Thursday 30 April 2009

Free Realms: Initial impressions.

Well, we were able to create characters called Horatio Thunderpants and Kenneth Titanmittens, and got to name our pets Maximum Muffin and Baron von Woof.

So, yeah, so far so good on the naming front.

Essentially though, in a somewhat bizzare state of affairs, what Sony seem to have done is create Nintendo World Online, and added in the first expansion – Attack of the PopCap Games.

Hopefully we’ll have a more in-depth analysis once we’ve had a chance to play some more.

Thought for the day.

Do you think early MMO developers came across the proverb “You reap what you sow” and thought it meant that we should all be killing female boars?

It would explain a lot.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

A Tooth For A Tooth: Book 1 of the Grindarr Saga.

He stared into the eyes of the sentinel. He tried to look behind those blank eyes that were the colour of quicksilver, searching for… something; a soul perhaps? He stared through the stream of sweat and blood that broke the dam of his brow and ran down the side of his nose and into the corner of his eye. He continued to stare as those cold unseeing eyes flickered briefly and then closed on eternal sleep, the sentinel slumping slowly to the floor, its body sliding from his sword that weary hands could barely keep in their grip.

‘Is it dead?’

‘You ask me that every time I kill something, Maris. What will you do on the day that I say no?’ he spat the sentence out between gasping breaths.

The man standing behind him shuffled nervously from one foot to the other in answer. Slowly, painfully he lowered himself down on to one knee and laid his sword carefully on the floor at his side, blood rushing into hands that had gripped a hilt too hard for too long and which now felt like they would swell until they burst. He pictured the thick weathered fingers flying off in all directions, slapping wetly against the tunnel wall and his companion standing behind him. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth at the thought of the mage having to clean gore from his immaculate robes, perhaps a finger would fall into one of the multitude of pockets and only be found weeks later, hopefully during an audience with the Duchess of Grandaria.

‘Borstal? Are… are you all right old chap?’

‘Of course I’m not fucking all right. Do I look like I’m all right?’

‘Fine. Just… checking the corpse.’

His mind prodded his exhausted arms into feigning some sort of search, and his arms vowed to give his mind a damned good kicking when next its attention was elsewhere. His mind wisely thought better of pointing out the irony of arms trying to give anything a kicking, though.

‘Nothing of any value.’

‘Just like the others.’

‘No, this one was different, it fought more ferociously. With desperation. We must be close.’

‘How can you tell such things? It all looks like so much brutal savagery to me. No offence old chap.’

‘Gods! I am too tired for this shi…’ The brief flare of anger in his face was hidden from his companion, and he managed, Gods knew how, to refrain from putting his fist through the face of the corpse at his feet.

‘None taken.’ He surprised himself with how calm he sounded. Not friendly, but no undertone of the suppressed malice either, just dead. ‘Death in human clothing.’ The Death Host was what they called him back in the lands of the civilised world, a stupid title he thought, invoked only by folk tellers to make their tales seem more epic and mothers to scare their children into behaving.

‘Let’s proceed with caution, then?’

‘I’ll take that as us proceeding with me first, shielding your pretty face from the horrors of the world?’

‘Indeed. Let’s.’

He stood up, too quickly, and his legs began to buckle underneath him. Steadying himself on the unnaturally smooth stone of the tunnel wall he reached down for his sword in one smooth motion.

‘Mind the blood on the floor. Slippery.’

‘Right you are my boy.’

‘Boy? I’ve got a score of years on your beardless scrawny hide.’

‘Right I am. Let’s go.’ He lumbered off down the tunnel, a rolling brutish gait that he used when he was trying to mask a wound bad enough to make him favour one leg. He was getting used to this place now though, it was almost becoming routine: they’d travel maybe three hundred yards along the unerringly uniform tunnel and then a sentinel would appear seemingly from nowhere and attack them, and he’d kill it while the mage probably stood picking his nose, for all the good he did. Yet the mage was the one paying the bills, he had been tasked with this grand quest to retrieve a tooth from the ancient dragon Ordnualmat, and it was he who had employed Borstal as a bodyguard and guide.

And a bloody wet nurse, by all accounts. Very bloody.

‘What was that old bean?’

‘Uh. I was just thinking that we’ve travelled over six hundred yards by my reckoning and we haven’t seen a sentinel.’ ‘Getting used to the place. Becoming a routine. That’s the danger with dungeon crawls like this one, you’re asleep on your feet and you don’t even realise it, not until…’


‘What’s that you say?’

‘I said hurr

‘Well yes quite, but the import of the question is as to why you made such an utterance.’

‘If only you fought as well as you strung out sentences.’

‘I was expecting something to happen. But it didn’t.’

‘You expected… it didn’t… Really! I don’t think I will ever understand the workings of the minds of you barbarians. Although, perhaps if I were able to study you back at The College! I could take a small sample of your brain tissue, it’s a simple enough procedure: we drill a small hole, core out a section of brain, I’m sure you wouldn’t even miss it, I doubt you’ll use more than two percent of your entire brain capacity throughout your lifetime. No offence old chap. Old chap? Ol… oh.’

The room was vast and in complete contrast to the tunnels they had travelled. The walls had the rough uneven surface one would expect of a natural cavern, the rock that formed them was a deep rich scarlet. Dampness permeated throughout the underground chamber and the walls glistened in the faint light that was thrown up from the glowing orbs that were dotted here and there around its circumference. The effect gave an almost organic appearance to the place, it was like a womb in the earth. And at the centre of the womb, curled around itself as if in mockery of the image of a foetal child lay the dragon Ordnualmat.

‘I hope you have a plan, mage, because there is no way in the seven seasons of Hrothvar that I am going to be able to defeat that thing.’ he turned and whispered through his teeth, as though he might sieve the words, make them smaller and thus quieter still.

‘Not to worry friend’ – the words, although whispered, rang deathly loud in the barbarian’s ears making him flinch – ‘I have the item we require here in one of my pockets, it’s got to be… no no not that one, or that one. Hmmm, it must be one of these then surely. Oh dear me, I expect…’

It was a subconscious reaction. Muscle memory from year upon year of fighting in dungeons such as these. Borstal raised his arm reflexively, the jaws of the beast slamming into it and snapping down as though steel sprung, teeth like ivory nails piercing through his forearm rending flesh, muscle and tendon.

‘So fast. So quiet’ he thought.

And then he screamed.

The folk tales of his village always told of the brave warrior valiantly shrugging off the loss of a limb with a hawked spit and a curse of their enemies, then fighting on regardless to ultimate victory. He’d always thought that those folk tales were full of shit, especially the ones about himself.

He screamed again as the dragon began its death rattle, flinging its head from side to side in an attempt to snap his neck or crack his skull open against the cavern wall. He struggled, but it was the panicked wild-eyed struggle of the prey that knows its death is rapidly approaching. He flailed around with his good arm trying to grab the creature’s face, trying to grab at anything that would steady him against the violent shaking, but he found no purchase. Tears began to well in his eyes, tears of agony, anger and regret.

His neck snapped and he slipped into darkness.

