Friday 30 July 2010

A distinguished diplomat could hold his tongue in ten languages.

The KiaSA Guide to the Star Wars Galaxy has this to say on the subject of Nar Shaddaa:

When introducing oneself to high ranking members of the Hutt Cartel stationed on the sprawling black market city-planet, it is strongly advised that one not break out into a song version of Nar Shaddaa Shaddaa to the tune of the Mah Nà Mah Nà song. This is considered bad form among all indigenous life forms of the planet, and is generally punishable by the unfortunate hitchhiker being thrown to a sarlaac.

Or worse still, being forced to sing the song again.

Thursday 29 July 2010

Thought for the day.

“Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a hero just like in your games!”

“What, you want to run around a forest with an aggressive moose ineffectually butting you in the back as you try to pick berries for a bone-idle elf who wants to host a dinner party?”

I think I’ll probably stick to reading The Hobbit as the foundation for mini-Melmoth’s fantasy aspirations, for now.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

KiaSA Writing Style Analyser

The “I Write Like” analyser has been spreading like wildfire recently, a web page that takes a text sample and with uncanny machine precision determines that you write like one of 50 authors including James Joyce, H. P. Lovecraft, P. G. Wodehouse or, in particularly insulting cases, Dan Brown. Doubt has been raised over the pin-point accuracy of the Bayesian classifier behind it, though, so KiaSA Industries have devoted a vast amount of effort and resources to create a far more sophisticated algorithm, the most accurate writing style analysis service in the known universe:

Enter your name:

Sorry, there’s no code to paste into your blog if you want a badge. You can make your own, though, try the PrtScrn button and MS Paint.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

I’m currently sailing through the gaming Doldrums at the moment, where I use the term based upon its nautical meaning rather than the more common colloquial use that we are familiar with today. That is to say that I am making my way through a slow, calm period of gaming where no significant progress is being made and little adventure is to be had. Since I am in no rush to get to new gaming lands, however, and I have enough store of plain and simple content to keep me from gaming starvation for a while – gaming hardtack, if you will: sustenance enough without necessarily being a delight on the palette of play – I shalln’t be found wanting through the current becalming of my evenings’ electronic entertainment.

Lord of the Rings Online continues to be a sanctuary of solitude for me; it’s where I go when I want to escape all worlds and just exist outside of human space. My Warden is level sixty one and, having completed much that could be done for the dwarves of Moria, has breached the dark surface of that place to take in breath and flip joyous somersaults through the radiant bloom of the Lothlórien sky, before flopping back down with a tumultuous splash into the dark depths of Mirkwood once more. Lothlórien exists as one of those curious islands of MMO content, being both the concluding content of Moria and the prelude to Mirkwood, it is a forgotten place, off of the common trade routes, and as such many players will now sail by without thought to stop and explore; and indeed, as I float dream-like through the green seas of that forest, I rarely encounter other MMO mariners there. The stillness of Lothlórien is a perfect reflection of my current gaming state however, its surface reflects mirror-like the peace and tranquillity that I’m currently enjoying. Many quests in the great forest are simple tasks of exploration of both the place and the people, the culture and the customs, and they stand in stark contrast to the endless combative struggles left behind in Moria, and of those yet to come in Mirkwood.

I’m still playing APB on occasion; there is something in the nature of the game that keeps me coming back despite the many frustrations that it is struggling against. The game has run aground on the sandbank of redesign having fought unsuccessfully against the tidal wash of PvP balance, combat mechanics and driving physics, and the players wait in some sort of shipwrecked limbo while the developers frantically try to tar over the holes and re-launch the game. At the moment I’m primarily double sculling through the game with m’colleague, where the effort of trying to row upstream against the oft infuriating and insurmountable imbalances of the game is at least a struggle shared, where possible with light-hearted ridicule of the situation, and otherwise with a silent steely tooth-grinding mutual determination, punctuated with the occasional ESRB AO rated expletive outburst.

WAR has held my attention for a short while, but I’m not sure its the voyage for me. The mindless impersonal zerg as a winning tactic is indisputable, and the Viking war-band had pillaged its way through several tiers of content, but I’m not sure I get much enjoyment from being one of the many mentionless minions on the oars of the galley, as masters bellow orders from the deck above and the monotonous beat of the zerg drum drives a repetitive rhythm. DDO too is slowly coming into port for me, reaching a destination where I am happy to disembark. Having recently played my Bard for a while, who is level five compared to my Monk’s level thirteen, I was reminded of just how much simple fun was to be had in the early stages of the game, where one could adventure through a dungeon as you would in Dungeons and Dragons Not Online, exploring freely and without fear of murderous traps obliterating your character at every corner, and fighting without having cause to swap to a different weapon damage type every other fight or be effectively useless. As the levels of DDO progress the game seems to veer away from the shallow waters where anyone can paddle and enjoy the simple pleasures of role-playing and adventure, and into the deep waters of munchkin builds, heavy raiding and grinding out the experience.

As such I might have a little time on my hands, and where I’ll probably continue my LotRO adventures of a Monday evening as I have done for the past year or more, I’ll look to dabble in a new game as well, and as fate would have it, just as I think to disembark one ship, another one is offering free passage to new lands, and I think I may very well board it and see where it takes me.

So the gaming Doldrums are where I am currently floating on the wide ocean of gaming releases, it’s a calm and peaceful place to be, but I look to the horizon and I see exciting clouds forming, bringing with them strong winds and tempestuous times. A tropical cyclone of gaming approaches. Hurricane TOR is at the centre, with the smaller but still powerful storm fronts of Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV following in its wake. There’s a Cataclysm on the horizon as well, and although I escaped the whirlpool grasp of World of Warcraft and vowed never to return, I find my ship once again being drawn inexorably towards it.

So peace at the moment, but exciting times ahead, soon it will be time to batten down the hatches and hoist the main sail and prepare to ride the storm, but whether it will take us out into the wide waters of greater adventure or shatter us against the reef of disappointment, only time will tell.

Monday 26 July 2010

Hat News Now Today - Addendum

Zorgbok the Destroyer wasn't entirely convinced that the Helm of Latrinity was the right look for a berserker warrior of his stature

What with m’colleague lamenting the dearth of decent headwear in current MMOs, I thought I’d proffer a suggestion for future implementation. Exhibit A, over to the right there, is Madame A.T. Rowley’s Toilet Mask, a splendid example of a bonce bonnet I’m sure you’ll agree. Also known as the ‘face glove’ (look for ‘finger hats’ and ‘toe scarves’ in Madame Rowley’s Autumn collection), this article of crazy cranial apparel is sure to modify the stats of your character, although for the moment we’re not entirely sure how.

Does my bum look big in this?

And since we’re talking about the cutting edge in MMO outfits and tailoring, how about W.P. Stockbridge’s Ermyntrude over there to the left? Admittedly it is highly irregular to see a female character in an MMO with no body flesh on display whatsoever, but we think the advantages far outweigh the detrimental side-effect of not looking like a pre-pubescent walking advert for porn-inspired cosmetic surgery and body modification.

