Monday 30 November 2009

Every time, just like the last

I suspect it won’t come as a massive shock to regular readers if I revealed that I too have succumbed to the recent Steam sale. Like Melmoth I bought the Complete THQ Pack, and in the competitive bargain-off stakes I lose out from already having more of the games (Company of Heroes and its first expansion, the platinum edition of Dawn of War that… oh yeah, I got from a previous Steam sale), but possibly edge ahead on the number of games I actually would like to play (as well as Red Faction: Guerilla and Dawn of War II, I quite fancy Saints Row II and the second Company of Heroes expansion, and never got around to Titan Quest before either).

Buying that full pack at least seemed to inoculate me against bargain fever for the rest of the weekend. I was sore tempted by other offers, notably Batman: Arkham Asylum and Borderlands, but apart from anything else on a 2Mb broadband connection it’s going to take about three weeks (and incur the wrath of ISP “fair use” limits) to download all the THQ games without adding another couple of multi-gigabyte behemoths to the list. Anyway, even before buying the THQ pack I had too many games. Charlie Brooker wrote about living in a stuff-a-lanche: “I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain.” I think I’ve got a similar thing with games, let alone books, DVDs, radio series, blogs, forums, podcasts… I’ve managed about three levels of Freedom Force since getting that six months ago, and fired up Civilisation III precisely once to verify that, yes, it does exist. I’ve hardly gone back to any of the indie games pack from the summer, nor got any further than the tutorial mission of Men of War. My attempted justification of “well, there’ll probably be a quiet time without many game releases, and I’ll be able to get around to things then” becomes increasingly like stockpiling canned food for the Christmas holidays because the shops might be shut when it would take a nuclear explosion to close a big supermarket for more than 20 minutes, and that would just be to restock the shelves with hazmat suits and really high factor suncream. That’s before even contemplating MMOGs, which in most cases can expand to fill any available free time like cavity insulation foam with levels and classes.

Still, never mind. It shouldn’t take too much to bludgeon the last remnant of the rational mind into submission. Another good Steam sale should do it: “if I already have more games than I could possibly play, adding another 15 to the pile results in ‘more games than I could possibly play’, which is exactly the same situation, so there’s no reason not to get them! Pass the credit card…”

It's just as unpleasant to get more than you bargain for as to get less.

Another Steam sale arrived this weekend and I once again found myself buying a huge number of games all because they were reduced in price and thus a ‘bargain’. Games are to me as shoes are to Mrs Melmoth: I see her come home with five armfuls of shoe boxes and she then spends the next half an hour telling me how much of a bargain they were. She tells me how cheap this pair was or how expensive that pair was but how much it was reduced by. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a shrewd purchaser of shoes and she gets some real bargains by carefully scouring the shop sales: for the price that some people pay for a single pair of shoes she’ll manage to come home with five or six pairs of equivalent quality. Then, as we all do, she gathers up her mighty pile of trophies, tiny consumerist victories every one, and with great pride she marches up the stairs, opens the door to the bedroom cupboard and shoves them all at the bottom, never to be seen again.

I do the same with games. Steam is my bedroom cupboard floor.

I bought the THQ pack at the weekend. It contains, as far as I can tell, every game THQ ever made and possibly a few games that they didn’t actually make but wished that they had. Why did I buy it? Because it was twenty six pounds and Steam told me it was worth five hundred and seventy two thousand pounds, or something. How could I not buy it? “I mean” – I begin to justify to myself, in that way that I do that means I know that I’m doing something stupid but if I just keep talking to myself for long enough then whatever it is that is stupid suddenly becomes perfectly sensible – “it does have a huge number of games in it that I haven’t played yet”. And at the time I thought myself right, and told myself that I was clearly not mad but in fact a very shrewd purchaser of electronic entertainment products, and that I absolutely should purchase this monumental bargain right now in case THQ/Valve suddenly realised what fools they’d been, oh and here are some endorphins to make you feel good. Mmmm, endorphins.

Of course the actual obvious retort was that I hadn’t played any of these games because, on the whole, I didn’t like any of these games, otherwise I probably would have bought them sooner. As I looked down the list of games that were now cluttering up my Steam interface I realised that Dawn of War II and Red Faction:Guerrilla were probably the only games from the selection that I was realistically likely to play, and then only if I happened to be in some sort of horrendous velcro accident that resulted in me not being able to leave my computer chair for a decade. It was a bargain though, so the endorphins told me that I was vindicated and that I’d ‘won’ over ‘the man’. And of course I totally hadn’t, because ‘the man’ is actually ‘a cliff’ and I am merely one of a large number of lemmings, sore beset by the pressure of temptation, willing to throw myself off the top; and thus I plummeted down and dashed myself against the rocks of reason hiding just beneath the surface of the sea of bargains.

I did pick up a couple of other games though, and although they were reduced in price and thus technically bargains, the fact that I’m playing them both means that they aren’t ‘bargains’ in the traditional sense. Firstly I grabbed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the princely sum of some two whole pounds, for no other reason than, frankly, it would be rude not to. The other game that I bought was the digital deluxe (is it just me or is this the sort of name you give to a vibrator, and not a computer game?) version of Dragon Age: Origins because it was reduced in price; everyone has played it and generally raved about it; and I’ve never, for my sins, completed a Bioware fantasy RPG. I know, I know: gasps of shock, cries of horror, prayers to various gods, a lady in the first aisle faints and has to be carried away, people start to sob and moan and beat themselves about the head in disbelief. I completed Mass Effect, if that helps? Okay, maybe not. I’m rectifying the situation now, though, so you’ll have to be satisfied with that. I’ve played a little way through the game so far and have a few comments already but I’ll save those for another post.

So I bought a few ‘bargains’ at the weekend as well as a few cheap games; I rest content in the knowledge, however, that I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my house to pick up my bargains, that they take up a lot less space, and that piles of them don’t tumble out of a cupboard and try to kill me when I open the door in order to grab a coat.

Friday 27 November 2009

I fought the International Humanitarian Law (and the International Human Rights Law won)

You may have seen the news this week that Games ‘permit’ virtual war crimes. It’s terribly easy to be sarcastic about a headline like that. Terribly, terribly easy. Astoundingly easy. Not chewing a fruit pastille is simplicity itself in comparison.

It’s always important to dig a bit deeper than a headline, though, otherwise you end up with somebody being asked to take their shoes off, if they wouldn’t mind too much, as a new carpet’s just been put in, it’s quite pale you see, and before you know it the Daily Mail’s leading with “GOVERNMENT BAN SHOES, death penalty for non-compliance” and 400 people in the comment section are making the startling observation that it’s political correctness gone mad. The full report is available online, and I urge you to go and read it. Well, most of it, there are more footnotes than in the Wikipedia article on footnotes (not difficult, actually, the Wikipedia article only has six. At the time of writing, that is, I might go off and edit it into a hilarious piece of meta irony, where the body of the article is just: Footnote[1].) Have a quick scan through, at least. It generally seems pretty reasonable; at least they’ve played the games in question rather than just looking at the boxes, or, say, picking an example entirely at random, going on Fox News and denouncing a game on the basis of the vaguest of hearsay. The report is not saying “games are evil” or “ban this sick filth!”, on the first page it states “The goal is not to prohibit the games, to make them less violent or to turn them into IHL or IHRL training tools.” There’s often a knee-jerk reaction from the gaming community to a perceived attack, not entirely unjustified in the wake of Jack Thompson, Fox News on Mass Effect etc., that goes “Yeah? Well your mum ‘permits’ virtual war crimes.” Such immaturity is beneath us. Plus, they smell of wee.

The problem with the report isn’t the difficulty it has in contextualising the nature of conflicts portrayed in Army of Two and the resulting implications for the unclear legal frameworks governing private security companies, or even that any attempt at applying any sort of real-world logic to “Metal Gear Soldier[sic] 4” surely flounders the moment it hits the sentence “The player is “Snake” and is fighting against “Liquid Ocelot””. The problem is back in the Aim of the Study:

We have chosen video and computer games as the object of our analysis because, unlike
literature, films and television, where the viewer has a passive role, in shooter games, the
player has an active role in performing the actions. Thus, the line between the virtual and real
experience becomes blurred and the game becomes a simulation of real life situations on the

Problematic opener, that, the old blurring the lines between reality and simulation. It goes on to try and provide justification:

The link with reality is in fact so direct that nowadays several armies rely on video games
both as a recruiting and as a training tool. Military from some states put video games on their
websites to give the viewers a virtual experience of what being a soldier is like. Such games
allow them to virtually participate in trainings, be deployed on missions, fire weapons, take
decisions in unexpected battlefield situations, etc. Military also use video games, or
“simulations” more and more often as a training tool in addition to “on the field” training.
This demonstrates the impact of video games on the players and their behaviour in reality.

True, there’s military use of computer games; Marine Doom, America’s Army, etc etc., but you’d have to be Sir Bors to get from “the military use video games as a recruiting and training tool” to “all video games involving the military are recruiting or training tools”. There are military training manuals; these manuals are books; ergo all books are military training manuals.

Even considering that most of the game players will never become soldiers in reality, such
games clearly influence their view of what combat situations are like and what the role of the
military and of individual soldiers or law enforcement officials in such situations, is.