Maris watched calmly as the dragon flung the corpse of the barbarian against the wall of the cavern. It was a shame to have to sacrifice such a good warrior, but the Ritual of Dominance required the blood from a fresh victim of the creature. He ran his finger down the side of his face and then brought it up in front of him, noting with indifferent satisfaction the barbarian’s blood that now covered the tip.

The dragon looked up from the mangled corpse to where the mage stood, it’s forked tongue flicked out once from between rows of scalpel-sharp blood soaked teeth. An act of mockery, or tasting the air trying to sense his intent? Maris did not have time to think on it too deeply, in barely a couple of breaths the dragon had snaked half way across the distance between them, it’s wide open jaws revealing further rows of teeth behind those at the front.

Maris made two circular motions in the air in front of him with his bloody finger and spoke a single word of power.

Ordnualmat stopped violently, its head snapping backwards as if it were chained by its neck to the wall beyond and it had reached the limit of the chain’s length. The dragon lay still on the floor. Maris observed it for a moment, noted the slow rise and fall of the creature’s chest; it still lived, but he would soon rectify that. He moved carefully into the cavern and skirted around the edge towards the body of the barbarian. Upon reaching the corpse he bent down and with a deft slash of his knife he removed the purse of gold from the barbarian’s belt. It wasn’t as though he desperately needed the money, but there was no point in letting it go to waste, the barbarian wouldn’t be needing it after all. Then he walked calmly back towards the entrance, the dragon unmoving in the corner of his vision, and bent down to pick up the sword from where the barbarian had dropped it – the sword he had given to the barbarian at the start of their quest with promises that it would protect him from the dragon and allow him to slay it. It wasn’t entirely a lie, but it was certainly not the sort of protection that one could use in a straight fight.

He stood up and found himself looking directly into amber eyes full of all consuming wrath.

‘Release us, mortal’. The voice echoed around the cavern. It seemed to emanate from everywhere at once. It was the sound of pebbles being washed up on the shore.

‘Oh please. I have not been mortal for over five hundred years, a being of your power can sense this full well. I thought of you as more than petty insults and childish tantrums.’


‘It’s not very fucking likely is it?’ Maris composed himself, and then continued ‘I need one of those very lovely teeth of yours, and I’m willing to bet that you aren’t going to give it up of your own volition. So I’m afraid it’s death for you.’

‘You cannot kill us, child of flesh and bone.’

‘There we go with the insults again. But you are right, I myself cannot kill you; this, on the other hand…’ and he raised the sword slightly such that it caught the dragon’s attention. The dragon’s eyes flicked briefly to the sword and back to the mage, and its head shrank away almost imperceptibly. Almost.

‘Yes. You recognise its power, don’t you? You don’t know what the power is, but you can sense the magnitude of it, you can taste the radiance of it. That is the taste of your doom, you belly-crawling worm of the deep.’

‘Hrsssssssssssss’ The dragon reared up, and arched its head backwards ‘We cannot reach you mage while your parlour trick binds us so, but you are no warrior and we can tell that you dare not approach within the bounds of our confinement. We, however, do not need to reach you to kill you, ape spawn.’ Maris watched transfixed as gills opened in the side of the dragon’s neck and with a sucking rasping sound air was drawn in through them. Then the dragon threw its head forward and a tremendous jet of flame burst forth from its mouth engulfing the mage in fire.

Ordnualmat halted its breath and looked upon the spot where the mage had stood. Something was deeply wrong. The flame persisted as a great fiery ball surrounding the mage, and as the dragon looked on in bewilderment the globe of fire began to slowly rotate and unravel like the peeling of a fruit, curling itself into a spiralling stream of flame that twisted its way up the length of the mage’s body. Then swiftly the flame writhed its way seductively around the mage before flowing up the length of his arm and into the sword which it held at its end.

‘Hmmm. A breath of fire, just as the texts said it would be.’ Maris twisted the sword in his hand, watching the now flaming blade cast its flickering radiance around the cavern. The dragon watched him in silence. ‘And now, to see if the texts were right about this as well’ and he pointed the sword at the dragon and spoke another word of power. The flame leapt from the blade and engulfed the dragon as it had done the mage only moments before, but the effect upon the dragon was markedly different, its scales sizzled and cracked, the flesh beneath bubbling and melting down its sides. Maris almost faltered at the last, the sword nearly dropping from his hand, for the dragon did not scream out in agony, it did not make a sound, it just continued to stare at Maris with eyes that reflected an age of sadness and suffering. Then Ordnualmat exhaled once as if in relief and slumped to the floor. In an unintentional paradoy of the dragon’s death Maris let out a deep sigh and sat heavily down with his back to the cavern wall. He used the sleeve of his robe to wipe the sweat from his brow and mopped at the trickle of blood that ran from his nose down to his mouth as he stared at the dragon’s corpse.

Twenty minutes passed before he moved from the spot and made his way tentatively towards the dragon’s smouldering remains. He pressed his foot to the dragon’s open unseeing eye. No reaction.

Dead then.

Victory was close now, he could finally allow himself to think it. After all the travels, the fights and narrow escapes, he had made it against all probability into the Caverns of Vroll; he had found the dragon who dwelled there; he had indeed found a way to slay it, despite all the nay-saying of his colleagues back at The College. Now he could take the tooth, and his quest would be almost at an end. He had but to return with it to his study in New Harthsbridge and perform the ritual he had found hidden in ancient texts buried deep within The College library. Then, if the texts were to be believed, near limitless power would be his. And the texts had yet to prove false.

With a trembling hand he pulled his knife from its sheath and, resting his foot on the lower jaw he prised the dragon’s mouth open with his other hand.

He screamed, a long moaning wail of agony.

‘No… teeth? What trickery is this?’ He cast desperately about the floor around the dragon, in case the rows upon rows of teeth had all been smashed out when the dragon fell. Nothing.

He looked again into the dragon’s gaping mouth.

‘NO FUCKING TEETH? ALL THIS. I HAVE GONE THROUGH ALL OF THIS… SHIT AND THERE ARE NO TEETH?!’ he furiously tossed his dagger to one side, clenched his fists and beat them against the sides of his head. It did not bring him any relief. He looked at the dragon again, its lidless staring eye and half open mouth seemed to be frozen in a state of mirth, as if it mocked him from beyond the veil of death. He kicked at it in mindless rage and the head rolled onto its side, the jaw slapping shut, the eye staring off into nothingness.

Several times he paced away from the dragon and then returned to look in the mouth again, as if the missing teeth might suddenly reappear. They didn’t. As he turned to leave, disappointment sitting so heavy in his heart that his chest ached from it, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that the barbarian’s corpse was gone. At this his anger redoubled, it burned brighter even than the dragon’s breath.

He stormed out of the cavern.



Maris Vengamort, first of the Order of Seven, arch magus of The College of the Infinite Mind, Immortal, Lord of the Arcane Path, walked up to the the job postings board in the centre of New Harthsbridge’s town square. He pinned a single sheet of paper up on the board and half turned to leave before turning back and ripping another flier from the board and casting it to the floor. Then he stormed off towards The College, his face a mask of wrath.

