Tuesday 31 March 2009

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Host: And the final round is “Continue the Parliamentary Debate”. This week, teams, we have an Early Day Motion for you from Ed Vaizey, Shadow Minister for Culture. EDM 1097, UK Video Game Industry: “That this House notes the importance of the video games sector to the UK economy; congratulates the winners and nominees at this year’s Bafta Video Games Awards; notes in particular the success of UK developed games, including Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet, Codemasters’ Race Driver: GRID and Lionhead Studios’ Fable II, all of which won awards; applauds this recognition of the continued success and significance of video games despite the complete lack of support from Government; regrets the fact that this lack of support from Government has seen the UK fall from being the third largest producer of video games in the world to the fifth largest; and urges the Government to devise a clear and supportive strategy for the UK video games sector as part of the Digital Britain review.

Zoso: “… starting with covering MP’s MMO subscriptions under expenses (but not looking too closely into the precise breakdown of purchases in Second Life)”

Melmoth: The Prime Minister vetoed the motion, claiming that everyone knew that Shadow Ministers were a stupidly overpowered flavour of the month member of parliament.

Zoso: The games industry was described as “disappointed” that the motion had garnered six times fewer signatures than EDM1159, Railway Enthusiasts and Photography, but looked forward to rallying behind EDM1211, National Cask Ale Week.

Melmoth: A transcript of the debate follows: “Very important. Right, the House moves that we now adjourn for the day and get back to raiding Ogrimmar”.

Zoso: Altdorf, surely? I have the House down as more Destruction types.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

The end of nights we tried to die

I finally got around to finishing Fallout 3 over the weekend, only six months after most people, but still. There may be a few people waiting ’til it’s out on budget, so I’ll try and be unsatisfactorily vague and mysterious, but some spoilage may follow…

When we left our Wasteland Wanderer, all was well. Apart from the whole nuclear war business, radiation, evil mutants etc. And in the game, ah. The central plot was ticking over, but generally taking a back seat while I roamed the wasteland exploring, having a splendid time visiting museums, slaver towns and factories, killing mutants and raiders, taking their stuff, and furnishing my house. Thumbs up. Having explored a pretty big chunk of the map (though not all of it, I’m sure) I thought I’d carry on with the main story, and wandered off to Vault 87; in fairly short order there was an obligatory “I’ve been captured” sequence, an uninspired breakout from what seemed a particularly lax minimum security establishment, a conversation with President Eden that only seemed to have one outcome when I wanted to explore some different options, and another escape that mostly involved NPC ‘bots doing the hard work. At this point the plot kicks into full “we must strike RIGHT NOW!” mode, so while I believe you could continue to wander around the world in general, that wouldn’t really sit right with me. One final assault, a sort-of confrontation with the sort-of bad guy, and… game over, man, game over.

I seemed slightly superfluous to the whole business. Conversations didn’t offer a very wide variety of options, just shunting the inevitable forward, and NPC’s did most of the heavy fighting while I tagged along, used an occasional stimpack and taking pot-shot at anything I noticed that was still alive (not much, usually). Granted, the huge slogan-shouting nuke-chucking robot was brilliant and made for a thoroughly enjoyable romp in its giant stompy footsteps, but I was more a spectator than active participant. The game up to that point had been a series of neat little vignettes, of communities and individuals, of slightly crazy memorabilia collectors and mad scientists and super heroes. The whole Enclave vs Brotherhood business had teased at being an interesting set-up, especially with Eden’s radio broadcasts, but they wound up as two fairly dull bunches of people in power armour, supposedly one good and one bad, but I can’t say I saw that much difference (not in a good, moral ambiguity, difficult decisions way, more they were just both equally uninspired), so the Ultimate Final Confrontation was rather… meh. And then that very final non-decision (are you a: noble or b: a git), a bit of a recap, and b-bye.

I think I’m going to load an earlier save game, or even start again from the beginning, and explore some more, as up until Vault 87 it was a really great game, it’s a shame the end lets it down rather.

Monday 30 March 2009

What is the matter with you, Darling?

Monday 30th March. Warhammer Online. And an outbreak of brow rage has broken out among players.

A Warhammer dwarf involved in the riots.

Various disgruntled parties are fed up with sub-standard character customisation options in their MMOs, the final tipping point apparently being eyebrow colours which do not change to match hair colour in Mythic’s seminal game of hammers and war, thus limiting any sensible face/hairstyle options for the fashion concious.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer of England today.

The problem – dubbed the Darling Effect after the current Chancellor of the Exchequer – has been felt most strongly by a proportion of the Warhammer Online player population that can be best described as ‘me’. As such there will be a demonstration march on the various capital cities of the game by my dwarven Slayer, who is absolutely livid that he is forced to keep his eyebrows dark brown when every other hair on his body is dyed orange. Yes, every hair.

More details on the Darling Riots as we get them.

Reporting live for Oh MMO Emo News, I’m Melmoth Melmothson.

Sunday 29 March 2009

What sort of player am I?

I’ve decided to attempt to understand the type of MMO player that I am, in an effort to be able to balance my judgement of a game against the travelling circus of prejudices that I bring with me when I roll into town at any specific MMO.

I’ve only just begun the journey of analysis, and therefore I don’t have a lot to report as of yet, but I thought I’d document the beginnings of the journey here, partly to put the idea out there, but primarily to remind myself of what I’m supposed be attempting when I get distracted by the next shiny object tha

Sorry, shiny object.

So, having gone back to WAR to give Slayers a try, the first thing that I’ve realised is that I am very much a player who is motivated by mid-term goals. For example, getting to level ten in WAR gives you extra bag space and a couple of very useful abilities; level twenty gives you the chance to add a surname to your character and more importantly access a mount for faster ground travel. I find that with some ‘major’ level to aim for that is achievable with a relatively modest amount of effort, I can keep playing through the relatively mundane intermediate levels. Note that I rate effort over time here: I don’t necessarily need to get to my mid term goal quickly, but it needs to come before the feeling of senseless grind sets in. Also worth noting is that just gaining a level and a new ability doesn’t seem to register as much of an achievement for me, I’m not sure as to why, but perhaps it’s because this is just what every MMO seems to do, or perhaps it’s because the speed of levelling that WoW has introduced – where levels are given out like candy at children’s birthday party – has meant that there’s little sense of achievement or satisfaction to be had from gaining a level, you just shove the free candy into your mouth as fast as you can and ask for more. Therefore, even if the goal is something as fluff-like as a character surname, it’s enough – or at least it’s different enough from the norm of level gain – that I find I can aim for it and be encouraged to keep plodding away on the levelling treadmill. Of course, it would be better if I didn’t feel like I was plodding away on a treadmill at all, but that’s something to be analysed at another time.

In essence I think I’ve become acclimatised to the current trend of fast XP and even faster levels in MMOs, and therefore I need to have any number of significant intermediate goals between my character and the level cap in order to make me feel like I’ve achieved anything of worth in my questing efforts; I may try to test this theory by finding and playing an MMO with slow level gain, such that each level itself becomes an achievement worth aiming for.

Clearly I’ve got at least one foot in Bartle’s Achiever category, but this is only the beginning of my analysis, and I know for certain that I need to mix in some Explorer to realise my true MMO playing self. I hope to find out more about that self as I continue on my MMO playing journey, now that I’ve opened my eyes in an attempt to realise my prejudices and preferences it’s amazing how far I can see that the journey could potentially take me.

