Friday 31 July 2009

We could be heroes.

I’ve been reading the rather interesting developer blog of Orion for Lord of the Rings Online, where they are currently describing the process of revamping the Garth Agarwen instance and also answering questions with regards to Turbine’s decision to revamp a lot of the existing content in order to streamline it. It’s a fascinating insight into how things go on a day-to-day basis, and why and how decisions are made with regard to content updates.

One of the interesting decisions that’s been made is to reduce Garth Agarwen down to an instance balanced for three players, and as such part of the change is to reduce the number of mobs present. This prompted one of those daydream moments where the mind, as though reaching the plateaux of the rollercoaster of thought, is released with a hiss of opening brakes, pauses but momentarily on the cusp of a train of thought before plummeting down into the realms of flight and fancy. Looping the loop, it then twists and turns, throwing ideas violently from side to side until eventually it comes to an abrupt halt back where it started, and the rider sits there stunned as the realisation slowly creeps in that they cannot really be sure what just happened for the last minute and a half.

Still, as my mind staggered wobbly down the steps and away, vowing never to do that again, and wishing it hadn’t consumed that huge blog post just before taking the ride, it did manage to hold on to a small snippet of the short sadistic journey. Simply put, the thing that bothers me is that many MMOs rely not only on the Holy Trinity of classes to see them through combat, but also seem to prefer a design where players will only be expected to face one or two mobs at a time in a large number of cases, especially outside of instances. As such I think I was, in part, lamenting the reduced role of crowd control in many MMOs these days, where it is often eschewed for a more classical tank and spank routine and used only to deal with unexpected additional mobs, or in special cases where the encounter is designed specifically for its use.

One exception to the general rule is City of Heroes, and I believe it does things exceptionally well (as all exceptions should), not only in terms of crowd control, but also in terms of the number of mobs that characters can face once they reach a modest level of power. If there’s one thing that City of Heroes did right, it was in making the players’ characters feel powerful. Heroic, if you will. That and the astonishing character creator.

Two! The two things it did well were making characters feel like heroes, and giving the players flexibility in character creation. And allowed players to effortlessly team across the broadest range of levels.

Three! Three things… I’ll come in again.

Traditionally in MMOs the intended style of play follows the pen and paper style: you enter the fortress or lair of an enemy force, move carefully from room to room (each essentially a micro-instance) and fight the small number of enemies present there. The only time that rule is broken is if a patrol arrives unexpectedly, a low-health runner manages to get to another room and fetch some friends, or Knifestabkilla accidentally pulls the next room in the middle of doing the “Jump around. Jump around. Jump up, jump up and get pwned” dance. Usually such things result in a wipe, unless the party is lucky, exceptionally well coordinated or hideously over-levelled/geared for the content.

In City of Heroes, if you can still see your character under the pile of mobs that you’re fighting ‘you’re undertaking the task in an incorrect fashion’, as I believe the cool kids say down on the MMO street. Not only that, City of Heroes also has an entire class dedicated to mass amounts of crowd control. Admittedly CoH isn’t alone in this regard, EQ2 has some fairly strong CC classes, and LotRO utilises them to a certain extent, WoW used to make good use of it but seems to have let that fall by the wayside recently, but I can’t recall it ever being on the grand scale that CoH allows for. Which is a shame, because I think crowd control in PvE is a viable and interesting game-play alternative to the soft “Yo mamma!” control that the average MMO tank possesses. The controller could be the enabler to huge battles in other MMOs, without having to unbalance the player characters such that they must always face an entire battalion of enemies at a time in order to feel any challenge, and where any lone mobs would therefore simply implode the moment a hero arrived in their zone. Controlling a battle can be tremendously rewarding as a player, watching the ebb and flow of the various enemy groups and locking down those that might otherwise overwhelm your party, judging when to use AoE powers that will inevitably draw massive amounts of ire from the mobs when they eventually break free, and when to simply neutralise the more potent individuals of a wave of mobs – the healers for example – and allow the rest through because they can be managed by the tank-n-spankers. It is a style of play that requires an overview of the field of battle like no other, and unlike healing it would be very hard to reduce it down to a bunch of bars that you simply play whack-a-mez on.

The benefit of the Controller is that, as I mentioned, it is an enabler for ‘crowd combat’, something that I think is sorely missing in many MMOs. That’s not to say that fights with a couple of powerful mobs should be abandoned, but crowd combat is enormous fun when the players are empowered to deal with it. The down sides to massive crowd control are enabling a class that wields it to solo without them being ridiculously overpowered, and that if there’s one thing that PvP players hate more than crowd control, it’s even more crowd control. Unless they’re the one in control, in which case it’s all a hilarious jape and everyone should stop complaining about it; which is about the time that they get stun-locked to death and go off and write a roaring inferno of a post to the forums about how crowd control is overpowered in all cases, except when they use it.

At the end of the day I just think it’s a shame that most WoW players looked at the Leeroy Jenkins video as a hilarious comedy of errors leading to drawing the aggro of a vast number of enemies that couldn’t possibly be survived; whereas City of Heroes players were probably wondering when they were going to pull the second and third rooms to make it more interesting. I think players are missing out on something special, and although there are games that allow you to explore this style of play, they are few and far between, and it is seemingly a style of play that is much out of fashion with developers these days. It’s funny how, in a genre of games where the players are supposed to play heroic characters, developers seem to shy away from many elements of play that would make the players feel exceptional.

Apologies for the somewhat waffling whimsical nature of the post, when one rides the rollercoaster of ideas after having only just dined heavily on the words of others, one tends towards vomiting verbiage thereafter.

Thursday 30 July 2009

He took my stapler and he never brought it back.

“Ah Melmothson, I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been having tremendous trouble with these reports, every time I send them out on the signature loop they come back in entirely the wrong order, and it’s making my life a misery.

There is a way to deal with this though. On the corner of my desk you’ll find a stapler. I usually use this to staple my reports together but it’s currently out of staples! Of course without staples a stapler cannot function properly, so I would like you to find me some staples and bring them back to me.

You should be able to find the staples in the stationary cupboard on floor three. Be warned though, the stationary cupboard is guarded by Ethel the secretary, and she doesn’t appreciate people taking items from the cupboard, so you may want to gather a group together to tackle this task!”

Collect staples for Big Boss 0/50
Defeat Ethel the secretary 0/1



“Excellent! Be sure to get a lot of staples, I have a whole stack of reports to send out. Come back to me when you’ve got them.”

[Sandra from Accounts has joined your party]

[Colin the Office Clown has joined your party]

Colin says “Hi.”

Sandra says “Sorry, need to go to the toilet, be right back”.

[Nigel of Strong Body Odour, has joined your party]

Nigel says “Hello, what we doin?”

You say “Staples from floor 3”

Nigel says “Oh, ok. I did that yesterday”

[Nigel of Strong Body Odour, has left your party]

Colin says “Phew, I’ve gone to floor 3 with him before and he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.”

Sandra says “Back. Who doesn’t have a clue?”

Colin says “Nigel”

Sandra says “Oh good grief yeah, he stinks”.

You say “Ok, I think this should be enough. Let’s go.”

[You enter the Massive Stairs]

[Sandra enters the Massive Stairs]

Sandra says “Where’s Colin?”

You say “No idea, he was with us a second ago.”

Sandra says “Colin?”

Sandra says “Shall we wait?”

You say “No, he can catch up.”

[You enter the Third Floor Reception]

[Sandra enters the Third Floor Reception]

[Your phone rings]

You say “Hello?”

Colin says “Hey. Where are you guys? I took the elevator and I’m waiting on the third floor.”

You say “We’re on the third floor”

Colin says “Really? I can’t see you. Oh crap, I took the wrong elevator; I’m on the thirty third floor. LOL. Be right there.”

You say “Ok”

[You hang up]

You say “Colin is such an idiot”

Sandra nods

[Colin enters the Third Floor Reception]

Colin says “Sorry about that LOL”

Sandra says “Damn there’s Ethel, she’s always at her desk. Doesn’t she ever go anywhere?”

Colin says “How shall we do this? I could kite Ethel around the corner by feigning photocopier death…”

Sandra says “No need, I have one of her favourite muffins here. We can give her that and she’ll be totally passive.”

You say “Excellent. Let’s go.”

Ethel says “What do you want? Whatever it is, I haven’t got any.”

Sandra says “Hey Ethel! Want a muffin? It’s white chocolate and raspberry.”

[Ethel eats the muffin]

Ethel says “Ooo, delicious, thanks. Anything I can help you with?”

[Defeat Ethel the Secretary 1/1]

You say “We need some staples please”

“Sorry, I ran out yesterday.”



[You gain 400 experience, 1039388 out of 20384740]

“Never mind! The marketing team on this floor is out to lunch, and I know they’re always stapling things together. You could probably find their staplers and sneak the staples out.”

Find staplers and collect the staples from them without getting caught.

Collect staples 0/50



“Great! Take the staples to Big Boss when you’re done.”

You say “Ok, marketing department for the staples.”

Colin says “I know the way, follow me”

[Your party enters the Publishing Department]

Colin says “Oh wait, sorry wrong way, LOL”

[Your party enters the Third Floor Reception]

[Your party enters the Janitor’s Closet]

Colin says “No, this isn’t it either.”

Sandra says “Oh my god, follow me I know the way”

[Your party enters the Third Floor Reception]

[Your party enters the Kitchen Area]

[Your party enters the Typing Pool]

[Your party enters the Photocopier Room]

[Your party enters the Typing Pool]

[Your party enters the Kitchen Area]

[Your party enters the Marketing Department]

Colin says “Finally! LOL”

Sandra says “Sorry, got a bit lost there for a second.”