Not only does the wonderful dress add ten extra item slots to your character’s inventory what with all that additional storage space at the rear (enough to smuggle a Tauren past the Alliance-Horde border guard), but it also transforms your character into a 350% speed mount capable of carrying two additional riders!

Never underestimate the power of Victorian invention to transform the lives of MMO characters for the better. Have a look for yourselves, and see all the exciting new possibilities for livening up arsey armour and humdrum hats through the viewport of Victorian advertising!

Hat News Now Today

Hat News Now Today would like to apologise for the deeply lacking hat news coverage recently, but though some games have offered some moderately diverting millinery nothing has really captivated. Until this week’s session of Dungeons and Dragons Online, that is, when Melmoth spotted something in the DDO store. A cosmetic top hat, no less, that changes the appearance of your head gear.

The Top Hat

I say!

Be warned, though! Such dapper head adornments can lead to spontaneous terpsichorean outbreaks:

Dancing in hats

Check me out! I'm dancing, I'm dancing!

Of course the entire guild promptly donned toppers for perhaps the most stylish ever dungeon delve (our photographer apologises for not catching the entire guild in a shot, and for forgetting to turn the game interface off leading to the somewhat unfortunate beheading)

Guild in Hats

We're here to kick ass and look incredibly stylish, though we didn't bring enough healers to completely kick ass

Friday 23 July 2010

Have I Got MMOnews For You

Host: This week, teams, news that videogames can make you more successful in your career. “‘We’re finding that the younger people coming into the teams who have had experience playing online games are the highest-level performers because they are constantly motivated to seek out the next challenge and grab on to performance metrics,’ says John Hagel III, co-chairman of a tech-oriented strategy center for Deloitte. Elliot Noss, chief executive of domain name provider Tucows, spends six to seven hours a week playing online games and believes World of Warcraft trains him to become a better leader.”

Melmoth: “Some orientation is required when they transfer into corporate life, however” said Mr Hagel III, “before which we find it’s best to avoid telling them that five high level bosses reside on the top floor of the corporate tower. Forty young graduates throwing paper darts at the CEO while trying to steal the contents of his briefcase can cause unwanted flak for the HR department.”

Zoso: “Well, they’re motivated for the first couple of months, at least;” said John Hagel III, “after which they generally start complaining about the grind, then turn up in other departments claiming they’re alts, before heading back to WoW. We call them Job Tourists.”

Melmoth: “Elliot Noss, chief executive of domain name provider Tucows, spends six to seven hours a week playing online games and believes World of Warcraft trains him to become a better leader” he told our reporter, while simultaneously screaming “Minus Fifty Domain Name Points!” down the phone at one of his minions, followed by a stream of expletives, then throwing the phone across his office and rage-deleting several major DNS blocks.”

Zoso:“… and his salary scheme has drawn heavy criticism from 24 of his 25 employees; the other one, who won the ‘Need’ roll for that month’s payroll, believes it to be an excellent system.”

Melmoth:“Working for Noss is a strange experience” said a hypothetical Tucows employee, “frankly there’s a lot less server maintenance in my job than I imagined, and far more hunting boars for their spleens”.

Host: Goodnight!

Studio lights dim, theme tune plays.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional

APB has two main features. Firstly customisation; of your character, the way they look, they way they dress, the car they drive, their theme tune. Secondly fast-paced cops n’ robbers driving and shooting action in third-person, haring around after escaping criminals, shootouts over key objectives, a bit like a bunch of dynamic mini Counterstrike matches happening on the same map. Customisation was a big focus of pre-launch publicity like the 2008 E3 presentation, and has generally lived up to the hype; players have come up with some impressive efforts themselves including a Star Trek Squad and a Metropolitan Police clan. The action side of things wasn’t so well received, so it’s not a huge surprise that the developers have announced they’re looking at improving driving, combat and matchmaking.

One of APB’s problems is that the two halves don’t always complement each other. A good example of the inherent conflict is location-based damage; it’s pretty much taken for granted in modern shooters that a headshot will do more damage. Then again in most shooters the player models are the same size, but APB gives you sliders to adjust height and weight, so if the hit box was exactly mapped to your character there’d be a competitive advantage in making the character as small as possible and top clans would be exclusively populated by emaciated midgets. And in the game, ah! (No, not ‘ah’). Instead all APB characters have the same hit box, so a ‘head’ shot would be anywhere from the top of a chest to thin air, depending on the actual character size. There have been some interesting suggestions, such as having the hit box the same size as the character, but making shorter characters move more slowly so there would be drawbacks as well as advantages, but that would just give another avenue of min-maxing, and generally be opposed to the central idea of giving players maximum creative freedom in how they look.

If the customisation was lacklustre but the action gameplay worked really well APB might be able to find a more comfortable niche, though it would be in more direct competition with any number of online shooters without monthly or per-hour costs. As it is, after perfecting your hairstyle, outfit and car paint job, you’ve got one thing to do: go head-to-head against other players. On the Venn diagram of “people who like small group deathmatch shooters” and “people who like composing theme tunes and spending ages making sure their shirt looks right”, APB is great for those in the intersection between the sets, but my suspicion is that’s not a very large segment and many people attracted by the freedom in the character creation would prefer some slightly more relaxed gameplay options. There is the Social district, though that’s something of a misnomer as most people there are clustered around auction or design terminals using the full screen editing options, and apart from the terminals it’s a useful space if you want an in-game guild meeting or something, but there’s nothing to actually do there.

Out on patrol in the action district you hit the problems every PvP game has. Some players want a balanced fight, some just want to win; the latter try to skew things in their favour as much as they can, especially in a persistent game in which unlocks and upgrades provide an incentive to keep playing. With a large enough pool of players and a robust matchmaking system those looking for a balanced fight should be able to find one, but RTW have acknowledged that things aren’t really working out as they hoped in that area. I’m increasingly finding as I potter about the place that more and more opponents have triple character and weapon upgrades, and though an individual 5% boost here and there doesn’t make a vast amount of difference in the grand scheme of things compared to player skill, if they’re a much better player to start out with my chances are somewhere between slim and none, and the upgrades mean slim gets taken out by a rocket launcher before the mission starts. I’m not sure if it’s the cherry picking and other matchmaking problems described by the devs, a lot of really good players on the criminal side, or just my bad luck with district selection, but when you keep coming up against opponents with a 15% health boost who take less damage from each shot things shift from “generally putting up a decent fight and winning a few missions” to “standing less chance than the peace-loving pygmies of the Upper Volta charging machine guns at Mboto Gorge armed only with fruit”. Still, when the matchmaking system does produce fairer fights it’s still fun, so fingers crossed their overhaul does the trick.

It might be that an improvement in the action side of the game is enough to keep APB compelling, but given more time or perhaps focus in development I wonder if it could have taken a different path. I blogged about Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 2 a while back, concluding that one of the main strengths of GTAIV is its atmosphere, setting and attention to detail, whereas SR2 offers comic-book excesses and a wide variety of non-stop action, and I think either could have translated to an MMO.