Friday 27 March 2009

The Chronicles of Spellborn: First Impressions II, Return of the First Impressions

I wasn’t really that interested at first, but then everyone else started doing it, and it all looked so wild and exciting that I just couldn’t resist the peer pressure. Yes, I’ve started hanging around coffee houses where the love is frothy and the milk is cheap and engaging in illicit skiffle sessions, slapping a tea chest bass like a good ‘un. Ha, not really, I confounded your expectations and from thence the humour arose. And then I got off the bus, ah. And installed the Chronicles of Spellborn to see if my first impressions jibe with m’colleague’s.

So! Character creation. Pick from one of three archetypes, one of two races (Human or Strange Hoofy Thing), male or female, and a body type (male human: Vaguely Normal, Pie Eating Sumo Wrestler, Freakish Bodybuilder Parody and Comedy Skelington; female human: Bit On The Skinny Side, Vaguely Normal or Ate Any Pies Leftover From The Male Human. The strangely-hoofed Daevi have a single physique but varying veins. Or possibly blue tattoos.) Head selection offers a variety of faces and hairstyles, and slightly more unusually for a MMOG a choice of voices. Your chest and upper arms can be adorned with a variety of quite nifty tribal-style tattoos (though you can’t seem to change the colour of these, you’re stuck with brown), and then it’s on to clothing, armour and weapons.

Clothing comprises shirt, gloves, pants and shoes over which armour can be added to the head, shoulders, chest, gauntlets, belt, thighs and shins. It’s definitely a step (or several) over the majority of MMOGs that dump you into a tatty old robe or shirt to start off; while Melmoth is right that it doesn’t rival City of Heroes, there being only five or six complete outfits so everyone still looks broadly similar, the mix n’ match effects can be quite neat, and everything can be coloured to taste albeit with a slightly muted palette (quite possibly a deliberate design to avoid the starting areas looking like they’d been decorated by toddlers vomiting up packs of crayons and poster paints). Weapon-wise, you pick a melee weapon (a nice array of axes, swords, daggers and maces) and a ranged weapon (not quite such a wide array of bows).

All of this is purely cosmetic, unless I am more vastly mistaken than a man who thinks Hillaire Belloc is still alive. I’m not *quite* sure how I feel about it in a fantasy game; I’m a huge fan of the approach in CoH, but it’s in the nature of superheroes that appearance doesn’t always correspond directly to powers. I’ll have to see how it works out during actual gameplay in Spellborn, it’s nice to have options in character creation at least, and there’s certainly ample scope for expanding things through loot or microtransactions.

With my pie-eating spiky-be-armoured warrior togged up, it was on to the tutorial. Fairly standard stuff introducing movement, jumping, poking things with a pointed stick, everything the good adventurer needs, and not too onerous if you already know what the WASD keys do (“make the letters w, a, s or d appear on screen, duh!”), soon enough you’re out into the world proper.

Whether from playing at a quiet time, or the server being in a particularly good mood, or maybe just my frankly supernatural MMOG Skillz (note: it’s not the last one), I found the starting area smoother than lots of the other impressions I read; no self-healing rubber-banding Shoaten (seriously, if the wolves are called “Wolves” and the bears are called “Bears”, calling boars “Shoaten” just seems like a way of trying to dodge time-to-boar) and little competition for mobs. I ran a couple of quests, wandered in to the town of Hawksmouth, and left it there for the night at a mighty level 3 (Fame Level 3, that is; I want to live forever, and quite possibly learn how to fly (high)), so this is a very cursory glance.

From playing, for various lengths of time, Star Wars Galaxies (post-NGE/CU), Tabula Rasa and particularly Hellgate: London, I’ve found MMOG/FPS hyrbid combat systems that involve aiming worked pretty well for ranged combat, not always melee, but I didn’t have too much trouble stabbing the wildlife of Spellborn, switching to mouselook for combat worked pretty well. The revolving skillbar, it’s a bit early to pass judgement on with only the fairly limited selection of initial abilities to populate it, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. As Melmoth mentioned, having regular skill cooldowns on top of it is a little disappointing though.

A quick mention for some emotes: they mostly seem to be audio-based, so from a purely physically theatrical perspective there was nothing to match Conan’s /emote hugefish_m, but /jazz is rather fun, and bonus marks for /fashionpolice.

I’m not terribly tempted to keep going, though. I think that’s mostly ‘cos I’m happy enough keeping WAR ticking over for a bit of MMOGing now and again while I try and get some time in on Fallout 3, Empire: Total War, Grand Theft Auto IV and anything else I’ve been stacking up for a while (maybe some tinkering with the Architect features in CoH), I’m not looking for another MMOG at the moment. All in all it seemed a promising enough start apart from the zone-wide chat’s mix of incoherent drivel and idiocy, but that’s zone-wide starter area chat for you; with (as I understand it) the “Freemium” (ugh) model allowing you to play up to level 7 before paying, if a 3Gb download isn’t an issue and you’re after a fantasy MMOG to play, give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? (as the Doctor Pepper marketing people might have said before they read zone-wide chat).

Thursday 26 March 2009

Sir Not-A-Lot.

Wimple-Smythe: “… O House of love! O desolate, pale flower beaten by the rain!”

<Polite gentle applause>

Exceedingly posh host: “Terrence Wimple-Smythe there with a delightfully delicate reading of Oscar Wilde’s La Bella Donna Della Mia Mente. Bravo. And now Melmoth Melmothson, with a self-composed piece titled ‘How Now Down Dwarrow’.

Melmoth: “I like…

<Spot lights fire-up, a bunch of dwarven dancers burst onto the stage>

big beards and I can not lie
You other brothers can’t deny
That when a dwarf walks in with his itty bitty pace
And a hairy rug on his face
You get sprung, wanna pull out your tough
‘Cause you notice that beard was stuffed
Deep in the belt he’s wearing
I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring
Oh shorty, I wanna group with you
And take your picture
My guild-mates tried to warn me
But that beard you got makes me so horny
Ooh, Rug-o’-matted-hair
You say you wanna get in my Guild?
Well, use me, use me
‘Cause you ain’t that average groupie
I’ve seen them dancin’
To hell with romancin’
He’s gruff, tough,
Got it goin’ like he’s turbo buffed
I’m tired of magazines
Sayin’ goatee beards are the thing
Take the average dwarf fan and ask him clear
He gotta pack much beard
So, guildies! (Yeah!) Guildies! (Yeah!)
Has your dwarf got the beard? (Hell yeah!)
Tell ’em to shake it! (Shake it!) Shake it! (Shake it!)
Shake that healthy beard!
Dwarfy got rug!

Word to your dvergar.”

<Silence; followed by the sound of someone’s monocle popping out.>

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Stone Free

So m’colleague’s Chronicles of Spellborn impressions drew a bit of interest, and not wanting to be left out I thought I’d go and take a look to offer my own devastating insights, like “it’s got hats in it!” Not having the speediest connection, though, the 3Gb download is still crunking away in the background, so initial thoughts: the downloader has a bar on it that goes up, which is good. I like bars that go up.

While waiting for the download I went for a bit of a potter around the publisher’s website, www.acclaim.com, which offers a range of Free To Play MMOGs. Acclaim, and the logo on their website, rang a bell from a way back alongside names like Ocean and Midway, but from a bit of Googling it turns out that Acclaim went bust, and the name was bought by this Acclaim (usual it’s-only-Wikipedia caveats apply, though the articles seemed fairly plausible at the time and didn’t claim “Acclaim Games are best known for appearing as Norm in the 1997 Twix adverts”). I don’t think I’m quite in the target market for most of their offerings, but anyone who’s followed my other posts can probably spot one game that piqued my interest…

Yes, Ponystars! The game I’ve been waiting for! Within no time, I had a pink-hued offspring of a Fire Pony and a Love Pony ready to… erm… hang on, someone must’ve hacked my account, that was never me, I’ve never even heard of this Ponystars of which you speak you can’t prove a thing.