You say “No worries, we’re here now. Let’s get to work”

Colin says “Damn, I can’t find any staplers!”

Sandra says “There’s usually loads around here. I wonder where they’ve all gone.”

You say “This is ridiculous.”

Sandra says “Found some!”

Colin says “Grab the staples out quick.”

Sandra says “Got them.”

You say “Why hasn’t the task updated?”

Sandra says “Oh crap, they’re the wrong size staples”

Colin says “Found another one. Oh what?! This one doesn’t even have staples in it!”

You say “This could take a while.”

You say “Here’s one. Finally, the right size staples!”

[Collected staples 3/50]

Colin “3? Ahhhh crap”

Sandra says “Lookout, security!”

Security says “Hey, what are you doing in here?”

You say “Run!”

[You enter the Kitchen Area]

[Sandra enters the Kitchen Area]

[Colin enters the Conference Room]

[Security enters the Conference Room]

Sandra says “Colin is such an idiot”

You nod

[Security escorts Colin from Floor Three]

You say “Let’s grab the rest of the staples before the patrol comes back”

[Collected staples 4/50]

[Collected staples 14/50]

[Collected staples 17/50]

[Collected staples 26/50]

[Collected staples 27/50]

[Collected staples 28/50]

[Collected staples 29/50]

You sigh

[Collected staples 34/50]

Sandra says “Yay!”

[Collected staples 39/50]

[Collected staples 49/50]

[Collected staples 50/50]

Sandra says “Oh thank god, let’s go.”

[Your party enters Floor Two]

You say “Thanks for the help”

Sandra says “No problem, catch you later!”

[Sandra from Accounts has left your party]

[Your phone rings]

You say “Hello?”

Colin says “Security let me go, we still getting staples?”

You say “Sorry, we’re done now.”

[Colin hangs up]

[Colin the Office Clown has left your party]

[You enter Big Boss’s Office]

“Ah, you’re back! Do you have my staples?”



[You gain 5 reputation with the Bosses of Floor Two]

“I’ve stapled all my reports together, thanks to you Melmothson. Now I would like the various reports delivered. First of all I need you to take these reports and give them to Little Boss and get them signed.”

Signed reports 0/5



“Excellent! Don’t dawdle now, these need to get to Little Boss post haste!”

[You turn to face Little Boss]

“What’s this? Reports for me from Big Boss! This is most unexpected! But wait, I can’t sign these reports as they don’t have the correct plastic covers to protect them from coffee stains. Go back and tell Big Boss that I can’t sign them until this is rectified!



“What do you mean ‘Shove it up your arse’?!”

[You lose 10000 reputation with the Bosses of Floor Two, you are now unfriendly with the Bosses of Floor Two]

[You gain 1000 reputation with the Disgruntled Workers of Floor Two, you are now honoured with the Disgruntled Workers of Floor Two]

Some days work feels just like an MMO.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

You’ll never warg alone.

Life goes on in Middle Earth as part of my further adventures in Lord of the Rings Online, for my character at least, I can’t say it’s looking terribly sunny for the general wildlife population of the place though. I think David Attenborough and Auntie would do well to take a visit to these virtual wildlife reserves and spend some time recording the mating habits of the inhabitants thereof however, because although I push a mighty wave of destruction before my dwarven bow, it never seems to have that much impact on the global population.

“A family of wargs. Here, in the wilds of Angmar, we see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. They stand motionless; for years at a time they wait in the same area which is often no more than a few meters in diameter; separated from others of their kind by a similar distance, they remain on the same spot for the majority of their lives. And do nothing at all. Scientists are unsure as to why the creatures have developed this way, but it is possible that they space themselves at exactly such a distance from one another in order to annoy the hell out of the other major predators of the wilds…

An adventurer. The master predator of the wilds, here we see one scuttling its way across the land, desperately trying to avoid the wargs in order to reach a more fulfilling prey. Despite its best efforts though, it has managed to attract the attention of several wargs, who now leave their patches of isolation and hunt, somewhat ineffectively, as a pack, in an attempt to bring the adventurer down. Most of the time we see the adventurer ignoring the wargs and continuing on its way. The wargs, unable to gain any ground on the adventurer, suddenly realise that they left the iron on at home, and thus turn to head back.

Sometimes though, on rare occasions, a lone adventurer chooses to hunt the wargs. Experts are unable to determine the exact reason for this, but it seems as though the adventurer has formed a mutually beneficial symbiotic bond with a very strange creature indeed; for there is a certain type of insect in the world of MMOs that is known for its propensity for real ale. However, these curious creatures are never found in the presence of adventurers, except in one instance: when they have given-up on their alcoholic tendencies. For some unknown reason, it’s these creatures that are held in the highest regard by adventuring society, and its well known that adventurers will do almost anything for them. Certainly if one were able to translate the strange guttural speech of the adventurer – a bizarre impenetrable language consisting of short rough words formed mainly from numbers and consonants, such as OMG, WTF and BBQ – and ask them why they were killing wargs, they would surely reply ‘Why, for the ex-beery ants, of course!’.

It is now, then, that we witness the amazing reproductive tendencies of the warg. For as the adventurer slaughters a path through the wargs, killing them indiscriminately, new generations of wargs spring into life behind the adventurer without so much as a “*bow* *chikka* *bow* *bow* *chikka* *chah*” occurring between male and female wargs. In fact, scientists are entirely uncertain as to whether there are different genders of warg at all, or that in fact wargs reproduce using some form of spontaneous asexual spore that produces a full grown warg the moment it makes contact with soil. The unwary adventurer may find that, having slaughtered their way through several hundred wargs, they are now trapped behind a wall of fresh wargs, all standing on their little solitary patches of soil. Doing nothing at all. They stare into space; possibly they are composing poetry, or contemplating the meaning of life. It is unlikely, however, that we will ever know for sure what these wargs are thinking.”

We here at KiaSA know what those wargs are thinking though:

“Those bloody adventurers! I’m not playing ‘Tag you’re it’ with them ever again. Every time I chase and tag them and then start running away, they just keep going as though I never got them! Cheating gits the lot of them. Why, if I eve… Ha ha ha! Here I come adventurer! Ha ha ha! Here I come!

Tag! *pant* You’re it! *pant*

Your turn to chase me now! Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha… hey! Come back! It’s your turn to chase me! Oh no fair, I clearly got you!

That’s it! Never again. They don’t play fair, and I’ll be buggered if I’m going to keep running after adven… Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha! Here I come! Here I come! Oi, Colin, leave her, she’s my tag. I’m playing with her. Oh, c’mon Frank, you too? We can’t all play tag at the same time. You two, stop it! I was here first, go and find someone else. Fine! Fine then, I’m going back to my spot, you two can carry on chasing if you like.

<yelling into the distance> There’s no point though, they never chase us back!

Tuesday 28 July 2009

What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate

You’ve doubtless heard about the latest attempt by a publicity department to make Bill Hicks seem like a model of restraint, the Comicon contest inviting you to commit “Acts of Lust” with a booth babe in order to win a “Night of Lust”. It turns out the backlash over this was just a crazy over-reaction; Tamarind, along the way to rather splendidly pointing out that they’re slightly missing the point of Dante’s original, quotes part of EA’s apology:

“Commit acts of lust” is simply a tongue-in-cheek way to say take pictures with costumed reps. Also, a “Night of Lust” means only that the winner will receive a chaperoned VIP night on the town with the Dante’s Inferno reps, all expenses paid, as well as other prizes.

See? Bet everyone who hysterically attacked EA over this is feeling pretty stupid now, *obviously* any sane, rational person equates “taking a photograph with” to an “act of lust”, and I don’t know about you but I can’t remember the last time I had a “night of lust” that didn’t include a chaperone (well someone’s got to hold the camcorder).

Just in case any future marketing campaign appears incredibly offensive, here’s a handy “Publicityspeak to English” dictionary so you can check you’re not just foolishly misinterpreting what they’re saying:

Publicityspeak < - > English
(example of phrase in a publicityspeak context)

Commit acts of lust < - > Take a photograph with
“To win a night of lust with our babes, post proof to Twitter of you committing acts of lust with them!”

Commit most vile acts of heresy < - > Say ‘strewth’ or ‘zounds’
“To win a night of being trapped in a flaming tomb, post your most vile acts of heresy to Twitter!”

Fabulous and incredible wealth such would make Croesus blush < - > Five US dollars
“Our latest competition offers you the chance to win fabulous and incredible wealth such would make Croesus blush!”

Steal a handbag from < - > Download from our website
“For a chance to win, simply steal a handbag containing an application form!”

Murder the firstborn of < - > Ask how the kids are
“Don’t forget to break the ice with our costumed reps by murdering their firstborn!”

Set fire to < - > Give flowers to
“If they don’t have children, you could always set fire to them instead!”

Pass Roy Hattersley an eiderdown < - > Pass the marmalade
“An eiderdown? I’m not going to pass Roy Hattersley an eiderdown. He can get his own damned eiderdown like everyone else.”

Murder a prostitute < - > Murder a prostitute
“In the most daring and innovative publicity campaign yet, sure to win multiple awards, we’re challenging players to murder a prostitute for a chance to win access to the closed beta, plus a lifetime stay in a maximum security prison!”

Monday 27 July 2009

Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.

Gamasutra, among others, reports that:

“Sony Online Entertainment’s free-to-play MMO Free Realms is ‘close to’ 5 million registered users”

as reported by Sony Online president and Arch Deacon of Meaningless Facts, John Smedley.

Do people really look at that and think ‘Wow, look at that revenue stream!’?