The Saints Row 2 option of crazy blockbuster action would be, conceptually, pretty straightforward: throw in everything and the kitchen sink. It wouldn’t be so worried about a meaningful game world as setting players loose in a metaphorical theme park; hell, let the players loose in an actual theme park, gunfights on a roller-coaster and candy floss everywhere… Take a leaf from some SR2 activities like races on flaming quad bikes causing explosions around the place, or making players temporarily invulnerable to be hit by as many cars as possible as an insurance scam (that would work particularly well if happening at the same time as other players chasing each other on assassination missions or just in races). Add hot dog costumes and gimp masks to the clothing options, ramp everything up to 11.

A more Grand Theft Auto IV path would be quite the opposite; try and give the world more coherence and reality. The cities of GTA aren’t exactly *the* real world (police generally don’t tend to forget you’re a wanted felon if you hide around a corner for 30 seconds), but they’re *a* real world with people going about their business, news and adverts on the radio, things happening in the city. It’s difficult to take that living city into an MMO; throw in 100 maniacs with assault weapons and it’s not really so coherent and believable, the more real people you add, the less real it is. APB has an interesting enough back story, but it reads like it was dashed off as a quick excuse for criminals to be fighting a bunch of mercenary-like cops, it’s hardly reflected in the game itself when you drop into a district of this supposedly crime-ravaged anarchic lawless city. Have the population barricaded themselves in their homes, or buggered off to the country where there’s significantly less chance of being mown down in a random firefight? No, everyone is wandering about doing a bit of shopping, casually strolling across the road demonstrating a lack of awareness of the Green Cross Code that would be dangerous in a normal city let alone one where high speed pursuit is the hobby of choice, and slowly driving expensive sports cars around that might as well have “STEAL (or commandeer) ME!” emblazoned on the roof. Oh, and there’s the social district, where criminals and enforcers “decided not to fight”. As criminals and enforcers so often do.

It might go slightly against the real-world cops n’ robbers grain, but I think the only way you could really pull off an immersive city setting would be to make it near-future, after some not-apocalyptic-but-quite-major event, something like a cross between Mad Max (the first one) and Brian Wood’s DMZ comic series. Same clothes, cars and guns, but a more dishevelled city; maybe even expand things in a slightly EVE-like way with high-security areas patrolled by powerful (but not omniscient) NPCs giving way to more anarchic zones.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

MMORPG Name Generator

Got a brilliant idea for a new MMORPG, but just can’t come up with a catchy name? Simply follow these easy steps for a guaranteed smash hit:

  1. Stick a pin in the thesaurus entry for ‘realm’
  2. Add ‘of’
  3. Draw scrabble letters from a bag for a fantasy-sounding word
  4. Add punctuation of choice
  5. Append a portentous verb

KiaSA Studios are pleased to announce that Purview of Lsdqwny – Conflictening will be released in 2011 and feature exciting innovations including Levels, Statistics and Items, and Neck of the Woods of Gassdvhw{ Enthrustening has just started development, based around the novel idea of giving us lots of money in exchange for killing monsters or making swords or something.

Monday 19 July 2010

RUSE preview weekend

After the public beta of WWII RTS RUSE, developers Eugen pushed back the release from June to give them time to work on feedback from the beta (Melmoth would approve). Steam popped up news of a free preview weekend, ending Sunday July 18th, so I got the client downloaded on Saturday evening, at which point there was apparently 35 minutes of the preview left. Something had got a bit confused somewhere between the developers and Steam, perhaps that’s a problem when your game involves the Art of Deception; the game had vanished from my Steam library on Sunday morning, but reappeared later on, claiming 3 days left on the preview.

I only managed one online game; things didn’t seem to have changed very much since beta, but there might be more going on under the surface, I’d need to find some patch notes to be sure. It was rather splendid fun unleashing artillery barrages once more, a timely reminder to put the game back on my radar again. Worth a quick look before Wednesday (unless the extension to the preview is another ruse…)

Saturday 17 July 2010

MMO Curio.

Crossbow of BluffingWelcome to the first in a new feature series of one, in all likelihood, knowing my propensity for starting features and then never doing another one. I keep stumbling across unintentionally curiously named objects in MMOs and thought I’d share them and maybe we can work out together what they really do.

Evidence the first I present to you on the right. The Crossbow of Bluffing, from my current sanctuary of solitude, Lord of the Rings Online.

But how does a Crossbow of Bluffing work in practice?

“Hand over the king’s daughter, vagrant, or you’ll get a bolt through the neck from my crossbow.”

“You’re bluffing!”

*chink* *thwip* *thwunk*

“Arrrggg, you shot me in the groin!”

“I was only bluffing about the neck bit.”

“Curse you and your crossbow of bluffing! Here, take the king’s daughter and let me bleed out in humiliated peace.”

Or maybe it’s a more practical bluff?

“Hand over the king’s daughter, vagrant, or you’ll get a bolt through the neck from my crossbow.”

“‘e’s bluffing lads, that’s not a crossbow it’s just a banana, ‘e thinks we can’t tell the difference in the dark!”

*chink* *thwip* *thwunk*

“Arrrggg! Run lads, ‘e was bluffing about the bluff, ‘e must ‘ave some sort of crossbow of bluffing or summat!”

Or perhaps its best use is in a more practical form of reverse psychology bluff?

“Hah, I knew you were bluffing on that last hand, you always bluff in poker! Where does your mighty crossbow of bluffing get you now, eh, clever man?”

*chink* *thwip* *thwunk*


Yes, on careful consideration, probably best to just use it as a crossbow and forget about the bluffing part.

Join us next time when we discuss the Sword of Dishwashing and the Unbalancing Staff of Walking.

Friday 16 July 2010

Once I make up my mind, I'm full of indecision.

I should have known that I could never be free.

My altitus is usually a constant companion, a non-combat vanity pet for my real world self, always at my side, bouncing up at me with a steady metronomic rhythm whenever I play an MMO, as though it had fallen on to a trampoline and didn’t quite know how to get off, all the while yipping at a frequency and intensity perfectly evolved to prevent any form of consistent continuous cogitation; and yet I hadn’t heard so much as a peep from it since I started playing Warhammer Online with the Van Hemlock crew’s Monday night static group. I thought I’d escaped the attentions of my altitus: having settled on playing a Witch Elf I had spent several evenings getting a feel for the game again, and I knew I had found the class for me. I marvelled at the concept of the lithe elf wearing nothing but a thong and bra who dual-wields daggers and lurks in the shadows, waiting to pounce on the unwary healer or mage, stunning them momentarily as they process the fact that they seem to have drawn the attentions of an S&M dungeon mistress and then desperately try to recollect the safe word that had been agreed upon so they can make the pain go away. I was happy, I had a sassy female assassin, a sassassin if you will, and I was certain that I couldn’t be swayed from the path, not when the sassassin’s swaying curves glided along that path, soft and supple, in stark contrast to the hard, sharp curves of the blades held against them at the ready.

I paused and listened, and for the first time in an age the altitus was silent.

The guild got bigger. From the initial six members of the Lord of the Rings Online Monday night static group, the guild grew in size until we were able to field a full warband, and as the four groups were organised within that warband it was observed that we were a little short on healers.