The message on the board read:

LFM to Caverns of Vroll. Need DPS, Barbarian preferred. PST Maris if interested. Need tooth of Ordnualmat, shitty drop rate so will pay for boost. Have pre-req Sword of Mirrorflame all ready.

The quickly blurring lettering on the rain-soaked piece of paper that was now slowly dissolving in the puddle where it had been thrown read:

WARNING: Maris Vengamort is a fucking ninja looter and a total noob. Do not team with him! Also an XP leecher and trains mobs onto party members. PST for the lowdown. — Borstal

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Tired of Waiting for (RB) Two

Back on the 15th of April when I posted up a quick Plastic Rock Roundup, the Wii version of Rock Band 2 was scheduled for release in the UK on April 24th. Have I, then, been rocking out this last weekend, extending index and little fingers while sticking my tongue out to the maximum extent permissible under regional law and scaring neighbourhood pets with my vocal renditions of Pinball Wizard? No, no I haven’t, as shortly after that post the release date on shifted back three weeks to May 15th, and in the last few days it’s been delayed another couple of weeks, May 29th being the current release date (though that may just be a placeholder if the database behind the website can’t cope with inserting “when hell freezes over” into a datetime() field).

In other Harmonix news, there’s been a press release about a Limited Edition Premium Bundle for The Beatles: Rock Band. I must confess to being more than slightly tempted by the prospect of a Höfner Bass controller and Beatles-inspired drums (and surely part of the “additional special contents” must be four Beatles wigs to really get into the spirit of the thing), and if the announcement is to be believed the release is notable for its international parity; not only is the game “available simultaneously worldwide in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other territories for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system and Wii™ home videogame console from Nintendo on 09/09/2009”, but the recommended prices of (US) $249.99, (EU) €199.00 and (UK) £179.00 for the Premium Bundle seem to be, at today’s exchange rates, broadly comparable give or take the odd tenner, as opposed to the previous UK pricing structure of “Take the dollar price, and stick a pound sign in front of it. Then multiply it by 1.5. And stick an extra zero on the end.” The only slight fly(ing beetle) in the ointment is the whole Rock Band 2 release business, which doesn’t engender tremendous confidence that closer to the projected release date we won’t get an announcement that they’ve decided to push the UK Wii release date back ever so slightly, to instead coincide with the 100th anniversary of the death of Paul McCartney.

Monday 27 April 2009

Thought for the day.

Has any MMO yet satisfied the maxim “Easy to learn, difficult to master”?

For full marks, show your working out.

Sunday 26 April 2009

It Was Still Twenty(ish) Years Ago Today

Continuing a look back at PC magazines of yesteryear, moving on almost a year to PC Plus from October 1989. A noticeable change is the break in Amstrad’s PC1512/1640 stranglehold on the UK home PC market, with advertisers offering PCs from Tandon, Packard Bell, Epson, Atari and Commodore amongst others, as well as a few places building their own. M3 were offering a 16Mhz 386SX machine with 1Mb of RAM and VGA display for a fairly reasonable £1769, an uber-powerful 33Mhz 386 with 4Mb of RAM ran to £3969.

Reviews in the issue included Desktop Publishing packages (Timeworks DTP getting the thumbs up), colour printers (HP’s Paintjet winning for its good colours and crisp definition), and databases (a four-way tie between Paradox 3, dBase IV, R:Base and Delta Five). MS-DOS 4.0 was well received, though not seen as much of a step-up from version 3.3. “Specific” was the order of the day for some packages; if you needed to print spreadsheets sideways and print banners using very large sideways text, then £44.99 would get you “Twist & Shout” to do just that (I can’t help but feel they started with the name of that one, and worked out what it would actually do later).

If space on your desk was at a premium, a “breakthrough in computer technology” (according to the press release) resulted in a mono LCD monitor, only 6.5cm deep, for £684. Great excitement in communications news, with Telecom Gold catching up to the latest high-speed standards and offering 2400 bit per second access to its subscribers (no, that’s not missing a kilo- or mega- prefix); no e-mail address for the on-line correspondent who could be reached at 76:MTR007 or 919993843, depending on which service you subscribed to, while another column bemoaned the various incompatible on-line services about to be (temporarily) swept aside by the fax machine: “It takes a long time for a deeply held enthusiasm to evaporate completely, but six years is long enough if you spend it watching Prestel and Telecom Gold petrify, bulletin boards turn to pornography, racism and piracy, and unabashed hackers parading their self-importance before a credulous and uncomprehending media”. Plus ca change… Speaking of which, reader Peter M. Biss wrote in to whole-heartedly agree with a previous reader’s view that “software houses should not use anti-piracy schemes which inconvenience the very users who have parted with their hard earned cash for their products”.

Over in “Games Plus”, there was news of the soon-to-be released Bomber, with six flyable aircraft “each drawn with up to 120 polygons” and reviews of Kult (doesn’t ring any bells with me); Total Eclipse, a pyramid-exploring game using the Freescape 3D system (I vaguely recall one of the previous games in the series, Driller or Dark Side, a harbinger of much to come with its first person view, though the frame rate was possibly best measured in frames-per-minute, so not quite high speed twitch gaming at that point); Purple Saturn Day, a slightly psychedelic sounding space-sport game, and Curse of the Azure Bonds. Azure Bonds got a fairly middling review (“it may not be the most sophisticated computer role-playing game ever, but the plot is reasonably well thought out and there are some challenging puzzles to solve as well as plenty of fierce combat”), but I really loved that game and spent many hours guiding my DIY/garden tool-themed party on their quest (Games Workshop were quite into their Chainsaw Warrior phase at the time, inspiring Qualcast the Fighter, Blackndekka the Cleric and their chums). In the back of the magazine, a “Good Software Guide” rounded up recommendations in various categories, the games including Ultima V, 688 Attack Sub, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Cribbage/Gin King (the card game, not a Hogarth-inspired swig ’em up) and Tetris: “a totally new type of game that needs fast reactions and very quick thinking.”

Friday 24 April 2009

Bored of Shaman

Melmoth mentioned the other day he’d been playing his Shaman, and I was in the middle of castigating him for being some sort of MMOGadabout for returning to play his Draenei in World of Warcraft just as he’d resubscribed to Warhammer when he pointed out he was talking about his WAR Goblin. Mind you, he could have been talking about a character in Vanguard, Everquest, Everquest II, Dark Age of Camelot or Age of Conan (though they at least mixed things up slightly with the “Bear” prefix). Even Auto Assault, the car-based game of driving around in cars, had a Shaman class (driving a Sham-mobile in a particularly Shamanic way). In Tabula Rasa’s system of increasing specialisation, leaked documents reveal that a Tier 3 Specialist was to be given the option of becoming either a Sapper or a Space Shaman, until the latter was replaced with “Biotechnician” just before beta. The only playable class in the still-under-wraps Mighty Boosh MMO is Shaman, although you do get to specialise in either the Naboo, Saboo, Dennis, Kirk or Harrison trees. I’m given to understand that the next Lord of the Rings Online expansion is going to be titled “What Do You Mean Tolkien Never Wrote About Shaman He Totally Did You Probably Just Missed That Bit Of The Silmarillion”, the main surprise being the addition of a new playable class: Ranger. Oh, and Shaman.