If they’d said:

“Sony Online Entertainment’s free-to-play MMO Free Realms is ‘close to’ 5 million baked beans consumed in the staff canteen.”

I’d have at least found it interesting, even if it was just as irrelevant with respect to Free Realms commercial viability.

Post the sales figures for the online store, SOE. Or if, as m’colleague predicts:

“such figures are locked deep in the Sony vaults, guarded by teams of Sony ninjas with orders to shuriken on sight. New Sony recruits are told “remember, MILLIONS of PLAYERS! NEVER talk of sales!”, with said ninjas ready to pounce if one looks like letting anything slip.”

then post figures of registered accounts that have been used in the last month. I hope you’re not including my two registered accounts in your figures, for example, because I didn’t play after the first day with my initial account, and the second account was merely created because I forgot the details of the first and I wanted to do a quick bit of research, many moons ago.

Therefore I suggest that the next time you, dear reader, see a ‘Free Realms registered users’ marketing ejaculation, simply substitute the following KiaSA Approved text in its place:

“Sony Online Entertainment’s free-to-play MMO Free Realms is ‘close to’ publicising an arbitrary figure that is larger than the arbitrary figure that Blizzard publicises in order to wave it around like a giant penis and beat other MMO companies about the head with” reports Big Arbitrary Number Poobah and Chief Irrelevant Statistic-wallah, John Smedley.

Friday 24 July 2009

Wacraft: The Movie, part 2

We’ve snagged another scene from the Warcraft movie; set a little after Part One, our heroes found their final party member, and have battled their way into the Scourge-infested dungeon.


With a jawbone-rattling rasp, a GIANT SKELETON clad in tattered armour, wielding a huge terrifying sword, leaps to the attack.

ASH: Oh, brother.

Bloody and exhuasted from the descent into the crypt, he desperately lifts his own sword to deflect the incoming blow. KLANG! FX: shower of sparks. The impact knocks Ash to the ground, the Giant Skeleton triumphantly lifts his blade and brings it down for the coup de grace but Ash desperately rolls out of the path. The Skeleton lifts its blade once more, and… FWOOOOSH! A ball of magical fire explodes in its face; cut to WIDE SHOT revealing FIREBALLDOOD, arm outstretched, fingers slightly smoking from the spell he just cast. The Skeleton briefly staggers, giving Ash just enough time to clamber to his feet and launch an attack that the Skeleton easily parries. The Skeleton swings, Ash swerves to avoid and lands a blow, but to little effect. He deflects another attack with his shield, but is driven back and the Skeleton finds a gap in Ash’s defence and opens a gash in his left arm. He winces. Suddenly from the shadows a black-clad shape coalesces: KNIFESTABKILLA, flinging himself at the Giant Skeleton’s unprotected back.


KnifeStabKilla slashes horizontally; he slashes vertically; he slashes diagonally; basically, he’s Connect 4 in dagger terms. The Giant Skeleton is briefly stunned by the initial ferocity of the attack but swiftly recovers and, with a ghastly screech, sweeps the Rogue away with a skeletal arm, slamming him into a wall.


CLOSE SHOT as the Skeleton moves in on the dazed Rogue intent on finishing him off, when

ASH: Hey, you miserable bag of bones!

The Skeleton turns its head as Ash slams his shield into it; enraged, it turns its attention back to the Warrior, slicing and chopping, opening a wound on Ash’s cheek.

ASH: A little help here, guys?

B0WBA3B: o yeh lol

The Hunter nocks an arrow; cut to her POV as she carefully takes sight and lets fly; cut back to Ash, who turns to shout at his comrades, revealing an arrow embedded in the back of his helmet.

ASH: Not helping! Red, hit him with the hot stuff again!

Pan over to Fireballdood; glowing mystical letters have appeared over his head: “<AFK>”. Pan back to Ash, taking a beating from the Giant Skeleton, getting in a few shots in return but not enough to seriously damage the undead monster.

ASH: Any chance of some of that great healing? Y’know, it’s kinda the reason we brought you…

Pan to GR8HEALER, the fifth member of the group, a Priest dressed in flowing robes.

GR8HEALER: What do you mean? I’m at absolutely full health, I think I’m doing awfully well… oh, you meant heal you, well, I’ve got some spare mana I suppose.

Gr8healer starts chanting magical incantations; cut to WIDE SHOT as KnifeStabKilla recovers and resumes his attack; B0wba3b fires another arrow, this time actually hitting the Skeleton. Gradually the abomination is worn down, Ash attacking with renewed vigour as Gr8healer’s spells infuse him with vitality. The Giant Skeleton winds up for one last swing, on the verge of defeat, when…


FWOOOOSH! Another ball of fire erupts from the Mage’s hand, slamming into the Giant Skeleton causing it to collapse in a heap of bones.


Cut to ASH, breathing heavily. He sheaths his own sword and kneels to examine the remains of the Skeleton. Bending its bony fingers from the hilt of the sword it was carrying, he picks it up to examine it more closely. Cut to close up of SWORD BLADE, pulsing with magical power, Ash’s face in the background.

ASH: (reverently) Could this be? The wise man spoke of a weapon such as this, the Red Sword of Courage. A blade that imbued the bearer with great strength and stamina, and enabled them to shrug off blows that would fell another. A blade that would sunder iron as easily as cloth. A blade truly fit for a warrior. This must once have been a great and noble knight who set out to battle the Scourge, yet fell before them and their dark and evil magicks, doomed to continue his existence ‘tween life and death itself as a vile puppet of Arthas. With a sword such as this we can stand with renewed hope in our bid to drive the evil taint from this land! This knight shall not have fallen in vain, I shall take up his weapon and honour his memory, never resting until victory is ours!

Ash selects Need for Red Sword of Courage

B0WBA3B: hunter weapon!!!

B0wba3b selects Need for Red Sword of Courage
Ash rolls (Need) for Red Sword of Courage: 84
B0wba3b rolls (Need) for Red Sword of Courage: 97
B0wba3b wins Red Sword of Courage.
B0wba3b activates her hearthstone.
B0wba3b has left the party.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Warcraft: The Movie draft shooting script

Doubtless you’ve all heard by now that Sam Raimi is to direct a World of Warcraft film. In a KiaSA exclusive, our operatives managed to swipe a page of the shooting script, so we’re very excited to present… Warcraft: The Movie!

Camera pans to Ash, a valiant warrior, square jaw set in determination.

ASH: I know now that there is such a thing as a living Evil. A dark and shapeless thing that lives not in the spaces we know, but between them. In the Dark. In the night. And it wants the exact same thing as you and I: a chance at warm life on this world. It doesn’t care that it already had that chance… once. Now we’re going into the Scholomance to take it down, and the gods help any who get in the way of these hombres. This guy is a rogue, a deadly master of stealth, the Scourge wouldn’t hear him coming even if their ears hadn’t dropped off a while back.

Ash is gesturing at KnifeStabKillah, a black-clad assassin who leaps high into the air, lands with cat-like grace, then jumps up again, and again, and again, and again, and…


ASH: Then this guy is a Mage, he may look like a sissy in a dress but don’t say that to his face, he’ll fry you soon as look at you.

Ash is pointing to Fireballdood, calm, still, barely moving.

FIREBALLDOOD: goin 2 get fud brb

Mystical glowing letters appear above his head, clearly the work of magic: “<AFK>”

ASH: And finally this foxy Hunter can put an arrow through an apple at a hundred paces, and her pet scorpid packs a mean sting. All right, let’s take down Darkmaster Gandling once and for all and put an end to the vile taint of this place!

The hunter, B0wBa3b, shoots Ash a pitying look.

B0WBA3B: lol noob i dun it 8 times ystday but my legs nvr dropped neway still need heelr LF HEELR 4 SCHOLO


Fireballdood remains stoically still.


Continued in Part 2

Monday 20 July 2009

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.

The Earthrise folks are, like any MMO developer in the process of pumping out the hype rage, busy posting Q&A sessions about anything they can think of in order to keep their community from turning rabid and eating each other. This time it’s about terrain, the question begins:

“What are your plans for terrain?”

Which I like to imagine was immediately followed by the sound of running feet, a door slamming, and the muffled voice of a community manager yelling “Terrain! We forgot the fucking terrain!”

Massively titles it ‘Earthrise devs on how terrain will impact gameplay’.

How terrain will impact game-play? Do we really need the developers to tell us this? One would hazard a guess that, assuming they’ve not spent their entire development budget on diamond coated PCs and a giant inflatable bouncy castle filled with soft cheese, that the terrain will get in the bloody way when you don’t want it to, and otherwise stop you from falling through all infinity.

It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.

The recent reveal of the latest offering from the Ravenous Hypechatter Beast of TOR, a video clip containing a lot of people talking about the vast number of people talking in Star Wars the Old Republic, showed many interesting snippets of game-play footage, albeit nothing that can be taken as a sworn contract of provision by Bioware yet, and this being the Internet, I’m fairly sure there won’t be any fans out there who have assumed that everything they saw in the video is now gospel and will be in the final release of the game some two years or more hence.

Oh ho ho ha ha ha. Ho.