No, having something of a penchant for fake plastic moshing, Rock Free looked worth a shot. Currently in beta, it’s a Flash-based Massively Multiplayer Guitar Hero-esque Press-Keys-As-Circles-Move-Down-A-Fretboard-Em-Up. The song list should be familiar for players of the first few Guitar Hero games, plenty of classic rock in there, songs being streamed as you go (a bit of a problem if you’re downloading 3Gb of Spellborn at the same time in the background). The default keys of 1-5 for the frets and cursor keys to strum are configurable, which gives you the same options as Frets on Fire: play normally on the keyboard (boring!), remap the frets to F1-F5 and hold your keyboard like a plastic guitar peripheral (much better, though tricky with a G15), or sort out a genuine fake plastic guitar to give key inputs; I dug out the old bluetooth dongle and got my Wii guitar hooked up to it via GlovePIE.

If you haven’t got an actual Guitar Hero/Rock Band game, or have a desperate desire to compete against more than one other player simultaneously, it might be fun, but naturally enough a free Flash based game can’t really compete with full plastic instrument-y fun, so having picked up the Wii guitar I wandered off to play the Hendrix DLC that’s just come out in Guitar Hero World Tour instead while the download ticks away. 1Gb left now…

Thought for the day

With GamerDNA and Raptr automatically tweeting what you’ve been playing, and a widget that posts your Twitter feed on your blog, and your Facebook status automatically updated by your MP3 player which in turn is tweeted onto your blog and fed into a Spotify playlist, and a summary of your Twitter, LastFM and gaming activities automatically posted to Livejournal every 24 hours, why all the outcry over the government monitoring social networking sites? If they just offered a plug-in that automatically Tweets any terrorist or criminal activities, people would sign up in droves…

@ScaryGeoff went mugging, TWOCing and committing criminal damage for 3.2 hours

April Fools’ Day head start begins today.

KiaSA Industries is pleased to announce that those of you who took part in the Crazy Foo’ live event throughout all of last week, and who qualify for the head start for our latest Real Life[TM] patch, can now access April Fools’ Day content a week early.

  • Avoid the annoyances of a day of unfunny April Fools’ jokes by holding your April Fools’ Day a full week ahead of other RL players!
  • Genuinely surprise friends and family by springing April Fools’ pranks on them up to a week before they would be expecting it.
  • Be the first, be the best, be the premier April Fool!

We hoped you all enjoyed the Crazy Foo’ live event, and we have plenty of other live events planned for the future, in fact look for an early access head start on Easter Egg collecting for the end of April!

Tuesday 24 March 2009

The Chronicles of Spellborn: First impressions.

I played The Chronicles of Spellborn for the first at the weekend and was left disappointed, as I frequently find myself to be these days when it comes to MMOs. TCoS is a game that has been on my radar since way back in early 2007, and I’ve been quietly following its progress ever since. I was initially excited by its potential for character customisation and its innovative take on the MMO skill bar combined with FPS-twitch-like combat, based as it is on the Unreal game engine. I was, therefore, interested to see how these concepts had been realised in the game, and so I downloaded the open beta client this past weekend and had a look around.

I had visions from the promotional videos which I’d seen that character customisation was aiming for City of Heroes levels of flexibility, and while admittedly it’s easy, with a little imagination, to create a unique looking character, this effect is really produced through the smoke and mirrors of combinatorics. Essentially there are only a few art assets that one can pick from, in two outfit layers: one clothing and one armour; the fact that one can specify individually each body location’s clothing and armour type (or indeed none at all), means that there are statistically a large number of overall outfits that can be created. Fundamentally though, there are a pool of five or six sets of matching armour available, and the same of clothing, and one can mix and match from each set to create a unique look. It’s certainly a more flexible system than the vast majority of MMOs offer, but City of Heroes set the standard for character customisation, and if you’re going to have it as one of your selling points you really should be aiming to at the least get close to that. It’s certainly not a subscription breaking issue, and there may in fact be more customisation options available as unlocks as you progress through the game, but it’s something that fell short of my expectation based upon their gaming hype. I have no problem if they’ve taken out ninety percent of the outfits and decided to sell them via micro-transactions, but they should be far more explicit that this is the case.

Am I at fault for setting my expectations against the output of their hype machine? I used to think that maybe I was; I’m under no illusion that the promotion of these games is almost entirely undiluted finger-waggling horseshitery, as an MMO developer tries to build a critical mass of community around its forthcoming product. I should take it all with a pinch of salt, but lately I’ve come to realise that the amount of money these companies spend on marketing could be spent on improving their game such that it’s not an embarrassing bug ridden piece of half-realised promises and pie-in-the-sky design ideals. I find that it’s much better, for me, if I take the marketing of these companies at face value, and if they don’t live up to the tenet of what they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of $monetaryunit preaching to the masses, then it’s a fairly safe bet that there won’t be any substance to the game in the long run either.

Disappointment set in fairly early on in my experience when the starter area mobs started bugging-out and returning to their spawn point with full health half way through a fight… Oh yes, the game is in open beta, and the second mob I attacked in the starter area got bored with my circle-strafing around it in the manner that one is positively encouraged to do by the twitch-like nature of the combat system, and decided to wander off and reset its health bar. But not its aggro. So once it had regained full health, it came charging back at me again. And then it did it again. Either its a really really ‘why the hell didn’t you catch this in closed beta or QA testing?’ bug, or TCoS has boars with self-healing properties that would make Wolverine cry ‘nerf!’. For the record it wasn’t actually a boar, it was a unique creature of the Spellborn universe, I think it was technically called a Notaboar Honestguv. Another joyful ‘feature’ which I discovered is that the combat system has range detection, such that if you’re not standing close enough to the mob you won’t hit it. Fair enough, same with any MMO, except with most standard MMOs your abilities won’t fire if you’re out of range, in fact they’ll tell you as much, whereas in TCoS you can happily swing away and be hitting nothing but air. Again, this isn’t a problem, I’ve already established the twitch combat heritage that TCoS has touted from the outset. What seems strange is that I can be swinging away like a mad thing at the Notaboars, after a short time notice that its health bar is not reducing, think ‘Ooops, I’m too far away’, and move in closer. However, all this time, my character’s health bar has been reducing. So apparently these self-healing Notaboars also have snouts with a melee reach greater than my character’s arm with a three foot sword attached to the end of it. Strangely formed creatures of the Spellborn universe or nonsensical bug? You decide!

Of course it’s just as I’m wondering whether it was these seemingly all powerful starter-area Notaboars that were the ancient formidable force that tore the world of Spellborn asunder and shattered it into the many shards of rock that now float around in the deadness of space, that I see a Mage class character, of the same level as my Rogue, soloing about five or six of them at once. So now I’m pondering as to whether there might be a little class disparity as well. It is, however, open beta, and therefore all of these issues are there to be fixed before release. Honestly though, I do find it increasingly disconcerting that MMO developers can so consistently get to open beta with issues as basic and easily identifiable as these.