Other classes are similarly common across RPGs, Warriors, Warlocks, Paladins and Rogues littering the fantasy landscape, and it’s clearly far too confusing, so we at KiaSA are campaigning for Uniqueness in MMOG Class Names to eliminate such befuddlement. Of course this won’t be easy, especially in the face of extravagantly-classed games like DAoC and EQ II already having plundered the thesaurus for the likes of Troubadour, Coercer, Theurgist and Mentalist (“steer clear of that one, he’s a bloody mentalist!”), but never ones to simply complain about something without suggesting a practical solution, we offer the following for consideration (and eagerly await comments that they’re all in use in various MMOGs we hadn’t previously encountered):

  • Instead of Shaman: Witch Doctor (it’s surprising nobody’s tried this already, unless it’s the fear of a starting area entirely jammed with people running around shouting “ooh ah wallah wallah bing bang”)
  • Instead of Priest or Cleric: Vicar, Reverend, Lay Preacher, Church Warden, Mostly Agnostic Person Who Goes Along To Midnight Mass At Christmas. If the primary function is healing, then: Doctor, Nurse, Dentist, Chiropractor, Chiropodist, Orthodontist, Otolaryngologist.
  • Instead of Mage or Wizard: Tricky one, this, with pretty much every variant already in use somewhere. Suggest different schools of magic, with practitioners such as “Zappy Zappy Lightning Shooter”, “Flamy Fiery Hot Ouch!” and “Ooh, It’s A Bit Parky, Turn Up The Central Heating Would You?”
  • Instead of Warrior or Knight: Again, mostly into the functional descriptions with “Hits People With Big Sword”, “Hits People With Big Axe”, “Hits People With Big Mace” (this goes on for a while, up to “Hits People With Big Glaive-Glaive-Glaive-Guisarme-Glaive“). For more defensive classes, “Can’t Do Damage For Toffee But Can Take A Beating And Gets Attacked By Stupid AI Ignoring The Juicy Church Warden Standing A Couple Of Feet Away”. (If you arrived here searching for “juicy church warden”, you’ll probably be disappointed, sorry.)

Even functional descriptions have their limits, and several new games using the above conventions might use all those up, but fear not! The system can be extended into what we call the “Process of Elimination” classes:

  • Not The Sword People Hitter Or Vaguely Religious Healer Type Or Sneaky Damage Person
  • Not The Sword People Hitter Or Vaguely Religious Healer Type Or Zappy Magic Damage Person
  • Not The Sword People Hitter Or Sneaky Damage Person Or Zappy Magic Damage Person
  • Not The Vaguely Religious Healer Type Or Sneaky Damage Person Or Zappy Magic Damage Person

We feel the extra clarity this will offer across games makes up for the fact that, even with abbreviation, they’re a little cumbersome in chat:
“Group forming for Crypts of Doom, need a NTSPHOSDPOZMDP!”

“I was going to roll up an alt, what class would be useful?”

Wednesday 22 April 2009

In the meantime…

Until I switch back to being an MMO-loving fuzzy bunny, I’ll continue with the somewhat Grinch-like observations.

Dear old Ragnar Tørnquist has another interview, this time on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. And bless me, there’s some Class A hype in there, hype so strong that there are special government task forces set up to deal with an outbreak. There really should be a Misuse of Hype Act declared in the UK.

Funcom’s contemporary dark fantasy, The Secret World, is an MMO with a cliffhanger ending. So says its creator, Ragnar Tørnquist. In fact, it’s claims like this that make this one of the most significant MMOs currently in development.

Yes, right. Well. Give me five minutes, and an interview with a hype waiter, and I’m sure I can tout a bunch of features and make some ‘claims’ for the MMO that I’m ‘working on’ which will make it the most significant MMO currently in development. IN MY MIND.

RPS: Can you just explain the classless progression idea?

Tørnquist: We wanted to make a game system that was at home in the modern world. This isn’t a medieval fantasy world in which you can be born a baker and die a baker – it’s based in the modern world around us. We wanted to give people freedom to be what they want to be, and play how they want to play. You can read into that the idea that we’re reaching for the moon, but it has some important basic ideas: players will have a sort of deck of cards which will say how their character is going to be. They will be able to shuffle that deck to change how they play as they go along, they’re going to open up more options for that deck as they go a long. It’s much more dynamic than other such games, you won’t get stuck as the tank or the healer, and you should be able to contribute to the process and to the party no matter who you are. Clothes aren’t going to have stats – you can choose whether you want to wear sneakers and a T-shirt, or if you want full goth outfit, or a dress and high heels. All those things are possible, and they’re not going to effect how your character plays.

I mean, is it really just me that reads these articles with “A sort of deck of cards“, “you should be able to contribute” and “You can read into that the idea that we’re reaching for the moon” and thinks, these are all just design goals and not actual features yet? Do alarm bells ring for anyone else? You don’t actually have this thing implemented, it’s what you want to implement, and if you have implemented it, you certainly haven’t tried it on a server with a hundred plus non-developers to see if it actually works, at which point it’s too late to do anything other than rip it out and shove-in a token class system to cover the MMO checklist.

Grind – Check
Token character customisation – Check
Compulsory segregation of player population by continent, server type or colour of the moon at the time of subscription – Check
Classes – Check

It’s an MMO all right!

It reminds me of the last mistake I made in believing a developer’s hype: Mr Barnett’s “Bears, bears, bears” video, where he told us all that ‘we wouldn’t have to wade through an area full of bears and then be asked to kill 10 bears, the ones we had killed would already count!’. And what was actually implemented in Warhammer Online? The Kill Collector, an NPC glued to each quest hub who gives you a bit of extra XP for having had to wade through a bunch of bears to do some other quests. And who is standing next to Mr Kill Collector? Why it’s Mr Go And Kill Me Ten Bears, who is totally oblivious to the fact that Mr Kill Collector is rewarding you for killing bears, because you hadn’t got the Let’s All Jolly Well Trot Off And Kill Some Fucking Bears quest yet.

Anyway, go read the interview. Zoso says it’s Quite Interesting, and I’m sure I agree that the game sounds interesting from a design perspective.

It’s the touting of features with absolutely no game evidence of them whatsoever that I object to. Anyone can say “well we want it to have this and that and the other”, why don’t you tell us what you’ve actually got? Better yet, tell us what you’ve tried that didn’t work and why. Teach us. Inform us. Respect us.

Feed us information, not fantasy so thick that even your game world couldn’t sustain it.

MMO Enantiodromia.

Enantiodromia. Literally, “running counter to,” referring to the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counter-position is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.