Here’s the nub of it; firstly, coming back to the starting paragraph, I’m not convinced games would influence someone’s view of combat situations any more than literature, films or television. Secondly, it very much depends on the game, lumping everything together as “such games” isn’t very useful. If a game makes a virtue of its realism, takes care to model things as accurately as possible, markets itself as a simulation, then yes, I believe it could influence somebody’s view of what it portrays (dependant on how well the game was implemented), in the same way that a documentary or non-fiction book could influence somebody’s view. The games they selected, though, are generally unabashed entertainment that gamers don’t see as realistic portrayals of warfare any more than the average viewer considers Bonekickers an accurate portrayal of archaeology. That’s where the whole exercise looks like a case of double standards, and a bit of a waste of time. You might as well sit a conscientious police officer down in front of Point Break and ask them what they made of it:

I won’t argue that it was a no-holds-barred adrenaline fuelled thrill-ride, but there’s no way that you could perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork.

(Thank you, Hot Fuzz. Except that’s a comedy film talking about an action film, and thus entirely irrelevant because the viewer only has a passive role. Twice.)

One encouraging thing about the whole business is that in the BBC piece they turn to gamers for a response, and not just some drooling loon in the midnight release day queue for Modern Duty 17 who mumbles “Uh, I, uh, like shooting, and, uh, stuff”. John Walker and Jim Rossignol of the inestimably splendid Rock, Paper, Shotgun chip in, and I could’ve really not bothered with most of this and just quoted:

Mr Rossignol said there was plenty of evidence that gaming violence is “fully processed” as fantasy by gamers. Studies of soldiers on the front line in Iraq showed that being a gamer did not desensitise them to what they witnessed.

He added: “Perhaps what this research demonstrates is that the researchers misunderstand what games are, and how they are treated, intellectually, by the people who play them.”

Thursday 26 November 2009

Notes from the boardroom.

Part the second.
(Part 1)

Colin: “Norman, my dearest of colleagues, why so glum?”

Norman: “Oh, you know, Colin. It’s these ‘player’ specimens that keep running around our game, killing our wildlife repeatedly for no apparent reason, honestly I think they’re a bit mad.”

Colin: “Ah yes, still here after all this time and all of our best efforts aren’t they?”

Norman: “Quite frankly Colin they irritate me.”

Colin “Well they are somewhat annoying, but they do bring in quite a lot of money, and you know that money is the only thing that these Earth creatures will accept in exchange for their delicious shoe polish.”

Norman: “No, no, they quite literally irritate me, they bring out the eczema on my nipples.”

Colin: “That’s… that’s too much information, really. Even from someone like you, who I love like my very own laundry basket.”

Norman: “Sorry Colin, I’m just tired because I haven’t found a way to slow them down at all. They scurry around all over the game like little crabs; little crabs that look like scurrying mice! And I can’t think of any way to slow them down.”

Colin: “Slugs!”

Norman: “Slugs?”

Colin: “And wargs!”

Norman: “Slugs and wargs? I’m not following you.”

Colin: “What I’m saying is ‘slugs’. And ‘wargs’.”

Norman: “Yeeees, and what I’m saying is ‘I don’t follow you’.”

Colin: “Ah, I see, sorry. Well, what if we had some creatures…”

Norman: “Like slugs?”

Colin: “Or wargs. And said creatures cast a debuff on these ‘player’ organisms that slowed down their movement speed.”

Norman: “It’s an interesting idea, Colin, but I think you’ll find that most of our combat involves the ‘player’ entities standing utterly stationary whilst slugging it out toe-to-toe with the mobs, so I’m not sure how that debuff would cause them any grief at all.”

Colin: “Ah, but the mobs will cast it right at the end of the combat.”

Norman: “At the end of the combat?”

Colin: “Yes, you know, the event that is far away from the start of the combat.”

Norman: “Oh! The end of combat!”

Colin: “Indeed.”

Norman: “Well why didn’t you just say so? It’s brilliant, Colin! We could have the slugs cast an AoE slime thing at the end of combat, and that will snare the ‘player’ for absolutely no good reason until they slowly crawl their way out of it. They’ll be utterly baffled as to the point of it! But what about the wargs?”

Colin: “Ah, now they will cause a wound at the end of combat which slows down run speed by a large amount.”

Norman: “Excellent! That’ll slow the ‘player’ varmints’ progress, make them more susceptible to being attacked by other mobs in the area, and is generally pointless beyond being an obvious mechanic to spoil their fun. I like it! I feel that it needs a little something extra though, a little something to really push them over the edge…”

Colin: “It’ll last for two minutes.”

Norman: “Two minutes?! But Colin, my dear congealed kibitzer, that would seem like an eternity to a player trying to make their way anywhere in the game, even if it were just twenty yards further to the next mob!”

Norman and Colin laugh nervously at the silliness of it. Then they stop and look at each other.

Norman: “It wouldn’t work, would it?”

Colin: “It’s genius, Norman, and you know it. Get the programmers on it right away.”

Norman: “I love you, Colin.”

Colin: “I know. Let’s go and get a nice steamy bowl of shoe polish to celebrate.”

I really would love to gain some actual insight and understanding into the design decisions behind some of the debuffs these mobs give to players in Lord of the Rings Online.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me.

After the announcement of the final two classes to be included with Star Wars: The Old Republic, it has become clear that there will be an abundance of force sensitive characters in the game. As such Bioware have had the foresight to come forth early with a list of juicy looking items that these overly popular classes can look forward to looting from the game’s raid instances; a good idea considering that most raids will consist of 99% force sensitive characters and one scout class who is only there because he can pick electro-magnetic locks and thus open loot canisters and dungeon doors.

Bearing in mind that you have four force sensitive classes, two Sith and two Jedi, Bioware have their work cut out for them creating the sort of end-game rewards that MMO players have come to expect from games such as World of Warcraft, but I think they’ve stepped up to the plate and really delivered.

Tier 1

Brown Robe
Black Robe

Tier 2

Brown Robe +1
Black Robe +1

Tier 3

Brown Robe +2
Black Robe +2

Tier 4

Brown and Cream Robe
Black and Red Robe

Tier 5

Brown and Cream Robe +1
Black and Red Robe +1

Tier 6

Brownest Brown Robe of Brown
Dark-Black Black Robe of Black Darkness

Tier 7

Velour Brown Robe with Corduroy Elbow Patches
Satin Black Robe with Tiger Fur Lined Inner

I love the idea behind the black robe, but I have to say that the surprise design of the brown robe has really captured my imagination. I can’t wait!

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Host:This week, teams, it seems that a music executive was arrested in Canada for failing to Tweet. In a crowd-control disaster second only to that time you got a really good Mass Sleep off to recover from a terribly over-pull and some bozo woke everything up with a Rain of Fire, vice president of Def Jam records James Roppo was arrested after police alleged he hadn’t been co-operative enough in helping to disperse a horde of teen pop fans.

Zoso:Fearing imprisonment, several companies have pledged to massively increase the amount of in-game Twittering from their products. A spokesperson for ActEA Mythzzard said “With our new auto-tweet system, every mob and NPC is on Twitter, and a pithy 140 character summary of every interaction is instantly broadcast to the world.”

@wolf947 bites @GeoffTheSlayer for 3 points of damage
@GeoffTheSlayer hits @wolf947 for 7 points of damage
@wolf947 i haz died, OH NOES :(
@GeoffTheSlayer loots a two-handed sword from @wolf947
@GeoffTheSlayer isn’t sure where the wolf was keeping it
@KevTheMighty has skinned the wolf and gains 1 wolf pelt
@wolf947 Oh, sure, rub it in why don’t you
@GeoffTheSlayer Oi, @KevTheMighty, that was my kill!
@KevTheMighty Bite me @GeoffTheSlayer LOL
@GeoffTheSlayer is petitioning @KevTheMighty
@StephenFry What a 170 checkout!! #grandslamdarts

Melmoth: In response to the precedent set by this arrest, Twitter reports that all of its users have started to spew endless amounts of random garbled text to the service to avoid being arrested themselves.

So, nothing has changed there.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Monday 23 November 2009

Folly is the cloak of knavery.

The healer of our static group in World of Warcraft was otherwise detained last week and so I took up the healing mantle for the evening, a garment that I am very comfortable wearing, although I was given again to muse upon its curious properties.

The healing mantle, for those who are unaware, is an impressive item of clothing which provides an aura of invisibility to the wearer rendering them utterly anonymous to everyone else in a pick-up group. It is well known that tanks are indestructible self-healing marvels, and that DPS can sustain continuous damage, be it from AoE or by standing in pools of molten rock, without so much as putting a hair of their perfectly sculpted bouffant out of place. Everyone in your average pick-up group is a marvel of robust and rugged constitution. All four of them.

Until one of them inevitably dies.

It is at this point that the healing mantle activates its primary systems and transforms. First it disables invisibility and instead turns itself a really offensive shade of fluorescent yellow. Secondly an underpowered motor jerkily raises an electric sign on a metal pole from just behind the healer’s shoulders; coming to rest several feet above the healer’s head, the sign consists of an arrow pointing down at said head and the words “THEIR FAULT” all in buzzing flickering neon. Finally a pair of integrated loudspeakers rotate from their resting place, lock into position on the healer’s shoulders, and repeatedly squawk a distortingly loud siren alerting all the other players to the healer’s presence. All attention is generally focussed on the healer at this point and bent on determining exactly what they were doing skulking away at the back of the dungeon while these other four were valiantly fighting the good fight with nothing to keep their health bars topped-up but the aura of sheer magnificence that they project; sadly they weren’t magnificent enough to facebutt their way through the two groups of extra adds that they pulled, but that’s not the point. Thank goodness, though, that the healing mantle was there to alert them all to the traitor in their midst!

Thankfully the healing mantle is deactivated when playing with friends or other competent people – these folk seem to project a damping field which prevents the mantle from obscuring the efforts of the designated healer – so I’m happy to report that my turn as healer the other night was a suitably happy and stress-free experience.