I did enjoy the Skill Bar[TM] – now with rotating action! It’s a genuine stab at, if not outright innovation, then at least taking skill bars to the next level, as it were. I think the bar design works; it is an interesting concept; it adds a level of complexity to building a character that is akin to deck building in Magic: The Gathering, and is possibly what Blizzard was initially hoping to create with their talent point system. So a quick description of what the bar is and does. Take your standard MMO action bar – a row of slots where you can put character skills for ease of activation – and then stack a bunch more on top. If you take the net of this shape and fold it around, you can make an approximation of a cylinder, as you rotate the cylinder around you encounter the next action bar in the sequence. So what happens is this: you draw your weapon and your skill cylinder pops up at the bottom of the screen, you then initiate combat by activating one of the skills on this first row. As soon as you activate a skill, the skill cylinder rotates to the next row and you, potentially, have a new set of skills to pick from. Eventually you rotate all the way back around to the first row, and the sequence begins again. So player ability lies not only in twitch-combat skills, but in the thought process behind building your ‘deck’ of skills. Anything you put on the first row will not be available again until the skill cylinder has completed a full rotation. You can duplicate a skill on the next row if you so choose, but you then give up a space that might be used for a different and perhaps more useful skill. For example, you might have an opening skill that debuffs the target on your first skill row in the first column, the following rows have standard attack abilities, but when you come back to the first row you may still be in combat and not be able to use the opener skill, so you might also have added a standard attack in the second column, thus allowing you to activate an ability and thus have the skill cylinder continue on its rotational journey. In this way you can set up a sequence of attacks across multiple rows and columns based on the rotation of the cylinder after each attack, but you need to balance this against the fact that you might need a situational ability at any point in time, so provision for such emergency measures is also something you have to weigh up – whether it’s worth dedicating a slot on the skill bar to something that you may or may not need at the time it crops up in the attack cycle. Think of it as introductory programming for drum-memory computers.

It’s a clever system and I like it lot, but the natural flow of the design is somewhat thrown out of the window by the use of an old MMO crutch mechanic which one would have hoped had been eliminated precisely due to the nature of the design of the rotating skill bar system, and that is the cooldown counter. The inclusion of cooldowns on skills potentially adds another layer of complexity for the spreadsheet wielding crowd who like to work out optimum skill rotation timings in World of Warcraft and the like, and I can see that the reason they were added is due to the fact that you can place a skill on each row of the rotating skill bar and thus, if it was a powerful skill, sit there spamming it to your heart’s content. However, it seems to me that the timed rotation of the skill bar lends itself perfectly naturally to being a built-in cooldown, all you would need to do is restrict the number of times you could place a skill on separate bars. Say it takes eight seconds to make a complete rotation through all skill bars, if you can only place a skill that it powerful enough to require an eight second cooldown on any one row, then you have your cooldown built in. You could split cooldowns further, every other row, every two rows etc. However, it may be that the deck building system of the skills may warrant having a skill with an eight second cooldown on more than one row, because you may use it at one point in your attack cycle, or choose to wait a while and use it in a different point in the attack cycle. If the system really is that deep, and can be fully utilised by players in a game where they need to be looking at the screen in order to maximise the twitch-based game-play, and yet still expected to watch cooldowns on a rotating skill bar, then I tip my hat to Spellborn International. For me though, the interface was becoming difficult to monitor whilst fighting when using only five or six skills in total, but you can potentially have a maximum of six rows with five skills in each. It’s a system that wants to be elegant, but I think its reliance on old MMO design elements has broken it in practise when combined with a first person targeting system.

I’ve experienced all of this through only the starter area, and people may decry my passing judgement based on such a small section of the game, but let me explain why starter areas are so important to me and why they are the simple Go or No Go flag by which an MMO earns my subscription or not. Starter areas are the filter through which all of your players will pass, like a prism filtering a beam of light, all players pass into the starter area and then refract out in a wide band to the various content that your game provides, be this quest regions restricted by level, game-play sections – PvE, PvP, Raiding – or various other segregations based upon your overarching design philosophy. How your starter area refracts your players will determine what paths they take, it colours their approach to your game, if you will. The starter area is important; where progression content and end-game content are what will ultimately keep players subscribing for years to come, the starter area will often determine whether you get those subscriptions at all. That is not to say that many players will be instantly turned off of your game by a poor starter area, but they will have been coloured by it, and the colour will be jade. Jaded as they are, many players will continue on, willing the game to prove them wrong and to provide them with the experience that they have been hoping for, but when they reach that inevitable level – 20 in many MMOs, 30 in others, but you know the level I mean – the grind will set in, the world begins to lose its lustre, and they will see it as the culmination of problems that they saw from the very beginning. They will feel that all the warning signs were there and that they can’t ignore them any longer, and they will leave. World of Warcraft had a horrible grind, lessened only somewhat in recent patches, in the mid-to-late forties; why did so many people stick with that game and ‘push’ through this hump and on to the end-game? I honestly believe it is because they have been filtered by the incredibly strong starter areas the game provides, and that the colour in this case is rose. Rose-tinted, they look back on the good times of their early levels and they give the game the benefit of the doubt that this is indeed only a hump, and that once they crest the brow of it they will be on the downward slope to enjoyable times once again. Go back to the starter areas in WoW and look around, observe the vast amount of content, the cities, the quest chains, the zones, the level of detail in everything, all of which mostly lies untouched these days. It seems like such a waste to have created this vast amount of content that was passed through only briefly, but that effort has been repaid through its contribution to retaining the huge subscriber base that the game now enjoys.

A thought: what if Blizzard had chosen to have only one starter area for the Horde, and one for the Alliance. What impact would it have had on the game? I think it would have a greater effect than many people would believe. WoW would still have been a success, the game is far more than just its starter areas. But the loyalty that it commands, the reason people just keep going back? That seed was sown in that first little village you ever entered, whose inhabits were having a problem with some critters that they needed you to kill ten of.

In summary, TCoS feels exactly like Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea and Auto Assault did when they were in open beta. A unique, visually impressive setting (which would be made that much better in this instance with the addition of a v-sync option so that I don’t have to look at two separate screen-torn versions of the world any time I pan faster than one degree per fortnight) wrapped around a game that is trying to do something different but which fails to convince me that it has at its core a substantial foundation of solid game-play to back up its ambitions. Like the aforementioned MMOs, it will most likely capture a small core enthusiast audience which is large enough to keep the game ticking over with a modest level of development and bug fixes.

For me, it’s another MMO for the ‘Non-starter, but hope I’m proven wrong’ pile, alas.

Monday 23 March 2009

When MMO conversation is heard out of context, part 1.

Or: Another reason not to talk about MMOs at dinner parties.

“… yes, my wife is quite the convert and enjoys regular group sessions down in that dungeon.”

“… and my youngest son was playing with a priest the other day, he said that they just had great fun buffing each other over and over.”

“… dwarf was thrusting away with this enormous purple weapon, much to the squealing delight of my girlfriend. She said afterwards that she couldn’t believe the amount of penetration it had, although that did mean the whole thing was over rather quickly as nothing could take a beating like that for very long.”

Have I Got MMOnews For You.

Host: And the final round is “Continue the Headline”. This week, teams, it’s news that MMO developer MindArk has been granted preliminary approval for a real banking license: “MindArk is going to be just like a bank in the real world: it will be backed by Sweden’s $60,000 deposit insurance, offer interest-bearing accounts for its clients, feature direct deposit options, let players pay bills online, and apparently will offer loans to customers.”

Zoso: “… reports of a £600,000 per year pension scheme for top raiding guild leaders have yet to be confirmed.”

Melmoth: “… after years of playing with virtually real money in the real world, stockbrokers across the globe are now looking forward to being able to play with really virtually real virtual real money in real virtual worlds.”

Zoso: “… fears that MindArk could be susceptible to toxic mortgages were allayed when they revealed that they had Sonic Corruptors standing by ready to boost toxic resistance.”

Melmoth: “… In other news, a suspected category 6 earthquake in central Europe turned out to be a false alarm; investigations into the disturbance showed it to be the collective orgasm of EVE Online’s recent POS exploiters as they all simultaneously signed up for MindArk’s flagship title Entropia Universe.”

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Plus ça change.