One of the features that was fairly prominent, it being a video all about the splendid conversational phrases to be had in Star Wars such as “Hello”, “How are you?” and “Is that an Ewok in your pocket, or did you just forget to shave this month?”, was the fact that the Super Happy Mass Effect Conversation Wheel of Alignment Sparkle Time Fun was in full, uh, effect. As we all know, this is the central device in the game by which one navigates line after line of conversation for many, many hours of game-play in an attempt to get a blue alien chick into bed with your female starship captain. It also allows one to interact with other characters in the game too. Apparently. Essentially you get several choices of which way you can take the dialogue, and a lot of the time they will affect your alignment, thus you are often presented with three choices “Kill the kitten”, “Save the kitten” or “I am morally ambivalent to the situation the kitten finds itself in, but not so much that people will find me evil. However, certainly one couldn’t assume that I was good either. I will, therefore, neither harm, nor through an indirect act cause harm to come to the kitten. Unless it is during the process of saving a much prettier kitten”. In essence what you have in many situations is a voice actor trying to land a TV role by over-egging the ol’ thespianism, which you can skip by quickly clicking on the dialogue choice that most represents the way you want your character to turn out. Conveniently, in most cases, this is the top right option for Good, bottom right option for Bad, and the middle one for Oh Grow A Bloody Spine Already.

So what does the fact that the SHMECWoASTF was evident in the TOR video mean? Those of you who said ‘nothing at all, it’s an early release video, things could change a lot in the coming years before release’, well done for listening, have a glass of port. The rest of you, see me in my office after school. But what could it mean, if it were to remain? Well, for one thing, groups could be interesting. And when I say interesting, I mean the sort of painful hideous tedium one would imagine from not only having to wade through hours of hammed-up dialogue to finally get a quest objective put in one’s tracker, but having to watch someone else do it. One can only assume that the player whose quest it is will do the interacting with any NPCs, because otherwise you’d get:

Captain: “Ah thank the heavens, you’re finally here Jedi Master Ewokhumper77! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will you help?”


Captain: “You will? Thank you! Thank you! Go, go now and maybe you can stop them in time!”


Captain: “… Um, was there anything else?”

<Ewokhumper77 points to his party>

Captain: “Ah. Right. Very well.”

Captain: “Ah thank heavens, you’re finally here Shagbacca! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will you help me?”


Captain: “What do you mean you’re entirely ambivalent to my situation? Get out of my sight!”

Captain: “Ah thank heavens, you’re finally here Boobie Fett20639! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will you help me?”


Captain: “No I don’t want to go to bed with you! I don’t care if you *do* have a really big blaster! Now get off my bridge. Yes that means getting off my lap!”

Captain: “Ah thank heavens, you’re finally here HanShotFirst! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will… I hesitate to ask but, will you help me?”

Captain: “What? What kitten?! How would I know if I’m prettier than a kitten?! Go away! “

So you see in all likelihood there will be one person choosing the dialogue options. But what if the other party members don’t want to follow their choices? What if the Bounty Hunter is being a bit too ambivalent for the Sith Lord’s liking? Perhaps the best solution would be to have a vote on it, majority wins. Of course each candidate would want to be able to put their case forward for why their choice is the right one, canvass their target group, maybe a leaflet campaign. Sponsored messages could be posted on the Holonet on behalf of the Liberal Ambivalent Party, or the slightly more right-wing Sith Lords for the Destruction of All Kittens. Then everyone in the group makes their choice for which choice to choose, the votes are counted and then that choice is picked by the Leader of the House of Players. Everyone is happy!

Unless of course someone calls the vote into dispute, claims that the election was rigged, that many ballots were spoiled, and demands a recount. At which point the whole thing becomes a giant PvP bun-fight to determine the winner. In which case my advice would be, let the Wookie Party win.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Now we see the violence inherent in the system!

The latest trailer from Star Wars: The Old Republic, focusing on the full voicing of the game, prompts a couple of observations. Firstly it suffers the traditional voiced game problem of referring to your character; games like Deus Ex and Mass Effect get around it by assigning your character name which obviously won’t work in an MMO, so we’re back to the traditional RPG staple of “… so, Bounty Hunter, you have arrived at last!”. Sadly I doubt there’ll be a reply option of “well you could call me Dennis“. Speaking of replies, it’s not just NPCs that are fully voiced but the player characters too, which makes me wonder how many options there will be; one male and one female? One voice per class? With voice being so important there’s the potential for it to jar rather if you can’t find a voice to match your idea of your character. The example in the video is agreeably Clint Eastwood-y, but I’d hope there might be at least one or two slightly more British options, especially considering some of the original actors: Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, David Prowse (“Luke, oi am your faaather”). The video gives us hope, around three minutes in, with the voice direction: “If you could do sort of a Darth Maul thing *and* a Welsh thing”. I’m not entirely sure how that turns out… “Right, boyos, it’s the Republic scum out there, let’s give them a right chorus of Sosban Fach!”

Thursday 16 July 2009

What we call the beginning is often the end

You know how I’m totally out of the MMO game? I was listening to the Van Hemlock Podcast, and in the Return of the Cheap Seats Jon was off to try Jumpgate (the non-Evolved one) for 14 days. I fancied some space combat after reminiscing about Wing Commander, it was only a 70Mb download, I thought I’d have a look around and see what’s what…

The tutorial sends you flying out from the space station to get a feel for flight, so I flew around for a while then docked back up. Next step, it suggests you try a mission. Right, here we go, alien blasting action! Well, no, why not start with something a bit simpler, like taking some cargo to another station? OK, get to grips with galactic navigation, fair enough, so I found my way to one of the titular jumpgates, flew through space a bit more, through another jumpgate, no sign of another living (or even NPC) soul, dozed off, woke back up, went through another jumpgate, dozed off again, woke up somewhere near the destination station, delivered the package. In the “gripping excitement” stakes, it narrowly beat out (on penalty kicks, after extra time) the Windows “Starfield” screen saver.

Looking at the next step of the tutorial it said something like “why not do a bunch more courier missions to earn enough money to buy some equipment so you can actually kill something more threatening than a housefly?”, and I said “errr, no”, and haven’t logged in since. Still on the MMO wagon…

Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.

Oh my! Hello, I’m Melmoth Melmothson, you may remember me from such posts as “Sick Cows: Tauren who wear leather armour” and “Mummy, why do all my pick-up groups die of the plague? A guide to personal hygiene, your Ratonga and you”. Today and for the next few posts we’re going to be taking a look at Lord of the Rings Online, a game that is fortunately nothing to do with mastering gymnastic apparatus, becoming a boxing champion or a mogul of irritating tunes for mobile phones.

I’ve been exploring around the lands of Eriador a lot of late, my cunning plan to cut across Middle Earth ahead of Frodo and company to deliver an anti-social behaviour order to one Mr Geoff Sauron of 1 Barad-dûr Cresent, Mordor-on-Sea having been thwarted by the fact that Mordor-on-Sea seems to be one of those heavily protected gated communities. Gated content in MMOs really annoys me, it’s one of those annoying hangers-on to the whole school bully that is levelling. But where levelling has direct power over your character and what you can achieve with it, gated content is the small greasy weasely kid who hides behind levelling and leans around every now and again to sneer at you. It’s particularly galling in LotRO because the land is so beautiful and wondrous that the explorer in me is always wanting to see just what is over the next hill. Goblins, apparently. And all of them so vastly more powerful than your character that you can do nothing but run away and hide in that little cloak room on the second floor until recess is over. Sometimes though, one looks at the vista in front of them and thinks ‘I shall not be stopped from exploring this land. I will not be prevented from finding out what treasures are hidden by its folded blanket of hills and lofty canopy of forest. I am a hero of the third age, albeit a relatively unknown one, but then again I’ve never been one for self-promotion and thrusting myself into the lime-light, and I’m not bitter, no. Anyway, I am a hero! And I will adventure where I please, and any foes I shall face will be mighty ones, and if I fall to them it will be bec… oh shit!’. And then you’re running and running and running, and there’s this five mile train of wolves and badgers and lame ducks and asthmatic voles chasing you down the hill and into the village, and you find yourself locked in the cloak room on the second floor wondering what all those animals are going to be able to do with your dinner money anyway.

Look, if I fight wolves in the dwarf starter area, and I kill the requisite hundred and fifty thousand million of them for the Wolf-Slaughterer title, it’s fair to say that I’m pretty good at killing wolves, some might say that I am accomplished if not a little genocidal. Therefore, if I then go to another area, further afield than where one might find a new character normally, I should not find super wolves, ten times the power of a normal wolf, who have but to look at me in a slightly disapproving manner for all my armour to jettison from my body and my skeleton to explode out of my skin and bury itself five feet under the ground. I am a wolf slayer! Look! You gave me a bloody title to acknowledge the fact that I spent a lot of time killing wolves, why can I not kill these wolves? ‘Oh’, say the developers, ‘but these are different wolves’. Different how exactly? Were they privately educated? Have members of their number graduated from Sandhurst? Did they train at Hereford in the use of special tactics and weapons? Gated content is rubbish, and the way it is enforced in MMOs these days is even more rubbish, and it’s time that we moved on. There are a great many Bartle Explorers, that is to say people who have Explorer as their primary type from the Bartle test and not people trying to investigate the many nooks and crannies of Richard Bartle himself, and gating content only serves to reduce what can be an excellent additional game-play element into something one does at the level cap when they’re bored and they want an easy achievement. The art of exploration in an MMO is that the player still needs to meet challenges, it’s not some sort of woolly-hat brigade requirement that ‘People should be able to roam and ramble across the land wherever they choose (as long nobody does it across our own back garden, of course)’, it is about not preventing players from visiting a place due to a blatantly artificial barrier. And yes, some places should be out of bounds, I should certainly expect to be getting more anti-social behaviour than I can happily handle if I do happen to go directly to Mordor, do not pass Rivendell, do not collect the Glass of Aglaral. Of course dealing with the snivelling wretch that is gated content also means dealing with the larger more troublesome problem of the levelling bully, but that’s a blog post for another time…

I spoke earlier of titles, and this is something else that is both excellent and daft in LotRO. It’s excellent because it’s one of those achievement systems that you can partly accomplish simply through the expedience of playing the game. Yet there are other titles that take a little more persistence and daring-do, one can display these to anyone who cares to look, and thus demonstrate some bragging rights without having to force it into conversation in order to elicit a “Grats” which has evidently been forced through the keyboard equivalent of gritted teeth.