I held my breath and waited.

I waited for the altitus to roar forth from its den of temporary hibernation, metamorphosed from small yappy annoyance into a raging frenzied monster of claws and teeth that would tear my gaming sanity to shreds and lay waste to any chance of me settling down and enjoying one class for the long run to the end game. But nothing came, not even a whimper. I pinched myself, looked in the mirror, stuck out my tongue, pulled my lower eyelids down, and tapped myself on the chest. I did a small shuffling dance of joy. Such was the allure of the sassassin that I, Sir Mr Alititus, Lord High Chancellor of Healing Alts, had not felt even the slightest twinge of desire, no pinpricks of heat on the back of my neck and beads of sweat on my brow that indicate the onset of alt fever, nothing. I knew that if I had resisted the urge to re-roll a healer then I must be cured: my favourite class of character, the group support role had always been my downfall, it’s the style of play I most enjoy and something I could never normally resist if there was a need for it within a group. M’colleague and several others, having found a renewed enthusiasm for the game, rolled alts to play outside of the Monday night group. I rolled a Disciple of Khaine in order to join them; I knew that rolling a melee healer (possibly my favourite class of character) was giving my altitus another chance to rear-up and take a swipe at me with giant paws, but I needed to know for certain.

I had to face my One Ring. I wanted to resist its temptation and pass the test. Whereupon I would diminish and go into the West. Or more likely, go into the kitchen and grab a celebratory bite to eat. I played the Disciple of Khaine for no more than a level or two before I grew tired of it and deleted the character. My heart just wasn’t in it: I watched the Disciple swing her swords, clumsy and random compared to the civilised daggers of the Witch Elf, as I wondered how she managed to move at all under all those layers of robes that ran from head to foot and back again. Sure she survived in combat far longer than the Witch Elf, but her victories seemed slow and tiresome in comparison – inevitable and thus predictable. The Witch Elf, in contrast, was exciting, unpredictable, dangerous. Messy. Putting yourself in a PvP scenario with a Witch Elf is like putting your hand in a box with a frightened and injured feral cat: at the very best you can expect to come away severely bloodied and covered in urine. She would appear naked out of nowhere, a sudden angry explosion, a flurry of feminine feline fury, the banshee howl of the air as her dagger blades cut through it, the cries of her victims, the ecstatic scream of the sassassin as she rent her foe’s skin and sanity in equal measure. The Witch Elf isn’t sexy, she is part of sex itself: she rides the steady back-and-forth back-and-forth rhythm of the battle, patiently building up to the point where she can be contained no longer, bursting forth in a paroxysm of soul-humming intensity for a few seconds before fading away again.

The altitus, had it even bothered to emerge, had surely slunk back to its den to sulk quietly and sullenly lick itself in self pity.

I was free. Had to be. The off-night alters continued to play their alternative characters and I came up with a droll concept name for an Orc Choppa based on a model of helicopter (or chopper) nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant, so I rolled it up one night and joined them.

Where the Witch Elf is patient, watching and waiting for the right moment to unleash her fury, the Orc Choppa is all fury all the time. To start off with, things were just mildly amusing, the initial set of abilities being a single target attack, a single target DoT, a single target snare, and a finishing move that does more damage the more fury the Choppa has built. He was more resilient than the Witch Elf, but at these low levels that didn’t mean much as most mobs went down quicker than a fanboy in a room full of developers.

And then I got my first AoE abilities and joined a PvP scenario.

The irony was not lost on me when altitus snuck out of the shadows and backstabbed me with a crit so big it would have made a Witch Elf give up there and then and join a convent.

There is no describing the feeling when you charge solo into the midst of a group of five or six enemy players and start wailing away with your AoE abilities and they begin to run away. There is no explanation for it either. They outnumber you, and although the AoE output of a Choppa is quite high, and the Choppa is quite resilient, it is never a combination that is likely to finish any of them off before they bring you down. The only thing I can think is that it’s simply the shock of it, especially in open RvR, where two groups tend to stand off from one another, making rude gestures from a safe distance as the ranged characters nip forward to plink away at the nearest enemy who is then easily healed by the massed ranks of healers tucked away behind them. So when a big angry Orc simply ignores all that protocol and etiquette and charges headlong into the midst of a group that moments ago assumed that it was immune to serious threat through careful observance of the rules of oRvR engagement, and when that big Orc starts doing enough damage to enough people that the more lightly armoured ones start to back away, it leaves the others exposed to not just the big green angry ball of muscle with a honking great axe grafted to it, but also his friends who have had their confidence bolstered and thus followed up with a charge of their own. Suddenly you have a rout, and although the Choppa inevitably perishes at some point in the initial skirmish, there is a brief moment when he is a green-skinned tusk-faced Poseidon, sweeping away all before him in a tidal wave of destructive force. It is a really curious phenomenon, the way players run away when they are under attack, invariably taking shots to the back all the time as they do so. Doubly so when you consider that it’s usually twenty seconds or less to run back to the fray should a player’s character die, and therefore death is nothing more than a minor inconvenience at worst, a convenient excuse for a drink or bio break otherwise. Clearly there is value in a tactical retreat when the enemy outnumber you, but when the enemy outnumber you and then *they* retreat when you press the attack there must surely be some other psychological effect at work, the observation of which is both fascinating and addictive. It’s not about winning or hurting others – I’m usually dead before more than one of the opposition is defeated – it’s the curious feeling of mania that it induces, that crazed frightening glee that comes over you, as though you’ve turned into the malevolent clown from children’s nightmares. It’s a feeling of primal power. Again though, the joy is focussed on the Choppa, not the enemy players it is intimidating. I realised that my pleasure came not directly from the reaction of the other players but from the way the Choppa worked to bring about such a reaction, when I remembered another MMO class that I played which also gave me the exact same feeling, but in a PvE setting: City of Villain’s Brute.

The Orc Choppa is a crude blunt-force instrument compared to the technical, precise scalpel of the Witch Elf, and although there’s appeal in both, with both having their part to play, it’s the Choppa’s ability to make a tangible psychological impact on the field of battle, in both my mind and the mind of other players, that makes it so incredibly appealing.

There’s a quote that comes to mind from William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic “If they think you’re crude, go technical; if they think you’re technical, go crude”.

Sometimes though, when they think you’re crude, it’s fun to show them that they’ve underestimated just how crude you are.

As my altitus decided to do for me, just the other day.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Spam for the day.

In response to All Paths Blocked our APB traffic news spoof:

“Some readers just don’t realize, like my coworker who couldn’t interpret the real intention of this line on your article ‘… your traffic and travel news for this quiet balmy Monday lunchtime, we’ll have more …’ it also bring back to mind about the day I came across my long time friend.”

I for one have never been particularly excited when it comes to traffic and travel news on a balmy Monday lunchtime; just so long as you wiped the mess from your long time friend afterwards, I’m sure all was forgiven.

“Ooooh. Ooooh god, balmy Monday lunchtime traffic news! Oh yeah! YEAH! Yeaaaaaaahahahaha yeah! Haff. Haff. Haff.