You know, Mythic, having come back to WAR to give it a second chance after the tempting lure of being able to play a Slayer, it’s hard for someone like me to stick around when, after all this time, your game STILL doesn’t remember the position of my chat windows, such that I have to move them every time I log in.

Minor things like this make your game look disproportionately shoddy and unprofessional, because they’re in the user’s face, and they’re there every time that user logs in.

I should be playing your game and not sitting here contemplating writing an AddOn to fix such a stupid thing.

Friday 20 March 2009

Thought for the day.

Like finding an unused character name, players in City of Heroes now have a new challenge in trying to be original, the recently released Issue 14 Architect system.

If it is indeed anything like the nigh-on impossible task of finding a half-decent name which isn’t already taken, then I predict that my idea for an invasion of Paragon City by hyper-intelligent space bagels whose sole purpose is to steal the entire world’s supply of cutlery, would not only have already been implemented, but would appear to have been the second mission arc ever implemented in Architect, and of which there are now four hundred and seventy six varying imitations.

The first mission ever created was, of course, to breakout the Bawdy Buxom Beauties of the planet Bustulon VI from the prison of the evil Doctor Whopper Chopper.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Analogies To Illustrate MMOG Concepts: Part 1

Massively Multiplayer Online Games can be strange and curious beasts, with concepts and jargon impenetrable to the outsider. Even those familiar with the genre can benefit from taking especially esoteric ideas and equating them with normal, everyday situations we can all recognise, so to kick off KiaSA’s “Analogies To Illustrate MMOG Concepts”, the MMOG itself:

A MMOG is like a book. Not a normal book, though, a book where you don’t have to read all the pages, and where you can read the chapters in a different order. And some chapters might take really, really long to read, and you need to read them loads of times until you understand them. And it’s not just a book, but a game as well. A game-like book. Like a Fighting Fantasy book. But with loads of other players, all reading the same book, only maybe different bits of the same book, or maybe the same bit as you, and some people read much quicker than others, and other people spend much longer reading. Imagine that, a Fighting Fantasy book with loads of people reading it, but on a computer, and instead of pages there are graphical representations of the players and the monsters. Can you imagine that at all? A MMOG is like if someone made a film of the game that was like a Fighting Fantasy book, only it’s a film you don’t have to watch in order, they put it out on DVD so you could go backwards and forwards and skip to different bits of it. If someone made a game where you could control a person who had the remote control of a DVD player with that film in it, that’s what a MMOG is like. If the person watching the film is a cowboy. And they own an otter.

(The Incredible) Hulk Song

My iPod just shuffled around to a track I thought a few comic fans might enjoy: When Bears Attack – (The Incredible) Hulk Song. When Bears Attack were recommended by an old colleague who had a sibling in the band (or a sibling who knew someone in the band, or a sibling who knew someone who liked the band, or a sibling who knew someone who liked someone who’d once seen one of the band’s CDs and thought the artwork quite interesting but not actually got around to buying it, I forget the precise details). I’ve had one of their EPs kicking around my MP3 collection for a while featuring The Hulk Song and the very-prescient-in-the-current-financial-climate TSB (The Mark of the Beast), but prompted by the terrifying screams of the Hulk I wandered off to Google where, in a bad news/good news scenario, their website revealed that they’ve called it a day, but there are lots of songs available, so I’m off to check out the rest of their stuff.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Kiasa Top Tips.

Involve your non-gaming friends and family in the MMO Experience by randomly calling them on their mobile phones at the most inconvenient time and offering to sell them something they already have plenty of for a low low price.

Enhance the experience further by phrasing your sentences like Yoda and pronouncing every other word incorrectly!

Yours farmingly,

Goldie Sellars.

Monday 16 March 2009

Reviewlet: Burnout Paradise, Castle Crashers and Braid.

It would appear that the graphics card in my gaming PC has decided that it is bored with the day to day drudgery of producing modest DirectX 9 compatible graphics, and has left to go and live in a commune in the forest with my old printer and that really stupid Linksys router I had that would always drop the Internet connection whenever a download reached ninety eight percent complete. Indeed, my graphics cards has decided to stick it to The Man, has abandoned the rat race life of 3D graphics, and now spends its days printing small tie-dyed Space Invader icons all across my screen. “No maaaan, Direct X is, like, bad juju. OpenGL is baaaad karma. Here, check out these totally rad icons I made in all the colours of the rainbow. They came to me in a dream, man! You wanna toke on this? All right, man, but I’m telling you, it’s good shit.”

So while I wait for a replacement to arrive I thought I’d take stock of what I’ve been playing recently that is not PC related. In this first instalment: Burnout Paradise, Castle Crashers and Braid.

Burnout Paradise: If you don’t know about Burnout Paradise, then you haven’t been a regular listener to the Van Hemlock and Jon podcast. Shame on you! I’d played an earlier incarnation of Burnout on the GameCube and had enjoyed it enough that, combined with the constant media praise for the ‘Next Gen’ edition of the driving series, and perhaps slightly more to do with the fact that I found a copy for sale at a disgustingly cheap price in a local electrical store, I decided to grab the Xbox 360 version and give it a try. So what is Burnout Paradise? One could say that it is a driving game, but that would be a lie. It would be more accurate to say that the primary single player experience is actually a very detailed, very gruelling, hardcore orienteering simulator. Orienteering at one hundred and seventy five miles per hour in super-charged V8s. The subtitle for the game should be Vin Diesel’s Extreme Orienteering Simulator. There are various events within Burnout Paradise, but I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of them are a point-to-point race of some sort; some of these events are straight races, where others require you to avoid being taken down (run off the road so that you crash) too many times by a set of pursuers who are wolf-like in their relentless harrying. The problem is that unless you know the roads off by heart you have to rely on your map and compass to get you from start to destination; I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble reading a map when I’m stationary at the side of the road and not in a hurry, let alone trying to decide whether I need to exit at the next turnpike whilst driving twice the posted speed limit, on the wrong side of the road, airborne halfway through an advertising hoarding, and trying to land such that I avoid the other racers who are determined to run me into the oncoming traffic. Essentially then, you’re expected to learn the layout of the city, to find the shortcuts and the crazy ways to literally cut corners, and commit them all to memory so that you need never experience that sinking feeling in your gut when you suddenly realise that you haven’t looked at the road for a good five to ten seconds, and you peer out from behind your map only to see nothing but sky. And then ground. Sky. Ground. Sky, ground, sky, ground… ‘the captain has illuminated the safety belt sign, please place your seat backs in the upright position and stow your tray in the seat in front of you in preparation for landing. Thank you.’.

I take it back, Burnout Paradise is an orienteering simulator only so long as it takes you to memorise the layout of the not inconsiderably sized city. For example, the stunt events require you to know where all the decent ramps and drifting places are with respect to your starting spot, so again it’s all about learning the area and knowing the optimal routes to take. Perhaps a better subtitle for the game would be Vin Diesel’s Extreme London Taxi Driver Knowledge Simulator, or Vin Diesel’s Bastard Hard Brain Training.

The game looks gorgeous and the physics simulation is excellent such that there is genuinely great pleasure to be had in just ‘free burning’ around the city, trying to learn the roads and find all the hidden jumps and shortcuts; it’s like a giant adventure playground for the Mad Max generation, and never does this become more clear than in the multiplayer achievement mode. Having tagged along with Jon’s Tuesday Console Club for a session of multiplayer achievement mayhem, where the game mode is a cooperative effort to try to complete various tasks set by the game – drift for a cumulative distance contributed to by all players, all players must achieve a barrel roll in a specific zone of the city, any one player must achieve a set amount of airtime from a jump, to name but a few – I have seen the level of effort that has gone into creating something that is more than just a simple arcade driving game. With Burnout Paradise, Criterion have created a driving sandbox game, it’s Elder Scrolls in American Muscle cars, and as such would have been worth its full retail price for the amount of time I will undoubtedly invest in it before I get bored. At the current clearance price it’s ridiculous value for money.

