Expert Plus” difficulty for drums. A video of Slayer’s War Ensemble, on Expert Plus difficulty.


Monday 9 February 2009

Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.

If you haven’t heard about the little hoo hah that’s happened recently in EVE Online, where have you been? And do they do package holidays there?

It’s been quite the debacle, and has had That Section of the MMOsphere all a-blather for the past week or so. That Section of the MMOsphere being defined as those people who play EVE Online, along with those people who like watching the aftermath of a relatively catastrophic event; the sort of people who witness a train derailing off of a bridge and landing on a passenger ferry that was sailing beneath. And then, when a 747 crash lands into the resulting wreckage, shout ‘Oh my god! Oh. My. God!’ and ‘Cool!’ and ‘Did you get that on camera? Because we can totally get £250 on You’ve Been Framed!’

Getting the actual story was tricky, first it was a ‘basic’ GoonSwarm Intelligence Agency spy who had infiltrated the BoB organisation at its highest level; then that spy evolved into none other than the Grand Poobah of EVE spydom The Mittani; then it wasn’t The Mittani; then it wasn’t a GIA spy at all, but a BoB director who had defected; then it wasn’t a direct defection, but an inverse semi-defection-tuck with three and a half twists, as the director, having been caught in a minor GoonSwarm scam, had offered up the front door key and back door key to BoB, all the keys in fact, including the one to the big red button labelled ‘Alliance disband button. Do not press. In fact, we’re not even sure why we have a big bastard button for doing something that we’re never going to want to do. Whatever. Just don’t press it’. It was the real world equivalent of scamming some random chap on the street out of twenty quid, only to have him realise the scam for what it was and rather than getting a big stick, all of his mates, and showing you just what he thought of your cheeky chappy hustling, he instead confesses that he’s actually the Chancellor of the Exchequer and would you like access to the content of Her Majesty’s Treasury? And as an added bonus he can pass a law disbanding England and opening up the land to any claim by its Scottish, Welsh and Irish neighbours.

I’ll just pause while all of our Scottish, Welsh and Irish readers salivate at the thought for a bit.

The upside to all of this lies in the future, and not in the future of EVE, although it has generated a wealth of renewed excitement around the game for its fans as the GoonSwarm/BoB stalemate of many years was broken, if only for a short while. No, because of this event I’m now looking forward even more to the future game that will be CCP’s World of Darkness Online.

I’ve been a big fan of the World of Darkness in the past; I have the first edition Vampire and Werewolf source books sitting on my RPG shelf, along with Mage and Changeling. I was drawn into the WoD by my pen and paper RPG group at school, and I fell quickly in love with the dark gothic world that White Wolf created, inhabited by all manner of fantastic supernatural creatures, and the Cthulhu-esque idea of normal humans having to deal with witnessing such unbelievable creatures and events. The one thing that really stuck with me, both from the pen and paper and live action role-playing games, was the political intrigue and machinations that were enabled, nay positively required, for the game to come alive. For me it was what set the series apart from your standard hack’n’slash dungeon runner RPG. The Storyteller system for Vampire (and to a lesser extent Werewolf, more so again with Changeling) had societal structure at its core, and your place in that society defined the essence of your character; yes you were an individual, you created a unique idea of your vampiric self, but you were fundamentally a Nosferatu, a Ventrue, a Toreador within the Camarilla. Caitiff excepted. How you interacted with other players and NPCs was in a large part dictated by your clan. The whole clan structure was set up for political intrigue and infighting: a ruling clan, a clan that thinks it should be ruling, a clan of disfigured spies and informants who hate all the other clans for their ‘normality’, a clan of aesthetes who detest the spying clan for their hideous nature both in form and function. The stage was set for war, for intrigue, back-stabbing and misinformation, and the game never failed to disappoint.

Sound familiar?

If CCP can hold on to the frankly genius level of freedom that they’ve given their player base in EVE Online, whilst perhaps making the World of Darkness slightly more accessible than that of New Eden, they have the making of an absolute classic translation of the White Wolf pen and paper game to the online massively multiplayer space, because when you let people play in any way they want, they always play the part that humanity best knows how: monsters.

Incidentally, for anyone who hasn’t caught Being Human on the BBC yet, and who likes any of those early World of Darkness games, be sure to catch it on repeat, it’ll probably seem awfully familiar in places.

We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it

When I was growing up I loved Commando comics and other similar Boy’s Own tales of military derring-do. From these, I learnt the average soldier’s day consisted of rushing around, killing Germans by the score (frequently with accompanying witticisms, often food based; “hey, sausage munchers, try these pineapples” a grenade hurling Tommy might exclaim), then home in time for tea and medals. I started to get an inkling these stories might be ever so slightly romanticised (possibly not the right word, god forbid any of our lantern jawed heroes should take time out from butchering Nazis, especially for anything so unpleasant as kissing girls, ugh) when, slightly older, I started reading real soldiers’ memoirs. The most surprising thing from my battle-hungry perspective was the tiny amount of time actually spent shooting Germans compared to training, marching around, digging holes, being shelled and the other day to day activities of the average soldier.