Being fifteen levels or so above the dungeon content probably didn’t hurt either.

Thought for the day.

If there’s one thing I hope Blizzard’s Cataclysm expansion does for World of Warcraft it’s to leave the auction houses of Azeroth in smouldering ruins.

Friday 20 November 2009

Hat News Now Today: Dragon Age Edition

Badadadadada dum dum dum dadada daa daaa dum dum daaaaaaaaa! Back, by popular demand, it’s Hat News Now Today, today’s premier column focused, now, on news about hats. Everybody’s been talking about Dragon Age: Origins, about the story, the world, the characters, but they’ve been strangely quiet about one thing: why was Kleist’s armour halted outside Dunkirk on May 24th? Nobody really knows, and frankly it’s slightly outside our hat-based remit, so lets get on with the headgear in the early stages Dragon Age.

Firstly, it’s good news if you’re a strapping great warrior type who likes to wander around in hunks of metal:

Alistair, looking fetching in his Templar helm

Alistair, looking fetching in his Templar helm

There’s some nice plate helms which go with some pretty stylish suits of armour that convey strength, menace and protection.

For those of you who prefer leather, key words this fall are “functional”, “drab”, “bowl” and “remember those really boring helmets from Age of Conan?”

Its not just a bowl, there are ear flaps too!

It's not just a bowl, there are ear flaps too!

You might have thought exotic Bards could get togged up in something suitable for entertaining, or lethal Assassins might have some ninja-esque gear for infiltration, but if you haven’t got the strength to carry off (in either sense) heavy armour it’s a world of leathery disappointment, summed up by helmets that are thankfully automatically hidden in cut scenes.

Still, you can always comfort yourself that you’re not a mage:

Its not a sock, its a sock with some snakes teeth sellotaped to it!

It's not a sock, it's a sock with some snake's teeth sellotaped to it!

On the plus side it’s going to keep your ears warm when stuck on a mountain side, though in Morrigan’s case the ears would be the last thing you’d think would feel the cold…

Thursday 19 November 2009

Hobbington Cresent: Unusual Tactics Division.

Battle formation number one: The ‘Song 2‘.

The 'Song 2'
As can be seen from the picture, in this UTD formation we have the glass cannon ranged DPS classes leading from the front in order to take the aggro alpha-strike, with the tank and melee DPS following behind in order to attack ineffectually from range by throwing muffins and lembas bread.

Somewhere, way out of shot, is the group’s healer who, if he hasn’t been trampled to death by our overenthusiastic mounted charge to get to the next battle, usually arrives just in time to save our sorry selves from the general chaos at hand.

Once again though, our unique brand of special tactics enabled us to win the day, and goodness me The Battle for Aughaire is a fun little instance.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Verse is not written, it is bled; Out of the poet's abstract head.

It’s a wonder, word-friend that I am, that I haven’t tried Lord of the Rings Online’s Runekeeper class in earnest before now. One of the first spells that they get, Fiery Ridicule, has a description which in part reads ‘The ridicule a Runekeeper writes hurts more than a mundane scribe’s ever could’. Blowing-up evil doers through the power of the written word? Sign me up! It’s not quite the realisation of my dream to create Shakespeare Man, the masked hero who fights crime using his supernatural ability to make things explode by quoting pithily at them, but it’s pretty close.

“Wastrel!” he’d shout, and the camera would pan to a low, wide-angle shot from behind Shakespeare Man, looking upwards as the top floor of a skyscraper explodes in the very best Die Hard fashion, erupting shattered glass and office supplies across several neighbouring buildings.

“Lasciviousness!” he cries through a low spinning crouch, finishing with his accusatory arm pointing to the head of a murderous pimp whose head promptly implodes.

“Fie!” he spits frothily in the grandest of thespian traditions, as a shockwave levels every building in a five mile radius.

It’s not a lot different to playing a Runekeeper, to be honest. If I were to choose a sentence to describe the Runekeeper it would be this:

“Listen, and understand! That Runekeeper is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

Honestly, all you need to imagine is that any Runekeeper player’s screen is tinged red and has a Terminator-esque targeting icon with small scrolling lines of text in the corner which identify any potential objects worthy of elimination, and you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like playing the class.

I’m saying, in a none-too-subtle way, that the class is overpowered; I don’t think this is a Bad Thing.

There’s a simple joy to playing a class which, compared to the classes that you’re used to playing – in my case the Champion and to a lesser extent the Warden – is utterly and ridiculously more powerful. I mean, laugh out loud, I think I just found God Mode, I hope I don’t get banned for exploiting, powerful. The reason for this is that the realisation of how powerful you are is dramatically affected by what you have to compare it to. In the grand tradition of Slashdot car analogies: hand the keys to an Aston Martin DBS to any teenager who loves cars but hasn’t driven before and let them loose on a racetrack and they will know that the car is powerful, they will feel the power through the g-forces that are experienced during acceleration, deceleration and cornering, but they will not truly appreciate the car in the same way that someone who has been forced to drive a small 1.1 litre hatchback for five years would. There’s nothing wrong with having an overpowered class, as long as you make sure that your players have experienced your 1.1 litre hatchbacks first.

The Runekeeper is pretty much your glass cannon hybrid mage class. Where the Warden (the other class released as part of the Mines of Moria expansion) experimented successfully with a very innovative combat system, the Runekeeper sticks to the more tried and tested seesaw balance method of game play where the player chooses to either do damage at the expense of healing or vice versa. Being restricted to light armour only, the Runekeeper is weak when confronted by multiple mobs in melee, but through careful play this hardly ever occurs and when it does the Runekeeper has various stuns and snares to enable them to get back to range and finish any aggressors off. Against a single target of even level the Runekeeper can dish out enough damage from range that by the time the mob has managed to get into melee range it will have time for one or two hits before it is defeated. I like the way this works, not just from the feeling of power that it instils in me, but because I’m always intensely annoyed by the design that has become common in MMOs whereby cloth/light armour classes are forced to tank mobs who are armed with great axes and swords and the like. It’s not an easy problem to solve because allowing ranged characters to keep melee mobs at range means that the caster will rarely take damage. You could balance this by making your caster classes need to stop and rest after combat to regain mana, but down-time is rapidly becoming an unacceptable means of prolonging game-play in the mind of the modern MMO player. Giving glass cannon classes low hit points and armour and then a whole bunch of tools that allow them to effectively tank mobs anyway seems a bit of a cop-out to me, though.

Another advantage to the Runekeeper being placed firmly in the ‘Can’t Tank Mobs’ school of magic and mayhem is that they aren’t called on to melee much, which is very good considering they fight by using two small stones held in their clenched fists to punch their enemies, a curious style that I’d expect to find being adopted by drunken oafs in the car park of my local pub on a Friday night than by intellectual word-wizards in Turbine’s carefully crafted fantasy world.

A benefit to the Runekeeper’s ability to make things transform very quickly into a fine red mist is that I quickly realised that I am now the bane of crap animals everywhere. Wherever I run in Middle Earth there’s always a bunch of conveniently placed crap animals ready to aggro at the slightest opportunity; with the Runekeeper it’s so much easier to turn around and, with a stern look, convert them into steaming piles of sausage meat, rather than run limping halfway across Middle Earth with them nipping at your heels, being generally ineffective, annoying and crap.

Having chosen dwarf for the race of my Runekeeper I’ve once again launched myself through the dwarven starter area and am happy to report that the bugs that I have mentioned previously seem to have been sorted out, and the experience is better than ever. Quests have been further streamlined to remove a lot of the travelling chores of yore, and further new features have been added, such as a travel point at Noglond, a mini quest hub between Thorin’s Gate and Gondamon which was always a bit tedious to have to run to repeatedly. The only negative to all of this is that because the process is so smooth and painless now I’ve found myself at level twenty in short order, not a problem in itself, but I find now that I tend to out-level the initial curve for the Apprentice tier of my gathering profession in most cases; it’s not a huge issue, but perhaps something that the developers might want to consider if they’re still in the habit of tweaking the starter areas. The reduced back-and-forth is a huge boon to a player levelling an alt, but it also means that you spend less time wandering around the wilds and tripping over gathering nodes for your chosen profession. However, it may be that anyone interested enough in crafting won’t mind going out on expeditions just to find these nodes, and it certainly rewards the player by having them explore and experience the game’s wondrous landscapes whilst at the same time fulfilling a purpose. As I said before: not a huge problem, and this is only based upon my experience of the dwarven starter area – other starter areas may well be fine – and the gathering curve quickly matches back up with the levelling curve once you get into the next tier of gatherables.

Finally a thank you: a huge THANK you to the Turbine developers for the two cosmetic outfits that they provide for players to customise the look of their characters without affecting their stats. It means the difference between a character that looks splendid, like this:

and looking like Brian Blessed’s beard became a face-hugging sentient alien life form and attacked the first Oompa-Loompa that it happened across, like this:
Ack, my eyesAck, my eyes

Call me picky, call me a Social player, call me Susan if you must, but I would not be playing this character if I’d had to spend more than a few seconds each session staring at that abomination of a so-called default costume, an outfit so bizarre that it makes my character look as though he was dressed by being forcibly shoved into a colour-blind clown’s rainbow-eating tumble dryer and seeing which random items of statically-charged clothing stuck to his hairy body.

Melmoth’s Fiery Ridicule crits the Default Costume for 3.5k points of damage.

Your mighty blow has defeated the Default Costume.