Castle Crashers: Ren & Stimpy meets Golden Axe. Need I say anything more? Expect lots of subtle yet childish humour and old-school arcade game-play with the respective rapid ramp-up of difficulty that coin-op machines would employ to keep you feeding them regular snacks of cupro-nickel. There’s a hat-tip RPG element in the form of points gained per level that you can invest in various stats in order to customise your character towards your preferred style of fighting. There are upgradable weapons; spells; potions and there are enemies. Lots and lots of enemies. There is one excellent tactic granted to you in order to deal with the vast relentless tide of foes that you face, and that is the fact that you can bring three of your friends along for the fight. The graphics are crisp, the animations traditional but fun, and the audio is that perfect blend of catchy tunes that bleed into the game without taking over from the arcade-homage sound effects. A very enjoyable, easily accessible, side scrolling hack’n’slash arcade game of the old school. It’s available on the XBox Arcade, and for me the only thing it lacks is a backing ambience of Penny-Go-Round coin pushers, an oppressively dark and smoky atmosphere, and a strange emo kid called Danny who stands slightly too close while looking over your shoulder as you try to play.

Braid: You remember that girl you knew at school? You do. The stunningly pretty one who all the boys fancied and half the girls did too, and they all waxed lyrical about how fantastic she was. Remember your disappointment when it turned out that no matter how much you or anyone else loved her, they would never be able to love her more than she already loved herself? Braid is what would happen if that girl was sucked into the Tron machine and transferred into the digital realm.

Braid is pretty. Braid is clever. Braid loves itself utterly, and no clearer is this in evidence than in its supposedly deep and meaningful story. Braid wants to be seen as high art, and Braid thinks it is too good for the likes of you.

What Braid actually appears to be is a delightful little Marioesque platformer combined with puzzle elements generated using the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time time mechanic. The puzzles are devious and clever in their implementation, and this is the one thing that I think Braid brings to the table that makes it special and perhaps more than just another amalgamation of game-play elements slapped together from existing games. Braid is an accomplished game, it presents a coherent, attractive, and innately comprehensible game world. It’s just such a shame that it clearly thinks that it is far more of a revelation than it actually is.

Saturday 14 March 2009


The Inevitable City is something of a disappointment, as tourist destinations go. Proving myself as hopeless at punditry as usual, after last week’s alarm clock siege Order have popped in for tea, biscuits and mass pillaging twice more; Destruction don’t seem to be putting up so much resistance in fortresses, whether they’re not so interested with zone flips being more frequent, or whether it’s because there’s an awful lot of Choppas rampaging through tiers 1 and 2 I’m not sure. Their cause isn’t particularly helped by the Chaos fortress lord frequently mtaking it upon himself to go for a bit of a wander, rather than staying in his well defended room, which was how we found ourselves taking The Maw surprisingly easily at prime time on a Friday night, and carrying on to the Inevitable City courtesy of a previously locked Elf fortress.

Same drill as last time: several instances of the City, up to 48 players per side in each. A couple had heavy Destruction presence, a couple had almost none, and initially I ended up in one of the latter. Two stage public quest: firstly kill 150 defenders (NPCs, if no players around), hold two objectives, set fire to 50 things (mostly by clicking glowing crates and tables). Secondly, a Lord spawns accompanied by four Heroes, and you have eight minutes to kill them all.

With no player opposition the first stage of the PQ is trivially easy but tedious, it’s tempting to slack off and let everyone else do laps killing random mobs, but of course then it just takes longer. The second stage requires a touch of co-ordination. It’s imperative not to drag the Lord or any Hero too far, or they reset. A debuff from the Lord prevents healers resurrecting other players, so you need to respawn and make the fairly short run if you die, rather than spamming chat channels begging for a rez. Finally, everyone on our server is under strict instructions not to use taunt or detaunt powers, it’s suggested they cause the Lord to employ a particularly nasty AoE attack. I don’t know for sure if that’s the case or if it’s one of those MMOmyths that spring up, but still. With a co-ordinated warband it’s probably also fairly trivial, each mob is tanked, dps focus fire on a mob at a time, and Bob’s your chaotically mutated uncle. With a PUG, with members covering a range of levels and varying levels of gear, it’s a bit more challenging, especially when it takes a good few minutes of sustained DPS just to bring the Lord down, so almost any reset after the first couple of minutes won’t leave you enough time. Still, after two fairly close attempts, getting down to just the Lord on around 25% health as the final seconds agonisingly ticked away resetting everything back to the mob farming drudgery of stage one, everyone just about had the hang of not running away, and our instance took the Lord down, hurray! Our reward (after distributing the bags)? To do stage one all over again, hurray! Wait, no, not hurray…

Now bear in mind this is with almost no player opposition at all. If you happen to get an instance with heavy defence, stage one of the PQ is much more interesting as the two sides have the same objectives. Blood flows in the streets, objectives change hands in bitter assaults, it’s a little like a 48-a-side scenario on a grand scale. That’s good. Stage two of the PQ, though, is a bit tough. If two pick-up warbands were *just* able to defeat the final boss within the time limit at the third attempt, imagine how much harder that would have been with a balanced party of Destruction joining in the fun, let alone anything approaching parity in numbers.

If you can “lock” the first part of the Inevitable City, I believe you progress to another public quest, with even tougher mobs at the end. To lock the city, though, it seems you have to complete that first public quest again, and again, and again, and… well, you could also do the Inevitable City scenario. If it popped. Which it didn’t while I was there.

So in the excitement stakes, it’s somewhat lacking. Never mind, though, MMOG players will do any old crap for hours on end so long as you dangle something shiny in front of them, and that’s the point of pillaging isn’t it? Four successful fortress assaults and another four hours in the Inevitable City, I’d hired a wagons to haul all the lovely loot away, and cleared plenty of space in the bank vault to store it. Net loot result from all that?
– One level 36 green axe (dropped from a player, won via a Greed roll)
– One level 40 green cloak, from a green bag for completing the IC public quest

And… that’s it. Luckily the wagoneers took the axe in payment, or I would’ve been down on the whole deal.

OK, I exaggerate a touch. While running between walls during a fortress attack, a Conqueror Keysash happened to drop from some random mob and I won a Need roll for it, but still; nothing from the Inevitable City itself. It’s a subject considerably covered around the blag-u-spore (f’rexample at The Greenskin), but worth reiterating, in terms of loot the WAR endgame can be most frustrating. You’re either competing with anything from 20-100 people on the roll for a few decent bags, or going down the WoW route of running instances and hoping bosses drop something for your class. Tokens have been mentioned for loot in the upcoming Land of the Dead zone which sounds a bit more hopeful, as with the Inevitable City not offering much in the way of fun or loot I’m going to need a new holiday destination.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

PC or NPC, that is the question.

The Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 edition book Savage Species was a blessing for me. It wasn’t so much the rules for creating monsters as player characters, those had been skulking around in the back of supplements, lurking in monster manuals and slithering between the pages of Dragon magazine since before man could roll a dice, and were now passed secretly between players, like forbidden knowledge or those cheese football snacks the DM had banned because he could never get their crushed remains out of his carpet. No, it was the book itself that was the blessing, gave its blessing even, it let players know that it was ok to want to play as a bugbear, a githyanki or a stone giant. The book was like Alcoholics Anonymous for players who have an addiction to playing aberrant races.