Now, in games, there’s a similar sort of effect. Most games give the Commando comic version of war, constant fighting, never ending waves of enemy for you to shoot, and a good thing too. Medal of Honour: Trudge Around For Several Days Then Get Blown Up By A Mortar Shell Without Even Seeing An Enemy Soldier, not really an appealing prospect. Another way you can tell that a World War II FPS isn’t the height of realism is a quick bit of arithmetic. Over the course of Call of Duty 1, 2 and expansion packs, I’ve been personally responsible for wiping out approximately two and a half Axis infantry divisions, four armoured regiments and a few squadrons of dive bombers in the bits where you get hold of an anti-aircraft gun. By these measures, the invasion and liberation of continental Europe would have required a total Allied force of twenty three people, and seven of those just to fill in when others had to go AFK for their tea.

Stepping up from FPSs to a more strategic level, you get a different sort of unreality in command and control, again obviously quite intentionally; especially in the pre-radio era, if you were commanding an army you’d draft an order based on what you could make of the battlefield from observation and sketchy reports, give it to a rider, hope he found the unit you intended to give the order to without getting lost or killed on the way, and that the commander of that unit interpreted the order the way you intended, at the right time, and wasn’t in a huff with the brother-in-law he was supposed to be supporting. Though I understand a few games for real grognards do take this into account, for the most part in something like the Total War games, you order your cavalry to charge and they do, in the direction you intended.

I am struggling towards a point other than the frankly shocking revelation that computer games designed for entertainment aren’t highly accurate simulators of the horrific nature of war, honest. It’s about the other WAR: Warhammer Online. In the way the Warhammer campaign works, PvP-centric, capturing zones in order to attack fortresses and ultimately the enemy capital, it’s slightly more reminiscent of an actual war (only very slightly, of course, I’m already trivialising things in a quite disrespectful enough way as is). You need to work together, in relatively large numbers, to capture zones. If there’s more than token opposition you need organisation, people defending keeps and objectives, responding to threats as they arise, and as a grunt that can be a little dull if you’re standing around somewhere the enemy don’t attack. I’ve just spent half an hour travelling across Dragonwake, then sitting, defending a battlefield objective (making a few notes for this very post in fact, but don’t worry, having the second screen back with the new graphics card meant I was keeping an eye on the game); when Destruction did turn up there were hundreds of the buggers, and we got steamrollered in short order (“short order” – that’ll be Dwarfs, I guess). That seems to be a fairly representative sample of open RvR recently, travelling, waiting, and if you’re lucky a fight at the end of it; something like a “proper” war. There are command and control issues as well; on the plus side, to co-ordinate your attacks, there’s instant, guaranteed communication between players with /tells and custom channels, but against that… there’s instant, guaranteed communication between all players, in the form of region wide channels. Without a hierarchical structure, dictatorial leadership styles seldom going down terribly well, so you get all the associated fun debate around that. I’m not so dedicated, or indeed masochistic, to try and get involved in organisation, though, so I’m happy enough to go where I’m told by our warband leader, and have a web browser up on the second screen so I’m not too tempted to read the regional channels during downtime.

Ultimately, this could all be a bit of an issue for me in WAR. While on the “players controlling their destiny” scale it’s not up in EVE’s “holy crap, there goes the universe” league, it does need a fairly significant investment in time to really get involved, and you’re at the mercy of the number of players online for either side and what they’re up to. This weekend, cooped up with the heating on to avoid the sub-zero wilderness outside, I’ve had plenty of spare time, but with an odd hour here and there in the course of a week the PvE side of things isn’t terribly compelling, and scenarios can only keep me interested so long. I’ll have to see how things go; maybe switching to an alt to play along with a forthcoming wave of Slayers might keep things fresh until the Land of the Dead later on, or maybe I’ll take a break. Just now there’s Murder Night to be getting on with as well, more on that later.

Friday 6 February 2009

Full resolution and damn the torpedos!

Thanks to the efforts of a snowplough, a military surplus aerosan, a couple of Sno-Cats and a team of huskies, a courier finally managed to traverse the 20 miles of blinding white tundra to deliver my new graphics card, hurrah! After LotRO and some other games ran tolerably well on the old card I’d shoved in as a temporary measure, I almost had second thoughts and contemplated making do with that for a while ’til a full PC upgrade, but then firing up Grand Theft Auto IV (which I hadn’t even tried on the old card, just in case it melted and left me entirely graphic-less) it was perfectly happy to rack the resolution up to 1680×1050, so I’m much happier now (obviously that’s only with “Medium” texture quality, I believe “High” requires the as-yet rarely seen Cross-Octo-SLI-fire, where you run four HD4870X2s and four GTX295s in a single rig). Only question now is: Fallout 3 or GTAIV? (Or LotRO while Welcome Back Week is still on, or WAR?) (Or Guitar Hero?) Hmm. Spider Solitaire it is!