“So I was wondering if you had any iron ore to spare? I need some to finish this quest.”

“As a matter of fact I do! Hold on a second and I’ll just reach into my bag and tell you that I killed dragon.”

“Thank… uh, what?”

“I killed a dragon”

“Oh. Um, grats?”

“Thank you! I’m really very much better than you, aren’t I? Here you are asking for ore, and here I am having killed a dragon.”

“Yes, I… I guess so?”

“I mean, really you should be bowing down before me. Don’t you think?”

“You… want me… to bow down?”

“Well I have killed a dragon.”

“Look, I just wanted to trade for some iron ore, I’ll just go and see if…”

“I KILLED A DRAGON! Now, give me all of your money. And take off your clothes. And dance like a cat. Hee hEh HEe ha HA.”

Remember kids, this is what the world would be like without achievement titles.

On the daft side, however, the titles are generally things like Tail-cleaver and Feather-foe, hardly the stuff of legend.

FRODO: “Excuse me, that man in the corner, who is he?”

BUTTERBUR: “He’s one of them Rangers; they’re dangerous folk they are, wandering the wilds. What his right name is, I never heard, but round here he’s known as the Pie-Eating Champion.”

I managed to get the Undying title for my dwarf Champion, which is achieved by reaching level twenty without dying, and it’s one of the few titles that I actually like. However, I’ve even turned that one off because the irony of lying on the floor of a dungeon waiting for a rez and seeing Bjomolf the Undying floating above your corpse is so sharp it could wound.

So ends the first segment of this little diatribe of thoughts generated by my recent time in LotRO. Now don’t even think to be sneaking a peek at the next post before I’m ready for you to see it, and just to make sure you don’t I have surrounded it by a pack of rabid moths which I think you’ll find are a surprisingly impossible challenge for you to overcome at your current blog reading level.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

It was twenty one years ago today

If you’ve been following the series of posts looking back at old PC magazines (now with handy added “retro” tag) you might have noticed a common theme: from PC Plus to PC Magazine to Computer Shopper, they only included a couple of pages dedicated to games, or even “leisure software” in general. Games were what I was really interested in, I couldn’t care less about a round-up of spreadsheets or networking hardware, so why was I buying these serious magazines? Cranking the time machine back another five years or so…

My formative computing experiences started with a ZX Spectrum around the age of eight or nine, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to go out and buy a computer magazine; reading material of choice from the newsagent was Battle! Picture Weekly, and computer games existed alongside Action Man, plastic soldiers, Star Wars stickers, Transformers, MASK and whatever other tat was being pushed by Saturday morning cartoons. Nine year olds seldom made informed decisions based upon independently researched data when judging whether a particular toy, sticker collection or Spectrum game was “ace!” or indeed “brill!”, prevailing playground opinion ruled. Elsewhere I imagine little gangs of Spectrum or Commodore owners would get together, swap games and tips, and hurl abuse and conkers at rival Commodore or Spectrum owners, but circumstances conspired to stump popular playground opinion on computer games at my school. I had the ZX Spectrum with Starquake and Saboteur; Alan had an Amstrad CPC464 with Beach Head and Knight Tyme; Will had a BBC Micro (his dad’s estate agency had computerised with BBCs, so they had one at home too) with Repton and Track N’ Field; Pete had… something with Commando on it, maybe a Commodore 64. Tim had an Atari of some kind, possibly a 600XL or 65XE, with a wargame set on the Eastern Front that sounded amazing (armies and tanks and planes and stuff!), but went way over our heads with its hex-based map and unit symbols. Darren had an MSX, apparently, I had no idea what an MSX was.

It seems unlikely that there’d been a town meeting where our parents had taken Wikipedia’s “List of 8-bit home computers available in 1984” and assigned a different one to each family, if for no other reason than Wikipedia didn’t exist at the time, but you have to wonder. My other pet theory is the school was part of a FAST experiment into combating piracy. “Piracy rate: 0%. Experiment: successful. Possible problems with implementing plan on national scale: would need to increase number of different, incompatible 8-bit computer formats from 6 to 974,232 to ensure nobody knows anyone they can copy games from.”

I think I was slightly too young to really appreciate that first home computing boom, and the fragmentation with all the different systems meant none of them developed a “scene” or community at school that might’ve got me more interested. Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, on the other hand, could far more easily be swapped around, sweeping a bunch of us into Dungeons and Dragons and wargaming, so after the Battle! Action Force comic I moved on to White Dwarf rather than something like Your Sinclair or Crash, especially as the Spectrum was becoming increasingly temperamental when trying to load games via an old and creaky cassette player.

1988, and the arrival of our Amstrad PC1512, rekindled that interest in computing, and I trundled off down to the newsagents to find out more about this magical machine. The dedicated PC magazines looked a bit dull, but The Games Machine promised coverage of “Computer & Electronic Entertainment”, and as an added bonus had Operation Wolf on the cover, so I figured that’d do.

Issue 13 of The Games Machine, dated December 1988, cost £1.25 (DM 7.50, US $3.50, CAN $3.95) for its 154 pages. It opened with news of a “Console Fight” (illustrated slightly oddly with a photo of an M113 armoured personnel carrier): Nintendo and Sega were planning new 16 bit consoles, and “Console experts say only one or two machines can survive the fierce competition which will develop among five top models: Atari’s VCS2600, the Nintendo, the Sega, the PC Engine and the planned Konix Slipstream. Many tip the 16-bit Slipstream, which TGM exclusively revealed last month, as the winner when it’s launched next summer. Among the £130 Slipstream’s strong selling points will be digitised sound, RISC graphics chips, and an add-on hydraulic chair for less than £100 extra. Code Masters Operations Manager Bruce Everiss, whose software house is believed to have been planning a console last year, enthuses: ‘I think Konix has the potential to be another Amstrad. He [boss Wynn Holloway] has wreaked miracles.’ Even a spokesman for Micro Media, the sole UK outlet for the PC Engine, admits: ‘I’d expect the Slipstream to have an open road until 1990.'”

If you’re wondering why this wunder-console failed to destroy Nintendo and Sega, is a rather interesting read.

Back to the big players, Nintendo were suffering from slow software development and chip shortages with their “Nintendo II” (the SNES-to-be), while “Sega’s 16-bit Megadelve (sic) is expected to appear about this time next year with stereo sound, high resolution graphics and £49-50 games on two-inch discs”. The “Consoles: what they’ve sold” sidebar contained some rather interesting industry best-guesses of console sales of the time. Atari VCS2600: “claim of more than 3 million in UK since 1981 release. Interest slowed down mid-Eighties, now reviving.” Nintendo: “NESI claim 30 million worldwide but reliable reports say figure is closer to 20-25 million. Breakdown: 12 million in Japan (sales slowing down), 7 million in US (sales soaring – 10 to 12 million predicted by the New Year), 45,000 in UK, 25,000 in Scandinavia.” PC Engine: “Possibly up to 600,000 in Japan, certainly much less elsewhere.” Sega: “45,000 in UK”.

In the run-up to Christmas retailers were predicting Afterburner would be the big seasonal hit, with possible rivals including Operation Wolf, Thunder Blade, Double Dragon and R-Type, all coin-op conversions. On the hardware front Dixons and WH Smiths were going to be stocking the Atari ST, only Dixons were taking the Amiga, but Comet, Dixons and WH Smiths all offered the aged Atari VCS2600. The venerable Spectrum was beginning to fade, with Smiths dropping it to concentrate on the ST and VCS2600, but Comet, Dixons and Tandy were still planning to offer the +2 and +3 versions. Dixons were also the only place stocking the Commodore 64. TGM didn’t just cover games, the news also covered Sir Clive Sinclar launching a cheap satellite dish, the £149.95 Cambridge satellite receiver, going up against Amstrad for the first time since Sir Clive had sold the Spectrum computing brand to them.

In a preview piece, TGM visited Ere Informatique in Paris for a look at Purple Saturn Day, Billiard Simulator I, Teenage Queen (“… a strip-poker game, and if you don’t know how to play strip poker we suggest you ask your teacher”) and The Temple of Flying Saucers, which sounds frankly bonkers: “our hero, A von Spacekraft, is kidnapped by rebel electric toasters. And they want bread.” A couple of pages of assorted preview screenshots followed, lots of glossy ST and Amiga shots from games like F-16 Combat Pilot, Double Dragon, Thunder Blade and Motor Massacre, with a token Spectrum shot from AfterBurner to prove they weren’t entirely neglecting the 8-bits.

Again demonstrating its wider remit, Mel Croucher’s feature “Who Needs Reality Anyway?” was all about telecommuting, predicting “supermarkers will be hit by home teleshopping, as will high-street estate agents, travel agents, banks and all other businesses that will gradually be replaced by the interactive domestic screen.” Not bad, considering this pre-dates the World Wide Web by several years.

Arcades were still going great guns, a couple of pages covered news from the JAMMA/JAPEA Annual Amusement Machine Show in Japan of the hot games to come in 1989, Taito’s Chase HQ and Namco’s Splatter House being a couple I remember pumping 10p coins into.