A theory expounded upon by Carl Jung, Enantiodromia is generally suggested to be a precursor to a major change in the personality of the sufferer. It’s a fascinating theory, one which has been prominent enough to have been noted by Heraclitus some two and a half thousand years ago. It’s a theory which resonates with me at the moment, it causes light to pour forth from my eyes as the neurons in my mind all light up simultaneously, gorging themselves on this most delicious of theoretical morsels. And as the boiler of my mind is stoked so abundantly, synapses firing desperately fast, it’s like a steam train with too much pressure in the system, travelling faster than its design ever intended – I need to release this pressure. Therefore I allow the head of steam – my head full of steam – to drive the pistons of my arms and the valve gear of my fingers to write a post; it is a runaway, but by allowing the train of thought to run free I hope to keep the idea from disintegrating, albeit at the risk of the whole thing derailing and ending up as a smoking wreck.

This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life

Most people who have ever counted themselves as a regular player of MMOs should be able to feel this sentence resonate within them, the words practically vibrate on the page, and cause the mind to gently hum as it takes on the role of transformer to this current of thought. MMOs, for some unknown reason, are rarely sampled in moderation and many players verge on the extreme side with regards to time divested in playing MMOs, in reading about MMOs, in writing lengthy blog posts about MMOs… I’m not going to attempt to offer up an explanation as to why MMOs magnify the skinner box mentality in so many of us, but it is a well accepted phenomenon – rigorous scientific methods of observation could be applied and formulas generated, I’m sure. So we have a somewhat extreme – as viewed by an impartial outsider – and very focussed, one might say one-sided, tendency that dominates the conscious life of many people who play MMOs.

And we see so many of those people reach a state of utter disillusionment with MMOs.

in time an equally powerful counter-position is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance

First it is a general sense of unrest when a player logs in. There’re things to do, places to see, people to interact with, but underlying it all there is a subtle feeling of weariness. The same game is there as it was yesterday and the day before when the player was happy and enthusiastic, and absorbed in this virtual world. Now, however, those things no longer spark the mind or spirit, the player picks at quests and achievements like a person picks at the leftovers of a plate of their favourite food in a restaurant: they’ve paid for it and enjoyed it tremendously thus far, and they don’t want the experience to end even though all the indicators point to the fact that they have had their fill. Many will continue on, they will carry on picking away at their plate, at their MMO, trying not to let the experience end, and they will make themselves feel ill in the process.

There’s a form of restlessness that develops, the player cannot find a place to call home in their current MMO, so they move on to new grounds in the hope that they can revitalise their enthusiasm. The more they try to maintain the one-sided tendency to absorb themselves in MMOs, however, the more the resistance within them builds, the counter-position grows like a drift of snow, gradually, silently, unobserved until too often it becomes an insurmountable obstacle to progress. The disquiet with one MMO becomes a general malaise with all MMOs, and because the player’s reaction is to bury themselves deeper into the genre in an attempt to revitalise their lost enthusiasm, the greater the counter-position becomes, and the more the player grasps around trying every new thing in an attempt to force a return to the blissful state of experience that they had known previously.

This continues, until it is no longer their enthusiasm for the MMO genre that drives their desire to play, it is the battle to overcome the counter-position that dominates them.

and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.

Certainly this has happened to me. If you’ve followed my posts on the Inferno and then through to here, you will have noticed, as I have, that although I’ve always tried to look at the humorous and ludicrous nature of MMOs my view of the genre and industry has darkened, I look at it now through a window covered with the grime of a magnitude of undelivered promises and formulaic content delivered to satisfy the deadlines of venture capital committees and to fill out the progress bar graphs and bubble charts of upper management.

MMOs are no longer a cottage industry, a row of hand-crafted thatched-roof dwellings that are homely, comfortable, relaxing and familiar. MMOs are big business, they are a street of Nevada hotels, each trying to tempt in customers by presenting a fancy façade on the ground floor that promises a world of wonder inside, but as soon as you look up a level you realise that on top of this sits the same regimented grey concrete tower as all the others on the street. The further you look up, the more you realise just how little changes from level to level. The fancy façades are gimmicks and nothing more, they are there to entice in customers, to attempt to differentiate this lump of bland uniformity from the identical one next door, but as soon as you leave the ground level, leave the flashing lights and gimmicks behind, the experience is exactly the same.

I feel that it is because we feel so passionately about our MMOs – that for some unknown reason they develop such loyalty and devotion – that our eventual rejection of them is so excessive in its intensity. We continue to participate in the games long after our subconscious has started to tell us that we are done, and therefore when the subconscious counter-position eventually takes hold, as it will inevitably do all the while we continue to feed it, it is easily a negative force equal to the positive enthusiasm that it has been balanced against.

So if my criticism of MMOs riles or frustrates you, if you think that boundless enthusiasm is the only way to improve the way these games are viewed, that if we think positively enough about them then they well Become Good, understand that I have been there and travelled that road and it lead only to the town of Disappointment, full of rows of identical hotels with gaudy receptions.

There is a positive side, however: my current one-sided tendency of pessimism and cynicism has been evident for a while now, and therefore by the theory stated above there should be a counter-position to this building in the subconscious, and I do feel it there on occasion, when I dip into an MMO and a design feature or engaging piece of content creates a spark of enthusiasm which briefly lights-up the jaded darkness. It’s there in the quiet of my mind, slowly building and gaining momentum, it just needs to the right fuel to ignite the passion once more.

Monday 20 April 2009

Thought for the day.

So I hear that the first corridor you encounter upon entering Ulduar has a vast array of motorcycle vehicles lined up against the wall and at the end of the corridor is a big jump leading up to a water tank with a shark in it.

WoWrio Kart, indeed. Next stop: Super WoWrio 64?

Sunday 19 April 2009

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

A bit of recent tidying up has turned up some dusty old PC magazines, so I thought it might be a bit of fun to look back at The World of 1989 *wobbly screen flashback effect*

In the UK in 1988 the consumer PC market was ruled by Amstrad, Alan Sugar’s IBM-compatibles being far cheaper than their rivals; almost every company advertising in Issue 28 of PC Plus from January 1989 (likely published a month or two before) were only offering Amstrads. In a sign of things to come, though, one company, Watford Electronics, were offering their own PCs; the recently introduced Amstrad PC2000 range wouldn’t have the same success as their initial offerings as a host of other companies started assembling their own systems and competing on price, but at the start of 1989 it was Amstrad all the way. Including 13% VAT, £440 would get you a basic PC1512 (8Mhz 8086 processor, 512Kb memory, mono CGA screen, single 360k 5.25″ disk drive), while a top-of-the-range PC1640 (same 8Mhz processor but 640k memory, colour EGA screen and 20Mb hard drive) would set you back £1320. 80286 and 80386 processors and VGA screens were just starting to filter through to consumers, an Amstrad PC2286 (12Mhz 80286, 1Mb memory, 14″ high-resolution VGA screen) wouldn’t give much change from £2000, but you did get Windows 2.1 with that.