Monday 16 November 2009

The Magnificent Four

The village elder looked weary; two nights of attacks had taken their toll. “How is morale?” I asked him.
“Aye, much better now, stranger, thanks to your efforts we have a chance. The weapons are ready, and those you persuaded to fight with us should make a difference.”
I nodded. “With my spells and the blades of my three companions, we’ll be a match for anything. Nothing for it now but to wait to nightfall and the inevitable onslaught.”
The elder hesitated a moment. “Aye, nothing for it… unless… well…”
“It’s just… you mentioned there were another three of you back at the camp outside town?”
“Oh, yes. A golem, big bugger that, dead handy in a fight, and a bard who’s pretty nifty with a bow, and a shape-shifting mage.”
“Right. Um. And they’re happy at the camp there, are they?”
“Blimey, no, they’re desperate to get into the action, raring to have a crack at the dark forces threatening this town.”
“But… they’re not actually going to come and help?”
“Oh, gotcha, I see what you mean. No, my hands are tied, it’s the Thedasian Working Time Directive, no party member is allowed to adventure for more than forty five hours over a rolling seven day period and that lot have done their quota, the Union would have my arse if I tried to get them down. Plus it’s night-time, see, they’d need to be on time and a half, and with the downturn in the economy caused by the fall in house prices what with all those demonic creatures stalking around the place, we just haven’t got the operating budget.”
“Oh. Still, never mind, I can’t imagine we’ll face wave after wave of relentless attackers in a situation where it would be really, really useful to have some extra bodies fighting on our side. Waiting for nightfall it is!”

(sometimes fixed party sizes in RPGs don’t make much sense…)

Saturday 14 November 2009

The Dark Night of Moria.

Looking for Bruce Wayne
Where better to hide his secret base of operations than in the impenetrable blackness of the dwarven mines?

And so begins the flood of comic book crossovers into our favourite MMOs.

Apparently you’ll be able to find the Fortress of Solitude in Star Trek Online, although the rumour that it may simply involve logging in and finding nobody else in the game is unfounded at this time.

Friday 13 November 2009

Ooh, little bit of politics there

We’re not exactly firebrand activists here at KiaSA, not least because there’s usually little to get worked up over in UK politics as far as games go (unlike our Australian cousins, who I gather from the Van Hemlock News Podcast have been clandestine mavericks living outside the law for playing World of Warcraft until recently). Modern Warfare 2, though, reignited the violence in games debate (a subject that both Van Hemlock and Jon have been in reflective mood over), prompting Labour MP Tom Watson to start the Gamer’s Voice as a pro-game pressure group.

There are many issues around games that deserve more reasoned debate than “Ban this sick filth” vs “LAWL headshot I PWN”; as well as violence and morality, in piece on The Guardian Watson looks at other aspects such as the financial issues of not supporting a billion dollar industry, and lack of suitable graduates in games design now kids are taught how to use Office rather than programming.

Most importantly of all, though, he reveals “I know of at least three MPs who have a Guitar Hero habit. I know because they have tried to beat me (and failed). Two of them are ministers.” We’ve got a sweepstake going on the identities of the fake plastic ministers, and I’ve drawn the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Come on, Milliband, don’t let me down!

I never let schooling interfere with my education.

The first thing you notice when you enter the School at Tham Mirdain – a three-man instance in Lord of the Rings Online for characters around the level fifty two mark – is that on initial observation the place seems to consist entirely of just one room which you can see all the way across from your vantage point just inside the entrance. The single rectangular room consists of a simple peristyle with groups of mobs in both the courtyard and the surrounding corridor; at the far end of the room a pair of staircases running perpendicular to the entrance provide access to a small landing above the main room.

The second thing you notice is that there are groups of mobs patrolling around the outer corridor. It seemed somewhat curious to me that they should need to patrol around the edge of an area that you can see all the way across with relative ease: perhaps they were all in a rush that morning and forgot to put their contact lenses in before kissing Uruk-hai junior or Mrs Dunlending goodbye and heading off for another day at Ron and Sons. Ltd, or maybe they were the Middle Earth equivalent of those people at work who seem to spend their entire day simply walking around with a clipboard or important looking ring binder. I decided it was probably the latter, and that this being Lord of the Rings, ring binders were probably the in-thing with up and coming professionals in the employ of Ron; Old Sour Ron, that’s what they call the boss, and of course he’s big on ring-binders is ol’ Ron, loves binding himself a ring, yes he does.

Interspersed with all the ring-binder-carrying manager-types are several groups of mobs who, in the traditional manner of MMOs, stand around not doing much. These are the sort of people who hang around the water cooler at work and talk noisily about what was on TV last night, discussing who’s going to win the latest edition of I’m A Hobbit in A Great Barrow, Get Me Out of Here, or whether Silmarillion will get the Christmas number one with their elven rock ballad The Lay of Leithian. I suppose this explains all the manager types patrolling around the room: obviously they’re trying to chivvy these work-shy slackers along, evidently without much success.

The groups around the edge of the room are fairly easy to deal with if you’re around the correct level since they consist of a mixture of signature and standard mobs. The Uruk Leaders have a heal, so if you have anyone in the group who can interrupt have them watch out for that, and the Uruk Archers can be a bit of a pain because it’s difficult to convince them that they really should be fighting over here, out of the way of the other patrols; watch out for line-of-sight pulling them to a safe spot too, because they seem to have a tendency to run through the courtyard and pull other mobs along with them.

The courtyard itself consists of groups of mobs all milling around, some seated, some standing. This seems to be the canteen of the place, and the groups of mobs here are the same as you find in the surrounding corridor, but they’re slightly easier because they’re all full of ratatouille and suet pudding covered in that think snot-like custard that only work and school canteens seem to be able to create. At the head table of the canteen, or the base of the staircase mentioned earlier if you like, is the first boss of the instance. He’s a typical middle manager with lots of hangers-on, and is typically defensive of his turf when a group of people from a different department turn up; expect him to get aggressive the moment you get close enough for him to notice that you don’t have a TPS report or an appropriately colour-coded ring binder.

There’s a basic but fun trick mechanic to the first boss, I’m not going to spoil it here though, there are plenty of websites available already that are set up specifically to take all the adventure out of gaming and make it nothing more than an exercise in step-by-step line dancing. Those who know the encounter, however, will understand when I say that with two melee and one ranged character, there was quite a bit of Benny Hill-ing around the canteen and the outside corridor as we tried to deal with the situation.

The second boss waits for you on the landing at the top of the stairs. He has two underlings with him, and although you may think he is a manager, when you defeat him the door behind opens to reveal the ultimate in pointy-haired boss types, at which point you realise that the boss you just defeated was in fact merely a secretary whose overinflated sense of rank was probably derived from the fact that they kept the key to the photocopier and stationary cupboard.

The third boss has his own office; clearly he’s an important fellow. This becomes ever the more apparent when you see that his office is packed to the rafters with underlings all sat around on benches facing him and hanging off of his every word. Again the boss has a few surprises up his sleeve, and I’m not going to spoil them here (as much as one can spoil content that was out slightly earlier than the start of the industrial revolution), but it was an interesting enough fight, and a close shave. So close, in fact, that I died and had to run back quickly to help finish things off before the other two succumbed to the tedious power-briefing that the boss was delivering. So take that closeness and stuff it in your triple-bladed individually sprung metro-sexual face peelers, Gillette!

Overall I like the design of the instance. It probably lacks a little in the repeatability department (which is next to the publishing department on the third floor), but makes up for it in ease of access and its change of pace from the norm. The dynamic of a party of three characters is interesting, and although a tank/healer/DPS combination such as we had is probably still optimal, the boss mechanics make it so that it isn’t easy, and at the same time make other combinations of classes entirely viable with a little careful planning and tactical play. In addition, each player really has to be alert and adaptable to any given situation, there’s less room for mistakes than there is with a six person group, and the judicious use of abilities with long cool-downs along with those abilities that get tucked away on the ‘not going to use that very often’ button bar is vital to the success of the group. There are plenty of nice drops to be had from each of the three bosses, with the customary piece of armour that nobody can use being supplemented with a whole raft of runes to boost the experience of legendary weapons – always useful for any member of a group, and in my opinion a splendid way to implement dungeon rewards. Instead of items of gear that, by The Law of Loot Luck will either be useful for several party members and thus someone will miss out, or useful for nobody and therefore everybody is somewhat deflated, it makes sense to have rewards that upgrade those items. Where World of Warcraft has tokens that allow you to buy specific armour items, and LotRO has runes to boost the XP of a legendary weapon, there could be a middle path where you have an item that drops which will boost any one stat on any one piece of armour or weapon by a set amount. If you have enough of these items drop such that every member of the party can get at least one, then you’ve got a greater sense of reward for your players when they come away from your dungeon. Not only that, but if you make any base piece of equipment, from level one onwards, able to be boosted by these dungeons rewards all the way up to the level cap, players can choose their armour and weapons based on appearance and customise the stats to their liking as they level up, thus creating investments of both emotion and experience in said items.

At the conclusion of the adventure I came away feeling satisfied with our run through the instance: it didn’t take long, had some interesting fights, and some pretty reasonable rewards even for us, laden with the mudflating rewards of Moria as we are. I’m enthused about this content that Turbine have produced, and I’m looking forward to trying The Library – the other three man instance in the area – at some point in the near future, although if there isn’t an instance-wide spell of silence in effect, I’ll be most disappointed.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

A Potted History of the Evolution of Bioware Games

The Baldur’s Gate series are Dungeons & Dragons
The Knights of the Old Republic series are Dungeons & Dragons in space with Jedi
Mass Effect is Dungeons & Dragons in space with Jedi without the Jedi
Dragon Age: Origins is Dungeons & Dragons in space with Jedi without the Jedi not in space and without the Dungeons & Dragons license

Tuesday 10 November 2009

What shall we use to fill the empty spaces?