Pardon me entirely, hold on I have a tissue here, let me just wipe that up. There. I’m sure that’ll wash out.”

It is better to listen in order to understand than to listen in order to reply.

APB is going through some changes:

“Vehicle Handling: We’re already underway on a major overhaul to vehicle handling to make cars more responsive and less slippy overall. You’ll still be able to power slide around corners in stylish fashion, but steering is more responsive overall and easier to get the hang of early on.

Combat: We’re looking at almost every aspect of combat – how it looks, feels and sounds, as well as weapon characteristics and tactics. Weapon changes will be put up on the Public Test World to get some feedback in due course.”

All of this but a few weeks after launch.

An all but too familiar story in the MMO industry.

I wonder if many MMO developers wilfully ignore the feedback they get during the testing phase in the hope that a large percentage of their player base is wrong, or whether they’re simply interested in bug reports and don’t even hear the more wide-ranging complaints with respect to the design of major sections of the game. Look at the vast number of tiny angry claws that it took to nip Activision Blizzard on the toe before the corporate behemoth withdrew the giant foot that it had decided to plunge into the Sea of Selfhood, with respect to RealID.

The lesson I think some MMO developers really need to learn is that, whether they like it or not, when players complain en masse about a design decision, the developer generally should take some note of it there and then, thus saving themselves a lot of time and effort when they have to make the change post-release anyway. These developers may roll their eyes when a large proportion of players complain about one aspect or another, but like it or not, these are the people you need to please with your game, because they are not going to complain vehemently about fundamental aspects of the system and then simply say “Oh well, I’ll just subscribe for a year or so anyway”. They’ll pay the box price, and when the included time comes to an end, they’ll just up and leave.

It’s not tourism, it’s consumerism.

Saying “We’re listening to our players and making sweeping changes” after you have already launched your game is extremely disingenuous: these issues are no different to the ones that were mentioned in beta, it’s just that now the players are able to reinforce their complaints by voting with their wallets, which seems to be the only way to get a developer’s attention, to state categorically “no, really, your game is broken in ways X, Y and Z, whether it hurts you to hear it or not”, and then leave. When enough players do this the forum suddenly lights-up with developer posts with words such as ‘overhaul’, ‘restructuring’ and ‘redesign’, and phrases such as ‘fundamental changes’, ‘a new focus’, ‘looking at all aspects’ and ‘listening to players’ feedback’. Unfortunately by that point the only people reading those posts are the dedicated few who were already committed to playing the game anyway, so the next set of developer posts generally contain ‘server merges’ and ‘free to play’, sometimes followed shortly after by ‘closing’ and ‘goodbye’.

The lesson that still has not been learnt is this: after beta is too late.

MMO developers need to break this cycle of beta testing being the glorified equivalent of demo disks on PC Magazines; they need to drop the NDA secrecy; they need to remove the pedestals from the holier-than-thou would-be-rockstar types in the company who are more interested in bathing in the frothing adulation of the game’s ‘number one fans’ than listening to what impartial observers are telling them; they need to stop pandering to the websites that just want to release exclusive details of the game first in order to generate advertising revenue, and instead perhaps start to foster relationships with the MMO community in general; they need to employ celebrity-blind community representatives: people who can touch and feel their way around what a community is saying and thus filter out the distractions provided by fanboys and trolls which often appeal to the ‘celebrity’ that a community management position can foster, so that the community representative can instead present the precise shape and substance of issues and concerns to the development team – but importantly the developers need to listen to that feedback and, where remotely possible, act upon it.

Or not. You know, it’s your game after all. You’re the big development studio. You know best. Just don’t be surprised when nobody plays it and you’re merging servers after three months, however. And don’t blame it on World of Warcraft, lordy don’t do that, when the game is there for all to see, all the things that work and don’t work, in a game that is fast approaching its sixth year of solid subscriptions; I’m afraid you’ve had more than enough time to get walking on your own again, that old crutch simply can’t be used in any valid way anymore if the genre wants to progress.

APB isn’t failing because they tried something new, it’s because in trying something new they started anew, and thus made all the same mistakes that had already been made in games like Tabula Rasa and WAR. They’re not alone of course, Global Agenda being another recent example. There’s a wealth of information out there, written by people who do so for fun and enjoyment and because they are passionate about these things, and not for a salary or other such remuneration. They write with a wealth of experience in what works and doesn’t work for them as a player, and seemingly too many game studio types ignore such feedback as being the ravings of the clueless, to be ignored by the all-knowing Industry clique.

Yet these people do know something, they know where they’re going to spend their money next.

Instead of trying to convince them to spend their money with you through flashy E3 stands and rhetorically-gifted front men, instead of employing bloggers who are clearly chasing the goal of ‘being in The Industry and lording it over others’ rather than ‘making great MMOs’, instead of talking at players and pumping hype at everyone through a fire hose, instead of trying to tell players why they’re categorically wrong about the things they don’t like, and instead of believing in the illusion of your own superior celebrity, take a step back, stop, and listen. Actually listen, take the Feedback Radio and adjust the frequency regularly, stop listening to the Yes Men show on 104.5 Fanboy FM for a while, maybe try Constructive Criticism hour on 98.4 Radio Impartiality instead. Granted there’s a lot of white noise out there, but the strong signals are there too and easy enough to find, if you would only choose to listen once in a while.

Monday 12 July 2010

Do not crush the flowers of wisdom with the hobnail boots of cynicism

I may be becoming a terrible cynic, but I did wonder at first if the whole business about real names on Blizzard forum posts was just a money saving exercise to try and get rid of a few forum moderators. Then when they backed down within days it smacked slightly of something else: a highball negotiating technique, like where you want slightly nicer biscuits for your tea break so you open up with a demand for a 25% pay rise, shorter hours, longer holiday and Fortnum & Mason Date & Pecan Piccadilly Biscuits, and eventually haggle your way down to the desired Chocolate Hob-Nobs. The trouble is, from the outside the following all look pretty much the same:

Scenario 1:
  1. Blizzard wish to clean up their forums, and think real names will result in greater accountability and improved discussion; aware that it won’t be universally popular, they nevertheless believe that players will see the benefits and go along with the change
  2. Following the massive outcry and overwhelmingly negative reaction, Blizzard accept the well-reasoned arguments against mandating real names on the forums and adjust their policy
  3. Much rejoicing
Scenario 2:
  1. Activision execs decide nine swimming pools full of money just aren’t enough, figure they can squeeze a bit more out of Blizzard by cleaning up the forums and sacking a few moderators
  2. People point out this would be massively unpopular, and drive people away from the forums. Activision execs shout “CHA-CHING!” at the prospect of reducing bandwidth bills and sacking even more moderators.
  3. Backlash greater than expected, people unsubscribe from games citing RealID, demand removal of personal information. A quick bit of spreadsheet work suggests losses could cancel out savings, policy scrapped.
  4. ???
  5. Profit!
Scenario 3:
  1. A shadowy cabal including Blizzard and Facebook come up with strange and devious plans to link games accounts to accounts, then to Facebook profiles, allowing all sorts of information harvesting as well as the ability to spam friends with recruitment requests
  2. The blogosphere starts to get nervous about security and privacy implications
  3. Blizzard pick something they don’t really care about but know people will get worked up over, announce mandatory real names on forum posts (see also: “active decoy”)
  4. Internet goes crazy as predicted, massive coverage on news sites (see also: “no publicity is bad publicity”)
  5. Blizzard back down, appear sensitive to customer concerns defusing much of the negative opinion, proceed with original plans which don’t seem quite so extreme any more in comparison, eat chocolate Hob-Nobs

How about you, dear readers, do you believe in good intentions, greed, conspiracy, or a bit of everything? Or have you got any better theories, linking RealID to the identity of Kennedy’s actual assassin, the one who faked the moon landings?