If you wanted to upgrade your PC, £200 would get you a 20Mb hard drive, or for £250 a “hard card”, combining the hard drive and a controller card; £50 would secure an extra 128Kb RAM for your Amstrad 1512. Amstrads came with mice, which was a good thing with a Microsoft mouse costing £105. Printers were mostly dot matrix (£130 for a 9 pin Citizen 120D, £1000 for a 24 pin, colour, 136 column Epson LQ2550) unless you wanted to spend as much as an uber-PC on a laser (£1500 minimum), though Hewlett Packard were bringing inkjets to the world with the £600 Deskjet.

The cover story of PC Plus was “Now We’re Talking! Full test of Amstrad’s new price-bustng network kit” Yes, for a mere £459 you got three network cards and the requisite cables and software to connect up a file server and two workstations. Elsewhere “comms” were something of a black art of V21, V22, V22bis and Hayes compatibility, scarcely a hint of bulletin boards or electronic mail around the place, though fax cards offered the opportunity to turn your PC into a low-price (£300-500!) alternative to a dedicated fax machine (£1000+).

Enough of all that, though, what about the good stuff? Well, in games news “Players of The Bard’s Tale will be pleased to hear of The Bard’s Tale II: The Destiny Knight, due in December at £24.95.” Also out in December, Electronic Arts’ Zany Golf would offer nine “wild and imaginative holes that cannot be recreated in real life”. I remember a bouncing hamburger in that… Reviewed were Grand Prix Circuit, giving you a chance to drive a Ferrari, Williams or McLaren on eight circuits; Airborne Ranger from Microprose, the first proper PC game I bought, possibly on the strength of the review; the classic arcade conversion of Double Dragon, smoothly done and with a two player mode, and Jet Bike PC, a budget offering from Code Masters at £15 compared to £25 for the other games with only CGA graphics, but well received for compulsive gameplay. Finally The Three Stooges was praised for superb graphics and sound, but the five arcade mini-game snippets were deemed too simplistic, easy and repetitive, especially for the £30 price tag. A quick scan of the adverts doesn’t really turn up any classic games listed, flight sims and adventures to the fore; PC gaming was still very much in its early days, playing second fiddle to the Amiga and Atarti ST.

Friday 17 April 2009

Thought for the day.

From Wikipedia:

“The 2012 Doomsday Prediction is a present-day cultural tradition proposing that cataclysmic and apocalyptic events will occur in the year 2012.”

And then, on another Wikipedia page:

“The 2012 Summer Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the XXX Olympiad, are due to take place in London, United Kingdom”

Yes indeed, we British really are that bad at organising international events.

Thursday 16 April 2009

KiaSA Records presents…

Rock on!

CD 1

1. Grind – Alice In Chains
2. I’m Bored – Iggy Pop
3. Get Your Grind On – The Notorious B.I.G. Feat. Big Pun, Fat Joe & Freeway
4. Bored – Deftones
5. We’ll Grind That Axe For A Long Time – Pantera
6. Bored Of Everything – ELLEGARDEN
7. The Grind – Aerosmith
8. It’s Easy To Get Bored – Helmet

CD 2

1. Slave To The Grind – Skid Row
2. I’m Bored – Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
3. The Grind Date – De La Soul
4. Bored Stiff – Every Time I Die
5. Daily Grind – Little Feat
6. Bored To Tears – Black Label Society
7. The Grind – Erykah Badu
8. Bored Stiff – Chas ‘N’ Dave
9. Grind Time – Chamillionaire

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Plastic Rock Roundup

Welcome back to the world’s premier Plastic Rock News Column, for regular updates on all the plastic rock news! Well, I say “World”, just Europe really. OK, not all of Europe, Britain. And “regular” might be overstating things slightly. And it’s not really *all* the plastic rock news, I’ve only got a Wii and don’t care about the other consoles. And it’s probably worth making it clear that by “plastic rock” I mean the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games with their plastic instrument peripherals, rather than natural looking but lightweight stone substitute for garden dressing or modelling. What was I talking about again?

First exciting news, after a couple of false alarms Rock Band 2 finally has an official release date for the UK Wii version! A mere four months after the US release, we get to Rock in a Band for the second time on April 24th. With Guitar Hero instrument compatibility and downloadable content, unlike the original Wii Rock Band, I’ll be picking this up to finally compare the two Plastic Rock Behemoths. One silver lining to the cloud of the four month delay is that it’s given plenty of time for Wii DLC to become available, and while not quite up to the full few hundred tracks available on other systems there’s been a steady increase from the fifty originally available in January.

Not long after that, it’s time to get a mosh on with Guitar Hero: Metallica out on May 5th. Normally I’d grumble about that being a month after the US release, but compared to Rock Band it’s positively speedy. It’s getting good write-ups, and as a paid up person-who-quite-likes-Metallica I’m much more excited about this than the previous Aerosmith game (though some of their stuff was fun to play, I haven’t gone and bought any Aerosmith albums since playing the game, and still prefer most of the non-Aerosmith tracks).

That’s not all the guitar heroism for this year, though, as a month after that (in the US, UK release isn’t confirmed yet as far as I know) Guitar Hero: Smash Hits is released. This features 48 songs from the first four Guitar Hero games using master recordings (the first three games were mostly covers) with support for a full (plastic) band. I’m quite happy about this; I borrowed the original Guitar Hero a while back but never played GH2 or Rock the 80s at all, and most of the songs will be new to the Wii (so long at they don’t go crazy with stuff from Guitar Hero III).

There have been grumblings about cash-ins and milking the Guitar Hero franchise, especially with suggestions of at least one or two more full Guitar Hero games to come this year (as well as assorted Nintendo DS versions and other tie-ins), whereas Harmonix are (rightly) lauded for continuing to release downloadable content, building up a massive Rock Band catalogue (though the Guitar Hero World Tour library is steadily growing as well, I’ve picked up some rather splendid Hendrix and Queen tracks recently, and Harmonix aren’t entirely forgoing new games with the PSP Rock Band Unplugged to come and The Beatles: Rock Band in September). The advantages of downloadable content are obvious, you pick exactly the songs you want, but there’s a price: £1.40 per song, to be specific (on the Wii at least, and without the benefit of album or “track pack” discounts), and that can rack up pretty quickly. On a pure £/song basis (never mind the quality, feel the width), at current GAME pre-order prices Guitar Hero: Metallica comes in at 61p per song, and Rock Band 2 a bargain-tastic 35p. Another advantage of the whole bunch o’ songs on a disc is that it introduces you to music you might not have sought out otherwise, and maybe I’m just easily pleased but there are very few songs in the Guitar Hero series so far I actively dislike, and lots of stuff I’ve since gone out and bought. Overall, then, DLC is great, but I’m perfectly happy for them to keep cranking out new plastic rock games. I’d even be tempted by Rock Revolution at less than twenty quid, if it wasn’t for the fact that the Wii version doesn’t support instrument peripherals, t’ch.