Into the main review section, the Lead Review was Powerdrome, a 3D polygon-based racing game for the Atari ST that scored 93% (looked a bit blocky to me, but the stills probably didn’t do the sense of speed justice). Rocket Ranger for the Amiga got 90% for “Excellent graphics, breathtaking sound effects and sampled speech”, and really looked the business. Pac-Mania, also for the Amiga, got 92% for its arcade-accurate take on the isometric 3D pill-muncher. Multi-format games got separate scores per platform, so Operation Wolf got 89% on the Amstrad CPC, 87% on the Spectrum and 79% on the Commodore 64 (suffering a slight loss in graphic definition, and requiring pixel-perfect use of the gun sight), with 16-bit versions to follow later. The reviews section also included version updates, shorter roundups of previously reviewed games that had been released on new platforms, so Revenge of the Mutant Camels II that scored 63% for the Atari ST in issue 8 got 49% for the Amiga version update in this issue, earning criticism for the superior capabilities of the machine being used to only marginally improve the graphics.

After the reviews, another article looked at the world of pirates (yarr, me hearty etc.), talking to members of groups like The Kent Team, PCB and Divisional Distribution. Showing how little has changed over twenty years except the amounts, Bob Hays, co-ordinator of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) estimated that piracy amounted to £7.5 million a year in illegal games, but the pirates dismissed such figures, pointing out they wouldn’t have bought the game anyway in most cases, and some were more attracted by the fun and challenge of breaking copy protection rather than the game itself.

A few pages of playing tips offered a variety of tactics and passwords for various games, including Double Dragon: “When in dual player mode if you go up to a Putz and grab him from behind the other player can hit the unfortunate victim as many times as he likes with the whip. He won’t die, your points go up like mad (200 at a time) and you can do this ad infinitum”. And in the game, ah!

Branching out again from games there was a book column, on something of a cyberpunk trip with a couple of Bruce Sterling novels (Islands in the Net and a reprint of Involution Ocean) and the Sterling-edited anthology Mirrorshades getting the thumbs up, but Pat Cadigan’s Mindplayers received a more lukewarm response. Raymond E Feist’s Faerie Tale strained credibility, but was exciting enough to suspend disbelief. A roleplay column reviewed a couple of RuneQuest supplements, Gods of Glorantha (60 Religions for RuneQuest), and the Gloranthan Bestiary.

The letters page was mostly a fairly dull spat between Amiga and ST owners over who had the better machine, with some further fallout from an advert for “Psycho Pigs UXB” in a previous issue featuring a scantily clad model that presumably had attracted some complaints, this month featuring complains about the complaints (“just what is wrong with the human body?”).

Finally, the Back Bytes section included some handy reference material, including a guide to computer systems starting with the 32 bit Acorn Archimedes (£800+, with “over 200 releases for the Archimedes – but only 13 games at last count”), the 16-bit Atari ST (£300 for the 520STFM), Amiga (£400 for an A500 pack including software and TV modulator) and PC (£350 to “well over £4000”, with “… more games than you might expect, largely because of the many PC game-players in America. However, poor display and sound are problems and PC-compatiles are not recommended if you’re only into games, graphics or music”), the 8-bit Amstrad CPC (£299 for the CPC464 with colour monitor), Commodore C64/C128 (£150 for the C64 and ten games) and Sinclair ZX Spectrum (£139 for the +2), and finishing off with the Nintendo Entertainment System (£130), PC Engine (£175) and Sega Master System (£80, including light gun) consoles.

An excellent and laudable magazine, then, covering all facets of gaming with a few books and RPGs thrown in, everything an aspiring geek could want, right? What on earth possessed me to eschew it the following month for a copy of PC Plus with a picture of a networking kit on the cover? The basic problem was page 37, the index of reviews that listed them by system. Spectrum: 6 games; Amstrad CPC: 3 games; Commodore: 7 games; Atari ST: 13 games; Amiga: 13 games; PC: 4 games; Sega: 4 games. The 4 PC games were Bubble Ghost (79%), a dull looking platform-ish thing that had been out on the ST for a year, Captain Blood (68%), a couple of paragraphs pointing out it wasn’t as good the ST or Amiga versions from 6 months back, The Games: Summer Edition (76%), a slightly updated Daley Thompson-esque waggle-fest and the only brand new review as opposed to a version update, and Rasterscan (44%), a hasty 8-bit port. Meanwhile, the cover story of “Watch out, solider! Kill! Kill! Kill!” referred to Operation Wolf plus two distinctly influenced-by-(as in shamelessly-ripped-off) Operation Wolf games, POW for the Amiga and Veteran for the Atari ST. That was what I wanted, all-action mowing down hordes of enemy soldiers, not a ghost blowing a bubble. It felt like The Games Machine was actively taunting me, waving these shiny graphics and action packed games in my face while I was stuck with four shades of grey and the odd “beep”. Prominent in the middle of the magazine was a double page advert for the Atari ST, advertising the £399.99 “Super Pack” including £450 worth of software: Marble Madness, Test Drive, Beyond the Ice Palace, Buggy Boy, Eddie Edwards Super Ski, Ikari Warriors, Ranarama, Thundercats, Zynaps, Quadralien, Starquake, Chopper X, Roadwars, Xenon, Arkanoid II, Wizball, Black Lamp, Genesis, Thrust, Seconds Out, Summer Olympiad 88 and Organiser Business Software. What wouldn’t I have given for a pile of games like that; the magazine felt like 150 pages of Jim Bowen saying “here’s what you could have won…”

Looking back, it’s not quite that bad; many games promised a PC version to come, and there was even a foretaste of things to come with a review of the Amiga version of Ultima IV that had been out for the PC since 1986, but that was scant consolation. Nope, it was PC Plus for me after that, it came with a cover disk that had the odd game on it, and at least I’d only be bored by a spreadsheet face-off rather than driven mad with jealousy.

Monday 13 July 2009

Warning! Contains cheese

Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits and Metallica are proving to be splendid fun; they both have a great selection of songs that build up to some insane final tier shred-fests that should keep all but the most trained-spider-fingered of fake plastic guitarists busy for a while. I’d say “… busy until Rock Band 2 comes out on the Wii”, but “… until death from old age” might be more accurate with the release date either back to September or just not being listed depending on retail site, not that I’m bitter or anything. So long as the Wii version of The Beatles: Rock Band is released at the same time as the other platforms I’ll let them off (gracious, huh?)

Anyway! While Guitar Hero: Metallica is perfect when you fancy a spot of moshing, it doesn’t feature much outside the broad spectrum of “quite metal” to “very metal”, so overall I’ve been playing a bit more of Greatest Hits which, for the most part, has an awesome set list. I say “for the most part”… The only drawback so far is that, with the new system of unlocking songs where you don’t have to complete every song of one tier before moving to the next one, I’d been skipping songs I didn’t really fancy playing; towards the end of the set list, though, you have to have completed all encores to unlock the final stage. And that meant I had to play all the songs I’d been skipping… basically, the godawful hair-metal cock-rock cheesy stuff that Metallica were railing against in their early years: Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, Ratt, Warrant… Ugh. The odd cheesy song can be fun, a bit of Kiss, Poison’s Nothin’ But A Good Time, but having to play through the lot of them in short order is like scraping a massive slab of unpleasant congealed processed cheese off a burger, eating the rest of the meal, then being forced to eat the cheese before you’re allowed dessert. If you don’t eat yer cheese, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer cheese?!

So my advice is to hold your nose, take a deep breath, play sodding Warrant as soon as you can to get it out the way, then enjoy the good stuff. Mind you, if you’re not some sort of completist nutter, you can always solve the problem by just avoiding the songs entirely…

What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

So the circle of strife continues in the MMO blag-u-spore, subscribers come and go, players burn out and move on, other players return for another look at a game, tempted by emails promising untold game-play treasures and quickly rediscovering all the reasons that they left in the first place. M’colleague is clearly looking for that next MMO fix, busy with his campaigns in Total War (as opposed to all those Partial Wars, where two sides turn up but only one of them had the forethought to bring a flag), he seems to be toe-dipping in the seaside waters of washed-up MMOs, before deciding each time that it all looks a bit too choppy and rough to submerse himself in it fully. Champions Online and All Points Bulletin seem to be the next Great Hype Hope that many bloggers, us included, are pinning their hopes on; I have to say though, in the case of the former, having experienced it first-hand, my hopes can no longer be defined as ‘high’ but more ‘moderately elevated a couple of centimetres from the floor’; to say that Cryptic not releasing the game in June was sensible would be like saying that not wetting ones genitals and then sticking them in an electrical mains socket was sensible: that is to say, in all but the most masochistic quarters, these two things would be classed as a mandatory avoidance. APB continues to look gorgeous, but as a pretty face is no reliable indicator of the mind behind it giving intelligent and engaging conversation, a shiny character creator in an MMO is not a reliable indicator as to whether the game will have any substance to it. Choosing Paul Barnett and Suicide Girls to promote a game says to me that Realtime Worlds are appealing to the style over substance crowd, which is where my current reservations about the game stem from; perhaps APB will be the GAP of MMOs, an emphasis on style but with a more than satisfactory level of quality to the product too. However, for the moment I will remain just cautiously optimistic, and as the character Morveer in Abercrombie’s latest epic Best Served Cold says: “Caution first, always”.