Friday 9 July 2010

Quote of the day

“Get privacy right and you retain the trust and confidence of your customers and users; mislead consumers or collect information you don’t need and you are likely to diminish customer trust and face enforcement action from the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

– Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner, from BBC News

Wednesday 7 July 2010

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing

Wolfshead’s dusted off the old “game vs world” type debate with some reasonable points on adventure and immersion, and some less reasonable points that I started to comment on before things got sprawling enough for a post…

Starter for ten: … we need to take a time machine back to eleven years ago when MMOs like Ultima Online and EverQuest rocked the video game industry to its core. These new multi-player online games unexpectedly raised the stakes to new levels. No longer was a video game all about having fun and amusement. It was something deeper, visceral, engaging and transcendent; an experience within a world.

I don’t agree with that at all. Ultima Online and Everquest are points on a continuum that includes MUDs and MUSHs, Nethack and Roguelikes, the Elder Scrolls series, the AOL Neverwinter Nights and Meridian 59, among many, many others. It’s not like they mark some Damascene revelation, before which everything was silly and frothy and transient; along with Breakout in 1976 you had the Colossal Cave Adventure. MUD1 and Space Invaders were both 1978. Home computing in the early 80s, as per my favourite chapter of Francis Spufford’s Backroom Boys: “The classic action game of the early 1980s – Defender, Pac Man – was set in a perpetual present tense, a sort of arcade Eden in which there were always enemies to zap or gobble, but nothing ever changed apart from the score”, then Braben and Bell unleashed the eight galaxies of 256 stars that made up Elite. Computer games have always spanned quick blasts and deep worlds, pill gobbling while chased by ghosts and conquests of entire galaxies. They’ve always been about playing together as well as alone; prior to widespread connectivity competing for high scores or clustering around Gauntlet and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade machines, then as the internet spread from its largely academic confines so came FPS clans and virtual fighter squadrons alongside MMOG guilds. If anything represents a computer game not being simply about fun and amusement what about, by definition, professional gaming, a field dominated by the FPS and RTS genres? Of course Ultima Online and EverQuest are significant games, but I have a problem with the premise of MMOGs as industry-rocking world-changers.

Moving on, the central thrust of the piece is “Adventure is for Adults”, “Fun is For Children”, which seems to be bringing new terminology to the game vs world, theme park vs sandbox debate. I don’t disagree that there is a terminology problem, I tend to go with game and world which are far from ideal; “adventure” for depth, immersion, meaning, risk, sacrifice isn’t bad, but opposing that with “fun” as a shorthand for instant gratification, transience and triviality is a serious problem. After all part of the provided definition of fun is “what provides amusement or enjoyment”, which is a fairly key part of games for me, and whether by accident or design the piece takes on an air of Puritanism, tutting at the depravity of anyone daring to enjoy themselves, culminating in: “There is something unseemly about the pursuit of fun by grown adults. As a MMO veteran of 11 years, this is not what I signed up for. Part this problem is societal and a reflection of the pervasiveness of our youth culture where people today just refuse to grow up — aided and abetted by their enablers in the entertainment industry. Somehow the purpose of life has been reduced to finding ways to endlessly amuse oneself. Regrettably, our generation seems to be trapped in a culture of perpetual adolescence.”

I’m not quite sure how we got from MMOGs to “the purpose of life”. Tobold posted recently about in-game achievements and the lure of the “ding!”, crucially pointing out: “Our real lives are full of amazing achievements: We learn how the world works during our education, then create value every day in our jobs. We make friends, we love, we build families, and participate in communities.” Games are a *facet* of our lives, to play a game for a bit of fun is no more an indication of some deep-seated perpetual adolescence than watching a light comedy programme with no particular message behind it. Sinking a massive amount of time into “serious” adventuring in a virtual world can *sometimes* be an abdication of real life responsibility, not an inherent demonstration of maturity.

The more reasonable point, though; “But let’s accept that many adults today are chasing the dragon of fun; at least they have thousands of video game titles from which to satiate their hunger. Yet for those of us that seek high stakes online adventure there are barely any choices. […] Real virtual adventurers have few if any niche based options that appeal to them that are created with a WoW budget.”

Nitpicking, a niche option with a WoW budget wouldn’t be niche any more, but looking at other fields there are art-house films alongside summer blockbusters, painfully cool indie bands as well as pop sensations, or the good old fallback of gourmet restaurants and McDonalds. It’s always fun to rail against the Hollywood machine and soulless record corporations, but I’d be more interested in why the other gaming choices aren’t working out; Ultima Online and EverQuest are still running after all, if they were indeed the high point of the genre. Wasn’t Vanguard supposed to pick up EverQuest’s “Vision”? EVE, as ever, is a poster child of “not-WoW”, and in smaller niches still there are things like Wurm Online. There seem to be other options out there, how are they failing in the provision of high stakes online adventure?

As Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green notes in the comments, if using the steak/McDonalds analogy: “The problem here is that the current audience balks at paying filet mignon prices. It’s silly to go to McDonald’s and ask for filet mignon just as it’s silly to go to a fine steakhouse and demand the filet mignon at McDonald’s prices. Yet, that seems to be the situation we’re in. One of the reasons I’m a fan of business models beyond the subscription is that it elimiantes the need to appeal to the least common denominator, plus it allows some people who want a truly terrific experience to pay filet mignon prices.” After all, audiophiles pay thousands for hi-fi equipment rather than sticking an iPod on a twenty quid dock, wine connoisseurs can enjoy a nice Château Mouton-Rothschild as opposed to Something Around A Fiver From Tesco, serious amateur photographers (nudge, nudge) have “prosumer” kit available instead of a simple point n’ click camera, MMOG players have… maybe a Deluxe Edition at launch for an extra £10, or some stuff from an item shop if the game’s set up that way. A nice island in Entropia Universe, if you really want to push it, but that’s very much the exception.

The drawback of a more direct link between price and quality is you can also end up with $7000 audio cables, f’rinstance, where you have to wonder if the purpose is to actually improve the sound, or to let you say “oh, yeah, that cable, seven grand” at every opportunity, oddly enough similar to something Tam touched on in a recent post on elitism vs high standards, “elitism comes not from superiority but from the desire to be seen as superior”. Opposition to a move away from subscriptions is understandable as a defence against “…some companies who want to charge filet mignon prices but try to pass off Sizzler level quality…”, but accepting that high stakes online adventure is indeed a niche, something’s got to give between price and slick production values.