“Hi my name is Melmoth, and for a while now I’ve been secretly playing as a Thri-keen.”

<understanding nods and smiles>

I’ve always looked at many of the monsters that I’m fighting in my pen and paper games and thought of all the fantastic role playing opportunities they would present if you were playing one as a member of the party of PCs. I’m certain that I’m not alone in this thought. It’s the same with any MMO that I play, and this is compounded because the developers nearly always make NPCs that are just downright cool compared to the PCs. We’ll ignore for now the surface gloss of matching armour and astonishing weapons that look as though they were crafted by gods to cleave suns in half, which outstrip anything a player can get their hands on, and which are wielded by the bar staff at the local inn. I often find myself pining to play some of the magnificent races that I meet on my travels. Races that, precisely because they’re not playable characters, can be moulded and tweaked and made awesome in any way the developer chooses. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this frame of mind either, so I ask any of you who care to, point out a race that you’d like to play in an MMO of your choosing, maybe explain a bit as to why you like the race, what appeals to you and why you think it would be fun, if there is any reason other than “because it would just feel so cool”. Which is a perfectly fine reason. The Beholder is a beauty in the eye of somebody, as the saying goes when you’re drunk and rambling about monsters as PCs.

So here’s the race that I like in WoW. Giants in general are always fun, and I really like the styling on the Sons of Hodir, the detail is fabulous, and I love touches like the portcullis as leg armour with spears still sticking out of it. It wouldn’t have to maintain the frosty look because the overall proportions, with the slightly hunched shoulders and big meaty hands, are what really appeal to me; the whole character model just exudes “drop a mountain on me and watch me shrug it off”.

I also really admire the look of the Storm Giants that thump around Howling Fjord. I think playing a thirty foot tall character would certainly have limitations, there are plenty of people who complain at the moment because they can’t get their tauren or draenei through certain doorways whilst mounted, but it’s not so much about the size as the concept, the proportional size of the body, the look and feel, such that if it was reduced down to the size of a large PC, it would still illicit that ineffable wonder about it.

Let me know your favourite NPC that you’d like to have as a PC, doesn’t have to be in WoW and it doesn’t have to be a race, although individual major NPCs tend to be designed deliberately to be cool and admired, and are therefore perhaps somewhat obvious, but more obscure NPCs are certainly welcome. This is not in any way a “developers should make these NPC races playable” commentary – the logistical impossibility of appeasing every player in such a way starkly obvious and ludicrous – it’s more an airing of secret desires, a gathering of the Aberrants Anonymous.

Sweet childish days, that were as long as twenty days are now.

Hello! How have you all been? For me it has been the case that mini-Melmoth has been most unwell over the past five days or so, and hence I’ve been a little preoccupied and unable to visit unseemly ramblings upon you at any length, but with a little backup healing from Mrs Melmoth and myself the blessed little nooblet is now tanking viruses like a professional. Alas, neither Mrs Melmoth nor myself managed to spot the random virus patrol that appeared from out of nowhere, as viruses are wont to do, and therefore we were both clobbered with the lurgi before you could say “Crap! Aggro!” Still, we’re all starting to feel a lot better, therefore I can return to you now with the voluble verbiage and puerile persiflage that you have come to expect.

And what better way than with poo? As my old granny used to say, before the nurses came along and took her off for a bath and change of clothes.

Mitch Benn’s tweet “All you do is insert the word ‘Poo’ into film titles. Reduced several of Britain’s finest satirists to sniggering eight year olds.” intrigued both Zoso and myself. I say intrigued, but I actually mean ‘reduced us to sniggering eight year olds’. And no I’m not saying we’re part of Britain’s finest satirists, it just had the same effect; good grief, I’m gone for five seconds and you’ve all gone all ‘Internet forum’ on me.

Anyway, we decided to go for game titles, the simple rule: swap one word in the title with the word ‘poo’. Feel free to add any of your own in the comments. It turns out that games are slightly more tricky than films, what with so many games having titles of only one word, but what follows are a few of our favourites:

Alone in the Poo – A game about you, a creek and your quest for a paddle.

Need for Speed: Poo Unleashed – Time to make a run for the toilet.

Jet Poo Willy – What men fear will happen on the day they have to ‘hold on’ for slightly too long.

Oh No! More Poo – Just when you thought your Jet Poo Willy was over.

Sensible Poo Spotting – Uh…

Poo Fantasy Tactics – Probably already an adult website.

Little Big Poo – You know, the rabbit dropping that took an hour of fist-clenching, teeth-baring agony to pass.

Mega Poo Star Force – That’s no rabbit dropping, that’s a space station.

Heavenly Poo – At the other end of the pain/pleasure spectrum…

Sid Meier’s Alpha Poo – Leader of the poo pack.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Poo – I guess it’s either very painful or a neat party trick.

The Way of the Exploding Poo – Is a good strong curry in a foreign country.

Poo of Conan – The mightiest poo in all of Hyboria.

Poo Tycoon – Work your way up to becoming the biggest effluent processor in the whole country!

I Have No Mouth And I Must Poo – This just scares me. Moving swiftly on.

Microsoft Combat Poo Simulator – The loser to America’s Army in the competition to provide the United States a realistic simulator of battlefield scenarios.

Monday 9 March 2009

Unlike the Murphys…

… I’m Seriously Bitter. At least according to my latest title, for completing all ten of the Bitter Rivals tasks in WAR. I’d predicted, based on complex scientific reasoning, that there would be a lot of grind involved in Bitter Rivals and I was almost right, apart from being totally wrong in every respect. Bitter Rivals has involved almost no grind at all, a fairly familiar set of tasks (doing a PQ, killing a number of players, participating in the new Twisting Tower scenario and throwing a few pies there, /swearing at all the enemy careers etc.) being wrapped up in short order. The Twisting Tower is a slightly confusing scenario, I still haven’t really got my bearings in it (maybe that’s the idea), but a change is as good as a rest and all that. The event rewards aren’t wildly inspiring, a couple of titles and a new siege weapon, though of course there is the chance to roll a Choppa or Slayer a week early. All in all a little on the lightweight side purely as an event, but with all the other patch 1.2 changes plenty to be going on with before Day of the Slayerchoppas.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Ce n’est pas magnifique, mais c’est la guerre

The gates of the Inevitable City have been breached.

Before patch 1.2, the RvR campaign on Burlok was more or less at stalemate. Zones would sometimes flip, typically the Elf zones going back and forth, but the final push, to go from the last zone to a fortress, rarely succeeded. Either dedicated defenders would take a stand, or carefully orchestrated avoidance would deny the final few vital points needed to take the zone.

On the rare occasions one side would get to a fortress, killing the Lord was all but impossible. I’m only aware of a single successful attempt, when I believe a bug prevented Destruction players directly reinforcing the fortress, and a server crash halted the attempt on a second fortress that might have lead to the Inevitable City. The Infamous Tank Wall of Doom takes a heck of a beating, especially when backed up with a fortress lord and The Chaos Gods of Lag.