Some Twittering about Dragon Age: Origins caught my eye last night:

Shuttler: I doubt I’ll finish DA:O it feels old & environmental limitations just shouldn’t happen anymore.
Zonk: What do you mean by environmental limitations?
Shuttler: not being able to walk in water, swim, freely run down a hill. Invisible barriers, that sort of thing. Hope that makes sense?

The debate flows around many contributors with lots of interesting points and counterpoints within 140 characters, and I was going to chip in on Twitter but it didn’t seem happy about the idea of 1,400 characters, so…

I know where Shuttler’s coming from. For the first hour or two of Dragon Age I kept hitting space, expecting to jump, and getting a bit confused when the game paused. Back in the day (when it was all fields around here) the top-down party-RPG style of the Baldur’s Gate series looked and played quite differently to, say, Tomb Raider. Dragon Age, though, with third person view, right-click mouselook, WASD movement etc. is thematically consistent with many MMOGs, Grand Theft Auto III and IV, Mass Effect etc, so when I’m running around I expect to vault effortlessly into the air with a tap of the space key. It’s really more like Baldur’s Gate in gameplay, though, and it took a little while to get back into the groove of zooming out for a more tactical view, click-to-move as well as WASD, pausing to order the party around in combat etc., stuff that was second nature before I got ensconced in MMOGs.

It’s not the jumping in itself, that’s a symptom, like the swimming that Shuttler mentioned; Dragon Age wouldn’t be magically improved with a wider range of athletic activities, it’s just a little jarring the first time you stop dead at the edge of a lake rather than diving into it and merrily doggy paddling (which seldom makes sense when you’re wearing a couple of tonnes of cast iron, but still), or you’re stymied by a fallen tree that doesn’t look particularly difficult to scramble over or under. Having adjusted, it’s really not a problem now. I can see where fans of open worlds could find it restrictive, but for me it’s getting to the point; the Korcari Wilds could have been ten times bigger and allowed you to explore every inch of them, but with the same amount of content in there it would just mean a lot more, rather boring, running around. They could box everything in, sending you to dungeons all the time so the barriers are far more concrete (either figuratively or literally), but unless roleplaying an agoraphobe that might get a bit repetitive, so I’ll take the invisible walls. Gives a great opportunity for Marcel Marceau impressions too: next, walking against the wind…

Town to keep me movin', keep me groovin' with some energy.

Our valiant heroes hung the head of the troll on the wall of the kinship house and stood back to admire it.

“It looks as though the troll has crashed his head through the wall of our house” mused Van Hemlock.

“Ha ha! His body is probably in the air on the other side of the wall with his legs flailing around!” cried Teppo.

“This really has been a most splendid evening; this is what MMOs should be all about” I thought.

Over the Mumble channel I simply guffawed.

But what events had led up to this joyous conclusion to an evening’s gaming? Prepare to be astounded as, with a budget of a paltry half a million pounds and the power of ultimate blogging technology, I create for you an illusion of traversing time and space so real that Hollywood directors could only dream of such powerful mind altering effects.

[Four hours earlier…]

Observe how the bold font really makes you feel as though you’re actually there. Half a million pounds well spent, even if I do say so myself.

With a regular member of the Hobbington Crescent Massive away on holiday, and what with the trials and tribulations of last week, the general consensus was that it wouldn’t hurt to have a week off from saving Middle Earth from itself, because let’s face it, the Ring Bearer hardly seems to be in a hurry to get his pie-eating hobbit arse to Mordor any time soon anyway.

For those of you who may now be picturing the image of a hobbit bottom that munches on pastry-based foodstuffs, I apologise, it wasn’t what I had in mind, but once it was in my mind I felt compelled not to reword it, deciding instead to make you suffer the image as well.

The aforementioned Van Hemlock and myself, however, are gluttons for punishment or so it seems, as we both logged in to the game to see if anyone else was about, perhaps from a sense of duty, or perhaps because we wanted to make sure that we could, in fact, actually log back in after the trauma of the previous week. Either way, there we both were, and so we decided to have an adventure, the only requirement being that we attempted to avoid gaining XP as much as possible since we didn’t want to dramatically out-level the dearly absent members of our good kinship.

And so we cogitated over what activities we could undertake in the game, and inevitably our eyes drifted to our quest logs, and that’s when it happened:

“Y’know, the next part of Book 11 is in Goblin Town, it’s marked as suitable for a small fellowship and is also low level to us now. We could do that.”

“You can’t be serious?”

“We wouldn’t earn much XP, and I’ve been down to Goblin Town at a lower level than we are now and managed a large chunk of it solo, so we should be fine even without a healer.”

“Oh, God, we’re mad. We’re utterly mad, or masochists or something.”

“All of the above. If nothing else we’ve got to run all the way across from Rivendell to Goblin Town, so it’ll feel like a real Book for a while, until we get there and start, y’know, actually killing stuff.”

[laughing] “Let’s do it.”


Without further ado we made our way to Goblin Town and started killing the low level non-elite mobs there and found, much to our surprise, that these mobs dropped the quest items that we were seeking, and in the space of time that it takes a furious hobbit to swing a large two-handed hammer and a dwarf, with beard bristling, to swing a couple of axes around about his person, we had completed the quest.

It was somewhat of an anti-climax.

So we decided to continue on until we, uh, climaxed. Honestly, it wasn’t like that, just a hobbit and a dwarf out on a platonic date to slaughter all the orc-kind that they could find. So slaughter we did, and then twice around the block for another damn good slaughtering, and after the rambling adventure of running a half-marathon across Evendim last week, our latest self-assigned quest – to slaughter everything in Goblin Town that so much as moved – felt really rather refreshing. We slaughtered goblins, and we slaughtered orcs. We slaughtered wargs and their keepers. We pretended that the corpses of mobs had moved and slaughtered them again just to be sure. We slaughtered rocks and chests, camp fires and the darkness. We nearly slaughtered one another on several occasions. We laughed at that, and then slaughtered the echoes of our laughter as it reverberated around the empty cavernous scene of that which we had slaughtered.

It was pretty cathartic.

I posted to Twitter about the delights we were experiencing as The Smallest Fellowship, as we now dubbed ourselves, and shortly thereafter we were joined by a third. With Teppo’s Runekeeper at our backs the slaughtering process continued apace as we took down the Goblin King with ease and then proceeded to molest the troll-come-rancor-wannabe that lives in the pit in the Goblin King’s throne room. And I do mean molest. As the troll bellowed at our stalwart hobbit Guardian for the umpteenth time, our Runekeeper cried “jab your stick in his mouth” which, if it weren’t innuendo-laden enough, we promptly and entirely accidentally followed-up with a fellowship manoeuvre called “Three Pronged Attack”. Suffice it to say that the troll was not equipped to withstand this coordinated gang-bang: the Guardian shoving his stick in the creature’s mouth, the dwarf thrusting away with his purple weapon from behind as always, and the Runekeeper shooting his ‘white lightning’ at the troll’s face from all the way across the room; Runekeepers are such show-offs, and although I was tempted to dub our elven companion the Mirkwood Moneyshot, I decided against it.

After pretty much porning the poor troll into submission, we continued on down into the depths of Thundergrot where lesser trolls still provided a pleasantly invigorating and chaotic challenge as we over-pulled and subsequently attracted some re-spawns in what one can only describe as an AoE orgy; it looked unlikely that we would prevail. Actually, it looked like nothing more than a steaming great mound of angry trolls with a trio of barely observable smaller folk wriggling beneath it, but after a few well timed lengthy cool-downs were blown, we came through with our skins, as it were.

At some point along the way one of the trolls was kind enough to provide a suitable trophy head, which was tucked away in the hobbit’s really quite expansive backpack. It was later taken to a taxidermist in Bree who, improbably enough, was experienced with stuffing and mounting troll heads. He was particularly skilled I thought, as he chose the replacement eyes with such skill and care as to accurately represent the troll’s wide-eyed look of shock as it was unexpectedly taken by a three pronged attack.

Having sated our slaughtering needs we then headed back home to sell and repair, before journeying down to Echad Mirobel in Eregion for stage two of our evening’s entertainment, where the School at Tham Mirdain – which we had attempted to run as duos for fun a few weeks earlier – was awaiting our return.

This time though, there was a trio of us in the traditional tank/DPS/healer formation, against the forty or so Uruk-hai and Men of Dunland who currently held the school.

Three of us? Forty of them?

I make that Three Prong O’Clock.

Monday 9 November 2009

Thought for the day.

The scary thing isn’t that Blizzard have opened a micro-transaction store for World of Warcraft; one should consider that event to be as the emotive theme tune is to the shark in Jaws, or a dissonant violin crescendo is to Jason Voorhees.

It’s a warning, but not a guarantee, of the actual horror waiting to strike.

The audience sits gripping the arms of their chairs and each other, or peering through fingers, all the while willing in vain that the innocent band of plucky wallets and purses turn back from the strange path that they are following lest they are caught by the monster that stalks them and have their innards sucked out.

Everyone holds their breath. And waits…

When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.

“Well you could do that, but nobody will want to group with you.” A phrase wrapped in wilful condescension so thick that if you spread some patronization between a couple of slices of it you’d have the world’s most bitter doorstop sandwich. Welcome to DDO’s General chat channel, a land where the nose evolved only as an extension of the face to be looked down, and the horses are so very high. I try to picture meeting some of the more vocal personages who frequent this place and I can only really come up with a sort of hybrid creature formed from the unnatural union of Medusa and Charybdis – giant mouths that spit a whirling torrent of venomous snakes.