Monday 13 April 2009

Empire: Totally Warsome

I’m having a huge amount of fun in Empire: Total War at the moment. The Road to Independence campaign gives a small-scale introduction to the new elements of gameplay, and after winning that I’ve plunged into a nice big Grand Campaign as the British. The campaign mode is fantastically rich now, as well as all the good stuff from the previous games, enhancements in Empire include a technology tree to research your way through (I do like a good technology tree) and individual government ministers, allowing for many fun cabinet reshuffles. I’m starting to get to grips with the real-time combat too, especially now I’ve managed to overcome my obsession with cannon to build more balanced armies than the somewhat experimental Loads Of Cannons (And Some Howitzers) Regiment, which was terrifyingly powerful at a distance but a bit vulnerable to being charged. Naval battles are great fun when you have two or three ships and can pay close attention to them, I’ve been chasing some pirates (around the Caribbean, no less), but massed fleet battles get very confusing in a hurry. All in all, though, a more than worthy latest instalment in the series. Highly recommended!

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Keep it secret, keep it safe.

More exciting MMO news, Massively has the scoop on the latest astonishing game to be revealed to the world before it really should have been. This time it’s Funcom’s The Secret World. Here are some quotes from the article with a little KiaSA commentary:

If you’ve been waiting for a chance to see what lies beyond the curtain and fall into the elegantly dark setting of The Secret World, then get ready

For the hype machine to start lumbering its way out of the dank cavernous pit where it has slumbered for an age, in search of human hope to feed upon and sate its hunger?

for your first glimpse of what lurks beyond.

Same difference.

At the GDC we got the chance to sit down and discuss The Secret World with Funcom and lay our




on a

Close to final copy of the game, that’s been through several testing stages and is almost ready to be previewed by the general public in what we’ll all laughingly refer to as a ‘beta test’?

few cinematics of the game.


While we were unable to get our hands around

The developers’ necks for starting the hype with nothing more than a CGI screenshot of some virtual boobs wrapped in a tight vest accompanied by some hand waving marketing waffle that would make the OnLive people jealous?

a playable version of the title,


we were treated to many of the game’s basics and concepts. This may not be the tidal wave of information, but it is a start to the flow of The Secret World’s river of fresh ideas.


[…] First and foremost, TSW will be an action/adventure styled MMO appearing on both the PC

and some random console – probably the 360 because it’s from Microsoft, as is Windows, so how hard could a port be – to show that they’re hip with the gaming fraternity, even though we all know that it’ll just hit the PC and be “Coming soon” to the console for the next ten years, assuming the game lasts that long.

and Xbox 360.

Bingo. By the way, how’s that Age of Conan port for the Xbox 360 coming along, Funcom?

There is no release date yet, although there are internal milestones that the team is attempting to stick to.

Translation: “We have no idea when this is going to be out, we only came up with the idea yesterday. Geoff has a few design goals written on the back of a cigarette packet, and we got Clive down in graphics to whip-up a CGI video to show to the Hype Waiters [*]. We’ll have some forums soon too, to allow speculation about anything and everything to do with the game, so that there will be maximum disappointment when, funnily enough, the game turns out to be nothing like the wild and unrealistic designs of a bunch of rabid fans.”

The concept of TSW was officially started in 2002, but was unofficially created by Ragnar in the late ’90s.

Honestly, they’ve been working on it for years. Tens of years. Almost, TOO MANY years, for something that they can’t show us any game-play for. Now, let’s all sing the Tabula Rasa song.

The idea was to take

White Wolf’s World of Darkness and make an MMO that was exactly like it, but with a different name?

our universe and overlay it on a world of contemporary dark fantasy. A game with urban locations that takes place in today’s world with fantastic qualities that include the stuff of legends and myth.

Meh, close enough.

Bored now. You can read the rest at Massively. Then I’d recommended a steaming hot bath and an all-over body scrub with carborundum grit and methylated spirit, in order to get yourself clean.

[*] Hype Waiters: People who serve hype to consumers.

Public (Quest) Convenience

With patch 1.2 in Warhammer Online tempting Melmoth back to try a Slayer, a few other people have also been returning to WAR. I rolled up a new character to hook up with them in the lower tiers; figuring the massed Slayer ranks would just about have DPS covered it was down to a tank or healer, and though I imagine a healer would be very popular on our side, I had a bad feeling it would be equally popular with hordes of healer-targeting Choppas, so I went with the tank and started a Knight of the Blazing Sun. I’m rather enjoying it so far, he definitely feels more robust than the ol’ Bright Wizard (“Armoured Knight in ‘more robust than bloke in a dress’ shocker”), able to round up and hold the aggro of a good 5-10 mobs, so long as they’re a level or two lower and I’ve got some backup to either keep my health topped up or nuke them down, and the damage isn’t too shabby either, especially wielding a two handed weapon.

When levelling up my Bright Wizard I spent much of my time in scenarios. Unfortunately the server has got a bit quieter since then and scenarios don’t pop quite so frequently any more, which is a bit of a shame as they were perfect ad-hoc small-group content. As per that post, the usual MMO collection of “Go. Hunt. Kill boars.” quests are great when solo, but can be a right pain to co-ordinate in groups. Group-wise, at least in WoW, LotRO, WAR and their ilk, you get group quests and instances (or group quests in instances); the trouble with these is they’re typically fixed for a certain size and composition of group. This sort of ties in with a Tweet this morning from one of the WAR players we’ve been grouping with: “MMO Questions: Why a group size limit of 6?”, which I started to reply to, but had only made it as far as “It is incumbent upon us to investigate the historical aspects of social, and utilitarian, grouping in a number of contexts to fully apprecia” before the 140 character limit kicked in.

In pencil and paper games it’s down to the Dungeon Master to tweak encounters to suit, and he can adjust things for the number of players in a party and any particular strengths or weaknesses they may have, so a party of six containing three barbarians who all managed to roll 18 for Str, Dex and Con don’t have to face the same two kobolds (one with a slight limp) that might be more appropriate if the players had decided to roleplay a small party of pacifist academics. MMOGs generally work the other way around, the encounters are fixed and you’re expected to bring a group of 1, 5, 6, 10, 24, 25 or whatever other lottery numbers seemed like a good idea at the time, with (in the aforementioned diku-style games) a suitable balance of yer Holy Trinity of tank, healer and DPS. I suspect they’re done that way as it’s easier for designers; not “easy”, but at least it’s one less variable when you’re trying to pitch content for players of different levels, classes, character builds and gear. It doesn’t have to be that way; City of Heroes, as I’m sure I’ve banged on about at tedious length before, scales encounters to suit parties of 1-8 by mixing the number, type and levels of the enemies you face, but then City of Heroes isn’t especially loot/achievement-centric and doesn’t tend to stand up terribly well to fierce mathematical min-max scrutiny. It’s great fun for jumping into with any number of friends (so long as it’s eight or less) and beating up a bunch of thugs while dressed spandex, though.