Tuesday 6 July 2010


Blizzard are about to ban themselves from their own forums.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but a little want of knowledge is also a dangerous thing.

Quest logs are getting to be a bit clever. I’ve stated in the past that:

“The very best user interfaces are like the steady and dependable butler from Jeeves and Wooster: never fully appreciated by the user, they’re the ones that don’t frustrate or confuse or obstruct, while at the same time providing more information than the user might have otherwise expected to receive.”

I do wonder at how helpful the quest log should be in some of these MMOs, however; how integral it should become to the general game experience of the player; that perhaps it could become too clever, too efficient, and that we as players will slowly be reduced to nothing more than foppish layabouts, throwing money at we know not what simply because it is the done thing in high adventuring society.

Bertie: “Gosh Jeeves, this chap wants me to kills some boars. I have to confess that I’m at a bit of a loss. Haven’t a blasted clue where to begin.”

Jeeves: “Might I suggest the farms to the south east, sir.”

Bertie: “Really? I don’t want to doubt your veracity in these matters, but what makes you think so my good man?”

Jeeves: “It is a generally known fact that the Northern Tusked Lootsack is known to migrate through these parts at this time of year, for a start sir.”

Bertie: “Do go on Jeeves, I’m not sure I’m convinced quite yet.”

Jeeves: “There are also the tracks, in which sir is currently standing in the middle of; they seem to be consistent with the size, shape and spread corresponding to a sounder of boars. The scratching around the base of that oak tree yonder might also suggest, to one with knowledge in such matters, that a large male boar with severely damaged tusks marked his territory at this point, that he is at least nine hands in height and is probably best avoided by all but the greatest of hunters. There is also the fact that, unless I am vastly mistaken, the cries of several sows, currently in heat at this time of year, are clearly audible from the south east. In addition there is the matter of the letter, sir.

Bertie: “The letter Jeeves?

Jeeves: “The letter sir.”

Bertie: “Do explain, do explain, old bean.”

Jeeves: “You have a letter sir. In your jacket pocket. It pertains to the matter of some boars which are in need of eviction from a farm, owned by one Mr Partfiddle, a farmer and owner of the estate of Poosmell Farm, Clitwang-Upon-Sea. A farm which, I am led to believe, is situated some six hundred and fifty yards south east of our present location, as sir will observe on his map should he choose to look at it.”

Bertie: “Gosh. Well that seems to be pretty conclusive Jeeves. Well done, well done indeed. I’d better make my way to the south east and see if I can’t give some of these boars what for, eh?”

Jeeves: “Ehm-hem, if I might be so bold, sir.”

Bertie: “By all means, Jeeves, of course.”

Jeeves: “If sir might permit me to correct sir’s handling of his sword, sir would find it far more injurious to the boars, and less so to his own person, if he were to hold the weapon by the other end.”

Bertie: “Fah! I’d have my own head off if it wasn’t for you, Jeeves!”

Jeeves: “Indubitably, sir.”

Bertie: “Right, off to bally well thrash some piggy wigs. Swish, swish! What!”

Jeeves: “Well, quite, sir. Ehm-hem, although if it isn’t too much of an imposition, sir, I have already taken the trouble to collect the requisite number of boar intestines.”

Bertie: “Oh. Oh well! Well done Jeeves, saves us both a bit of bother. We’d better just pop them back to old podger Partfiddle and collect our reward, eh?!”

Jeeves: “I’ve taken the liberty of returning them to Mr Partfiddle too, sir. It seemed that it would hardly be worth the trouble of you returning them yourself when I was already in the area. Incidentally sir, while I was there I got to talking to Mr Partfiddle’s wife, a charming women if a little robust, and it transpired that their daughter had been kidnapped by the dread lord Colon Git III. I thought it best not to trouble sir with the matter since at the time you were deeply engaged in a passionate telling of flatulence yarns with your fellow guild members back at The Club. So I took it upon myself to form a band of heroes, travel across the land to seek out the Artefact of Terribly Convenient Power that could slay Lord Git III, fight outnumbered three hundred to one through the heavily armoured forces of darkness surrounding his castle, kill the dark lord, rescue the Partfiddle’s daughter and return her home; although I believe she has now moved out and is married to one of the band of adventurers from the party who, it transpires, is soon to be crowned king of all the free lands of Upper-Middle Earth. Here is your reward sir, I believe this sword to be a significant upgrade to your current one, and the gold should buy quite a few rounds of drinks back at The Club.”

Bertie: “Well dash it all Jeeves! That’s really most decent of you. If ever there is anything I can do in return, you should let me know. I suppose I’ll be back off to the club then; hopefully Tommy, Harris, and Smedley-Brown will be there and I can tell them all about my adventures!”

Jeeves: “Ahem. There is just the small matter of The Fee, sir.”

Bertie: “Ah, yes. Rightho. £14.99 a month, wasn’t it, Jeeves?”

Jeeves: “That is correct, sir.”

Bertie: “Well, can’t complain, can’t complain, a damnably reasonable price for all the adventuring that I get up to. There you go Jeeves, don’t spend it all at once. Just remember that I’ll be at the club if there’s any adventuring that needs attending to.”

Jeeves: “It would seem the very best place for sir to be.”

Bertie: “Toodle pip, then!”

Jeeves: “Very good, sir.”

Monday 5 July 2010

Reviewlet: Beat Hazard

There’s been an enorm-o-sale on at Steam for the past couple of weeks that I’ve been furiously not posting about in a desperate attempt to avoid adding yet more games to the big pile o’ stuff I hardly have time to play. I was doing quite well, partly due to the plethora of offers giving a paradox of choice, partly due to having a bunch of stuff from previous sales, until I finally succumbed and bought The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom on the recommendation of Melmoth, a couple of packs of Borderlands DLC (skipping Mad Moxxi’s Underdome on the recommendation of Jon Shute), Tropico 3 and Beat Hazard. Less than £20, all-in, a comparative flesh wound by Steam sale standards.

Beat Hazard is what I’d describe as “a bit like Asteroids“, in the modern parlance I understand it to be a Bullet Hell Shmup (true aficionados would doubtless sneer at the paltry number of bullets on screen, though, maybe “Bullet Drat” or “Bullet Heck” would be more apt). Like Everyday Shooter it’s a music-based shoot ’em up, but it uses your own MP3 collection like Audiosurf. The power of your guns, and intensity of the enemy attacks, are based on the volume of the music, which can lead to interesting gameplay when an otherwise-frantic track has a few quiet moments and your magnificent blazing lasers of death suddenly turn into pop-guns.

The visuals are stunning, fields of colour pulsating in time with the beat, especially as you power up your weapons in a particularly intense song. Definitely one to avoid if you have issues with photo-sensitivity, otherwise revel in the psychedelia.