Let’s face it, DDO is hardly unique in having chat channels filled with bilious supremacist outpourings; whether it concerns how to spec. a character, how to make gold, or any other number of arbitrary numeral demarcations, where the supremacist can put data into a spreadsheet and show categorically that they are better than those who don’t do it their way, that they do 0.1% more DPS, that they make 5% more gold per hour, every MMO has their class of players who think that they are above and beyond the plebeians who don’t play the game the way that they do.

It’s just that DDO has had thirty five or so years and four editions of the pen and paper game to really hone their hive of supercilious bees, who swarm out and attack with stinging words anything that doesn’t belong to their colony. People who commit the heinous cardinal sin of attempting to multiclass a healer, for example.

Turbine have created templates for classes in DDO, initially I viewed these as a sensible aid to new players unfamiliar with the game’s D20 hybrid rule set, to prevent them creating a properly broken character while they get to grips with the game. What I then suspected was that these templates were actually an attempt to give new players at least a modicum of a sane character build in order to prevent DDO’s most special community members from driving away these potential customers, such that the new players would merely be looked down upon as pitiable peasants by the DDO Maxminati. My current theory, however, is that the templates actually act as a warning, they say “Look, even these templates, created by the developers of the game, are open to scorn and derision by our community. And don’t even bother to see what the forum dwellers think of them, lest you have to poke out your own eyes to stop the searing spite of their words from branding itself on your mind.” and so new players realise in short order that the prejudice, dullness, and spite is not directed solely at them, but at all beings who don’t fit with the supremacist’s ideals.

So, another MMO, another General channel quickly partitioned off into its own tab titled “Wrath”, along with the Trade channel under “Greed” and the LFG channel under “Sloth”. And yet people still ponder on the ‘mystery’ of the prevalence of the soloer in MMOs.

I do wonder if the community of Darkfall is any better; my natural instinct tells me that it would be at least as bad – it seems that only rarely can you have an MMO and not have a general community full of hate and spite, for they are formed of humans, and this is what humans do better than any other creature on Earth – yet there is the glimmer of hope in me that some level of formal politeness exists in a game where anyone you offend can join with his friends to hunt you down and put an axe through your skull.

It goes without saying that I’ve now created my experimental Cleric in DDO: with maxed Intellect and using Wisdom as the dump stat, they are armed with a crossbow and have the very best in the Search, Pick Lock and Disarm Trap cross-class skills. The experiment is not as to whether the character will work, but whether it is repellent enough to DDO’s master race to act much as a holy symbol acts upon a vampire; my theory is that I will hold up this symbol of singular silliness before them and they will shrink away at the horror that it represents and, if they fail their Will save, burst into flames and be purged.

Friday 6 November 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Lampshade

God I’m sick of Dragon Age: Origins, splashed all over every blog, games site and forum like arterial spray, the last thing the world needs is some “first impressions” type rubbish. So… sorry, but I’ve been caught in The Event as well.

The Good
It’s bloody good. Duh, etc. I was trying for feigned indifference for a while, or even deliberate contrariness with the sheer amount of coverage it’s getting, but (from the first few hours, which were going to be a few minutes just creating a quick character), yes, it’s good.

The Bad
I’m sure nobody wants to wade through yet another gushing review, and frankly it’s more fun to rant anyway; none of this stuff is exactly “bad” per se, it doesn’t significantly detract from the good-ness of the game, but it was such an easy post title.

Microtransactions/DLC: without delving into the whole question of whether launch day DLC is a way of draining some extra cash from players for features that should’ve shipped with the game anyway, or a viable, entirely optional, way of companies making more money to plough into game development, I saw The Warden’s Keep involved “extra storage” so had no option but to go and buy it straight away. Which involved having to buy some Bioware Points. Now I can understand Nintendo/Microsoft/Turbine Points when there’s a whole array of stuff to buy (obfuscate actual cash cost of items, allow the company to vary exchange rates and offers, force you to buy odd quantities of points so you have some left over giving an incentive to top up and buy more stuff, etc etc), so I guess this is just the start of a big old Bioware Store that might make more sense, but at the moment, unless I’m more vastly mistaken than a man who thinks Hillaire Belloc is still alive, there’s precisely one thing to buy: The Warden’s Keep, for 560 Bioware points (there’s also The Stone Prisoner, but with a code for that in every box it’s really just a way of getting some money out of second hand game sales). So from the game you have to go off into a web browser, and get asked “How many Bioware points would you like?”, and you tick the “For what possible reason would I want any quantity other than 560?” option (at least 560 was an option, rather than them only being sold in multiples of 600 or something), buy the points, go back to the game, refresh your Points Balance, exchange those points for DLC, and then you can download the stuff. Like I say, makes sense as part of a move to a Bioware or EA-wide ecosystem, seems rather pointless at the moment (I thought Steam was a waste of space when it was just a delivery method for Half Life 2, look at it now…)

Blood, blood, glorious blood: if you hadn’t guessed from the blood-splattered logos, splash (in a very literal sense) screens etc., there’s a bit of blood in the game. An attempt to convey the visceral and brutal nature of melee combat in a genre that tends to a romantic and sterilised view of a dagger in the guts? The result of watching Flesh for Frankenstein a bit too much (lord knows what Dragon Age would look like in 3D)? Either way up, combat itself is satisfyingly bloody (I think I saw a beheading at one point, but was zoomed out in a tactical view and going after a caster at the time so I’m not entirely sure), but the game tries to carry this over post-combat, making it very obvious in cut scenes. After the very first fight with some rats in a pantry my character picked one up, rubbed it all over his face, flung its internal organs at his companions, filled a small paddling pool with viscera and rolled around in it, visited The Big Red Ink Factory That Makes Red Ink where an unfortunate incident caused one of the machines to malfunction, spraying all and sundry with red ink, and was on his way back to the adventure when somehow a Karo Syrup tanker driven by Bruce Campbell collided with a Red Food Colouring tanker driven by Sam Raimi, engulfing him in a tide of yet more red gloop. Then he wandered out of the pantry and had a bit of a chat with the cook, who was entirely unperturbed by the blood he was dripping across the floor, and slightly shocked when I revealed there’d been rats in the pantry. Mind you, the shower and dry cleaning facilities in Dragon Age are absolutely top notch, as within the space of a couple of minutes he and the team were absolutely spotless again. I dunno, I mean I’m all for making things a bit more brutal than “oh prithee I am stabbed, farewell cruel world, I die!”, but it’s just trying too hard really. It’s somewhat less jarring when you’ve been involved in a lengthy series of tough battles, but even so the whole “Blood splattered! Clean! Blood splattered! Clean!” switch needs a bit more work. There’s probably a bunch of options to control this stuff, I should go in and check it out, but was too engrossed in the adventure at the time. In fact, if the character creator’s anything to go by, there are probably sliders for “Blood Quantity”, “Spurt Distance” (ooh err missus), “Plasma Viscosity” etc.

The Lampshade
One line of dialogue did stand out just a smidge. After the aforementioned first battle with some rats (possibly ten of them, I wasn’t counting), your companion sticks a lampshade on his head, waves a red flag and shouts “Hey, that was just like the start of some tale of adventure IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN WINK WINK METATEXTUAL IRONY EH EH?”

All right, that’s paraphrasing slightly and on another day I might’ve seen it as a charming knowing wink, but they’d actually woven the “kill ten rats” trope into the introduction quite nicely so I hadn’t even thought of it before Captain Lampshade shone the spotlight. Though maybe that was just me being dense.

Wallet death by a thousand microcuts.

Not all microtransactions are created equal.

Turbine have seen the light with DDO: a large proportion of the items that you can buy in the store you can also earn through playing the game; from basic +1 Items of Slight Betterness to the sigils that allow you to continue past each of the limit caps at levels four, eight, etc. You can earn all of these items through playing the free game. The things that they generally hold back on are the adventure packs, classes/races and those items which make you level up faster; these are held back for obvious reasons, although even these can be earnt through playing the game and earning favour which can be converted in to store points.

How is Blizzard approaching the issue at the moment? So far they have a small store, with a couple of pet vanity items which – after mounts – are some of the most sought after fluff items in the game. Except on RP servers, where it’s usually a dress that makes your character’s boobs hang out and leaves little imagination in the buttock region either. And that’s just the male characters.

The important difference for me is that there’s no way to earn the WoW vanity pets in the game, and I think that’s a mistake when your game also requires a monthly subscription to play. Blizzard seems to have swung entirely to the other end of the scale with their pet store, catering to the More Money Than Time folks, and ignoring those who are of the More Time Than Money variety. This seems especially silly when Blizzard could make a nice grind for the vanity pet items and keep people invested in their game, both in terms of time and money, while offering those who baulk at the real world price of these trivial vanity items a chance to afford them in their own way, which, given the cost of a monthly fee, would work out about the same if you made the grind a daily affair that lasted a month.

Of course at the moment Blizzard offers these pets only as an additional cost to the game and, knowing the WoW community, that will probably cause a lot of ill will, probably more than it really warrants, but I think Blizzard are indeed being greedy and foolish with their first foray into a forthright game store.

SoE are looking to create a subscription for Free Realms, presumably because they aren’t getting the returns that they were hoping for from the game store, but again some of their better vanity items require you to pay or go without; it’s surprising how many people will baulk at paying for something when they are forced to, yet pay exactly the same price, for exactly the same item, if they have the option to earn it in the game, but can take a shortcut by paying for it now.