Aion is a curious case: I’ve played the beta, I’ve ordered the Collector’s Edition, and yet I’m fairly certain that I won’t be playing it beyond the first month of non-subscription play. As to why? The ‘Go here, kill that, talk to him, here’s some coin now go and talk to the other guy again’ linear quest design is just not terribly interesting to me any more. I can manage it in a game where there are plenty of distractions to break the monotony, but otherwise I have a hard time bringing myself to play such a game these days. However, something about the game world in Aion captured my imagination – it’s so very well realised – and like a good book I appreciate MMOs when they paint a vivid picture of a world in which I would like to exist. Essentially I like to think that with the price of the box I’m buying in to the idea of the world they’ve created, but my lack of subscription will point to the fact that I won’t buy into the grinding Kill Ten Rats method of quest design. Some people would perhaps label this as “WoW Tourism”, I would say that it’s more along the lines of “I am intrigued by your ideas, and utterly resent your derivative game-play model”. The world of Aion is beautiful right from the start, the flora and fauna are delightful, the character design is fluid and refined, and it just feels right — like it should exist. It’s one of the things that I feel Blizzard got right with World of Warcraft, Azeroth exists somewhere out there in the Multiverse, surely it has to, because nothing so well conceived, so coherent and so magical could be spawned by the mind of man. That’s the feeling: when you read a good book, when you find yourself turning each page because you want to see what happens in that world, because for a moment your mind exists in that other dimension of space and time. Tolkien wasn’t the first, but could perhaps be considered the Grand Master of this realising of another world, for without Middle Earth what is the Ring Cycle but a lot of tedious journeying interspersed with a few battles and far too much protracted dreary singing and self-indulgent wearisome poetry?

Thankfully the singing is all but removed in Lord of the Rings Online, only the music remains. The poetry is confined to quest texts and role-playing groups in town centres, where in the latter case one can take it as a warning, like the sign that says ‘Beware of the Dog’ on a garden gate: you can take the risk if you want to trespass upon that ground, but you’re liable to suffer grave wounds. As Lazarus Long said:

“A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits.”

LotRO does suffer from tedious journeying, however. Indeed, tedious journeying is one of those malignant neoplasms of the MMO cell structure: where long journeys are an essential part of realising a fantasy world – helping to bring into focus the scope of that world and its size and structure – LotRO’s quests require soul-numbing back-and-forth journeys across vast landscapes and routes that are somehow miraculously unconnected, requiring the player’s constant attention in order to deal with the ever-inert engineering works on the main horse line:

“This is the 7:35 from West Bree, terminating at Trestlebridge. This is a connection only service; please change at Trestlebridge for Esteldin and Othrikar. Due to works on the line, there is no direct service to Tinnudir, please disembark at Esteldin where a small member of the Apodidae family will take you the rest of the way.”

One imagines that the ‘dismount’ option, initially planned to allow players to hop off half way between horse stops in order to provide a modicum of flexibility in their travel arrangements, is now used by players to dismount at the top of a steep mountain or halfway across a bridge, so that they can launch their character off into a deep ravine in protest at the amount of time they’ve spent staring at a poorly modelled horse’s arse. For a game that forces players to spend so much time riding around on horses, you would have thought that Turbine would have made more effort when they crafted the horse models, rather than gluing four stilts to a giant kidney bean and then plopping a strangely-necked horse head on top. One can only hope that they’re going to revamp the horse models for the much rumoured Rohan expansion, otherwise the Charge of the Rohirrim will be a very messy affair, mainly from the main cast of characters throwing up on themselves as they bear witness to the terrifying sight of LotRO’s recreation of the event, as though a thousand My Little Ponies crashed into a patch of Garbage Pail Kids.

Despite my complaints (and you’d know it wasn’t me if I wasn’t complaining), I’m still enjoying LotRO immensely. I’ll hopefully have a post soon which discusses some of the highlights, as well as some more niggling issues, and perhaps also a report on the further adventures of Bjomolf Byrnison the dwarf Champion. All sorts of exciting adventures have been had, friends made, achievements accomplished. I’ll give you a little sneak peek into what has happened recently though, something both momentous and painful. The stout and sturdy little fellow has just spent nearly all of his savings so far in one fell swoop. Guess what, that was the momentous part.

The painful part was that he used the money to buy a giant kidney bean on stilts…

Friday 10 July 2009

Four for free

The sleeping robo-giant of BattleTech has awakened! Hot on the whirr-stomping heels of news that there’s a new Mechwarrior game being developed (maybe not quite the MMO Melmoth was hoping for, but it’s a start), to tide us over until then Mechwarrior 4 is being released for free. Quite how well it stands up these days, I’ll find out as soon as it’s available (or I could always just install it from the original disks in the meantime…)

Wednesday 8 July 2009

If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?

The strange case of Professor Myers and the Curious City may cause an observer unfamiliar with City of Heroes to initially exclaim, quite naturally, “Oh the horror, forcing people to PvP in a PvP zone! Whatever next?” Why did people get so cross with Twixt doing nothing more than playing the game properly?

PvP has always been problematic in City of Heroes. Though the developers doubtless had plans for eventually adding villains, and thus naturally PvP, City of Heroes launched in 2004 as a purely PvE game, with the mechanics very much geared in that direction. For the first year or so there was no PvP whatsoever until arenas were added in Issue 4, areas for hero vs hero PvP that you had to very specifically sign up for, and the problems became rather apparent.

You know how one of the most frustrating things for a close-combat character in PvP can be having to get into melee range, especially against opponents who can kite you with superior speed, or powers that slow and entangle you? Imagine how much more fun it is as a melee character when your opponent can *fly*, or leap tall buildings in a single stride, or teleport. Then there’s control; one archetype, the Controller, is largely based around… well, controlling, the clue’s in the name there. Their primary powersets are focused on freezing opponents in blocks of ice, or trapping them within burning rings of flame, or the very earth itself, or using the crushing force of massively increased gravity, or putting opponents to sleep; generally “mezzing” in MMO parlance. In PvP, if these powers work effectively there are howls of protest from the people who end up frozen in the block of ice totally unable to do anything, whereas if they don’t work effectively the Controller is equally frustrated that their primary powerset is rendered useless. Those were just two facets of the combat system, and thus began the Sisyphean task for the developers of trying to achieve “balance” (OK, so as with all MMOs the quest for balance had been going on from the beginning, but chucking PvP into the mix made the boulder a whole lot heavier). Combine MMO players love of change, where every minor tweak to any power is greeted with excitement and shrieks of joy, with the friendship and bonhomie that always exists between PvE and PvP focused players with their jocular cries of “griefer!” and “carebear!”, and you get a forum full of fun.

The arenas were a precursor, a way for the developers to try and get their PvP house in order for the main event: the late 2005 release of City of Villains that brought with it the villain “faction”, and several PvP zones for less structured fighting between heroes and villains. I think it’s pretty clear the developers wanted to get faction-based PvP going, but, from my perspective at least, it never really got traction (no faction action traction), for several reasons.

Despite tweaks since the introduction of the arena, tweaks that would go on for several years (and are probably still ongoing), PvP was never very balanced; some archetypes, powersets and builds worked very well, others really didn’t, and though a significant minority of players dedicated themselves to PvP and got incredibly good at it, that just exacerbated the problem when random casual players bounced into them and got annihilated.

Knowing that PvP zones wouldn’t be much good without players in them, and that many players are reward driven, City of Villains brought incentives to go into the PvP zones. Temporary powers could be acquired in them, and missions in the zones offered an XP bonus; players tended to hop into the zones, grab the missions or powers, and hop out again, offering at best fleeting targets of opportunity for actual PvPers. Then there were badges to be had in the PvP zones.

Badges are City of Heroes achievements, awarded for defeating 50 enemies of a certain type, visiting a certain location, completing a certain mission, that sort of thing, and CoH has many dedicated badge hunters, set on collecting as many as possible (especially as it’s one of the few things to do at the level cap). Some badge hunters are keen PvPers, but it’s a pretty small intersection on the Venn diagram, and many’s the forum thread started after somebody goes into a PvP zone, announces in broadcast chat “hey, I’m just after the badges, don’t attack me please!”, and utterly unpredictable events follow, like someone attacking them. Badge hunters condemn “griefers” who prevent them getting badges, PvPers condemn “griefers” who prevent, or don’t participate in, PvP in a zone designed for it, hilarity ensues.

PvP also works best when players consider themselves part of a “team”, and there’s a clear enemy to fight. City of Heroes never had much in the way of a specific “end game”, especially in its original incarnation; no PvP, no raiding (Hamidon excepted, a deliberately absurdly powerful blob-monster-thing for players to throw themselves against), no gear grind. After hitting the level cap people would often roll alts; indeed people would often roll alts well before the level cap. Even players like me, who in other MMOs tend to focus on developing a single character, would have a bunch of alts, and alt-o-holics like Melmoth could fill all the available character slots on a server in the blink of an eye, then re-roll the lot of them with new powersets and costumes before breakfast. If, at launch, players had the option of rolling a hero or villain there might have been more of a sense of two opposing sides, but with the release of CoV the overwhelming majority of supergroups (CoH guilds) just pitched up a villain version of the group on the other side of the game. The primary sense of identification remained with server, supergroup or player, rather than faction, with villains simply being another set of alts for a player. That’s not to say that nobody played either heroes or villains exclusively, for a variety of reasons, but it wasn’t a situation like Horde vs Alliance in WoW or Order vs Destruction in WAR. A few groups tried to make a real go of it; I recall one guild in particular who turned up on the Victory server after City of Villains with a “proper” PvP approach. They played villains and villains only, no hero alts on pain of being kicked, and they were out to win. They issued proclamations and challenges, all heroes would fear their name! They got bored, and faded away, the most brutal encounters as far as I could make out being restricted to the forums; when the most terrifying fate you can inflict on the other side is that they might not be able to get a temporary ability quite so easily if you happen to be in the same zone, it’s not a very heady sense of absolute power. Of course factions don’t have to be defined by the developers, they could be formed by players if the mechanics are there to support it, and there was the possibility of supergroup vs supergroup conflict. A group could build themselves a base, and with a sufficiently powerful base mount a PvE raid to claim an Item of Power. Any group with an Item of Power could then be raided by another supergroup, but though the system was tested, and even (I believe) went live for a short time, it proved too troublesome. Bases remain, but no items of power, and raiding can only be done for fun by mutual agreement. There’s rampant forum speculation as to just why that might be, but the lack of appetite for serious PvP must play a part.