Scenarios in WAR were a really great way of easily grouping up with varying numbers of friends, and running bite-sized chunks o’ fun. Public quests were always fun in busy zones and easy to drop in and out of, but as players thinned out across later tiers (and scenarios, and open RvR) they got a lot quieter. A couple of tweaks since launch have made them a handy ad-hoc group alternative to scenarios: firstly they’ve added easy public quests, aimed at a group of two or three, so even if there’s just a couple of you there’s something to aim for. Secondly, you can fly to any zone; that wasn’t always the case, and if you and a friend were stuck in the middle of different flight-master-less zones and wanted to group up, it would take literally quite a long time just to travel. If you’re in a guild that has recall scrolls, you can now get to any zone for 30 copper and a couple of loading screens (although depending on the zone there may still be a sodding great RvR lake and enemy warcamp slap between you and a sensible destination, but still). If there’s a couple of you, you can head for an easy PQ and give it a lash. If it’s a bit too easy or hard, you move up or down a chapter; if another person or two joins in, you can move on to normal PQs. It’s been a really handy way of jumping on and playing for the odd hour here and there.

Friday 3 April 2009

Lightsaber blues.

The lightsaber, iconic science fantasy weapon from the Star Wars universe. Say it with me. Light. Saber. Lightsaber. It just rolls off the tongue, and it feels right. So very right. I was, in one of my many moments of intense scrutiny of something that is utterly unrequiring of such examination, trying to form an opinion as to why the name lightsaber works so well. Actually, it’s not so much that lightsaber works, as that so many other variations of it just don’t work, or at the very least they don’t seem to conjure the right image when spoken out loud to oneself. Note: it is considered polite social etiquette to experiment with shouting out alternative lightsaber names in a small, out of the way room of your house and not on the London Underground during rush hour, apparently, or so the nice armed policeman told me after he had un-cuffed my hands and given me a rag to staunch the bleeding.

Light and saber, it says it all, the blade is made of a glowy light, and it’s a type of sword so therefore we’ll pick something that sounds like a swordy sort of name. Easy. But why sabre? Why not lightsword? Well, it doesn’t quite have the same effect, for some reason. A bit obvious perhaps. Ok, but a Bastard is a type of sword too, so why not Lightbarsted? Hng. Ok, ok, the blade glows, and you whack things with it, so it’s a glowywhacker, right?

“Your father’s glowywhacker. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”

“How does it work?”

“Weeelllll, you see the glowy end?”

“Uh huh!”

“… look, the name sort of gives it away don’t you think?”

Ok, not glowywhacker then, you spoil sports. Fluorescentflamberge? Shinyshikomizue? Hummingblade? Peniscompensator?

“Your father’s Peniscompensator…”

Hmm, that might have worked.

The point is that the name could have been anything really, it’s only because the Star Wars universe has entered popular culture and established its names and conventions so firmly with those of us who are fans, that we can’t imagine any other name for a lightsaber, or at least we can, but they all sound wrong, feel wrong, and look wrong. And in the case of peniscompensator, are tangibly and plainly Just Wrong.

So where are you going with this, Melmoth, you tangential wafflemonger? I’m glad you asked, strange voices in my head that sound like Norman Lamont!

Lightsaber didn’t work, it never worked. I imagine when Lucas wrote the name he was snorting into his coffee. Those of us who care about the franchise in any way have become accustomed to the name. We can’t think of any other name for a lightsaber that feels right because that’s the way it is and has always been.

Now let us, through the darkly ancient and mystical art of transposition (wooOOooOOOo) move this understanding over to the MMO genre.

Levels didn’t work, they never worked. I imagine when the developers designed character levels they were snorting into their collective coffees. Those of us who care about MMOs in any way have become accustomed to the idea. We can’t think of any other rating system than levels that feels right because that’s the way it is and has always been.

I wonder if this is the biggest problem that innovation in the MMO genre faces – the systems that we associate with an MMO are so entrenched in the current player base that anything else will feel too unfamiliar, and any ideas put forth will sound wrong to their ears, no matter how good they may be. An MMO has levels, and a grind, and some crafting, and a few dungeons. It will have an avatar that you can customise at the start of the game, and then tweak in various ways over the course of you levelling up to an arbitrary cap of some sort. We all know this, it’s what MMOs are. Well, not really, it’s what we’ve become accustomed to; it was something that was put forward originally and enough people accepted it without laughing in the face of the developers that any other people coming along at a later date would see those people grinding away, and killing boars in the hope that they may find one with intestines or eyes or that consisted of boar meat, and so on and so forth, and they’d think “Well they’re all doing it, so I guess that’s what we do”, shrug their shoulders and proceed to dip their feet in to the calm unchanging waters of Skinner Box conditioned gaming. Many would find the water too cold for them and leave, many many more would swim out with wild abandon.

This is why we won’t see a game succeed when it is vastly different from, and makes huge sweeping changes to, the genre’s staples. The genre does need to move on, it needs to adapt and change to avoid having its calm Skinner Box waters stagnate, but it needs to be affected by tiny feeder streams – evolutionary adjustments, tweaks and upgrades. A tsunami-like wave of change will do nothing other than throw out all of those people already swimming in the water.

And for the record, I would have called it a Laservibrator.

Bzzzmmmmmmm. Wuhhmmmmmmm.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Thought for the day.

Watching a person get sucked wholly into the hype of a yet-to-be-released MMO is like the slightly amusing and sympathy generating experience of watching a puppy try to run around on a frozen pond: a frantic yelping cacophony of boundless enthusiasm and no balance, often ending in a painful experience.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Analogies To Illustrate MMOG Concepts: Part 2

After Part 1, you should all be completely clear on what an “MMOG” is now. Let’s get on to the advanced stuff, then; there are lots of MMOGs out there, how can you possibly judge them against each other, or decide which is your favourite? Obviously we could say “there are many different MMOGs, with different settings, that focus on different aspects of MMOG gameplay” and go from there, but only 0.47% of people on the entire planet, those with doctorates in Really Advanced MMOG Thinking-About-Ness, could even begin to comprehend such a difficult concept. I bet you like sandwiches, though, right?

So let’s say each MMOG is a sandwich. One is a ham sandwich, another is a cheese sandwich, a third is a low fat Hoisin duck wrap with pak choi. Some people might like one but not another, other people might like all of them, but everyone’s got a favourite. Apart from people who like all of them equally. Or people who don’t like any of them. So that’s MMOGs. Except MMOGs share many common features, so let’s say the ingredients of the sandwich are more like the different types of gameplay, cheese is PvE, ham is PvP, Branston pickle is the economy, and salad is end-game raiding. I dunno what Hoisin duck is, maybe The Ability To Have Eyebrows The Same Colour As Your Hair, but that’s not important right now. And the bread, that’s the setting of the game, so fantasy is sliced white bread, and sci-fi is a wholemeal baguette, and steampunk is a panini (only nobody is serving panini at the moment because the sandwich grill is broken). So maybe you like just ham, or just cheese, or ham *and* cheese with salad, but no pickle, only there aren’t any games with no pickle at all, but you could probably find one without much pickle and scrape it out and then eat the sandwich. Or if you really like pickle, you could add extra pickle to the sandwich, but only certain sandwiches where the sandwich-maker specifically allows external pickle, or in some cases perhaps even supplies users with a selection of condiment sachets (distributed to customers via otter) for user-generated seasoning. That’s what different MMOGs are like.