With DDO, Turbine have mastered the psychology of microtransactions; others would do well to learn from them.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Blizzard's pet theory on microtransactions.

[To the tune of Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl]

This was never the way I planned, not my intention.
I got so brave, drink in hand, lost my discretion.
It’s not what I’m used to, just wanna try this ‘con’.
I’m curious it’s true, caught my attention.

I bought a pet and I liked it,
The waste of my would-be paycheck.
I bought a pet just to try it,
I hope my guild mates don’t mind it.
It felt so wrong,
It felt so right,
It don’t mean I’d buy more tonight.
I bought a pet and I liked it,
I liked it.

What can I say? They went for my Pandaren weak spot and scored a critical hit.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Thought for the day.

Massively has an article describing how Funcom has a new MMO in development, Board with the World, a free-to-play social MMO focusing on the world of extreme sports. I’m not entirely sure that a pun on ‘bored’ is the optimum way to market your MMO product. And then, of course, there’s:

First and foremost we will be focusing on snowboarding, with the possibility of adding different sports later.

So, starting off with the extreme sport well known for its grinds, then.

Reviewlets: Stewart Lee and Boffoonery

A quick comedy catch up: saw Stewart Lee a couple of weeks back, on his “If you prefer a milder comedian please ask for one” tour. Opener Henning Wehn, the German Comedy Ambassador to the UK, was pretty good, and Lee himself was fantastic. Covering the heinous crime of coffee shop loyalty card stamp faking, the joy of moving to the country or indeed another country for the quality of life (particularly with respect to prawns) and his admiration and respect for the Top Gear team, the high point was the finale, a brilliantly crafted, slowly building epic, beginning in a doctor’s surgery before moving into pear cider, the magpie culture of advertisers and the internet, and finishing with a song. Yup, a song.

Last night was Boffoonery at the Bloomsbury Theatre, a comedy benefit for Bletchley Park. Both informative, with Simon Singh doing a bit on the bible “code” before giving a live demonstration of an Enigma machine in action, and entertaining, with stand up from Robin Ince, Dave Gorman and Richard Herring and skits, spoofs and humorous vignettes from Punt & Dennis, Laurence & Gus, John Finnemore, Margaret Cabourn-Smith and the voice of Stephen Fry. All most excellent, but particularly most excellent was Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party, a Bletchley-themed panel game chaired by Robert Llewelyn featuring Maggie Philbin and Richard Herring against Johnny Ball and Robin Ince. Ince deployed fearsome, if ultimately futile, lateral thinking that put even Ted Rogers on 3-2-1 to shame, Herring dropped in deft asides, Maggie Philbin, having read up on the subject, actually knew the answers to the questions in great detail, and Johnny Ball is a legend. At the age of 71 he’s as full of passion and enthusiasm as ever, with that vital hint of lunacy, as several questions fortuitously allowed him to launch into a whistle stop tour of binary and Egyptian multiplication, Euler and the seven bridges of Koenigsberg and finding square roots with Euclidean geometry, demonstrated with a string of beads that have hopefully given Richard Herring another half hour of material.

An age will always drag-on.

The empty wrapper flips and somersaults its way down the high street towards me, ducking in and out of the shadows between the downcast gaze of the streetlights. It’s the only thing moving in that once congested thoroughfare. The shops stand empty, the street silent but for the faint sound of the wind as it plays its mournful symphony, the percussion of the windows shutters above me and the reedy crescendo of letterboxes stuffed full of unopened mail.

Everything is in order. It’s not the dramatic apocalyptic scene that we’d always envisioned. Cars are parked neatly in their spaces at the side of the road; doors are closed and windows remain unbroken. That’s how it was when the Event happened: nothing really changed in the world, no big bang, no screams of pain and panic, and no news stories with rolling tickers at the bottom of the screen spelling out our impending doom. People just went home, kissed their husbands or wives, played with their kids and put them to bed, and then… were never seen again.

Hands in my pockets and coat collar drawn up under my chin, I wander aimlessly down the middle of the road. I turn into a side street, walk between rows of town houses, neon lightning flickering from behind the windows. Amber eyes watch me from behind a half-licked paw as I walk past. It feels strange to be observed now; I work hard to resist the urge to hold my hand up and shield my face from that haughty glare, the eyes hold questions and accusations “What you doing here two-legs, don’t you know that we rule the world now?” I want to turn and shout that we’re still here, all of us… here and yet not here, but my accuser has already closed its eyes and gone back to cleaning its face.

Everyone is here, yet no one is.

Except me, alone. All alone. I wander the dark streets and listen to the sounds coming from the houses, brought to me on a wind that sings the song of the end of all things.

Maybe one day, if I keep moving on, I’ll find someone else who isn’t stuck inside playing Dragon Age: Origins.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Down with this sort of thing.

So, Lord of the Rings Online, Volume 1, Book 11? Pretty much the same as before.

In particular I’m impressed with my prescience with regards to the Hunt For The Key.

The sad thing is that, as mentioned by Van Hemlock in his post lambasting chapter ten, the only real problem with books ten and eleven is that so few parts of them are marked for a fellowship or small fellowship; if the one or two chapters that required any sort of group were adjusted to be soloable, these would be perfectly pleasant preambles before the meaty main thrust of the remaining few books.

As it stands, several members of this long standing kinship – of which I have only recently become a part – are swearing off of the rest of volume one, and seem utterly demoralised when considering the tasks that we’re currently being asked to undertake as compared to the glory days of books past. My own theory is that this is a more pronounced issue for those of us coming to the content a long time after its initial release; back when there wasn’t much else to do, I imagine most LotRO players were at least moderately content to have something, anything, to do that advanced the story a little more. Following on immediately from the epic conclusion to the original set of book content, and with the delectable depths of Moria’s domain easily within our capability and calling to us, it’s that much more disheartening to be asked to run Fed Ex mission number five.

Of fifteen.

For myself, I’m not so fussed. I enjoy the company of the others too much to worry overly about what I’m doing, and although I gripe with the best of them, it’s only because I know how great Lord of the Rings can be, and it’s a shame to see Turbine fall short of the high bar that they set in the previous books.

Ultimately I’m still happy with the overall image of an epic journey that has been imprinted on my mind; the image of a horse’s rump that’s now burned indelibly on my retina – not so much.

Careful now.

Time Cures Moderate Wounds

I’ve really been enjoying Dungeons and Dragons Online since going back to the free-to-play Unlimited version, it’s a far better game than when I played for a month or so at launch. The fundamentals are the same (run around and hit stuff with swords), I always liked the way it captures the old pen and paper feeling of going on a dungeon crawl, but many little tweaks have improved the overall experience. Starting at the beginning, with character creation, templates make life much easier for anyone who hasn’t memorised the comparative benefits of all the D&D feats. Emerging from character creation into the game the tutorial is a distinct improvement on the original, which forced you to solo a few dungeons culminating in a bunch of kobolds and a cultist under a pub as I recall. Trivial for a fighter or barbarian, who’d merrily splatter their way through, tougher for a rogue, especially if specced more for dealing with traps than fighting, and potentially impossible for a wizard if they got their spell selection wrong (though who wouldn’t take magic missile?)

A major problem for me at launch was the way solo/duo content dried up almost immediately after finishing the tutorial. Not an entirely illogical design, in keeping with trying to preserve the ethos of group adventures, but led to much frustration in attempts to get groups together, find quests that everybody had etc., and there wasn’t much to do while pottering around waiting for some action to start. I believe one of the very early updates was the addition of some solo adventures, or “solo mode” for some existing adventures, so it was obviously an issue they were working on, and now there are plenty of options without having to form up a big old group. As well as the wider range of available quests that you’d expect, gradually added over time, the hireling system allows you to pad your group out with an NPC rather than spamming “LF healer” on all available chat channels for hours at a time.

The other main problem I had was grind. DDO is unique (or at least very unusual) in that it doesn’t give out XP for individual mob kills, I haven’t yet been sent to collect a random assortment of animal body parts that only a small fraction of beasts seem to possess, and it’s completely free of “kill ONE MEEEEELEON monster” type quests. Actually, that’s not strictly true: there is one quest where the only objective is to kill 200 kobolds, but that’s not so much a grind as comic relief; you decide to have a crack at it solo, just for a laugh, and you’re butchering kobolds with a single blow, laughing maniacally as you do, thinking you might have a good chance, but they just keep attacking, wave after wave, and you can’t kill them quick enough, and even though they’re only doing a couple of points of damage here and there it’s chipping away, and you’re trying to back off and use a healing potion but there’s so many of them, and… that’s when you realise you’re a rare giant monster spawn in an open world MMO. If you could somehow add the kobold “General” channel to your chat tab, I swear you’d see something like:
“Where’s the ruined castle?”
“Centre of the map, noob”
“Let’s take it down!”
“ZOMGZ it just one-shotted me WTF?”
“Need more shaman, come on!”
“LFM Giant Mob team”
“It’s self healing, no way”
“Need to wear down its spell points”
“It’s going down!”
“What did it drop, what did it drop?”
“Who got the lewt?”
“There’s nothing on the body!! NOTHING!”
“OMFG, I’m so writing a blog post about this…”

Anyway. Everything’s quests off in their own instances (dungeons and outdoor areas), which avoids the “kill ONE MEEEEEELEON monsters” grind, but potentially replaces it with doing the same instances over and over again. First of all there was the Waterworks; originally to go from the Harbour to the Marketplace you had to complete the Waterworks quest(s), a fairly tough and long series. Not so bad if you were a static group and all blasted through it at the same time, but if you were in a casual guild it was a right pain with everyone at different stages, and some people got thoroughly sick of going through the Waterworks several times to help out others as they reached it (and then again with an alt or re-rolled character). Having made it through to the Marketplace, there was another series that finally did for me. I can’t remember the precise details, but I think it was off from one of the Houses; a guild group formed up and we toddled off for a quest, through an outdoor area, which was a bit pointless as I recall, but did offer some opportunities for people to wander off on their own and get lost if they weren’t paying attention then run into big groups of mobs, or plummet down a cliff to certain doom, just to make sure it took about half an hour just to get everybody assembled at the start of the actual quest. In we went to this dungeon, I forget what the exact objective was, rescue some prisoners or find a key or something, and it was pretty neat; I was sneaking around searching for traps, we dispensed steely justice to whatever kobolds, gnolls or other beasties were hanging around, secured our objective, hurrah! That led to chapter two of the quest, which involved… going back into the exact same dungeon, with the exact same traps, and the same spawns, but winding up in a slightly different bit, or going slightly further than the first time. OK, fine, completed that objective, and chapter three of the quest was… to go back into the same dungeon! Again! And that still wasn’t the end of the quest series, but I had to head off after finishing that chapter.