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Getting back to where you once belonged

With Codemasters offering a “Welcome back to Lord of the Rings Online” week, and a wave of Shire-love[1] sweeping the blag-u-spore, it would seem frankly churlish not to return to see what’s what. As an added benefit, LotRO is perfectly happy with the old X800XL graphics card that I’ve gone back to while waiting for the rather more beefy HD4850 to turn up; after all, that’s what I was using back for my first stint in Middle Earth *cue wibbly-wobbly flashback timey-wimey effects*

Ahhh, May of 2007; did we really wear clothes like that? And those haircuts! Priceless. I remember taking a tram to the game shop around release time, listening to Kadgagoogoo on my Sony Walkman cassette tape player, handing over thruppence ha’penny for the box, then negotiating sedan chair hire for the return journey avoiding the curfew of the occupying Roman forces. And some dinosaurs. I played for a couple of months but got slightly MMOG-ed out with it all, having headed straight to LotRO from a fairly long WoW stint in the Burning Crusade. I must confess nothing really sticks out in the memory from the initial run; I remember it as a nicely polished game, but one of the main things it offered was the wonderfully detailed setting, and not being a Tolkien fanatic it didn’t leap from the screen and physically wrestle me to the floor, applying a hammerlock and screaming “PLAY ME! PLAY ME!”. Perhaps a good thing on balance.

Back in the present day a couple of gigabytes of patching brought the client up to the latest version, and during half time of the Super Bowl I made a speculative attempt to log in just in case the start date was the very stroke of midnight on the quoted February 2nd (it wasn’t, unsurprisingly, but I exercised iron self discipline and didn’t head straight for the forums to declaim against such outrage). As it was, the coming of an Ice Age to parts of the UK in the form of a foot of snow (yes, we know, for some that’s a scorching summer’s day, but it’s the most we’ve seen for twenty years and a golden opportunity to go on television and complain bitterly about lack of gritting, schools being unnecessarily closed (or open, depending) and the general panic that accompanies anything outside the norm of our weather, i.e. a light drizzle) meant trying to get to the office later in the morning would obviously have been foolhardy in the extreme, so I decided to do a bit of “work” from home. And what better way to work than, err, play Lord of the Rings Online?

It’s a strange thing, picking a character back up after a couple of years. The standard MMOG conventions make it easy enough to run around and find the inventory screen and character stats and the like, but I could scarcely remember what any of the abilities of my Captain were for, or where I was questing, or what was going on really. To ease myself back in gently, with plenty of pop-up hint boxes, I decided to roll a new character and go back through the tutorial, and since I was rolling a new character I thought I’d head over to the server where the podcasting ne’erdowells and friends hang out. Some random clicking resulted in a new Loremaster and accompanying chaffinch (the game claims it’s a raven, but I know it’s Alan the Chaffinch really), though unfortunately I didn’t make it up to level 25 that afternoon (reluctantly deciding I ought to at least slide on in to work for a bit didn’t help) so I could only experience the crazy fun of them damagewanging through Book 2 vicariously.

There’s plenty of stuff I either didn’t see before, or that’s been added since; I hardly touched Monster Play first time around (and there were very few high level players to be monstered anyway), housing is new (though I doubt my meagre funds will stretch, especially with banks being so nervous about mortgages these days), there’s even a “Hobbies” tab on the character sheet. Mind you, I popped along to see a “Hobby Master” and he was clearly a fraud as his name wasn’t Simon Quinlank and is thus not the true Duke of All Hobby. Despite all that, I probably won’t be resubscribing at the end of the week (though that’s something of a snap judgement and subject to usual mind-changing). Just like last time, I’m coming to it off the back of several months in another MMOG (WAR in this case), and when I’m done there I’ll probably be looking to totally take a break from MMOGs for a while rather than picking another one up. Speaking of WAR, I haven’t really looked too deeply at all the stuff recently announced there (still sulking there are no trousers for horses on the way), but the Murder Night event is starting on Friday, which is pretty good timing to head into after trying a bit more LotRO…

[1] By which obviously I mean “people liking Lord of the Rings Online, of which the Shire is a part” rather than, say, becoming intimate with large agricultural horses. I’m worrying about the search hits now…

Monday 2 February 2009

Have I Got MMOnews For You.

Host: And the final round is “Continue the Headline”. This week, teams, it’s news that all koreans are to have 1Gbps broadband by 2012: “The central government will put up 1.3 trillion won, with the remainder coming from private telecom operators. The project is also expected to create more than 120,000 jobs…”

Melmoth: … and in other news, Blizzard has reported a considerable jump in gold farming activity, anywhere from 119,999 to 120,000 accounts are suspected of being involved.

Zoso: … in order to make up for the loss of 120,000 man-years of productivity caused by universal 1Gb broadband.

Melmoth: … meanwhile London has announced that its plan to have a single 1Gbps line for the entire country in time for the 2012 Olympics was in fact too ambitious, and they have instead chosen to simulate the effect by having a naked drunken man come round and shout obscenities through people’s letterboxes.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.