Without a strong sense of antipathy between the sides, with such an entrenched PvE playerbase, PvP has remained a sideshow, underlined by the further development of the game. A single additional PvP zone was added after the release of City of Villains (and that was really only because the Villain level cap was raised from 40 to 50, in line with Heroes, at the same time), while further issues actually introduced co-operative content that allowed Heroes and Villains to work together in PvE against alien invaders or ancient Romans.

Thus where Twixt’s issues (being denounced for a “win at all costs” attitude and dedication to fighting the enemy faction that seems to be in line with the developers intentions) have echoes in similar debates in any number of other games (compare, for example, with players who’d insist on actually fighting the enemy in Alterac Valley when the vogue was to rush straight for the enemy general, and the opprobrium they’d draw), his almost universal vilification isn’t quite so surprising considering the heavily PvE focused nature of the majority of the player base and lack of faction identification, in spite of any developer attempts to nudge them towards hero vs villain PvP.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

In Jersey anything’s legal, as long as you don’t get caught

So Slashdot picked up a piece from about “the most hated outcast in City of Heroes”, pretty well summarised as “Researcher Trolls MMO, Surprised When Players Hate Him”. Course it’s a bit more complex than that, Massively have a good bunch o’ links to launch off across various forums, blogs etc.

From the good prof’s paper, there is the conclusion:

Remaining likable – socially connected — within the CoH/V community meant playing the game according to values other than those made explicit by the game design and the game designers. Players could only learn these values – much like those affecting social activities in the real world — by becoming (or already being) a member of the game’s entrenched social order.

Is that a bit of a “Pope in ‘not protestant’ shocker” for anyone who’s played an MMO for more than a couple of days? Pick an MMO of choice (except EVE, yada yada, exception that proves rule and all that, and probably Darkfall and its ilk too), can you come up with behaviour that, to use a technical term, would be “acting like a dick” but not explicitly “illegal”/disallowed to the point you’d get a warning/ban? As a starter for ten: in a game with Need/Greed loot rolling, persistently rolling “Need” on absolutely everything tends to be a good way of losing friends and not influencing people. Bonus example: The Ancient Gaming Noob’s mysterious scenario and reveal, with accompanying rather interesting debate. Any others?

Monday 6 July 2009

Wild? I was livid!

From, news that “computer games can be just as good for children as any traditional classroom activity or form of educational media”. According to the report: “Despite their reputation as promoters of violence and mayhem, digital games have in fact been shown to help children gain content and vital foundational and 21st-century skills”

I understand one of the subjects of the study now works as a butcher on a sanglier farm in France where, on a daily basis, they’re required to slaughter anything between nine and eleven boars, and they learnt everything they know from playing MMOGs…

Friday 3 July 2009

Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah dare hope to survive.

The stampede across the gaming news savannah by the raucous rampaging herd of wildebloggers was dramatically split yesterday by the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Blizzard Speculation Lion, which leaped into the midst of the unsuspecting herd, sending groups off in wildly tangential directions, their eyes rolling around in their heads as they simultaneously tried to avoid being trampled by their fellow wildebloggers and to also stay ahead of the Speculation Lion itself. As such there has been a fair bit of discussion as to what Blizzard’s trademarking of the word ‘Cataclysm’ might mean.

Now if I was a Blizzard marketing monkey the first thing I’d do is take note of this manic phenomenon that occurs whenever their company so much as twitches its majestic mane, and then I’d go off and start trademarking random words from the dictionary, just to mess with the heads of everyone. I’d probably reserve the word ‘pogonophobia’ to start with, and then go from there.

Others have speculated, even before this latest fuelling of Blizzard’s perpetual hype machine, as to what might happen in the next World of Warcraft expansion:

“For the next expansion, the whole of old Azeroth gets a phasing makeover, we become servants of the scourge in a very dark setting.” — Spinks

Now just as a casual observation – because we don’t want to invoke the wrath of the rightfully snarkful – if such an expansion as that described above were to happen it would be quite the cataclysmic event wouldn’t you say? Also, were it to happen, it would solve the ‘nobody cares about the 1-60 game anymore’ problem for World of Warcraft, with Old Azeroth simply being made to go away, it being replaced with a freshly scourged Azeroth.

In the house of the Old Gods:

“Hi honey, I’m home! MMmmm, something smells nice!”

“Be down in a minute! Oh, and there’s some freshly scourged Azeroth cooling on the window sill.”

“Oooooo! Can I have a slice now?”

“Ok, but mind you don’t burn yourself on the Kalmidor, it’ll still be piping hot.”

And finally, if such an expansion did happen to be on the cards, I would casually observe that a really rather funky way to introduce it would be to do ‘flash-forwards’. Use that oh-so-clever phasing technology to have sections of the scourged Azeroth appear for shortish periods of time at random; have it last an hour or so, in order for those players who aren’t online to have a chance to be notified by friends and get themselves in to the game to witness it. Then revert back to the original Azeroth again, but perhaps leaving a little of the portent remaining: a few charred corpses in the streets, say. The added bonus is that because this would only affect the original 1-60 content of Azeroth, those elements of gaming society who don’t like to have their game time interrupted with inconveniences such as story telling and world changing dramatic events – as mused upon elsewhere recently – will not be effected.

As an aside, while speaking of using phasing for fun and profit: I’m really intrigued as to whether pjharvey’s mind-fondling idea of what I’d dub ‘socially networked phasing’ would work in its attempt to remove server boundaries between player populations.

Anyway, there’s no evidence as to what, if anything, the trademark of ‘Cataclysm’ might mean to Blizzard. It could simply be the marketing department deciding to have a bit of fun with the community after having returned from a particularly lengthy liquid lunch, but I found it fun to let the idea-ball roll around the roulette wheel of my inner mind, and when it finally came to rest, ‘cataclysmic scourging of Azeroth with portentous flash-forwards’ was the slot that it landed in. As such, I’ve reported the result here to you in order to see if it’s a winner.

The common seed within which all these fabulous beings slumber in embryo is taxation

Van Hemlock‘s podcast question of the week on Twitter a while back was “[Podcast Q] Fed up with the usual Tank, Healer, DPS and Crowd Control. What new class or role shall we make a requirement for group work?”, and I suggested “Accountant, Lawyer and/or Clerk. The paperwork of most groups is frankly shoddy, auditors wouldn’t be at all impressed.”

Unbeknownst to me Anarchy Online actually had a Bureaucrat class that they mentioned on the podcast, which sounded quite fun. Still quite combat oriented, though, rather than focusing on the form-filling, so perhaps a missed opportunity, as what games really need is some decent paperwork (a field in which they’ve been lacking for quite a while).

Most MMOGs have some form of economy, from a simple auction house or crafting and sales mechanism to the pan-galactic complexity of EVE, but none of them offer true challenge or enjoyment to real cognoscenti. Take Warhammer Online, for example; it has a guild tax mechanism, where guild leaders can set a tax rate such that a percentage of a guild member’s cash loot is automatically siphoned off to the guild vault. What sort of nonsense is that? Do Magic Tax Pixies oversee all looting, and instantaneously teleport the precise tax amount to the vault? It’s utterly immersion breaking. What should happen is that, once a year, players assess their overall income of the previous tax year, including cash directly pilfered from the pockets of dead opponents, the sale of items to vendors, the sale of items to other players, the cash value of magical weapons and armour (factoring in depreciation), with deductions allowed for work-related items (not applied to cosmetic clothing) and complete schedules B-H (excepting D) of Form 20381 (revision ii) (unless self-employed, in which case schedules A-K apply twice, and schedules D-Q once, or a contractor, in which case Form 2038i (revision 11) applies), and submit those to the Guild Treasurer along with a cheque or postal order of the amount owed. Doesn’t that sound *much* more exciting? Then there are the flat fees applied to auction house sales, when clearly a superior option would be a multi-tiered set of taxation rates including Value Added Tax that would apply to chocolate covered rations but not conjured rations or beverages, leading to hotly disputed court cases over whether a chocolate covered beverage should be zero-rated or not.

Then there’s housing in EverQuest 2. A flat fee to buy and fixed weekly rent? Where’s the thrill of deciding between a variable rate offset or a fixed rate endowment or capped rate repayment mortgage? The option of becoming a landlord, and renting out shoddy properties to other players at exorbitant rent? Surely it can’t just be me who sees the appeal of a Not Very Independent Financial Advisor class, nefariously steering clients towards inappropriate products that offer large commissions while avoiding ombudsman investigation.

Finally, World of Warcraft recently announced they would be allowing players to change faction. Bravo, I say, about time! I do worry, though, that they’ll implement this through some half-arsed “give us a few quid and pow!, faction changed” mechanism, I’m desperately hoping they take the opportunity to present players with an all-action immigration process, where initially there’d be a complex scoring system, assessing the desirability of a player to their prospective new faction, considering factors such as age, class, equipment and ability to correctly use punctuation. Should the required criteria be met a series of interviews with low level functionaries at the consulate would follow, each requiring identical forms to be filled out (in triplicate) and stamped by at least four other departments. Successful presentation of correctly completed and stamped forms at a desk, only open between 9am and 10.17am on two randomly selected days of the week, appointments not possible so you have to stand in the queue, would give a 17% chance of acquiring a visa allowing travel to your new faction. Once there, an epic quest chain would become available with a residency permit being the ultimate reward, though with only a month to achieve it you’d better get a move on, or face deportation back to your old faction. I’d definitely resubscribe for that.