Next time I logged in I shouted around to see if anybody fancied finishing off that quest series, and we ended up with a group with me on chapter four, somebody who’d finished the whole thing the previous night, someone else who’d had to bail out after chapter five, and a couple who hadn’t done it at all. So it was back to chapter one; into the dungeon, out of the dungeon, back into the dungeon, out of the dungeon, back into the dungeon (sixth time in pretty much the same instance now…) Things improved very slightly, as later in the quest chain either the early part of the dungeon was free from traps and mobs, or we went straight in to a later point in the dungeon, but I think it was a seven chapter quest that basically involved going back in to the same dungeon seven times, finally completing the thing hours later.

Next time I logged in I joined a guild group of similar level and we chatted about what quests to do. “Anything but (House Wherever)!” said I, cheerily. And of course once we worked out what level characters we had, what prerequisite quests were needed, what everyone else was thoroughly bored of etc, there remained only one possible choice for us: House Wherever. So I went back into that dungeon another seven times (would’ve been bad form to leave them rogue-less after all), and didn’t log in to the game for another three and a half years.

I’m hoping they’ve sorted that out now, certainly there seems to be a wider array of quest choices (albeit some of them requiring a purchase, but they have to make their money somehow); I don’t mind doing a dungeon a couple of times, or leaving it a couple of weeks between attempts, but 15+ runs of more-or-less the same dungeon within three sessions is taking the piss.

Trouble is, of course, MMOGs need content, and to satisfy voracious players they need lots of it. It takes far longer to create the content than to play it (reasons not to work on MMOGs part MMCIXV: spending days or weeks as a team perfecting a dungeon, adding quests and flavour text, placing the traps and spawns, testing it carefully and adjusting accordingly, then watching a bunch of munchkins steam through it in seven minutes flat shouting “LAWL!” and “PEWPEW!” as they go), so obviously it’s a temptation: if a dungeon’s good for one chapter, it’s good for seven! It’s something Champions Online seem to be suffering at the moment, with their Blood Moon event. Part of the event, the PvE side, is pure, unvarnished grind (though in fairness, apparently each crypt isn’t exactly the same, there are some minor changes in layout, but one run through of one crypt was quite enough for me.) One the plus side, the PvP side of the event is much better, I really enjoyed the zombie-survival mode (a team of five or six have to fight off waves of NPC zombie attackers plus one zombie-fied player, as each hero dies they get zombie-nated and join the undead; sort of British Zombie Bulldog), and I haven’t had a chance to try the hunters vs werewolves yet, but it sounds fun too. Let’s hope Champions can keep going for three years or so and keep improving like DDO.

Monday 2 November 2009


Having survived Halloween – or the Chocapocalypse as I like to dub it – for another year, where one is faced with not only wave upon wave of those small bipedal bacteria distribution units cunningly disguised as sentient bed sheets, but also the temptation of a ginormous unguarded bowl full of chocolate sat only a few feet away beside the front door, I had cause to ponder on the whole curious ritual and wondered what a holiday event to celebrate MMOs would entail.

The first stumbling block was to decide what the main loot would be for the holiday, loot being a staple of many holidays and splendidly apt for inclusion in a holiday celebrating MMOs. For Halloween the loot constitutes various forms of confectionary, often candy or chocolate, undisguised and presented in a large bowl into which the participants can dip their hands. It should be noted that it is considered bad form to hide a loaded mouse trap within the sweet bowl as a simulation of a critical fail on the loot roll. Christmas, on the other hand, has the generic wrapped present as its loot of choice; our lord and saviour Jesus Christ died on the cross to give mankind the gift of redemption, and to celebrate his birth each year we, in turn, give each other the gift of a hastily purchased pair of socks or a cheap FM radio alarm clock in the oh so amusing shape of a pair of breasts. For Easter we find the improbable and oft-euphemised chocolate egg as the gift of choice; our lord and saviour Jesus Christ died on the cross to give mankind the gift of redemption, and to celebrate his death and rebirth each year we, in turn, pretend that a sentient invisible rabbit steals the unfertilised young of chocolate chickens and then, despite two thousand years or more of practise, proceeds to hide them around the average garden in such a manner that they are easily discovered by any two year old child with a basket and a sweet tooth.

After thinking upon all of that, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything more ridiculous for my fictional MMO holiday. My mind had other plans though. So the primary goal of any MMO is to get phat loots in order to lord it over other players by swinging around your massive e-peen. I’m not quite sure how this works for the female players among us: e-clit doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, as it were, and the thought of someone swinging a massive one around is probably trespassing on the territory of some of the more specialist websites out there. We’ll just assume that the obnoxious female show-offs out there have an e-peen too, but that theirs is plastic with straps. Transgender players will just have to work out their own terminology based on their specific system specifications. So we need something to represent the e-peen which is the core concept of the MMO and the basis for all the drama, hatred, misery and general ill will that such games generate, grossly disproportionate to the actual worth of the reward on offer. My idea: the chocolate coated chilli pepper (CCCP). I think it works pretty well: it’s moderately phallic, has a sweet outer layer representing the desire of phat loots which, after you have attained it and taken your first taste, becomes more and more painful with each progressive bite, and yet the endorphin rush is enough to keep you coming back for more, despite the fact that you know how much it will hurt and how utterly pointless and temporarily rewarding it is to do so. On top of that there’s the ‘manliness’ factor of eating raw chilli, because as we all know, it’s something that’s undertaken only by real men, with real hair on their real chests, the sort of men who wrestle ladies and help old lions across the road, or something.


Next we need the means of distribution for our MMO holiday. This proved less tricky, because it obviously needs to involve some sort of quest; preferably repeatable; almost certainly mundane; ideally involving boars; absolutely dependant on chance. My first idea was to have adults dress as giant boars and for the questing children to hit them with sticks until unconscious, at which point the children would skin the adult from their costume and there would be a one in seventy two chance that the adult possessed any CCCPs to loot. The main problem with this was the potential for the children to attempt to brute-force the event, forming impossibly large raids and thus trivialising the beating of the boar-costumed adults. On the plus side there wouldn’t be enough loot to go around from each adult defeated, and so the potential for drama would be high and thus very much in the spirit of things.

It seemed more appropriate, and involved far less getting hit with blunt objects on the part of the adults, if said adults were quest givers who rewarded the children with loot for performing a task. Children should be in a group of no more than six, otherwise the quest giver will not answer the door. The tasks could be up to the adults, but should generally be quite tedious although occasionally interspersed with moments fraught with terror. One example is to send the children to speak with Mr Johnsson at number 67 at the end of the street who, in turn, sends the children to speak to Mr and Mrs Grundle at number 17 at the other end of the street. To add to the experience, everyone in the street lets loose any animals that they have which are of a troublesome disposition – small yappy dogs that are prone to attack strangers on sight are especially valued; likewise teenage boys – thus providing a gauntlet of random aggro for the children to negotiate as they make their way up and down the street. Upon finally returning to the original quest giver the children are rewarded with a random number of CCCPs, the only condition being that the random number is never high enough to grant every child in the group a reward.

Finally there needed to be some sort of customary costume for the children to be dressed in. This initially seemed simple enough – the children would dress as adventurers from any standard MMO – but quickly proved fraught with danger when one considered the legal ramifications of an event that encouraged children to run around in chainmail bikinis. Some hasty re-thinking settled on the fact that the children would dress only in Tier 10 armour from World of Warcraft, something so hideously embarrassing that they we would be sure to cover themselves up entirely with a large sheet or plastic sack rather than be seen dead wearing it.

One final consideration was to the congregation of people to celebrate the event, such as Guy Fawkes night here in England; Guy Fawkes was killed in multiple horrid ways after attempting to destroy the Houses of Parliament whilst trying to overthrow the regime of the time, and we celebrate this by gathering around a large fire upon which his poor effigy is burned, and generally using it as an excuse to make a lot of noise by blowing shit up – or ‘launch fireworks’ as some call it. I like the idea of people gathering together to celebrate something of which the original meaning has all but been forgotten, so the MMO holiday will have a similar tradition, whereupon children who have collected and eaten enough CCCPs to be considered a high priority case in Accident and Emergency, are placed on top of the local village post-box and forced to dance for the gathered crowd as it drinks and makes merry.

So there you have it, my initial thoughts on an MMO holiday, steeped in tradition and celebrating all that is great and good in our hobby of choice. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a mouse trap to carefully extract from a rather tempting looking bowl of chocolates.