As with Audiosurf it has the perfect gameplay chunk size, you can have a quick blast in a spare five minutes (or a spare 23 seconds for a couple of early Napalm Death tracks), but the “… just one more song” factor can easily keep you working through your MP3 collection for a couple of hours. Without the audio it would be a decent enough shmup but not really enough to keep me coming back, with a soundtrack of such unquestionable taste it’s definitely worth a couple of quid.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Reviewlet: The Guild Leader's Handbook

The KiaSA Guide to MMOGs has this to say on guild leadership:

‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’

Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.

‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.’

The estate of George Orwell protested that this bore striking similarities to 1984, but KiaSA Publications quickly printed a copy in an old font that looked a bit like a typewriter, spilled some tea on it, and claimed it had been written in 1926 so couldn’t possibly be a copy/paste job from Project Gutenberg, although when pressed were unable to explain how a guide to MMOGs could predate MMOGs themselves, the invention of the electronic computer, and the birth of its own authors. Fortunately The Guild Leaders Handbook offers a more forgiving and originally written look at the role of the guild leader with more emphasis on honesty and leading by example than tearing human minds to pieces.

Scott F. Andrews, long-time WoW guild leader and author of “The Officers’ Quarters” column at, has collected his experience into a paper-based advice dispensing format known as a “book”, The Guild Leader’s Handbook, which you’ve probably seen a few reviews of as No Starch Press mailed out copies to a bunch of MMOG bloggers, most of whom aren’t as slack as us. Still, our motto is “if something’s worth reviewing, it’s worth waiting a couple of months then reminding people about that thing that sounded quite interesting a while back”.

The book is comprehensive, starting with the formation of a guild and recruitment, dealing with different personalities within a guild and associated drama, the activities you’ll embark on (raiding, PvP, roleplaying), keeping the guild going over time, and dealing with real life. It’s generally aimed at a Guild Leader, as the title rather suggests, but would also be of interest to others with guild responsibilities such as officers, or even anyone who just wants to know a bit more about guilds in MMOGs. Perhaps it could have widened its audience slightly by looking at things from a non-leader’s perspective, though. The section on recruitment, for example, has tips on what to look for and danger signs in a potential recruit; it’s not too difficult to reinterpret “danger signs for a recruitment officer” as “things not to do when applying to a new guild”, but a bit of extra advice on how to find a guild and make a good impression might be handy.

Much of The Guild Leader’s Handbook is applicable to any MMOG guild, and could probably be applied to other online communities, but the primary focus tends to be obtaining loot through large scale PvE encounters, i.e. World of Warcraft raiding, not unnaturally given that’s the author’s background. The chapter on raiding and especially raid leading seems particularly strong, and another chapter is devoted to loot distribution; PvP and roleplaying are combined in a chapter which is a good introduction for those not particularly familiar with them, but very much a whistle-stop tour of key points as in-depth implementation will vary from game to game.

Perhaps the weakest section for me is on People and Personalties, using “Player Personality Classes” (PPCs) as a way of identifying potential clashes. The eight proposed archetypes, each with two specs, are a bit woolly, and as the author says most people are composites of elements from several areas. “Classes” and “specs” are very natural for MMOG players, but with a lot of existing research on personality, motivation, team roles etc. in a business context I would have preferred to see something like Myers-Briggs types translated into gaming roles, or better still picking up some of Nick Yee’s MMORPG psychology research from Project Daedalus developing Bartle’s MUD player classifications into a more detailed study of player motivation. Still, the slight weakness of the personality class model doesn’t really undermine the more important advice on recognising, confronting and defusing drama. A few sections are highly subjective as well, such as what makes a good guild name, but the author acknowledges this and is never dogmatic in presentation.

Something the Handbook really drives home is how involving a guild can be. Course some guilds work fine as a loose collection of friends, but past a point they need time and effort, from members but mostly from leaders, and extend outside the boundaries of a game. Most prospective leaders will know at the outset they’ll need to schedule in-game encounters, lead the guild into them and distribute rewards, I suspect fewer anticipate they may need to confront substance abuse or relationship problems amongst members. The last chapter of the Handbook, “Dealing With Reality”, gives sensible and practical advice for such situations, and though it obviously can’t cover precisely what to do, at least it can prepare a guild leader for the possibility they might need to deal with a criminal confession at some point. It’s not all about the darker side of life, though, it also covers organising real-life guild meet-ups. In some ways it’s staggering that virtual items and monsters, pixels on a screen, bits in a database can provoke tension, envy, scheming, even hatred; but then they also spark joy, camaraderie, passion, the togetherness of a guild which sets it apart from a single player experience.

Overall, you could probably get much of the information in The Guild Leader’s Handbook from websites, blogs and game forums, but (as per Sturgeon) you’d have to wade through an awful lot of crud to get it. The Handbook pulls everything together with a nice, easy to read style, with something for most MMOG players. It’s a must-buy for a WoW player looking to start up a new guild for raiding, though I suspect that’s a pretty small market; even experienced guild leaders should find something of benefit. Steering clear of obscure jargon, it might even be suitable to offer friends and family an insight into why you play that silly game so much and get worked up about someone else claiming The Awesome Sword that should’ve been yours.

To conclude the KiaSA Review Service (available to anyone who’d like to send us stuff), a couple of pithy quotes for the cover of the second edition, bracketed sections optional:

“Better than Joyce’s Ulysses (in its coverage of loot distribution systems)”
A la recherche du temps perdu has nothing on The Guild Leader’s Handbook (when it comes to advice on leading a raid)”
“(If your local store is out of Viennese spowling tape,) The Guild Leader’s Handbook makes an excellent (substitute, so long as the thrush-plate is) present (and straight, then curved.)

Friday 2 July 2010

Muse on MMOs.

Welcome to a new feature here on KiaSA, Muse on MMOs, where we analyse the lyrics of popular English alternative rock band Muse and show that they are all secret gurus of the MMO genre and have subverted the indie music scene with their hidden messages of advice and insight for MMO players around the world.

First up is the song New Born, lets have a look at what its lyrics tell us.

Link it to the world
Link it to yourself
Stretch it like a birth squeeze
The love for what you hide
For bitterness inside
Is growing like the new born
When you’ve seen, seen too much
Too young, young
Soulless is everywhere

A valuable lesson for all on the idolatry and linking of loot in guild chat, I think you’ll all agree.

Hopeless time to roam
The distance to your home
Fades away to nowhere

A damning indictment of Lord of the Rings Online’s travel times there, I fear.

How much are you worth?
You can’t come down to earth
You’re swelling up
You’re unstoppable
Cos you’ve seen
Seen too much
And too young

Ah, the endless dangers of ego inflation and inevitable burnout among raiding Main Tanks.

Soulless is everywhere
Destroy the spineless
Show me it’s real
Wasting our last chance
To come away
Just break a silence
Cause I’m drifting away
Away from you

It shouldn’t take one of England’s finest bands to tell people to defend their flag carrier in Warsong Gulch, but they do it anyway, thus helping hapless Alliance players everywhere. Such is the greatness and the generosity of Muse.

Proof, if ever there was made up proof, that Muse are secretly preaching the MMO gospel through the medium of progressive electronic rock opera.

See you next time on Muse on MMOs.