Patch 1.2 changed the zone control system so that holding the objectives and keeps in a zone for two hours is enough to take it, no faffing around with scenarios or public quests needed. It’s not exactly a Sun Tzu-esque leap from seeing that to working out that an alarm clock raid is possible, starting an attack very late at night or very early in the morning to ensure minimal defence. Some Order guilds got together and decided, 5am on Saturday, we’d make an attack. I wasn’t planning to join in from the start, Saturday mornings are usually time for a lie-in. As it turned out, I was having a weird dream, I think I was a substitute in some big rugby match, got called to go on the pitch, but I had to pull my jersey on, only the sleeves were incredibly long, and there weren’t any holes in the end, and I was madly flailing around, and… woke up. At 5am. I think my subconscious must’ve had plans… Seeing I was awake, I staggered downstairs, made coffee, and logged in to find 40-50 Order players hanging around Black Crag, with about half an hour on the Keep timers until we took control of the zone. It locked without incident, we took the fortress without too much trouble, and we carried on to Caledor for a repeat performance. A couple of Destruction players had noticed what was going on but not enough for a tank wall, not even a tank speed bump, the second fortress fell, and the gates of the Inevitable City beckoned! We had enough to get three instances of the City going (maximum of 48 per instance), and started on a public quest in there: a fair amount of preamble in Phase I, killing defenders, starting fires and holding a couple of control points, then in Phase II a Lord spawned, accompanied by four Heroes. In one instance it sounded like a couple of organised warbands were getting on with it. In a second, the few Destruction defenders had gathered, and though they couldn’t stop the us completing the first phase a couple of times the Lord and Heroes were more than enough of a handful, let alone with other players joining in, and their numbers were steadily growing until they reached parity, and started completing the first public quest stage themselves. At that point a few of us switched to the third instance, where there were no defenders, but less than a single warband of attackers, and though completing the first public quest stage was no problem, the Lord and Heroes were too much again for our smaller numbers, without well-warded tanks. Frustratingly we seemed to just about have the hang of the encounter (with a slow trickle of reinforcements helping) when the timer ticked down on our last attempt, and the attack petered out before we could get sacking the city properly.

The attack certainly shook things up. Firstly on the Warhammer Alliance forums, where, unsurprisingly, a full and frank exchange of views commenced. Alarm clock raids are a bit of a contentious issue, plenty of people on both sides feeling they’re not particularly honourable (fair enough), that they’re not in the spirit of the game (more debatable), and that anyone who takes part is worse than Hitler (as, by page 2, the thread plummeted past reasonable debate into usual forum territory). Actually I’m not sure Godwin’s Law actually kicked in, but someone really, genuinely invoked the war in Iraq. More relevant in the game itself, Destruction struck back, and were within minutes of flipping Reikland and attacking the Empire fortress when the server crashed, though I believe they managed a second attempt when it came back up.

Personally I’m not particularly proud of the attack, but unless something changes in fortresses I reckon it’s the only way either side will see a capital city, and if it’s shaken the campaign up slightly so much the better. It’s not magnificent, but it’s WAR.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Host: And the final round is “Continue the Prime Minister’s Question”. This week, teams, Keith Vaz has been calling for tough game ratings: “Given the fact that there is increasing availability of these games on the internet exhibiting scenes of graphic and gratuitous violence, when is the government proposing to implement the Bryon Report in full?”

Melmoth: … to which the leader of the opposition replied by leaping across the floor, punching Mr Vaz in the face and then teabagging him over the seat of the speaker of the house.

Zoso: “… specifically, the bit about not letting nasty people gank other people in Darkfall and call them bad names and nick their stuff”, continued Mr Vaz who had earlier lost his prized Bronze Claymore.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Friday 6 March 2009

More tea, vicar?

Having installed Empire: Total War (or “Reinstalled” it, thanks to slightly weird menu options), I jumped straight into a Grand Campaign. I’ve played the three previous games, after all, piece of cake. In those you start off owning one little bit of territory, the capital of which is a couple of hovels, you build some farms and barracks and stuff, recruit a few peasants with pitchforks and go off and invade the neighbours. Easy. So I chose to play Britain (of course), the campaign loads up, and…

Crikey. There’s more than a couple of hovels to manage. There are towns, and ports, and industry; there are colonies in America to establish, and the Indian subcontinent to exploit; Isaac Newton was wandering around southern England muttering something about apples. I did a bit of building, exhausted the national coffers, and within a couple of turns there were some really quite scathing pamphlets circulating the coffee houses of Fleet Street decrying my rule, including unflattering woodcuts. (OK, I might have imagined that last bit after reading Stephenson’s Baroque cycle again.)

Plan B, then: the “Road to Independence” campaign, a more story driven introduction to the new mechanics. Sure enough, you start with a single village and a couple of military units, and a helpful advisor telling you exactly what to do, a much easier way of getting into the swing of things. Part 1 is killing natives and stealing their land; not a problem, they didn’t even have a flag. Part 2, the dastardly French have arrived and started building forts. Well, I’m not having that, is there anything more natural than going to war with the French? Course not, so I’m currently laying siege to their strongholds. I’m not sure about the final part of the campaign, though. Declaring independence? Sounds a bit hasty to me. Let’s all sit down, and talk it over with a nice cup of te… oh dear.

Thursday 5 March 2009

Thought for the day.

Zoso pointed out to me today that Guitar Hero World Tour is having some new bands added to its downloadable content in the near future, including none other than those legends of British rock, Queen.

Of course, initial excitement somewhat fizzles away when you look at the list of tracks being released: Fat Bottomed Girls is fair enough, but We Are the Champions? C-whatthebloodyhell-lebrity? Where’s One Vision, Flash Gordon or Bohemian Rhapsody? How about, oh, We Will Rock You? I mean, the clue is in the song title.

I don’t know; for me these band games are like hiring a prostitute, only to find out when they turn up that they’re an inflatable doll; I mean, it’s sex, but you can’t help but think of all the myriad better experiences that you’re missing out on.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Phoney WAR

Our Warhammer server seemed to have settled into something of a Phoney War in the run-up to Patch 1.2. It’s not a terribly populous server (there isn’t a giant hand from above that raises and flattens the landscape or a giant ankh that everyone gravitates towards), we get a decent turnout for big RvR pushes but it’s fairly quiet apart from that, and it seems to have been even quieter still over the last couple of weeks. With all the goodies coming in 1.2 and shortly after I imagine some people are over on the test server, and others are waiting for the opportunity to roll up their Slayer or Choppa. Personally I’ve been stockpiling cheap items to salvage, as gold dust (a component required in talisman making) has recently been like… er… something that’s unusual and desirable and difficult to get hold of, I’m sure there must be an appropriate simile. Patch 1.2 includes a fairly major crafting overhaul, though, so I’m hoping to churn out a few more talismans after that.

The guild has also been quiet, to the point that in the last week we merged with another guild; it was a shame to hit the “Leave” button, Insult to Injury have been a great bunch, but as one door closes, another opens. If you tie them together with a bit of string. And they both open the right way; I mean, obviously if they both open inwards then it won’t work, and if they both open outwards then neither will open and you’ll be trapped, but, assuming one opens in, one opens out, and other conditions are met, then that second door definitely opens. Or you’re going through an airlock! That’s a better example. Forget the string, as one door of the airlock closes, the other opens. Well, slightly after, once the pressure has equalised and everything. So long as HAL can’t lip read. Anyway! New guild is looking good, and busier, with a bit of luck we might be able to revisit the halcyon days of a full guild warband tromping around and smiting Destruction.

Speaking of Destruction, I guess they decided to hold a Last Day Of 1.1 party, as logging in last night for a quick auction check before bed found Dragonwake under heavy attack, Destruction locking the zone not long after I got there; for some reason, the carefully honed Order tactics of “rush out from the warcamp into overwhelming numbers of the enemy” failed to prevent zone capture (in fact they were probably instrumental in giving Destruction the final few VPs they needed), but it was rather fun. Racing back to Eataine we all piled into a keep and mounted some magnificently spirited resistance, though they broke the doors down our tank wall held firm, Bright Wizard AoE spells being particularly effective in the confined spaces. All rather enjoyable and boding well for some Bitter Rivalry in today’s (or tomorrow’s, presuming we’re following the usual day-after-the-US timing) Bitter Rivals event.